Monday, June 25, 2012

Bob Lyon, Jesus, and Divorce

The Wesleyan Church has, probably, less than ten Bible scholars in its ranks at present.  Of course everyone thinks they can speak to the original meaning of the Bible.

I dug up this excerpt on the subject of Jesus and divorce, taken from an article by Bob Lyon, who taught at Asbury until his death. It is in a volume titled, Interpreting God's Word for Today, published by Warner Press in 1982.  Its contributors are Bible professors who taught at Wesleyan approved institutions at the time--and therefore while we do not have to agree with Dr. Lyon's train of thought, it stands within the parameters of Wesleyan thought.

I share it to give a sense of how many factors can go into making decisions on these sorts of things.
One example might be given to show the illegitimacy of a nonhistorical approach. The issue of divorce-remarriage adultery is presented in Mark 10:llff.; Matthew 5:32, 19:9; and Luke 16:18. The main problem has to do with Matthew’s exception clauses. Both John Murray and John R. W. Stott resolve the issue dogmatically.[59] Both studies reveal a deep concern for Christian marriage as well as a thorough acquaintance with the background data. Yet both studies are ultimately unsatisfactory because they fail to ask certain necessary historical questions.

How did the varying forms of the saying(s) originate? Is one a derivative of another? Is there a merging of two originally separate topics (divorce and adultery)? Murray regards Matthew 19:9 as “the most pivotal passage” in the New Testament, not because it is the truly authentic (i.e., dominical) statement but because it is the most complete; that is, it has both the exception clause and the remarriage clause.[60] And Stott refers only to the form of the Pharisee’s question found in Matthew.[61] Both presume Mark and Matthew carry the same teaching; Mark omitted the exception clause because he assumed the exception. 

But what about the community for whom Mark prepared his Gospel? Did it, or could it, assume an exception? According to Murray, the “silence” of Mark and Luke respecting the right to divorce does not itself prejudice the right to divorce. But are Mark and Luke silent? Did their communities believe they were silent? Do not both Mark and Luke give a rather clear word?

More important, neither Murray nor Stott asks the historical question, "What did Jesus say and how do we explain the various forms of the saying(s)?" From the four texts we come up with the following statements from the lips of Jesus:

(1) Remarriage following divorce constitutes adultery (Mark 10:11ff.; Luke 16:18);
(2) Except in a case of porneia, remarriage following divorce constitutes adultery (Matt. 19:9);
(3) Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Luke 16:18; Matt. 5:32);
(4) Whoever divorces his wife causes her to commit adultery.

Murray, whose treatment of the texts is much more extended that Stott’s, never asks if these are all separate sayings of Jesus or different versions of a single saying in response to the Pharisees. More important, perhaps, he does not treat the question whether the sayings have anything to do directly with the question the Pharisees asked. In this connection two observations are crucial:

(1) these sayings all relate to the question of adultery and not directly to divorce-that is, they answer the question of what constitutes adultery;
(2) except for Matthew 19:9, none of the sayings in their present context are spoken to the Pharisees who asked the question.

In terms of a historical-rather than dogmatic-approach, it seems Jesus answers the question of the Pharisees solely on the basis of Genesis 1 and 2, and that the various sayings derive from another context involving a discussion of the commandments. Whether they represent separate sayings or variant forms of a single saying is another matter deserving further study. The dogmatic approach fails methodologically because it begins by assuming Matthew and Mark say the same thing. One may come to that conclusion, but one cannot begin there.

Also, Mark and Luke are not, as Murray contends,[62] silent concerning any grounds for divorce. What they say would have to be considered by any common standards of literary analysis to be both clear and unequivocal. It is as arbitrary to interpret Mark and Luke on the basis of Matthew as the reverse. The evangelists must be heard and their community traditions recognized in their own right.

The problematic element in Murray’s study is seen in his variant conclusions. On the one hand, he rightly perceives that in the mind of Jesus, divorce “could not be contemplated otherwise than as a radical breach of the divine institution."[63] Yet elsewhere he says that Jesus “legitimated divorce for adultery,"[64] and indicates that divorce following porneia is not a sin[65] even though, as he says, it is a radical breach of the divine institution.

A historical approach would offer a less arbitrary analysis as well as probably more integrated conclusions. In the last analysis, the approach of Murray and Stott reflects a thoroughgoing legalism that focuses on texts rather than a broader perspectival approach to Scripture that recognizes the diversity of the biblical witness. Precisely at this point one finds the critical error of the dogmatic approach to exegesis. Ultimately, this “textual” approach ignores the diversity of the apostolic witness for the sake of uniformity.

By contrast, the historical approach is able to accept the multiple witness to Jesus as Messiah and to develop a better picture of primitive Christian faith. In this connection, we note that the second-century church, when faced by skeptics with the embarrassment of seeming contradictions and inconsistencies in the Gospel narratives, rejected out of hand the neat solution offered by Tatian’s Diatessaron. Instead, the Church preferred the fourfold witness with all its ambiguities, rather than accept any reduction in the apostolic witness. That diversity is still crucial, and the exegete as historian-rather than exegete as dogmatician-will be faithful to it.

Scripture is a product of history; it grew out of the history of God’s dealings with people. And the documents of Scripture reflect all the diversity of history. Evangelicals, of course, also believe they possess a fundamental and basic unity that reflects the all-encompassing purpose of God. The full scope of the biblical revelation comes to expression when we show an interest in this diversity equivalent to our concern for the unity in Scripture...


Ken Schenck said...

I might add that in the end Dr. Lyon thought it most likely that Jesus had not originally stated any exception on the question of when divorce was permissible. He thought it most likely that Matthew himself had added the exception clause in his use of Mark.

Sharon Butcher Westfall said...

Enjoyed your post!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Metaphor is a "meaning making" way to encourage or maintain a social order. Legalists are too stringently tied to the text and are bound to err on the side of judgment, while those that understand the life isn't cut up into neat little pieces that are easily sliced, can lean toward "no boundaries".

The Church has been an institution that has "set the boundaries in society". It really has little to do with God, though "God" is useful to appeal to those with consciences that are bound to outside authority. These think it is right because "God says it", not because their conscience dictates that it is.

Internalization of one's values does not always align with convention, though convention is "appropriate behavior" according to social norms. These occassions of question about "what to do" are cases where the Supreme Court judges how the Constitution should be understood to allow for the "intent of the Founders" in grantng a free society.

The Church is similar in its determinations about social norms, which have changed over the course of time. But, some are stuck in the 1950's and can't seem to understand that it sometimes takes two to make ends meet, there are always extenuating circumstances that aren't nicely identified in Scripture. People tend to get anxious about "the messiness" of those that get outside THEIR lines of definition of "normalcy". And it could be due to brain science as much as personality! And this is the reason, for me, that evangelicals have lost their impact, appeal and influence. Everything has to be referenced back to "God" otherwise, it is something suspect...everything that happens has to be framed within a "Christian understanding". Why not admit that things aren't so easily explained?

John C. Gardner said...

This is a sophisticated post. Bravo. The historical church has made mistakes but it has a valuable intellectual tradition(see the works of the Anglican theologian and scientist Alister McGrath, and others). We must assume that all truth is God's truth but we can also assume that heart and head reinforce each other.