Biblical Divorce: Abuse

עברית: חתונה יהודית.
עברית: חתונה יהודית. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Instone-Brewer, David. “What God Has Joined.” Christianity Today. 5 October 2007. Web. 1 November 2014.

We’ve all met pious people–mostly women, but men included, who stay with an abusive spouse because the Bible only clearly states adultery or desertion as reasons for divorce. However, the question always arises, how can Jesus, who says if we say “raca” to a person, we are in danger of hell fire, say it is okay for a woman to stay with a man who regularly throws her down the stairs or calls her an “expletive” idiot?

He commands us to love just as He loves us with an undying love. When asked about the greatest commandment, He says all are contained in two sentences: to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37-40). We are known as his disciples if we have love for one another (Jn. 13:35).

We do have to understand culture and elements that are understood within that society. Today, I’d have to define the word raca–whose root word comes from to spit, and it essentially means worthless or good for nothing . It was a term of severe contempt. In Jesus’s day, no definition was needed.

My uncle called those he considered ignorant fools Cossacks. Uncle Al was Belorussian, and the Cossacks were brutal invaders of their territory. I once happily told a woman of Ukrainian descent that we were Belorussian. My mother was horrified. “Ukranians hate Bellorussians!,” she whispered to me. “Don’t tell her that.” Who knew?

I taught Spanish. Not one student would use the word allegre for happy. The dictionary defined it as “gay”, and no matter what I told them, they were sure that when they used that word, they were calling someone a homosexual.

So we do have to understand some context of Jesus’s society. I was happy to come across David Instone-Brewer’s article. Brewer is the senior research fellow in rabbinics and the New Testament at Tyndale House, Cambridge. His article shed some light on divorce in abusive situations.

A few decades before Jesus’s time, the Hillelittes, a rabbinical group, invented a clause for divorce for any reason–the “any cause” divorce. The Shammaites, another group of rabbis, held to a strict, moral interpretation for divorce.

The Jews in Jesus’s day who were divorce had the “any cause” divorce which had simply become known as divorce.

Thus, in Matt. 19:3, when the rabbis ask Jesus about divorce for any causes, they wanted him to agree to divorce because of a burnt meal or a wrinkled garment, for anything. The two groups were pitting Jesus against both groups.

Jesus defiantly disagreed with the Hillelittes and affirmed the Old Testament We cannot divorce for any whim. Marriage is sacred. However, he defended the Old Testament, a Biblical text the church still holds, as God’s word. Ex. 21:10-11 allows divorce for neglect. Exodus says, according to Brewer, “…everyone, even a slave wife, had three rights within marriage–the rights to food, clothing, and love. If these were neglected, the wronged spouse had the right to seek freedom from that marriage.”

Jesus did not condone a divorce for any little thing–but for neglect. Yest.

These three rights are the basis for the Jewish marriage vows, and have been found in marriage contracts discovered near the Dead Sea. They also form the basis for our own marriage vows–to love honor and obey.

I urge you to read Brewer’s article. Longer than this blog, it clearly articulates what I’ve tried to summarize.

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