Tag Archives: Instone-Brewer

Divorce & Remarriage 13: A conspiracy?

On our journey thought David Instone-Brewer’s Divorce and Remarriage in the Church we come to chapter 13 where he raises the question why, if the church has had access to rabbinical literature and understanding of the issues at play during Jesus and Paul’s time, hasn’t the church revised it’s understanding of the divorce passages. If you have been following along, I-B has been arguing that most of the church was unaware of the controversy surrounding the “any cause” divorce during Jesus day and that was what he was reacting to in Matt. 19. But now that we have this background available to us again, it helps us understand the context of Jesus comments. So, why hasn’t the church revised divorce teachings? Is it conspiracy? Or just disagreement with I-B?

I-B tells an interesting story at the beginning of this chapter. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, one scholar refused to make public one particular scroll. After he died, the scroll was translated and made public. The controversy? The scroll contains a 1-2nd century divorce certificate written by a woman for an “any cause” (or better, no cause) divorce. The scholar had previously published that this sort of thing didn’t happen in this wonderful period of orthodox Judaism so he sat on the document to hide it. I-B tells the story here because he believes this shows how even Jews had forgotten the only reasons allowed for divorce in Exodus 21 (neglect, infidelity) and that no cause divorces were allowed by both men AND women.

Yet I-B doesn’t really believe conspiracy is the problem with the church. Just confusion. Why the confusion? I-B reviews the sexual mores of the early Christian world. Outside the church immorality was a given at levels we don’t even have today–open sexual contact with prostitutes, friends, etc. even when married. So, I-B reports that the church reacted to this to even become suspicious of conjugal love in marriage. If a marriage ended due to the death of a loved one, the widow should not remarry and if he/she did, it was a sign of lust. He quotes Tertullian’s belief on this matter that Christians should seek abstinence. It is I-B’s believe that this view of sex and celibacy is what grew until the 9th century when the Roman church instituted celibacy for priests and comes out the believe that Paul and Jesus both taught that celibacy was superior to marriage. (Remember that in a prior chapter I-B stated his believe that Paul’s comment in 1 Cor. 7:1 that it is good for a man to not marry is not Paul’s belief but his quotation of a common belief which he rejects in following verses).

Further, I-B reports to us that many early church fathers (and contemporaries as well) believed that the OT was for then and the NT is for the church. So, even if the OT had other rules about divorce, Jesus rules supercedes and is the only rule for Christians today.

But since this “any cause” dispute has been known to us for 150 years why haven’t we reconsidered the divorce interpretations? I-B ultimately says it is because of the status quo. Church doctrines shouldn’t change. He says the thinking goes like this: God doesn’t change, the bible doesn’t change, doctrine doesn’t change.

I-B ends this chapter rather abruptly (IMHO) with the admission that he has undertaken this scholarly study given our better understanding of the misery of abuse within the church. And yet he believes his understanding of the key issues surrounding the culture of the 1-2nd century Judaism and Christianity helps us re-consider the meaning of Jesus and Paul’s words on divorce.

So, what are we left with? There may be more ambiguity in some of our passages on divorce, reasons for divorce, and remarriage. Certainly, we must admit there are some silences that trouble us. We would have liked greater clarity. We all recognize that Jesus and Paul rejected baseless divorces. That sexual purity is essential. That marriage is good, sex is good, but not to be worshipped. I think we can also see that divorce is part of the fall but a reality. It is forgiveable but there remain questions of whether remarriage is possible. If we take the no remarriage passages as speaking about baseless divorces, then we are to work for reconciliation. But if that is not possible, we must acknowledge that there are many situations with the Scriptures do not provide us clear direction. In those cases we ought to be careful not to act as if we did get a clear message from the Lord. We ought to be very careful not to hang weights on the necks of believers and to bind their conscience where there is ambiguity. This does not mean we cannot seek to preserve marriages as our ideal.

Well, we are almost at the end of the book. Two more chapters on recommendations for what the pastor/church should do given the possible new interpretations.


Filed under Abuse, book reviews, Christianity, church and culture, conflicts, divorce, Doctrine/Theology, marriage

Divorce & Remarriage 12: How did the early church misunderstand Jesus?

We’ve covered 11 chapters thus far in our review of David Instone-Brewer’s Divorce & Remarriage in the Church.  His main point is that the Scriptures in Exodus 21 require marriages to be built on the covenant promise to provide food, clothing, and sexual love. When these were not provided then the woman was allowed to go free. The controversies in the NT are about the “any cause” divorce that some Jewish leaders supported. Jesus, I-B says, is only speaking to this problem in Matt 19 when he says no to “any cause” and only yes to causes that break the covenant. Much of I-B’s argument is based on how early rabbis interpreted the OT and Jesus’ lack of criticism of their interpretations. He also looks at cultural/evangelisticreasons for the matter of submission in Eph. 5 and questions whether these are timeless truthes (last week’s post).

So now we come to a key question in chapter 12: How did the early church misconstrue Paul and Jesus so quickly? Why did they come to believe the texts taught that divorce was never allowed.

I-B suggests the following reasons:

    1. The Destruction of Jerusalem of 70AD. He reports that almost all of the various Jewish teachers were killed–with the exception of the Hillel Pharisees who then became the dominant interpreters of Scripture. This is key in that it was the Hillel teachers who argued for the “any cause” divorce. Thus, the no cause but sexual immorality proponents were gone and so the debate that Jesus weighed in on was lost. 
    2.  Changes in word meanings. I-B points out the changes in the meaning of “wicked”, “gay”, and “imbeciles. ” The sentence, “Isn’t it wonderful that so many imbeciles are naturally gay” has obvious meaning differences depending on which generation says it. (p. 143). He also notes the different meaning of “intercourse” (speaking) in the 1800s
    3. Similarly, how we use shorthand phrases change over time. He reminds us that he explored the phrase, “Isn’t it unlawful for a 16 year old to drink” and that it obviously means alcohol to us but may not to later generations. So, shorthand phrases interpreted outside the context have a great chance to be misunderstood. And I-B believes that Matthew uses shorthand phrases regarding divorce because it wasn’t necessary for his readers to say the whole thing.
    4. Punctuation. I-B reminds us that the original Greek text does not have punctuation markers. Translators must provide punctuation. On p. 145 he shows how the addition quotation marks changes Mt 19 from the Pharisees asking if any divorce was legal to whether “any cause” divorces are legal. The church got this wrong, he thinks, because it forget about the “any cause” controversy.

Of course this brings up issues around interpretive process, authorial intent, and how God intends these passages to be timeless, or better yet, for all time. I-B says we ask the wrong questions when we try to ask what it says in plain English or what the traditional interpretation has been. Better, he believes, is to ask what the original audience understood it to mean.

As Christian we have to assume that the Holy Spirit was able to convey truth accurately to the original readers in language and with concepts they would understand. We who come later have to do more work than they did in order to understand the same message, because we have to learn an ancient language and read it through the mindset of ancient thought-forms. p. 147

But if you are following I-B’s argument you can see that he believes we need the historical evidence to interpret the bible correctly. Does he believe we need more than the bible to interpret the bible? Yes! But he does not reject sola scriptura. This means that that while Scripture itself gives us everything we need to know for salvation it does not provide us with the background on things beyond our salvation (i.e., divorce and remarriage principles mentioned in the bible).

He ends with the question of whether there has been a conspiracy to withhold teaching on the background of this issue in the church. It might be understandable that those in the first 2,000 years of the church would get it wrong since they didn’t have access to such resources. But in the modern era, these resources have been available. So, why didn’t they teach us the background? In the next chapter he will take up that matter.

MY THOUGHTS: I-B clearly believes that we need historical records to understand the original intent of Scripture. I think it is important as well. But, I would also assert that the NT writers interpreted the OT in ways that seem not to follow that system. It would seem that they cherry picked verses and gave them entirely different meanings than the original hearers of the OT passages–especially those that they interpreted as foretelling Christ’s birth.

At heart, I-B challenges us to understand the shorthand in Scripture regarding marriage and divorce. It is good for us not to become too self-assured that we have it all right. This doesn’t mean we can’t have convictions but we must be careful here when many good and godly men and women differ in interpretation. For example, John Piper at DesiringGod.org has strong reservations about this book and continues to assert that there should never be divorce and definitely no remarriage. You can check out his thoughts here and find links to Instone-Brewer’s only webpage (HT: Ron Lusk). The point is good Christian scholars disagree. Be careful to avoid being an uninformed know-it-all.


Filed under book reviews, divorce, Doctrine/Theology, marriage, Relationships

Divorce & Remarriage X: Is remarriage adultery?

We come to chapter 10 of David Instone-Brewer’s book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church(IVP). He starts with this question: “Do people whose divorces were not biblically valid have to stay unmarried for the rest of their life?” (p. 118).

In answering this question I-B starts and finishes the chapter with the problem of how we might know whether a divorce was valid or not. Unless there is a trial, pertinent information may not come to light (abuse, adultery, etc.). So, I-B takes the stand that there are many who have valid grounds who are considered to have divorced for unbiblical reasons. He considers that God is to be the judge of this. Second, I-B reminds us that he has already covered the issue of being forced into an unbiblical divorce. The wronged partner is not enslaved and is free to remarry (1 Cor 7:15)

Third, and this is the most controversial, I-B states that Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:32 (that the one who divorces for any reason other than unfaithfulness and then remarries commits adultery) is rhetorical and not literal. I-B believes this verse falls in a section of high rhetoric (5:21-31). Just as Jesus is not advocating gouging out eyes, nor is he saying that a woman has grounds for divorce if her husband lusted after another woman, neither is he saying that we ought to treat remarriage for groundless divorcees as literal adultery. This, I-B says, is not to take away the serious violation of groundless divorces. They should not happen and it is a sin if they do and all sin is serious!

Finally, I-B takes on the issue of whether an invalid divorce BEFORE conversion is any different from after conversion. Should they be treated differently as many churches do? I-B says no. He points again to 1 Cor 7:12-14 where Paul tells converts not to look down upon their marriages and not to leave their unbelieving spouses but only to let them go if they demand to leave. Here Paul is saying to honor the vow and not to be the cause of breaking up a marriage.

He concludes that since divorce is forgiveable, churches ought to be willing to remarry even the person who demanded an unbiblical divorce:

I think that a church should remarry somone even if that person had forced a wronged partner into a divorce–though only after that person has gone back to their former partner with a genuine offer of reconciliation and has truly repented of this sin. (p. 124)


I-B tries to steer clear of having churches decide guilt or innocence. Seems he wants to do this because we often don’t get all the information and don’t have clear procedures for how we do this. And yet, it seems that elders and pastors are called to be leaders and to make Solomonic decisions. Maybe the problem has been church leaders too unwilling to get their hands dirty in a messy situation, or too unwilling to take the time.

Following his mindset a person who forces an unbiblical divorce ought to remain unmarried and open to reconciliation until their former spouse remarries. However, he doesn’t really say this.

I’m reminded of Philip Yancey’s line in “What’s So Amazing about Grace.” He tells the tale of a friend who asks him if God will forgive him if he divorces his longtime wife and marries a young woman. Yancey says something like this, “Yes, but the question is whether you will want it” (meaning if you want God’s forgiveness then you have to repent and turn AWAY from your sin and back to righteousness).

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Divorce & Remarriage VIII: 4 Biblical Grounds for Divorce

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.


Filed under Abuse, biblical counseling, Biblical Reflection, book reviews, christian counseling, divorce, Doctrine/Theology, Relationships

Divorce & Remarriage VI: Paul in 1 Cor 7

We come to chapter 6 of Instone-Brewer’s Divorce and Remarriage where he discusses Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 7. Before he takes on the text, he surmises that Paul must have been married given that it was mandatory both for Jews (to be fruitful and multiply) and for Romans (made law by Augustus in 18 BC). He notes that Paul contradicts compulsory marriage by making it optional in this passage.

But does he speak against marriage? Well I-B suggests that at that time there was a severe famine going on and so it would be hard for people to care for family. This, he thinks, may have been the “present distress” mentioned in 7:26. Second, he believes that verse 1 of this chapter, “Now for the matters you wrote about: it is good for a man not to marry,” that the phrase “it is good…” is NOT Paul’s belief but only a repetition of what the Corinthians believed and were writing for him to clarify. The NIV study bible also raises this as a possibility since Paul speaks well of marriage elsewhere.

What about depriving each other of sex? What is this about? I-B says this,

Notice that Paul does not say that either partner can demand sexual love, because both should regard the other person as ruling over their body. Love is a matter not of taking but giving….Also, Paul does not define what this love consists of, because in some situations, a cuddle is a warmer expression of conjugal love than intercourse. (p. 73)

I-B mentions that Roman divorces were very easy. They also had no fault divorce. A person had only to leave and separate. One did not have to prove abuse or neglect. So, in verse 10, Paul (per I-B) is telling the Corinthians that they should not seek no-fault separations. If one does seek a separation, then that person should either remain unmarried or seek to reconcile. At this point he goes into some technical translation work about the word separate. Should it be translated as reflexive–separate oneself, or passive (be separated from by someone else’s act). Bottom line:

Paul’s point is that Christians should not use Roman form of divorce-by-separation because it is groundless, therefore it is too easy to divorce people against their will when they have done nothing wrong. Anybody could take it on themselves to separate, and their partner would suddenly find that they had been legally divorced whether they wanted it or not. (p. 77)

IB then asks, “But what if you have used divorce-by separation?” I-B says Paul is teaching that those who enacted separations without cause should seek to reconcile or remain unmarried. And if you are the victim of such a separation, you treat them as an unbeliever and let them go in peace.

He finishes with these concluding points:

1. Believers should never cause divorce (be the one to break the vows. He is not saying they shouldn’t seek a divorce because the other broke the vows).

2. Believers should not use groundless divorces.

3. But questions remain for later chapters: can a believer divorce a partner who breaks their vows unrepentantly; and can a believer remarry after a divorce.

I think I-B brings clarity to Paul’s seeming contradiction in this chapter. However, he may or may not be correct about the famine bit. One would think that if Paul were referring to something like a famine he might have mentioned it. Seems that he is saying something much more eternal. That is good to marry but it is also good to be single and be devoted to the Lord. I also liked what he had to say about our bodies not being our own. Sometimes that is used to demand sex from another. But if we heed this passage, we cannot demand anything at all but only seek to give kindness and love.

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Divorce & Remarriage IV: Jesus and the OT

Chapter 4 of Divorce and Remarriage in the church is quite short and has one primary point: Just because we live in the NT age, we do not ignore the OT. Jesus clearly comes to fulfill and to expand on the Law and does not speak against any of the OT–only against false interpretations of it. Some quotables:

Jesus called us to take note of every letter of God’s law, so we cannot simply ignore it. (45)

Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial parts of the law on the cross, but he wants us to fulfill the moral parts of the law, and he even said that he wanted us to be perfect like our Father…. he affirms the principles of these laws [in Matthew 5] and widens their application. (49)

Jesus never criticizes what the Old Testament says, though he frequently criticizes the way people interpret it. He condemns the way some people tried to sidestep the command about oaths by claiming that they were not making a real oath if they swore by “by heaven”… (50)

As you can see, Instone-Brewer is telling us that in the next chapters where we look at the NT data, it ought not be seen as in opposition to the OT but as further explanation of the underlying principles of the OT.

As an aside, he explores 3 possible ways people look at the relationship between the OT and the NT:

1. The OT contains ceremonial and moral laws. In the NT, Jesus fulfills the ceremonial by his sacrifice, leaving us with the moral parts. I-B says the problem with this is that we may not agree as to which is which.
2. Christians follow OT moral principles but not the details (e.g., we no longer stone individuals caught in adultery but we recognize the moral principle behind the prohibition).
3. Ignore any OT laws not mentioned in the NT. Problem here is that rape is not mentioned in the NT.

Finally, I-B warns the reader against seeing the OT as legalism and the NT as grace. God is just as forgiving in the OT as he is in the NT.

Not much for me to add to this except to underline his point about the NT expanding and highlighting the principles of holiness. We recognize that the sin behind adultery is in all who ever lust after another. This helps us avoid pride and arrogance. Now from here we’ll look at the NT writings that relate to divorce and remarriage.  

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Divorce & Remarriage III: God as divorcee

In chapter 3 of David Instone-Brewer’s, Divorce and Remarriage in the church (IVP), we find that adultery in the OT results in either literal death or death of the marriage. But do other things also end marriage (abuse, neglect, cruelty)?  Why, I-B asks, “wouldn’t God allow divorce in these situations?”

The author argues that God DOES have other grounds for divorce:

Consider Ex 21:10-11. This text suggests to the author that God makes provision for a woman to be free from the marriage if her husband marries a second wife and fails to provide food, clothes and sex for the first. Instone-Brewer makes the important point that this is considered “case law” and not a statute. 

“Case law is a collection of decisions made by judges in actual cases that established a new legal principle. These rulings can be applied to other cases that share something in common with the case that established the principle….[this passage] is case law, so we ignore the details about slavery and polygamy and look for the principles that apply to all marriages that involve neglect. The rabbis found the following principles in this text, and I think they were right. They reasoned that if a slave wife had the right to divorce a husband who neglected to supply food, clothing and conjugal love, then a free wife would certainly also have this right. And they argued that if one of two wives had this right, so did an only wife.” (p. 36) 

So, I-B argues that there are 4 total grounds for divorce in the OT: neglecting food, clothing, sex, AND adultery. He reports that these 4 obligations are found in Jewish vows. He does admit that in the rabbinical literature, men could not be divorced for adultery since they could choose to have a second wife. And her reminds the reader that Jesus ends this “loophole”  by teaching monogamy.

I-B uses this text to remind the reader that only the victim could choose to enact the divorce. And the OT is replete with evidence that God marries Israel and Judah and both break the marriage vows or covenant/contract. God, the victim of this spiritual adultery, chooses to divorce Israel and separate from Judah (later to be reconciled) (Jer 3:8).

Israel did not know anything about God’s wonderful future plans while she was heading for divorce, and she stubbornly continued to break her marriage vows. All the prophets portray God acting in a forgiving and patient manner–he didn’t divorce her immediately and gave her many changes to repent. But Israel, his wife, continued to sin, refusing to honor her vows, and God reluctantly had to divorce her. The marriage was broken and dead, and God merely carried out the legal formalities of divorce that recognized that fact. (p. 41)

Why does God hate divorce? I-B says it is because he has personal experience of the pain of it.

God does not criticize the legal process of divorce or the person who carries it out; otherwise he would criticize himself, because he had to divorce Israel. God hates the breaking of marriage vows that results in divorce. He says that breaking these vows is being “faithless,” because it breaks the marriage covenant or contract. (p. 42)

So I-B concludes by recognizing the OT view of marriage as a contract (agreeing to be faithful and to provide food, clothes, and love) that can be dissolved (not required to dissolve) by the victim if the contract is broken. He will look next to Jesus’ words in the NT

MY THOUGHTS? The OT is very concerned about abandonment of vulnerable and weak individuals (e.g., widows, orphans, aliens). And so the divorce statements in the OT is to men who have the power to abandon. Women did not. But, I-B seems to make a strong case for these issues to brought forward to today. Where it gets messy is who interprets abandonment? Sinners! Sinners who can shape interpretations to their own benefit. I wanted more sex, more clothes, more of you and less of your work. Are these also all grounds for divorce? While I like I-B’s work with the Ezek. passage it seems like it raises many more questions.  


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Divorce & Remarriage II: OT Reflections

Chapters 2-3 of Instone-Brewer’s Divorce & Remarriage in the Church reviews OT reflections on divorce and remarriage. In the first few pages of chapter 2, the author skips much review of Eden and goes right for the problem in marriages after the Fall. Adam and Eve discover, “the difference between good an devil, and at the heart of this discovery was the desire to do what they wanted.” (p. 24) God’s original design of “leaving and cleaving” provides the remedy to our tendency toward individualism and is meant to help us through the hard times.

But what happens when the ideal of leaving and cleaving doesn’t work? What happens to the wife? The Husband? Is there any relief? Instone-Brewer (I-B) then reminds readers that failing marriages is not merely a modern problem. He briefly summarizes the ancient near eastern laws prior to Moses. In short, women have no power, no say. A husband can abandon her and the kids, leave her with nothing (since she can’t own property) and then return and take her back whether she wants to or not.

Enter Moses. I-B says that Law given by Moses brings some things to rights. First, everyone was treated with equal respect and not given different punishments based on importance or personal wealth. Second,

The most impressive differences between the laws of Israel and those of other ancient Near Eastern nations were in the laws of remarriage. In other countries it was difficult for an abandoned woman to get remarried, but in Israel this unfairness was corrected by giving her the right to receive a divorce certificate from her husband….It confirmed that her husband had divorced her and meant that it was safe for another man to marry her… (pp. 28-29)

I-B backs up his contention that she could remarry by speaking of archaeological finds of very early Jewish divorce certificates that contain language, “you are now free to marry any man you wish.”

Lest anyone think the OT supports divorce, I-B attempts to distinguish between what is acceptable and a legal recognition of what has happened. Though divorce is always a sign of something wrong, I-B contends that God provides a means to force a divorcing man to give her a certificate to allow her to remarry.

This chapter is a little campy in places but makes a good point that the divorce certificate allowance was to protect wives from even more damage–to limit the effects of sin. Jesus seems to support this argument in Matt 19:18 when he states that Moses gave them this law because their hearts were hard (i.e., had no concern for their wives and children). Notice that women are not even considered able to divorce their husbands. There are a number of other OT passages that I-B has yet to deal with that I expect will show up in the next chapter. 

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Divorce & Remarriage I: Confusion!

What is the right biblical and pastoral answer for those with real questions concerning divorce and remarriage? David Instone-Brewer in Divorce and Remarriage in the Church (IVP, 2003/6) suggests that much of our current advice and interpretation of Scripture on these matters are not clear nor sensible (hence the need for his book 🙂 )

The trouble with most theologies of divorce is that they aren’t sensible. They may give a reasonable account of most of the texts, in a forced way, but their conclusions just aren’t practical… (p. 13)

Instone-Brewer says most interpretations today fall into 2 camps: (a) there are 2 valid reasons for divorce; remarriage is not allowed unless one person dies, and (b) no grounds for divorce or separation.

The first interpretation isn’t logical says the author. “Why would Jesus and Paul identify these two grounds for divorce but not allow divorce for physical abuse or other harmful situations?” (p. 14) The second option is more logical but no more practical.

Adding to the confusion are those who just decide the bible isn’t practical and so try to extend the texts on divorce to cover adultery, abuse, abandonment, etc. While these are more sensible, their textual support is “dubious.”

Instone-Brewer came to see the texts in new light after studying the text AND first century Judaism and so the remainder of the book will be his conclusions in 4 sections
1. God is a divorcee (OT material). ch 2-4
2. Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching on divorce and remarriage (ch 5-7)
3. How this teaching should work and a look at marriage vows (ch 8-10)
4. Church policy on divorce and what it should do now (ch 11-15)

But the author can’t bear to stop the chapter now so he launches into what he didn’t find in the Bible: the words, “Those whom God has joined, no man can separate.” What Jesus DID say is, “let no one separate.” Why the distinction here? Is Jesus saying it is not possible to separate? If God has joined, then no one can unjoin? Instone-Brewer says no. What it means is that no one SHOULD separate.

Second, who are these words to? The one who causes it? The one who starts the proceedings? You get the inkling that Instone-Brewer believes it is the one who causes vows to be broken. Why? Well, God divorces us but he is the victim.

…his warning is not to the person who finally tidies up the legal mess after the marriage has broken down but to those who would violate their marriage vows and, in so doing, cause the marriage to break up. (p. 18)

Of course people do break their vows all the time and so if they are repentant, I-B says we should forgive them. But if vows are repeatedly broken, then the marriage is, “in shreds.” (p. 19).

Again, I-B can’t wait to reveal his hand later and so concludes (a) the bible only allows victims to initiate divorce and Jesus’ problem with his hearers was that they had abandoned this idea for groundless divorce, and (b) the OT also allows divorce for abuse and neglect.

Well, what do you think? Should biblical intepretations be sensible (to us) and practical? I confess that I have never used sensible when considering whether my interpretation is good–at least knowingly. Seems much doesn’t make sense to me. But, it is an interesting way of thinking about these passages. If they are meant for us to use, they they should be practical, no?

I think he’s shortchanged us by limiting the typical camps on this topic. There are many who believe that there are a limited number of legitimate reasons and in those reasons, remarriage is possible.

For those really wanting to get into the topic, I would recommend two other writers: Jay Adams book on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Also, check out John Piper’s lengthy document. He takes a very conservative (no remarriage) position–even more conservative than the official position of his elders.

Let’s see where I-B goes as he engages the OT next.   

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