Eric10/17/2012 4:21 PM
What is your basis for saying domestic violence would be grounds for divorce? And why the distinction between verbal and physical abuse? Neither is mentioned in the bible as reasons for divorce.
Before getting to the specifics, let’s review some broader considerations:
i) It’s a parody of sola Scriptura to think sola Scriptura means we need direct biblical warrant for whatever we do. Rather, Sola Scriptura means that we are obligated to believe or do whatever Scripture requires, and obligated to disbelieve or refrain from doing whatever is contrary to Scripture.
But there are many issues where we have to use sanctified common sense.
ii) The argument from silence is plausible in situations where, if something were the case, we’d expect it to be mentioned. But the argument from silence has no forces in situations where no reasonable expectation to that effect exists.
iii) A society has unwritten rules as well as written rules. An unspoken understanding of social expectations, based on cultural osmosis. Something you pick up through observation.
Some things aren’t written down because they are so obvious or familiar that everyone knows the score without being told. For instance, the Bible doesn’t prohibit torturing children for fun. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to torture children for fun.
iv) This also figures in communication. Writers leave many things unsaid because they can rely on cultural conventions.
v) Law typically deals with frequent rather than infrequent behavior.
vi) Apropos (v), biblical law is illustrative or paradigmatic rather than exhaustive. Biblical law doesn’t spell out every possible contingency:
Modern societies generally have opted for exhaustive law codes. That is, every action modern society wishes to regulate or prohibit must be specifically mentioned in a separate law…By this approach, all actions are permitted that are not expressly forbidden or regulated. Thus it is not uncommon that criminals in modern Western societies to evade prosecution because of a “technicality” or a “loophole” in the law…Ancient laws didn’t work this way. They were paradigmatic, giving models of behaviors and models or prohibitions/punishments relative to those behaviors, but they made no attempt to be exhaustive. Ancient laws gave guiding principles, or samples, rather than complete descriptions of all things regulated. Ancient people were expected to be able to extrapolate from what the sampling of laws did say to the general behavior the laws in their totality pointed toward. Ancient judges were expected to extrapolate from the wording provided in the laws that did exist to all other circumstances and not be foiled in their jurisprudence by any such concepts as “technicalities” or “loopholes. When common sense told judges that a crime had been committed, they reasoned their way from whatever the most nearly applicable law specified to a decision as to how to administer proper justice in the case before them.
“Excursus: The Paradigmatic Nature of Biblical Law,” D. Stuart, Exodus (Broadman 2006), 442-43.
The same reasoning applies to NT household codes and other paraenetic material.
vii) Suppose a newlywed discovers that her husband is a serial killer. He’s been married before. His wives die in mysterious accidents. He collects their life insurance, changes his identity, then remarries–repeating the cycle.
Even if this were valid grounds for divorce, we wouldn’t expect the Bible to discuss it because this is so unusual.
Jesus answers a question about divorce (Mt 19:3), while Paul discusses divorce in relation to mixed marriages (1 Cor 7). These are responses to specific questions or particular situations. We know the grounds for divorce and remarriage in those cases because a question was asked, or a particular situation in the NT churched occasioned an explanation.
Scripture might be silent on other grounds for the simple reason that there was no occasion to discuss other grounds, given the needs of the immediate audience.
viii) Jesus had two contrasting criticisms of the religious establishment. On the one hand, he attacked the religious establishment for being too lax. It would invent loopholes to evade God’s law.
On the other hand, he also attacked the religious establishment for being too strict. It would woodenly enforce the law without regard to the purpose of the law.
These might seem to be contradictory criticisms, but they identify a common error: the religious establishment didn’t take seriously the intent of the law.
Therefore, we can’t just play it safe by sticking to the letter of the law. That might seem to be faithful, but Jesus has taught us that this kind of superficial obedience can be the opposite way of flouting the law.
Not all laws are equally obligatory. Some laws are given for the sake of other laws. Sabbath-keeping exists to promote human flourishing. But there are emergency situations where keeping the Sabbath is detrimental to human flourishing.
ix) Both divine and human intent are germane to genuine compliance. For instance, sacrifice offered without right intention invalidates the offering (Hos 6:6; Mt 9:13; 12:7).
Likewise, some vows are unlawful vows (Mt 15:1-9; Mk 7:1-13). By the same token, some vows could be nullified (Num 30:5,8).
x) The Bible deploys a fortiori arguments from analogy, viz.
15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Lk 13:15-16).9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop (1 Cor 9:9-10).
xi) In discussing divorce and remarriage, Jesus grounds his position in the nature and purpose of marriage. Therefore, that’s a relevant background factor when we consider possible grounds for divorce.
At the same time, Jesus response isn’t meant to be exhaustive. He’s discussing the issue in a Jewish context, with reference to OT law and common law.
If we were to give a fuller description of the nature and purpose of marriage in Scripture, that would include the following:
a) Marriage is a covenant
b) To procreate the image of God
c) To provide a unique kind of companionship
d) To illustrate God’s devotion to the redeemed
xii) For instance, suppose a spouse enters into marriage with no intention of having kids. His intention not to have kids defies (one of) God’s intention for instituting marriage in the first place.
So that might be grounds for divorce. The intentions of both the divine and human parties are germane to the validity of the arrangement. If the human party makes a mockery of the institution by contracting a marriage in defiance of God’s design for marriage, one could argue that his marriage lacks divine authorization.
Likewise, suppose one party deceives the other party, when he or she has no intention of having kids. That might also be grounds for divorce. That would be a fraudulent agreement. By analogy, if you lack right intention when you offer sacrifice, that invalidates the sacrifice. Your hidden motives give the lie to your outward actions.
I’m not presenting a full-blown argument for these two examples. I’m just giving two examples to illustrate how one might argue grounds for divorce. Citing relevant considerations.
xiii) In application to the specific issue at hand:
a) Domestic violence is a travesty of what marriage represents, in terms of companionship as well as the emblematic significance of marriage (i.e. to illustrate God’s devotion to the redeemed). It’s the antithesis of how marriage is supposed to function (e.g. Eph 5:22-33).
b) Breach of covenant can nullify a covenant if one party fails to honor the terms of the covenant. And this isn’t the case of a spouse who makes a good faith effort, but falls short due to sin. Rather, this is acting in bad faith.
c) There is also an argument from analogy. A battered slave could be manumitted (Exod 21:26-27). A fortiori, a battered wife can divorce her husband. What’s true in the lesser case of a slave is true in the greater case of a wife, for a wife has greater rights than a slave.
As I’ve noted, scripture uses a minore ad maius arguments.
xiv) My aim is not to present a full-blown argument, but to show how we ought to frame the issue. The sorts of factors relevant to considering grounds for divorce.