Friday, October 19, 2012

Divorce & remarriage

This carries over from another post. That exchange has outgrown the combox.


“As to (xiii)(c), what makes you think that a wife has greater rights than a slave?”

i) A wife has a higher social status than a slave. A slave enjoyed certain protections, but his condition was essentially punitive. In the case of a Hebrew slave, he was a debtor.

By contrast, marriage confers certain privileges (as well as responsibilities).

ii) In addition, a Jewish wife clearly had a higher social status than a foreign slave, just as members of the covenant community in general had rights (and responsibilities) which outsiders didn't.

“Where does the Bible ever speak of a woman divorcing her husband?”

i) That’s misleading. For instance, in Mt 19:3, Jesus talks about a man divorcing his wife because that’s how the question was phrased.

ii) In addition, the grounds for divorce (infidelity) would be applicable to husband and wife alike inasmuch as you can have faithful wives of faithless husbands as well as faithless wives of faithful husbands.

iii) In 1 Cor 7:15, Paul treats the grounds for divorce (desertion) as gender neutral.

“i) Why do you think that greater social status is indicative of greater rights?”

Because there’s a typical correlation between social ranking and social prerogatives.

Moreover, greater power or authority confers greater responsibility, and vice versa.

“ii) Do you acknowledge that men (other things like wealth and family relation being equal) enjoyed greater social status than women?”

No. In a hierarchical society, upperclass women outrank lower class men. A queen, queen mother, or noblewoman outranks a slaveboy or male commoner.

“iii) Isn't comparing a male slave to a wife an apples to oranges comparison, rather than a lesser to greater comparison?”

To the contrary, Scripture classifies marriage as a type of “bond” service (cf. Rom 7:2; 1 Cor 7:15,39). Both husband and wife were bound to each other by marriage. So that’s analogous to slavery, without the pejorative connotations of slavery.

“i) The question isn't misleading (more on that below). Matthew 19:3 isn't the only passage talking about divorce. So, it's irrelevant whether one passage or another happens to deal with the issue I've identified.”

That raises several issues:

a) 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.

b) I don’t know how far you wish to extend the analysis. In principle, we could run through all the Biblical references to divorce. By my reckoning, that would cover:

Deut 24:1-4 (where a man sues for divorce)

Deut 22:13-19 (where a husband falsely accuses his wife of adultery)

Exod 22:16-17, par. Deut 22:28-29 (a shotgun wedding)

Ezra 9-10 (Jewish men divorcing pagan wives)

Mal 2:10-16 (Jewish men divorcing Jewish wives to marry pagans)

Mt 5:31-32; 19:3-12; par. Mk 10:2-12; Lk 16:18

I already discussed Mt 19. Mt 5:31 alludes to Deut 24. The Synoptic parallels don’t contribute anything distinctive to the analysis.

The OT passages involve descriptive case studies where men instigate a divorce, or contract an illicit marriage (which must be dissolved), or indulge in sexual misconduct which commits them to marriage without recourse to divorce. Men are singled out as the instigators because that’s a factual description of male misconduct, not a normative statement unilateral male prerogatives. Indeed, in these passages, men are generally singled out as offenders rather than exemplars. Male initiative is descriptive and culpable rather than normative.

Which is not to deny that Scripture assigns certain unilateral prerogatives to men, but these are the wrong passages to find support for that principle.

“ii) "Infidelity" in these kinds of discussions is often a euphemism for adultery. I assume you're using it that way.”

I’m not using that as a euphemism for adultery.

a) To begin with, porneia has a wider semantic range than moichea (the specific term for “adultery”). Porneia means “unlawful sexual intercourse: prostitution, unchastity, fornication” (BDAG 854a).

So it’s possible that Matthew deliberately chooses a more generic term to include a wider range of sexual misconduct as grounds for divorce.

b) It’s also possible that Matthew employs a more generic term because his wording is modeled on the looser usage of Deut 24:1.

“And, of course, both men and women can be guilty of adultery. But that wasn't the question.”

Just because you don’t think that’s relevant doesn’t mean I don’t think that’s relevant. Scripture doesn’t have a double standard for punishing sin. And, if anything, the fact that husbands have more inherent authority than wives would make husbands more culpable, not less so. More liable to sanctions, not less so. Their gender doesn't immunize them from the consequences of their misconduct.

“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.”

The passage is standardly understood as implying the right of the innocent party to divorce and remarry. For an up-to-date defense of that interpretation, cf. R. Ciampa & B. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Eerdmans 2010), 302ff.

Catholics routinely reject the “Pauline Privilege” because their sect commits them to the indissolubility of marriage, regardless of what Scripture says.


  1. One of the areas in Genesis that clearly establish perogatives for a wife over a slave woman is found here:

    Gen 16:9 The angel of the LORD said to her, "Return to your mistress and submit to her."

    Also this sort of perogative seemed to be around a long time.

    Just consider that there isn't anything negative about having conjugal relations with concubines and in fact this counsel of Ahithopel seems to establish that fact, and the fact that those concubines were shut up in a home to remain without relations ever again until their deaths!

    2Sa 16:20 Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, "Give your counsel. What shall we do?"
    2Sa 16:21 Ahithophel said to Absalom, "Go in to your father's concubines, whom he has left to keep the house, and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself a stench to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened."
    2Sa 16:22 So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof. And Absalom went in to his father's concubines in the sight of all Israel.


    2Sa_20:3 And David came to his house at Jerusalem. And the king took the ten concubines whom he had left to care for the house and put them in a house under guard and provided for them, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood.

    I suppose today "societies" determine in some sense what is moral and immoral?

    I was in Nigeria visiting a powerful man of a kingdom and he had four wives. I met two of them at the wedding of one of this man's daugthers.

  2. "In my opinion, she should call the police, not call the elders."

    In 1 Corinthians 5, wasn't incest against Roman law? (cf. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, p. 162.) Wouldn't we expect Paul to counsel the church to alert the Roman authorities?

  3. There's an obvious difference between immoral conduct between consenting adults and domestic violence. Likewise, there's a difference between speeding and murder. Both are illegal, but that doesn't mean we'd necessarily report both infractions.