Our brother David Instone-Brewer is an expert in the subject of divorce and remarriage from the biblical view. He has written and taught on what God intended from the beginning, or the exegesis (then and there) of the Scriptures. He specializes in the ancient sources from antiquity and works from the UK.
While marital abuse can cut both ways, it’s men who are the more likely perpetrators. Abuse can run the gamut from emotionally verbal to extremely physical. Both are unacceptable to God with creatures made in His very image.
We’re all encouraged at God’s mercy for both women and men who have extreme difficulties in holy matrimony. And the Lord’s provisions for each when a biblical divorce is needed.
May we all be extremely sensitive and caring to those of our brethren and their children who have suffered greatly at the hands of a spouse. And for us to provide the healing balm of the Lord Jesus Christ as they heal and move on with their life in Christ.
No Fault Divorce – By David Instone-Brewer from The Jesus Scandals
I come from Brighton, which, in my childhood, was a popular destination for illicit lovers going away for a “dirty weekend.” In those days it gave Brighton a rather risqué reputation. It also meant that a large number of private investigators operated in the town, hired to catch adulterers. As a child I had a perverse pride when I read yet another newspaper story about a divorce case citing a liaison in Brighton.
Paradoxically, the private investigator was often hired by the man he was supposedly investigating. He’d be given the name of a hotel, a room number and be instructed to turn up “unexpectedly” at a certain time. The man would hire a prostitute to sit in bed with him and call for room service at the pre-arranged time. When the maid brought the food she would see them both in bed and the investigator would slip in behind her armed with a camera. This provided two witnesses and photographic proof that could be used in the divorce case.
Fabricating evidence of your own infidelity was one of the easiest ways you could get a divorce, as it was very difficult to obtain one for any reason except adultery. But in 1969 divorce legislation was revolutionized on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK, the Divorce Reform Act allowed divorce for anything considered to be “unreasonable behavior” which led to the “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. In the USA, Governor Reagan signed a divorce bill that made California the first state to introduce no-fault divorce; this eventually spread to every other state in the nation. Previously, in both countries, only the wronged partner could file for a divorce and it was only allowed for a specific set of grounds; now, even an innocent partner could be divorced against their will.
This significant change in divorce legislation was very similar to the scandal that was happening when Jesus was going about His ministry. The Old Testament allowed divorce for adultery and for neglect (see the chapter “Marital Abuse”), but just before Jesus’ day the rabbis introduced a new type of divorce called the “any Cause” divorce. This allowed a man to divorce a woman for any cause whatsoever. Scandalous examples include a single burnt meal in one case and, in another, a wrinkle on his wife’s face that she didn’t have when he married her!’ Divorces like these – for “Any Cause” – were, in effect, what we call today no- fault divorces. The reasons given for this type of divorce could be extremely minor and were therefore completely different to the Old Testament laws for divorce which the Jews still cited in their marriage contracts.
Every married Jew in Jesus’ day had a marriage contract – some of these have been found in caves around the Dead Sea. They recorded the marriage vows made by the partners, listed the money and goods they both brought into the household, and detailed how much both of them would lose if they didn’t keep their vows. English translations of the Bible tend to use the word “covenant” instead of the word “contract” for the Hebrew word berith (see Proverbs 2: 1,17; Malachi 2: 14) because “contract” makes marriage sound too “business-like”. However, not using the word “contract” has the effect of blurring what was a very important element: the penalties for the marriage vows being broken.
Only one covenant in the Bible has no penalties – the wonderfully exceptional “new covenant” that God promised his people (Jeremiah 31:31). All the other covenants in the Bible have stipulations, with penalties if they aren’t carried out, just like modern business contracts. The vows and divorce settlements of biblical marriage contracts are just as serious as the blessings and curses” of treaty contracts (e.g. Deuteronomy 27-30) and the stipulations and penalties of business contracts.
The penalties prescribed for breaking the marriage vows were mainly financial. In Jewish marriages just before Jesus’ day, the groom promised that if he broke his vows he would return the dowry money plus a minimum of 200 zuz (about $30,000 in our money), so a poor person couldn’t afford to get divorced. If the bride broke her vows her husband would retain the dowry when they divorced.
If a marriage vow was broken by one of the parties, it didn’t mean that divorce was compulsory; the wronged partner could decide whether to forgive or to divorce. However, in Jesus day, some rabbis were starting to teach that divorce was compulsory for adultery. Jesus reminded them that Moses didn’t “command” divorce; he merely “allowed” it (Matthew 19:7-8). Jesus encouraged the wronged partner to forgive their spouse for the broken vows, though he didn’t say how many times.
Many of the prophets envisioned Israel’s relationship with God as a marriage covenant, where God was a jealous and long-suffering husband and Israel was an adulterous wife who worshipped other gods. God eventually decided to “divorce” Israel by sending her into exile, and threatened to do the same to the sister nation of Judah. God is therefore described as a divorcee by both Jeremiah and Isaiah (Jeremiah 3:8; Isaiah 50:1).
Malachi recorded that God hates divorce. This doesn’t mean that God hates divorced people, rather that he hates the treachery and breaking of vows that lead to divorce (Malachi 2: 14-16). In fact, no one knows the pain of divorce more than God himself, who suffered his wife Israel’s infidelity for hundreds of years.
When Jesus taught about divorce, he reminded his hearers about God’s relationship with Israel by using the word “hard- hearted”. This word was invented by the Greek translators of the Old Testament and wasn’t used in everyday Greek, so anyone who did use it was quoting an Old Testament text. It was only used twice in the Old Testament Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4) and the second instance is in a passage about God’s divorce from Israel (Jeremiah 3-4). In choosing to use this particular word, Jesus was therefore deliberately reminding His listeners that God didn’t “divorce” Israel until the point when she was sinning “hard-heartedly” – that is, stubbornly and continually. His conclusion, then, is clear – husbands and wives, too, should work hard at being reconciled before considering the option of divorce.
In making this point, Jesus had actually digressed from the main topic of discussion. His questioners had asked him about divorce but he had wanted to talk about marriage, and especially the ideal of lifelong commitment. God made Adam and Eve in perfection, to live together forever, but sin came along and Jesus recognized this by saying that God introduced divorce because of “your hard-heartedness”. He wasn’t saying that only ancient Jews were sinful – “you” refers to everyone, in every time and place: human nature is still the same, thousands of years later, among followers of all religions and none, Christians as well as Jews. Jesus explained that because of our sin, God allows divorce. But that doesn’t mean divorce should happen. It is always the result of one partner’s or both partners’ sin in breaking their marriage vows.
The scandal was that many men wanted it to be easier to divorce. A man could divorce his wife if she broke her marriage vows, but often he wanted a divorce when there were no valid reasons for it – even simply because he was fed up with her. However, as long as his wife kept her vows, he did not have grounds to divorce her. The Jews resolved this “problem” by inventing a new form of easy divorce. We would probably have called it a no-fault divorce, but the term they used was “Any Cause” because of the Bible text thy based it on.
They derived this new type of divorce from Scripture using an ingenious legal maneuver. In Moses’ legislation about divorce, the literal phrase “a cause of nakedness” (Deuteronomy 24:1) had always been taken to mean “adultery”, but they argued that the word “nakedness” by itself implies adultery, so the word “cause” must have extra meaning. Moses, they claimed, must therefore have been referring to two grounds for divorce: “a cause” and “nakedness”. They concluded that “nakedness” meant “adultery” but “a cause” meant ”Any Cause”, and that way they created new law of divorce for ”Any Cause”.
By the time of Jesus most Jews had adopted this new law, including the two most prolific Jewish authors of the day, Philo and Josephus. In fact, they both talked about divorce for ”Any Cause” without reference to any other grounds for divorce that existed.” Both men and women approved of this new law. Men liked it because they could get divorced for anything without needing to go through a humiliating trial and women liked it because they got their 200 zuz. It became the “righteous” way to divorce, and Matthew even commended Joseph for planning to use this type of “quiet” divorce, rather than divorcing Mary publicly in court for her apparent unfaithfulness (Matthew 1:19).
But although most Jews used and accepted the new ”Any Cause” divorce, it was still a topic of heated debate. One group of rabbis in particular, the Shammaites, stood vehemently against it. They said that Moses’ words “a cause of nakedness” in Deuteronomy 24:1 were a single phrase so it didn’t refer to two types of divorce – it referred to no divorce “except for sexual immorality” (i.e. adultery). They had an ongoing argument about this with another group of rabbis, the Hillelites, who wanted to replace the Old Testament grounds for divorce with the new “Any Cause” divorce. This was the context for their coming the Jesus and asking him, “is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” (Matthew 19:3)
Most modern readers will get a completely different impression when they read the question: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” Unless you know that everyone was debating the ‘ “Any Cause” divorce, you wouldn’t think they were asking about this; it just looks as if they are asking Jesus if he approves of divorce in general. A similar confusion might have happened even if the Jews had called it a no-fault divorce and they’d asked Jesus: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for no fault?” Try pretending you have never heard of a no-fault divorce and read this as plain language. It sounds like they are asking Jesus if one can divorce a wife for being faultless or, perhaps, for acting as though she was right all the time. If you don’t know the jargon, the plain language can be very confusing!
In Jesus’ day everyone knew the legal jargon because everyone was talking about the new ”Any Cause” divorce. It was such a hot topic that Mark didn’t even bother to include the term ”Any Cause”. He records the question as: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (Mark 10:2). It was actually a nonsense question, because the Pharisees didn’t ask Jesus if he allowed it – they asked if the law allowed it – and everyone knew that it did. It is rather like asking: “Should a sixteen-year-old be allowed to drink?” It’s a nonsense question because, of course, they’d die if they did not drink. Today we automatically make sense of the question by mentally adding the word “alcohol”. In the same way, Jews in Jesus’ day would automatically add the word “for any cause” after the question, “Is it lawful to divorce your wife?” It was the obvious subject of any question about divorce at the time.
However, once the debate was over and the “Any Cause” divorce had become the only type of divorce available, the technical term “Any Cause” was forgotten very it is rather like the English concept of “divorce by co-respondent” that was frequently cited along with lurid details in the popular newspapers of my youth. Nowadays most people have forgotten what it means, and it sounds as if you can be divorced for having a penpal! Actually a “co-respondent” is someone you commit adultery with – look it up in a good dictionary. This once commonly known legal term is now as unremembered as ”Any Cause”.
Jesus did succeed in ending easy divorces among Christians though not among Jews. He reasserted the principle that marriages should be lifelong and should only end after marriage vows have been repeatedly broken – and no believer should do this! In reality, of course, it does happen. We are all too capable of sin, and sometimes a believer has to enact a divorce, just as God eventually had to divorce Israel.
Unfortunately Christians threw out divorce on the grounds of neglect along with the ”Any Cause” divorce. The church misunderstood Jesus’ teaching and made divorce so difficult that only the very rich and influential could obtain one. So although the church stopped the powerless being divorced against their will, many powerless people were locked into abusive marriages. The chapter “Marital Abuse” shows how Jesus’ original audience would have understood his teaching on this, and how this tragedy could have been avoided.
From The Jesus Scandals
Marital Abuse – click here.
To see brother David’s very short videos on divorce and marriage, click here.
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Your friend and brother in fighting the good fight,
Saints, we’re one day closer to Home, and Him! Love Him wholeheartedly!
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Please comment on this post right below. Feel free to write and proclaim your leadings in the Spirit in an honorable fashion.
Marc White, Director, Walk Worthy Ministries, www.WalkWorthy.org