Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Can a divorcee get remarried? Divorce and Remarriage in the Church, by David Instone-Brewer

Divorce And Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities

Can a divorcee get remarried? David Instone-Brewer says "yes," so long as the divorce is valid. He argues for four biblical grounds of divorce: adultery, abandonment, abuse, and neglect.

I grew up in a community in which there was only one ground for divorce: "sexual immorality," or adultery. How does Instone-Brewer get from one ground to four? The answer is relatively simple, he rigorously applies principles of biblical exegesis to the relevant passages of Scripture, and along with a few new insights into the ancient Near-East, weaves a powerful and convincing story of the four biblical grounds for divorce.

Here are some interesting tidbits. Did you know that we've found divorce certificates from the ancient Near-East? These are the divorce certificates allowed by Moses in Deuteronomy. Surprisingly, they all say (for hundreds and hundreds of years right up to ones we've found at Masada that date to after Jesus' ministry) that the divorcee has the legal right to remarry anyone she (or he) wishes. There was this problem in the ancient world that Moses solved by allowing women to have certificates of divorce. The problem was that before Moses, men could abandon their wives and still have the legal right to return years later to reclaim their wives and their children. Needless to say, this made it difficult for an abandoned woman to get remarried! Who in their right mind would marry a woman who at any point could be picked up by the absentee husband!?

Enter the certificate of divorce, which finalizes the end of the marriage and gives the woman the right to remarry anyone she wishes. According to this, divorcees could get remarried. In fact, remarriage was the point of divorce. Instone-Brewer goes on to show that this understanding of divorce is overturned neither by Jesus nor Paul.

Other interesting points:
  1. Marriage was considered compulsory in first century Judaism. Even the crazy ascetic Jews who lived in the dessert married for five years or so in order to fulfill the command to "Be fruitful and multiply." Jesus, by his teaching in the Gospels, shows that marriage is no longer compulsory when one gives up marriage for the cause of the Kingdom of God.
  2. Exodus 21:10-11 is a piece of case law that allows a wife to exit a marriage if her husband denies her "food, clothing, or conjugal love."
  3. A Jewish rabbi named Hillel came up with a novel interpretation of the divorce passage in Deuteronomy 24:1, claiming that divorce had two grounds: sexual immorality and "Any Cause." He and his students were opposed by the rabbi Shammai and his students, who claimed that Deuteronomy 24:1 only had sexual immorality in mind.
  4. Both the Hillelites and the Shammaites believed in the Exodus 21:10-11 provisions for divorce because of abuse and neglect. They just argued about how much sex a husband owed his wife in order to keep his vow!
  5. In the passages in the Gospels, Jesus is being asked to comment on the fight between the students of Hillel and the students of Shammai. "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for 'Any Cause'?" Not only does Jesus side with Shammai on the interpretation of Deut. 24:1, he also argues that "Any Cause" divorces are not valid and anyone who has entered into an "Any Cause" divorce and remarried is technically committing adultery. So, it is not any divorcee who remarries that is committing adultery. It is the divorcee who has divorced without biblical grounds.
These are just some highlights, and I certainly cannot summarize the whole of his argument with its nuances and caveats here. I hope I have interested you enough to purchase the book for yourself (use the link on my website!) and give it a thorough reading. Not only does it make sense of the various passages on divorce in the Bible, it also helps us understand both God's relationship to Israel and our relationship to the Church better. I hope you'll read it soon.


Jeff Gissing said...

I spent some time with David I-B at Tyndale House over summer 2001...his work on marriage is very helpful.

Dee D said...

Thanks. This is what I have always thought, but I didn't know all the evidence for it- other than the verse on if your spouse commits adultery. There is also 1 Cor 7:15, about abandonment

Anonymous said...

Les McFall has an interested way to deal with the exception clause in Matthew 19:9. He has written a 43 page paper that reviews the changes in the Greek made by Erasmus that effect the way Matthew 19:9 has been translated. I reviewed McFall's paper at Except For Fornication Clause of Matthew 19:9. I would love to hear some feedback on this position.

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