Friday, October 26, 2012

The Third of a Thousand Responses to Steve Hay's Rebuttal

My good friend Steve continued:

This is confused on several grounds:

i) To begin with, TFan has offered what appear to be contradictory statements on 1 Cor 7:15. In an earlier response to me, he said:

Where does the Bible ever speak of a woman divorcing her husband?

In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul addresses the issue of the attempted desertion of a believing spouse by an unbelieving spouse. You are right that a kind of gender neutrality is maintained. Neither a Christian man nor a Christian woman is to prevent the desertion of the unbelieving spouse. You should notice, however, that divorce is not mentioned. May I encourage you to re-read the context of the verse you quoted, and you will see the contrast between men divorcing and women leaving.

Here he seems to deny that 1 Cor 7 is even referring to divorce. “You should notice, however, that divorce is not mentioned.”

Yet in the same paragraph he also says “you will see the contrast between men divorcing and women leaving”–which seems to concede that it does address divorce, but limits that to a male prerogative.

Yet in the same paragraph he also says “You are right that a kind of gender neutrality is maintained.”
The distinction I mentioned derives from the KJV way of translating 1 Corinthians 7, which seems to reflect interpretation of the text more than it reflects the underlying sameness of the Greek verb.  So, I don't think simply relying on the KJV here is especially helpful, since the point is disputed.  Which is why I had said in my positive presentation:

“There is some question about whether women ever divorced their husbands even in the NT era. There is no discussion about wives writing writs of divorcement for their husbands, and yet the discussion of marriage relationships is sometimes balanced (see Mark 10:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 7).”
Steve responded:

But if the discussion is “balanced,” if  “a kind of gender neutrality is maintained,” then there’s no “contrast between men divorcing and women leaving.”

On the face of it, TFan is twisting himself in knots. I think the reason for his contradictory explanations is that he wants to reserve 1 Cor 7:15 as a prooftext for the right of men to divorce women, but not vice versa. Unfortunately for him, appeal to 1 Cor 7:15 either proves too much or too little. If it’s a prooftext for divorce, then it applies irrespectively to husbands and wives. The only way of denying that to women is to deny it to men.

Apparently, that’s why TFan is so equivocal in his treatment of 1 Cor 7:15.
a) Actually, on the face of it TFan is leaving behind his argument that was based on the interpretive gloss of the KJV.
b) And even if that is not on the face of it, that's what I'm doing. I'm not using the arguments from the combox in my positive presentation, because they are flawed.
c) 1 Corinthians 7:15 is not being used in my positive presentation as a prooftext for the right of men to divorce women.  In fact, 1 Corinthians 7 is about Christians permitting divorce in certain cases where Christians themselves could not justly divorce their spouse.
d) The fact that marriage breakups apply both to men and women is true, whether or not the verses are discussing the mechanism for that break up.
ii) Sensing, perhaps, the inadequacy of his exegetical arguments, TFan tries to bolster his case by a last-ditch appeal to the Westminster Confession. But that’s an illicit appeal to authority. You can’t rightly invoke the WCF to leverage the interpretation of Scripture. Your exegesis just stand or fall on the merits.
Not every reference to an authority is an illicit appeal to authority.  And mine is not such an illicit appeal.  Surely Steve recognizes this category of licit references to authorities - he refers to authorities frequently.
iii) Moreover, his appeal to the WCF is self-defeating. For the WCF doesn’t confine the right of divorce to husbands.
Well, actually I mentioned the WCF in the context of what the possible grounds for divorce are, not who can divorce whom.  The WCF, as Steve points out, uses a gender neutral approach that does not specifically state whether both men and women can divorce, but certainly tolerates such a view.  And I don't think we would need to exclude people from the ministry if they held a wrong view on such a minor point, theologically speaking.

v) In addition, the WCF is a 17C document. But 17C society was quite hierarchical. You had upperclass women and lower class men. For instance, when Richard Baxter married Margaret Charlton, he married up. She was his social superior. His father was genteel poor whereas her father was a wealthy justice of the peace.

Does TFan think Puritan or Anglican women in the 17C never had the legal right to divorce their husbands? If we’re going to interpret the WCF in its historical context, we have to take social class into account. Some women outranked some men. And that had legal implications.
a) As mentioned above, my comment was not intended to assert that the WCF held that only husbands can divorce.  So, the question is mostly moot.
b) My recollection is that generally only men could divorce in that particular society:
The 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act allowed ordinary people to divorce. Before then, divorce was largely open only to men, and had to be granted by an Act of Parliament, which was hugely expensive, and therefore was also open only to the rich. (Long before then, of course, Henry VIII was granted a divorce by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and church courts retained the power to dissolve marriages.)

In fact the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 was one example of a legal redefinition of the marriage relationship.  Whether it was for better or worse may be a question Steve would like to assess.  Nevertheless, the law was added to change society, and it had an effect.

Of course, whether or not the Westminster Divines thought that a woman could, in principle, divorce her husband is different from whether such a category existed in the time of Moses.  The answer to the latter question is that it did not.

And with this third response, I believe I've now responded to all of Steve's arguments contained in his first of at least two responses to me.


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