Jesus and Divorce: The Problem with the Evangelical Consensus, by William A. Heth and Gordon J. Wenham (Nelson, 1985, 287 pp.; $7.95, paper). Reviewed by V. Norskov Olsen, author of The New Testament Logia on Divorce: A Study of Their Interpretation from Erasmus to Milton. Interview by David Neff.

Most evangelicals have the understanding that if your spouse commits adultery, you are (according to the teaching of the Bible) morally free not only to divorce but also to remarry. But William A. Heth and Gordon J. Wenham say most evangelicals are wrong.

Out of a feeling of moral and spiritual responsibility, the authors have restudied what Jesus and the apostle Paul say about divorce. They conclude that “Jesus gave an absolute prohibition of divorce and remarriage. Should a man be forced [by social custom] to put away his unfaithful wife, … Jesus does not hold him responsible for breaking His command not to divorce. The guilt and the blame lie with the woman who is an adulteress by reason of her offence. And should the hard-heartedness of one of the partners result in an unfortunate divorce, lack of forgiveness and a refusal to be reconciled, Jesus requires His disciples to remain single.”

The authors find this absolute prohibition endorsed by the teaching and practice of the early church. But, they report, the view that divorce and remarriage are justified in certain circumstances was not set forth until Erasmus’s Annotations on 1 Corinthians (1519). It was then adopted by the Protestant Reformers. Heth and Wenham deal with the early exponents and modern defenders of this “Erasmian” view, and then offer a critique based on exegetical considerations.

The Reformers

“Erasmus laid the eggs, and Luther hatched them” went a saying of the ...

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