Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Robert Gagnon on Divorce

I found it interesting to peruse Robert Gagnon's article on divorce, "Divorce and Remarriage-After-Divorce in Jesus and Paul" (available here), which was a response to an article by David Instone-Brewer.  Among Gagnon's comments:
Whether Jesus would have adopted an exception for adultery as Matthew thought, I do not know. I doubt that he would have permitted separation for anything less than adultery that was both persistent and unrepentant, given his teaching on forgiveness (Matt 6:14; 18:15-35) and the message of the six antitheses in Matt 5:21-48 (including the antitheses about not being angry, keeping one‟s vows, turning the other cheek, and loving one‟s enemy). He did not address the question of physical abuse but, consistent with the approach of later rabbis, I suspect that he would have regarded this as a criminal matter. One might reasonably guess that, as a safety precaution, he would have allowed separation if staying in the same domicile posed a substantial risk of serious physical harm. If he would have allowed remarriage for anything, undoubtedly it would have been for a divorce that occurred on the grounds of persistent and unrepentant adultery and extreme physical endangerment, and perhaps too for abandonment. Yet I think the evidence suggests that he would not have permitted remarriage for anything less than the death of one‟s spouse (and it wouldn‟t count if the spouse who did the divorcing was the killer). For anything else separation might be necessary but the remarriage remains intact. There can never be a real “divorce” apart from death of one of the spouses.
I don't endorse his comments. For example, Gagnon's acceptance of the idea of a primitive pre-gospel source document (Q) and specifically Gagnon's suggestion that Matthew does not reflect the historical Jesus where Matthew departs from the purely speculative Q, is something I utterly anathematize.

More directly interesting to my discussion with Steve, Gagnon states:
Jesus could have said that he preferred a strict interpretation of the phrase ‘ervath davar in Deut 24:1 (“a nakedness of a thing,” “an indecency of some sort” understood as adultery—the Shammaite interpretation) over a loose interpretation (understood as anything that the husband might find objectionable about his wife—the Hillelite interpretation). In other words, he could have kept the debate within the law of Moses. But he didn‟t. Instead, even in Matthew‟s version (which Instone-Brewer favors over Mark‟s), Jesus contrasted what Moses permitted with what God implicitly disallowed in Gen 1:27 and 2:24: “Moses, with a view to your hardness of heart, permitted you to release [i.e. divorce] your wives; but from the beginning it has not happened in this way [or: it was not so]” (Matt 19:8). [Fn8] “So they [i.e., the man and woman joined in marriage in Gen 2:24] are no longer two but one flesh. What then God yoked together a human must not separate. . . . Whoever releases [i.e. divorces] his wife—not for sexual immorality [adds Matthew]—and marries another commits adultery” (Matt 19:6, 9; cf. Mark 10:8b-9, 11). For Jesus, God‟s will in creation trumped subsequent relaxations of that will, including deviations in Scripture found in the law of Moses.
While Gagnon obviously disagrees, Gagnon is highlighting the issue I raised. Jesus is correcting an overly broad liberal view of Deuteronomy 24:1 that permitted divorce for any reason, by explaining (in the Matthew account) that it was only for adultery. It might be interesting to explore the Shammaite vs. Hillelite distinction he mentions (and the documentary basis for it).

Gagnon's conclusion is natural, given his rejection of the adultery exception as Jesuit (i.e. of Jesus), but given my acceptance of it, the opposite conclusion derives.

I would also agree, incidentally, with Gagnon's observation that it is male hardness of heart (not female hardness of heart) that is mind in Jesus' comment about the reason that divorce was permitted at all.

In any event, it made for some interesting reading. Thanks to my unnamed reader who pointed it out to me.


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