Irenic Thoughts

Irenic. The word means peaceful. This web log (or blog) exists to create an ongoing, and hopefully peaceful, series of comments on the life of King of Peace Episcopal Church. This is not a closed community. You are highly encouraged to comment on any post or to send your own posts.


What God Has Joined Together

A reader pointed out to me a recent Time article An Evangelical Rethink on Divorce which looks at how some churches have softened their stances on divorce and remarriage. The article gives one example of the shift taking place in writing,
Most experts interviewed for this story attested that whereas 30 years ago, a pastor might well order a battered woman home to return her husband, that is rare today.
As an example of this the author spoke with Russel Moore, dean of the 16.3 million-member Southern Baptist Convention's influential Southern Seminary who said their students and taught "that marriage is a lifelong, one-flesh union." Yet he also added that any woman in an abusive marriage should "leave that situation."

The Time article was based on one in the evangelical magazine Christianity Today. So I went back to that source and found What God Has Joined which is a harder look at the biblical teaching from David Instone-Brewer, a scholar at Tyndale House, Cambridge. He writes,
One of my most dramatic findings concerns a question the Pharisees asked Jesus: "Is it lawful to divorce a wife for any cause?" This question reminded me that a few decades before Jesus, some rabbis (the Hillelites) had invented a new form of divorce called the "any cause" divorce. By the time of Jesus, this "any cause" divorce had become so popular that almost no one relied on the literal Old Testament grounds for divorce.

The "any cause" divorce was invented from a single word in . Moses allowed divorce for "a cause of immorality," or, more literally, "a thing of nakedness." Most Jews recognized that this unusual phrase was talking about adultery. But the Hillelite rabbis wondered why Moses had added the word "thing" or "cause" when he only needed to use the word "immorality." They decided this extra word implied another ground for divorce—divorce for "a cause." They argued that anything, including a burnt meal or wrinkles not there when you married your wife, could be a cause! The text, they said, taught that divorce was allowed both for adultery and for "any cause."

Another group of rabbis (the Shammaites) disagreed with this interpretation. They said Moses' words were a single phrase that referred to no type of divorce "except immorality"—and therefore the new "any cause" divorces were invalid. These opposing views were well known to all first-century Jews. And the Pharisees wanted to know where Jesus stood. "Is it lawful to divorce your wife for any cause?" they asked. In other words: "Is it lawful for us to use the 'any cause' divorce?"
Instone-Brewer 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
  • Emotional and physical neglect
  • Abandonment and abuse
In the archives is the King of Peace sermon Dealing with Divorce which gives a decidedly Episcopal look at the issue while presenting a way this teaching has implications for other areas of our lives.

The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor



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