Thursday, October 08, 2015

“Gender-Reversing” the Scriptures

Watch the video at the following URL:

This is the first time that I have ever heard a preacher preach against remarriage after divorce.  Up until now, I thought that I was the only one who believed what the Scriptures teach about this.  Some preachers teach that remarriage after divorce is wrong in theory, but they make so many exceptions that they may as well not bother to believe the original principle.  But this is not true of James Merritt.  He teaches the hardline position that fornication is the only reason for a divorce that would make it justifiable to marry another afterwards.  He correctly teaches that things like alcoholism, physical abuse, gambling, etc. are legitimate reasons for a woman to leave her husband, but not to marry another man.  I also like that he teaches that just because a remarriage might not break an explicit commandment of God, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is right or justified.

However, the Bible actually only teaches that if a man puts away his wife for any reason except fornication and then marries another woman, he commits adultery (see Matthew 19:9) and that if a man marries a woman who has been put away (Matthew 5:32, Luke 16:18) or a woman who put away her husband (Mark 10:12) it is adultery.  In other words, the exception for fornication is only for the remarriage of a man, not the remarriage of a woman in that situation. 

But Merritt uses the following argument to try to prove that if you reverse the genders in Matthew 19:9, resulting statement will still be true.  Such a “gender-reversed” statement would read :
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away her husband because, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery...

He says that Jesus wouldn’t have talked about a woman divorcing (putting away) her husband because women were not allowed to do that at that time.  This argument has several flaws.

1.      Even though women were not allowed to divorce their husbands, that doesn’t necessarily mean that sometimes they didn’t do it anyway!

2.      The argument assumes that Jesus was exclusively directing his words to the people living in Israel (or that general part of the world) at that particular time.  In other words, the Creator of universe was completely unaware that his words would be written down and read by hundreds of millions people from many different cultures and centuries including those in which women could divorce their husbands.  In reality, Jesus’ words are timeless teachings that don’t generally need any “cultural interpretation”.

3.      The argument simply doesn’t logically follow from the fact he asserts.  Hypothetically speaking, Jesus may have omitted the hypothetical “gender-reversed” statement above for the reason that Merritt suggests.  But he offers no proof that the reason isn’t something else.  The “something else” could very well be that the statement isn’t actually true, couldn’t it?

4.      But the strongest evidence that this argument should be rejected is that Jesus does in fact specifically teach in Mark 10:12 that if a woman puts away her husband, it is adultery for a man to marry her (with no exception for fornication given).  How can you say “Jesus wouldn’t have talked about this…”, if he did in fact talk about it?  In all likelihood, the words which Jesus spoke in Matthew 19:9 and Mark 10:12 (and Luke 16:18 as well) were contained in the very same discourse that Jesus was having with the people.

I can think of another similar argument that someone might use to try, with much speculation, to prove the same point. That is, maybe Jesus actually did make the above hypothetical “gender-reversed” statement, but none of the gospel writers recorded it because women were not allowed to put away their husbands at that time and place. The reasons why this is also wrong are similar to the reasons why the first argument is wrong.

1.      Same as 1. above.
2.      The Holy Spirit guided the New Testament authors when they wrote the books of the New Testament.  There is even more reason to believe that the Holy Spirit knew that the words would be read by generations to come.  Therefore there would be no reason to omit the hypothetical statement if Jesus had actually said it.
3.      Analogous to 3. above.
4.      Same as 4. above.

Another possible consequence of this “gender-reversing” of the text is that a man cannot remarry if his wife left him without his consent (i.e. if the wife put her husband away). A “gender-reversed” version of the last part of Matthew 5:32 would read, “whosoever shall marry him that is divorced committeth adultery…” While there are many cases in which such a marriage really wouldn’t be right, it places an unnecessary restriction on some men which God does not require.

Of course there are places in the Scripture where masculine forms of words are used when they are intended to apply to both men and women.  For example in Galatians 6:7 (KJV):

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

There is a common sense, easy to understand hermeneutic for understanding biblical gender usage conventions.

1.      Whenever feminine forms are used (referring to people), it always talking about females and never males regardless of the context.
2.      Whenever a masculine form refers to a relationship to a woman (i.e. husband) or other family relationship (i.e. father or son) it is only talking about males.
3.      If the context of the passage is about relationships between men and women (not necessarily romantic or sexual relationships) then the masculine forms are referring only to males.
4.      A masculine form may refer to a specific person or specific group of males.  This usually will be clear from the context.
5.      Otherwise uses of masculine forms usually refer to both males and females in most Bible translations.  Whenever this is not the case, it will be obvious from the context.

The idea that rules for marriage, divorce and remarriage after divorce are different for men and women is an idea that may be hard for people to accept, especially in this modern age of “gender equality”.  But time and time again, history has borne out that we need to trust Jesus completely.  Monkeying around with Jesus’ words always causes a great deal of harm. 

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