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.
AN EXAMPLE: THE DIVORCE ISSUE
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. 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.
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. And
Stott refers only to the form of the Pharisee’s question
found in Matthew. Both presume Mark and Matthew carry the same teaching;
Mark omitted the exception clause because he assumed the
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:
Remarriage following divorce constitutes adultery (Mark
10:11ff.; Luke 16:18);
(2) Except in a case of porneia,
remarriage following divorce constitutes adultery (Matt.
(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
In this connection two observations are crucial:
sayings all relate to the question of adultery and not directly
to divorce-that is, they answer the question of what constitutes
(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
Also, Mark and Luke are not, as Murray contends, 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." Yet elsewhere he says that Jesus “legitimated
divorce for adultery," and indicates that divorce following
porneia is not a sin 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...