Divorce and Remarriage
by David Instone-Brewer

"This thesis is groundbreaking... [it] cannot be ignored. If it can be sustained, it has significant implications for church pastoral practice and discipline."

Christopher Ash

Churchman, Autumn 2004

Full review:

Pastors who want to think seriously about the vexed issues of divorce and remarriage will do well to interact with the scholarly work of David Instone-Brewer. This volume is the full scholarly exposition of his thesis. This thesis is ground-breaking. Instone-Brewer's work is strongly dependent on the Greco-Roman background to the 1s Century AD divorce debates, against which background he interprets the divorce teachings of Jesus and Paul. He argues that the key issue in Jesus's divorce sayings was the validity or otherwise of particular divorces. If a divorce is invalid (in the sight of God), then any subsequent 'remarriage1 by either party will be adultery (in the sight of God). The legality and morality of a remarriage depends upon the validity of the divorce.

So the question is, which divorces if any are valid? At the time of Jesus, as is well-known, the school of the Rabbi Hillel had introduced easy 'any matter' divorces for men (Matthew 19:3 'for any and every reason'); these promoted a culture of quick and religiously respectable divorces (for men). Jesus (shockingly) says these are invalid, unless there was 'indecency' (porneia) involved (by which Instone-Brewer, along with many scholars, understands a broad range of sexual infidelities and indecencies).

More controversially, Instone-Brewer argues that Jesus also implicitly accepted that persistent and deliberate emotional and material neglect of a spouse constituted grounds for valid divorce. He bases this on the rabbinic use of Exodus 21:10f, which argued that if even a slave-wife must be given 'food, clothing and marital rights' then a fortiori this obligation rested on all husbands (and, with certain modifications, on wives). Instone-Brewer admits that to say that Jesus would have accepted these grounds is an argument from silence, but argues that since this was the common assumption of all his contemporaries, Jesus would have had very deliberately to contradict it had he wished to do so. He suggests also that in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, 32-35, Paul implicitly teaches the obligations to provide emotional and material support of a spouse, and thus also (Instone-Brewer suggests) accepts that the deliberate and persistent failure to do so are grounds for valid divorce.

Instone-Brewer's thesis cannot be ignored. If it can be sustained, it has significant implications for church pastoral practice and discipline.

Christopher Ash Little Shelford



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