“Descriptive, not Prescriptive” Part 3

Every child in the world knows that you can learn how to live from stories.  And the biblical authors themselves teach us to read the biblical stories for instructions on how to live.  They get doctrine from narrative.  They treat the stories as prescriptive.
And so ought we to do.

Of course, we have to interpret them properly.  “Brothers, do not be children in understanding.  In malice be children, but in understanding be mature.”

So how does this work?  When we read Genesis, it teaches us.  The story of creation teaches us how the world is organized.  We have mostly disregarded those lessons since the Enlightenment, but let’s take one of the cases where we’ve gotten it right.  In the beginning, God made one man, and from his side, He brought forth one woman.  He brought her to the man and created the first marriage, an image of the Trinity: God unites man and woman.  It is, as the popular saying goes, Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.  Also not Eve and Charlotte, nor Adam, Eve, and Charlotte, nor any of the other permutations.

Jesus took the story of marriage’s very beginning and showed that it taught a lesson about divorce: “What God has joined together, let man not put asunder.”  Now, divorce is nowhere mentioned in the Genesis account of Adam and Eve.  There is no direct prohibition of divorce in the Genesis account of Adam and Eve; in fact, divorce is never mentioned anywhere in the whole story.  But a particular marriage can harmonize with the origins of marriage and fulfill what marriage is for, or it can be out of harmony.  Jesus’ prohibition of divorce is a call for individual marriages to harmonize with the paradigm case of marriage.  The exception He allows, in cases of adultery, is also in harmony.  The divorcer, in that case, is not putting asunder what God joined together, because the adulterous spouse has already done that.  In broad strokes, this is the way a true origin story can be applied.

So what origin stories do we have to work with?  Genesis 1 is the origin of the world, and man in it.  Genesis 2 is the origin of man in particular, and marriage.  The story of Noah is the formation of the geophysical world we now live in, and the origin of civilization as we know it.  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are the origin of Israel as a people, and Exodus is the origin of Israel as a nation-state.  Acts is the origin of the Church.

Wouldn’t it be something if our ecclesiology began to reflect that last one?  If our actual church practice began to harmonize with our origin story?  But that’s another post.


31 Responses to “Descriptive, not Prescriptive” Part 3

  1. Todd says:

    Jesus never legitimizes divorce on account of adultery. He uses the word ‘porneia’ which is fornication. If adultery was what He meant then He most likely would have used the word for adultery which is “moicheia”. If He were permitting divorce on the grounds of adultery then He would have in effect been making an institution of marriage based on the lusts of the moment.

    Mistranslating the word “porneia” as adultery is the source of a very serious ‘mariage-unfriendly’ problem and bears mentioning.


  2. Todd says:

    It is thought that Jesus is referring to the practice which existed at that time of some Jewish men marrying their deceased father’s wife. It was a matter of controversy at the time.

    But it remains that there was something other than adultery which Jesus was referring to because of His choice of words.


  3. Tim Nichols says:


    You’re right that “adultery” is not a great translation for “porneia.” But neither is “fornication”. “Porneia” is a much more general word, a word that would encompass adultery, fornication, and much more.

    Marrying one’s father’s wife would certainly be porneia, but if that’s all Jesus had in mind, He could certainly have said so. He didn’t; He used the general word. Divorce in the case of porneia includes adultery, and Jesus did legitimize it.

  4. Todd says:

    Yes, you are quite right. In my mind I was off on another tangent. Sorry.

    I’m struggling with this notion as to whether Jesus is talking about unchastity during a marriage or prior to a marriage (in either some or all of His references).

    I’ll labor on. Thanks.

  5. Tim Nichols says:


    A lot of people have struggled with that one. I’d love to hear your thoughts as you continue to wrestle through it. For myself, I come back once again to the generality of the term used, and the lack of stipulated restrictions. I’d not want to be the guy who imposes restrictions that Jesus didn’t.
    Under the Law, if you were found (after marrying) to have been unchaste before you married, then they would kill you. Ditto for adultery. So looking at Jesus’ statement from an OT framework, it would seem that either one would be grounds for divorce — and that divorce is a comparatively mild response to the situation.

    Of course, the OT precedents assume that the person was thought to have been chaste at the time of the wedding. If you know what you’re getting into, you can’t complain later.

  6. Todd says:

    Hi Tim,

    What I’m seeing in the Old Testament is the reproductive act as the defining (seminal) act of entrance into marriage (even in the absence of any other action – such as a proposal); whether it’s the intent of the two participants or not. We see in Dt. 22 the precarious way that a marriage can begin just by the reproductive act itself, even if one player is not even willing (even an act of violence), and, with no possible relief of divorce.

    Two things which are hard to hear from that: One – That is how God and Christ chose to govern during that time. And Two – That is the importance of the reproductive act itself.

    With these things in mind, mainly number Two, we see the reluctance of the Lord to approve of a divorce.
    Not to hurry away from the O.T., but in the New Testament we have Jesus disapproving of divorce except in the instances of, “immorality”, “unchastity”, “fornication”, “sexual immorality”, none of which are pure translations of the same original word; which leaves us guessing. It leaves us looking around for clarity.

    I personally don’t have to look far or ponder long. God hates divorce. One could say that in the O.T., unless it was entered into wrongly, there having already been the reproductive act, there was no cancelling a marriage out, and if you did (hardness of heart?), you were entitled to no more chances; and Christians today cannot use the hardness of heart excuse.

    With the unusual exemption for sexual immorality, unchastity, fornication, or immorality, who couldn’t think of an excuse for divorce that would appear to them to fit the requirements of legitimacy? Is that what Jesus had in mind? No way. That would reduce it to an institution that is the opposite of the one He nurtures in the rest of the bible.

    Does that mean there is not God’s Grace there, somewhere, for those who may even unknowingly illegitimately divorce? The short insufficient answer is yes.

    I would say there is grace there if they understand that Jesus approves, if. . . they understand that He disapproves.

    It’s a part of both coming to the right God, and then asking what He would have us know. It requires nothing less than the small act of knowing their God. Does God still have those covered who are victims of insufficient Christian teaching of His larger mind on divorce and remarriage, and in their lack of earnest bible study, ignore much of what He would like for them to know concerning divorce? I’m sure it varies from individual to individual according to whatever He finds when He searches their heart.

    There is much good teaching to shed the Lord’s light on what a good relationship between Him and any potential divorcee would be in the way of an admission of weakness, admission of sin, an attitude of repentance and understanding, etc. Without that any divorce would seem not to conform to the Lord’s desires.

    Well that’s quite abit for a Saturday morning. You can see that I don’t want to attribute the Lord quite with “legitimizing” divorce, yet, we do have to explain the exemption He provides.

    I might myself conclude that all divorce is sin, and the Lord, with His statement including “immorality”, is the same thing Paul is talking about in 1 & 2 Cor. with the man who married His father’s wife and could not even constitute a marriage, and, the unchastity of the O.T., where, if later found out about, could be grounds to end a marriage that should not have been in the first place.

    The conclusion that divorce leads to the condemnation of sin, of course, does not preclude God’s grace but is probably even a prerequiste for it. so perhaps in this instance we should be quick to condemn. Oh boy, that is a lot on a Saturday morning!

    I’m going to guess that that is how you’ve been counseling people, either with the rich teaching of repentance and forgiveness involved in our coming to and then growing up in the Lord, or, by taking an unfortunate short cut to maybe the same end, maybe not. I’ll trust the bettter of the two.

    Thanks for this Tim

  7. Jim Reitman says:


    I don’t know you, so please forgive me ahead of time if what I say seems personal, it is not intended in that way. I see a heart that is zealous for God, earnestly desiring to defend His authority in the area of marriage and its transcendent significance for the people of God—especially Christians. But if Tim will permit me, I’d like to contribute a few thoughts at the “meta” level about our approach to this topic.

    • You seem to recognize a dichotomy between “how God and Christ chose to govern” in the OT and the NT as having some bearing on the definition of marriage (i.e., primarily by the reproductive act?). What is unstated is that God’s “choice” of how to govern is rooted in his unchanging character and how that character responds to sinful man and man’s ever evolving creativity in justifying sin. God’s heart toward marriage and/or divorce has not fundamentally changed.

    • Marriage was never defined “only” or even “primarily” by the reproductive act. As Tim pointed out, the whole idea is rooted in Trinitarian relationship and image-bearing. Even your citation of Deut 22 points to a “higher” definition of marriage that presupposes a man choosing to marry a woman whom he has sexually violated. The reproductive act was intended to be a crucial component of marriage but in the context of first “leaving” and “cleaving” (Gen 2:24). What the Law is doing here is appealing to those who violate the original intent for a relationship between a man and a woman to then honor God’s original intent in the way they “pick up the pieces.”

    • Your approach to divorce seems designed to be more “rule-based” than to reflect God’s heart for his people. That’s exactly the approach that Christ encountered in Matt 19 and bluntly challenged as in any way adequate to view the question of marriage and divorce. “Hardness of heart” is precisely the issue that God has always seen in man’s creative ways of “getting away” with sin. The hardness of heart is not an “excuse” for divorce in Matt. 19. It is rooted in a fundamental departure from the greatest summary of Law that Christ repeated throughout his ministry: “You shall love God, and your neighbor as yourself.” Hence, divorce is at heart rooted in the most fundamental departure from Law—one that is akin to murder (Gen 4)—and any decisions about divorce are really just “picking up the pieces” after the primary departure has already taken place, whether it’s manifested as “adultery” or pornography (much more rampant, actually, in our culture), or any other kind of porneia. You seem to consider these “exemptions” as “unusual” but they are in fact rampant. The Law was given because of sin, more than to solve problems. God’s hope is that the Law will drive the people of God back to an investigation of his character in giving Law in the first place (cf. Matt 5) and respond accordingly.

    • Since the real issue behind marriage is Trinitarian image-bearing, God hates something else much more fundamentally than he hates divorce. He hates his people smearing his name before the “Gentiles.” It is no accident that God used “adultery” as his main figure for Israel’s departure from undistracted devotion to the one God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is no accident that precisely for this reason, God openly declared (through his prophets) his intent to divorce Israel as his chosen spouse. Whenever a continued marriage among God’s people openly and unabashedly continues to smear God’s reputation with impunity, it is a travesty and worse than divorce. In my opinion, you’ve got to question whether the “faithful” partner is doing her spouse or God any favors by doggedly preserving the marriage at the expense of God’s reputation. God does not want to be a cuckold and his reputation is the highest value he cherishes and is thus to be upheld among his people who bear his image, as we see at the end of the book of Nehemiah.

    • Finally, you mentioned counseling. This is indeed where the rubber meets the road. Just as a case in point, I have been counseling a married Christian for about 10 months, and I never got anywhere by focusing on the “rules” for a legitimate divorce. Only when I appealed to God’s heart for her did she start asking the right questions, and even that took many months to nail down. The problem is definitely hardness of heart, and God wants to woo us back to him with unconditional love for his people. Only when she really began to believe that he is longsuffering and compassionate—wanting her to derive her life from him and nowhere else and not primarily dealing with her on the basis of Law—did her heart begin to soften on the question of divorce.

    In conclusion, I think our approach to divorce—both theologically and in the practical terms of divorce counseling—has to be rooted primarily in the hearts toward God of the people involved and that simply requires looking at hearts more than rules. That’s what Jesus did.

  8. Todd says:

    One of us was a disaster here.


    There is a lot more in there than that.

    And if I did mention “rules”. . . , does God have no rules?

    I at least appreciate you responding.

  9. Jim Reitman says:

    Well . . . yes, I felt that underlying your discussion was an attempt to arrive at a “prescriptive” approach to guide decision-making when Christian marriages are in trouble. Evangelicals seem to be wired for that.

    Did you feel that I missed you that badly?

  10. Todd says:

    Thanks for the opportunity to explain. Let me get through this busy day and I’ll try to be more specific and constructive.

  11. Todd says:


    The following may not be your type of discussion; your cup of tea. Setting aside our commentaries, journals, favorite evangelical expositions and instead, thinking for oneself, is not everyone’s favorite way to talk about these biblical questions. That is finally where it needs to end up though. Just to warn you. Don’t try to make this type of discussion your thing if it is not. Neither of us have time to waste.

    The fact that there is a lot of controversy in Christian tradition is not ‘breaking news!’, but the fact that there should not be, I think, may be to you. Please don’t start dragging out your Traditional Christian Instruction Booklet, especially your Modern Christian Cookbook, and if I just offended you then you’re worshipping the wrong thing. Try handling these things yourself. Your not going to stand before God with your theology journals. And I’m tired of eating them for lunch.

    We can keep the discussion right there in the context of the “meta”.

    First, one of my original observations coming in on the “descriptive”/”prescriptive” post was the lack of concrete references. I could understand Tim’s frustration that spawned the meta but I wasn’t sure if he was going to put forward anything we could get our teeth into. There was one real scenario finally provided in the comments section.

    I was relieved then when I saw that it was agreed upon that the Lord intended both “prescriptive and descriptive” lessons to be gleaned from each passage of scripture, at the same time, without exception. It is simply the teacher’s job to use scripture to illustrate “how” both approaches may be applied in any given passage.

    I just want to let you know where I’m coming from.

    Now, Jim, you appeared in your remarks, to me, to be awash in revealing only your own mind. Really. I found nothing useful or relevant to what I had said. Seriously, I’m looking at piles of words in your remark that come from academic Christian philosophies that are more a part of the current epidemic of Christian academic confusion than from usefulness. Really, how much more self-evident does it have to be than as seen in these exchanges between the various Free Grace fraternities. Some really basic human communication problems apparent there that need to be addresed. So at least you can feel that you’re in good company and I’m not picking just on you.

    So what ‘did’ I say? Did I have a few specific points on which I may have wanted to get, if any, some genuine feedback on? Or just have some serious thought to them? And did you address any of them? Sorry, but I thought you were in the clouds. Hobby blogging. Here’s what some of the main points in my first post might have been:

    **Scripture shows us, in Dt. 22 for one example, how the reproductive act alone (for the lack of a better phrase) can cause a permanent marriage with no exception for termination(divorce). This is a huge statement by God Himself on the importance of the reproductive act alone as dictating the permanence of a marriage. [Here would be one spot for Jim to specifically interject](This is not only descriptive, but also prescriptive, because it is the Law – which we know is both fulfilled for us by Christ, and, then continues to be a ‘prescription’ for us on how God would have us act).

    So the burden for the reader here is to get, ‘from’, the [extreme] passage above, ‘to’, where the same God as above wants to sit and listen to the excuses in our modern day marriage counseling sessions about how someones marriage has gone bad. The marriage in the Dt. 22 example is a marriage that started out probably worse than most peoples will ever end, yet with no divorce excepted. That is the mind of our God on divorce. Now how do you handle it today in the age of grace? Oviously, you have not found the Christian Marriage Counseling Manual for your counseling to remain consistent with the example in Dt. 22. But I have. I think you missed that, yes, completely Jim, badly, thanks for asking. Just look back. And here’s another question I thought was worth considering.

    **I asked what Jesus had in mind when He used the word which we chose to translate as sexual immorality, immorality, unchastity, adultery? We do know exactly what He said in the Greek. so what does he mean? A variety of things, all of which start to subtract from the importance and beauty which He has already given marriage? No, not likely. The likelihood exists that He is referring to sexual immorality that occurred before the marriage, since, premarital unchastity was, and maybe still is, permitted to nullify a subsequent marriage in the O.T. Are there other more likely meanings there? If so, share a few of them with me.

    And if we are to include ‘unchastity’ which ocurrs ‘during a marriage’ in what Jesus says, where then do we go in scripture to confirm that? There is nowhere else in scripture that does not argue against divorce? Help me here.

    Another relevant question related to that is “where do we get our permission to counsel anyone to divorce specifically for reasons of mistreatment?” Yes, I’ve heard all of the excuses, and I’m happy to show mercy and grant the divorce, it surely makes me feel better, and just, but how has God weighed in on that one? What are your thoughts?

    After that, Jim, I raised the question as to whether by saying, “the Lord legitimizes marriage”, we might be saying that in a way which the Lord would not? It may well be that, while accepting divorce, He still considers it a sin. He forbids remarriage. From the rest of scripture one could surmise that He forbids divorce.

    Do you see what I am getting at? If so, what are your conclusions?

    The question surfaces, can we ever encourage divorce, or, is it wrongly encouraging a failure, a broken promise, and the tearing usunder of a once godly(permanent) union. Have we been left by God to be the arbitrators of which marriages are and which marriages are not meant to be destroyed?

    Is it ours to validate, legitimize? On what grounds?

    So to avoid a long follow-up here and get to the core of “so what do we do next?”

    All of these things considered, we have to conclude that divorce is sin. Every time. So we handle it accordingly. We take it to the Lord. As sin. Failure, broken promise, tearing asunder a rich permanent union that God provided for us. We don’t separate the institution from God and redefine it for ourselves; making ourselves the arbitrator of whether our marriage will be permanent or not.

    But are some marriages beyond hope? The simple answer is yes. Do we ask “Which ones”? And is it for us to decide? We would like to think so. But does God?

    I would suggest that we ‘can’t’ just appeal to God to permit us tear apart His created union, and expect Him to just gently and approvingly tear it apart for us; we have to do it ‘ourselves’; and call it what it is. It is sin. Then at least it’s back in His realm and out of ours, and He can respond with grace.

    In effect, I went on to say that contrary to leaving us in a state of hopelessness, it is where the hope begins. And I don’t see any mention of that in your remarks.

    I said, “there is grace there if they understand that Jesus approves, if. . . they understand that He disapproves”. Maybe it’s not accurate? While it’s a little clumbsy, I think it’s very well fitting.

    So where does that leave the progression here…

    Is any of this stuff I mentioned a part of your own marriage counseling approach? “Admission of weakness, admission of sin, an attitude of repentance and understanding, etc. . .”? It would have been worth your time to have shared some thoughts on that.

    Let me end here with some additional questions regarding your making an exception for divorce for anything less than premarital unchastity.

    **(back to Deut. 22)If a man turns against his wife(doesn’t want to be married anymore and uses as an excuse charges that are not true) and the evidence says that he is making it up, or should have known better, then, he is fined, and denied the divorce from her all his days.

    Can I even handle Dt. 22 this way?

    Well, if so then. . . let’s remember; the only exception for divorce God had originally was premarital infidelity; and consider, adultery, as we would describe it today,(cheating on either your own or somebody else’s spouse) back in earlier times was punishable by death.

    Questionis. . . ,is Dt. 22:13-19, intended to be ‘prescriptive’ or ‘descriptive’? This one I need an answer to.

    Then, take your answer and give a brief mention as to ‘How’ you work it in to your own counseling philosophy. Tim, feel free to chime in here as well.

    b>Optional: What about Dt. 22:28-29?(better forget it for now)

    Enough for now. No hurry here.


  12. Todd says:

    When saying that God does not permit remarrriage, I should have added “while the spouse which was set aside is still alive”.

  13. Tim Nichols says:


    You maybe don’t know Jim, and he may not speak for himself on this, so let me do it: we’re all here for the text, not for the commentaries. You need not worry about him on that score. If he sounds like an academic sometimes, he has the best of excuses — he actually is one. God calls coal miners and academics to their respective vocations; the coal miner’s cough and the academic’s impenetrable speech are both responses to the unhealthy air of the workplace; a gentleman learns to overlook such things. Sometimes I have to read Jim’s posts twice too; no need to be rude about it.

    re. the ‘descriptive vs. prescriptive’ series of posts — not sure what you were hoping to see. These posts were born of an attempt to talk specifics with people whose answer to every specific case was “That’s narrative; it’s descriptive, not prescriptive.” In that climate, it seemed advisable to address the broader hermeneutical issues before getting down to cases. But I’ll humor you if I can: was there a particular passage or issue you wanted me to raise?

    re. the meaning of porneia — I don’t see where you get off excluding adultery, especially if you’re including premarital unchastity on the grounds that the OT permitted the dissolution of the marriage in that case. That’s pretty weak, brother — the OT required the death by stoning of the unchaste partner, which was also the penalty for adultery — the marriage dissolved in either case, because the sinning partner was dead. No reason for Jesus to include the one situation and leave the other out, is there?

    So you conclude by insisting that God only allows divorce in the case of premarital unchastity, but you’ve simply not proved your point, and overlooked some pretty serious objections in the process.

    You also keep saying that the reproductive act could, in itself, make a marriage, but you certainly haven’t proven that. Moreover, you’re wrong, as Ex. 22:16-17 (the parallel to De. 22:28-29) shows: a man who sleeps with an unbetrothed young woman is required to take her as his wife, BUT her father can refuse to give her to him. No divorce is required; Dad just says ‘no.’ The sex act doesn’t constitute the marriage, it just makes the marriage compulsory, as long as Dad approves.

    I’ll let Jim defend his concerns about your desire for a rule-based approach. Let me put my concerns this way: There are rules. The rules don’t cover all cases, and it takes wisdom to address situations that aren’t explicitly covered by the rules. (I’ll cheerfully provide some examples, if you like.) But my concern is that you’re not reading the rules very well, and it doesn’t make sense to talk about the hard cases when you’re not getting the easy ones right.

  14. Todd says:

    Exudus 22:16 “If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. 17 “If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins.

    Give me some more on this one. Is there somewhere else in other Jewish literature that elaborates/explains how they handled this one; because I’m not seeing what you are seeing in it? There must be some more somewhere.

    It speaks to me of there being a difference between the two verses (it and De 22:28-29) only in the amount of money exchanged? Help? Thanks.

    And eventually I will be curious to know how you handle the idea expressed by Paul in 1 Cor. 6:16 of “joining to a prostitute and becoming one…” 1Cor.6:16 Temporary or permanaent?

  15. Tim Nichols says:

    In other words, the seducer pays the full bride-price regardless; no seducing her then asking for a discount because she’s not a virgin. And whether he gets married or not isn’t up to him, it’s up to her dad. It’s a sort of shotgun wedding; it’s assumed they’ll marry, but Dad has veto power. If Dad vetos the match, the seducer pays the full bride-price anyhow. As in various other cases, Deuteronomy doesn’t repeat every detail of the law previously given. Doesn’t need to; they’ve got Exodus.

    1 Cor. 6:16 says what it says. A man who has sex with a prostitute is made one flesh with her. I don’t see a direct comment in the passage on the permanence of the bond; God designed it to be permanent, and clearly severing it (it can be severed; that’s the point of the command in Mt. 19:6) is like cutting off a body part (hence the “one flesh” thing). But you’re assuming that “one flesh” equals married. Where does the Bible say that? The Bible clearly tells us that marriage is the only proper context for the one flesh relationship, and that it’s a necessary condition for marriage. But a sufficient condition? Who says?

  16. Jim Reitman says:


    In response to your inquiries/concerns about divorce and remarriage, the place of grace, and the specific texts you brought up, Tim has probably articulated things better than I, and I pretty much agree down the line with his responses.

    In reply to your more specific questions to me about certain texts and related implications for divorce and remarriage: My initial response to your post was an attempt to broaden the discussion to focus on God’s heart behind the Law, as illustrated in Jesus’ own handling of the Law in the Sermon on the Mount—which is the foundational text behind Matt. 19. In the Sermon Jesus aimed to take the whole discussion “up a notch” from Sinai to a New Covenant perspective (“hearts of flesh” vs. “hearts of stone”), including the heart question behind divorce and remarriage. The reason I didn’t really address the details of your position is that it seemed to be based on a flawed view of marriage (and its purpose in the eyes of God) and to miss much of Jesus’ heart behind the Law. The elaboration of your position in your last response to me basically confirms for me that I really didn’t miss you as much as you think—your response indeed betrays an inordinately rule-based approach to decision-making.

    Questions of whether or not to “legitimize” divorce in individual cases only make sense to me in settings where people have already proven their hearts are in steadfast rebellion toward God and prefer their own pleasure or comfort, or (as is most prevalent in our culture) their freedom more than intimacy with a Holy God who wants them to be Holy like He is. This is really the whole telos of the Sermon on the Mount.

    Thus, when I’m in a counseling situation, my first concern is to try to discern whether hearts are earnestly seeking His truth or are still in rebellion against this basic priority for the people of God. The issue of legitimizing divorce must needs take a back seat until issues of the heart are first brought to the fore and dealt with. Rule-based decision-making is perfect in situations where people are not really interested in a more intimate relationship with God; thus, Law “fits the bill” as an appropriate response to their rebellion and lip-service as Christians, because their hearts are hard and won’t bleed.

    When I discern a heart that is capable of bleeding, rule-based or “prescriptive” decisions are totally premature. A rule-based approach only makes sense when “the shoe fits” at the heart level (to mix metaphors). I didn’t hear you first deal with that in your own construct, so it didn’t (and still doesn’t) make sense for me to answer your more specific questions as to my own “guidelines” (read: “rules”) on how I would handle particular situations or texts.

  17. Todd says:

    Actually Tim, it would be the reverse of a shotgun marriage with instead of a forced marriage due to unplanned pregnancy, it would be a denial of marriage. If there were a father with a shotgun in these two passages in Ex. Or Deut. it would be to disallow, not enforce, the marriage.

    And do you realize what statement these two verses make, if you are going to pair them together, as to what ‘laying with’ and ‘joining to’ does to fulfill grounds for a subsequent marriage; and then, the impossibility of divorce from that marriage? As I was getting at in the very beginning, this is just one small representation in scripture, but provides for us a very real example of how the Lord wants us to view His desire for the use and permanence of marriage, and, the unavailability of divorce for reasons other than the marriage should not have existed in the first place.

  18. Todd says:


    In 1 Cor. 6:16, or the whole thought in 1 Cor. 6 which that belongs to, expresses these things in particular.

    * He uses these two ideas in the same phrase, ‘one who joins himself to a prostitute’ and ‘one who joins himself to the Lord’, seemingly for the purposes of comparison and subsequently for the purposes of the likening of some attribute(s) of one to some attribute(s) of the other, at least one attribute, if not the main one, appears to be the ‘permanence’ the Lord appears to desire for both acts of joining. It seems to me to be a direct comparison. In essence he says, the man and the prostitute will become one flesh just as the one flesh in the Lord’s marriage proclamation. (16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.”).

    * He refers to that place in a man’s body which he sins against as that same place in which the Lord dwells. He’s saying there is sin going on in specifically that place. That is sobering. Even if prostitution were legal in Rome or elsewhere, the sin being indulged in is an act that has much deeper and specific spiritual and moral/spiritual implications than washing us and going home.

    In this scenario as well, there has been a “oneness” created that only God can create and only God can tear usunder. It is not even clear that man CAN separate the union. In Jesus’ saying, “Let no man separate”, He may just as directly telling us we ‘shouldn’t’ as telling us that it is impossible for us. Not for man to end the marriage but to end the bond that is still there.

    This is indeed what Paul appears to be telling us.

    And then you go on to explain how it is “severed”, purely from your imagination. Did God intend for us to envision a physical severing of the flesh when speaking of something which He has already taught us goes beyond the flesh. You would have us envisioning the cutting off of the “body part”.

    If you are going to say, “God designed it to be permanent,” and then say, “But…”, you are really beginnig to contort things. You can’t do that. Either He designed it to be permanent or He didn’t.

    This is the passage in Corinthians:

    [1 Cor.6:12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. 14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute ? May it never be! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.” 17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. 18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own ? 20 For you have been bought with a price : therefore glorify God in your body.]

    Here is something other than my own words for you to consider.

    There is the realist-objective view. The term “realist” signifies the claim that whether a marriage is or is not a marriage is not up to men and women to rule on: the reality is there in the cosmos, in the nature of things, whether we like it or not. The phrase which the marriage ceremony often quotes from Jesus, “What God has joined . . .” points to a status which is like life. It is not revocable on the ground of insufficient quality. A person who falls short of ideal personhood is not therefore to be killed. Likewise, if a marriage falls short of what it should be, this is regrettable but it does not suspend the marriage; it rather heightens the urgency of the duty of restoration.

    The most striking biblical base for this view is the argument of Paul against consorting with a prostitute, I Cor. 6:15. Paul does not argue (as the “new morality” fad of a few years ago could) that the relationship with the prostitute is wrong because it is superficial, manipulative, or fails to take her seriously as person. The reason is the opposite. The relationship of a man with a prostitute is described by the same phrase “one flesh” which Jesus had applied to the divine purpose for marriage. Whether the liaison be legal, whether it be morally sanctioned, whether it be intended for permanence or not, it is still “one flesh”; that is why it is wrong. Far from disqualifying such a relationship because it fails to meet the requirements for a marriage, Paul condemns it because it does.John {Howard Yoder while attempting to assist in framing a scholarly discussion nationally a little over a decade ago}

    This is all something to think about for now.
    Thanks, Todd

  19. Tim Nichols says:

    I’m not going to quibble with you about the use of the term “shotgun wedding.” I meant that the young man would be forced to marry her unless the father refused him.

    You’re missing the whole point of the inability to divorce in such cases. Divorce is not forbidden in these cases because they’ve already had sex. Divorce is unavailable in the case of a forced marriage because it was a forced marriage. Otherwise, the man could marry her as required, and then divorce her the next day. However, in the case of a normal (i.e., not forced) marriage, he could still divorce her, even long after the marriage was consummated.

  20. Tim Nichols says:


    If you are going to say, “God designed it to be permanent,” and then say, “But…”, you are really beginning to contort things. You can’t do that. Either He designed it to be permanent or He didn’t.

    God designed man to live in worshipful harmony with Him, BUT man sinned, and continues to sin, and that really contorts things. God does give man the ability, although not the right, to depart from His created design. Marriage is designed to join man and woman permanently, BUT because of hard hearts, God permitted man to separate what He had joined: “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce.” In that case, the marriage is really dissolved, witness the fact that the woman was free to remarry (De. 24:1-4). Jesus does not say “What God has joined together, man cannot put asunder;” He commands, “What God has joined together, let man not put asunder.”

    This is damaging; it is the tearing apart of two people who have become one flesh. God takes it very seriously, and He hates it. Nonetheless, He allows it in cases of porneia — and a man sleeping with a prostitute would certainly qualify.

    Re. the Yoder quote — he’s mostly right. But he makes the same mistake you do, taking ‘one flesh’ as a sufficient condition for marriage. The Bible never says that.

  21. Todd says:

    I’m not asking you to quibble with me. You got the “shotgun wedding” exactly backwards. That would not be quibbling.

    And yes, like you said, “The man was ‘forced’ to marry her…”. Why? One thing; because he had joined to her. Maybe you can tell me why else?

    There are many other options available than forcing lifelong marriage. God chose this way because he needed to make good on His establishment of number one: The substance and permanence of marriage and number two: The substance and permanence of divorce. Substantive and permanent. In this case anyway.

    Just needed to get you through those passages and find out what your reasonings were.

  22. Todd says:

    When God hardened their hearts, it was specifically the nation of Israel. Does that decree go on through today? I never imagined. Even then the allowances for Israel were stated and seem to refer to premarital events. I’ll get there.

    Re. the Yoder quote — he’s mostly right. But he makes the same mistake you do, taking ‘one flesh’ as a sufficient condition for marriage. The Bible never says that.

    Well, that depends how you answer this question which was posted in the last comment.

    And yes, like you said, “The man was ‘forced’ to marry her…”. Why? One thing; because he had joined to her. Maybe you can tell me why else?

  23. Todd says:

    Actually, the decree for Israel way well go on through the present day. That decree was due to a specific hardened done to them. Not us.

    (just a sidenote:)From the follwing passage we can conclude that:

    * Jesus forbids Divorce. (vs.3-7)
    * Jesus tells us why He forbids divorce. (vs.3-7)
    * God forbid divorce from the beginning. (v.8)
    * He still forbids divorce except for one thing, porneia. He does not mean adultery or He would have used the word for adultery(moichiea). Did He misspeak? He either just instituted a vague new loophole that would go with nothing else He has ever said, even conflict with everything else He’s ever said on marriage and divorce,or, poreia means something specific, even already known, that we can confirm elsewhere in the bible.

    1 When Jesus had finished these words, He departed from Galilee and came into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan ; 2 and large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there. 3 Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all ?” 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, 5 and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH ‘? 6 “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” 7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY ?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives ; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9 “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery .”

  24. Tim Nichols says:


    I said ‘sort of shotgun wedding’ and meant the point of analogy to be the fact that the offending man would be required to marry the woman. Didn’t ever intend to push the analogy any further; if it doesn’t work for you, feel free to ignore it. Jeepers. And on to matters of substance…

    The OT Law does not confine the conditions for divorce to premarital events. It just never says that, period. Why do you keep acting like it does? Nor does Jesus confine His “except for porneia” qualification to premarital events. Didn’t we have that conversation already?

    As to the definition of porneia, you’re painting yourself into an impossible corner. Jesus undoubtedly used exactly the word He meant to use — thus far, I’m right with you. Therefore, you say, He didn’t use moicheia because He didn’t mean adultery. Well and good; but He used a MUCH MORE GENERAL WORD instead, a word that would include adultery as well as a number of other possibilities. But you would have us believe that Jesus used porneia because He meant something very specific by it, something much more narrow than the actual usage of the word, something not actually stipulated in the text. I’d ask you your own question: Did Jesus misspeak? If he meant “except when it was immoral to marry that person to start with,” how come He didn’t just say that? Would it have been so hard? Paul certainly found a way to express that situation, when that was what he meant to talk about. Why couldn’t Jesus?

    And you’re not exactly swimming in evidence for your definition of porneia, either. The best you’ve had so far is “it is thought that Jesus is referring to…” People think lots of things. It is thought that Tupac is still alive. It is thought that Elvis was seen in a Las Vegas 7-Eleven last Tuesday night. It is thought that Jesus was referring to marrying one’s father’s wife. Come on: “it is thought” is the academic equivalent of “sources close to Britney say….” It barely rises to the level of good gossip; it’s not even close to being an argument. Naming your source is quite literally the least you could do. Beyond that, it would be nice to hear an argument or two.

    Quit assuming what you’re trying to prove, roll up your sleeves, and do some work.

  25. Todd says:


    Oh yeah, I will. But don’t let me get too far ahead of you. You still have a couple of easy questions to work on while you wait. I see you took the “maybe” exemption on this one below.

    And yes, like you said, “The man was ‘forced’ to marry her…”. Why? One thing; because he had joined to her. Maybe you can tell me why else?

    Please cover this one.

    (and we’ve established that ‘God’ was the One behind the ‘shotgun’)

    Tim I challenge any dentist that this is not harder than pulling teeth.

    Regardless, I will cover porniea here next.

  26. Tim Nichols says:


    There was never any argument about who was behind the shotgun. Did you seriously think that there was?

    Of course the man was joined to the woman — Paul’s point in 1 Cor. 6 as well. But again, that doesn’t constitute a marriage; rather the Law forces him to marry her after he illegitimately joined himself to her. There are also social considerations that enter here under the heading of “love thy neighbor.” No longer being a virgin, the young woman would be effectively unmarriageable in that society. Since the young man in question helped create that problem, he is responsible for solving it.

    But don’t let me get too far ahead of you.

    Wow, really? This is like a couch potato refusing to go to the gym because he’s worried that he might get those ugly pop-out veins that bodybuilders have. You’re not even moving yet, dude; sufficient to the day is the evil thereof. You have a few key points you need to prove: that the OT law only allows divorce for premarital events only, that Jesus did the same, and your novel definition of porneia. Without these, you’re dead in the water, and from where I’m sitting, you’ve done nothing with any of them. If you hadn’t zapped me on the shotgun wedding thing that we weren’t even arguing about, you’d have made no progress at all.

    Worry about getting somewhere first; then worry about whether I can keep up.

  27. Todd says:


    I’d ask you your own question: Did Jesus misspeak? If he meant “except when it was immoral to marry that person to start with,” how come He didn’t just say that?

    He did. That word was precisely how they referred to a marriage that was not legal in the first place. Or so it is my understanding.

    What to do with gentiles, or Jews, coming in with those sorts of marriages was a problem in the front of everyone’s mind. They were marriages which were forbidden by the law, and they needed a divorce to be made right. This gets touched on further down the page.

    Of course my whole argument is that Jesus used exactly the word He meant by saying “porneia”. You agree with that, only, you are attributing to it a broad general sense that you can give no specific parameters to.

    So we look at that finally.

    I’m trying to come up with legitimate questions and give them legitimate answers. What you do with them will be your privilege. No hard core debate to follow here. Not too many scathing conclusions. Hopefully just some sound reasoning to build on.

    Since this is a little more of a monologue on my part than I had hoped for, I’m going to try and finish up here. Probably not without going pretty quiet here until early next week.
    Here is Yoder’s project on seeking the contemporary views on the meaning and permanence of marriage. He brings to the issue a clear reasoning ability with the desire to lead form legitimate questions to answers that honor all of scripture. Not a lot different no doubt than most of us.

    He does a good job here of laying out things that need to be dealt with in understanding and coming to agreement on what to do with the word ‘porneia’ as stated by Christ in Matt.

    * If Christ gives us a long list of possiblities with ‘porneia’, as some of us think, then we can always find one that will work to legitimize any divorce. Immorality can be made to work in just about any case. But then we wind up defining marriage as having the permanence of lasting until one of the members wanders off and becomes interested in someone else. That would be an inconsistent and willy-nilly new arrangement put in place by the Lord.

    And, if one desires to remarry, then, just find a way to freely rationalize that the former partner is not a believer at all, or at least not a good enough one; and there, you’ve just legitimized any remarriage. Reasoning, perhaps, that such a former partner should not be able to deprive the other of the blessing of another marriage, and Christ will forgive us all anyway. No matter what we do.

    The permanence of marriage turns to lip service. A mockery.

    In that arrangement just about any divorce becomes legitimate. All we have to do is find the right Christian counselor to let us know that our heart ‘is’ for the Lord, and is not resisting Him. Not hard. We will find one somewhere to bless our divorce.

    Of course, our heart is for the Lord when we do what the Lord says, and against it when we don’t.

    Oh, we fight like mad to decide in the most godly way possible as to whether the marriage can or should go on, but, the final decision is ours and the Lord is just, neutrally, standing in the background ready to accept whatever our better judgment decides. Right? And, either way, offering His blessing?

    Does Jesus decidedly offer a prohibition right there in scripture and then follow it in the same thought with a broad approval? Man, I hope so, but I doubt it. So I have to look at it some more.

    But I’m not going to do that until next week. Oh, I might cheat, but what follows deserves a little of your digesting. And I’m happy to set aside plenty of time for it.

    So knowing how I like to repeat myself:

    • We can see that divorce has not been allowed from the beginning.

    • Was allowed for a while under a certain economy, and then prohibited again.

    • We are able to see when the Pharisees asked Jesus, “asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all ?” that Jesus’ reply was a negative. Then the Pharisee said, “Well why then…?”, and Jesus answered back that that was then and this is now, except. . . for the reason of “porneia”.

    An earnest mind would conclude that it’s meaning (porneia) was something that would not contradict what Jesus had just said, and not stop searching prematurely.

    Before we go any further, instead of the long version in my own words, I’m going to save you the headache and let John Yoder in his words, frame these simple ideas regarding the meaning of the word ‘porneia’ as used here(Matt.) and elsewhere in scripture. These are all simple and well framed questions that would spring from just about any bible students curiosity regarding the handling of the word ‘porneia’ in the context in which Jesus uses it. Maybe a little longsufferring required here, maybe not.


    We have already indicated the doubts which must be raised textually about whether the two clauses usually referred to as “exception clauses” may properly be taken to mean what the essentialist/legal position makes of them: namely authorization to annul a marriage by virtue of a sin committed against it. But if the Realist view is to hold, there still must be a possible correct interpretation of this text. Is it a fluke in the Gospel text? Or can it be respectfully interpreted as a consistent expression of the realistic view?

    Such an explanation has been proposed, in quite independent studies of the issue, by scholars with no sectarian axes to grind:

    John Dominic Crossan, OSB,”Divorce and Marriage in the New Testament”, in W.W.Bassett, ed., The Bond of Marriage, Notre Dame University Press, 1968, pp.1-40. Crossan credits earlier advocates of the same view: Bonsirven, Leeming, Dyson.

    H.Baltensweiler,”Die Ehebruchsklausel bei Matthaus,” Theologische Zeitschrift, XV, September 1959, pp.340-56.

    Proceeding along different paths, both authors reach essentially the same conclusion, which I here summarize. We begin by weighing the significance of the fact that this “exception clause” is found only in Matthew, whereas the general teaching of Jesus on the subject as given elsewhere in the New Testament (I Cor. 10:7ff, Mark 10:1ff.,Luke 16:1ff.) has no such qualification. Whether we understand or interpret this as meaning that the writer(s)/editor(s) of the traditions in the first Gospel himself added an interpretative remark to the tradition, in order to fit it to the specific situation of his readers, or that he and the other gospel writers preserved different original sayings from Jesus himself, makes no difference for present purposes. In any case Matthew (the book) has special reasons for including these modifying clauses. Therefore their meaning must be understood within the context of Matthew’s special editorial and pastoral interests, which are generally agreed to be concerned for the discipline of early Jewish-Christian churches before the end of the first century. Matthew’s position is generally more demanding than that of the other Gospel authors.

    The core of the problem is to grasp the precise meaning of porneia, the term variously translated “fornication” and “adultery.” I noted already that there is a specific term moicheia referring specifically to marital infidelity, so that porneia is least likely to have just this meaning. Is there any way of knowing more directly just what it might have meant in Matthew’s own context — i.e., not in NT language as a whole but in the context of conservative Jewish-Christian ethical thought? Baltensweiler, Crossan, et al. are not trying to dodge an issue but to understand the precise meaning which the term really had for the author and his first readers. The root meaning cannot be an act of adultery, since there is another word for that. It means “sexual impropriety”; but of just what kind? Two observations help us answer this.

    A. One of the evident possible meanings of porneia (as well as of its Aramaic/Hebrew equivalent zenuth in rabbinical moral usage) was the status of incestuous marriage, such as that of a man with his father’s wife, which Hebrew law forbade, but in which a proselyte to Judaism may already have been living at the time of his conversion to Judaism. The more rigorous rabbinical school of Schammai demanded that such a marriage be annulled, while the more permissive Hillel and Gamaliel would permit such proselytes to remain thus married.

    B. In early Christian literature, apart from Matthew’s Gospel, the witness closest to the Matthean context is the reporting in Acts on the relations of Jewish and Gentile Christians in the missionary work of the Apostles. There we read that the community at Jerusalem formulated a four-point recommendation, later called by some an “apostolic decree,” for the Gentiles “to keep” (Acts 15:20ff., 21:25ff). The four points are attributed to Moses (15:21). They are on the whole rather ritual than moral prescriptions.
    These same four points occur in a specific set of prescriptions said to apply not only to Israelites but also to sojourning strangers (i.e., gentiles) in Leviticus 17-18. There is little reason for doubting that the reference to “Moses” meant the Leviticus text, as a precedent which it made good sense to appeal to in order to throw light on the degree to which non-Israelites might appropriately be asked to conform to Israel’s ritual regulations.

    Since the Jerusalem Christians were very faithful Jews, it should not be surprising that a decision of the council in Jerusalem should have appealed to such a Mosaic basis. It would be normal to expect that such a basis would have been called upon in a place where the Law was dealing with non-Israelites. It seems then like more than co-incidence that the requirements of Leviticus 17-18 touch on four items:

    1) sacrifices offered to idols,

    2) meat from animals killed without being bled,

    3) blood, and

    4) incestuous marriage. In the Acts text the meanings are the same for the first three of the four items. Would this not lead one to hypothesize that the remaining items are probably also parallel, so that the porneia of Acts 15 would be explained by the marriage with one’s own kin which is condemned in Leviticus 18?

    But then it would follow that porneia would refer not to just any kind of sexual misbehavior, and specifically not to adultery against an existent marriage. Adultery is always forbidden, on general moral grounds. There is no reason to drag just one particular ethical issue into the letter from Jerusalem to the gentiles. What it most logically refers to is marriages tolerated by hellenistic gentile usage but forbidden by Leviticus. Rather than mixing moral and ritual concerns, the “apostolic decree” is then all “ritual,” and all on the theme of Jewish/Gentile relations. One of the adaptations to Jewish law which could thus be asked of Gentile believers would be the dissolving of marriage relationships between relatives which are not allowed by Leviticus. Such a divorce would then be the one exception which is permitted to the permanence of the marital tie. Its basis is clearly in no way a moral offense on the part of a “guilty partner”; it is the annulment of a marriage which should not exist.

    C. Putting the pieces together, it would seem to follow that the moral tradition recorded in Matthew’s “exception clauses” was a faithful application of Jesus’ basic realist rigor to the context of moral discipline in missionizing Jewish churches. Matthew’s churches were choosing the more rigorous option, and therefore accepting such a pre-existent incestuous union as a case — and the only case — where a marriage bond may be loosed, because its continuation is taboo or a shame. Jesus’ words do not rigorously say even now that such a union must be dissolved, but at least they open the door so that it may be, and thereby place no check on the demands of the “judaizers” who would be challenging the marriages of proselytes.

    D. This synthesis gives the best way to understand the “incest” of I Cor. 5, where Paul writes about a man living with his father’s wife. The culprit in question would hardly have been tolerated by the church, and the congregation would hardly have written to ask Paul about the case, if the man had not made a case for himself. Then the relationship must not have been simply completely disorderly. It was most likely a legal marriage, allowed by local custom though forbidden by Roman law for Roman citizens (which would be Paul’s point in saying that “even the heathen do not act this way”).

    E. A tract by James Graham circulated long ago by the Mennonite Publishing House offered another possible interpretation of the exception clause. Graham pointed to the assumption which is implicit in Matthew 1 that it would have been normal or proper for Joseph to “put away” his betrothed Mary, between the time of their betrothal and the consummation of their marriage, on the ground of her apparent infidelity. The term “put away” is the same in the annunciation account and in the exception clause. Thus it could also be, in the language of Matthew, that the exception clause could apply to a case where a marriage had been promised but not consummated. Then the promise to marry could be broken by the groom on the grounds of evidence of fornication (i.e., pregnancy) prior to consummation. It made sense in the narrative for Joseph to be considering that. This argument differs in detail from the one we have found more convincing above, but it still agrees with it at the crucial points:

    1) The exception clause must be interpreted as expressing a higher, not a lower regard for the permanence of legitimate marriage.

    2) It cannot be admissible to authorize the dissolution of a marriage by the simple act of sinning against it.

    3) It assumes a “realist” view of the marriage bond.

    The OT Law does not confine the conditions for divorce to premarital events.

    No, but like I said, it was pretty well spelled out there without a lot of room left for things which were not spelled out.

    Since the N.T. is clear on divorce, the O.T. on divorce is left.

    Hopefully I’ll have something edifying to say on that that fits with the rest of things. If it’s not edifying enough just to say divorce (from a legitimate marriage) is always sin then I guess I’ll just have to press on.

    Like I said Tim I’m not going to stick around and carry on a monologue. Hasn’t been a monologue, but I’m reassuring you just in case it turns into one. So take heart.

    You’ve got a church to run; a living to make. I don’t need to get in the way.

  28. Todd says:

    Thanks Tim.

  29. Tim Nichols says:


    Funny that your whole argument should hinge on Yoder, after all your bluster at Jim about how this discussion is going to be about Scripture and not about our favorite commentators. Remember how you said,

    The following may not be your type of discussion; your cup of tea. Setting aside our commentaries, journals, favorite evangelical expositions and instead, thinking for oneself, is not everyone’s favorite way to talk about these biblical questions. That is finally where it needs to end up though. Just to warn you. Don’t try to make this type of discussion your thing if it is not. Neither of us have time to waste.

    You made a real fool of yourself there by not knowing who you were talking to; you’re making it immeasurably worse now by turning the discussion into the very thing you said it wouldn’t be. I was you, I’d apologize to him — you were snotty and rude when you had no reason to be, and as is now apparent, you were also being quite hypocritical. A word to the wise, if you can hear it.

    And on to Yoder:

    Dude, if Yoder’s exegesis is right, then his conclusions are all wrong. If Yoder is right about the correspondence between Acts 15 and Leviticus 17-18, and then about the link between that and Matthew, then “porneia” means “the proscribed sexual practices of Lev. 18.” That includes not only various forms of incest, but also sexual relations during the menstrual cycle (v. 19) adultery (20), offering your kid to Molech (21), homosexuality (22), and bestiality (23).

    Far from saying that divorce is only lawful in cases where there ought to have been no marriage to start with, it justifies divorce in the case of incest, adultery and a number of other perversions, which is to say that porneia has a very general range of meaning…which I’ve been saying all along. That’s what the linguistic evidence has always said, not that you’ve ever interacted with it.

    Look, I sympathize with your desire to support marriage, and I agree with you that there are too many ‘Christian’ counseling whores out there who will take your money and tell you that God is pleased with your divorce proceedings. It’s all too true, and those people need to be stopped.

    But you’re not going to fight that effectively by trying to make the Bible forbid things that it just doesn’t. I don’t usually tell people to go read other things I’ve written, but in this case, I’d suggest you read my post on crawdad theology, because you’re a classic case of it.

  30. Todd says:


    “Funny that your whole argument should hinge on Yoder, after all your bluster at Jim about how this discussion is going to be about Scripture and not about our favorite commentators.”

    As you will see in several moments, I leave you with nothing left to support your exemption with, and there is nothing of Yoder or anything he mentioned in it. And I knew very well who Jim was, he’s a doctor of some sort (I’m pretty sure it’s medical), I’ve seen his writing (academic writings of that sort are a dime a dozen, here today and gone tomorrow), I am well aware of his blogging style, and was apparently accurate my uncomplicated assessment of what he had said. If not he could easily have told me otherwise. If he had anything clear or relevant to say he surely could have done that. Otherwise he was just going to be in the way. Heavy bloviating with little relevance? What seems to me as a sort of intellectual self-gratification used to mainly just show off and/or confuse an issue? It was his to prove otherwise. Typical fun day out blogging for him? We see it all the time. Not Jim but everywhere. And it doesn’t work. And unfortunately, I don’t blog just to come out and gab or be dysfunctional.

    But Yoder? Yoder was a pivot man there to serve all sides. You missed that whole concept. You might wish that the issues were not so coherently and objectively framed? So your wiggling has turned to complaining now. What surprise there? You have a large challenge before you in keeping afloat a teaching of yours on divorce that relies entirely on six words in the bible.

    —You made the assertion in “Descriptive, not Prescriptive” Part 3, that “The exception He allows, in cases of adultery, is also in harmony”, and concluded in your comment later with,“Jesus legitimizes divorce”.

    It didn’t harmonize with what I knew. The long and the short of it is that it sounds like you want to try to still prop marriage up as something God has ordained as permanent after you just ripped its insides out.

    But more fairly to you, my disagreement was simply this:

    * I asserted that Jesus did not allow adultery as an exception: because He does not ‘say’ adultery:He had that word at His disposal and did not use it. He ‘did not’ say it; therefore, we would have to look ‘elsewhere’ for evidence that He meant it.

    We are left having to use our imagination. And that is not being very “academically correct”.

    * Second, He could NOT have said ‘adultery’ without contradicting Himself. So we can be assured that He also somehow did not mean to say “adultery”. The the only way He could grant a divorce to an adulterer, since adulterers were put to death, was posthumously. ‘Adulterers’ were ‘put to death’, not rewarded with a divorce. He was not changing the Law reagarding adultery there in front of the Pharisees; because it remains a part of the Law to this day as a reminder to us that adultery is sin. The Pharisees knew it. And so can we.

    There was no one there after an adulterous affair left to divorce.

    So that excludes any exception for adultery.

    Now, ‘what’, exactly is He ‘accepting’, and how can we know what ‘it’ is?

    Nothing. He’s not excepting anything. Yoder was wrong. There is no ‘what’.


    Here’s what (y)our clause actually says:

    * What it actually says. . . is what it says. Little surprise there.

    * Jesus warned against making “her commit adultery”. He is singularly addressing making a wife commit adultery by divorcing her.

    The “but I say to you” changes previously ‘allowed divorce’ by the husband back to ‘no divorce allowed’, and that by threat of a man making his wife an adulteress (or eligible to be put to death). The exception is, if through unchastity, she makes herself an adulteress. That is the only way he does not make her commit adultery. She has already commited it.

    That is both literally consistent and most importantly, scripturally consistent.

    The reasoning is the simple part; it’s deprogramming you that will be the hard part.

    Look at it again Tim because I will be back with a lengthy explanation.

    said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE ‘; 32 but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery ; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

    Out of all your complaints, if you thin you still have any useful ones that I have not done justice to, then let me know. I don’t see any.

    Thank you.

  31. Tim Nichols says:


    You’ve missed Jim completely. You scorned him for no good reason; you were completely unjust, and now you want to justify yourself on the grounds that it was up to him to prove that he didn’t deserve it. You didn’t love your neighbor well enough to bother to find out who you were talking to; it was, and is, a folly and a shame to you (Prov. 18:3). You still don’t care to find out who you were talking to, and won’t hear correction on the point. He didn’t back off because you flummoxed him; he gave up on talking with you because he foresaw that the conversation wasn’t going to go anywhere; that’s what wisdom does (Prov. 9:8). I am younger than he, and alas, slower to see this stuff coming.

    I would be happy to continue this discussion of marriage with an honest interlocutor, a man of good character. It would be a productive and helpful conversation on both sides. I hope one day the Lord brings me such a person. I will not continue it with you; the character you have manifested here simply doesn’t allow for it.

    You will perhaps tell yourself that your deft handling of our discussion of marriage and divorce has flummoxed me. You will think that I have no response to you on those points and am ashamed to admit it, and so I am finding a way to exit the conversation without admitting that I am wrong. You will be entirely wrong about this.

    Nevertheless, I invite you to think those things. Confirm yourself in your folly the more deeply, that your destruction may come the more quickly, that you may, perhaps, finally learn some wisdom.

    Do not post here again. Men of your character are not welcome on my blog.

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