Thursday, November 11, 2004

On Divorce, Part II

So what were Jesus' teachings on divorce? We can't simply point to one passage in a Gospel because these are inconsistent. So lets take it piece by piece:

First, we can say for certain that (1) Jesus, in general, strongly disapproved of divorce. He wanted to toughen up the existing regime -- to extend the earlier rules. Mosaic law permitted divorce where the husband gave the wife a certificate of divorce. All of the passages, inconsistent as they are, advocate a ratcheting up of the rules.

Second, I believe we can, with analysis, conclude that (2) Jesus probably didn't permit infidelity as an exception. This is where our historical/logical approach comes into play. Biblical scholarship has long held that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source. This means that Mark is the earlier, more original text. Thus, where there's a conflict between Matthew and Mark, I tend to prefer the latter. There's an additional reason to prefer Mark's "no infidelity exception" rule. Biblical scholars have long argued that, where two sayings are in conflict, the more radical saying is most likely to be accurate. This is because the Gospels were written by Christian apologists and advocates, and, consequently, unpopular provisions tended to get watered down over time. This is seen in other contexts, e.g., where Luke's "blessed are the poor" turns into Matthews "blessed are the poor in spirit." A rule which urged husbands to stay with adulterous wives would certainly be radical, and my guess is that Matthew just couldn't stomach it.

Third, we can conclude, by overruling Matthew's lone, derivative account with both Luke and the more fundamental Markan account, that (3) Jesus expressed a special concern with divorce when combined with remarriage.

This is the easy part. Among the knottier problems is the gender issue. Does the disapproval of divorce apply to both men and women? My next post will explore why Jesus taught what he did about divorce and how it fits into the larger context of his message. The gender issues will be explored in that context. In addition, bringing in the context of Jesus' other teachings will flesh out, extend and qualify these generalities....

Stay tuned....


At 8:33 PM, Blogger david said...

Seeing as you're social gospel, I thought you might like to read this:

Empire Christianity and Libneration Christianity

At 7:02 PM, Blogger jj said...

Very interesting and thanks for the link. I am very interested in reading about liberation theology, but I must confess I have not done so yet.


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