Thursday, November 11, 2004

On Divorce, Part I

In this four-part series, I intend to give my lay interpretation of Jesus' teachings on divorce. Each post will address the following questions, respectively (1-2) what did Jesus teach about divorce? (3) why did Jesus teach what he did about divorce and how do we understand these teachings in the larger context of His message? (4) how do we apply Jesus' teachings about divorce today?

As I examine text relating to the first question, remember that I have phrased the question advisedly. The purpose of citing the Bible is not to show the Bible's teachings on divorce. Rather, the Bible is cited as evidence of what Jesus taught.

Matthew, Mark and Luke each have passages on divorce:

Matthew 5:32
“I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (See also 19:9, “except for unchastity.”)

Mark 10:11-12
"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."

Luke 16:18
"Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”

How do we make sense of these texts? When placed side-by-side, their inconsistencies become apparent.

Start with Mark. Jesus' statements against divorce in this text are (1) completely gender-symmetrical and (2) appear dependent upon remarriage (i.e., only one who divorces and marries another commits adultery). Compare Matthew, where there is no divorce prohibition for women at all. (Nor is there such a prohibition for women in Luke.) Moreover, in Matthew, divorce = adultery regardless of whether the divorcer remarries.

Now start with Matthew. This is a male-only prohibition with a huge exception. Divorce for infidelity is apparently perfectly permissible. Neither Mark nor Luke contain an exception for "unchastity."

There are many more inconsistencies between these texts (e.g., in Matthew divorce makes her an adultress whereas in Luke adultery makes him an adulterer), but I think you get the idea.

For fun, ask an intelligent Southern Baptist the following questions:
(1) whether a woman may divorce her husband and then remarry without herself committing adultery?
(2) whether a man's divorcing his wife because she is abusive to him is permissible if he remains single?
(3) whether it is permissible for a man to divorce his wife for unchastity and remarry?
(1) Matthew: YES Mark: no Luke: YES
(2) Matthew: no Mark: YES Luke: YES
(3) Matthew: YES Mark: no Luke: no.

Is there a way out of this quagmire? Yes, but it requires abandoning Biblical inerrancy and adopting a historical and logical approach. Stay tuned this weekend as I humbly try to dig us out of this mess!


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