A Fifteen-Year Journey, Pt. 1

Perhaps one of the greatest blessings of getting older (I turn 79 this year) is the opportunity to question youthful certainty. As I reflect now, much of my early ministry was rooted in my perceptions of absolutes and non-negotiable concepts. I learned to argue passionately with those in religious communities who disagreed with me, and frequently did so. Through the years time and life have mellowed me, certainly making me older and hopefully wiser. While non-negotiable concepts of my life still stand, they are fewer now—specifically two: Jesus Christ is Lord and the Bible is the word of God. My youthful determination to ‘get it all right’ has faded and I realize that a God who is gracious in my personal life is also gracious in my theology. On my very best day, my life and my theological views need grace. Decades of working ‘in the trenches’ have made me more tenuous in many areas of thought including the issues surrounding marriage and divorce. The ministry Lynn and I were and are involved in brought us almost weekly into the lives of good men and women struggling to do the ‘right thing’ in this area but uncertain as to what that was. My views on the topic had been rather stringent, and I began to wonder if my interpretations could be flawed. I read virtually everything that had been published on the subject in our fellowship and in other communities of faith as well. This only led to more confusion as I discovered vast disagreement on the topic. Many believed one thing but practiced another as the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy became more accepted. Surely there was a better way. Thus the journey began.

Initially I determined I would try to look at the individual biblical texts—and just the texts—without superimposing other texts as a filter. I began my study with 1 Corinthians 7 since chronologically it is the first recorded information on the marriage and divorce topic in the New Testament. Using only that text, it became quite obvious the information presented was not intended to be a theology on marriage and divorce, but rather a response to the questions Paul had been asked. Like a game of Jeopardy, we knew the answers but could only surmise the questions. Also woven into his responses were Paul’s beliefs in an early return of Jesus, his preference for a single and celibate life, and the present distress (historically a famine). Certain Greek words including unmarried, separate, and bondage begged to be restudied, as did the reason for Paul’s more tentative vocabulary as compared to his other letters. The introduction of the 2011 edition of the NIV proved to be very helpful in the translation of the chapter as I noted four changes in the reading of the text. A more subtle undertone in 1 Corinthians as well as his other letters was Paul’s early rabbinic training (Acts 22:3; Phil 3:4-6). He was a Torah educated Jew and Judaism was his default mindset. In order to correctly interpret Paul, I needed a better understanding of Torah and ancient Judaism.

According to ancient Judaism, marriage involved a change of loyalty, exclusiveness, covenant, and the provisions of food, clothing, and marital rights (Gen 2:24; Pro 2:17; Exod 21:10-11). In addition, God instructed his people not to marry foreigners and the home was to be a teaching center for the children (Deut 6:6-7; 7:3; Eph 6:4). Restudying God’s divorce from Israel and separation from Judah served as crucial background material ( Jer 3:6-10; Ezek 16:8-32; Isa 50:1; Hos 2:2-3:13) for my eventual conclusions. The Deut 24:1-4 text was essential in my future examination of the synoptic texts (Matt 5:31; 19:7; Mark 10:4).

Paul’s understanding of Torah provided a foundation for many of the teachings in 1 Corinthians 7. Based on his understanding of Jesus’s teaching, divorce was not a good option for any marriage but if it did occur reconciliation should be pursued. If an unbeliever left, the marriage was over because the elements of the Hebrew marriage (food, clothing, and marital rights) departed as well. The divorce certificate pronounced the end of the marriage and the freedom for a second marriage (Deut 24:1-4). Influenced by his views of the Lord’s return, the famine and his personal preference for singleness, his advice for everyone was to stay where they were. Circumcision and slavery further illustrated this marital concept in 7:17-24. The exception to his teaching of staying single was the issue of self-control (7:9, 37). His parting teaching for the widow to marry “only in the Lord” was based on his understanding of Deuteronomy 6 and 7. The information found in 1 Corinthians 7 was rooted in Torah, his view of the present situation or occasion, and his being trustworthy (7:25, 40).

To be continued…

A Fifteen-Year Journey, Pt. 2

A Fifteen-Year Journey, Pt. 3


  1. Dave Schnell says:

    Thank you for your hard work and your love for the truth.

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