Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views

What does Larry Richards have to say? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This was an odd chapter. Pastorally, this was the best chapter in the book. Not even a contest. Richards really takes the time to emphasize the love and concern needed for people walking the path of divorce.

Exegetically though, it’s the worst, easily. There are simply several assumptions thrown out and while they could be right, no reason is given for them. As one respondent says, Richards only has two footnotes. That’s far below anyone else.

 

I have yet to meet a Christian who, when he or she stood before pastor and family and church to say “I do,” planned on divorce. I have yet to meet anyone who enjoyed divorce. For each person involved there is pain: worry about the children, uncertainty, sudden loneliness, financial hardship, the lingering and agonizing death of hoped-for love and belonging.

For most Christians there is also a sense of guilt, the awful realization that somehow they have failed, falling dreadfully short of God’s ideal of a permanent, lifelong relationship. Even the “innocent party” feels guilt. What did he or she do wrong? What might he have done differently? What happened to destroy a relationship she entered with such joyous expectation?

It is true that in our society divorce is all too common. It is also tragically true that the Christian community has proven as susceptible as the general culture. Most churches have men and women attending who have been divorced and, in many cases, have remarried. I have no statistics on the Christian community, but the most recent study I’ve seen suggests that about 51% of Americans who many for the first time will divorce. Many of these divorces will be unnecessary. If both parties were willing to receive counseling, to work at the relationship, most marriages that end in divorce could probably be saved.

Larry Richards, “Chapter 4: Divorce & Remarriage under a Variety of Circumstances,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 215–216.

Amen and amen. Would that every contributor remembered this. This isn’t just an academic exercise in this case. One could say a debate on eschatology for instance might not have a lot of immediate significance for one’s life, but this one does. A lot of people who pick up this book could be going through the pain of divorce themselves or know someone who is. This isn’t just an academic interest for them. Richards brings that out.

First, we must guard against being so swayed by sympathy for hurting people that we ignore or reject Scripture. As Oswald Chambers once wrote, “It is possible to have such sympathy with our fellow man as to be guilty of red-handed rebellion against God.” Now I confess to a great sympathy for many struggling with the option of divorce. One of our neighbors, whom I’ll call Brenda, has an abusive husband. For some ten years he has belittled and sworn at her, constantly ridiculing her. What troubles Brenda now is that her husband treats their two girls the same way. How can she stay with him and see her daughters emotionally damaged for life by his verbal abuse? Is it right for her to stay in a relationship where not only she but her girls are victimized?

Larry Richards, “Chapter 4: Divorce & Remarriage under a Variety of Circumstances,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 216–217.

Indeed. Not only this, but how many marriages could be saved if we called out bad behavior on the part of one spouse (Or both if need be) instead of trying to make sure feelings weren’t being spared. We have an idea that we should try to love people into the Kingdom. We often forget we can love them into Hell as well.

Looking more closely at Malachi, we note that something happening in our society today was also happening then: Men were deserting the “wives of their youth.” This phrase, repeated twice in Malachi 2:13–16, makes it clear that these were older couples and suggests that, then as now, older men were deserting their first wives to marry younger, more sexually attractive women.

Partnerships forged by years of shared struggle and joy were being broken up by men who “failed to guard themselves in their spirits.” This phrase, also repeated twice, reminds us that as men grow older they, like Solomon, become more susceptible to sexual temptation. So it is clear from the context of Malachi that when God said “I hate divorce,” he was speaking of divorces motivated by lust, divorces that involved abandonment of women who had been faithful, loving partners through years of married life. You and I also hate this kind of divorce. We recognize its source in selfishness and sin. We see the anguish it causes a partner who has lavished years of loving care on a person who now pushes her aside. No godly person treats another in this way. And nothing can justify such a divorce.

Larry Richards, “Chapter 4: Divorce & Remarriage under a Variety of Circumstances,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 218.

I too hate this kind of divorce as well. It’s one we should never encourage in the church. It is sad that some of the rabbis did say a man could divorce if someone prettier came along.

It seems to me that there is only one way to avoid the two dangers I have identified above. On the one hand, we must avoid arguing from human experience. It would be easy to list case after tragic case and to so play on emotions that any sensitive reader would cry out, “No! Let him or her go!”

It would be almost as easy to list case after case of selfish and unnecessary divorce and to trace their tragic consequences. But we Christians do not find moral guidance in human experience. We find moral guidance in Scripture, and we then apply Scripture to help us evaluate experience. Thus any valid discussion of divorce and remarriage must begin with a study of the Word of God, not with appeals to have compassion on hurting people.

Larry Richards, “Chapter 4: Divorce & Remarriage under a Variety of Circumstances,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 219.

And I agree again. Many of these stories can have appeal to emotions. I have made it a point to not often share my story and even when I do, I leave some details out, mainly out of a way of still not wanting to speak ill of my ex-wife.

So far, so good, but now we get into the argumentation.

Jesus then goes on to sketch three useless routes people sometimes take in a search for spiritual greatness. The Pharisees, who raise a legal question about divorce, represent the way of Law (19:1–15). A rich young man, who takes pride in his humanitarianism, represents those who seek greatness by doing good works (19:16–30). Workers in a vineyard represent those who seek greatness by working harder than others in God’s service (20:1–16). In each case Jesus shows why the route chosen is useless as a way to spiritual achievement.

Larry Richards, “Chapter 4: Divorce & Remarriage under a Variety of Circumstances,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 220–221.

This could be, but I’m skeptical. I found it intriguing, but I think a stronger case needs to be made. I don’t think the Pharisees were trying to use the law to find greatness. If they were, divorce seems like an odd place to start.

If God, sensitive to the fact that human hardness of heart would turn some marriages into destructive caricatures, announced through Moses that marriages could be ended, how can we deny divorce to those few whose suffering cries out that their marriages, too, should end? If Jesus recognized hardness of heart as the rationale for permitting divorce in Old Testament times, how can we insist that there is no rationale for divorce today, even when one spouse persistently sins against his or her partner?

Larry Richards, “Chapter 4: Divorce & Remarriage under a Variety of Circumstances,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 223.

This point I do think is valid. What happens today if one spouse hardens their heart and refuses to honor the covenant? Tough luck for the other person?

Jesus’ words warn us that pastors and other Christian leaders have no more right to stand in judgment over the dissolution of a marriage than did the Pharisees. His words tells us that theologians have no right to decree, “People in this situation can divorce and remarry, but people in that situation cannot.” Jesus’ words to the Pharisees confront us if we, like those jealous men of long ago, take it upon ourselves to convene our ecclesiastical courts to make pronouncements on an issue which must in the last analysis be a personal decision—a personal decision that Christians will consider only as a last resort, and then prayerfully and purely, with a heartfelt desire to know and to do God’s will for them.

Larry Richards, “Chapter 4: Divorce & Remarriage under a Variety of Circumstances,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 226.

While Richards thinks this is a powerful argument, I really do not see this in the text. I see nothing about ecclesiastical courts or anything like that. I don’t see Jesus at all saying we have no place to judge someone else in the case of a divorce. This is especially so since Richards earlier in this chapter described one scenario and said we hate this kind of divorce.

On the other hand, the way to treat a wayward spouse, as illustrated by God’s treatment of adulterous Israel and Hosea’s treatment of his adulterous wife, Gomer, is to seek reconciliation and renewal (see Hos 1:11). Adultery may be grounds for forgiveness, but it is not grounds for divorce!

Larry Richards, “Chapter 4: Divorce & Remarriage under a Variety of Circumstances,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 229.

This statement puzzles me since it looks like Jesus does explicitly say that, yes, this is grounds for divorce. I am all for trying to seek reconciliation and renewal first, but if that is resisted, what then? You can’t reconcile with someone who doesn’t want that.

First, he means that the Law, which says “give her a certificate of divorce,” does not express God’s highest standard or ideal. The Pharisees thought that it was righteous to divorce one’s spouse as long as the legalities were observed. Jesus makes it clear that, while it is permissible to divorce, it is not righteous. Divorce falls short of God’s will for us and reveals human failure. In view of God’s ultimate standard for us, divorce, while permissible, is still sin. And remarriage, while permissible, involves an act which measured against the ideal must be acknowledged as adultery.

Larry Richards, “Chapter 4: Divorce & Remarriage under a Variety of Circumstances,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 233.

This really strikes me as dangerous. Divorce is sin? It can be, but are we to say that a wife who divorces her husband who is a cheater and who beats her and the children is sinning? Also, if remarriage is adultery, is Richards seriously telling us then to go on and sin in divorce and go on and sin in remarriage committing adultery and God will forgive you? Dangerous indeed!

When Richards goes pastoral, it is much better, as he does here:

Too many pastors and teachers insist that there is no forgiveness for the divorced, no fresh start. In many Christian communities, if your marriage fails, you are marked forever and dismissed to a lifetime of loneliness—unless, of course, by some legalistic twist or turn you can be pronounced the “innocent party.”

Larry Richards, “Chapter 4: Divorce & Remarriage under a Variety of Circumstances,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 236–237.

Thankfully, this is not my experience, but i know it is the experience of some men.

How strange! We would invite a converted murderer to give testimony from our pulpits. Yet we will not permit a person who has been divorced and has remarried to praise God in our choir.

Larry Richards, “Chapter 4: Divorce & Remarriage under a Variety of Circumstances,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 237.

This is indeed strange. I have had a Baptist minister tell me this same concern. I am not at all say a converted murderer should not give a testimony, but one can be redeemed of murder but not divorce?

We can draw a number of important principles concerning divorce and remarriage from Paul’s discussion of the issues that troubled the Corinthian church. First, a single, permanent marriage relationship is unquestionably God’s will for his people (7:10). There can be no debate over this question. Marriage is intended to be a lifetime commitment, in which couples share not only their bodies but all of life, and especially their spiritual life.

Larry Richards, “Chapter 4: Divorce & Remarriage under a Variety of Circumstances,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 239.

This is something we should all agree with. Yes. Marriage was meant to be forever.

As ministers of God’s good news, we will affirm the forgiveness that the divorced can claim. We will show by our own warmth and caring that Jesus values them, despite the worthlessness they now frequently feel.

In our churches we will try to provide social groupings where the divorced can feel they belong. We may sponsor seminars to help them deal with unexpected feelings and tasks for which they are not equipped. If we are uncertain how to minister to the needs of the divorced, we will take the initiative and purchase a helpful book, such as the 1987 Zondervan release Effective Divorce Ministry by Sue Richards and Stan Haggameyer.

Larry Richards, “Chapter 4: Divorce & Remarriage under a Variety of Circumstances,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 244.

Yes, churches. Please do this. A Babylon Bee article a couple of months ago said a new Christian dating app had come out that said “Just go to church,” Many, myself included, said in the comments that that does not work at all for a lot of us. If anything, it’s easy to feel lonely in the church. You go in and see married couples and couples talking about their children and there you sit by your lonesome. Churches. Please remember this!

I do think in looking at the responses, something Laney says definitely needs to be commented on.

While I would agree that divorce and remarriage should not disqualify one from all service in a church, the office of elder and deacon have a specific marital requirement, “husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2, 12; Tit 1:6). While divorce and remarriage is a forgivable sin, it would be disqualifying in terms of church office.

J. Carl Laney et al., Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 253.

I really am stunned to see this kind of thing. If followed consistently, Jesus and Paul could not speak at a church. They are not the husband of one wife. Also, if we went this route, anyone to speak must have at least two children. After all, the man must see that his children obey him. Gotta have two. This kind of thinking has done a lot of harm to a good number of divorced men.

I think Edgar also has a powerful reply to Richards:

Richards claims that he originally held the no-divorce and no-remarriage view, but has changed due to a restudy of the passages. How can this be? It does not take a restudy of the passages to change from the view that the Bible teaches that divorce is always sin and remarriage is always adultery to his present view that the Bible teaches that divorce is always sin and remarriage is always adultery but go ahead since God will forgive it Did he need to restudy the Bible to be aware that God is merciful and gracious and will forgive sin? This is the only real difference in his position. All of the writers in this book would agree that God will forgive the sin of improper divorce; we would not all agree that this makes it a valid option.

J. Carl Laney et al., Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 266–267.

In conclusion, overall, I side with Edgar’s view the most. Pastorally, I appreciate Richards the most, and the one I disagree with not only in his chapter but in several responses is Laney.

We’ll see what comes next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

 

Book Plunge: Divorce and Remarriage Four Views — Part 2

What do I think of William Heth’s view? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In this volume, Heth defends the position that divorce is allowed, but not remarriage. This is an older work as since then, Heth has changed his position to allow for remarriage after adultery and desertion. Therefore, we can say that eventually he came to abandon his arguments here, but he still has his arguments and we need to address them.

To begin with, I do agree with parts where Heth speaks highly of marriage. I also think ideally that marriage should be permanent, but the problem is that it is too often not. This is even the case with God essentially sending a divorce certificate to Israel and Judah when He allows them to go into exile. There have been some who have said the same thing happens again in Revelation. Hosea 2 has God explicitly saying to Israel “I am not your husband.”

Heth says marriage happens when a man and a woman announce their covenant love for one another and consummate that love together. He says one is not sufficient in itself, pointing to 1 Cor. 6:16. The problem is, as was said yesterday, that 1 Cor. 6:16, quotes Genesis 2:24, which is said to be the foundational passage on marriage. Nothing in Genesis 2:24 speaks about announcing covenant love, for instance.

I do agree with Heth in that the purpose of marriage is not companionship. That is a purpose, but it is not the purpose. After all, men and women have plenty of sources for companionship. They’re called friends. We even consider our pets our companions. That being said, being divorced and single is quite lonely and so yes, that companionship is definitely missed.

I am unconvinced by his point on Deuteronomy 24 considering it does not allow for remarriage of the first husband. The purpose is that it still allows for remarriage. My thinking on this is that a back and forth exchange gives the impression that this is a case of men working together to have the same woman and claim to do so legally. It creates a love triangle scenario.

He speaks on Ezra with the marriages to other tribes at the end and says

As early as 1890, George Rawlinson observed:

It is quite clear that [Ezra] read the Law as absolutely prohibitive of mixed marriages (Ezra 9:10–14)—i.e., as not only forbidding their inception, but their continuance. Strictly speaking, he probably looked upon them as unreal marriages, and so as no better than ordinary illicit connections. For the evils which flow from such unions, those who make them, and not those who break them, are responsible.

William A Heth, “Chapter 2: Divorce, but No Remarriage,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 89.

I find this extremely flimsy. Are we to say that pagan nations had no “real marriages” since evils could flow from such unions? If all that is required for a real marriage is a public testimony and a consummation, then these were real marriages. If these were real marriages, then these were real divorces.

Heth goes on to say that

Yet the most serious cases of unlawful unions could be punished by the death of both parties, just like adulterers (Lev 20:10). Numbers 25:6–15 records the case of an Israelite who took a foreign wife and was summarily executed. It could be a significant act of kindness that Ezra only demanded the “divorce” of the foreigners, not their execution.

William A Heth, “Chapter 2: Divorce, but No Remarriage,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 90.

This also strikes me as problematic. In this case, we have no indication that the two were husband and wife. What is going on is a judgment has come to Israel and right after a public statement denouncing this, a man and a woman brazenly go in public so everyone can see them and then go into a tent and start doing the deed together. Phinehas says that that is enough and takes a spear and runs through both of them in one blow.

Thus, I hardly see this as a parallel. Add in also that Deuteronomy had standards for marrying a woman who was a captive and Rahab and Ruth were foreign women who we see in the genealogy of Jesus. Are we to think that those were illicit marriages?

As we move on, we see a quotation from Tony Lane, a lecturer on Christian doctrine at London Bible College.

If Jesus did allow remarriage, presumably it happened. How did it then cease to happen, despite the fact that his teaching was known, leaving no trace either of a period when it happened or of any controversy.

William A Heth, “Chapter 2: Divorce, but No Remarriage,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 97.

However, what I want to know is how is this known? For instance, let’s go with the early church having a problem with sex for pleasure. Are we to assume then that nowhere in the early church could we find couples having sex for pleasure? The reality is we just don’t have the marriage statistics on the early church so this is really an argument from silence.

Later when talking about Jesus and divorce, Heth says:

Divorce for marital unfaithfulness may be conceded in view of the prevailing social mores, but there must be no remarriage lest adultery be committed. The disciples then react in unbelief at the thought of a life of singleness apart from marital relations: if a man cannot get out of a marriage so as to marry another, it is probably better not to marry at all (v. 10). Jesus then responds by saying that his standards on divorce and remarriage are indeed difficult to understand and to live by. Nevertheless, God gives true disciples the ability to understand and live by Christ’s teaching. Furthermore, God will give faithful disciples the grace they need if they should face a divorce they cannot prevent (v. 11).

William A Heth, “Chapter 2: Divorce, but No Remarriage,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 106.

First, we don’t know why exactly the disciples reacted the way they did. We just know that they did. However, if someone was stunned at the prospect of a life of singleness without sex, there’s a sure way to get that. Never get married. At least if you get married, you could say you can have sex for some time.

I also don’t deny that God can give grace to those of us who have gone through divorce, but at the same time, He can also give us new spouses who will love us faithfully. There is no doubt God can provide for me regardless. My hope is still that that will be through another companion.

As for Paul, Heth says

Paul’s statement that the believer is “not bound” in such cases has the same function that the exception clause does in Matthew 19:9: it relieves the innocent party of the guilt of violating Christ’s command not to divorce. In the case of Matthew 19:9 the woman who commits adultery is held responsible for the breakup of the marriage, while in 1 Corinthians 7:15 Paul exempts the Christian from the responsibility for the divorce which an unbelieving mate brings about. Nothing is said one way or the other about the possibility of remarriage for the believer.

William A Heth, “Chapter 2: Divorce, but No Remarriage,” in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 112.

This seems like a strange interpretation. Not bound means that the person is not guilty? That doesn’t seem to be the main issue at play here. No one seems to be asking “Who is guilty of the divorce?”

Finally, in looking at the responses, I want to only look at one comment from Thomas Edgar.

Heth’s argument that unless divorce is required it cannot be argued that the one-flesh relationship has been broken due to sexual sin, fails to take into account that although relationship with a prostitute is “one flesh” it is not marriage unless a certain legal ceremony is carried out. In the same way sexual sin breaks the marriage bond, but the marriage is not actually dissolved until a certain legal procedure (divorce) is carried out Does anyone argue that the marriage itself is actually dissolved the instant one enters into sexual unfaithfulness? I think that my discussion of the syntax shows that Heth’s view of Matthew 19:9 is incorrect. It is grammatically impossible to claim that Matthew 19:9 does not allow remarriage in the case of the exception.

J. Carl Laney et al., Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views (ed. H. Wayne House; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, n.d.), 142.

This is an excellent case. Adultery does not ipso facto destroy the marriage as there can be repentance and it’s not as if the moment a spouse commits adultery, they are a divorced couple and then if the cheater comes home and resumes normal sex with the spouse, that the unaware party is having an affair? Just as the ceremony is part of the marriage, so it is part of the divorce. Adultery doesn’t necessitate divorce, but it is sufficient for it.

Next time, we will look at Thomas Edgar’s essay.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Divorce and Remarriage Part 1

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.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

 

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