By John Ortberg
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Many Christians believe divorce is always wrong except for adultery. But is that what Jesus believed?
A recent newspaper article told the tragedy of a husband who took his 8-year-old daughter up in a single-engine plane and deliberately crashed it into the home of his wife's mother, killing himself and his daughter. In the Christian tradition in which I grew up, if the man had survived, his wife would not have had biblical justification for a divorce. He could steal money, molest children, and threaten to kill her—and she still would have no cause for divorce.
But if he slept with a co-worker one time, divorce would be okay.
For many Christians, sex and sex alone is the key to the dissolution of a marriage. The rub is that if you are humane about divorce you cannot be biblical, and if you are biblical you cannot be humane.
Can that have been Jesus' intent in his remarks about divorce? In Mathew 19:9, Jesus says, "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery." Christians have understood Jesus' words here and elsewhere to mean that divorce is never, ever allowed except for cases of sexual infidelity. Is that what Jesus' intended us to believe?
A Cambridge fellow named David Instone-Brewer thinks not. His recent doctoral work on first-century rabbinic Judaism, resulting in books such as "Divorce and Remarriage in the Church," has suggested what will certainly become an influential framework for understanding divorce and re-marriage in coming years.
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What wouldn’t Jesus do? What a fascinating article. According to the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24 (which could also be the title of a team-up with Jack Bauer and the Big Lebowski), divorce can be granted for any number of reasons but divorce for reasons of female infidelity is grounds for an immediate divorce. Other divorces can be granted but the husband has to pay off the wife. That sort of sounds like the forward of a book about Ron Perelman. Divorce can be granted if one of three main vows are broken (fidelity, provision and love) unrepentantly. Sounds like a good policy.