Saturday, September 21, 2013

What about Divorce?

I have had a friend ask me recently about divorce. As with polygamy (below), this is rather complex. 

Beginning in Genesis, the ideal of God is heterosexual faithful loving monogamous marriage. I have already written on this (Gen 1:26–28; 2:24).  In Israel, divorce, except for extreme circumstances decided by the court, was permissible only for a husband who could divorce his wife. Instructions are given in Deut 24:1–4. When a man is displeased with his wife because of some “indecency” he writes a certificate of divorce, places it in her hand, and sends her out of the house. If she marries again and is again divorced, she is not to remarry her former husband. The Hebrew for indecency (ʿěr•wā(h)) suggests sexual infidelity. Later Rabbis debated as to whether this should be strictly interpreted purely in sexual terms (Shammai School), or more generally including such things as childlessness, religious offenses, or even the completion of household tasks such as burning bread (Hillel School). For example, m. Giṭ. 9:9 reads: 

A The House of Shammai say, “A man should divorce his wife only because he has found grounds for it in unchastity,
B      “since it is said, Because he has found in her indecency in anything (Dt. 24:).
C      And the House of Hillel say, “Even if she spoiled his dish,
D      “since it is said, Because he has found in her indecency in anything.
E      R. Aqiba says, “Even if he found someone else prettier than she,
F      “since it is said, And it shall be if she find no favor in his eyes (Dt. 24:1).”

In reality, Jewish husbands could and did divorce their wives for almost any reason including disobedience and poor cooking (Josephus, Ant.  4.253; Vita 426). This suggests that the laxer view of the Hillel school dominated at the time of the NT. If a woman had a legal certificate of divorce, she could then remarry. 

Elsewhere in the OT, the metaphor of divorce is also used in the OT of Yahweh’s exclusive relationship with Israel, something Israel defiled with her idolatry (e.g. Isa 50:1; Jer 3:8). Some argue that this exclusivity of relationship points to monogamy. However, as Amos says in Amos 9:7 points out, God is in relationship with other nations and so these OT texts are ambiguous. It is tenuous to apply them to monogamy.

In the Roman world, by the first century, both men and women could divorce and it was common. Plutarch wrote in the first century that only a coward would fail to divorce a troublesome wife (Plutarch, Virt. mor. 2; Mor. 100E). There was no stigma in divorce and most people remarried after divorce or widowhood.

In Matthew 5:31–32, Jesus endorses the position of the Shammai school on Deut 24 indicating that when a man wishes to divorce, he gives his wife a certificate of divorce if she has committed adultery. If not, divorcing her makes her and anyone she marries adulterers. 

More light is shed on Jesus’ view on divorce in Mark 10:1–12 which is take up by Matthew in Matthew 19:2–12. In Mark’s account, Jesus is asked by Pharisees whether it is lawful to divorce one’s wife. Jesus responds by asking what Moses commanded, to which they cite Deut 24:1 which states a man can write a certificate of divorce and send her away. Jesus then goes on to state that this was a concession because of the hardness of people’s hearts. That is, because of human sin which came as a result of the Fall. However, the original intent was that a man and a woman would leave their families, marry, become one flesh. Jesus concludes, “what therefore God has joined together, let no person separate.” Later, the disciples query this. Jesus tells them that whoever divorces and remarries commits adultery—no exceptions (Mark 10:10–12). Interestingly Luke excludes the account of this event, but does include the Markan absolute ban on divorce in Luke 16:18: “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” 

Matthew, however, does use and edit Mark in Matt 19. He adapts Mark’s question making it clearer that the real question is whether Jesus sides with the legalistic Shammai school which advocated divorce for sexual infidelity, or the more liberal Hillel school which advocated divorce for almost anything. Aside from minor differences, the discussion is pretty much the same except that Jesus gives one exception for remarriage, “except for sexual immorality” (porneia). Here, porneia would indicate the general problem of sexual immorality in any form that violates the marriage relationship. There is then a further discussion on marriage in which they ask if it is better not to marry and Jesus answers cryptically of eunuchs. 

The difference between the absolute prohibition on divorce in Mark and the sexual immorality clause in Matthew leads to a dilemma in interpretation. Should we follow Mark? Should we follow Matthew? Who has the original words of Jesus? If we follow Matthew’s allowance in the case of sexual immorality we have a further dilemma. What does Jesus mean by porneia? Should it be strictly applied as it usually is to sexual immorality, or is it to be taken more generally of not only sexual immorality but other parallel gross acts of infidelity, e.g. physical abuse. Some Christians apply this legalistically, others more liberally. I am in the latter camp.

In the wider NT there is nothing on divorce except in 1 Cor 7:10–16. Here, Paul, explicitly stating that he is referring to Christ’s teaching (probably his oral knowledge of the encounter of Mark 10/Matt 19 or Luke 16), tells believers married to another believer that neither should separate. And, if either does, they should remain unmarried unless reconciled. Then, in the case of a Christian married to an unbeliever, they should remain married unless the unbelieving spouse wants divorce. If so, the Christian should release them. If a Christian is divorced in this way they are ou dedoulōtai which literally means “not enslaved” or “not bound.” The very best scholars are split at this point as to whether Paul means here that a believer is free to remarry or not. 

Those who argue the latter (like Fee, Garland), consider that the language Paul means that a believer is no longer enslaved in a marriage where the spouse wants out but does not go so far as saying they are free to remarry. Rather, the only situation where remarriage is legitimate is death (e.g. Rom 7:2–3; 7:39). Their position would seem to lead to a Christian pastor or church not allowing remarriage. This is not uncommon in conservative churches today.

The former view sees Paul going further and saying that a believer is now free to remarry (e.g. Ciampa and Rosner, Thiselton). I find the latter view much more compelling. As Ciampa and Rosner say quoting Instone-Brewer, “Not bound here refers to freedom to remarry. Instone-Brewer explains: ‘The only freedom that makes any sense in this context is the freedom to remarry.… [A]ll Jewish divorce certificates and most Greco-Roman ones contained the words ‘you are free to marry any man you wish,’ or something very similar.’” If so, a Christian pastor would discuss the situation of a person’s divorce and remarriage and often would marry them. As a Pastor, I have dealt with those situations. I can remember a situation where a woman left her first husband, then attempted to reconcile. The first husband said no. He then remarried himself. I considered that the women was not bound as she was truly repentant and there was no going back.

So then, you can see why Christians are split on this. Some prefer Mark 10 over Matt 19 rejecting any “Jesus privilege” and then interpret 1 Cor 7:15 tightly rejecting any “Pauline privilege.” Others see in Matt 19 and 1 Cor 7 as indicative of situations where Christians will consider that remarriage is appropriate. The two explicit cases are where there is sexual infidelity and where an unbeliever wants out of the marriage. 

Others go even further. You see, neither Jesus nor Paul answered questions about other common situations in marriage such as: violence in marriage, rape in marriage, verbal abuse, abuse of the children, the complete absence of affection, neglect, and so on. Some would encourage the victim to leave those situations but would not advocate remarriage. Some, including myself, see in Matthew and Paul situations that we can reflect on analogously. That is, where we find situations analogous with those Matthew and Paul conceive of (sexual immorality/an unbeliever wanting out), then we would see remarriage as permissible. That is, where these sort of things are going on, love would say to a woman or man who is suffering deeply, “get out!” Especially if there are issues of personal safety. Where there is such behavior, one might also ask whether the perpetrator is truly a Christian, despite their claims to faith. In such circumstances, should the person who separates from the chronically failing marriage not be permitted to remarry? At this point it becomes a matter of pastoral judgment.

One more thing can be added. A look at the genealogy of Jesus through which God worked to bring his savior is interesting. It includes sexual infidelities including Judah and Tamar, David and Bathsheba and polygamists like David and Solomon. As such, we can see God is working in the mess, even if these things are not ideal.  

All in all, while I uphold rigorously that ideally marriage is loving, faithful, lifelong, monogamous, and heterosexual, and that we should do everything we can to endorse traditional marriage, love say that there are situations where it is better to divorce. If the divorcee find the opportunity to remarry, and there is genuine contrition and repentance, and where reconciliation is out of the question,  and the person show a real desire to please God moving forward, as a Pastor I would remarry them. I have yet to encounter a situation where remarriage was on the agenda and the people involved were not truly aware of their failures in the past and would undo them if they could. I would do so also allowing God to be the judge. Only he knows. I sense he is a gracious God. I believe God is a God of second chances.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What about Polygamy?

I have been recently asked on several occasions about polygamy—marriage between a man and multiple women (polygyny) or the converse (polyandry). What is a Christian perspective? 
Interestingly, the discussion is more theologically complex than that gay issue in that, whereas the homosexuality is clearly repudiated throughout the Scriptures, polygamy was practiced in Israel in OT times. As such, it is a complicated discussion. However, I think when worked through, it becomes clear that a biblically faithful Christian position would reject polygamy.
The Old Testament
As I have repeatedly written in terms of the gay marriage issue, Genesis 1:27–28 and 2:24 lay the foundation for Christian marriage. Gen 1:27–28 speaks of male and female as image bearers being fruitful, multiplying, and filling the earth. This applies first to Adam and Eve, one man and one woman. However, polygamy is not ruled out. Gen 2:24 is a little clearer. The writer states that a man (singular) shall leave his father (singular) and mother (singular) and cleave to his wife (singular). They shall “become one flesh.” In the Masoretic Text the word two is missing. However, it is implied. In a wide range of other ancient OT versions “two” is found including the LXX (also Syriac Peshitta, Samaritan Pentateuch, etc). When Jesus and Paul cite this text (further below), they include “two” suggesting that the Hebrew text they knew did include it. Anyway, monogamy is implied in the creation narrative.  
Subsequent to the fall there are many examples of polygamy (polygyny) in the OT. The first is Lamech who had two wives (Gen 4:19). Lamech plays an important part in the expansion of human sin and corruption in the Genesis narrative. Polygamy would then seem part of this spread of sin. Other polygamists (polygynists) include Abraham (Gen 16:3; 21:1–13; 25:1), Ishmael (Gen 28:9), Jacob (Gen 29:1–30; 30:4, 9), Esau (Gen 26:34; 28:9; 36:2), Moses (Exod 2:21; 18:1–6; Num 12:1), Gideon (Judg 8:30), David who had seven named wives and many others (1 Sam 18:27; 19:11; 25:39, 42–43; 27:3; 2 Sam 2:2–3; 3:13–14; 5:13; 6:20–23; 11:27; 1 Chron 3:1–9), Solomon who had 700 wives (1 Kings 11:3), Rehoboam who had a paltry 18 (2 Chron 11:21), and Elkinah (one of whom was Hannah, 1 Sam 1:1–2). It seems polygamy (polygyny), was common among Israel’s monarchy and elite. (There are no instances of polyandry in the biblical data). Whether or not polygamy was common in the general populace is unclear. 
What is significant is this all these examples are post-Gen 3 indicating the corruption of the ideal of marriage in the creation narratives—one man (Adam), one wife (Eve), the two become one flesh, have children, and they too get married and so the earth is filled (Gen 1:26–28; 2:24). Polygamy would appear to be a corruption of God’s ideal of monogamous heterosexual relationships.
Yet, while there are innumerable laws concerning sexual relationships in the Levitical law there is no ban on polygamy. In Exod 21:10 a man who takes “another wife” must ensure she is well-fed, clothed, and protected. The emphasis is social justice and possible polygamy is assumed. Under Levirate marriage protocols, when a brother dies and leaves a heir without a widow, the brother is obligated to marry her even if he already has a wife (Deut 25:5–10, cf. Ruth 3–4; Matt 22:23–33). This is also an act of social justice for the widow. In Deut 21:15–17 rules are given concerning the fair distribution of the inheritance to the children of the “loved” and “unloved” wife. Again justice is the key. While the king is warned not to take many wives, this does not outlaw polygamy, but is based on a concern that the king will take on the religious allegiance of non-Jewish wives (Deut 17:17).
It is claimed by some that monogamy was favoured in a range of texts (Isa 50:1; Jer 2:2; Ezek 16:8; Prov 12:4; 18:22; 31:10–31; Ps 128:3). However, while the exclusive relationship of God and Israel could be seen to support monogamy, none of these texts explicitly state this. Rather, they speak of the ideal of the faithful wife without regard for how many wives a man actually has.
Later Judaism
Coming to later Judaism, we find polygamy was acceptable. Herod the Great had ten wives (Josephus. Ant. 17.19–20; J.W. 1.562). Josephus indicates that polygamy was common among Israel’s elite (Josephus, Ant. 12.186–189; 13.380; J.W. 1.97). The Rabbinic writings assume polygamy and give many instructions concerning it (e.g. M. Yebam. 1, 21b; m. Giṭ. 8:6 A). However, some Rabbinic writings criticised it. For example, b. ’Abot 2.5 reads: “he who multiplies wives multiplies witchcraft” (cf. b. Yebam. 44a). This could indicate the Rabbis were split on it. Among the Essenes of the Dead Sea Community in Qumran, polygamy was forbidden with Gen 1:27; 7:9; Lev 18:18; Deut 17:17 used in support (CD 4.20–5.6; 11QT 52.17–18). Polygamy was eventually outlawed in Judaism in the eleventh century in the Herem R. Gershom of Mayence (Responsa, “Ashera,” 42.1).
Aside from illegal unions, which of course were prevalent, in Roman society monogamy was practiced and polygamy legally rejected. If Christianity rejects polygamy as I believe it does, it is one of those rare occasions where it prefers an aspect of the Roman way of life over the Jewish.  
The New Testament
When we come to the NT, the first thing to note is that there is no example of a Christian living in a polygamous situation in the NT. However, neither is there any statement that endorses it or any implicit statements which could lead to its acceptability. On the other hand, while there is no explicit rejection of polygamy, it is implicitly rejected.
As I have noted in previous blogs, in the NT both Jesus and Paul cite Gen 2:24 stating that “the two shall become one flesh” (Mark 10:8/Matt 19:5; 1 Cor 6:16; Eph 5:31). Although this is not explicit, it implies two becoming one, rather than some multiple spouse arrangement (see above on Gen). What follows in the passage reinforces monogamy. For Jesus, even after divorce, remarriage is only appropriate if one’s spouse is guilty of porneia (sexual immorality) (Matt 19:9); or, in the case of Mark’s Jesus, not at all (Mark 10:10–12). Paul endorses this teaching of Jesus stating a divorced Christian should reconcile to his or her spouse or remain single (1 Cor 7:10–11). The exception seems to be when the spouse is a non-Christian and chooses to leave, then the believing spouse is no longer “enslaved” which I think indicates freedom to remarry (1 Cor 7:15, see further a forthcoming blog on divorce). It seems to make sense that if remarriage is not always permissible even after divorce, there is no way Jesus or Paul would have considered polygamy an option. 
Three passages in the Pastorals, 1 Tim 3:2, 12; Tit 1:6 state that a church leader should be “the husband of but one wife.” While there are complexities in interpretation of this clause (see any commentary on this), it would seem best to see here that Paul is endorsing that church leaders, where married, are faithful within their monogamous marriage. If it was expected of church leaders where faithful and monogamous and to be exemplars, this suggests that the ideal of Christian marriage is faithful monogamy.
In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul implicitly endorses monogamy stating that, due to the problem of sexual immorality (especially rampant in Corinth), “each man (singular) should have his own wife (singular) and each women (singular) her own husband (singular)” (1 Cor 7:2). In the next two verses, he speaks of “the wife” (singular) and “the husband” (singular) ruling out more than one of either (cf. 1 Cor 7:16). Against the backdrop of a patriarchal society, Paul then speaks of the utter mutuality of this monogamous relationship and gives instructions on remaining in this monogamous marital state unless an unbelieving spouse wants out (above). Throughout, monogamy appears assumed.
In Eph 5:22–33 Paul addresses all wives and husbands and assumes monogamy throughout. The parallel of Christ married to the one church suggests exclusivity. In v. 33 Paul says, “However, let each one of you love his own wife (singular) as himself, and let the wife (singular) see that she respects her husband (singular).”
Later Christian writers such as Tertullian repudiated polygamy. He writes in To His Wife: “we do not indeed forbid the union of man and woman, blest by God as the seminary of the human race, and devised for the replenishment of the earth and the furnishing of the world, and therefore permitted, yet singly. For Adam was the one husband of Eve, and Eve his one wife, one rib” (Tertullian, Ux. 1.2).
Considering the redemptive story, it seems polygamy is a corruption of God’s ideal for marriage. It is found post-fall only in the OT (almost exclusively among the elite), and not in the NT. The NT data strongly suggests Jesus and the first Christians rejected this practice.
This issue of course is not greatly relevant to us at this point. There is no big move in our culture to liberalise where polygamy is concerned. However, it may well become an issue in the future as western sexual ethics continues to loosen up and we become more multi-cultural. It is a bigger issue in other cultures where polygamy is practised. Missiologists have dealt with this for many years, working through how to deal with converts who are in polygamist marriages. In many cases, new converts are encouraged to remain faithful to their multiple spouses in such situations, but future generations are urged to be monogamous. This makes good sense as breaking up the marital unit especially in third world countries could have grave repercussions for the discarded wives and children.
For us in the church in the west, I believe we Christians should hold onto the Christian tradition in marriage despite on-going revision in the wider society. If polygamy becomes a touchstone issue, we should graciously resist it. If, as in the case of gay marriage, we find society legitimising it, we should hold firm faithful to the biblical standards. Where we encounter people in polygamous relationships, we can learn a lot from our missionary forbears as to how to respond. Whatever we decide is our church policy, all people regardless of sexuality and marital state should be welcome to become a part of the community of faith. God’s welcome is to all.

In the meantime, those of us who are married should be faithful and loving to our spouses. I think one wife or husband is enough for any person. I think that is what God desires. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Why the US Should Stay Out of Syria

First, what are the reasons that the US should go in. There seem to me to are two:  
1.       To send a message that use of chemical weapons cannot go by without response to warn others from doing the same.
2.       President Obama stated the use of a chemical weapon was a red line, as such, the USA’s pride and honour is at stake. What would their enemies think if they don't act? 

The first could be seen as a good reason to go in. However, it depends on being certain as to who released the chemical weapon. The second seems a weak basis to act. It seems to assume that the USA is the policeman of the world. Is it? Sometimes it is better to back down. 

Reasons to not go in. It seems to me that there are many: 
1.       The Syrian situation is a civil war that has no relationship to the US—it is not USA’s war. Why on earth would they go in? Chemical weapons? See above.
2.       The UN and even the USA’s main allies such as the UK (aside from France) are not prepared to get involved.
3.       The majority of the American people do not want the US to attack (
4.       It is unclear who unleashed the chemical weapons and why. 
5.       It is unclear what using air attacks to strike Syria will achieve in terms of ending the conflict. 
6.       There will be significant collateral destruction including the death of many innocent civilians.
7.       Attacking Syria may lead to a regime change and the new leadership may be worse than the current one.
8.       Did the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Egypt yield a positive outcome for the region, world, and the US? Not sure on this one. Wasn't sure of any of the above ones. 
9.       Attacking Syria may unleash greater forces drawing other powers into the conflict, especially Iran, Russia, and Israel (WW3?).
10.   The US is strapped for cash and this will further drain its resources.
11.   It will only further intensify the growing anti-Americanism in the Middle East and around the world (as if it could get much worse).
12.   It will isolate America from the international community.
13.   Other avenues to resolve the conflict have not been exhausted, e.g. diplomacy, sanctions, etc. I haven’t seen a US delegation going to Syria for talks, or have I missed something?
14.   From a Christian perspective, war is deplorable and an absolute last resort. Are the principles of just war found here? I would say no.

All in all, I can’t see why America would at this point attack Syria. I think it will be a mistake and God help us if it happens.