I think it’s important that when anyone reads the Bible that it should make sense. The Bible wasn’t written so that only biblical scholars or theologically trained ministers could understand it and then dumb it down for the layperson. There are too many things in the Bible that are not easy to make sense of. I suppose that’s called job security for clergy. But why is it not easier to understand? People read dozens of murder mysteries, romance novels, and self-help books every year. But few have every read the Bible in its entirety. Who wants to read something that leaves too many questions?
So, what doesn’t make sense? Well, if Jesus was so compassionate, why did he quote patriarchal laws that inflict an injustice on women? Specifically, why did Jesus say if a man divorces his wife, he causes her to commit adultery? And why did he say a man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery? Has that ever made sense to you?
Jewish law permitted a man to divorce his wife for ANY reason including if he was just tired of her or if she cooked a bad meal for him. The fact is, women had little means to support themselves in that culture. Why would Jesus be so cold as to declare a divorced woman off-limits to other Jewish men? I’ll tell you why.
First, the translation from Greek to English (by King James’s translators) of comments made by Jesus prior to the ban on marrying divorced women are highly questionable. I’m not sure why no one has challenged them in four hundred years. You’ll just have to be the judge if my translations make more sense than the ones that have been reiterated by all revised and newer versions.
Second, Jesus’s statement is being taken totally out of context. I explain these things, as well as three other comments by Jesus in Matthew and Mark about divorce and remarriage in my short book (available for preorder now) that is being released on Tuesday, April 18th.
Let me pause and say that I am not declaring this to be an error in the Greek text. I think the Greek text makes perfect sense when translated according to a non-patriarchal nature of Jesus. I believe the problem is a translation into English issue, an interpretation perpetuated by a male-controlled religious tradition. I believe that instead of endorsing unjust laws, Jesus was defending women who were being treated unfairly.
So why have I spent any time trying to clarify this? I’m not divorced. And why should you care if you are not divorced or married to a divorced person? Protestant churches don’t refuse Holy Communion to divorced people (or to those who have married divorced persons). Even the Catholics are loosening up. Yet they are not completely there. Too many people are suffering emotional pain in the breakup of a marriage. They continue to be refused participation in the holy meal. That’s highly un-Christlike. And with the current rate of divorce, one day soon, someone you love will be affected.
Without a clarification and correction of the text, technically we would be “going against the word of God” without providing literary justification. To do that would be declaring a teaching of Jesus as ignorable so we could do our own thing. (Even though compassion always trumps law, it’s easier to convince law-lovers if you have solid evidence.) But I suppose Christians are accustomed to picking the teachings they like and those they don’t like, you know, like turning the other cheek or loving our enemies.
We don’t have to ignore Jesus’s teachings that refer to divorce and remarriage if we would simply recognize a misinterpretation and consider his statements in their context. I wish I could boil it all down into a blog post, but it only took me fifty-three pages to do it in my book. Here are a few clips from my short book where I explain all the teachings of Jesus about divorce and remarriage:
“Doesn’t this seem like an odd place to throw in a Jewish law about marriage, a law that does an injustice to women? Was Jesus telling the Pharisees that they should follow this law, or could it be that he was giving them an example of a law that was unfair? There were many prohibitions about whom a Jewish man could marry. Some of those laws prohibited Jewish men from marrying divorced women. In fact, one law required priests to divorce their wives if they were raped by another man.19 How compassionate or just is that?
…Jesus was challenging them to elevate their compassion rather than to live by the letter of unjust laws. Women were in the chokehold of a male-dominated culture that cared more about rules than about compassion and justice. Yet the men considered themselves moral and righteous.
…In summary, Jesus was giving an example of an unjust law that needed to be fixed or eliminated. He was not confirming it as a viable teaching. Neither mammon nor the law are more important than fair and compassionate treatment for those whom a male-dominated culture has demeaned and devalued—women, children, the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the outcast.”
© 2017, Paul W. Meier
Until the church examines the teachings of Jesus about divorce and remarriage and corrects the translations to help them make sense, these unexplainable texts will be just another reason to ignore whatever we don’t like or understand in the Bible. And it will continue an outrage perpetuated by the Christian church for sixteen centuries. Help me get the word out. Since you can only order through Amazon, you can always return it and get your $2.99 back if you don’t agree. And if you think it might make sense, pass it along to your friends.