Tag Archives: remarriage

Divorce & Remarriage 14: Summary and application

In chapter 14 of David Instone-Brewer’s Divorce and Remarriage in the Church(IVP), we find a summary of the book and some practical applications. In this next to last chapter of the book, he summarizes each chapter. Here are some key points.

Chapter 1 points out that some things we thought were in the bible (re: divorce) aren’t actually there. Chapter 2 looks at how in the OT God corrects an ANE tradition of allowing men to abandon and then return to their wives at will by requiring them to give a divorce certificate to their wives if they refused to provide for her or to be faithful. This certificate allowed her to remarry. Chapter 3 runs down the rabbit trail of God as divorcee. Chapter 4 shows Jesus’ teaching to be in continuity with the OT. Chapter 5 looks at Jesus’ criticism of groundless divorce. Chapter 6 explores Paul’s rejection of groundless divorce and his recognizing that if one is victimized by a groundless divorce that they shouldn’t be enslaved to it and are free to remarry. Chapter 7 and 8 look at whether there is biblical teaching that divorce is always wrong (even for abuse) and that even if they get divorce, whether or not they are really are in God’s eyes. I-B believes there isn’t credibility for these teachings from Scripture and that the OT does allow for divorce in cases of neglect/abuse. Chapter 9 looks at whether remarriage is possible. He believes the NT doesn’t really address this matter in grounded (opposed to groundless) divorces since it was commonly accepted in the first century. He believes both Jesus and Paul assume this in their teachings and didn’t clearly exclude remarriage.

He cites early Reformers who also saw the Scriptures this way (Erasmus, Martin Luther, Zwingli, Cranmer) and allowed for divorce on grounds of abuse, abandonment, neglect as well as adultery.

He then cites modern writers who also have similar positions (although he admits they may hold these positions but fail to use proper biblical grounds).

Finally, he suggests these policies for consideration:

The biblical grounds for divorce are adultery, neglect and abuse, any of which is equivalent to broken marriage vows.

No one should initiate a divorce unless their partner is guilty of repeatedly or unrepentantly breaking their marriage vows.

No one should separate from their marriage partner without intending to divorce them.

If someone has divorced or separated without biblical grounds, they should attempt a reconciliation with their former partner.

Remarriage is allowed in church for any divorcee after a service of repentance, unless they have divorced a wronged partner who wants to be reconciled.

The final chapter (15) are several letters written to him asking his opinion on their situation. He replies to each with what he think can be said and what is not clear from Scripture.


So we have come to the end of Divorce & Remarriage. It seems I-B has helped us understand some of the cultural contexts in which the OT and NT texts are written. He helps us understand where some of the text may be repeating current “legal” language. A chunk of his viewpoint is based on silence in the text and that the bible may not stipulate every kind of divorce. So, how do you feel about this? Does his arguments have merit? Where? Does he help clarify places where the church has misread the text? For me, I think his work helps me better defend 2 beliefs: a unrepentant breach of the vows may allow the victim to seek a divorce and then remarry; and separation “just to see what happens” is not only unwise but unbiblical.

Will some abuse this work and proclaim their right to no longer suffer? Sure. But that is nothing new. Will a few more who are suffering silently be willing to talk about their victimization? Hopefully. And hopefully church leaders will take their concerns seriously.

I do wish he addressed matters of sexual abuse. Sexually abused individuals are easily triggered by sexual activity. I would be very much against the spouse of a victim of sexual abuse using “neglect of conjugal love” as a reason for divorce. There are other forms of love besides intercourse.


Filed under Abuse, Biblical Reflection, book reviews, christian counseling, Christianity, 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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Filed under book reviews, church and culture, divorce, Doctrine/Theology, marriage, Repentance

Marriage & Divorce 9: Getting Remarried?

We’ve been following David Instone-Brewer’s IVP book, Divorce and Remarriage in the churchand now come to chapter 9. Thus far he has been arguing that there are 4 biblical grounds for divorce in the bible. Some of these grounds, he argues, become clearer when you understand the culture in which Paul and Jesus were arguing. While both argue against groundless divorce, they also allow directly or indirectly OT allowances for failure to love, support, and be faithful to one’s spouse.

But in this chapter I-B asks whether the Scriptures support remarriage. In short, his argument is that everyone in that time (Rabbis, Greeks) believed that if divorced properly, remarriage was a given, even nearly compulsory. If Jesus and Paul thought otherwise, wouldn’t they have said so? The only purpose for a certificate of divorce was one thing: freedom to remarry. He points to Paul’s quotation of common divorce decrees in 1 Cor. 7:39: “She is free to remarry…” (p. 111). While he is speaking there to widows, he uses divorce certificate language. Why? I-B states that Paul could only refer to this language if everyone believed that divorcees had the right to remarry. Further, Paul says abandoned Christians have the right to remarry though they should pursue reconciliation if possible.

But what about those who caused or actively sought a groundless divorce? Can they remarry? I-B says that Paul states that those who separated and divorced groundlessly must not remarry but pursue reconciliation (1 Cor 7:11). They should seek to “make things right” but if they cannot (because the other remarries) then they are not allowed to pursue this person and are free to remarry.

I-B raises the question about the consequence/punishment of forcing an unbiblical divorce being the inability to ever remarry. He says it is neither since the call is to reconcile until it is no longer possible and then the person is free.

We have to realize that despite the number of passages on marriage, divorce, and remarriage, there is still much silence in areas we’d like. Those who try to make that silence into meaning we can do what we want are wrong but so are those who act as if the silence is black/white and as if Jesus/Paul spoke more definitively than they really did. It is interesting to think that Paul’s teaching on this is about stopping invalid divorces but not being enslaved to an invalid divorce when one is a victim and being free to remarry. We read these passages from our context but when I-B points out Paul’s context and the supporting documents, he has a strong case!


Filed under book reviews, Christianity, divorce, Doctrine/Theology

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 7: Am I still married even though I was divorced?

We come to chapter 7 of Instone-Brewer’s Divorce and Remarriage in the Church. In this chapter he tackles the question of what ends a marriage. After a couple of lame jokes to make his next point, he asks if a woman who is betrayed and cheated on and then involuntarily divorced by her husband is still married to him. Is she single? Divorced? Still married? I-B says many biblical scholars erroneously say, “married–because only death can end a marriage.” (p. 82) This chapter is designed to debunk the “forever married” doctrine.

People commit adultery or become cruel or abusive, and their marriages start to break down. What happens then? Most marriages can be healed with effort from both partners, but like cancer, if it is left untreated too long, broken vows are terminal because they kill a marriage. (p. 83)

  What to do? I-B suggests 3 options are available at the terminal stage: remain together and suffer (hoping it will get better), separate without divorce, get divorced.

But what does the Bible have to say about these options? Doesn’t the bible suggest lifelong marriage? He reminds the reader that “let no one separate” doesn’t mean it can’t but it is “undesirable”. Beyond this passage, he explores 3 more: Mt 19:9, 1 Cor. 6:15f, and Eph. 5:32. The Matt passage is against any cause divorce and not against all divorce. Paul in 1 Cor 6 says that one flesh relationships are very intimate but not necessarily permanent because if that were the case, those that had been fornicators would have to be warned to stay single. Finally, in Ephesians 5 marriage is referred to as a mystery. Some have treated this as a sacrament (something that can’t be broken) but he and most evangelicals reject this translation/meaning.

I-B then goes on to talk about silence in the NT about divorce in two passages: Rom 7:2 and 1 Cor 7:39. Is it surprising the silence about divorce in these passages? The Romans passage seems on the surface to be about not being able to remarry while a husband is still alive. But I-B says it is really about the relationship we have with the law and with Christ. Just as the parable of the sower isn’t about farming, this one isn’t really about divorce law in that it doesn’t state all the options one might be able to have about divorce–only the part that is appropriate for making Paul’s point about belonging to Christ through death. Divorce is used to illustrate a point, not to teach about divorce here.

This can be summarized thus: People are tied to the law of Moses till they die, just as a wife is tied to her husband till death. If she went with another man this would be adultery, unless her husband died. Therefore God lets you die with Christ, in order to set you free to marry Christ. (p. 89)

1 Cor 7:39 is about what happens to a spouse when the other spouse dies. It is not teaching about divorce here, but is silent on the matter.  What it is teaching on, says I-B is freeing widows from the levirate marriage which would require them to marry their brother-in-law.

A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whome she wishes, only in the Lord.

SO I-B ends the chapter with these findings

1. Jesus commands those who have been joined through marriage vows that they should never separate, but a sinner who disregards Jesus’ commands can still break up the marriage [even if they don’t initiate the divorce]

2. “one flesh” is descriptive not prescriptive; “not necessarily permanent.”

3. Some passages may mention marriage and divorce but since the passages aren’t about that, we shouldn’t squeeze meanings unintended from them or try to make much of the silence on the issues. The next chapter will look at when divorce is possible.

So, what do you think of his re-reading of these texts? Do you agree that divorce isn’t really the topic and so therefore we can’t use these texts to try to make them speak to our questions about when it is possible or not possible to divorce or remarry?

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