Christianity Today ran a cover story entitled “What God Has Joined” with the subheading “What does the Bible really teach about divorce?” Obviously it has the markings of a provocative piece. David Instone-Brewer proposes in it that Jesus was not condemning divorce on any grounds, but that there was a Jewish form of divorce called the “any cause” divorce to which Jesus was referring. He concludes:
Putting all this together gives us a clear and consistent set of rules for divorce and remarriage. Divorce is only allowed for a limited number of grounds that are found in the Old Testament and affirmed in the New Testament:
- 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)
Of course this broadens the legitimate reasons of divorce from the standard evangelical understanding of marital unfaithfulness (adultery) and divorce by an unbeliever. So Piper Responds in a post entitled “Tragically Widening the Grounds of Legitimate Diverce”:
My experience with the issue of divorce (and with the New Perspective on Paul) is that people who talk this way do not generally see the meaning of the New Testament as clearly as those who focus their attention not in the extra-biblical literature but in the New Testament texts themselves. For the ordinary layman who wonders what to do when scholars seem to see what you cannot see, I suggest that you stay with what you can see for yourself.
In sum, what I am pleading for here is that Jesus’ standards for marriage were higher than the rabbinic schools. He is radical, not accommodating. The world we live in needs to see a church that is so satisfied in Christ that its marriages are not abandoned for something as amorphous as “emotional neglect.” The deepest meaning of marriage is to display the covenant-keeping faithfulness of Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:25). And Christ will never divorce his wife and take another.
To this, Instone-Brewer responds on the CT Blog and says:
Many readers have misunderstood the article to say that divorce is allowed for any breaking of marriage vows by emotional or physical neglect. But what my research demonstrates is that both Jesus and Paul criticized no-fault divorce and taught that we should forgive the faults of our marriage partners. Jesus did, however, allow divorce if the marriage vows were broken with ‘hardness of heart’ – an Old Testament word meaning continuing, or stubborn, unrepentance. This means, in effect, that divorce is allowed for adultery, abandonment or abuse. I am glad to have the opportunity to put this important distinction across.
He then goes on to explain differences in their understanding of the Greek word porneia. Obviously there are some general principles of hermeneutics that need to be addressed here, and here is a good example of how hermeneutics does in fact make a big impact on our understanding.