A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

True or False? “Jesus speaks of divorce being permissible, and his reason for such is that our hearts can be hard.”

Recently we had a commenter called Phillip who responded to a post Jeff wrote on forgiveness and the cross. We gather he is a pastor because his comment began:

Jeff, thanks for your post, and all of your responses to those that have commented.
I’ll be preaching on loving our brothers this Sunday, from John 13. The issuse [sic] of forgiveness came to mind, and I stumbled onto your post.

He continued:

You wrote, “God never simply forgives sin – thus the reason for the cross – apart from His holy justice being met.”

I completely agree. I’m just hung up on this concept of us attempting to forgive (now), without the cross deeply impacting how we go about forgiving.

Doesn’t the cross impact us, as Christians? It is my reason for forgiving others, my fuel, my motivator, and my reason for loving.

I hope that makes sense.

Note: we are not implying that this fellow’s motives are evil or that he is willfully trying to cause more suffering for abuse victims. But what we want to point out, especially to him, is that his thinking here is flawed and that his words are going to do great damage by enabling abusers and further oppressing victims.

He concluded his comment as follows (the spelling & punctuation in his comment have not been altered):

Consider this: Jesus speaks of divorce being permissible, and his reason for such is that our hearts can be hard. It’s not because he wants justice to be fleshed out. Justice was fleshed out on the cross. Our inability to reconcile is a heart issue, even when is  adultery or some other crazy life crushing sin.

Then the problem, in my eyes, is people trying to force forgiveness upon the offended. Although I think they should forgive, if their hearts are hard, moral instruction isn’t going to soften their hearts. Pointing fingers at a room full of offended people and telling them how scripture calls them to forgive isn’t going to lead to forgivness (at least not good, healthy forgivness). What will? Hearing that we are all sinners. That we don’t forgive like we should. How we too have sinned. That Jesus died for our sins. That those who have been forgiven much will love much. And letting the gospel melt our hearts.

Let us dissect his propositions one by one. This will take more than one post. In a subsequent post we will dissect Phillip’s notions about forgiveness.

In this post Barb will address his first assertion:

“Jesus speaks of divorce being permissible, and his reason for such is that our hearts can be hard.”

By saying this, it is evident that this man has imbibed the menagerie of muddled ideas which is taken as divorce doctrine in most of the evangelical church. (A menagerie is a collection of wild animals kept in captivity for exhibition.)

menagerie_2

The ‘received truth’ that most pastors teach as the doctrine of divorce is actually a cobbling together of false interpretations — the wild animals — arrived at by avoiding some texts and over-focusing on other texts and mis-joining the dots. It is largely held together by the binding agent of male privilege. And it has the patina of age and tradition to give it the lustre of ‘orthodox authenticity’.

In our opinion, this man needs to read Barbara Robert’s book. We will hopefully whet his appetite by giving here the parts of the book which demolish the above notion of his. From Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion*, Barbara Roberts, pp 65-66 [boldface added in this blog post]:

Jesus said Deuteronomy 24 was given because of men’s hardness of heart. 

The teaching of Jesus indicates that men in Moses’ time were sometimes employing divorce without justification for trivial or treacherous reasons. Jesus taught that Moses gave Deuteronomy 24:1-4 in the context of men hardheartedly divorcing their wives: “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives.” (Matt. 19:8 ESV).

Jesus made this comment because some Pharisees posed him a question about the interpretation of the term erwat dabar (Deut. 24:1 ~ the Hebrew phrase is often translated ‘some uncleanness’). All rabbinic schools in Jesus’ day presumed (I would say wrongly) that Deuteronomy 24:1 designated legitimate grounds for divorce. Agreeing on this wrong presumption, the rabbis proceeded to argue over what the legitimate grounds were. Rather than taking sides in the Pharisees’ debate, Jesus tackled their belief that erwat dabar [some uncleanness] must designate legitimate grounds. He did this using a two-pronged argument:

Firstly he pointed them back to the “one flesh” principle from Genesis. … He brought up Genesis to show that the Pharisees had wrongly interpreted Deuteronomy 24. If they had given the Genesis texts their due weight, they would not have twisted Deuteronomy 24:1 into a ground for divorce.

Secondly he explained that “hardness of heart” was the reason Moses gave the passage in Deuteronomy 24. Jesus said Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives. The people with hard hearts were those divorcing their wives, which means the callous individuals in question must have been male. If we read this verse literally, without presupposition or bias, we find it was principally male hardness of heart that led to Moses’ ruling against the initial couple’s remarriage [in verse 4]. 

This is an important point because some commentators mistakenly say that Moses permitted divorce because women were hard-heartedly committing sexual sin. Often they argue backwards from the situation in the first century, where some rabbis believed erwat dabar meant nothing but adultery, and, since Jesus also allowed divorce for sexual immorality (Matt. 19:9), those rabbis must have been right. However, erwat dabar cannot simply equate with adultery committed by a wife because the Mosaic penalty for proven adultery was capital punishment. Jesus does not implicate women as the primary sinners. He does not say, “Moses, because of the hardness of their hearts [the wives‘ hearts], permitted you to divorce your wives.” Nor does he implicate Israelites in general by saying, “Moses, because of your hardness of heart, permitted those divorces.” As it stands, Jesus’ sentence specifically implicates hardhearted husbands.

Yes, Moses “permitted” the Israelites to divorce their wives, but it does not follow that either “despising a wife” [v. 2] or “finding some uncleanness in her” [v. 1] are permissible grounds for divorce. We looked earlier in this chapter at the divorce passages in Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 21. These were prescribed and affirmed in order to protect wives from serious abuse or neglect. In contrast, many of the divorces described (but not prescribed) in Deuteronomy 24:1 [or v. 2]  were merely tolerated by Moses. We know God is long-suffering towards sin, but he is neither the author nor approver of sin. Therefore we know Moses would not have approved of treacherous divorce or indulged those who wished to engage in it. Clearly Moses suffered (reluctantly tolerated) males divorcing their wives, and he issued the regulation in verse four to prevent a terrible consequence that ensued when men hard-heartedly engaged in divorce.

Deuteronomy 24:1 was NOT a law setting out grounds for divorce.  It is erroneous to think that Moses gave a law that positively allowed or condoned divorce for hardness of heart. It is erroneous to say that Jesus permitted divorce for hardness of heart. (And btw, it is also erroneous to say that Moses gave a divorce concession which Jesus later annulled. Scripture cannot be broken, John 10:35.)

Matthew 19   (7) [The Pharisees] said unto Him, “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement and to put her away?” (8) He said unto them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.
(KJ21, emphasis added)

Moses suffered Israelites hardhearted divorce taking place, but he did not condone it; he did not give positive permission for it; he did not make a concession to it. He only described it in order to regulate an abomination (Deut. 24:4) which sometimes ensued from it: the use of divorce and remarriage in a way that was analogous to pimping and prostitution (this analogy will be explained below).

Undoing the misconceptions of centuries is not easy; it takes repeated applications of the solvent of truth to dislodge false ideas from people’s minds when they have been passed down as ‘received truth’ for centuries. Truth must be reiterated, falsehood exposed and refuted time and time again, before the truth constellates firmly in people’s minds. So allow me to repeat how vital it is to pay attention to the gender specific language in Jesus’ statement in Matthew 19:8 —

He said unto them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.

Whose hearts does Jesus say are hard in this verse? It’s not the wives. It’s the husbands. The men who were divorcing their wives. Men had frequently been callously, hardheartedly divorcing their wives in Moses day — and men were still doing it in Jesus day.

Moses had prohibited the worst sequellae of men’s hardhearted divorce practices (Deut. 24:1-4). Jesus tore strips off the hard-hearted men who twisted Deuteronomy 24:1 into an excuse for themselves to toss away their wives at whim.

In effect, Jesus told the haughty Pharisees: “Moses gave this teaching in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 because of your hardness of heart. He did not license such divorce to indulge you in your inflated belief in male privilege and entitlement. He did not give formal approval to men who chose to callously discard their wives. From the beginning it was not so. If you scoundrels had interpreted Deuteronomy 24 in the light of Genesis 2, you would never have drawn the conclusions you have!”

So is it true what our correspondent Phillip says?

 “Jesus speaks of divorce being permissible, and his reason for such is that our hearts can be hard.”

It is approximately one part true and three parts false.  The part that is true is this: Jesus spoke of divorce being permissible.

The part that is not true is all the rest. Jesus didn’t give hardheartedness as a ground for legitimate divorce. He gave the example of sexual immorality as a legitimate ground for divorce (but he didn’t say it is the ONLY ground). Paul later said that desertion (and abuse is form of desertion) was another legitimate grounds.

Jesus affirmed that Moses suffered men hard-heartedly discarding their wives. Moses had described hard-hearted divorce by men in the context of drawing the line at a man remarrying the woman he had cast aside if she had been in a subsequent marriage which had (for whatever reason) terminated.

That kind of male-initiated divorce and remarriage is legal in Sharia Law, and is practised today in places where Sharia Law hold sway. The husband takes his wife to the imam. He divorces her with the imam as witness. He passes her (for a fee) to another man who marries her (with the imam as witness). The second man spends the night with her, divorces her the next day, and the first husband marries her again. This is men pimping and using women as prostitutes, but it’s dressed up as divorce and remarriage. That is the abomination Moses drew the line at!

Maybe the hard-hearted men in Moses day were not exchanging money and were not typically staying in the second marriage for only one night, but even if no money was exchanged and the second marriage lasted a reasonable time: the practice is still an abomination, largely because it so degrades women.

Jesus did not say the reason for divorce being permissible “is that our hearts can be hard.”  He did not teach that hard-heartedness is a legitimate reason for divorce. He did not use gender-mutualising language “our hearts can be hard” when discussing the subject. Rather, He castigated men who hardheartedly divorced their wives and he denounced them for twisting scripture to fabricate religious pretexts for their wicked behavior.

Woman controlling menagerie of wild animals

It’s time to deal with this menagerie!

 

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Some of the above has been adapted from Not Under Bondage* pp. 78, 89, 90, 112.

*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link

* * * *

We discuss Phillip’s notions about forgiveness here:

Some Common Wrong and Harmful Notions about Forgiveness and the Cross

29 Comments

  1. LorenHaas

    This is exactly how we teach it in our divorce recovery groups, in part due to reading, “Not Under Bondage”. Moses allowing divorce was about protecting women suffering treacherous divorce. It allowed them to remarry and prevented continued abuse by the previous husband. This understanding of Deut. 24 relieves the burden placed on many women by the self-righteous.

  2. surviving freedom

    What really stands out to me with this pastor’s comment is:

    Then the problem, in my eyes, is people trying to force forgiveness upon the offended. Although I think they should forgive, if their hearts are hard, moral instruction isn’t going to soften their hearts.

    It’s so harmful (and enables blame-shifting) when people claim that not reconciling a relationship, a victim setting boundaries, saying “no more” to the evil of abuse, or even being angry concerning the abuse … is due to her hard-heartedness. How horrible. I had been shamed for years into believing this about myself … and it played right into the abuser’s hands.

    It’s so damaging when pastors, etc. take the truth about the abuser and place the blame on the victim. In all reality, where we are at in the relationship, where we were for over 2 decades is due to his hard-heartedness towards me and mainly towards God.

    Unfortunately, for too many years my heart was open to the abuser; and it wasn’t until I closed my heart to him that my heart truly became open to God. I think that more christian leaders need to be telling people to close their hearts to repeated deception, manipulation, twistings of the truth, and most definitely those who falsely claim repentance and to be followers of God in order to deceive others and to enact their control, entitlement and pride. As long as my heart was left open and loving towards those things, it truly could not be open and loving towards God’s Truth.

  3. surviving freedom

    The more I ponder this pastor’s comments, and the charming way he goes about presenting them, it’s almost ironic and comical how he’s attempting to present his twisted logic.

    First, his comment:

    Doesn’t the cross impact us, as Christians? It is my reason for forgiving others, my fuel, my motivator, and my reason for loving.

    Now, I can understand this statement, I’m not saying it’s wrong…it is through the forgiveness of Jesus, and only in consideration of the cross, that I can forgive. However, if we are saying this in relation to the sins committed due to having a hardened heart, wouldn’t it be far more accurate to say … “Doesn’t the cross impact us as Christians? It is my reason for REPENTING OF MY SINS THAT HURT GOD AND OTHERS, my fuel, my motivator, my reason for loving.”

    He then goes on to say:

    Consider this: Jesus speaks of divorce being permissible, and his reason for such is that our hearts can be hard. It’s not because he wants justice to be fleshed out. Justice was fleshed out on the cross. Our inability to reconcile is a heart issue, even when is adultery or some other crazy life crushing sin.

    So at first you think, okay he’s getting somewhere. He’s putting the responsibility where it needs to be … on the unrepentent sinner; on the one who truly has his heart hardened towards God and the one he’s offended. That the reason for the inability to reconcile is not because of an unforgiving person, even if a person forgives 70 times 7, the relationship cannot be reconciled due to the unrepentent, hard hearted sinner. Even better, it’s wrong to label or judge a person unforgiving just because the offender is unwilling to reconcile the damage he caused.

    But NO, he then twists it back around and labels the problem being the one who has been offended.

    Can this pastor not even see how he twists his logic in order to judge the victim of an offense and excuse or minimize the huge NEED for repentance? How can he cheapen the sacrifice Jesus made for us?

  4. Song of Joy

    With a just a few, simple changes, we can turn this man’s commentary around to say just the right thing….

    [Substitutionary edits in brackets]

    [An Abuser’s] inability to [repent] is a heart issue, [especially] when [it] is adultery or some other crazy life crushing sin.

    Then the problem, in my eyes, is people trying to force [repentance] upon the [abusers]. Although I think they should [repent], if their hearts are hard, moral instruction isn’t going to soften their hearts. Pointing fingers at a room full of [abusers] and telling them how scripture calls them to [repent] isn’t going to lead to [repentance] (at least not good, healthy [repentance]). What will? Hearing that [they] are all sinners. That [they haven’t repented like they] should. How [they] have sinned. That Jesus died for [their] sins. That those who have been forgiven much will love much. And letting the gospel melt [the] hearts [of those who have ears to hear].

    • AMEN! Home run, Song of Joy.

    • kind of anonymous

      Love it!

    • and to reinforce what Song of Joy said, here it is again, without square brackets:

      An Abuser’s inability to repent is a heart issue, especially when it is adultery or some other crazy life crushing sin.

      Then the problem, in my eyes, is people trying to force repentance upon the abusers. Although I think they should repent, if their hearts are hard, moral instruction isn’t going to soften their hearts. Pointing fingers at a room full of abusers and telling them how scripture calls them to repent isn’t going to lead to repentance (at least not good, healthy repentance). What will? Hearing that they are all sinners. That they haven’t repented like they should. How they have sinned. That Jesus died for their sins. That those who have been forgiven much will love much. And letting the gospel melt the hearts of those who have ears to hear.

  5. kind of anonymous

    Hmm….not sure what to think. I don’t want to villify this brother when all he may be doing is speaking from where he is currently at. Like all of us, he’s been taught the same stuff and has many right and wrong connections made on this subject that need working through and by engaging us in dialogue he may be doing that. At least I hope that is his motive!

    My first take on his writing is that he is perhaps erroneously connecting forgiveness with reconciling. As if not reconciling equals refusal to forgive and therefore hard-heartedness and by logical result, demonstrating that one has in fact NOT been affected by the cross and is not showing the pursuing, sacrificial love of a merciful saviour. Yet most pastors or leaders have no trouble accepting that a person under church discipline cannot be welcomed back into the church until he has demonstrated repentanct sorrow and willingness to submit to what is right. And God Himself compares the church with a bride!

    Consider also the words of Jesus Himself, standing outside Jerusalem and talkking of how they stoned the prophets and killed those sent to them, of His desire to many times gather them together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but they WOULD NOT. Was Jesus hard hearted for not reconciling with the Jews or just walking in reality by accepting their choices? Most leaders have no problem with the pharisees being called a brood of vipers and being denied participation in the act of baptism, AND being told to produce fruit in keeping with repentance first. They claimed to be believers also and were the church of their day.

    So I think failure to reconcile is only a heart issue on the part of the offended against victim when the offender is truly repentant and has produced fruit in keeping with repentance that leaves no dbout that he or she is a changed person. And even then, in situations where serious kinds of evil have been done over a long period of time, one may still be wise to avoid being in harm’s way again. I think that’s something the person in the situation has to decide between her and God, I understand the questions this brother is presenting as they are ones I am asking myself but I think his conclusions represent the accepted pieties we are taught in church and are afraid to question lest we be guilty of being deceived or being rebellious. We are shut down by fear and shame, guilted into silence. The truth can stand up to scrutiny.

    • Kind of Anonymous, did you notice this part of our post? Maybe we need to give it more emphasis?

      Note that we are not implying that this fellow’s motives are evil or that he is willfully trying to cause more suffering for abuse victims. But what we want to point out, especially to him, is that his thinking here is flawed and that his words are going to do great damage by enabling abusers and further oppressing victims.

  6. For anyone reading this whose mind jumps to ‘God hates divorce’, I suggest you watch this YouTube interview I did with Mark Brown:

    Does God Hate Divorce?

  7. kind of anonymous

    Hi Barb,
    Yes, I noticed that part and am in agreement ; I was more concerned with ME not villifying him, as I hear the word pastor and think ” Oh, here it comes” and have to check myself not to immediately associate the word pastor with some very negative and unjust things, thus being totally dismissve of another person without fairly trying to hear their heart before judging. I don’t know if that part of your post needs more emphasis, beyond perhaps bolding it. I thought you guys responded fair mindedly to him without setting him up to be burned in effigy 🙂 (((( )))))

  8. Anonymous

    “Doesn’t the cross impact us, as Christians? It is my reason for forgiving others, my fuel, my motivator, and my reason for loving.”

    Guilt, shame, blame.

    “Doesn’t the cross impact us, as Christians?’ This is so accusing–trying to induce guilt and shame for those who can feel these emotions. Trying to strip us down in order to have us feel open and vulnerable which is what abusers do so that they then have no resistance when they start laying on the lies and evil. How about this question instead: “We know that the cross impacts those of us who are true Christians, but have you been taught that some people don’t ever feel shame or guilt and when they hear of the crucifixion, to them it is only meaningless words? It’s important that we understand that some people simply don’t process these fundamental emotions–fundamental to being a Christian. Because without love the Bible tells us we are nothing, and if we only love ourselves we are what 2 Tim 3 says is a signifier for being an evil one in the end times.”

    And to the other part of his statement–“It is my reason for forgiving others, my fuel, my motivator, and my reason for loving.” More guilt and shame pouring and he’s inviting us to join HIM in HIS way of forgiving. How about this instead: “My example of forgiveness comes from God and Jesus themselves. Forgiveness comes after true repentance and is something that is only able to be done through the Holy Spirit that lives in us. God and Jesus accepted those who chose to be against them, but as a result of their unrepentant heart, they are not forgiven and will go to hell. It’s hard for me to accept this but we as Christians know it is a narrow path and it’s very hard to walk it but we too accept this although it saddens us (breaks our heart) as it saddens God, that some people will choose to be against God and therefore us, we will follow our Lords example by letting them go and accepting them the way the are.”

    This person seems like the type to use “logical” sounding arguments to try to keep those of us who are able to feel love, guilt, shame and fear tied up with those who don’t feel these emotions. Because, if we all stopped making allowances for those without a conscience, stopped marrying them, stopped pretending that they were good or even logical, well, there would be nobody to keep them afloat or looking normal. As George Simon points out, it is people with a conscience who keep things going–we are the backbone of all this yet there are fewer and fewer of us carrying the weight of more and more evil ones–something’s gonna give and if we don’t start letting go of and not willingly getting involved with these people, we will be worn out and destroyed. I’m not the least bit drawn into the guilt-machine this man is turning this way–sell it somewhere else bro–we’re all full up here!

  9. standsfortruth

    Isn’t it amazing how the patristic crowd scrambles to recreate a fabricated assumption once they see the truth of Gods word emerging to free the captives. Isn’t this approach another application of sin leveling? Even Christ made a distinction between the two theives on the cross. One thief recognised His deity and by asking our Lord to remember him. Jesus replied, “today you will be with me in paridise”.
    The other thief challenged our Lord by demanding him to prove his deity. Jesus knowing his heart never replied.

  10. Lost

    Survivingfreedom, I know what you mean exactly!

    I have been shunned, blamed, criticized for my emotions when reaching out to church leaders for help, told to wait on The Lord, humble myself, to be hurt and gentle with my abusive husband, told that all men are abusers, that i wasn’t letting the Holy Spirit lead me, I was bitter, hard-hearted, not listening, needed to yield to my husband after he attacked me, was told life isn’t easy, was told I was acting like a child while in my suffering, was told others had it worse, others have joy in The Lord because they walk with Him, guilted (we’ve done all this for you and you don’t trust us?! Do you even believe in God?), if he was so bad then why did you go back to him?, God is in the business of restoration, believe in miracles, was told I refuse to take help, changes don’t happen over night, satan wants to take your kids so of course he’d do this in your marriage, how dare you suggest he’s not saved, look he repented! See? He said sorry!, etc etc etc

    Pastors, church leaders, pastor’s wives, and more.

    This post btw- how this pastor thought is how I lived for years believing. It’s incomplete- false- damaging- fluff- feel good- sound good- but really no one knows what the heck you’re really saying when you say things like he said. It’s just christian culture. And it’s BS. It’s a brand – no real hope – just popular and anyone can repeat it yet no one knows what it means. Except that it’s totally cool to blame the victim now. Because we’re all sinners so everyone’s to blame.

    Yeah my STBXH is so good at the repentant game – you should see how he’s laying it on now. Church loves him for it! He’s so real and honest. BS! Funny he never truly repented with me. The abuse always continued. I expect it always will. But…..I’m out! Over and out! My legs are shaky as I run the other way and I wish it weren’t this way (unrepentant abuser and divorce and with children) but I’m done living so ashamed and beaten down and afraid. I’m sick of hating myself because that’s what he needs to feels better.

  11. H

    Barbara, I’m a little foggy on this idea still. I’ve worked my way through your book a few times, and I’m not sure I’m getting it. Maybe you can clarify something for me.

    My understanding (in large part influenced by your teaching) is that Jesus and Moses did indeed prescribe divorce for a certain kind of hardness of heart, but that the common misunderstandings of their teaching arise from what the hardness of heart was. As you said, the Pharisees thought that it was referring to the women in Deut. 24 that they interpreted were behaving immorally, and so the husbands were permitted to divorce them. You are saying that in fact, it was not the wives allegedly doing immoral things but the men treacherously divorcing for “any reason” that Jesus was referring to as the hardness of heart. (Am I getting that right?)

    But my understanding from Deut. 21 and Leviticus 21 is that in those cases, the hardness of heart was the cruelty of men marrying wives and then losing interest in them, and therefore desiring to mistreat their wives. It seems like God commanded men to divorce their wives in those instances not because divorce is his original design, but because the alternative in those situations was to have a man mistreating his wife. So if she no longer pleases him, God deems it better for the man to divorce her than to mistreat her. So the hardness of heart is the men’s dislike of their wives that may lead to mistreatment. God is kind and merciful (to women trapped in that situation) and therefore he commands divorce as a relief and a way to prevent greater evil from happening.

    So it seems to me that taking all those things into account, God would indeed approve of divorce because of hardness of heart, the hardness referred to being the sinful and unfaithful hatred of one spouse for the other, that left unchecked, might lead to mistreatment or harm.

    This contrasts with the modern teaching that I’ve encountered that says that the “hardness of heart” he was referring to was the divorcing itself. (Therefore, if I divorce my abusive husband, I have a hard, unforgiving heart.) This misunderstanding says that God was permissive towards this thing (divorce) that he in fact considered to be sin. (Which doesn’t make sense, because God doesn’t wink at sin and let his people go on and keep doing it since well, their hearts are just hard.)

    Am I getting this right? I’d appreciate any clarification or correction. This is so confusing!

    • Hi H, sorry for taking so long to reply to your question. I’m going to quote bits of your comment and give my own thoughts in response. You said:

      My understanding is that Jesus and Moses did indeed prescribe divorce for a certain kind of hardness of heart…

      I don’t believe that Moses prescribed or condoned or approvingly permitted divorce for ‘hardness of heart.’ Likewise I don’t believe that Jesus said Moses prescribed or condoned or approved of divorce for ‘hardness of heart’.

      I believe Moses suffered (i.e. reluctantly tolerated) men divorcing their wives, but Moses wasn’t happy about the conduct of those men! Moses did not prescribe or approve or command men to divorce their wives. Moses saw that very often men were selfishly casting off their wives for no decent reason — the woman hadn’t done anything seriously wrong, but the man just chose to dump her. It is these men’s selfishness which Jesus, centuries later, described as ‘hardness of heart’
.

      I think the only reason Moses mentioned this whole business of men dumping their wives (Deut 24:1, 3) was because Moses wanted to issue a Law that if a man divorced his wife that man was NOT allowed to remarry the woman he had cast off if she had subsequently married another man and the second marriage had terminated. That’s the law you find in Deut 24 verse 4.

      You also said:

      … the common misunderstandings of their teaching arise from what the hardness of heart was. As you said, the Pharisees thought that it was referring to the women in Deut. 24 that they interpreted were behaving immorally, and so the husbands were permitted to divorce them. You are saying that in fact, it was not the wives allegedly doing immoral things but the men treacherously divorcing for “any reason” that Jesus was referring to as the hardness of heart. (Am I getting that right?)

      No, you don’t have that right.

      Firstly while Matthew 19 notes it was Pharisees who came to question Jesus and trap him, to understand that passage we need to talk about the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel, which were different schools of rabbis in Jesus’ day. The two schools argued about the meaning of ‘matter of uncleanness’ in Deut 24:1. They both claimed it was a legit ground for divorce, they just argued over what it meant. The Shammaites believed that ‘a matter of uncleanness’ meant sexual immorality. The Hillelites cut the phrase in two: they believed that ‘a matter’ meant any matter and ‘uncleanness’ meant sexual immorality.

      Neither of those schools of rabbis used the term ‘hardness of heart’. It was Jesus who first used the term hardness of heart. Jesus said that Moses had to make the law in Deut 24 verse 4 because men in Moses’ day were hardheartedly divorcing their wives. And Jesus was also implicitly criticising the rabbis of his own day, both Shammaites and Hillelites, who were all claiming that ‘matter of uncleanness’ was a lawful ground for divorce.

      Jesus was saying that the ‘matter of uncleanness’ mentioned in Deut 24:1 was not mentioned by Moses as a lawful ground for divorce at all! Jesus told them that ‘matter of uncleanness’ was simply a phrase Moses used in the case-study he was giving prior to laying down the law in verse 4.

      Some Christians claim that ‘hardness of heart’ is a lawful ground for divorce, but that is not how the Jesus used the term ‘hardness of heart’. We need to stick with how Jesus used it. Jesus only use it to point out and condemn selfish men who got rid of (divorced) their wives for no good reason. Jesus never ever said ‘hardness of heart’ is a legitimate ground for men to divorce their wives.

      God did not command cruel husbands to initiate divorce. God said in Ex 21:10-11 and Deut 21:1-14 that a wife was at liberty to initiate divorce if her husband was mistreating her. That is a very different thing from telling cruel men to initiate divorce rather than go on mistreating their wives! A mistreated wife has the freedom to choose whether or not to end the marriage, and if she does decide that the marriage is over, the only command to the husband is “let her go—let her be free”.

      I suggest you stop trying to think of the term ‘hardness of heart’ as referring to a lawful ground for divorce at all. It is that thinking which has confused you.

      • H

        Thank you so much Barbara for taking the time to reply so thoughtfully. I can see I’m misunderstanding some things from your book, so I will go back and try to read it again.

        (Quote) “That is not how Jesus used the term ‘hardness of heart.’ We need to stick with how Jesus used it. Jesus only use it to point out and condemn selfish men who got rid of (divorced) their wives for no good reason.”

        That’s a really good point. I think I was understanding and using that term differently than Jesus. It sounds like Jesus meant by that term exclusively what you have called “treacherous divorce.” I should stick with what Jesus meant.

        I think I wanted to apply my (mistaken) understanding of that term to Deut. 21 and Ex. 21 because I wish that God would prescribe divorce in cases of abuse, not merely permit it. I do see the distinction you point out though that in those Scriptures, it is not God telling men to divorce their wives but God leaving the liberty to those wives to initiate divorce and commanding the men to let them go.

        I guess I get stuck at this idea: “Moses suffered (i.e. reluctantly tolerated) men divorcing their wives, but Moses wasn’t happy about the conduct of such men.” I feel like those words apply to me if I divorce, and that makes me sad and afraid. Does God recommend divorce for me, or does he merely tolerate it? Now I feel like a second-class Christian. (Not that you make me feel that way, I just seem to get there myself if I can’t find a prescription for divorce in Scriptures.) Even 1 Cor. 7 doesn’t appear (to me) to prescribe divorce for abuse/abandonment. 😦

      • Hi H,
        the links TWBTC gave you should help, but I’ll offer this as well.

        Mose suffered (reluctantly tolerated) a man divorcing his wife for no good reason. But he drew the line at the man later remarrying the woman he had dumped, if she’d been through a second marriage after he dumped her.

        Moses approved of women divorcing abusive husbands and he told such a husbands “Let her go!” because she had every right to end a marriage when she was being abused (Ex 21 and Deut 21). So you have every right to divorce your husband. You have legit grounds for divorce. The guys Moses was writing about in Deut 24 had no legit grounds for divorce.

        Paul confirms what Moses said in Ex 21 and Deut 21. Paul does not prescibe divorce for abuse/abandonment, but he does say the abused or abandoned spouse has complete liberty to divorce if they wish to do so.

        Here are some questions you might like to ponder:
        Would you like Paul, Moses and God to PRESCRIBE divorce for someone like you?
        Would you like God to ORDER you to divorce your husband?
        Or would you prefer to be given the LIBERTY to decide for yourself whether to divorce your husband?

        Can you rest content knowing that the Bible says you will incur no sin whatsoever if divorce your abusive husband?

  12. H

    Thanks Barbara and TWBTC… really good responses. It’s becoming clearer. Just perfect timing too. I have an important meeting with my pastors to discuss this stuff later this week.

  13. David Heddle

    Very interesting post. I have to say I never understood Jesus’ hardness-of-heart reference to be anything other than an indictment on men, not women. Is it actually taught by some that it is the hearts of women that Jesus is referring too? That does real violence to the text.

    • I understand your question David, and I thank you for asking it. The scriptures relating to divorce have been so egregiously misunderstood, mostly in favour of men, and mostly to women’s detriment. And the misunderstandings are multi-factorial and inter-connected and therefore difficult to untangle. It took me three years of intense study and mental effort to come to the understanding I have articulated in my book Not Under Bondage.

      Is it actually taught by some that it is the hearts of women that Jesus is referring too?

      Yes. It’s not often said explicitly from pulpits or from teachers who pontificate on marriage and divorce that it is the hard hearts of WOMEN that Jesus was referring to. But it is very often said that Moses positively allowed, i.e., permitted divorce for hardness of heart.

      Now, most but not all victims of spousal abuse are female. And when victims of domestic abuse — who as I said are mostly wives – disclose to church leaders the abuse that their spouse has been doing to them, and when they leave their abusers and refuse to reconcile with their abusers because the abusers have shown no solid proof of having changed, and when they initiate a divorce… then the church leaders typically CONDEMN the victims. The leaders and ‘experts’ often tell the victims: “Moses allowed divorce for hardness of heart, but Jesus annulled that law of Moses: Jesus said that the only grounds for divorce is adultery. And your husband hasn’t committed adultery. Nor has he deserted you. You husband says he wants the marriage to continue! He wants reconciliation! So you are being hardhearted by refusing to reconcile – and you are sinning by refusing to reconcile with your husband.”

      That’s how it typically goes. And victims of domestic abuse are getting excommunicated from their churches for divorcing their abusers.

      • dph

        I understand. As I said in my post I believe the main reason (other than garden variety misogyny) is people (selectively) read a normative instruction and mistake it (sometimes honestly, sometimes with malice aforethought) for an inviolate rule.

        I assume (maybe I’m wrong) the bible is giving us instruction for normal marriages with normal problems: i.e., there is no easy divorce. The exception for adultery is in light of the fact that, sadly, adultery, while at the extreme, is still in the norm (the norm of bad human behavior). That is, some spouses will commit sexual sin — you can divorce for that. Abuse, on the other hand, is not normal by any means — it is pathological. It doesn’t fall under the “normal” rules. The pathological cases (like spousal abuse, or abusing the children) are not covered.

        Put differently, another thing the bible does not tell us is explicitly grounds for divorce is a husband who routinely disciplines his children by putting out cigarettes on their backs. Is the church really going to say that you can’t divorce for that, because it’s not adultery or abandonment? In no universe does that make sense.

      • Hi David/dph, thanks for your comment and sorry it’s taken so long to publish it. I’m always so busy juggling many balls in the air in the work we do, and I wanted to compose a reply to your comment that would be published at the same time I publish yours.

        Please allow me to give you a bit of education about domestic abuse. In so-called christian settings, domestic abuse is actually pretty common, much more common than I think you realise. It may be as common or even more common that adultery.

        There has been one population-based research study which tried to assess common it is in the church. That was in Bradford Wilcox’s book Soft Patriarchs New Men. Wilcox found that the rate of husbands abusing wives seemed to be pretty similar in the Protestant Church to how it is in the non-churched-affiliated community. His study dug into the data from populationibased USA studies, so it is reliable.

        Wilcox divided Protestants into “conservative protestants” and “mainline protestants” with mainline protestants being the denominations like the Episcopalians, PCUSA and United Methodists, and conservative protestants being denominations like the PCA and other Reformed denominations, South Baptists, “Bible Churches” and the like.

        Wilcox found that men who say they are conservative protestants abuse their wives at a higher rate than mainline protestant men and non-Christian men. And of even more interest was Wilcox’s finding that men who say they are conservative protestants but do not attend church all that regularly, commit domestic abuse at a markedly higher rate than men who say they are conservative protestants and attend church regularly.

        Here is the table of Wilcox’s findings. He calls the regular church attenders ‘active’ and the non-regular attenders “nominal”.

        I would LOVE there to be more population-based studies done about the prevalence of domestic abuse in Christian circles. But so far, I am not aware of any more than Wilcox’s study.

        As I said, Wilcox looked at a national survey to mine his data. And I’m not sure how that survey obtained its information about men committing domestic abuse. If the survey simply asked men “Have you done x or y or z to your female partner?” many men who are actually chronic abusers would just tell a lie when answering the survey. But if the survey had asked the man’s partner, “Has your partner done x or y or z to you?” there might easily be different results in the data!

      • I think you’re right David that many bible teachers think that the Bible is giving us instruction for normal marriages and they assume that the bible isn’t giving us instruction about non-normal marriage situations. So they just make blanket rules.

        Now, they are right in making a blanket rule that “the Bible doesn’t allow easy divorce” if they are meaning divorce on frivolous grounds like ‘incompatibility’ or ‘I’m tired of my spouse’ or ‘my spouse is getting old and I want a newer model’ or ‘my spouse can’t have kids and I want a spouse who can give me children.’

        But they are very very wrong if they think that the only exception to their blanket rule against easy divorce is adultery.

        The Bible allows divorce for desertion by an unbeliever. And domestic abuse is a form of desertion because it effectively pushes the other spouse away. And the domestic abuser is an unbeliever no matter how much he may jump up and down claiming he is a Christian. No person could be a Christian and be routinely abusing their spouse in the way we define domestic abuse (see our definition in the sidebar).

        You said:

        Abuse, on the other hand, is not normal by any means — it is pathological. It doesn’t fall under the “normal” rules. The pathological cases (like spousal abuse, or abusing the children) are not covered.

        We do not like to call abuse ‘pathological’ because research shows that men who abuse women have no higher rates of mental health disorders than the rest of the male population. Saying that abusive men have some ‘pathology’ gives them an excuse – it can sound like the abusive men just have some kind of mental health disorder, and that can imply that it is the mental health disorder which is causing the abuse, rather than the perpetrator himself causing the abuse.

        Certainly I will agree with you that what happens in domestic abuse is very different from what happens in normal marriages. The abuser has rules for his victim which he expects her to follow and if she doesn’t follow them he punishes her. His rules are 90 percent in his favour. He expects her to put him first the vast majority of the time, and he thinks he is entitled to control her and use her for his own selfish ends. That is the total opposite of a healthy normal marriage!

        I strongly urge you to read my book. It fully explains how the Bible does allow divorce for domestic abuse. 🙂

      • KayE

        It was my ex who divorced me, but I still think I’m the one who’s been labelled by church leaders as having hardness of heart, and excluded and despised because of that.
        They have always accepted his blatant lies without question and never listened to me at all.

  14. Barbara,
    Thank you for all the information. I do want to comment on my use of the word pathological. I did not use it in the sense of mental illness, but in its alternative definition of extreme and as an adjective I applied to the abuse, not the abuser. I am not saying abusers are mentally ill, I am saying their behavior (when judged against other problematic behaviors in a marriage) is so pathological (I.e, extreme or an outlier) that common sense dictates that it does not fall into the set of “commonplace” issues that the bible rules out as legitimate grounds for divorce.

    In simpler terms, I take the exception for adultery (and abandonment) to carry with it an implied “and, of course, anything worse” and spousal abuse would fall in that category.

    • Hi David, yes I agree that the patterns of behavoir used by abusers are extreme, are ‘outliers’, when compared to the common-garden-variety of marital problems. And I’m very much in agreement with what you said here:

      I take the exception for adultery (and abandonment) to carry with it an implied “and, of course, anything worse” and spousal abuse would fall in that category.

      Thanks for contributing to the discussion. 🙂

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