This is an ambitions and wide-ranging book. Its conclusions are
as follows: (1) 'Both Jesus and Paul affirmed the Old Testament
grounds for divorce' (which, argues the author, are adultery,
neglect and abuse); (2) 'Both Jesus and Paul condemned divorce
without valid grounds and discouraged divorce even for valid
grounds;' (3) 'Both Jesus and Paul condemned remarriage after an
invalid divorce, but not after a valid divorce'.
Such conclusions, notes the author, are very different from the
Church's traditional interpreta-tion of the New Testament. He argues
that this is because the traditional interpretation arose in a
Church which had already lost sight of its Jewish roots. Therefore
it was unable to understand the teaching of Jesus and Paul as it
would have been heard by the original audience.
For some readers, the author's conclusions may be profoundly
liberating, resolving difficult pastoral problems. For others, the
argument that the mainstream Church has been so wrong on what has
usually been taken to be the apparently unambiguous teaching of
Jesus may be profoundly disturbing, raising problems potentially
greater than those that it solves.
On traditional interpretations, Matthew has softened the absolute
teaching of Jesus, as found in Mark and in Luke, by offering an
exception to his teaching. But, argues Instone-Brewer, this is
incorrect. Mark and Luke wrote in a form of tech-nical shorthand
that their original readers would have understood to allow
remarriage after a valid divorce. All that Matthew does differently
is to spell out in full what they recorded more briefly.
Instone-Brewer's case rests on his discussion of a wide range of
primary evidence, but this is the crux on which his case depends. I
for one have some doubts, but others will need to make their own
This accessible and eirenically written but controversial book
deserves a wide audience among scholars and pastors as well as
others with an interest in this thorny topic.
Andrew Gregory, Keble College, Oxford