Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context by David Instone-Brewer, 2002 Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

David Instone-Browne has probably written the first book which seriously takes into account the socio historical context of the Biblical texts on divorce & remarriage. The subtitle, "The Social and Literary Context" says it all and may sound a little academic to some. This does not mean however that the material is geared only for academics. On the contrary I found portions of the book helpful to Pastors and lay leaders; the last chapter deals with the pastoral dimensions of ministering to divorcees in the process of remarriage.
Check out the chapter headings:

1. Chapter 1 The Ancient Near East - Marriage Is a Contract
2. The Pentateuch - The Divorce Certificate Allows Remarriage
3. The Later Prophets - Breaking Marriage Vows Is Condemned
4. Intertestamental Period - Increasing Rights For Women
5. Rabbinic Teaching - Increasing Grounds For Divorce
6. Jesus Teaching - Divorce On Biblical Grounds
7. Paul's Teaching - Biblical Grounds Include Neglect
8. Marriage Vows - Vows Inherited From The Bible And Judaism
9. History Of Divorce - Interpretations In Church History
10. Modern Reinterpretations - Different Ways To Understand The Biblical Text
11. Pastoral Conclusions - Reversing Institutionalized Misunderstandings

This comprehensive work traces the evolution of divorce and remarriage during the Biblical and post Biblical period. I found the chapters on Intertestamental Period, Rabbinic Teaching, Marriage Vows especially enlightening. The material in these chapters is not the sort Christian authors would normally tap into when putting forward their views on divorce and remarriage.

Most of us are trained to arrive at conclusions through a straight reading of the various Biblical texts and passages which mention divorce and remarriage. Instone-Brewer's contribution is to not only help us read the texts within their socio-historical context but to also nudge us to a place where the historical context influences our interpretation of divorce & remarriage. Did Jesus ignore 1st century Judaism realities and do away with divorce and remarriage? Or was his teaching an attempt to bring discipline into a liberal religious system vulnerable to easy divorce? Instone Brewer's responses are no to the first question and yes to the second.

The book is structured to make it easy for the reader to get into the author's perspective from the get go. And that's a help for busy pastors. Instone-Brewer states the conclusions of his work in the introduction. Here are his conclusions:

a. Both Jesus and Paul condemned divorce without valid grounds and discouraged divorce even for valid grounds.
b. Both Jesus and Paul affirmed the Old Testament grounds for divorce.
c. The Old Testament allowed divorce for adultery and for neglect or abuse.
d. Both Jesus and Paul condemned remarriage after and invalid divorce, but not after a valid divorce.

Although the book can be a bit heavy going at times - Pastors, theological students and lay leaders will not find it difficult to tackle issues the book raises. If you're a busy Pastor or a lay leader, read chapter 11 first (Pastoral Conclusions - Reversing Institutionalised Misunderstandings). The ultra- conservative will not agree with some of the analyses nor the conclusions; the centrist will find lots of material to boost their position and liberals will find stuff here that makes them wince.

David Instone-Brewer breaks new ground in this book. Its worth the money and time.


blogpastor said...

I heard this is an excellent treatment. Norman Wong recommended it to me.

Anonymous said...

I first heard about this book from a seminar on divorce, organised by Eagles. You were there as a participant.

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