TFan has posted a 2-part response to my discussion of divorce vis-à-vis domestic violence. In this post I’ll reply to part 1:
The Lord hates divorce. That was one of the messages of the prophet of Malachi…So, naturally, I also hate divorce - and you should too.
Divorce is not the only thing the Lord hates. Given what God says about marriage in Eph 5 (to take one example), I’m sure that God also hates domestic violence.
Before we get further, though, it is perhaps important to provide a little background into what divorce is, in Biblical terms.From a Biblical standpoint, a divorce is the husband putting away the wife. The classical passage is this: Deuteronomy 24:1-4…There is no similar provision for wives in the Old Testament law. A wife could not decide that her husband was unclean and write him a bill of divorcement and put it in his hand and send him out of her house. There was no category of women divorcing their husbands.
There are several serious problems with TFan’s appeal to Deut 24:1-4:
i) TFan doesn’t seem to grasp the nature of case law, even though I already went over that ground. OT case law is illustrative rather than exhaustive. It doesn’t cover every conceivable situation. Rather, when an issue arose which wasn’t specifically addressed in the Mosaic law, Jewish judges had to extrapolate from the nearest applicable law. So TFan’s argument from silence is fallacious.
Notice that TFan doesn’t even attempt to show that my explanation of case law is false. He simply ignores it.
I find it disappointing that he refuses to argue in good faith. When he raises an objection, and I present a counterargument, it’s incumbent on him to acknowledge and interact with the counterargument. For him to simply repeat the same objection, as if no response was offered, is intellectually frivolous.
ii) In addition, I presented another counterargument. To quote myself:
To begin with, the complementarian position is that masculine nouns and pronouns can include women. That follows both from the conventions grammatical gender and generic masculine usage as well as the theological fact that men can function in a representative capacity for women.
For instance, the soteriological and eschatological promises (or threats) of Scripture are often addressed to male referents, yet they implicitly include women. Women as well as men can be saved or damned.
Of course, masculine language is sometimes used to single out males. But there’s no presumption to that effect. Rather, that’s context-dependent.
i) In his latest response to me, TFan blows right past that. Once again, it’s disappointing when he refuses to argue in good faith.
ii) In addition, he’s arguing like a feminist or egalitarian. “Evangelical feminists” deny generic masculine usage. They assume that all grammatically masculine usage is gender-specific and gender-exclusive. TFan seems to share the same understanding. I find it odd that he’s siding with feministic hermeneutics.
iii) Regarding Deut 24:1-4: if you read it carefully, this statute didn’t authorize men to divorce their wives.
This statute doesn’t institute, command, or condone divorce. It’s really about remarriage after divorce rather than divorce proper. It takes a certain custom for granted, then protects the divorcée against certain consequences of the customary divorce.
iv) To take a comparison, the Mosaic law doesn’t ban prostitution across the board. Although prostitution is a sin, not all sins are crimes.
Rather, the Mosaic law takes the status quo (i.e. social reality of prostitution) for granted, then restricts it. Jews are forbidden from being prostitutes.
Likewise, Deut 24:1-4 doesn’t legitimate the right of a husband to divorce his wife under those circumstances. Rather, it takes the status quo (i.e. customary divorce) for granted, then limits remarriage under those circumstances–apparently to limit the harm done to the divorcée, who was divorced against her will.
v) Likewise, it doesn’t address divorce in general, but a very special case.
I’ll have more to say about this statute in a moment:
This is important to remember when dealing with the text of Scripture. It is easy to anachronistically apply contemporary cultural norms to the text. In an age when people are redefining marriage to include reference to same sex couples, one might think that Christians would be on their guard to remember that this is not the first redefinition of marriage.
That’s a nice exercise in well-poisoning. Remember, though, that the question at issue is whether wife-battery is grounds for divorce. Is that “redefining” marriage? Does TFan think wife-battery figures in the original definition of marriage, which contemporary cultural norms are trying to redefine out of marriage?
Regardless of what the practice may or may not have been, the "bill of divorcement" passage was inauthentically interpreted by the Jewish leaders, and this wrong interpretation was corrected by Jesus [Mt 5:31-32; 19:3-10; Mk 10:2-12; Lk 16:18].Jesus' argument relies on the authority of the institution of marriage [Gen 2:22-24].The apparent rabbinical view was that the "uncleanness" mentioned was anything that the husband found undesirable. Jesus, however, tightly confined the exception to adultery/fornication.So, what the law says is that there is one legitimate ground of divorce, and that is fornication/adultery (see Jesus' own interpretation of Deuteronomy above). Moreover, it was not supposed to be the mere suspicion of that fornication/adultery (for mere suspicion there was a remedy in Numbers 5).
Several more problems:
i) It’s odd that TFan also quotes the Markan and Lukan passages to establish adultery/fornication as the one legitimate ground of divorce, for those Synoptic variants lack the exceptive clauses in Matthew.
ii) This also illustrates the weakness of TFan’s argument from silence. One the one hand, Mark and Luke give no grounds for divorce. On the other hand, Matthew only gives a single ground for divorce.
iii) Moreover, the exceptive clauses in Matthew are worded in terms that apparently exclude any other grounds for divorce. Yet TFan will later concede that 1 Cor 7:15 offers an additional ground for divorce–desertion.
iv) It’s also unclear to me why TFan limits the exceptive clauses to “adultery/fornication.” As I pointed out before, porneia has a wider semantic range. It covers a range of sexual immorality, viz., adultery, fornication, incest, bestiality, and homosexuality.
Now, perhaps TFan would say that although the word has multiple meanings, the context of Matthew narrows the semantic scope.
Or he might say that although incest, bestiality, and homosexuality aren’t inherently adulterous, inasmuch as single men and women can commit these sins, yet they are adulterous if a married man or woman commits them.
But as it stands, his usage lacks due qualifications.
v) I’m also unclear on why he thinks fornication is grounds for divorce. In standard usage, fornication denotes premarital sex, in contrast to extramarital sex. Is he claiming that unless a man or woman is a virgin on their wedding night, that that’s grounds for divorce?
What about someone who was sexually active before he (or she) became a Christian? Is he debarred from marriage? Considering the fact that many 1C converts to Christianity were former pagans, it’s unrealistic to think most of them were celibate prior to marriage. For instance, Greek males typically deferred marriage until the age of 30. In the interim, they had recourse to prostitutes.
vi) For some strange reason, TFan seems to think Jesus is correcting the rabbinic interpretation of Deut 24:1-4. I don’t see where he finds that in the text. Rather, I see Jesus doing something more radical. Rather than correcting their misinterpretation of Deut 24:1-4, he corrects their misvaluation of Deut 24:1-4. He denies the normativity of Deut 24:1-4.
Jesus bypasses the appeal to Deut 24:1-4 by going back to Gen 1-2. He treats Gen 1-2 as the primary, normative passage, while he demotes Deut 24:1-4 to a pragmatic, ad hoc concession to the reality of sin.
Put another way, he abrogates Deut 24:1-4 by sidestepping and sidelining Deut 24:1-4. Jesus opposes Gen 1-2 to Deut 24:1-4.
vii) It doesn’t make sense to think Deut 24:1-4 alludes to adultery as the ground for divorce. The Mosaic punishment for adultery isn’t divorce, but execution. There’s a different statute that deals with adultery (22:22).
Based on linguistic and contextual evidence, Bock and Walton think Deut 24:1 has in view a chronic menstrual irregularity which renders the wife ritually impure, thereby precluding conjugal relations (cf. Lev 12:2-8; 15:14).
However, it’s unnecessary for us to identify the underlying condition. It’s sufficient to point out that adultery is contextually excluded.
For a post entitled “Understanding Divorce from a Biblical Perspective,” I’m afraid don’t see the evidence that TFan has actually done his exegetical spadework. It seems to be more a matter of rote prooftexting to retroactively validate a foregone conclusion.
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul describes marriage and provides for the case of a believing spouse married to an unbelieving spouse. Jesus and Paul command:So, Paul announces the general rule that husbands and wives should stay together and if, despite this command, they separate they should only remain unmarried or be reconciled to their spouse.Paul then turns to the specific case of unbelief. Husbands are not to divorce their wives and women are not to leave their husbands over disbelief. However, if an unbelieving spouse desires to break the marriage, the believing spouse is allowed to permit this.This provides a second exception to the general rule. The general rule is "no divorce," and the two exceptions are a breaking off of the marriage by an unbeliever and adultery/fornication. For those of us who are Presbyterian, our confession of faith also affirms this (Westminster Confession of Faith 24:5&6).There are no other grounds for divorce authorized in Scripture. So, it gives me great sorrow to read Christian brethren promoting the idea of divorce in other cases.For example, I recently read a Christian brother's blog, in which he tried to argue that "domestic violence" is a legitimate ground of divorce. The Scriptures don't teach this, and our confession doesn't recognize this ground.P.S. It might be interesting to get into the question of whether women should be permitted to divorce their husbands at all (given that the law does not provide for it), but that question goes beyond the scope of this post.
This is confused on several grounds:
i) To begin with, TFan has offered what appear to be contradictory statements on 1 Cor 7:15. In an earlier response to me, he said:
Turretinfan10/18/2012 2:50 PM
Where does the Bible ever speak of a woman divorcing her husband?
Turretinfan10/18/2012 4:01 PM
In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul addresses the issue of the attempted desertion of a believing spouse by an unbelieving spouse. You are right that a kind of gender neutrality is maintained. Neither a Christian man nor a Christian woman is to prevent the desertion of the unbelieving spouse. You should notice, however, that divorce is not mentioned. May I encourage you to re-read the context of the verse you quoted, and you will see the contrast between men divorcing and women leaving.
Here he seems to deny that 1 Cor 7 is even referring to divorce. “You should notice, however, that divorce is not mentioned.”
Yet in the same paragraph he also says “you will see the contrast between men divorcing and women leaving”–which seems to concede that it does address divorce, but limits that to a male prerogative.
Yet in the same paragraph he also says “You are right that a kind of gender neutrality is maintained.”
And in his latest reply, he says:
“There is some question about whether women ever divorced their husbands even in the NT era. There is no discussion about wives writing writs of divorcement for their husbands, and yet the discussion of marriage relationships is sometimes balanced (see Mark 10:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 7).”
But if the discussion is “balanced,” if “a kind of gender neutrality is maintained,” then there’s no “contrast between men divorcing and women leaving.”
On the face of it, TFan is twisting himself in knots. I think the reason for his contradictory explanations is that he wants to reserve 1 Cor 7:15 as a prooftext for the right of men to divorce women, but not vice versa. Unfortunately for him, appeal to 1 Cor 7:15 either proves too much or too little. If it’s a prooftext for divorce, then it applies irrespectively to husbands and wives. The only way of denying that to women is to deny it to men.
Apparently, that’s why TFan is so equivocal in his treatment of 1 Cor 7:15.
ii) Sensing, perhaps, the inadequacy of his exegetical arguments, TFan tries to bolster his case by a last-ditch appeal to the Westminster Confession. But that’s an illicit appeal to authority. You can’t rightly invoke the WCF to leverage the interpretation of Scripture. Your exegesis just stand or fall on the merits.
iii) Moreover, his appeal to the WCF is self-defeating. For the WCF doesn’t confine the right of divorce to husbands. For the WCF says:
Adultery or fornication committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, gives just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract. In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead (24:5).
That clearly applies without respect to gender, for wives as well as husbands can be the “innocent party.” Clearly a husband can be the “offending party.”
iv) That’s also the traditional understanding of the passage. As A. A. Hodge says, in his classic commentary on the WCF,
It is allowed by Paul to the Christian husband or wife deserted by their heathen partner.
v) In addition, the WCF is a 17C document. But 17C society was quite hierarchical. You had upperclass women and lower class men. For instance, when Richard Baxter married Margaret Charlton, he married up. She was his social superior. His father was genteel poor whereas her father was a wealthy justice of the peace.
Does TFan think Puritan or Anglican women in the 17C never had the legal right to divorce their husbands? If we’re going to interpret the WCF in its historical context, we have to take social class into account. Some women outranked some men. And that had legal implications.