Marriage & Divorce: How To Make The Bible Say The Opposite Of That Which It Is Saying

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Marriage & Divorce: How To Make The Bible Say The Opposite Of That Which It Is Saying

How can we use extrabiblical documents to make the Bible say what it doesn't say? David Instone-Brewer does an excellent job of saying "that's not really what the Bible says" in his article on divorce in Christianity today. Piper comments on the article:
Instone-Brewer’s interpretation is an example (common, it seems, in New Testament studies today) of taking extra-biblical observations and using them to silence the fairly plain meaning of biblical texts.

Notice as you read all of Instone-Brewer's arguments that say that Jesus wasn't really prohibiting divorce in Matthew 19, Luke 16, and Matthew 5:32 and that Paul was authorizing divorce for Adultery, emotional or physical neglect, or abandonment or abuse that the crux of all of his arguments rest in extra-biblical documents (usually rabbinic documents similar to those that the New Perspective on Paul advocates use to make Paul say the opposite of what it appears he is saying) that make the text say the precise opposite thing that a clear reading of the text shows. He gets around the fact that even within Biblical times the consistent application and understanding of Jesus' and Paul's writings were that divorce is prohibited except for in cases of adultery precisely because "What God has joined, let not man separate" by saying: "The early church, and even Jewish rabbis, forgot what the "any cause" divorce was, because soon after the days of Jesus, it became the only type of divorce on offer. It was simply called divorce. This meant that when Jesus condemned "divorce for 'any cause,' " later generations thought he meant "divorce for any cause.""

So even when the extra-biblical documents that don't support his extra-biblical-document supported, non-biblically supported conclusions, he can write it off by alluding to changing language. This kind of exegesis is doubly dangerous.
  1. It may encourage those whose consciences because of Scripture have kept them from seeking divorce to go forward and pursue divorce.
  2. This interpretation method, in the name of trying to bridge the cultural gap, removes the power of the biblical writers to speak for themselves and now places the authority to determine meaning in the hands of the interpreter. The more creative and diligent you can be in your search for any extrabiblical document or idea to support your non-biblical ideas, the more unbiblical ideas you can put forward claiming biblical authority, even when like in this case the clear biblical teaching is opposite to the one you are propagating. Our goals in biblical interpretation must be the opposite of this: Seek not to find the interpretation that makes the teaching easier (In his introduction, Instone-Brewer reveals that this was the motivation for the "finding" this newly "discovered" biblical teaching), seek to understand what the author was intending to communicate.

I leave you with Piper's conclusion to his response to the article:
My experience with the issue of divorce (and with the New Perspective on Paul) is that people who talk this way do not generally see the meaning of the New Testament as clearly as those who focus their attention not in the extra-biblical literature but in the New Testament texts themselves. For the ordinary layman who wonders what to do when scholars seem to see what you cannot see, I suggest that you stay with what you can see for yourself.

In sum, what I am pleading for here is that Jesus’ standards for marriage were higher than the rabbinic schools. He is radical, not accommodating. The world we live in needs to see a church that is so satisfied in Christ that its marriages are not abandoned for something as amorphous as “emotional neglect.” The deepest meaning of marriage is to display the covenant-keeping faithfulness of Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:25). And Christ will never divorce his wife and take another.

Update: Kostenberger at Biblical Foundations clarifies the New-Testament teaching on divorce
Thank you for taking my work so seriously.

The method I use is the same as that used by John Piper who argues that the meaning of porneia is not how it is normally translated in the New Testament, but it means instead ‘pre-marital fornication’. This is based on the work of the Qumran scholar Abel Isaksson. It is similar to the well-established theory of the French scholar Bonsirven which was popularised a few decades ago by the Catholic scholar Murphy O’Connor, who found supporting evidence in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This kind of interpretation is important for Catholic scholars because it means that Jesus did not allow any divorce after marriage has occurred – the same teaching that Piper supports.

It is also the same method by which many scholars show Matthew and Luke were not contradicting each other when one says Mary and Joseph were betrothed, and the other says Joseph planned to divorce her. They solve this by means of extra-biblical rabbinic documents which show that a betrothal could only be ended by a divorce certificate (something which is not recorded anywhere in the Bible).

I employ rabbinic documents and marriage & divorce documents from Jesus’ time to discover how to translate the phrase ‘Any Cause’, which was a legal title for a particular type of divorce in Jesus’ day. Anyone reading Matthew in the first century would recognise that legal phrase, and we have to take this into account when we attempt to understand Jesus’ teaching. People outside the first century understand that phrase differently. Does that mean that their interpretation is correct? Jesus spoke first to his audience in the first century, and we have to hear his words through their ears. It is part of the translation process.

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David Instone-Brewer
by: David Instone-Brewer (URL) - 28 Octubre '07 - 16:05
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Title: Marriage & Divorce: How To Make The Bible Say The Opposite Of That Which It Is Saying
Date posted: 19 Octubre '07 - 10:49
Category: Bible study - exegesis - hermeneutics, Exposition and Exegesis
Wordcount: 662 words
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