Saturday, December 30, 2006

Review of Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible III

In this post I will attempt to do justice to David Instone-Brewer's thesis that Jesus did NOT repudiate all the OT premises for Biblical divorce. In his book that I've been blogging about this in several posts he detailed the Jewish OT premises for righteous divorce. Key to these are Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Exodus 21:10-11, and Malachi 2:13-16. The partners in marriage are to avoid adultery, provide for the material well-being of each other, allow for conjugal rights, and keep marriage vows.

Jesus in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 seems to repudiate all grounds for divorce except for adultery in Matthew. Jesus was answering questions posed to him by the Pharisees regarding divorce. A reading of these passages seems straightforward, i.e. no divorce is possible. But it is important that these were abbreviated accounts. It seems difficult to know what those questions were. Matthew 19:3 perhaps gives a clue:

  • (NAS) Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?"

In some translations 'any reason' is translated as 'any matter'. These 'any matter' divorces were a topic of debate between two schools within the Pharisees, Hillel and Shammai. I've blogged on this before. This debate was documented by the Jewish historians, Josephus and Philo. I think it is significant that there are extra-scriptoral sources documenting that debate. That previous link is worth examining in that it is a Jewish site mentioning that:

  • "Jesus seems to have held the view of the school of Shammai (Matt. xix. 3-9)."

It also mentions that the Hillel school prevailed (hardly surprising) and the remarriage customs of the Jews. Instone-Brewer argues that Jesus was condemning the Hillel 'any matter' divorce. Anybody participating in the divorce was committing adultery. So it is not divorce in general that was condemned but specifically the Hillel version.

Another key point to Instone-Brewer's thesis is his digression into adultery vs. fornication in the Bible. Adultery is sexual relations with another married person. Fornication is with an umarried person. In the Gospel verses regarding divorce only adultery is mentioned.

I haven't quite made up my mind on Instone-Brewer's entire thesis. It is because it is so dramtically different from a cursory reading of the Matthew and Mark passages on divorce. There is no doubt however that 'any matter' divorces were highly debated topic among the Jews of the 1st century AD.

I think that if you want to examine this thesis in detail you must read his book. It is well documented with footnotes. He is open to criticisms which have been few in coming from highly conservative circles. I think it is because he stands alone in examining scripture in light of the historical context of the Rabbincal debate between the Hillels vs. the Shammais.

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