Sunday, August 6, 2017

Marriage and Divorce in the New Testament Part I: Trajectory of Methodological Inquiry

I’m going to start a series on the passages that touch on the subject of divorce and remarriage. We’re going to begin with Jesus’ teaching in the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) according to their likely date of authorship, and hence, their display of the apostolic teaching in the church, and lay out Paul’s teaching (Romans and 1 Corinthians) in terms of a chronology in light of them. So today will be a big picture day, and then, we’ll also go through the passages individually later on.
Mark is seen by most scholars as the earliest Gospel written. Hence, as the earliest Gospel, it reflects what the early churches were taught on the subject. It also reflects to what Paul would be referencing when he brings up the subject, especially when he references the command of the Lord in 1 Corinthians 7 or the law in Romans 7. It is difficult to know when to date Matthew in relation to Luke, but I think many (not all) scholars would agree that Luke predates Matthew. The timeline I would propose would be something like this:

Mark › 1 Corinthians › Romans › Luke › Matthew

I will argue that the teaching concerning divorce and remarriage in these four earlier passages is absolute (i.e., a Christian is not to get a divorce, but if he or she does, there is no allowance made to marry another person). Each text states that only death by one of the partners in the marriage breaks the one flesh union and allows the surviving believer to marry again. If the spouse lives, and one divorces and marries another, it is adultery (although Paul does not say this explicitly in 1 Corinthians 7, he prohibits remarriage based upon what the Lord has commanded already about it in the Synoptics, and he does explicitly say this in his analogy in Romans 7).

What this does is tell us that the teaching of the first four works are the earliest and standard to which the church was called during the time before Paul’s execution. In fact, Matthew is likely a correction of antinomian misinterpretations of Pauline theology. In any case, this helps us see that the standard teaching of the church is found in the first four works and whatever Matthew is saying, it must be interpreted in light of these, not vice versa. This will be helpful when we need to choose between exegetical possibilities.

In light of this, let’s take the statement made by Jesus in the Synoptics and place them next to one another.

ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ γαμήσῃ ἄλλην μοιχᾶται ἐπ᾽ αὐτήν·
καὶ ἐὰν αὐτὴ ἀπολύσασα τὸν ἄνδρα αὐτῆς γαμήσῃ ἄλλον μοιχᾶται.

"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery." (10:11-12)

Πᾶς ἀπολύων τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ γαμῶν ἑτέραν μοιχεύει, καὶ ἀπολελυμένην ἀπὸ ἀνδρὸς γαμῶν μοιχεύει.

"Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and he who marries a woman who is divorced from a husband commits adultery. (16:18)

Ἐρρέθη δέ· ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ, δότω αὐτῇ ἀποστάσιον. ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ἀπολύων τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας ποιεῖ αὐτὴν μοιχευθῆναι, καὶ ὃς ἐὰν ἀπολελυμένην γαμήσῃ, μοιχᾶται.

"It was said, `Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of  divorce ';  but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, apart from a matter of porneia, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (5:31-32)

 λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ καὶ γαμήσῃ ἄλλην μοιχᾶται.

"But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, not on the basis of porneia, and marries another woman, commits adultery.” (19:9)

Notice that the exception clause only appears in Matthew. The other two earlier Gospels record Jesus’ teaching as absolute. If we are to understand Matthew to be in agreement rather than in contradiction to the rest, then, we must understand that Matthew’s exception does not violate the absoluteness of the earlier commands, as it would not merely be clarifying them with the caveat, but contradicting them. Hence, Matthew is adding an exception that agrees with the absolute teaching concerning divorce, not one that undermines that absolute teaching. The caveat is likely addressing a specific issue that leaves the absolute claim in the earlier texts intact.

This helps us understand how we should approach the passage when seeking to determine its meaning and application.

Hence, the question becomes, “Since the earlier teaching is an absolute prohibition against divorce and remarriage, how does the Matthew exception clause, once interpreted in the context of Matthew, fit into that understanding, and remain complementary rather than contradictory?” Almost the entirety of this weight falls upon the nature of the word porneia in the Matthean exception clause and to what it refers within that socio-religious context of Second Temple Judaism

Matthew is primarily written to Jewish Christians. Mark and Luke are written primarily to Gentile Christians. This factor cannot be overlooked, as it becomes clear that Matthew needed to state something for Jewish Christians that was not stated for Gentile Christians. What this means is that the word porneia is something the Jews would understand in their Second Temple mindset, whereas the Greeks would have viewed the word differently, and the exception clause to them would have been of a minor relevance.

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