From the Shepherd’s Nook: Jesus, Marriage, Divorce (John Frye)

From the Shepherd’s Nook: Jesus, Marriage, Divorce (John Frye) June 20, 2014

Our Friday From the Shepherd’s Nook post is, as always, by John Frye.

Jesus sits and teaches as the new Moses correcting the distorted teachings and practices of Torah related to marriage and divorce. We will review chapters six and seven of Scot McKnight’s Story of God Bible Commentary: Sermon on the Mount. Torah intends marriage to be one man and one woman committed-by-covenant to each other for life. Within that union, they may enjoy the erotic pleasures of sex (the Song of Songs) while at the same time realizing that sexual relations are aimed at procreating the race (Genesis 1).

Marriage and lust (chapter 6). Because of sin, we Eikons of God are broken, and sinful desire may horribly destroy the marriage union. What enters the eye-gate may lead to lustful desire and then to the sin of adultery. Scot states, “The stunning element of Jesus’ new ethic is that this sort of lust in equivalent to adultery itself” (88). What sort of lust? It is the stare or even glance at a woman that excites the imagination with sexual fantasy. Scot points out that it is not the time limit of the look (vis-à-vis present tense verb), but the intention of the look, that matters. The kingdom ethic (from Beyond) emphasizes marital, sexual purity at the heart level, at the level of desire. Jesus has in mind not only “someone whose life is wrecked by lust and sexual temptation,” but warns of “even a momentary indiscretion.” We all must wrestle with Jesus’ call to a “greater righteousness” and to live “perfect” lives even as our heavenly Father is perfect. Using exaggerated language, Jesus urges us to take drastic measures to live sexually holy lives. The stakes are eternally high for disobeying Jesus’ words. Cut off the right hand. Gouge out the right eye. Extreme language is used to emphasize the gravity of the issue of sexual purity in marriage. Human physiology (neuropharmacology) points toward marital fidelity and sexual purity. Commenting on dopamine, oxytocin, and vasopressin, Scot concludes, “Hearts are wired to brains and brains are wired to commitment” (93).

Divorce and remarriage (chapter 7). I found this chapter to be profoundly pastoral. (Scot is a pastor disguised as a New Testament and Jesus scholar). I must summarize by quoting: “Marital love, then, is defined by God’s love: our love for our spouse is to be with them; to be for them, and be unto God’s formative purpose for each of us” (95). Marriage is a mirroring of Trinitarian perichoresis and divorce is an assault on the beauty of God’s eternal, relational love. Scot offers an excellent discussion of Jesus’ teaching within the Jewish story and culture. Jesus puts a screeching halt on the prevailing and easy permissiveness of divorce in his day. Scot aligns Matthew’s (redacted?) “exception clause” with Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The term porneia should be understood as sexual immorality of any kind that “breaks down the marital covenant” (101). Scot believes that “in the case of permissible divorce, there was a permissible remarriage.” In the section “Live the Story” Scot hits a grand slam. As a young pastor I often had to hack my way through a lot of conflicting views of divorce and remarriage and seek to urge obedience to God to estranged husbands and wives who, in a stifling cobweb of sin and hurt, could not stand one another. Scot’s pastoral aims in this part of chapter 7 are a God-send to pastors and Christian leaders. Christian leaders need to hear Scot. We may get so caught up in wrangling about “grounds for divorce” that we forget Jesus’ main teaching. Jesus says an emphatic “No!” to divorce because it is an attack upon God’s love expressed in the husband-wife relationship. The heart of marriage is covenant love. Yet, we need to engage the sinful hard-heartedness that jeopardizes marriage and may destroy marital permanence. Scot’s sharp call to both personal and communal discernment around issues of marital failure needs to be heeded by pastors and people alike. I end this post, the way Scot ends the chapter: God help us!    

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