Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Jesus on Divorce (and Sadducees?)

Richard and I have been considering the possibility that Luke's Jesus may be employing the narrative of Ezra 7-10 as a background for his parable of the dishonest steward and subsequent teachings in Luke 16.1-18. Two things interigued me at the time of initial study which I have yet to follow up on. Here are my initial comments and queries:

1) There are two major passages in Luke dealing with marriage and divorce. The first is the seemingly random saying of 16.18. In Ezra's day, the Levites (plus a few others) were guilty of intermarriage, for which Ezra commanded a mass divorce. So, the Levites violated the Law (Deut7.1-7), thus requiring a purging via divorce. What if, in Jesus' day, the Pharisees, et al, were not guilty of intermarriage, but deemed themselves worthy of divorce (cf. Deut24.1-4), perhaps even in en masse, which would therefore provoke Luke's Jesus to employ Ezra's story as an under-narrative? Can this case be made? If so, notice the smoothe(r) reading through 16.14-18 (paraphrased below):

"You Pharisees seek men's approval, and forget about God's. What men seek is abominable! The Law was preached until John. Since John, the kingdom has come and people are pressing into it. But, do not think that this nullifies the Law. For, not one dot will pass away from the Law - which, by the way, prohibits divorcing you wives in the manners in which you have been dealing in it. You are not guilty of intermarriage [as in Ezra's day], but simply of divorce by preference. You all are adulterers!"

The second passage in Luke dealing with divorce and marriage is that of 20.27ff., where the Sadducees bring up the ridiculous scenario of a husband and his 6 brothers, all who die in succession, marrying in succession the wife of the first. This wife has no child from any of the brothers. The question posed to Jesus is, "Whose wife will she be?" In Deuteronomy 25.5-10 (a passage immediately following the previously mentioned Deut. text dealing with divorce), we find Moses concerned about the purity of the people, about husbands not desiring to procreate and keep their line going. That husband was to be publicly shamed. The Sadducees of Jesus' day ultimately are posing a question of purity - else why mention that she was unable to have any children? This means that she and the brothers were shamed, in a sense, for not procreating and extending their line. Can this interpretation be sustained?

2) In rereading Luke 20.27-40, I am reminded of the story of the rich man and Lazarus (16.19-31). Recall my interpretation, that the three elements which Sadducees find objectionable (resurrection, angels, and spirits) are present there. The same is true of 20.27-40. Their question involves marriage status in the resurrection. In Jesus' answer, we find a kind of proof that the resurrection is real, based on an implication in Moses (20.37-38). We also find a seemingly unnecessary reference to angels (20.36). Why does Jesus include it here? And the whole scenario presupposes an afterlife existence, implying spiritual existence. I am beginning to believe that, like Caiaphas, Theophilus was a Sadducee. And Luke, in Jesus' teachings, is trying to break that philosophy down. These details are not necessary for Jesus' answer to be satisfactory. In fact, upon rereading of the Sadducess' scenario, I am compelled to think that the initial concern from them (purity of the race, as described in Deut25.5-10) has been demoted, so to speak, by Luke's Jesus so that he can introduce rebuttals to the Sadducean philosophy. Why else would these details emerge?

Copyright 2007

No comments: