Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More on Instone-Brewer's Article in Christianity Today

David Instone-Brewer's article "What God Has Joined" Christianity Today's article has generated a lot of discussion. The CT editor, Jeff Neff and I-B himself responded. In the meanwhile David Instone-Brewer has started a blog. And the blogoshere itself is abuzz with the debate between I-B and John Piper. Piper is of the 'divorce (really separation) but no remarriage' school of thought. As I said before I think that Piper's thinking is flawed and thus ends up being overly harsh. As I-B notes in his C-T response:

  • John Piper’s own interpretation of the divorce passages is based on the view that porneia (Greek for ‘sexual indecency’) had a different meaning in first century Judaism, when it referred mainly to ‘fornication’ (i.e. sexual sin before marriage). This well-established theory was popularized a few decades ago by the Catholic scholar Murphy O’Connor, who found supporting evidence in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This interpretation is important for Catholic scholars because it means that Jesus did not allow any divorce after marriage has occurred – the same teaching that Piper supports.

This evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls was based on only one passage, a particularly difficult one, in the Damascus Document, which relies on the translation of the word zenut (the Hebrew equivalent of porneia) as "sex before marriage". Since O’Connor put forward this theory, however, other scrolls have been studied (especially the Temple Scroll) and most scholars have concluded that the early interpretations of this passage were mistaken, and that it was actually forbidding polygamy.

This does not mean that John Piper’s non-traditional interpretation of porneia is wrong (it is still a possible interpretation that is waiting for more evidence), but it does mean that we do not now have much evidence that it can be translated this way. In fact, most scholars agree that porneia is a general term for sexual sin, as seen in the New Testament itself. It is used for visiting a prostitute (1 Cor.6.13-15, 18), incest (1 Cor.5.1), general sexual sin by a married person (1 Cor.7.2), use of cultic prostitutes (Rev.2.20-21) and the sin of the ‘whore of Babylon’ (Rev.17.2, 4; 18.3; 19.2) - though the most common meaning is ‘sexual sin in general’ (e.g. Acts 15.20; Eph.5.3; Col.3.5).

The main thrust of I-B argument is that Jesus was questioned on the meaning of ‘indecency’ in Dt. 24:1 and no more in Matthew 19:3 (Link 1, 2, 3).

Matthew 19:3. (NASB) Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”

Note that the Pharisees were testing Him on for his opinion on the law. To the 1st century Jew that was the OT Law of Moses. The Pharisees were divided into two camps, based on Rabbis Shammai and Hillel. This debate is recorded in the Talmud:

Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Gittin 9:10 on the controversy regarding the interpretation of Dt 24:1.

  • The School of Shammai said: Let not a man divorce his wife unless he found in her some matter of indecency [immorality] as it is said, “because he has found an indecency about her” [Dt 24:1]. But the School of Hillel say: Even if she spoiled his food, as it says, “because he has found an indecency of something about her” [Dt 24:1].
  • It has been taught: Beth Hillel said to Beth Shammai: Does not the text distinctly say 'thing'?7 Beth Shammai rejoined: And does it not distinctly say 'unseemliness'? Beth Hillel replied: Had it said only 'unseemliness' without 'thing', I should have concluded that she should be sent away on account of unseemliness, but not of any 'thing'.

The debate was clearly about the interpretation of indecency in Dt. 24:1. The Hillel Pharisees were the proponents of the “Any Cause/Reason/Matter/Thing” divorce. In the 1st Century AD the Hillel Pharisees were clearly winning that debate as evident from passages in Philo and Josephus on Dt. 24:1.

Philo (20 BC – 50AD) Special Laws 30-31(on Dt 24:1-4):

  • If a woman after parting from her husband for any cause whatsoever marries another and then again becomes a widow, whether this second husband is alive or dead, she must not return to her first husband but ally herself with any other man rather than him, because she has broken with the rules that bound her in the past and cast them into oblivion when she chose new love-ties in preference to the old.

Josephus (37AD – 100) Jewish Antiquities 4:253 (on Dt 24:1-4) :

  • He that desires to be divorced from his wife for any cause (25) whatsoever, (and many such causes happen among men,) let him in writing give assurance that he will never use her as his wife any more; for by this means she may be at liberty to marry another husband,

· footnote (25) from above: These words of Josephus are very like those of the Pharisees to our Savior upon this very subject, Matthew 19:3

Key Point - Note that Philo and Josephus use the term “Any Cause” as opposed to indecency in their interpretation of Dt. 24:1. This is a clear indication that the Hillel “Any Cause” divorce was the accepted one in 1st Century Judaism, not the Shammai definition meaning only adultery.

In spite of many blog sites denying so, the ‘Any Cause’ divorce is a 1st century AD Jewish legal term equivalent to our modern No-Fault divorce. Modern Jewish attitudes on divorce still accept this notion.

In upcoming posts, I’ll explore Instone-Brewer’s thoughts on other grounds for divorce, namely:

  • Adultery (in Deuteronomy 24:1, affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19)
  • Emotional and physical neglect (in Exodus 21:10-11, affirmed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7)
  • Abandonment and abuse (included in neglect, as affirmed in 1 Corinthians 7)

1 comment:

Brooks said...

I cant believe no one has commented on this. Im a seminary student and this is really helpful.