Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Marriage and Divorce 2

WeddingRing.jpgSo what is marriage? Is it a legal contract? A covenant? A sacrament rendered effective by a priest?

William F. Luck’s Divorce and Re-Marriage: Recovering the Biblical View  examines this sort of question in chp 2 of his book.
When a man and woman marry, what do they “covenant” to do and to be?
Marriage, he says, is a covenant. A covenant is “an agreement between two parties” (23). And covenants involved parties (people involved not dancing, though that too, unless you grew up as I did … but I digress), conditions, results and security.
In the Genesis accounts, and in the Bible elsewhere, the wife is seen as a “helper suitable” (an equal companion) and a willing partner (see Genesis 24). Thus, the biblical marriage covenant is a “bi-lateral” covenant and bi-lateral covenants are conditioned upon acceptance and fulfillment of the covenant. Thus, Luck argues that when the marriage vows are broken, the conditions have been unfulfilled and the divorce writ merely states the facts of the case.
So what are the commitments made?

Luck argues…

For the man:
1. provision for his wife’s bodily needs (Exod 21:10)
2. presence
3. prohibition of abusing her body (Exod 21:26)
4. protection of his wife’s reputation (Deut 22:1-9)
For the woman:
1. sexual fidelity to her husband (Num 5:19)
2. prohibition of abusing his body 
3. presence
So his conclusion: “Marriage is a conditional covenant, insured by God, wherein the husband promises to provide for the essential needs of the wife and to do nothing to seriously injure her body or stain her reputation, while the wife promises to be physically faithful to her husband and to do him no bodily harm” (41).
Let me enter a thought here: Luck, in my judgment, appropriates Scripture differently than I would. While I do not dispute here his exegesis, and while I value as much as he does what the Scripture does say, I would approach the marriage covenant from a slightly different angle: namely, from the covenant of love as found in texts like Song of Solomon and Ephesians 5. This difference would shift how I would orient the discussion of the above topics, though I would not dispute that the Bible teaches what he says above.
His focus in this chp is on marriage as a covenant, a bi-lateral covenant, and I agree with him.
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posted January 13, 2010 at 7:40 am

While I agree in principle the physical abuse of the spouse is sinful and breaking of the vow to protect (love, honor, and cherish), how does one exegetically extrapolate this prohibition from Exodus 21:26 (especially in light of Exodus 21:20-21)?

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John W Frye

posted January 13, 2010 at 9:23 am

I need a little help. If Luck does exegesis you agree with and you affirm the results of that exegesis (bi-lateral covenant), how does he “appropriate Scripture” differently than you? Do you mean he does not fill out the concept of bi-lateral covenant enough with the reality of love (Jesus Creed-type love)?

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posted January 13, 2010 at 9:36 am

Well, it seems to me that if one has to let one’s property (slave) go if one hits it (him/her), then that principle should apply all the more to someone who is not your property.
David Instone-Brewer considers abuse to fall within the neglect of food and clothing (Exodus 21:10-11), which he sees Paul as accepting as a covenantal necessity in 1 Cor. 7:32,34.
Failure to provide one of the basic necessities of the marriage covenant breaks the covenant and frees the wronged party. However, Instone-Brewer emphasizes that all this is to be considered in the context of Jesus-like love and forgiveness (70 x 7, i.e., unlimited). Nevertheless, he indicates that it is up to the wronged party to decide when abandonment and breaking of the covenant occurs.
The person that believes they have grounds to leave (i.e., the covenant has been irrepairably broken, with hardhartedness, no repentance, etc., by the other party) will have to stand before God and justify their actions, so it is not an action to be taken lightly. Still, divorce is available, and is necessary in situations of abuse; in such a situation a broken covenant is patently obvious.

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posted January 13, 2010 at 10:43 am

Interesting that the woman promises sexual faithfulness – and the man doesnt.

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Your Name

posted January 13, 2010 at 11:41 am

Jennifer’s comment above points out the contextuality inherent in covenants. In early Hebrew culture women were understood in different terms than today. And covenants were consequently made between parties of unequal power. Therefore, I agree with Scot that Jesus’ new ethic of love must shape whatever covenants are made today, not only in marriage but in other arenas of life. Having said that, I question the whole concept of covenants as effected from the human side between marriage partners or between God and humans. For most humans, for a variety of reasons, including simple immaturity, are unable to sustain a covenant. Hence covenants become ideal formulations with impossible to maintain consequences. All human covenants are rooted in the concept of Law and therefore are no guarantee of salvation in the sense of wholeness of life.

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posted January 13, 2010 at 12:52 pm

It seems to me that we have to make some clarifications between “biblical” and “Christian”. Those who are part of the New Covenant in Christ Jesus would need to approach the covenant of marriage from a very different perspective that anything discussed under the Old Covenant.
There is not such a thing as Christian Marriage, in my view, but rather marriage between Christians — which brings with it the intimate, perichoretic relationship of Father-Son-Spirit into the relationship between husband and wife. In this respect the partners to the covenant are equal, as in brother and sister in Christ, under the lordship of Christ. The relationship with each other is based on their relationship with Christ — and Christ is the one whose faithful covenant-keeping with us empowers us to even attempt to keep covenant with our spouses.
I guess this really highlights the whole “unequally yoked” issue … and, I would say, takes it to a higher level. There are plenty of those who claim the name of Christian, yet do not live a life of submission to Christ’s lordship. When submitted persons marry non-submitted persons, there will be an imbalance.
All the more reason for marriage to be entered into in a very serious manner, and not lightheartedly. But I would say that this goes for entering into the New Covenant in Jesus, as well. If you enter that covenant with anything less than submission to the Holy Spirit to transform you into the image of Jesus, well, you will have problems.
It’s not about law, to me. It’s about intentions and actions that are consistent with what is in the best interest of the covenant partner. Mutual submission to each other out of reverence for Christ.
…to twist that wonderful saying one more time: Christian marriage has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and therefore largely left untried.

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posted January 13, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Is Luck suggesting that like contracts in the 21st Century, when a marriage covenant is broken due to one party not fulfilling the conditions of that covenant, the other party is able to walk away? My difficulty is using terms like contract and covenant with respect to the marriage relationship. I have blogged on that topic and suggest that using those terms, “contract” or “covenant” undermines any ability to legitimately discuss longevity/permanence and conflates the Faith to the current cultural norm.

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tessia morrison

posted January 13, 2010 at 1:46 pm

this is really some good fact to read

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John W Frye

posted January 13, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Bill (#7),
So you have a problem with Jeremiah, Jesus and Paul making use of the term new “covenant” into which we enter by faith? Covenant is good, strong biblical term if I am not mistaken.

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posted January 13, 2010 at 4:00 pm

No I don’t – my issue is with our use of the term to describe relationships within the framework revealed to us by Jeremiah, Jesus and Paul. Berkhof’s analysis of “covenant” is appropriate here as it points out our fallacy in using that term – there is no place in Scripture that indicates humanity has ever been able to keep its part of the covenant (Jeremiah and Isaiah and the other prophets obviously spend a great deal of time on this issue, but this is also the situation in the New Testament) – while we have grace and mercy, withiin the human construct and in particular marriage relationship, no such grace and mercy exist. I have been involved in a divorce ministry for 10 years now and I can testify to the absence of mercy and grace within that often highly contested area of life within the Christian context. As well, when you say contract or covenant today, very very few people conceive of your use of that term in the Scriptural sense but in fact I suggest the term is understood in the 21st Century sense – simply a conditional agreement.

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posted January 13, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Orthodox rabbis heartily disagree that husbands aren’t called to sexual fidelity to their wives. I had an orthodox roommate in college. The orthodox rabbi said to her that she could have sex outside of marriage but that a man could not. When I asked her about the inevitable, “what if you get married, doesn’t premarital sexual activity make one an adulterer?” She responded, “only for the man, and it’s his problem, not mine!” (I’d be frankly surprised if her interpretation was spot-on, but nevertheless, it was clear that her rabbi had taught her that there were OT prohibitions for men’s sexual infidelity both as unmarried and as married men.) So, I wonder, how did Luck get to the opposite conclusion as the rabbis???? I’d tend to think that the rabbis have a better handle on this interpretation than Luck would have. (pun alert!)

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William Luck

posted January 17, 2010 at 3:00 am

I confess that I have as much confidence in the views of the rabbis as Jesus did. It is their interpretations of Deut. 24:1 that He takes issue with in all His teachings. As for me, my interpretation doesn’t matter if the text doesn’t support it. Let Scripture interpret Scripture.
Regarding the man’s sexual infidelity. If we come at it from Scripture, I do not find that an issue between the man and his wife, whereas it clearly was if she was unfaithful. I used to make it reciprocal, but letting the text speak for itself I had to change my view.
Regarding the Old and New Covenants. The New Covenant in Christ does not render portions of Scripture unprofitable (cf. 1 Tim. 3–which clearly includes the holy writings of the OT, with which Timothy would have been reared. In spite of Paul’s comments about the Law, he use both the commandments and the regulations (such as that relating to the ox in Deut. 25). The Sermon on the Mount is an exposition of the Law (chapters 5 & 6) and the prophets (chapter 7). Jesus reference in John 3 to the fact that Nicodemus should have understood about being reborn is most likely a reference to Ez. 36:25-17, which ends with the regenerated being obligated to keep the commandments and statues. John, in his first Epistle says that if you love God you will keep His commandments…not just some supposed different set instituted by His Son. Of course you do not have to become a Jew to be a Christian, so our use of the Law is not to take it to ourselves as the Jews did at Sinai, but to study it and determine the principles inherent in every command. Understanding that, we reapply them to our times and situations. As Jesus said, the scribe of the Kingdom is like a householder who takes from his treasure things both old and new.
Regarding covenant and contract. I agree with Instone-Brewer, if I remember correctly, that either term is appropriate. Some term is needed. The only way I can understand the exception clause is that a man who divorces his wife if she had committed adultery is that it is not wrong in God’s eyes because she has sundered the relationship by her act. Isn’t that the same thing as saying that the moral bond is broken by her immorality and therefore he has no moral obligation to remain in the relationship?
I also agree with Instone-Brewer regarding the abuse matter. If passive abuse is grounds for releasing the woman from her relationship, then how much more would be more aggressive and physical abuse. I cited the passage about the slave with the same intent. If a slave (and that would include the “wife” of verses 10-11, how much more a full wife.
As a footnote, above I called the wife’s infidelity “adultery” when the text calls it “fornication.” After sending the book to press, I came to what I feel is a better understanding of “porneia.” That term in the LXX refers to harlotry–uncovenanted sex. That would include any act of a pledged woman (married or engaged) insofar as it refers to her “lover.” No covenant existed between the pledged woman and that man. However, the same act, between them also was a breach of her vows to her husband and would merit the term “adultery.” So in the case of a pledged woman they are two sides of the same coin, and either term could be used by Jesus and still speak of marital unfaithfulness.
Another footnote: I have come to realize that the exception clause is a way of dismissing disciplinary divorce from the discussion. After all, Jesus is talking about what the LAW says. The Law required execution, not divorce, for adultery. The substitution of divorce for adultery came (shortly) after the giving of the Law, and is evidenced by the writing of the prophets such as Jeremiah and Hosea. So Jesus’ comment on the phrase in Deut. 24:1 implies that He finds no moral use of that command by the divorcing male. Erwat Dabar (“the nakedness of the thing”), whatever it means, is therefore not a morally justifiable ground. The Pharisees understood that that was His implication, and that’s why they jumped Him regarding “what the Law allowed” (cf. Matt. 19/Mark 10.
See. I’m still learning and listening to all the insights I can get. I appreciate Scott’s words above. It’s late, I hope what I’ve written is lucid.
William Luck

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