Divorce and Remarriage
by David Instone-Brewer

"The entire book is well documented with clear notes as to where he gets his ideas from and why the Bible means what he thinks it does."


John Drane

Christianity and Renewal

Full review:

The entire book is well documented with clear notes.

High point: the way it takes the Bible seriously.

Low point: repealed claims that academics are automati-cally wiser than other people.

Though Christians seem to divorce and remarry at roughly the same rate as everyone else, it is still a contentious issue for many churches, and leads to a good deal of pastoral anxiety and personal heartache. David lnstone-Brewer (a Cambridge PhD, as he never stops reminding us) has experience as a minister as well as being a theological researcher, and proposes some practical recommendations that he also believes to be Biblical.

His book is certainly an interesting read, written in a conversational style, which makes his complex arguments easy to grasp. As you might expect, he starts with the Old Testament teaching on marriage and divorce, before turning to the teaching of Jesus and Paul. Inevitably, some bits are more interesting than others: I personally found the chapter entitled "God the Reluctant Divorcee" a bit far-fetched, but no doubt others would .see its relevance right away.

The one thing that can he said without hesitation is that the entire hook is well documented with clear notes as to where he gets his ideas from and why the Bible means what he thinks it does. In fact, the author has already written a much larger academic tome which provides even more detailed textual and historical data, so there is a further back-up for those who might have questions. The provision of hard evidence is certainly important for his case, because his claim is that every interpreter from the second century onwards has misun-derstood the Bible's teaching, and he has now unearthed new facts that will set the record straight once and for all. The new information consists of a handful of documents from the New Testament period that shed fresh light on the Jewish divorce practices of that time, together with reinterpretations of the Hebrew scriptures in the light of them. The actual evidence is too complex to review here in any detail, but David Instone-Brewer contends that in the Jewish context where Jesus and Paul operated, divorce was allowed for pretty much anything (he thinks 'Any Cause' in Matthew 19:3 was a technical legal term) and that both of them were seeking to regulate this (and remarriage) rather than ban it altogether. The practical outcome is that Christians today should regard marriage as a lifelong contract based on specific vows, but if one partner breaks one of them then the other can decide to end the marriage - in which case they are free to remarry. Separation is only allowed as a preliminary to divorce, and those who remarry in church should have a 'service of repentance'. No-one will doubt that we should under-stand the Bible's teaching in the light of the circumstances of its day, nor want to ignore those new discoveries that are enhancing our understanding of its background. But both the strengths and weaknesses of this book are summed up in its insistence that 'we should always follow the Bible even when it seems difficult' (p175) - for what, exactly, does it mean to 'follow the Bible': That is the key issue: not so much 'what does the Bible say'? (though that is clearly important) but rather 'how do we use the Bible?' The book recog-nises the need to contextualize the Bible's message, but doesn't really get to grips with how to do it, It is relatively easy to understand what Jesus and Paul were saying in their own day, but quite another matter to show it applies to the completely different circumstances of Western culture in the 21st century - not to mention the diverse cultural assumptions of different ethnic groups (which are largely ignored here). So while some readers will find much to argue with here, others will simply wonder what all the fuss is about. Whichever one you are, you will certainly benefit from reading and reflecting, on it.

Professor John Drane teaches Practical Theology at the University of Aberdeen.

Read more reviews...