To the reader: This is a letter that I received from Prof. David Instone-Brewer in response to my online assessment of his views on divorce and remarriage. He has requested a few times over a year-and-a-half that I post this response (which I regard as a respectful and friendly response). I procrastinated. I suspect that part of the reason for my procrastination was that I knew that I would need to correct some of David’s statements and provide further clarification; and that doing so might embroil us in an extended public debate, which I was reluctant to do given other things on my plate and my high regard for David. He has been very patient with me. Having received a reminder today, I herewith post his response with my comments. After each paragraph from David’s communication I have added a short rejoinder in brackets.—Robert A. J. Gagnon (5/8/14)
Thank you so much for interacting with my views in this detailed and biblical way. You identify three problems:
First you contrast Jesus with Paul. Jesus says that any woman who remarries after an invalid divorce is committing adultery – whether or not she was the guilty party. This contrasts with my interpretation that Paul allows someone who has been deserted (ie divorced against their will) to remarry.
In my Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible I point out that Jesus is speaking in a rhetorical way about adultery. Matthew recognizes this when he says that remarriage and unlawful lust are both adulterous, just as anger is murderous. Matthew doesn’t say that these murderers should be executed, nor that these adulterers should be punished. Matthew’s context clearly shows that this adultery is not the same as judicial adultery – it is a rhetorical devise to show how serious it is to divorce someone without biblical grounds, or to lust after someone you are not married to.
RG: David, thanks for these comments. My response to you in note 7 of my online article, “Divorce and Remarriage-After-Divorce in Jesus and Paul: A Response to David Instone-Brewer” still holds. Let me begin by clarifying a point: I don’t claim that Jesus regarded adultery of the heart (Matt 5:27-28) as serious as an adultery executed bodily. Yet it is still to be regarded as a lesser form of adultery and so something not permitted and not blessed by the church (note that you believe that the church should allow and bless remarriages after divorce). Adultery of the heart is not as serious an offense as adultery not only of heart but also of body. For example, adultery of the heart is not serious enough to justify divorce of a spouse who has committed it; otherwise all wives would be justified in divorcing their husbands.