Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 11 - divorce

Dear Johnboy
It's been awhile since the last letter. It's funny that it has taken me this long to write about the most straightforward example from the mouth of Jesus in the gospels that not everything biblical is Christian. Divorce as discussed in Matthew 19 is as uncontroversial as they come in my opinion.

The story starts with the religious elite ask Jesus if divorce is always acceptable. Jesus answers by appealing to the Adam and Eve story and the verse there which says the "two become one flesh" a mysterious work of God. Jesus then reasons if God does this mysterious work, it shouldn't be undone.

The religious dudes start rubbing their hands together because later on in the same block of scriptures called the books of Moses, when Moses gives the children of Israel their religious laws, he permits divorce. Jesus responds Moses gave them a concession to hard hearts. Jesus contrasts God and Moses here. It sounds to me like another example that not everything in the Bible is God-breathed, even Moses, the greatest prophet in Judaism gets God wrong according to Jesus.

The Bible has many internal disagreements like this. It's a book in conversation with God and his people and their enemies. This debate had continued to the close of the Old Testament canon.

The prophet Malachi proclaims, 2:16 “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”

On the other hand, the priest Ezra forces Israeli men to divorce their non-Israeli wives. Ezra 10:10 Then Ezra the priest stood and said to them: “You have committed a terrible sin. By marrying pagan women, you have increased Israel’s guilt. 11 So now confess your sin to the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and do what he demands. Separate yourselves from the people of the land and from these pagan women.”

The question is does God hate divorce or mixed marriages (and the children of them) more? Historically, Christians leaned Ezra's way often enough. There are American preachers today who oppose interracial marriage based on the Bible and stories like Ezra's and his understanding of what God demands. When Western missionaries encountered polygamous converts some demanded the husbands put away their extra wives and children. Those unsupported wives and children, without a support system usually suffered terribly under this policy. I heard an anecdote recently of an African believer who took communion for the first time in the Western church he visited and wept openly. Because as the child of an extra wife, his local church had decided against forcing a divorce which is good but added that only the first wife and her children could be members in good standing of the church. The other wives and their children could not be members and were thus denied the privilege of the eucharist. Through no fault of his own, this man, who grew up believing in Jesus was denied the flesh and blood of Jesus by the religious elite in his world.

The question remains, does God hate divorce or mixed marriages (and the children of them) more? Divorce is devastating. Marriage is hard. Jesus says God does a mystery in marriage, but the Matthew 19 story adds the caveat of infidelity. So the church has made this the only exception ever. American religious elites such as John Piper encourage women to remain in physically abusive relationships instead of divorce unless the violent man also commits adultery. He has since repented of that shitty advice, James Dobson has not though. But other religious elite still push this biblical conclusion. The question then becomes, does Jesus ask the abused to stay in harm's way because he hates divorce more than abuse? What is the way of the Christian, that reflects the way of love? Compassion.

Jesus knows of two views of divorce in the Old Testament. He picks the way of love. He is not extreme in his advocacy of marriage though. Infidelity is soul wrecking, likewise abuse. Who am I to judge what is soul wrecking for someone else?

Not everything Biblical is Christian.


Series review----------------------
This is part ten of the series, Not everything Biblical is ChristianPart one points out that the words of Satan recorded in the Bible are not Christian doctrine. Part two shows the Sermon on the Mount overruling the cursing of enemies exhibited in Psalm 137. Parts three and four show Moses getting overruled by Ezekiel and Jesus. Part five merely brushes the concept of source criticism.  Part six looks at the Old Testament application in the early church: a brief summary of the book of Acts. Part seven looks at how the church has worked this out regarding slavery. Part eight, showed one example of how an unchristian part of the Bible helps tell the Christian story. Part nine asks who would Jesus hate? Part 10 discusses women as Biblically approved spoils of war.

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