Divorce And The Bible

Book Review – Divorce And The Bible – Colin Hamer

I want first to say that Colin Hamer`s book, “Divorce and the Bible” is a book I highly recommend, even though I don`t agree with all of the conclusions in the book. 

It’s not the first time I’ve recommended books I don’t agree with completely. It seems that a book can be good for a number of reasons, only ONE of which is whether or not all the conclusions it draws are entirely accurate. For a book to be ‘good,’ it should make you THINK; it should communicate clearly, state it’s opinion fairly, at least try to give recognition to the issues that people of different persuasions would have with the position. The author should also say “don`t know” when he or she doesn’t know.

“Divorce and the bible” is a worthwhile read because it presents a position not typical in Evangelical Christian circles, but that needs to be considered by those who hold tenaciously to the “2 reasons only” position so often reflected by evangelicals and fundamentalists, such as John MacArthur.

I believe the normal “2-reasons only position” on divorce and remarriage comes up short.

My opinion, by the way, is that this “2 positions only” take on the issue is the easiest one to see by citing simple proof-texts from the scriptures; but that this position only really holds up until the arguments for the position are challenged with issues from the Greek of the New Testament, issues from first century Jewish history and the like. It is also required reading as a reasoned response to some prominent evangelical Christian positions, such as John Piper and Voddie Baucham and their position on the “permanence view” of marriage, such as Daryl Wingerd – Divorce and Remarriage: : A Permanence View.

I have seen, over the years, so many people wounded by the church by other well-meaning Christians who insist that a woman who is in an abusive relationship is not allowed the privilege of entering into a meaningful committed relationship with anyone else, even if divorced, because it is “adultery,” as defined by Jesus (supposedly) in Matthew 5, Matthew 19, Mark 10 and the like. Our understanding on this issue is that Jesus was speaking in hyperbole, and speaking in such irony that it would make the Pharisees furious with him; but these reasons are not clear simply from examining 21st century translations of the Greek texts, and without understanding of the 1st century Jewish culture into which Jesus spoke.

“Divorce and the Bible” is laid out in a series of chapters; each chapter gives a summary of the salient points at the end of the chapter. Then, at the end of the book, are 5 appendices, each dealing with a particular passage of scripture which causes confusion in the discussion.

The salient principles of interpretation of the bible on the issue, as the author sees it:

  • no one passage is the whole teaching on the subject
  • unclear verses must be interpreted by the more clear ones
  • some passages may well have other ideas implied in them because those ideas are clear in other passages
  • where the NT is silent on an issue, it cannot be assumed that the OT can be ignored on the issue
  • nothing can be ruled “out” or “in” based on teaching of any early church fathers or reformers

Good principles.

Salient doctrinal conclusions worth considering (and/or different than the “2 positions” camp)

  • marriage is a covenant with gender-based roles (and different rules apply to men vs women¨)
  • sex without a covenant is NOT marriage
  • marriage is NOT a sacrament, NOT a mystical union
  • Jesus only emphasizes PRINCIPLES, and ONLY answers SPECIFIC QUESTIONS ASKED
  • divorce is NOT necessarily, in and of itself, sinful
  • the rules for grounds for divorce are DIFFERENT for men than for women
  • (in the opinion of the author) a woman may divorce for any number of reasons
  • Jesus did NOT cancel the OT rules on divorce; He ONLY clarified the ones he was ASKED about
  • divorce means both parties are free to remarry, if the divorce is for legitimate reasons
  • remarriage without “grounds” is “adulterous” (violates covenant) but is forgivable

Again, I don’t agree with all the conclusions in the book; but it does make you think. It brings points to the discussion that need to be made – rules are different for men and for women.

Ultimately, I believe that there are two other well-written and well-researched books which need to be considered carefully as helpful background in processing what the bible says to come to a proper conclusion about the issue. These books are..

And Marries Another: Divorce and Remarriage in the Teaching of the New Testament


Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context

As well as Brewer’s less technical and more practically-oriented

Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities

Both of these books are worthy opponents to the “2 reasons only” position on divorce and remarriage, and they need to be considered in the mix, because they bring other cultural considerations into the conversation; Brewer’s book, especially, touches on much of the cultural considerations and hypocrisy in the first century that need to be understood to grasp the full picture, and to understand how so much of what Jesus said was challenging (scathing) remarks to the Pharisees of his day, and not necessarily blanket statements on divorce and remarriage.

But ‘Divorce and the Bible’ by Colin Hamer is a worthwhile read because of its own internal consistency; because of its fair presentation of how it fits into the panorama of five or six major positions on the issue of divorce and remarriage; because of the fact that it is well-written, makes you think, answers well how this position answers objections about it raised by the ‘2 positions only’ crowd. People who hold that position, such as John MacArthur and Jay Adams, need to consider these issues raised in the book. Those who hold to the ‘permanence view’ of divorce and remarriage (Voddie Baucham and John Piper, for instance) need to wrestle with some of the issues raised in this book.

It seems so unfortunate that so many well-meaning people want to put other Christians in straight-jackets of theology that God never intended others to wear. This book does a valiant job of bringing worthy points to the discussion, allowing some freedom for believers to see that not everyone believes those straight-jackets need to be worn.

Last updated 2016-01-25

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When God Spoke Greek

Book Review – When God Spoke Greek

Sacred cows. We all have them. Some of us are more aware of them than others. And presuppositions. Lots of them. I stumbled lately into a reality that I had been milking some of my own when I read, “When God Spoke Greek: The Making Of The Christian Bible.

Being “schooled” in evangelical/fundamentalist circles for well over 3 decades now, my background as a Christian has always been saturated with clear presuppositions about the word of God as being reliable. I’ve done systematic theology courses at seminary level and interacted with many believers from all walks of life for a long time now. And though my faith has been tested regarding the reliability of God’s word over the decades, time and time again it has consistently proven to be a resting place, a well of fresh living water, as standard by which I am able to measure and gage all other truth.

The subtleties of my understanding of scripture as “God-breathed” have changed.

I have to confess that my understanding of what scripture being “God-breathed” means has been filled out and enriched over the years. Like many things when we first start out learning about them, we have rather simplistic, flat and one-dimensional understandings of ideas and assume the way we hear it taught to us is the way it is.

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The “Missing Link” In The Calvinist-vs-Arminian Debate

The book, “God’s Will and God’s Desire” tackles the problems in the Calvinist-vs-Arminian debate with a distinctly different approach.

The “Calvinist vs Arminian debate” has raged for millenia now. I’m not sure that many people will change their minds once they’ve dug in on a position on the whole thing. The issues are complex and people are passionate on both sides of the debate.

God’s Will and God’s Desire” is a book with a somewhat unique twist on the issue.

The target audience is the “reluctant Calvinist….”

But the person I have on my heart when I write—my target audience, I suppose—is the person I would define as “the reluctant Calvinist.” He is the Christian who recognizes that lost men do not seek God and that he came to faith in Christ because God first did a transforming work in his heart. Yet he struggles with the fact that the sovereign God of the Bible seems to desire that all mankind should come to faith in Jesus Christ, and yet chooses in His sovereignty to save only some. He reads in the Bible that the ones God chooses, He chose from before the foundation of the world. And so, though he prays for the lost to be saved, he is left wondering whether it really makes a difference in the end.

Yeah, I know. Many of you have heard it all before.

From my experience in discussing these issues with people, I all-too-often get the feeling from many a Calvinist that it’s quite frankly not our business to worry about that. God’s got it. Some almost seem to PRIDE themselves in the fact that it’s just “God’s choice.”

But when you throw the idea out there that if God is choosing some, he is, effectively, choosing to “not choose” others, the Calvinist gets right royally ticked off with you. “God isn’t condemning them. They were condemned already.

To most people, that’s a shell game. It sort of feels like Hillary Clinton regarding the whole Benghazi debacle, where she said, in response to the pinning of blame for what happened, said, “at this point, what difference does it make?

The arguments feel tired and worn. And it seems to deliberately miss the problem. It’s a hard point of contention for the Arminian. From the book:

It is hard for the Arminian to embrace the Calvinist’s God. He is a God who is passionate enough about redeeming the elect that He sets aside His rights as deity and takes on the constraints of human flesh. He then allows His own creatures to torture Him and bleed Him to death on a cross. And from God’s view, He allows it for no other reason than to appease His own wrath toward a mankind whose very nature is so hostile to His that they killed Him when they had the chance. And yet this same Calvinist God who “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” and who is now is willing, along with that, to “freely give us all things”—this same God who went to such great lengths of self-sacrifice to be able to bless His own so much—is the same God who decided in eternity past to do that only for some. The others He passes by, yet will hold them accountable for the acts that spring from a nature they are powerless to overcome. In the end, they will be in hell with the demons who fell from grace, and “the smoke of their torment [will rise] before the throne of God day and night, forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).

If someone had two children, lavishing favor and blessing on one of them, but treating the other as though he were trash, that parent would be accused of being a monster. After all, a godly parent loves his or her children unconditionally. To do nothing less than to lavish unconditional love on all of them is what God expects a parent to do. Even if one child were to despise the parent while the other child was honoring and loving, the nature of a Christian parent is supposed to be one of displaying the love of Christ to that child with the evil heart, “if perhaps God may grant repentance” (2 Tim. 2:25). If the Calvinist is right, then God is the only one who can grant repentance. If He sovereignly saves someone, they will come. If He doesn’t, they will not because they cannot. How can someone see God as being so passionate toward some and cruel toward others, when He appears to expect something better from us?

For the Calvinist to merely shift the conversation away from this problem to say that our real focus should be on the fact that none of us deserve heaven, but God gives it to some of us anyway avoids the issue as far as the Arminian is concerned.

But the book also considers the hard realities of what the scriptures say about the true nature of a lost person – the “total depravity” aspect of the human condition.

It doesn’t steer away from it at all. It acknowledges the tension.

The difference is that “God’s Will and God’s Desire” proposes a distinctly different position on what (or who) it is that determines who will and who will not be saved.

The Calvinist says God determines who will be saved; the Arminian says that each lost person is responsible to choose. The book says “sort of wrong” on both counts.

The book says who will and who will not be “chosen” is determined not by God and not by the lost man choosing salvation, but by the church.

And man, does that idea seem to tick a lot of people right off.

But it’s a worthy position to consider and it is developed pretty thoroughly in the book.

The book covers the idea that this position isn’t really “new,” so much as “not documented much historically,” but seems to ring true to a lot of people somehow.

As more and more people read it, I began to realize that there were other Christians who saw it this way, too. They just never saw it presented in this fashion before. When people would read it, it sometimes helped them make sense of some of these difficult issues. Christians with strong Calvinistic leanings usually had a particular response, too. This was something distinctly different than they had ever heard before. Many told me that it gave them a serious reason to rethink their Calvinistic views. The feedback I usually got (from Calvinist and non-Calvinist alike) was that it was an important booklet and that it needed to be published.

It’s worth a read. It is available in PDF format. But you can read it here (at least for now) online. Please check it out. I truly think it’s different and worth some thought.

Please, I invite comments – if you’ve actually taken the time to read the book.

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