Why don’t authors address Matt 19:29 when teaching on divorce for abuse?
Today’s post is by a male survivor of domestic abuse. I (Barb) have met this man face to face as well as communicating over time with him by email and I am confident he’s a survivor of domestic abuse. He wrote this to me in an email and we are publishing it here with his permission. Many thanks to him for raising this topic in such a cogent manner.
Text in [square brackets] has been added by Barb.
There is one passage that I absolutely cannot believe seems to have been completely ignored by every single author on the topic of divorce in the context of abuse — at least at the time at which I really investigated this thoroughly, after the latest NIV version of the Bible was published in 2011.
This passage is Matthew 19:29 and the parallel in Luke 18:29-30
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matt. 19:29, NIV)
“I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29-30 NIV)
1) In at least the case of Matthew, it is only the most recent version of the NIV that includes “wife”, with a footnote that some texts exclude wife. [To see all translations of Matthew 19:29 go here. Some ancient manuscripts do not have ‘or wife’; thus, some English translations include the words ‘or wife’ and others do not.]
2) Mark 10 has many parallels with Matthew 19, but does not mention wife.
3) The start of Matthew 19 talks about divorce.
4) The start of Mark 10 (lacking reference to “wife”) also talks about divorce (ie. in parallel).
My questions are these:
1) Why has nobody at all taken the time to answer the question “Why does Jesus include ‘wife’ in the list?”
2) In the context of these two references, under what circumstance is a man blessed (yes blessed!) to leave his wife? The answer is given in the reference. Jesus says “for my sake”.
3) Aren’t newer versions of the NIV supposed to reflect increases in knowledge and understanding about a passage such that the newer version best communicates what a majority now believes was the original intent of the original speaker? In other words, to move from ‘wife’ being a footnote (older NIV), to being in the main passage, isn’t this saying the translators now believe it is a more accurate representation that ‘wife’ be included in that list?
For those who would argue this passage is not relevant I ask: how can a man leave his wife in such a way that Jesus’ words here apply to him?
How can you not conclude that a believer, leaving a persistently and unrepentantly violent [or non-violent but still abusive] situation, is in fact bringing themselves (and potentially their children) to a place of greater peace — which is a fruit of the spirit, surely an act and outcome that is in line with Jesus’ desire for humankind? Indeed an immediate blessing is, in fact, peace!
It feels like the more accepted arguments that permit divorce — adultery, for example — come across as concessions (like this: “Yes, if your spouse has committed adultery, you are permitted to leave”). Whereas in these verses Jesus’ language comes across as someone pro-actively leaving a wife to pro-actively pursue Jesus’ “sake”. The scenario of a person standing up and saying “For the sake of God, I will no longer endure your unrepentant, persistent abuse; I am leaving!” seems to fit this tone.
Look at the proximity of this statement to Jesus speaking on divorce! Is there no connection whatsoever? One might refute by saying other items in the list have nothing to do with divorce but imagine this scene played out: Jesus spends notable time discussing divorce, then a moment later talks about people leaving all manner of relationship — including their wife — for his sake and being blessed. And this reference to leaving a wife (proactively?) seems unrelated to the discussion just had. In other words, the discussion just had about divorce in the earlier verses is not the exhaustive word on the matter. Again — how can a man leave his wife in such a way that Jesus’ words here apply to him?
A final note of consideration is that Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible has this to say:
[of the phrase] “brethren or sisters, or father or mother, or wife or children, lands, for my name’s sake; or, as in Luke, “for the kingdom of God’s sake”;
that is, for the sake of the Gospel, and a profession of it. Not that believing in Christ, and professing his name, do necessarily require a parting with all worldly substance, and natural relations, but when these things stand in competition with Christ, he is to be loved and preferred before them; and believers are always to be ready to part with them for his sake, when persecution arises, because of the word. All these things are to be relinquished, rather than Christ, and his Gospel; and such who shall be enabled, through divine grace, to do so shall receive an hundred fold.
(For this reference, a further two commentaries and 21 different bible versions, see: here)