Summary: Looks at the cultural and historical context of Jewish divorces and how Christians may have misunderstood Jesus and Paul’s intentions. Acknowledgment: Divorce and Re-marriage in the Church by David Instone-Brewer (book)
What about divorce and remarriage?
Home Improvement Series
A man in Dubai divorced his wife in 2001 by a totally new method – he sent her a text message on her cell phone. She failed show up on time to make his tea, so he texted her” “Your late, I divorce you.” This was the third warning that he would divorce her, and according to Islamic law if a man tells his wife “I divorce you three times this is all that is needed: the wife is legally divorced when she receives that third message.
Now the Dubai woman couldn’t believe that she was divorced by a text message so went to a Muslim court. The court upheld the man’s right. Like Palestine in Jesus day, any Muslim man is allowed to divorce his wife flippantly. A Muslim woman however, just like a Jewish woman, is not allowed to divorce her husband at all.
When I first became a Christian and later a deacon, elder, pastor and through seminary I discovered something. It does not take a rocket scientist to know that the church and Christian scholars have different positions on divorce and remarriage. I am convinced that if you put the twenty or so professors from Briercrest Biblical Seminary, my school, in a room together for two years still would not have a unified position on divorce and remarriage. Before we talk about divorce and remarriage let me say this.
God’s ideal and intention is for your marriage to be a lifetime agreement. Marriage is serious. It should not be entered into lightly. People rush into a marriage and later struggle with a bad decision.
Divorce causes emotional pain, confusion, hurt and heartache. It is difficult to deal with the loss of a mate. Children hurt from the loss of a parent. But unless you live through it, it’s hard to understand those losses.
My goal in this message is to address two important questions.
What does the Bible teach on divorce and remarriage? The second is to explain to you under what circumstances I would I remarry a divorcee.
Before we start I want to recognize the fine work of David Instone-Brewer in his excellent book ‘Divorce and Remarriage in the Church.’
Most theologies of divorce that I have read or heard about are illogical. Stuart Briscoe, an excellent preacher, said ‘a text without a context is a con.’ All good preachers understand this. Since Briscoe is right you cannot understand difficult and controversial passages without a proper context. You will not understand divorce, remarriage, role of women in the church, or sign gifts without a proper context. Scripture was not written in a vacuum. It was written within a very specific culture and time. Without additional information you will take scripture out of context. Let me give you two examples of why you cannot take all scripture literally.
Example one. We would abhor slavery although it was common as margarine tubs in New Testament times. No Christian leader today would send a slave back to its owner as Paul did with Onesimus. In fact Christian leaders are working to free sex slaves in Cambodia, even though in Paul’s day they did not. Did Paul support slavery? You cannot answer that question without researching slavery in the time of Paul.
Example two. Some churches insist that women wear a head covering which they define as hats in the church. In the New Testament time in Corinth when a female did not cover her head it was equivalent to wearing a bikini or less. Without a covering she was immediately thought of as a prostitute. That is why Paul established head coverings in Corinth but not Ephesus. You are not required to wear hats in our church meetings because if you don’t wear a hat we understand you’re not a prostitute.
But we can apply the principle because if you’re a woman who wears seductive clothing that is a statement. So ladies be very careful what you wear. It’s hard enough for the men in our church, don’t make it worse.
The cultural context is crucial. If you take Paul and Jesus words as is without understanding the culture you will take things out of context every time.
Some would say that Scripture contains everything we need to know – a principle that is sometimes referred to as sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). This is misleading because the real principle behind sola scriptura is that everything that is necessary for salvation can be found by a plain reading of scripture, which is documented in ancient creeds. That is not true for divorce and remarriage; you had better do some research or you will miss the context out of what Jesus spoke from.
We benefit from centuries of work by scholars of language and history.