Friday, October 26, 2007

Instone-Brewer in Christianity Today

Instone-Brewer in Christianity Today

David Instone-Brewer has an article in Christianity Today on divorce and remarriage in the Bible. He cites the Hillel vs. Shammai Pharisaical debate over the meaning of “indecency” in Dt. 24:1 and the correspondence of Paul’s 1 Co 7 with Ex. 21:10-11. Instone-Brewer’s thesis is that the discussion outlined in the most detail in Matthew 19 (as opposed to Luke's, and Mark's) is that was a debate on 'indecency' in Dt 24:1 and not about Ex 21:10-11. Historical references, admittedly, extra-biblical back up Instone-Brewer. So a reasonable interpretation is that the liberal “Any Cause” Hillel divorce (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) was condemned by Jesus and the discussion in Mt 19 was not about Ex 21:10-11. The Talmud, Josephus, and Philo all mention this “Any Cause” divorce (also 1). The Talmud records this debate with Josephus and Philo inserting ‘Any Cause’ in place of ‘indecency’ for their interpretation of Dt 24:1. Modern Jewish opinions towards divorce remain the same, i.e. ‘Any Cause’ (equivalent to the modern No-Fault) for Dt. 24:1 and Ex. 21:10-11 being in place also.

So the question remains what was Jesus’ opinion on Ex. 21:10-11? I side with Instone-Brewer as from all reliable historical references; the Pharisees were questioning Him on Mosaic Law and His opinion of ‘indecency’ in Dt.24:1. The rights of slave-wife of Ex 21:10-11 were always accepted as grounds for divorce then as it is now. John Piper whose teachings I respect disagrees, and offers this criticism. The crux of his argument is with I-B’s interpretation of Ex. 21:10-11 in italics:

1) His claim that Jesus didn’t reject the (ostensible) grounds for divorce in Exodus 21:10-11 is an argument from silence. Jesus never alluded to these verses. And when he did speak about Old Testament grounds for divorce, he rejected them as owing to the hardness of heart (Matthew 19:8; Mark 10:5).

I-B does mention this in his writings. Silence can be a vague method of stating an argument. We know that the 1st century Jews as with the modern ones have accepted grounds for divorce. We know from historical references the debate was over ‘indecency’ in Dt 24:1. Piper also seems to miss the point of Mt 19:8. In the preceding verse the Pharisees asked Jesus as to why “Moses commanded one to give a Certificate of Divorce and to send her away?” There is only one situation where that appears in the Law of Moses, Dt 24:1. That was when the husband found an ‘indecency’ in her.

2) Keil and Deilitzsch have a totally different take on these verses than Instone-Brewer which does not assume that the purchased slave was already married to the purchaser when she is dismissed (Commentaries, Vol. 2, p. 131).

I haven’t read this criticism before. But if read at face value, Ex 21:10-11 seems very straight forward. Enough so that Paul basically re-iterates these values in 1 Co 7.

3) Worst of all, Instone-Brewer infers three grounds for divorce from Exodus 21:10-11, neglect of “food, clothing, and love.” These correspond to “later Jewish and Christian” marriage vows: “love, honor, and keep.” He then concludes—read and weep—“Thus, the vows we make when we marry correspond directly to the biblical grounds for divorce [namely, ‘emotional and physical neglect’].”

This is a valid argument, perhaps Ex. 21 can be abused, I’m sure it is in modern Jewish practices. However, what about cases in which spouses are abandoned? That’s pretty clear cut, yet Piper does not consider this to be valid grounds for divorce. He is of the 'divorce but no remarriage' school of thought.

Piper goes on:

Instone-Brewer’s interpretation is an example (common, it seems, in New Testament studies today) of taking extra-biblical observations and using them to silence the fairly plain meaning of biblical texts. Over against what Instone-Brewer says, Jesus did in fact reject, for his disciples, what Moses commanded (Mark 10:5) or permitted (Matthew 19:8) in Deuteronomy 24:1.

In considering extra-biblical sources one must consider what was Jesus teaching for all in all ages to come or against 1st century AD customs and practices. This is always a fine line. It’s apparent to me that the Mt 19 debate was solely about Dt. 24:1 and not about Ex 21:10-11. Matthew 19:8 was about forgiveness for the offending wife, even when Moses commanded that a Certificate of Divorce was required for the offence in Dt. 24:1.

Piper again:

My aim here is not to persuade people that this understanding of the exception clause is right. My aim is to say that David Instone-Brewer’s argument is not compelling—neither the argument from the “any-cause divorce” in rabbinic literature, nor the argument from Exodus 21:10-11. It is what I caution my students against. Beware of what looks like scholarly rank-pulling. For example, Brewer says, “I likely read every surviving writing of the rabbis of Jesus’ time.

If we do not understand the mindset of the 1st century Jew we won’t understand the message of Jesus. The NT was written for that audience, e.g. consider the situation of the tax collector. Ironically, Jesus and Paul’s messages were against easy divorce and is very applicable to the modern day situation of No-Fault divorces. Also, ad hominen attacks do add to the validity of one’s argument.

In that C-T article I-B takes a round of criticism from readers. He mounts a defense of himself in one of his sermons. Most of the reader comments attack Ex 21:10-11 as any source of teaching. This is unfortunate as rabbinical sources have always used Ex 21. What do Christians find objectionable to Ex. 21:10-11? This reinforces the notion that we as Christians should always keeping learning (Hebrews 5:13-14).

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