This is going to be interesting, folks. Because of the comments by a couple of guys in response to a few of my posts, I realized that I am going to have to address THAT monster: the bad teachings about divorce that have been handed down to us as gospel. I have kinda, sorta, almost, ‘in a roundabout way’ taught about divorce in past posts (see my Idolatry and Covenant or Contract series for the ‘almosts’.) But comments by these and other recent posters make me think I’ve got to come out in the open and stop with the veiled hints.
While I am a big supporter of marriage, I am not a guy who believes that marriage is a call to martyrdom. One of the most popular mantras in Christian circles used to placate folks who are in misery is “Marriage isn’t to make you happy, it’s to make you holy.” When you boil what these teachers, preachers and writers say, you come up with this:
Some people get lucky in marriage and are happy.
Others? Well, that’s their God-given cross to bear for the Kingdom.
As you might guess, I’m not buying it. I have yet to have one of these people show me a verse in the Bible that supports the idea that marriage is a character-building exercise. I don’t find where Paul included marriage in that list of sufferings in which we are to rejoice, in Rom. 5:3. Nope, not seein’ it.
Surprise, Divorce Is Not A Sin
If that were the case, then you would have to say something about God’s divorce. After all, in Jer. 3:8, God says, “She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce.” Before you decide to go handing out scarlet letters for divorce, be sure you reserve one for God.
Rather than divorce being a sin, divorce is a valid option to a hard-hearted, intentional violation of the marriage covenant/contract. An unfortunate option, yes, but a valid one. By the way, please note the words I stressed, as that was intentional, and those words will come into play later.
In any discussion about divorce, what happens right about now is that many Christians glibly toss off a quick “God hates divorce,” and move on, thinking that they’ve scotched all heretical thinking. (I know, I used to be one of them.) But the problem is that it’s NOT Biblical.
As I’m learning, so much that we know about the Bible and believe that the Bible teaches about marriage is wrong, including the fact that Mal. 2:16 doesn’t say “God hates divorce.” (This last I addressed in the Idolatry post I linked to, in the first paragraph above.)
The question has to be addressed, “On what basis do you believe that the Church’s understanding of the Bible and marriage is wrong?” That’s simple:
Anyone who has discussed divorce or looked into what Jesus said about divorce, has come across the fact that there were two schools of thought about acceptable reasons for divorce in Palestine at the time of Christ. Two prominent rabbis had differing teachings about valid reasons for divorce. One, Rabbi Hillel, taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason, even burning the soup. Rabbi Shammai, on the other hand, believed that the only valid reason for divorce was sexual immorality.
This summation is all true. Reb Hillel and Reb Shammai lived and taught during the time of Herod the Great (baby-killer Herod), and when you read a summation like the one above, you can be sure that it is accurate. If you want to read more about them from a Jewish perspective, you can read this short article at Jewish Virtual Library.
So, yes, the summation of Reb Hillel and Reb Shammai’s teachings is true. As far as it goes….
Okay, Literary Context, Too
In my last post, Readdressing “What God Has Joined”, I discussed idioms and figures of speech, and included a link to an excellent article on Jewish idioms. This was to show that our penchant for trying to build towering fortresses of theological proofs, about how Jesus’ life and death “fulfilled the Law” so that the Law didn’t apply to Christians, were a vast waste of time. After all, “fulfill the Law” and “destroy the Law” weren’t so much theological constructions as accusation and defense.
As well, our vaunted translation scholarship can sometimes obscure what the Bible is saying. There is a wonderful TED Talk by author and scholar, Dr. Joel Hoffman about problems in Bible translation, and needing to understand context and language. For example, read the following line from Song of Solomon without responding “Ewwww!”:
You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride;
Hoffman explains why that sentence isn’t disgusting or sin, and I’m just librarian enough to say, “Look it up yourself.” Bwahahahaha!
(Seriously, go watch the video, it’s fascinating.)
Just as “Fulfill/Destroy the Law” is not a call to theological parsing and “My sister, my bride” isn’t a Biblical imprimatur for incest, Jesus’ Exception Clause (“except on the ground of sexual immorality”) is not the equivalent of a Supreme Court ruling on the only valid justification for divorce.
In my next post, I will explain the difference between “any cause” and “Any Cause”, and discuss the importance of “hardheartedness” and “intentional violation” to the Biblical discussion of divorce.