Monday, May 23, 2011

For Jesus, Did Divorce Entail Remarriage?

In R.T. France's commentary on Matthew (which I highly recommend), he writes about Matthew 5:31-32, where Jesus introduces what many have taken to be the "exception clause" where Jesus supposedly allows the offended party, in the case of adultery, out of their marriage. I have written a paper on the subject, for those interested. Many believe that in Matt. 5:31-32 Jesus may have been allowing for divorce in the case of adultery, but that this in no way implied a right to remarry. The truth is, I do have friends who have divorced because of adultery, and I have taken that position with them, that they ought to remain single, pray for reconciliation, and pray for the strength to remain single. Here is what France says about that position:
Modern discussions of divorce in light of Jesus' teaching sometimes suggest that Jesus recognized the necessity of divorce after adultery, but forbade remarriage. But such a view does not fit the Jewish context, where divorce consisted of the provision of a certificate which explicitly granted the right to remarry; the standard wording, according to [Mishna Gittin] 9:3, was "You are free to marry any man." Without that permission it was not divorce. Divorce and the right to remarry are inseparable, and the Jewish world knew nothing of a legal separation that did not allow remarriage.
So France is arguing that in Jesus' context, to allow divorce was to allow remarriage. If Jesus is introducing an exception here, then He is also allowing for remarriage (and I agree that France's case here is very strong). France appears to believe that the "except for porneia clause" would have been assumed by the readers of Mark and Luke's parallel passages, with that being the reason why no such provision is specifically mentioned in those books. France goes on:
His condemnation of remarriage as adultery is simply on the grounds that the divorce (unless for adultery) was not legitimate and so the original marriage remains valid in the sight of God.
So France holds to a middle-line position which says that all divorce is illegitimate, unless adultery happened, in which case the marriage was forcibly ruined by the guilty party. His position is one which tries to do justice to the teaching of the three gospels that deal with the subject, which I greatly appreciate. France, however, does say that if the ethics of the Kingdom of God are practiced (specifically Jesus' teaching in 5:27-29 on lust and adultery), then in the Kingdom of God there will be no divorce, since adultery and even lust have no place in it. For all intents and purposes, then, divorce is in France's view, prohibited - albeit in a round-about way.

Let me postscript this discussion by saying that if Jesus is not introducing an exception clause in Matt. 5:31-32 or in Matt. 19:8-12, then all of this discussion is superficial. I am quite convinced that James Boice's view on the matter is correct and that Jesus is not here introducing an exception clause, but rather, describing the state into which the woman who has been divorced is placed. If her husband divorce her, then it is assumed she will be remarried, in which case she is then made an adulterer. As I say in my paper, I do not normally like The Message, but it turns out, Eugene Peterson does a pretty good job of broadly paraphrasing the sense that I believe is being taught in Matt. 19:10-12:

If you divorce your wife, you’re responsible for making her an adulteress (unless she has already made herself that by sexual promiscuity). And if you marry such a divorced adulteress, you’re automatically an adulterer yourself.

So I began with the question of whether divorce entailed remarriage, necessarily, for Jesus. I accept France's argument that it did, but I deny that there was ever a situation where Jesus approved of or allowed divorce.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Before posting please read our Comment Policy here.

Think hard about this: the world is watching!