David Instone-Brewer has written what I conclude is the definitive book on divorce and remarriage. It is Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities [Affiliate link], InterVarsity Press, 2003 (also see his companion volume, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context [Affiliate link]). Everyone needs to stop talking about what the Bible says regarding divorce and remarriage until they have read this book. No seminary student studying for pastoral ministry should leave seminary without thoroughly digesting it.
Do you think that you know what Jesus taught about divorce? Did He say that adultery is the only grounds for divorce, or that anyone who divorces and remarries is guilty of adultery? What is desertion? Are there biblical grounds for divorcing an abusive spouse? If you were raised in conservative, Bible-believing churches — like the one I myself minister in — the chances are high that you think you know the answers to these questions — but you really don’t. You may very well have been raised on a diet of “wooden literalism” that frequently fails to understand the cultural and historical-redemptive context of the Scriptures in question.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say, 1500 years from now, someone checks out some ancient emails preserved on a PC hard drive two Christians sent back and forth to one another in this 21st century. Something like this —
I joined the Tea Party [Internet Archive link]1 last week. Ever since 9-11 this country has been going to pot and I want to turn up the heat at the White House.
Now, if you apply a woodenly literal hermeneutic (philosophy of interpretation) to this statement, what are you going to come up with? Some guy is into tea, and so he dialed 911 (or, well, maybe it means September 11th of the year the email was written) to plan a party of some kind with hot tea pots in Washington?? Would that be it? Of course not. This is a loaded political statement that tells us all kinds of things about the person writing it.
I believe the Bible literally. I know that we Reformed Theology people get hammered with accusations of “spiritualizing” the Scriptures so that they don’t mean anything at all, or that we don’t even really believe the Bible But these are false and mis-informed charges. I was raised and trained in an entirely different school of theology and hermeneutical method — and I never made sense out of the Bible until I came to understand the unity of the history of redemption that extends from Genesis to Revelation. But then, that story must wait for another time.
My point here is that simplistic, stiff, literalistic interpretations of Scripture have done massive injustice to the Scripture itself and to abuse victims in particular. Think of it. We actually have pastors and teachers and theologians telling victims of horrible abuse that they have no right to divorce the terrorist. Christians who presume they understand the Scriptures confidently assert that no divorced person can remarry unless their ex-spouse dies, and then maybe it would still be wrong – others will be quick to add.
We should all heed the Apostle James’ instruction:
(James 3:1 ESV) Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
Now go home, buy Instone-Brewer’s book, and let him straighten you out. I did!
1[January 8, 2023: We added the link to Wikipedia’s page on the Tea Party. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that page. Editors.]
[January 8, 2023: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to January 8, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.8
—For some comments made prior to January 8, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to January 8, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (January 8, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.