Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hidden Polemics of Divorce

William James said “We carve out order by leaving the disorderly parts out.” This is certainly true of divorce. I have wondered if this also happened during the writing of some of our gospel accounts.

Some cynics have suggested that the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes asked difficult questions of Jesus hoping that He would like John the Baptist give a rash answer that would cost him his head. I have not engaged in this speculation. But I have felt that “hidden polemics” might help us understand the divorce dispute that is sandwiched between the stories of the dishonest steward and the rich man and Lazarus.

In the Lucan account, no one has asked a question about divorce. Why then does the Lucan Jesus include the following harsh words about divorce as part of his response to the Pharisees?

Lk 16:14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this (the Parable of the Unjust Steward), and they scoffed at him.

Lk 16:15 But he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

Lk 16:16 "The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently.

Lk 16:17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one dot of the law to become void.

Lk 16:18 "Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

This controversy periscope is immediately followed by the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. I had previously proposed that the divorce saying is between two stories about the high priest. In fact the entire Gospel of Luke addresses sacerdotal concerns.

The Lucan Jesus is not commenting on the divorces of the members of Herod families. He is commenting on the prevalence of divorces among the people in his audience.

According to Yairah Amit, “A polemic is said to be hidden when its subject is not stated explicitly or when it is not stated in the usual or expected manner or wording.”

The divorce saying is an example of hidden polemics.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008


Blogger Unknown said...

I have an idea on this... that this is not a polemic at all, but that it is a prophesy of Christ Himself, and as such the primary example of a good teacher... The of the entire text (Luke 14:25 - 17:10) being about the nature of a good teacher.

See my comments here: Parable of the Unjust Steward

8:38 AM

Blogger LTD said...


I think it's also worth noting that Luke's Jesus sets up the divorce saying in Lk16.16-7. Essentially, he's saying that until John came the Law and prophets goverend. Since John came, the preaching of the kingdom had been introduced as the means to God. But note v. 17: "But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one dot of the Law to become void" (RSV). It's as if Luke's Jesus is saying that just because the preaching of the kingdom had come, that doesn't mean the Law is void. And that sets up the reminder of the Law concerning divorce. In other words, Luke is deliberately steering his reader(s) toward the issue of divorce. It's not merely a statement 'out of the blue.'


9:41 PM


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