Jesus and Divorce, A contemporary perspective

In 2002, Wipf and Stock Publishers published an excellent scholarly work by two highly respected evangelical authors, Gordon J. Wenham and William E. Heth. They tackle one of the more perplexing problems in New Testament exegesis (critical interpretation or study), that of Jesus’ uncompromising teaching on divorce and remarriage.

This topic is particularly relevant in the American Roman Catholic community because of the disproportionate number of annulments granted, an aberration addressed by the last several pontiffs. This has been chronicled in several books, both from a sympathetic and critical perspective.

First, there is little doubt among scholars as to the historical teaching of Jesus on divorce and remarriage: he absolutely prohibited it. The so-called exception clause to this prohibition in Matthew’s Gospel is generally presumed by Catholic scholars to refer to marriage within forbidden degrees of kinship according to Leviticus. It is typically considered to originate from Matthew or his community in response to a pastoral issue. Because of its highly Jewish flavor, Matthew’s Gospel is particularly sensitive to this issue.

Paul’s teachings, including the so-called Pauline Privilege accessed by Catholic canon law in annulment proceedings, though not specifically discussed under those terms, are also addressed.

Jesus and Divorce addresses this and other New Testament teachings on divorce in an even-handed manner that would be of particular interest to Roman Catholics. It offers an extensive critique and affirmation of Fr. Raymond F. Collins highly praised work Divorce and the New Testament, available from The Liturgical Press.

A Roman Catholic reader unfamiliar with scholarly exegesis would be overwhelmed by the book. However an informed reader of any Christian denomination would find it packed with useful information and helpful insights.

Gordon Wenham is the author of an outstanding commentary on Genesis as well.  He has written another book on the subject of marriage and divorce in the New Testament, and is worth checking out. I find him accessible, thorough, balanced, and orthodox, an uncommon combination today.

I highly recommend Jesus and Divorce to serious readers interested in exploring this problematic question.  The following is contact information from the publisher:

Wipf and Stock Publishers 199 West 8th Avenue, Suite 3 Eugene, OR 97401-2960

Tel: (541) 344-1528 Fax: (541) 344-1506

Ordering Inquiries: Orders@wipfandstock.com

I am confident you will find this book challenging and enlightening. It is particularly refreshing in contrast to permissive views on the subject that have infiltrated the Christian churches both at the magisterial and pastoral level. The authors take seriously the words of Jesus and their practical import for 21st century readers. Would that more scholars articulate this perspective with such clarity and acuity.

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