Last week I took a hiatus from reviewing Instone-Brewer’s Divorce and Remarriage in the Church (IVP). This week we explore chapter 8. I-B starts with a story about a woman whose husband attempted to murder her. Her church leaders decided that it would be okay for her to separate due to the threat to her life but that she could not divorce because the Bible didn’t allow it. He suggests that this is a common response to abuse in marriages: Separation for safety but no possibility of divorce unless adultery.
I-B makes this very clear response: “…[this] solution is not biblical. A couple should not separate without getting divorced, because Paul specifically says that married couples may not separate (1 Cor. 7:10-11).” (p. 94-5)
But we have already witnessed I-B argue that the OT allowed the victim to decide to divorce in the case of abuse, neglect, and adultery. Did the NT abandon these grounds? I-B reminds the reader,
He [Jesus] spoke about the ideal of lifelong marriage, the facts that divorce was never compulsory and that marriage was not compulsory, about monogamy and, of course, about his interpretation of “a cause of sexual immorality’–that it means only sexual immorality and not also “Any Cause.” So if Jesus believed that neglect and abuse were valid grounds for divorce, why didn’t he say something about them? (p. 95)
I-B infers that Jesus didn’t say anything because it was so obvious a reason. It was not considered controversial as was the “any cause” debate that was raging at the time of his ministry. He argues that Jesus didn’t teach about rape, manslaughter, the oneness of God either. Does this mean he didn’t believe those things either? Bolstering his argument is the fact that he reports that no other ancient Jewish literature debates the validity of divorce for abuse/neglect. Therefore, it wasn’t an issue needing attention. He goes on to tell us that what was debated was how one defined neglect (i.e., minimum quantities of clothing and food and conjugal love needed in order to avoid being considered in neglect of one’s spouse).
So, to underline this, the Matthew 19:9 passage is in regard to the question of Deut. 24:1 and the debate about whether any cause divorces were valid and not to say that no other grounds were possible.
So, I-B suggests that Paul teaches 3 grounds for divorce (implicitly) in 1 Cor. 7: neglect of food, clothes and sex. The reason why he talks about the obligations to care for the spouse and not to withhold is because of the known (at that time) grounds for divorce existing in Ex 21:10-11. Further it is assumed that Paul accepted the cause of unfaithfulness as grounds but that he doesn’t speak to this issue.
So how do we apply these grounds for today? While it is easier to assess unfaithfulness, I-B says that we too frequently neglect the matter of neglect that may have helped cause the rift that resulted in adultery (p. 101). Neglect doesn’t excuse adultery but, “it is important to realize that the fault is often not just one sided.” (ibid).
What about frequency of sex a reason for divorce? The rabbis thought men should provide sexual love at least 2 times per week, less if you were an “ass driver” (HIS words not mine), and nightly if you were out of work! Of note were NO rules for women as to how frequently they would need to offer conjugal love. Despite these pieces of advice, I-B reports that, “rabbis were reluctant to allow a divorce on the ground of refusing conjugal activity…” Further, notice that while Paul encourages both parties to see sex as something they owe each other, I-B points out that nowhere does he give permission for one party to demand sex from the other. “…Love is something that we give and not something that we take.” (p. 102). Still further, I-B suggests that we should not define conjugal love as narrowly as intercourse, “because this can become impractical or inappropriate in cases of illness or frailty.” (ibid)
I-B wants us to look at the principles. The husband that never allows his wife to buy make-up, occasional leisure items and the husband that provides weekly sex but no other kind of affection may not violate the technical side of things but certainly has missed the spirit of the biblical mandate to protect and care for her.
What about the couple who no longer finds themselves in love? Can they divorce? I-B says it would be improper to read back the idea of being in love into the biblical passage. Love is an act, not a feeling.
I-B ends with the question about what can be said to the abused party. Here’s what he would say to an abused wife,
First, we can tell her that God’s law has taken such sin into account. God’s ideal for marriage is for a husband and wife to be faithful to each other and, as we saw in the [OT], for them to support each other with food, clothing and conjugal love. If these vows are broken, then there are grounds for divorce.
Since there is no question that the abusing husband is “neglecting” to support his wife, she should be aware that she does have the option to divorce him…
We should not forget, though, that Jesus emphasized forgiveness…so we should not advise this woman to divorce her husband the first time he breaks his vows. However, if he continues to sin hardheartedly (stubbornly or without repentance), Jesus says she may divorce him. In practice we have to depend on the individual concerned to decide when enough is enough, because we cannot know what goes on inside a marriage. We cannot know how much emotional abuse is happening, and even physical abuse is largely unseen or unreported. (p. 103-4)
I-B speaks of the false facade that we erect or allow to be erected about “happy” marriages that in fact are not. This is sad and not the way it should be. God does, however, know our secret sufferings and so he says this to the abused,
“God is not a ruler who sits on a high throne in isolation, ignorant of the suffering of his people. He aches with us, even in divorce, which he too has suffered. God loves you and knows your secret sufferings. he wants to help you and has given us practical laws to help deal with your hurt.” That is what we say to a person in a neglectful or abusive marriage. p. 106
So, do you agree? Where does your mind go when considering these as grounds for divorce that the victim uses to decide if she or he has had enough? I have found that while some concede these, they are very afraid that some will cry “victim” when they are not. That these grounds will be used for all manner of excuses and that “victims” will assert that only they can know that they have been abused.
While it is true that some and even many will abuse the divorce rules in the bible, it doesn’t make them any less true.