015 Commentary

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This page forms part of the resources for 015 Against Divorce in the Jesus Database project of FaithFutures Foundation

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John Dominic Crossan

Crossan (Historical Jesus, (301f) considers this complex as part of his discussion of Jesus against the patriarchal family. He notes the androcentric tradition of Jewish divorce laws at the time meant that the core issue was the defence of the man's honor. Drawing on the work of John Kloppenborg ("Alms, Debt and Divorce: Jesus' Ethics in Their Mediterranean Context" Toronto Journal of Theology 6: 1990, 182-200) Crossan highlights the significance of Jesus' teaching against divorce. In Jesus' novel ethic, the male who expels his wife and marries someone else has committed adultery against the rejected spouse; bringing shame on himself. Crossan concludes:

The opposition here is not just to divorce. To forbid divorce one has only to say that divorce is never legal. That is exactly what happens in the much less radical 252 Moses and Divorce [2/1]. The attack is actually against 'androcentric honour whose debilitating effects went far beyond the situation of divorce. It was also the basis for the dehumanisation of women, children, and non-dominant males' (Kloppenborg, 1990:196).

Gregory C. Jenks

The forms of the sayings that we have in the Synoptic tradition have clearly been worked over by Mark, Matthew and Luke. In the case of 1 Cor 7, it is not even clear that Paul is citing a historical tradition associated with Jesus rather than an equally authoritative tradition derived from the risen Lord speaking through a prophet in the early Christian communities. The Shepherd of Hermes provides an insight into the sexual politics of the Christian communities in late 1C period.

At the same time, I do think that there was most likely a saying from Jesus, probably couched in direct and uncompromising terms, that rejected the practice of a husband discarding his wide in order to mary someone else. My suggestion is that such a statement would fit well into the historical situation of Jesus around the time of Herod's arrest/murder of John the Baptist. Just as JBap attacked Herod's action in divorcing his Nabatean wife to marry Herodias, it seems highly likely that Jesus would have opposed such shabby treatment of Herod's wife.

I suggest that Luke 16:18a may be very close to the original saying of Jesus:

Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.

For these reasons, had I been attending the Jesus Seminar session that voted on this cluster, I suspect that I would have voted as follows:

  • 1 Cor 7: Black (Paul is citing the risen Lord not the HJ)
  • Luke 16:18: Pink
  • Matt 5:31-32: Black (scribal interests dominating this version)
  • Mark 10:11: Pink
  • Mark 10:1-9,12 // Matt 19:3-12: Black (again, scribal interests)
  • HermMan: Black (reflects sexual ethic of later community)

I find Crossan and Kloppenborg's interpretation of the ideological basis of Jesus' condemnation of wife-dumping in 1C Palestine to be evocative.

Even if we think Jesus adopted a strong view against divorce, that does not translate into a simple view of how we handle the issue in our kind of society. For instance, should the principle of "the sabbath was made for Adam and Eve, not Adam and Eve for the sabbath" also be applied to Jesus' strictures on divorce? Can we affirm an underlying value while also acknowledging that the needs of people always come before the impartial imposition of an abstract rule?

(As always in any discussion of this particular cluster, I declare my personal interest as a divorced and re-married white male.)

Jesus Seminar

  • 1 Cor 7:10-11
  • Luke 16:18
  • Matt 5:32
  • Matt 5:32; 19:9
  • Mark 10:5b-6
  • Matt 19:4b, 8b
  • Mark 10:7-9
  • Matt 19:5b-6
  • Mark 10:11b-12
  • Matt 19:9
  • HermMan

Gerd Luedemann

Luedemann [Jesus, 67] notes that the form of the tradition in Mark 10 reflects Roman divorce law, not local Jewish practice. He also observes that "the radical repudiation of divroce by Jesus is attested in both the Q tradition (Matt. 5.32/Luke 16.18) and by Paul in 1 Cor. 7.10-11. It follows that according to all the earliest material Jesus emphasizes the indissolubility of marriage." On Matt 19:12, Luedemann [Jesus, 209] suggests that the saying about eunuchs is probably an authentic Jesus tradition growing out of his own practice as a single male.