What do I think of J. Carl Laney’s approach? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
In looking at the views in this book, I plan on addressing in each part the opinion of the writer as well as the rebuttals by the opposing sides. The first one is going to be Laney. His approach is that the Bible doesn’t allow at all for divorce or remarriage. I should point out that I had a hand copy that I was highlighting, but I seem to have accidentally left it somewhere so I will not be making as many quotations. I am instead using my version Logos. Also, for new readers, I am sadly divorced and seeking remarriage.
So for Laney’s view, I definitely agree with matters upfront that marriage is an institution created by God. We should be doing all that we can to uphold and help marriages. I also do agree that divorce is a great evil in our world. There are times I sadly think it can be necessary, but that is still a tragedy even then. It means somewhere along the way, someone violated the covenant to such a great extent it has to be abandoned. I realize Laney disagrees with me on that last point, but that is fine. I often say if you want to meet someone who hates divorce, look for someone who has been wrongfully divorced.
I also agree that the Bible tells a man to cleave to his new wife, something that can include love but in a sense goes beyond it for something new. A man can love many people in his life, but the only one he should cleave to is his wife. I definitely also agree that sexual faithfulness should be part of the marriage covenant.
I also liked that he said parents should give children roots and wings. Give them roots in the sense that they always have a home that they are welcome at, but also give them wings. They need to leave that home sometime.
I disagree when he says that the marriage bond is indissoluble. For one thing, he points to Genesis 2:24 as the one-flesh union, but just before this has quoted that same verse from 1 Cor. 6:16 where Paul says if a man unites himself with a prostitute he becomes one flesh with her, quoting Genesis 2:24. Are we to think Paul thought a man had entered an indissoluble union with a prostitute? There are plenty of teenagers who are having sex in high school. Are we to think that the moment that they do, that they are automatically married and thus any further marriage is adultery? If so, there are a lot of adulterous people out there, including people who did stay faithful and married someone who wasn’t a virgin on their wedding night.
Laney also says that Deuteronomy 24 doesn’t institute or approve divorce, which is true, but it does treat it as a reality. However, if divorce is a reality, then yes, divorce is possible. If divorce is possible, then it means that it is possible to break apart a marriage covenant.
I also do not see how his claim works when Jesus says that if anyone divorces his wife and marries another, except for porneia, they commit adultery. To me, that is quite clear that in the case of porneia, whatever it is, that divorce and remarriage is allowed. Laney falls back on saying marriage cannot be undone, but that has not been demonstrated and it looks more like saying “Jesus could not mean X because it disagrees with the prior position here.”
Laney says that if porneia just means adultery, then Jesus would just have been siding with the school of Shammai. And the problem? It’s not unthinkable that the Jews actually got some things right in interpreting the Old Testament, including marriage laws. While it is true there is another word that can mean explicit adultery, the word Jesus used is just fine still for conveying the ideas, much like today we can say terms like having sex, making love, intercourse, coitus, hooking up, doing it, etc.
I also think too much is made of Mark and Luke not mentioning the exception in Matthew. It’s more likely that as someone like Instone-Brewer would point out, everyone would know that divorce was allowable for adultery. Matthew made it explicit for his own reasons, but unless the synoptics contradict each other, then they must all agree that adultery is an acceptable reason for divorce.
I will pass over Paul for now and save that for Heth’s position in this book which I highlighted more of and is closely akin to Laney. I also want to say that he and Heth both appeal to the early church and say that the early church did not allow for divorce and remarriage. Not having seen all they said, I will grant that for the sake of argument.
However, many of them also said that sex should be used only for the purpose of procreation. Tertullian referred to it as that dreadful thing. Would Laney and Heth want to embrace that view? I daresay many of your most staunch Catholics and Orthodox would not even take such a position.
They would also likely if they want to be consistent then hold to many of the Marian doctrines. For someone in the RCC or the Orthodox camp, this would not be a problem. For those wanting to be Protestants, it could be. (There are Protestants who do hold to perpetual virginity.) Thus, it’s not sufficient to say the early church believed X. I want to know why they believed it.
I also think that Laney’s position could lead to license of sin. It could mean that if a spouse is committing adultery, well, you can’t divorce so what are you going to do? Well, a spouse is being abusive and/or putting children at risk. Can’t divorce. What are you going to do? I’m sure Laney would have solutions in each of these cases, but I also think that even separation alone would have little effect on someone like that.
Also, when I read cases like this, it seems as if Laney is unaware of those of us who are divorced against our desires. Many of us wanted to celebrate marriage the way that Laney does, and many of us do, but our own experiences of it fell short and it is devastating. I know this is not the intent, but when one reads this, you can come away with the position of “Sucks to be you. Your spouse wronged you and now you have to suffer.”
So in the end, I am not convinced of Laney’s position. Next time, we will explore Heth who allows for divorce, but not remarriage. I will also have more quotations from that one due to highlighting online so expect more interaction.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)