Apart from Craig Keener's . . . And Marries Another (Peabody, MA:
Hendrickson, 1991), David Instone-Brewer's book is the most
paradigm-challenging study of the NT divorce texts that I have
encountered. Since the whole book is available at his website (http://www.instone-brewer.com/),
my goal here is merely to entice the reader to wrestle with the
implications Instone-Brewer's interpretive grid has not only for the
immediate topic, but for our approach to other NT subjects as
Instone-Brewer's goal is to overturn the highly impractical
"traditional Church in-terpretation" (pp. ix, 304) of the NT divorce
texts. This no remarriage, but two-grounds-for-separation view could
only have emerged outside the literary and social context of
first-century Judaism. Provocatively, Instone-Brewer identifies two
additional biblical grounds for divorce based on Exod 21:10-11, a
text that states a husband must give a wife food, clothing, and
"marital love/duty." Rabbinic sources classified these under two
headings: material neglect and emotional neglect (p. 102). Both the
rabbis and Paul ap-plied these equally to the wife and the husband
(cf. I Cor 7:3-5, 32-34), and the three provisions of Exod 21:10-11
"became the basis for the vows in Jewish marriage con-tracts and in
Christian marriage services via the reference in Ephesians 5:28-29"
(p. 275). This, to be sure, is the unique contribution of this
study. In Instone-Brewer's own words, "The interpretation of [the
words in Exod 21:10-11] by first-century Jews is the most important
consideration for this present study" (p. 100).
What are Instone-Brewer's working assumptions? First, I believe
he would say it is inappropriate merely to do a
grammatical-historical exegesis of OT texts and see how exegesis
fits hand-in-glove into its NT context (p. x). Intertestamental
Jewish interpretive traditions and the Greco-Roman environment must
be considered when reading the NT. For example, where Deut 24:1 is
concerned, it is impossible to decide what "some-thing indecent"
(NIV) referred to originally; all we need to know is how
first-century teachers understood it.
Second, just as rabbinic debates were summarized for oral or
written transmission, so was Jesus' teaching on divorce.
Instone-Brewer illustrates the principles of abbre-viation that the
rabbis used and how they are paralleled in the longer and shorter
re-ports of Jesus' teaching in the Gospels with a discussion of the
various accounts of the Hillelite-Shammaite divorce dispute in the
Mishnah (cf. Matthew 19//Mark 10) (p. 162), Sifre (when we unpack
Matthew 19//Mark 10 exegesis) (pp. 163-64), and Jerusalem Talmud
(cf. Matt 5:31-32; Luke 16:18) (pp. 164-65). To be specific, the
phrases "for any matter" (Matt 19:3) and "except for (a matter of)
indecency" (Matt 19:9) are omitted from Mark 10:2-12 because they
were obvious to the original audience. Matthew added these "phrases
that encapsulated the positions of the Hillelites and Shammaites
respectively," not because he wanted to soften Jesus' absolute
prohibition of divorce (as in the older critical view), but because
he could no longer assume his readers would automatically supply
what was originally present (p. 134).
Most mentally assume exceptions to sayings of Jesus like those
found in Matt 5:22 ("without cause") and 5:28 ("except for his
wife") (p. 153). When it comes to the core form of Jesus' divorce
saying, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits
adul-tery," the only assumption first-century readers would bring to
make sense of it "is to assume that the divorce was invalid" (p.
149). Matthew's addition of "except for (a mat-ter of) indecency"
makes this assumption explicit.
Instone-Brewer provides the most satisfactory explanation to date
for the two dif-ferent forms of Matthew's exception. Exegetes have
long recognized that the phrase in Matt 5:32 is the virtual semantic
equivalent of the Shammaites' transposition of the corresponding
Hebrew phrase in Dent 24:1 m. Git. 9.10). However, the Shammaitc
po-sition was summarized in the rabbinic literature in two similar
forms, the second of which is semantically identical with the phrase
in Matt 19:9 (Sifre Deut. 269; y. Sota 1.2 [16b])! Was adultery the
only ground for divorce allowed by Jesus? Probably not, because the
focus of the controversy was the meaning of Deut 24:1. However, the
Shammaites also allowed other divorces on the grounds of Exod
21:10-11 (p. 186). and Jesus presumably would, too.
Just as Jesus condemned the no fault Hillelite "any matter"
divorce as invalid, 30 Paul condemned the Greco-Roman no fault
"divorce by separation" as invalid (1 Cor 7:10-11). In the case of 1
Cor 7:15, rather than technically argue for neglect, Paul gave a
pragmatic solution (cf. the rabbinic phrase "God has called us to
peace") to a difficult situation. If people had been divorced
against their will and could do nothing to reverse it, Paul says
they should be regarded as validly divorced and free to remarry (p.
204). Instone-Brewer wants us to know, however, that "Paul did not
even mention the use of these obligations as grounds for divorce.
Instead, he was keen to emphasize the duty of each partner to
fulfill these obligations that had been promised in the marriage
vows" (p. 1.97). Neither Jesus nor Paul is a legalist.
Though pastoral advice is limited, here is a plausible defense of
four grounds for permitting divorce when (1) marriage vows have been
violated, (2) extensive forgive-ness has been extended in view of
genuine repentance (Luke 17:3-4), and (3) the vow-breaker stubbornly
refuses to repent of their actions. Hosea "showed that God did not
end the relationship until it was already totally destroyed" (p.
36). The viability of this new approach depends on whether or not
the reader is persuaded that Instone-Brewer's interpretive grid
better comprehends all the biblical data than the one they have
always brought to these texts. One will have to read the whole to
feel the full force of his case.
William A. Heth Taylor University, Upland, IN