Thursday, September 13, 2012

Divorce and Remarriage Book Survey, Part 3 of 3

This is an extension to my series on the biblical perspective of divorce and remarriage. The posts can be found here:

If one is to attempt to reckon with the foremost research and discussion of today on divorce and remarriage in the bible, it requires reading Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context (2002) by David Instone-Brewer. In this book, the author explores the Ancient Near Eastern understanding of marriage and marriage contracts, the allowances for divorce and remarriage within the Pentateuch, and what the Later Prophets say concerning breaking marriage vows. Instone-Brewer then surveys how the increase of women’s rights during the Intertestamental period affected marriage contracts and the rabbinic teaching on grounds for divorce. All of this data set’s up for his analysis of Jesus and Paul’s teachings before he closes with a survey of more modern thought and some pastoral considerations.

There are a number of discussion items that Instone-Brewer advances that are important for setting the contextual scene of marriage and divorce. Some are well argued and some require a bit more nuancing on his part.

1) Ex. 21:10-11, not Dt. 24:1-4, was the standard text for Jewish legislation on divorce. Though indeed there was considerable debate in Jesus’ day concerning the correct interpretation of the Deuteronomy text and its bearing on divorce, most divorce law in the Mishnah rotates around the three categories mentioned in the Exodus text. Food and household provisions, along with marital obligations were basic to marriage, though this was not symmetric between husbands and wives, and the Mishnah required divorce if they were broken.

2) From OT times to Jesus’ day and beyond, Jewish and other ANE divorce certificates always had one important statement written on it: “You are free to marry whomever you desire.” This has been long acknowledged, but Instone-Brewer amasses a considerable amount of evidence for just how ubiquitous it was. Thus there is practically no room for Heth and Wenham’s claim that Jesus made a distinction between the two. This is a place where cultural-historical context indicates that Jesus, and Matthew and Mark, needed to give more explanation if he intended absolutely no remarriage allowed after divorce.

3) The Intertestamental period saw a shift towards increased women’s rights, especially in the Gentile world, resulting in increased property and marital rights. Women in the Greco-Roman world had the same rights to initiate divorce as the husband[1]. Jewish women, at least in Judea, could not initiate divorce but had greater leverage. Within the Jewish Diaspora, there were greater tendencies towards women having same divorce rights. This is contrary to the standard thinking that women could not divorce and were subject to the whims of their husbands. This paints a much fuller picture of marital relationships in the Greco-Roman and Judean world contemporaneous with the NT[2]. Thus my analysis of Mt. 5:32b fits nicely within this framework.

Instone-Brewer does, however, seem to overstate the point, claiming that within the Judean world divorce became more common as both men and women could demand it. Perhaps. The evidence given indicates that it was possible in some locations in the Jewish Diaspora for women to give divorce certificates, and in the wealthy class in Judea it would have been more likely that women could divorce – note the Herodias and Salome incidents. However, Josephus notes that such action by a woman was not in accordance with Jewish Law[3] so some balance is required here.

4) Given the previous point, it was not a given that a divorced woman needed remarry, as is incorrectly assumed in most analyses of Matthew 5:32[4]. Rather, with the money received from the divorce settlement, she could easily do as she wished, including move home, buy property and live self-sustained, conduct her own business, etc.

5) Instone-Brewer argues that the Greek “sexual unfaithfulness” in Mt. 5:32 and 19:9 is best seen as a translation of “some indecency” (literally, “nakedness of a matter” or better, “anything unclean”) in Dt. 24:1.  Maybe. But he then goes to argue that Jesus was simply responding to the debate rather than rendering it pointless. Instone-Brewer than adds the inference that Jesus didn’t disagree with the Exodus 21:10-11 provisions since he didn’t argue against them. Again, this misses the point – Jesus surpasses the old covenant.

6) When we get to Paul’s letter to Corinth, Instone-Brewer does argue, successfully in my opinion, that the terminology Paul uses in 1 Cor. 7:10-11 refers to an “any reason” divorce, allowed within Greco-Roman law, where either party could divorce simply by leaving[5].  Again, he goes on to infer that the text should be read simply as denying moral grounds for this certain type of divorce. Again, while this is very important background for keeping a check on going to far in the other direction, this misses the point. Paul’s overall argument is for an attitude check and for living one’s life in accordance with a new set of values.

7) Lastly, Instone-Brewer argues quite persuasively that “not bound” 1 Cor. 7:15 only makes sense if referring to freedom to remarry. Any other reading simply doesn’t make much sense.

The final outcome for Instone-Brewer is that the “biblical grounds for divorce are all failures to keep the marriage vows – that is, promises of faithfulness and provision of food, clothing, and love. The latter three may be generalized as material and emotional support. Physical and emotional abuse are extreme failures of material and emotional support.” This doesn’t mean we as Christians take this in a legalistic sense else we act like the Pharisees. Rather, the NT takes a pragmatic approach and Christians are to forgive when the partner is repentant.

Despite an excellent and very useful array of cultural-historical data and analysis, in the end Instone-Brewer misses the mark because he, like Heth and Wenham, reads the bible through a lens of codified ethics[6]. For example, in his survey of the Later Prophets he finds that a “stubbornness” is found in Israel that warrants Yahweh’s divorce of Israel. In his hermeneutics, this directly translates to human divorces finding an acceptable place at a spouse’s stubbornness. But in his analysis, he fails to reckon with the significance of the overarching discourse of the redemptive historical framework that such language is set in the Later Prophets. And just because God unfortunately finds warrant for divorce with a sinful humanity, does that mean that we too can find warrant?

This culminates in his NT analysis of Jesus’ sayings in flattening out Jesus’ responses to the Pharisees to simply be within the realm of Pharisaic debate. In actuality, Jesus’ response cuts much deeper to a new set of demands, going to the very heart, mind, and will of a person. Because of Instone-Brewer's “legalistic” framework[7], his advice is easily open to abuse where any shortcomings in any of his categories may justify divorce. Ciampa and Rosner offer very sage counter-advice: “Wives and husbands are not well served by either overly lax or overly restrictive interpretations of biblical teachings on divorce and remarriage, and it is incumbent upon Christian leaders to provide counsel that takes seriously both God’s commitment to the preservation of marriage wherever possible and his commitment to the protection of the vulnerable…”[8] Instone-Brewer fails to account for new covenant demands.

Divorce and Remarriage is one of a broader host of issues discussed in God, Marriage, and Family (2006) by Andreas Köstenberger. This book is more positively about defining family and how a family should function rather than how to mitigate severe disfuntionality. Köstenberger is fairly middle-of-the-road conservative Christian with perhaps a slight bent more towards conservative. There are times where he seems to want the standard conservative answer at the expense of subtle logical contradiction rather than stake out something new that might be a better balance. Nevertheless, I was pleased to find this was less than a How-To manual and more of a balanced, common sense, biblical approach to many of the family issues that are explored.

In chapter 11, Köstenberger spends all of 16 pages exploring the various points of discussion concerning divorce and remarriage in the bible. Jesus’ contemporaries wrongly took Dt. 24:1-4 as prescriptive rather than descriptive, as only regulating divorce rather than directly allowing divorce. The disciples’ reaction in Matthew 19:10 demonstrates that Jesus’ teaching indeed was more strict than most, including the conservative rabbinic school of Shammai, but this hardly necessitates that Jesus did not allow any divorce whatsoever. Köstenberger also sees Rom. 7:1-4 as not exhaustive prescription for divorce and remarriage but rather a general principle illustrative of deeper truths of the atonement. In 1 Cor. 7:15, “not bound” is similar to “not bound” in v. 39 (despite different Greek words) and so allows remarriage in its specific case and Köstenberger feels that “those who take 1 Cor. 7.15 to permit remarriage should not be ostracized if they get remarried after prolonged failed attempts at reconciliation.” Then, in a footnote (that is of similar substance to his blog post here), Köstenberger spends another two pages engaging and critiquing a Christianity Today article by Instone-Brewer[9] and a critique of Instone-Brewer by John Piper[10].

I find little disagreement with Köstenberger’s criticism of Piper, who I find more and more to be a bit too much on the side of reactionary, a little too suspicious of historical analysis (though often with good warrant), and a little lacking on solid exegesis; though, this doesn’t lessen my respect for him and the enormous amount of good that his ministry has done. I find Köstenberger’s criticism of Instone-Brewer a bit mixed however. He agrees with Instone-Brewer that Jesus merely rejects the Pharisaical interpretation of Dt. 24:1-4 yet finds his claim that since Jesus didn’t contradict Ex. 21:10-11, then he must have accepted it. Köstenberger is quite right to question Instone-Brewer’s “argument from silence”. However, Instone-Brewer has very well argued for the importance of Ex. 21:10-11 in Jewish Law. If Jesus is merely rejecting the Pharisaical interpretation of Dt. 24:1-4, as Köstenberger concedes, then it’s a rather strong (not weak) argument from silence. Moreover, I find Köstenberger falling into the same path as Instone-Brewer at taking the bible on a purely deontological level, assuming that our ethical lead is merely a comprehensive set of rules given by Jesus and the apostles. If this is the case, then why doesn’t Jesus contradict Ex. 21:10-11 Law? If he doesn’t, then why can’t it still stand? We are on firmer ground to see Jesus sweeping away the entire “hard-heartedness” stance of the Law with new transcendent demands of perfection; demands that may have a strange and unfulfilled dimension in this fallen age but that stand straight and clear in a perfect world, the age to come.[11] Good thing God has given his Spirit to guide and direct us!

[1] “Greco-Roman” is in contrast with the Greek world where, with a few exceptions, women were accorded a much lower place in society.
[2] For an excellent analysis of women and marital relationships in NT times, see Lynn Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians: Illuminating Ancient Ways of Life (2009).
[3] Jewish Antiquities 15.259
[4] This causes the common interpretation that the husband causes the woman to commit adultery because she is forced to marry another man.
[5] That that was the law doesn’t necessarily mean that divorce rates were unusually high. See Lynn Cohick’s book referenced above: various cultural values within the Greco-Roman world generally kept a fairly good check on divorce.
[6] Perhaps better put as “deontological”.
[7] Instone-Brewer consciously distances himself from being legalistic and suggests a “pragmatic” approach. However, I’d suggest that his hermeneutic tends towards a sort of legalism where we need simply only determine the “laundry list” of what’s acceptable. This seems to be partly due to his flattening of the text onto its historical context at many junctures and missing the nature of Jesus’ radical demands.
[8] Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, pp. 293-4 n. 115
[11] This does not mean Jesus does not require radical living in this age. At stake is the welfare of the oppressed.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Divorce and Remarriage Book Survey, Part 2 of 3

This is an extension to my series on the biblical perspective of divorce and remarriage. The posts can be found here:

Soon after Heth and Wenham’s book came out, William Luck Sr. felt the calling to respond with Divorce and Re-Marriage: Recovering the Biblical View (1987, 2nd Edition 2009). It made little impact at the time but Luck felt the need to revive the book 22 years later. The preface reveals a man who has had a lifetime of pastoral experience in dealing with divorce and he has come through with a perspective that would behoove many a church leader to gain. In the preface he writes: “We must not be so long on ethics that we cannot let truth kiss mercy” – Amen! God help us when we insensitively lay down the law at the expense of the suffering. This gives him the perspective that divorce in fact may be the best option and that there are acceptable circumstances that warrant divorce and carefully considered remarriage.

Subsequent to an excellent preface, Luck painstakingly (almost painfully), carefully, and methodically works through every word and clause in the OT and NT that is significant to the discussion. At many junctures, he levels some very perceptive criticisms against those who are “long on ethics”, including Heth and Wenham. This includes noting that “leave and cling” in Gen. 2:24 are moral imperatives, not ontological facts. Indeed, this is precisely what Jesus is getting at in Mark 10:7-9 and parallels – not that they can’t be separated, but they shouldn’t. Secondly, Luck rightly criticizes Heth and Wenham for their family bond idea of marriage. Marriage is in the same social category as family, but it presses too far to claim it’s an indissoluble blood kinship. He also explores the possibility that the middle participle in Mt. 5:32b and Luke 16:18 could refer to a treacherous divorce by the woman (see Part 4 of my posts on divorce and remarriage).

Sadly, however, I find the book riddled with flawed logic, including overstatements and false disjunctions. One of the main reasons his book never took off is his defense of polygyny - not polygamy: many spouses are ok, but rather, many wives are ok. This is actually something that doesn’t put me off very much, as this is something I’ve explored and find almost defensible … almost. While I think Luck is almost 100% correct that the OT can be read as accepting of multiple wives[i], he gets into trouble when he reads preconceptions of the OT Law into how Jesus handles it. For Luck, the Law is an absolute. This isn’t surprising since he acknowledges Walter Kaiser as his OT instructor. Kaiser is certainly a deservedly well-respected theologian, but I find his handling of the Law to involve some very unwarranted assumptions about its priority and how it does or doesn't carry over into the new covenant. Luck faithfully follows in Kaiser’s footsteps, finding that Jesus only brings out the “true and full meaning” of the Law. Jesus doesn’t overturn the Law’s acceptance of polygyny.

Sadly, Luck doesn’t find that in the Law the woman is actually assumed as inferior to the husband, whereas Jesus equalizes their status. And the Law assumes that the men may have multiple wives, but Jesus (and Paul) sees otherwise. It is to be two that become one flesh (Mt. 19:6) and they are both slaves to each other (1 Cor. 7:3-4). Note that the Law assumes, it doesn’t direct in these matters. It doesn’t positively accept certain poor practices; it simply works within the cultural confines. Luck’s argument for polygyny isn’t helped by his peculiar form of complimentarianism, which he mentions in Chapter 1, nor is the argument of the book helped when polygyny, something that should be rather subsidiary, works its way into almost every chapter of the book.

This is but a mere sampling of the many ways in which Luck goes astray or simply misses the point and it’s difficult to sift out the good for the bad. This is one that will remain on the shelf.

Thankfully, Craig Keener has come along with a much better handling of the New Testament texts with And Marries Another: Divorce and Remarriage in the Teaching of the New Testament (1993). Like William Luck, Keener has had a lifetime of regretful experiences with how the church has handled divorce and remarriage, as he explains in Chapter 1. Almost the rest of the book is spent giving a cultural analysis of the relevant texts in the Gospels and Paul’s letters. With penetrating insight, Keener distinguishes Jesus’ sayings from case law. Jesus stands more in the line of a prophet and teacher, conveying more wisdom or proverbial sayings and prophecy, rather than giving legal pronouncements. When Jesus does present law, it is more like “apodictic” law rather than detailed case law. Thus no one would have been surprised if Jesus’ broad principles would have had to have been qualified for special cases. Keener also gives very insightful cultural analyses to Paul’s letters as well. In the end Keener finds that it is the church’s responsibility to use wisdom and discernment to apply the divorce and remarriage exceptions that are mentioned in Scripture to those that may be exceptions not mentioned in Scripture.

However, while one can learn volumes of very helpful cultural data from Keener, one eventually grows tired of the endless historical information without close analysis of and sensitivity to the Scriptural text itself. While the bible cannot be separated from history, nor should it be bound by it as it came into existence precisely to transform history. The bible has it’s own voice that speaks of transformation and renewal that transcends what history has to offer. In the end, Keener’s book is very useful, but I think falls short.

Three of the previously mentioned authors came together to discuss their differences in the Counterpoints series by Zondervan: Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: 3 Views (2006), edited by Paul Engle and Mark Strauss with Wenham, Heth, and Keener sitting in to represent the 3 major viewpoints. Gordon Wenham represents the ‘No Remarriage After Divorce’ stance. William Heth, since co-authoring a book two decades ago with Wenham arguing for no remarriage, has migrated to arguing that remarriage is acceptable only in the cases where the spouse has committed adultery or desertion. Craig Keener essentially argues for the same position as in his own book in 1993.

There isn’t much new from Gordon Wenham if one has already read his book listed above. Somehow, the overwhelming opinion of the Church Fathers still demands to be reckoned with. Mark and Luke’s accounts are absolute as well as Paul’s in 1 Cor. 7:10-11. And Matthew needs explaning. A very heavy emphasis is placed on the necessity to understand the Greek syntax and grammar and also on the need for semantic sensitivity. However, Wenham’s argument, in my opinion, never gets beyond what is possible, let alone probable. Nevertheless, Wenham’s apparently harsh position of no acceptable remarriage is not to be judged too harshly. For him, marriage has become throw-away in this culture. With this, everyone should agree.

William Heth spends some space reviewing how his view of Genesis 2:24 and Deut. 24:1-4 has changed since first writing his book. He acknowledges that covenant language does not imply that the covenant can’t be broken. Moreover, Deut. 24:1-4 has become for Heth evidence that there are both justifiable and unjustifiable reasons for divorce. In all of this, Heth reveals a heavy dependence on personal dialogue with David Instone-Brewer (see the next review). When he reaches the NT, the typical analysis is found regarding Jesus’ sayings in the gospels and Paul’s word in 1 Cor. 7:15 with the result that divorce and remarriage is permissible for desertion and adultery. In my opinion, Heth’s weakness rests in reading the bible as comprehensive case law.

Craig Keener manages to condense the 100 pages of material from his book into 6, which requires referring the reader back to previously written books a few times. He then spends twice as much space considering numerous examples and exceptions requiring serious reckoning from the “hard stances”. Keener falls flat to some degree in failing to provide any argument on the exegetical level, though, in part he can rest on some exegesis provided by Heth earlier, and on his Matthew and Corinthian commentaries.

The best part about this book is seeing all three interact in very kind, pastoral ways about a subject on which they disagree, realizing that all of them love people no matter where they’re at and care deeply for the manifestation of the decrepitness of this world in the state of divorce in this culture.

[i] Jesus’ quote of Genesis 2:24 uses the LXX translation: “the two shall become one flesh”. In the Hebrew, it’s simply “they shall become one flesh”, which hardly implies monogamy if you’re coming from a polygynous culture.
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