Friday, October 05, 2007

Divorce and Remarriage in the New Testament

Over at Christianity Today, David Instone-Brewer of Tyndale House has an article on: "What God has Joined: What does the Bible really teach about divorce?". This is a topic that needs to be approached with great exegetical precision and applied with great pastoral sensitivity. I've always found the exception clauses of Matthew most perplexing (I've flirted with the incest interpretation in the past), but Instone-Brewer's approach that sees Jesus as refuting the "any cause" ruling of the Hillelites seems plausible.

4 comments:

Joe said...

Mike,

What do you think of Piper's interpretation of the exception clauses (i.e. that Matthew is trying to explain why Joseph would have been a just man to send Mary away in light of her porneia during their betrothal). He presents his case in this paper

http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/1986/1488_Divorce_and_Remarriage_A_Position_Paper/

I find his interpretation to be the best explanation of the biblical data, even though I struggle with how to apply it in certain circumstances (it's unbelievably difficult to tell a young woman who was abandoned that she must remain single).

Your thoughts?

Joe said...

So the link didn't come through right.

If you do a search for "Divorce Position Paper" at the DG website, you'll find it.

Michael F. Bird said...

Joe,
I have a friend who has written a very good defence of the betrothel view position. Still, I am not convinced because I do not think that the exception clauses in Matthew necessarily have to be related to the earlier birth narratives about Joseph and Mary. That would suggest that divorce was permitted only in the case of adultery and only during the betrothel period. But 'porneia' does not mean adultery during betrothel, it is broader than this. The issue is: (1) Do we make sense of the exception clauses in light of the issues of divorce in Jesus' day? or (2) Do we try to forcibly harmonization two elements of Matthew's narrative that don't appear to fit together in the minds of some. I'm with option (1).

Nick Nowalk said...

I'm actually very sympathetic to Piper's argument, too, though I agree that this issue (especially how Matthew's exception clauses relate to all the other passages without them) is especially difficult.

In favor of Piper's argument that the exception clauses in Matthew do indeed primarily have to do with the account of Joseph, the "husband" of Mary who decides to "divorce" her early in the narrative is an essay by Dale Allison in his recent book "Studies in Matthew." He doesn't hold Piper's view, but he does make a strong case that Matthew's exception clauses should be read in light of the Joseph/Mary scene. If this could be established as consensus, it could open up a lot more discussion in a deadlocked debate.