Former Baptist minister David Instone-Brewer wrote this book out
of a pastoral concern for those needing counseling regarding an
unfaithful spouse. Individuals were concerned that the Bible
prohibited them from divorcing, even after repeated acts of
David Instone-Brewer, now a research fellow and technical officer
with the large biblical research library and publisher Tyndale
House, holds primary research interests in the area of rabbinic
texts prior to A.D. 70.
He understands that most contemporary teaching on divorce is
based on the received tradition of the church, filtered through
2,000 years of interpretation and the daily issues in the lives of
believers. He attempts to reconstruct how ancient Jewish and
Jewish-Christian hearers would have understood Jesus' claims on the
For Instone-Brewer, the modern interpreter should attempt to
enter the world of the ancient audience prior to jumping to
contemporary conclusions. The interpretation of the ancient audience
should affect our own interpretation.
The 11 chapters are organized chronologically rather than
thematically. He begins with the ancient Near Eastern records that
inform the world of the Old Testament, and proceeds through
teachings in the Pentateuch, Later Prophets, Qumran, rabbinic
teaching, Jesus' teaching, Pauline writings, early church history,
later church history and modern teachings. He closes with a chapter
of pastoral insights.
Instone-Brewer states that Jesus taught six things about
marriage: 1) there is no special standing for marriage; remaining
single is acceptable; 2) monogamous relationships are best; 3)
marriage should be lifelong; 4) adultery does not necessitate
getting a divorce; 5) adultery is the only justifiable cause for
divorce; and 6) "no-fault" divorce is invalid.
He concludes that Jesus rejected the rabbinic teaching of
no-fault divorce but did permit divorce after repeated marital
unfaithfulness. Churches should encourage couples to remain
faithful, even to the point of forgiving the adulterer. If a spouse
is unwilling to change, however, the church should allow and
encourage the spouse to end the marriage.
The depth of research and critical insights reveal a study that
engages biblical texts incisively and bridges the gap between the
ancient and modern world effectively.
Instone-Brewer is reluctant to impose his own interpretations on
the passages. He is willing to offer redemptive pastoral advice, and
he acknowledges that many contemporary situations are not reflected
in the world of the ancient audience.
Noting the Greco-Roman influence on Jesus' audience would have
improved the book. For instance, Instone-Brewer cites a number of
rabbinic texts to further his claims of the rabbis' widespread
influence on the audience. He does not note, however, Greco-Roman
sociological, historical and theological perspectives that could
also have influenced hearers.
He cites some evidence in his discussion of Pauline literature,
but scholars have stated fairly decisively that among the common
people In Palestine by the first century, Greco-Roman influence was
just as prevalent as rabbinic teaching! Literary and historical
texts from prominent Greco-Roman writers would illuminate his
Despite this shortcoming, Instone-Brewer presents a strong case
for ministers to rethink how they counsel individuals and guide the
church through these difficult situations.
William D. Shiell is senior pastor of Southland Baptist Church in
San Angelo, Texas.