30 blogs to help you get through a divorceOr Theological Challenge. My apologies to anyone who would prefer a specifically philosophical topic to write about. However, I’m in the midst of writing essays for a Seminary entrance exam, and thus my mind is distinctly focused on the topics of those essays. In fact, I just finished writing a 3000 word paper on the biblical passages relating to divorce and remarriage. So, our challenge is going to be on that topic. There are several important passages: Genesis 2:24, Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Ezra 10:2-5 and 10-15, Malachi 2:13-16, Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:8-9, Mark 10:2-12, Luke 16:8, and 1 Corinthians 7:10-15. However, this challenge is going to focus on a problem in the Matthew 5 and 19 passages. Matthew 5:31-32, 19:8-9; Mark 10:2-12, and Luke 16:8 all relate essentially similar teachings from Jesus. Matthew 5 is given as a part of the beatitudes, Matthew 19 and Mark 10 both tell the story of Jesus responding to a challenge by the Pharisees concerning the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, and Luke 16:8 is likely a retelling of the same event, but the part of the Pharisees is reduced to ‘scoffing’ rather than being told in full. In Matthew 5 and 19 Jesus makes the claim that “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman, commits adultery” (NASB). The exception phrase here is rendered in Greek me epi porneia, which literally means ‘not for sexual immorality,’ and it has caused significant debate among theologians and biblical scholars.

If you read the passages on divorce in full one this becomes abundantly clear: God doesn’t like divorce. According to Jesus he allowed it among the Jews because of their ‘hardness of heart,’ not because it was something he approved of or desired. So, the exception clause has been interpreted in three major ways: 1) it has been interpreted as a special addition so that the passage is read “whoever divorces his wife, even for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” This reading has the advantage of clearly fitting with God’s general attitude toward divorce. Further, the commands in Mark and Luke don’t include any exception clause, and thus this reading can more clearly be harmonized with them. However, while it is grammatically possible for the Greek text to mean this, it is a stretch as the phrase ‘me epi‘ is usually a negation, not an addition. 2) It has been interpreted as referring to the act of divorce, but not to the act of remarriage. Thus, the passage would be read, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality–you can divorce for that, and marries another woman, commits adultery.” This reading seems to many to fit Christ’s overall intention and theme better, and many have argued that it addresses various Old Testament issues clearly. However, the grammatical gymnastics necessary for these arguments are profoundly impressive and often unrealistic. 3) It has also been interpreted as an exception to the command allowing both divorce and remarriage. This interpretation takes the reading most commonly given in English bibles, and it is the best grammatical fit with the Greek text. However, many scholars have rejected it because it seems to overthrow the general biblical attitude to divorce and because it does not unify with the rendering of Christ’s words in Mark and Luke.

So, this is your challenge for today. I want you to write me a story of 1000 words address the interpretation of this passage that you most agree with.

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2 thoughts on “Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

  1. My question would be how do Christ’s words fit with God’s OT command. Remember, Christ did not come that one jot of the law should be blotted out. If God hates divorce, but allows it because the people are hard-hearted, could that be a reference to sexual immorality?

    That would seem to align the common interpretation with the unity of God and Christ, but I don’t know that it’s a valid interpretation of God’s commands in the OT.

    1. In the Old Testament law the punishment for sexual immorality (adultery, bestiality, homosexuality, etc) was stoning. So, the argument has been made that the law concerning divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 referred to adultery. In fact, in Christ’s day this was one of two major interpretations of the passage. The Shammai sect interpreted the passage to refer specifically to sexual immorality. The Hillel sect interpreted the passage to refer to anything that a woman did to displease her husband. However, the Ezra passage give us the only example of an apparently God-approved divorce in the Old Testament, and it was not for sexual immorality. This, combined with the fact that stoning was the legal punishment for sexual immorality, lead me to reject this idea as a proper interpretation of Dueteronomy 24:1-4. However, Christ’s response to the Pharisees is also instructive here. The Pharisees were, apparently, trying to trick Christ into taking sides in the Shammai/Hillel debate. However, Christ’s response was that they shouldn’t be looking for reasons to divorce their wives in the first place. The law was only given because of the stubbornness and sinfulness of the people, and they were showing that very stubbornness and sinfulness in their question. This is followed by his command concerning divorce (though in Mark this is only given to the disciples), to which the disciples respond that if his command is true then it would be better not to marry. This, as a whole, leads me towards either the No-Divorce or the Divorce-No-Remarriage positions, though I’m torn between them, and ultimately there are a lot of different factors that go into the interpretation of these passages, and so all three major positions are tenuous at best.

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