Divorce and Remarriage
by David Instone-Brewer

"Instone-Brewer has helpfully gathered much lore, particularly that of early (rabbinic) Judaism, that is clearly relevant to any assessment of the NT logia on divorce."

Earl C. Muller

Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 65, 2003

Full review:

David Instone- Brewer, a research fellow at Tyndale House, Cambridge, wishes to provide a biblical foundation for reassessing current practices of the church regarding divorce and remarriage. Proposing that the original NT teaching was lost after 70 c.F. because of ignorance of the Jewish background and rigoristic tendencies in the early patristic church, he argues that Jesus and Paul accepted the OT grounds for divorce in cases of adultery and neglect or abuse, and they allowed for—even if they discouraged—remarriage after a valid divorce.

Instone-Brewer argues that marriage in the OT is best understood as a contract that can be broken if either side reneges on the obligations spelled out in Exod 21:10-11 and Deut 24:1. The OT's distinctiveness in its ancient Near Eastern context lies in the expanded rights of women in marriage. The later prophets portray God as reluctantly divorcing Israel (or Judah) because of her persistent infidelity. In one of the more extensive chapters, I.-B. examines rabbinic teaching roughly contemporaneous with the NT, and here he is fairly careful in sorting out the chronological issues. The rabbis generally allowed divorce for infertility, unfaithfulness, or material or emotional neglect, but the Hillelites interpreting Deut 24:1 as encompassing "any matter," allowed for divorce on any grounds; the Shammaites interpreted Deut 24:1 more narrowly but accepted divorces granted by Hillelite courts. Jesus' response in Mark 10:2-12 and Matt 19:3-12 presumes this background but is abbreviated in ways that would have been understood by a first-century Jew. Jesus taught that marriage should be lifelong and monogamous; while neither marriage nor divorce was compulsory, the latter should be avoided except tor persistent infidelity; and Hillelite divorces for "any matter'" were invalid. This last point distinguished Jesus from the Shammaitic pragmatic position. His silence on divorces based on Exodus 21 suggests that he accepted Judaism's general practice and allowed divorce (and remarriage) in cases involving lack of material or emotional support (food, clothing, love). Paul addressed the added questions raised by a Greco-Roman context: the believer was free to divorce and remarry should the unbelieving partner end the marriage.

My diffi-culties with the work are more conceptual and have as much to do with what he has not considered as with what he argues. For instance, he writes that the later prophets "devel-oped a picture of God that is more than a metaphor .. . they concluded that Yahweh had a real marriage contract with Israel and Judah, and that Yahweh was a divorcee" (p. 53). The language of divorce is certainly present, but to what purpose? The prophetic form itself implies an ongoing relationship, not one mat has been terminated. Is the divorce language quasi literal or rather an aggrieved spouse's poetic exaggeration (an option I.-B, does not address)'.' The chapter on Jesus' teaching argues that the NT logia are highly abbreviated and can be understood only if one takes into account what would be "'obvious' to a first-century Jew." Why. then, are Mark's and Luke's accounts, which have Gentiles as a significant portion of the audience, even more abbreviated than Matthew's account?

There is no discussion of how Jesus was tested in the question put to him. Asking which side of the Shammaite-Hillelite debate he favored is not really a test, nor is the disciples' reaction that it would be better not to get married explained by arguing that Jesus held a more consistent Shammaite position (in rejecting divorces for "any matter"). What would constitute a test would be probing whether Jesus accepted Scripture's provisions in this matter. Should the Pharisees catch Jesus denying the force of Scripture, they could build a case against him. I.-B. treats the material from Genesis 2 as a digression, but if Jesus were rejecting the Mosaic concession, he would have to build his case on the very Law he was criticizing. A similar use of the Law appears in Jesus' debate with the Sadducees on the question of the resurrection, which, as such, was not attested by the Torah. Such examples could be multiplied.

The volume offers various useful indexes. Several footnote references, however, lack a corresponding bibliographical entry (e.g., references to Jacob Neusner). I.-B.'s sources are almost exclusively in English.

Earl C. Muller, S.J., Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit, MI 48206


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