I didn’t read the Oct Christianity Today issue when it was published, so I’m a bit slow to comment on it now. There was an article published there by David Instone-Brewer (DIB) advocating what many have concluded is a rather loose view of divorce. DIB argues that divorce is permissible on 3 grounds:
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)
What makes it especially amazing is that CT simply published [DIB’s article] as if it were faithful to Scripture, with no counterpoint, and used the phrase on the cover “when to separate,” not “whether to separate”—even though Jesus said, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9).
To put it bluntly, the implication of this article is that every marriage I am aware of could already have legitimately ended in divorce…. I did not expect to read this astonishing extension of the divorce license. It is, in our context of easy divorce and cavalier covenant-breaking, tragic.
Köstenberger responds to both Piper and DIB:
I agree with Piper’s criticism of Instone-Brewer’s treatment of Exod 21:10–11 yet disagree with his criticism of Instone-Brewer’s handling of Matt 19:9 and Deut 24:1. Here, then, is the important point: Piper’s concern that Instone-Brewer “tragically widens the grounds of legitimate divorce” largely pertains to Instone-Brewer’s inclusion of spousal neglect as a legitimate grounds of divorce on the basis of Exod 21:10–11, which I also reject, while it does not equally apply to the understanding of the exception clause as allowing divorce in cases of adultery.
Also note that Köstenberger posted a second reply later which has some more detailed discussion; well worth reading.
So, Piper argues for no divorce, Köstenberger for divorce only on the grounds of adultery or desertion, and DIB for the 3 grounds listed above.
I am not going to attempt to defend a position in detail in the confines of a relatively short blog post. I have chosen to comment at all only to voice my concern that DIB’s argument, with as generous an interpretation of it as possible, and in light of his later response to Piper which tightens up the wording a bit, is a sad commentary on the state of the church these days. Although I do not agree with everything in Piper’s response, surely his is the emphasis that the church needs—and which our (“my”) students need to hear. I agree with Piper’s minority view that there is no biblical basis for divorce. None at all. And I think the disciples responded to Jesus’ words with that same understanding. Jesus had said:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matt. 19:4–6).
When Jesus later explained this to his disciples, their response was,
“If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry” (v. 10).
I can only understand that response if they understood Jesus to be forbidding divorce. Only that would be such a high standard as to cause a person to contemplate not marrying at all rather than to enter a relationship from which there was no remedy if things “went bad.”
I’ll venture just a few additional observations—and that without any attempted defense. I note them since they are so often overlooked.
- First, I am quite surprised at the appeal to Exodus 21:10-11 as a basis for divorce. Read the context! It is not talking about marriage and divorce but about a young woman sold as a slave. To extrapolate that into a general principle justifying divorce for neglect is simply irresponsible exegesis.
- Second, though I consider all divorce wrong, i.e., sin, I do not consider it to be an “unpardonable” sin. God does forgive.
- Third (and this conclusion may surprise some), although all divorce is sin, divorce does terminate a marriage. Read John 4.
- Fourth, as a pastor I will not perform a wedding if one party has been divorced, if for no other reason that to protect the reputation of the church and not to provide any appearance of condoning divorce. I know, they’ll just get married elsewhere. Yes. And a civil wedding is just as valid as a church one—there were marriages long before there was a church! But I will not be accountable for it. I learned a long time ago that there are seldom “innocent parties” in a divorce—and what people will tell you to defend the legitimacy of their divorce is seldom the whole truth, if it is truth at all.
All the other questions and circumstances, all the “messy details” (and divorce is always messy!), I’ll leave for you to grapple. But at least you have some things to think about.