The strength of this book lies in the fact that it has been written not by a theologian, but by a woman who has been the victim of domestic abuse. Her experience, which does not differ from what many pastors may encounter in ministry today, has been of starting out as a Christian with minimal biblical teaching and marrying a non-Christian. After five years, during which a daughter was born, she left her husband because of the abuse and was granted custody of the daughter with the husband having access.
Four years later, during which she had been attending church and studying the Bible, her husband made a profession and this led to reconciliation. However, the abuse recurred and this led to a further separation and finally divorce. So the contents of this book reflect the struggle of an author who has had to assess her own situation and experiences in the light of Bible teaching. Key to the understanding of the book is the claim that the Bible permits 'disciplinary divorce' where a seriously mistreated spouse divorce the offender after abuse, adultery or desertion. 'Treacherous divorce' occurs when a spouse obtains a divorce for reasons other than abuse, adultery or desertion, and is condemned by the Bible. The non-offending or mistreated partner is then said to be able to remarry if the offending partner was sexually immoral or has abused, deserted or unjustly dismissed the other party and is judged to be 'as an unbeliever'.
In making these claims the writer had carefully examined both Old and New Testaments Scriptures on the subject and demonstrates a wide acquaintance with other writers historic and contemporary on the subject. An example of her grappling with the text is on p. 100 where she points out how in Matthew 5:32 the NIV for instance translating 'causes her to become an adulteress' fails to bring out the passive form of the verb which she would prefer to see rendered 'causes her to experience adultery'. Thus helpful advice is given for pastors struggling to counsel those who are victims of abuse within marriage but feel trapped within it by biblical teaching, or those divorcees of either sex who find themselves unsure of whether the Bible would permit them to remarry.
Her conclusions may well cause many to re-evaluate some traditional teaching on divorce and remarriage, and her story should encourage all to have a deeper understanding of people who come to them during or after suffering similar experiences. Apart from an extensive bibliography there is a briefer but helpful list of secular as well as Christian 'Further Reading for Victims' placed in order as the writer found them helpful. This book demands to be read by all those who are called on to advise both men and women who face the sorrows and trauma of an unhappy marriage.
David Wheaton, Churchman, Vol 24, no 4, Winter 2010.
While there a many books on marriage and divorce from a Christian perspective, Barbara Roberts has written a highly practical one which has the unique feature of focusing on abuse. Part A lays the foundation for the book by explaining the various forms of abuse (pp.20-26) and offering biblical principles for constructively dealing with these situations (pp. 27-28). Part B turns to the question of the biblical grounds for divorce with an examination of 1 Corinthians 7:10-16. First, ‘treacherous’ divorce (i.e., divorce on unbiblical grounds) is distinguished from ‘disciplinary’ divorce (i.e., divorce on biblical grounds; pp. 39-40). Then Roberts claims that the use of syneudokeo (here, to be willing) in 1 Corinthians 7:12-13 should be understood to imply that, in the relation to the believer-unbeliever marriages which Paul is discussing, an abusive relationship can biblically be considered ‘constructive’ or forced desertion (pp. 40-41; cf. p. 39). Therefore, the innocent spouse is ‘not under bondage’ (see p. 43) and may be both divorced (pp. 46-47) and remarried (pp. 47-49).
In part C, she challenges various arguments commonly offered to affirm that marriage is indissoluble (pp. 55-60, especially the idea that marriage is an unbreakable covenant (pp. 69-71) and the translation of Malachi 2:16 as ‘I [that is, God] hate divorce’ (pp. 72-75). Part D turns to the gospels and suggests that Jesus’ teaching on divorce (esp. Matthew 19:1-9 and 5:32) should be understood as a call to faithfulness to the Mosaic Law and that his permission of divorce and remarriage in the case of adultery shouldn’t be viewed as standing in conflict with the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7 offered here (pp. 79-95). Consequently, survivors of divorce from abusive relationships should be comforted by the fact that Jesus only condemned ‘treacherous’ divorce (pp. 96-103). Part E brings the books to a close by explaining how the teachings of Moses, Jesus, and Paul on this matter are distinct and yet compatible (pp. 107-113).
First and foremost, Roberts is to be commended for giving attention to the often neglected topic of abuse. She is uniquely able to execute this vital task because she writes both as a survivor of an abusive relationship (see p. 5) and as someone who is deeply familiar with the experience and perspectives of other women who have gone through these situations. This being the case, it is not surprising that the book has a refreshingly personal and practical tone. Her work is scattered with richly insightful advice for ministering to hurting women. Moreover, although the book aims to defend the situation of abused women, she simultaneously displays a firm commitment to the importance of reconciliation where this is possible.
However, her work is characterized by a general lack of hermeneutical consistency and exegetical rigor. This is evident, for example, in her section on 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 (esp. ch. 3), which according to Roberts is ‘the key text for divorce in domestic abuse’ (p. 37). Here she makes the argument that Paul could have constructive desertion in mind, despite the fact that he nowhere explicitly addresses the issue of abuse (she actually fluctuates between suggesting that Paul himself could have this in mind [pp. 38-39] and that it could merely apply to this case [p. 40]). She finds room for this reading particularly through her dubious interpretation of chorizo in v. 15a as ‘causes separation’ (p. 39) and of syneudokeo in vv. 12-13 as ‘pleased to live as a spouse ought to live’ (p. 38). It would have been helpful if she had interacted more substantially with the major commentaries on 1 Corinthians at this point. All things considered, however, this book (esp. chs. 1-2), will be particularly useful for pastors and other Christian leaders who are need of practical advice for ministering to those who have been abused in marriage relationships.
Brian Asbill, 2010, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland
See this review on the Rutherford House website
This book focuses on the complex question of the church’s proper understanding of and response to spousal violence. Barbara Roberts suffered abuse at the hands of her husband in their ten-year marriage. She shares that “at that time I needed a book which analyzed and explained the Scriptures pertinent to marital abuse, but could not find one that went into sufficient detail” (15). It seemed to her that the church as a whole had not given enough thought to the issue, and as a result, was doing damage to abuse victims. Roberts set out to fill the gap in the literature, producing this thorough treatment of a full range of questions related to spousal abuse, pastoral responses, the ethics of divorce, and the related biblical data.
The greatest strength of the book is the many helpful insights into the experience of the abuse victim—both at the hands of her spouse and with church leadership. For example, cautions to remember that a victim has survived by minimizing the seriousness of the abuse are very valuable. Our pastoral judgments will be more accurate if we gently ask probing questions to aid the victim in being specific about what was done to her, so that we can see beyond her initial it’s-not-that-bad statements. If we will fail to listen well or see accurately the severity of the situation, we will fail to provide the needed intervention. Roberts repeatedly and clearly details the thinking of the victim and what is needed from pastors and elders in caring for the couple. A careful reading of this book will help church leaders better understand abuse situations and their victims, and provide more constructive pastoral care in these complex cases.
There are, in broad terms, three interpretive approaches to the biblical texts used in conservative evangelical circles with regard to divorce. The first emphasizes the literal meaning of the text, usually resulting in a small list of specific reasons that divorce may be appropriate (if any reasons are found at all). One outcome of this approach is the view that sexual infidelity and desertion by an unbelieving spouse are the only possible biblical grounds for divorce. This view gives little pastoral guidance for difficult and dangerous situations not included on the “official” list.
A second approach—and this is Roberts’s view—is slightly less literal and interprets the vocabulary of the text in broader terms in order to apply the text to situations like abuse that are not specifically mentioned in Scripture. Roberts focuses on 1 Corinthians 7 and its vocabulary for separation, noting that this same Greek word was also used to denote divorce. She argues carefully that this text could be seen as not naming desertion as grounds for divorce for the believing spouse who is left behind, but rather stating that when the unbeliever separates from the marriage (an informal but widely recognized act of divorce at the time) the believer is free to legalize what has already occurred. Roberts argues that abuse is equivalent to separating from the marriage, and is, therefore, a biblically supported reason to divorce. Though Roberts seems to want to be careful with the text, and tries to limit how far others might go to open the door to seeing all kinds of spousal failures as biblical grounds for divorce, I nevertheless, see this approach as stretching the meaning of the text to create additional applications for it. Such a view makes it too easy to support an inappropriate expansion of actions as biblical reasons for divorce.
A third approach honors the inspired texts as inerrant and instructive, coming at them by asking not only what they say, but also what principles are taught through them. In this case, viewing Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7 together, we see a reason common to both that infidelity and desertion are grounds for divorce. These are radical covenant-breaking actions. Sexual infidelity is more than a violation of marital faithfulness, as the interpreters from the other two approaches are likely to hold. Infidelity is a breaking of the special and multiple covenant promises made in marriage. Desertion has similar covenant-breaking results. Could there be other actions that radically break the marriage covenant? Yes. Is spousal abuse such an action? Sometimes. Therefore, it is best if situations are evaluated and judged on a case-by-case basis.
Roberts defines abuse broadly as covering a wide range of behaviors, and she adds cautions to not include every type of abuse as an automatic reason for divorce. Indeed, some of these behaviors may not be so radical a breach of the marriage covenant as to justify divorce. A man who is chronically negative in speech toward his wife can be destructive to her emotional wellbeing, and such a situation can be so chronic and so destructive that the husband is breaking his promise to love and nurture his wife in a sacrificial manner. But it is also possible for such behavior to not be so severe or chronic, in which case it may not be so clear that covenant promises are being broken, even when such behavior is burdensome to the wife. Determining that abuse is categorically grounds for divorce, as Roberts does, precludes the more prudent approach of case-by-case evaluation on the part of church leadership.
To Roberts’ credit, she carefully works through the biblical texts related to divorce and remarriage, presenting a good overview of each of the approaches to interpreting these passages. She also does a good job of addressing fairly the differing positions of a variety of authors. She does not create straw men, but states the various points of view clearly, giving careful readers room to think for themselves as they seek the most effective and biblically faithful position to guide ministry and practice. Pastors and elders can benefit from a thoughtful reading this book, which provides a helpful perspective on the experience of the abuse victim and addresses thoroughly the many related issues and biblical texts. Most of all, the book will encourage church leaders to be seek constructive discipline as early as possible in these difficult situations—something many couples need in this age of tumult in the home.
Daniel W. Zink, Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Counseling
Presbyterion: Covenant Seminary Review, 36/2 (Fall 2010): 127–128
Even more than most books the author’s story is integral to this book. Barbara Roberts became a Christian in 1981, married a non-Christian in 1989 and had a daughter. Her marriage descended into abuse and she occasionally required a women’s refuge. She left her husband in 1994 and started going to a Presbyterian Church and Bible Study. Four years later her husband professed faith and they reconciled. Sadly the abuse was not abandoned and she finally separated in 1999, divorcing a few years after.
The book does not go into more detail, but is stamped by this experience. It will obviously find resonance in the lives of those who’ve suffered abusive marriages, the first two chapters particularly. But Roberts’ experience of abuse is an entry point to a careful and comprehensive study of Scripture’s teaching on divorce; it is rarely returned to nor imposed upon the text. She writes from a conservative Presbyterian perspective on inerrant Scripture which can give the text a wooden feeling. Nonetheless, this is softened and given life and breath by a passion for a very real pastoral problem which despite her valiant attempts at biblical objectivity, Roberts obviously feels in her bones.
The book is structured into five parts. A – setting the scene in the context of abuse; B – a biblical overview of Divorce and Remarriage, especially arguing that divorce is permissible for abused spouses from 1 Cor 7:15; C – Clearing Away Misconceptions where she uses laser-like logic to disprove and show the absurdity of the indissolubility of marriage, the misapplication of Christ’s faithfulness to the Church to all cases of divorce and the ‘husband of one wife’ texts allegedly banning divorcee remarriage. She finds much humanity and help about divorce in the O.T., and argues that Jesus uphold the Law in its true, female-friendly intent. She also demonstrates, drawing on 18 recent translations, that ‘God hates divorce’ (Mal 2:16 as commonly translated) is a mistranslated slogan, not really scriptural. It is a condemnation of treachery against wives by men who hate and divorce them, seeking pagan partners. It is better to say ‘God hates treacherous divorce, but he does not hate disciplinary divorce’ i.e. justifiable divorce for abuse, sexual immorality etc.
This distinction is crucial to Part D where it is seen as upheld by Jesus’ Teaching. Roberts ably defends the traditional view that Jesus allows divorce for the innocent victim of sexual immorality (porneia) but has an interesting argument that addiction to pornography qualifies as porneia (pp. 84-5). She argues that the only divorce Jesus condemns is treacherous divorce. The Pharisees’ particular question to Jesus – about whether a man can divorce his wife for ‘any matter’, rather than a female victim of abuse or abandonment who seeks to divorce her husband – shows that the topic was not about all kinds of divorce. Jesus condemns their patriarchal, legalistic, entitlement mentality, misusing Dt 24:1. Also, as she quotes Blomberg; ‘the specific historical background that informs this debate, the particular way in which the question is phrased, and the unscrupulous motives behind the Pharisees’ approach all warn us against the notion that Jesus was comprehensively addressing all relevant questions about marriage and divorce’ (86).
‘Jesus did not condemn other grounds for divorce, such as abuse or severe deprivation’ and by his silence upheld both Pharisaic parties’ interpretation that disciplinary divorce on the grounds of cruelty was justified (cf Ex 21:10-11). Both testaments support protection of the vulnerable, as Jesus does in his defence of women against arbitrary divorce here. ‘Additionally 1 Cor 7:12-15, which covers abuse under “constructive desertion”, is in complete harmony with the disciplinary divorce teaching in Mosaic law’(87). Jesus did not forbid all remarriage; his statement regarding the eunuchs in Mt 19:10-12 allows that some are forced to be celibate, some are gifted to be voluntary celibates, some, including some divorcees are not able to accept it, which implies the possibility of remarriage. Paul took a similar pastoral approach in 1 Cor. 7 concerning those burning with sexual desire.
More controversially and strictly, Roberts argues that ‘since Jesus taught that the Hillelite [lax Pharisees] system of easy divorce for males was sinful, we may apply this judgement to any system which permits treacherous divorce for either sex, such as … no-fault systems’ today (103). This is a large claim to make without considering the consequences of previous fault–based systems, but is one that some states in the US have taken seriously by reinstating fault based systems or even specifically covenantal Christian marriages. Roberts is similarly supportive of stricter systems for Christians through elder-based church ‘courts’.
Those who may have been attracted to Roberts’ softer biblical and pastoral approach to abuse and divorce issues may not however like her soft patriarch which takes male headship for granted and assumes women are created to be more submissive and receptive. For someone who is so perceptive in other areas against legalistic and patriarchal readings of scripture this comes as a surprise. While soft patriarchy does not necessarily lead to abuse, there is some research evidence that staunch supporters of male headship have higher rates of abuse. Is there a slippery slope there? This blindspot though, does not destroy the biblical and pastoral insights of this book, hard-won through painful experience.
Gordon Preece, Zadok Perspectives, issue 106, Autumn 2010.
Gordon Preece, is Editor of Zadok Perspectives and Director of ETHOS: EA Centre for Christianity and Society, Australian Evangelical Alliance.
He is also the Vicar of Yarraville Anglican Church, Victoria; an ethicist for Christian Super; and Adjunct Lecturer, Ridley Melbourne & Macquarie University School of Applied Finance.
Divorce and remarriage are always controversial and troubling issues for those who wish to submit to the authority of God’s word. Even for those who have given the subject some thought, it can be challenging to know where the dividing lines lie: we want to affirm the importance of the marriage relationship, yet we’re aware that marriages, like all relationships, can break down. As a result, it can be difficult to know what to teach and how to advise those undergoing marital difficulties.
On this topic, Not Under Bondage is a challenging and stimulating book that addresses the circumstances in which divorce and remarriage are permissible. It contains detailed sections that grapple with many of the relevant biblical texts. In particular, it addresses relationships in which there has been abuse.
Perhaps the book’s greatest value is its insightful and sympathetic description of the nature of abusive relationships. I recommend the opening chapters to those who care for married people as they help you identify and aid victims of abuse. Abuse is often a hidden problem in churches—hidden even from those closest to the couple. Victims may maintain secrecy—often because they are in denial and have been rationalizing their spouse’s behaviour for years. But their distress is compounded when, upon speaking up, they are disbelieved or, worse, when they are believed but not helped.
While sin means that all of us will occasionally mistreat and exploit others, abuse describes persistent patterns of behaviour. These include not just physical violence, but emotional manipulation (threats, coercion, humiliation), social deprivation, financial constraint and sexual abuse. Sometimes such behaviours are even justified by appeals to Scripture. Characteristically, the perpetrator will shift blame for their behaviour onto their spouse and deny all responsibility (p. 21).1 All of these behaviours are bullying tactics “designed to obtain and maintain ungodly control over another” (p. 20). Typically, perpetrators are not constantly abusive, which leads to uncertainty in their spouse: “The victim suffers at the hands of the abuser, who professes love but shows hate, who makes inconsistent and contradictory demands from one day to the next” (p. 16). Those who endure such relationships find them all-pervading, and often end up developing mental and physical illnesses.
So what biblical guidance is there for those in abusive marriages? Roberts argues that separation, in some circumstances, may be justified, and she is correct to point out that it is not wrong to protect ourselves from harm, nor to remove ourselves to prevent another from continuing in sinful behaviour. Roberts rightly challenges churches to consider dysfunctional marriages a matter for discipline. Sin flourishes in secret, and marriages should not be exempt from our care of each other. Instead, sin should be challenged by the two or three, the elders and the whole church (if necessary) in order to call the offender to repentance. Recognition of the perpetrator’s sin also enlists the help and support of the church for the victim.
Divorce and remarriage
Following the chapters on abuse, Roberts establishes the general case for divorce and remarriage. Using texts like Matthew 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7:15, she makes clear that there are circumstances in which divorce (and by implication, she argues, remarriage) are permissible.2It is not controversial to recognize that these verses specify adultery and desertion by an unbelieving spouse as grounds for divorce. However, it is her understanding of desertion in the case of abuse that deserves further examination.
The main argument of the book centres on 1 Corinthians 7:15: “But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.” This verse speaks of the dissolution of the marriage when an unbeliever deserts or separates from a believer. But Roberts reasons that this verse also applies to abusive marriages—that the perpetrator, by virtue of their behaviour, drives the victim away, thus forcing separation. Furthermore, should the offending spouse claim to be Christian, they should be disciplined, and if they fail to repent, they should subsequently be treated like an unbeliever.3
However, at best, this interpretation is strained: the context of 1 Corinthians 7 is Paul addressing questions regarding marriage and sexual expression. To Corinthians concerned about being married to an unbeliever, Paul’s advice is that such marriages are legitimate, so they should remain married (7:12-14). However, regarding those whose unbelieving spouse wants to leave (even though the believer may wish the marriage to continue for their salvation—v. 16), Paul’s command is to allow them to go (v. 15).
So it is difficult to imagine that the apostle intended verse 15 to refer in such a circuitous way to abusive marriages in which a spouse is forced to flee. It feels like Roberts has an argument for divorce and is searching for justification. Indeed, it tends towards legalism to redefine someone as an unbeliever and their actions as desertion in order to fulfil the requirements of this verse.
Indeed, while Not Under Bondage features a lot of analysis of individual verses, they are often considered outside their context. Most troubling is Roberts’ failure to consider the context of the entire Bible; when it comes to divorce and remarriage, shouldn’t the first question to ask be “What does the Bible make of marriage”?
The biblical passages on divorce are very brief compared to those on marriage. God’s commitment is to the permanence of marriage (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:4-6), and this in turn is a reflection of his faithfulness to his people (Isa 54:5; Ezek 16:8; Hos 2:16-20; Eph 5:31-32). Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees in Matthew 19 reflects this emphasis: he redirects them from their question regarding the minimum justification for divorce to consider the nature of marriage—that it is a divinely constructed lifelong union that is not to be dissolved lightly. Yet Roberts makes the Pharisees’ mistake of not placing the discussion of legitimate grounds for divorce within the biblical context. This is apparent in the title—a reflection of the words in 1 Corinthians 7:15. However, ‘bondage’ is exactly the kind of commitment marriage entails—two becoming one, committed to serving one another in all circumstances of life.
Also troubling is Roberts’s failure to give all but passing mention to 1 Peter 3:1-7. I expected this passage, which calls for patient service when married to an unbelieving and/or disobedient husband, to be critical in any discussion regarding abusive marriage. Service like this is, no doubt, a supernatural ability, but it is urged by Peter as imitation of Christ (1 Pet 2:21-24). Advice to victims on how to remain patient and faithful to God and their spouse within their marriages would have proved an invaluable addition to this book.
Instead, the author draws attention to the rights due to a spouse—for example, by drawing on Exodus 21:7-11 (p. 61ff). However, a Christian marriage is not characterized by insistence upon rights, but rather by obligations and responsibilities. Christian husbands are to give their lives to love and serve their wives (Eph 5:25), but wives are not to demand their right to a loving husband. Wives are to submit to their husbands (Eph 5:22), but husbands are not to insist that their wives submit. This distinction is not unimportant, because it is the difference between viewing marriage self-centredly and seeing it as an opportunity to serve.
How can a victim of abuse continue to love their spouse? How can he or she move towards reconciliation when the relationship is broken? This advice would have been invaluable in a book certain to be read by those in abusive marriages. So too would an honest evaluation of divorce, which often creates more problems than it solves.
While I cannot justify this particular view of 1 Corinthians 7:15, Not Under Bondage is right to call for understanding, sympathy and action for those suffering in their marriages. We need to acknowledge the difficulty of many marital relationships, but also the need for all of us to be longsuffering with one another. We need to help each other err on the side of bearing with one another in love (Eph 4:2; Col 3:13).
Of course, even then, there comes a time when the damage in a marriage is irrevocable. Abuse can destroy all trust between a couple, and an unrepentant spouse makes further relationship impossible. Roberts is right to call on churches to be ready to discipline offending spouses, and to provide comfort and protection to those experiencing abuse. The issue of how to advise and support those in abusive relationships is important, and I for one would welcome further discussion.
1 Bullying is characterized by low self-esteem that is alleviated by finding fault in others, taking control, refusing to apologize or take responsibility for one’s behaviour, and failing to understand the consequences of one’s actions. An excellent description of bullying and some tactics to combat it can be found in Sam Horn, Take the Bully by the Horns (St Martins Griffin, New York, 2002).
2 While I did not require convincing, I will not pretend that this view is without controversy. However, while it was necessary for Roberts to establish the possibility of divorce and remarriage, the aim of her book is to go beyond this and outline permissible grounds for divorce. At any rate, she makes a well-argued case for remarriage.
3 A superior argument deserving further development is that marriages are destroyed by attacks on both the leaving and cleaving that form its foundation (Gen 2:24): just as adultery disrupts the exclusiveness of marriage, so desertion and abuse assaults its unity by driving a spouse away (p. 17).
John Diacos, Minister in the Presbyterian Church of Australia.
Read this review in The Briefing November 2009
This book has its origins in Australia and reflects a very painful and personal story of a Christian woman whose marriage ended after abuse (resulting in her being in a woman’s refuge for a while). She comes from very conservative evangelical circles and the book is very revealing at a number of levels.
It is very revealing of the ignorance, lack of understanding and brainlessness she has found in such circles. If her husband had been an unrepentant adulterer, then she would have found much more support and sympathy. It raises the issues of how you interpret Scripture and whether it covers every category that life offers up. Because there seems to be no discussion of what today we would call domestic violence or sexual abuse, for some Christians and church leaders, these therefore are not valid grounds for divorce. You have to grin and bear it. Some of the stories she offers are harrowing in the extreme.
It is also revealing to see an attempt to look at the Bible from a female perspective and from a victim’s perspective (is it my imagination that most indissolubilist books are written by happily married males?). She takes the line that Jesus condemned ‘treacherous’ divorce i.e. for trivial reasons. She ponders whether the ‘Pauline exception’ in 1 Corinthians can be read more widely than normally in our churches and how we take texts like ‘I hate divorce’ in its context rather than as a guilt making blanket statement.
Not everyone will be convinced by her exegesis; she is too fond for instance of ‘meanings’ of words rather than seeing how they are used in context. Dogmatic views of Scripture forbid even suggesting that the porneia addition in Matthew 19 may not be the actual words of Jesus. On the other hand there are useful appendices giving examples from church history (Beza, Augustine and the like). She is clearly not happy with modern Western type ‘easy’ divorce laws and still would want some kind of church court as well (but an enlightened one!).
Her views need pondering not least because she gives a very different perspective because of her gender and personal experience. She says in the end that there are clear Biblical grounds for divorce (more so than has been normally agreed) and remarriage; this book at the pastoral and intellectual level is a useful addition to the debate and would be helpful both for pastors and for those living through such traumatic experiences.
Peter Ballantine, Milton Keynes.
Anvil Vol. 26, no 2, 2009.
In her introduction Barbara Roberts shares that she is the survivor of an abusive marriage and that "the concept for this book emerged when my marriage of 10 years finally ended" (pg 15). Barbara does not write merely on the basis of theory, research, exegesis, observation or anecdotal evidence, she writes as one who has personally experienced the trauma, shame, humiliation and institutional rejection that comes with being a physically abused Christian divorcee.
The result is a book that presents a persuasive case for divorce in situation of abuse, adultery and desertion. The reader is compelled to agree as they feel Barbara´s anguished wrestle with issues that are exegetically complex, emotionally tense and immensely relevant for the church. That is the strength of this book, but also a potential weakness; for a compelling does not necessarily mean biblically accurate. Three specific questions come to mind.
Does Roberts present a biblically accurate definition of abuse?
What is abuse? Chapter 1 lists various definitions, forms, examples, anecdotes and experiences. There is no doubt that some of the behaviours listed are ungodly; are all of them? It is difficult to discern as the definitions are not backed by biblical references. Readers will need to make a judgment here.
Has Roberts present a biblically accurate exposition of 1 Corinthians 7:10-16?
Roberts contends that 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 applies to treacherous divorce as well as disciplinary divorce. Treacherous divorce is condemned as biblical requirements for divorce have not been met. Disciplinary divorce is permitted and applies to situations of abuse, adultery, desertion and serious mistreatment by a seriously offending spouse. This significant shift in interpretation requires discerning evaluation.
If an abuser professes to be a Christian, but persists in their behaviour, can they justifiably be labeled as an unbeliever?
Robert´s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 only applies if serious abusers are always defined as unbelievers. The reader will need to discern if this connection is biblically justifiable and exegetically defendable, or if it is assumed in an uncoupling way.
Any book on the subject of divorce in situations of abuse, adultery and desertion should be welcomed; Roberts has produced a worthy volume. Any book which speaks against abuse ought to be commended; Roberts is commended.
Allan Quak, Faith and Life, issue 3, Oct 2009, published by The Evangelical Alliance, Australia
I don’t doubt for one moment that divorce is there as a recognition of our weakness. The Bible’s overall approach to the value and importance of faithfulness within and to marriage is easy to see, and divorce is not something that Christians should ever enter into lightly. Readers of this journal will undoubtedly be aware of approaches to this topic ranging through the debate between the schools of Shammai and Hillel, the texts from Deuteronomy, Jesus and Paul, and their own denomination’s position on the topic. The prominence given to divorce on the restricted grounds of adultery or desertion will no doubt be familiar. This latest offering comes from the context of separation and divorce as an escape from an abusive spouse. Is this also a biblical ground, or only a cultural one?
This book adopts a no nonsense approach to the topic. There is little preamble as the author launches directly into her topic. Each chapter moves rapidly into tightly argued evaluation of the issue to hand. The text is not ‘softened’ with case histories or anecdotes; this is an intense read. That is different from being a heavy read, though; I had no problems with the style.
The urgency of a person with a mission comes across very readily. The author is up front about the fact that she is ‘a survivor of an abusive marriage’ (15). That might make some people wary: how can she be objective? But to dismiss the book on these grounds would be, I suggest, entirely inappropriate. The style is far from inflammatory, nor is it impassioned or unbalanced. After all, we should all be aware that there’s no such thing as a neutral viewpoint; the position of this author is clearly laid out without intruding on the content.
So what about the content? Abuse in its many forms remains a challenging topic for the church to grapple with. The idea that Christians could be so, bluntly put, unchristian is clearly beyond the ability of some to accept. Yet the evidence is increasingly clear to see. ‘No temptation has overtaken us that is not common to everyone’ Paul wisely writes (1 Corinthians 10:13), but that means that we in the church must deal with the worst of sins as well as the ‘easiest’, and that within our own ranks. It also means that church members married to non-Christians may face challenges and problems less common among the churched. So the book starts by explaining the style and patterns of abusers, the ease with which they present a reasonable public face, and the insidious nature of the treatment they hand out to their victims (chapter 1).
If divorce can only be contemplated for adultery and desertion how, then, if at all, can a victim of domestic abuse seek divorce and still be a faithful, Bible believing Christian? At the core of this book is a distinction between ‘treacherous divorce’ and ‘disciplinary divorce’. The former is defined as divorce on inappropriate grounds, the latter as divorce occasioned by unacceptable behaviour by a spouse. Aware of the need to attempt forgiveness or public rebuke, eventually the only possible action is separation and divorce (chapter 2 in particular).
There is extensive analysis of the expected biblical texts on the subject (chapters 3 to 11); the analysis of Malachi 2:16 (chapter 8 and appendix 7) deserves particular attention. But analysis is not restricted to these passages. Roberts also draws on narrative texts that describe marriages in various stages of failure and disarray. So this is not a book that argues purely from experience. The author’s marriage clearly was horrendous; but her argument does not depend on that. The book is a thorough look at the key biblical texts in order to establish the case for divorce from an abusive spouse on biblical grounds. (There are also 35 pages of appendixes giving detailed supporting information for the most technical parts of the analysis.)
A wide audience is suggested for this book, ranging from the ‘victim of marital abuse’ to anyone ‘who seeks to give biblical guidance on divorce and remarriage’ (15). In fact, I’d suggest this book be restricted to the academic end of that spectrum. There’s too much time spent on establishing the grounds for justified divorce following abuse. And that is good and proper, and we need this book. However, just as David Instone-Brewer has produced two books on divorce for two different audiences (Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, Eerdmans, 2002; Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Solutions for Pastoral Realities, Paternoster, 2003) so I suggest that a less technical version of this book (and a less relentless one?) needs to be written with the victim in mind, not the scholars. This should be a very valuable addition to the market. But don’t get me wrong: this book deserves widespread attention, with a positive acceptance and affirmation from the academy and the pastorate. This is the book to be on the shelves of every reader of this journal, and we look forward to the one that we can give to any victims that we are called upon to support.
John Wilks, London School of Theology
Evangelical Quarterly, April 2009
Barbara Roberts is a ‘survivor’ of domestic abuse. After her daughter was born the marriage gradually became abusive until Barbara left her husband in 1994. Following this time, her husband made a profession of faith and subsequently the marriage was reconciled. Even so, the abuse recurred, leading to a final separation in 1999 and a divorce a few years later (Roberts 2008, 5) From this personal history the key concepts of her book “Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery & Desertion” arose. It aimed to distinguish between Biblically condemned ‘treacherous divorce’ and Biblically sanctioned ‘disciplinary divorce’ for the reasons of abuse, adultery and desertion whereupon the non-offending partner is Biblically allowed to remarry (Roberts 2008, 7). The cover, a collage depicting an institutional corridor rotated by ninety degrees with an overlapping fuzzy duplicate and white cage, suggests a new way to viewing both the facts and proffered answers to this tragic reality. Five sections and eleven appendices are followed by a further reading list, bibliography, subject and scripture indices.
Part A carries the title ‘Setting the scene,’ and after an introduction surveying the confusing variegation of positions on divorce and remarriage, addresses the topics ‘What is abuse?’ and ‘Biblical action steps.’ Along with chapter 3 this provides an investigation into the ‘Biblical legitimacy’ of divorce for marital abuse. Although this is the special focus of the book, Roberts suggests those interested in the Bible’s position on divorce and remarriage, such as friends, counsellors, pastors or theologians will also find help (Roberts 2008, 15). She, correctly in my opinion, notes that scripture is interpreted through the grid of our and society’s experience, experience that until the “last decades of the twentieth century” did not appreciate the dynamics of marital abuse (Roberts 2008, 15). The corrective she proposes is to consider “how Jesus’ hearers would have understood his teachings” (Roberts 2008, 15). Plausible as this approach might appear, it is naïve and does not embrace the majority of her scriptural investigation which ranges through both OT and Pauline texts (e.g., Roberts 2008, 17). I will have more to say on this below.
Chapter 1, ‘What is abuse?’ offers the definition, “an abuser abuses power in a relationship at the expense of the victim…domestic abuse can include emotional, social, financial and other types of mistreatment and may not even involve physical violence” (Roberts 2008, 18). These various forms of abuse are then examined. While the documentation, both American and Australian, concerning physical abuse is copious and from excellent resources, there is little if any for the remaining categories. It is this disparity which may cause some to fear that Roberts is opening “the floodgates of excuses for divorce” (Roberts 2008, back cover), but she counters;
It is wrong to present the idea that we can cry “abuse” at any and every slight, but it is also wrong (sic) suggest that we have not been abused unless we have been beaten up…Fair-minded thinking will allow that many kinds of non-physical behavior, especially when persistent and repeated, can so undermine a person’s well-being that the result is abuse…Some of the behaviors might not be abuse if they are isolated incidents, just committed carelessly, as part of the occasional ups and downs of personal interaction. However, when these behaviors demonstrate a pattern of conduct designed to obtain and maintain ungodly control over another, they become serious (Roberts 2008, 20).
Within Chapter 2, ‘Biblical action steps’, I specifically encountered some problems. Roberts recognizes the problem of applying regulative principles from one domain (ecclesiastical) to another (spousal; Roberts 2008, 32) but does not elucidate how to overcome this. Her examination of Scripture on such things as discipline, defence and separation may be legitimate, once an ethical strategy (e.g., Hays 1996) is established. But given the nature of the work, recourse to the mere similarity of idea or parallel word/idea betrays a failure to inform the implied reader of such intricacies. I find her guilty of the very thing she accuses those who misuse Heb 13:4 to sanction any sexual activity (Roberts 2008, 22). That is the neglect of the specific contextual, sociological and rhetorical function of the texts. This concern is evident again in chapter 3 where in support of the idea that 1 Cor 7:15 could be rendered ‘if the unbeliever caused the separation’, Roberts (2008, 38) invokes David’s leaving Saul as a response to Saul’s abuse. While English law correctly provided for ‘Constructive Desertion,’ parallel ideas or Puritan quotations (see Roberts 2008, 117-118) do not constitute argument. I believe she has a much stronger case in the distinction between ‘treacherous’ (without biblical grounds) and ‘disciplinary’ divorce with 1 Cor 7:15 appropriate to the latter (Roberts 2008, 39-40).
Further, Roberts’ (e.g., 2008, 41) understanding of what constitutes a word study is naïve at best. A word’s meaning is the net result of grammatical semantics, lexeme, and context (Campbell 2008, 63), not simply a dictionary (lexicon) entry, even if it is BDAG! But her focus on syneudokeo could yield the outcomes she argues for, yet this was not satisfactorily accomplished. If a thorough investigation of the biblical and Hellenistic use of this term, using Campbell’s paradigm, was undertaken I am confident a case can be made for believer initiated divorce for the kinds of abuse Roberts’ highlights. Roberts’ (2008, 44) appraisal of 1 Cor 7:16 (and thus 14) is dismissive and is in need of much greater attention if she is to defend her position. Chapter 4, ‘May I remarry if I have suffered divorce?’ however, is handled well and demonstrates both exegetical skill and sage counsel.
At chapter 5 Roberts believes she has established that 1 Cor 7:15 permits divorce for abuse and moves to address, in the remainder of the book, those arguments/texts (‘giants’) which would appear to challenge this position. However, I am not convinced she has successfully proved the claim. In fact, it is Instone-Brewer (Instone-Brewer 2002), whom she quotes so frequently, who has convincingly provided the necessary argumentation. Given the case is made by Instone-Brewer I conclude her resolution of Rom 7:1-4, 1 Cor 7:39, Eph 5, Gen 2:24, 1 Tim 3:2, 12, Titus 1:6 (Chapter 5), Exod 21:7-11, Deut 21:10-14, 24:1-4 (Chapter 6), are adequate and in some cases, excellent. Although where Instone-Brewer (D. Instone-Brewer 2003) addresses the identical issue the result is more rigorous.
Chapter 7 addresses the issue of the marriage contract and concludes it is not unilateral and unconditional. Instead it is violated by the abuses described earlier and thus can be biblically terminated. This is followed by what I consider one of the best chapters in the book dealing with the wounding phrase ‘God hates divorce’ (Mal 2:16). Exampling good exegesis and surveying excellent scholarship (Roberts 2008, 127-131: Appendix 7) I concur that a better translation, correctly rendering the third person ‘he’ as the husband, is the ESV, ‘For the man who hates and divorces, says the Lord, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts.’ She (Roberts 2008, 75) correctly advises:
God did not say “I hate divorce”, nor did he condemn all divorce. We should therefore stop using the slogan “God hates divorce”. If we still need a slogan, it would be better to say, “God hates treacherous divorce, but he does not hate disciplinary divorce.”
Finally Roberts investigates the words of Jesus beginning with Mt 19. A quick survey of the footnotes reveals her indebtedness again to Instone-Brewer, and since I have already revealed my avid support for his rigorous scholarship, I find her (Roberts 2008, 86) conclusion that Jesus is not addressing divorce per se, but answering the implicit question put to him as to which of the Pharisaic schools (Hillel or Shammai) he advocated, as correct. Jesus agreed with both schools. That is with Exodus 21 which allowed divorce for abuse and neglect (Roberts 2008, 87) and, with correction (Roberts 2008, 86 and 132-135: Appendix 8), Jesus agreed with the Shammaite interpretation of Deut 24 which restricted erwat dabar to porneia, that is, sexual infidelity. Noting that Mt 19:9 is a ‘pronouncement story,’ she again correctly translates ‘is guilty of adultery,’ rather than emphasising the continuous ‘is committing adultery,’ thus avoiding needless speculation as to whether the new marriage should be terminated to end the adultery (Roberts 2008, 87-88). Chapters 10 and 11 display exemplary redactional exegetical sensitivity to the synoptic parallels of Mk and Lk with cognisance of the situation specificity of each and their rhetorical intent.
A concluding chapter (12) summarises all the material presented with a final plea to teachers and speakers to change the damaging words ‘God hates divorce;’
It takes only eleven words to say “God hates treacherous divorce, but he does not hate disciplinary divorce.” (Roberts 2008, 113)
While I have problems with some parts of Roberts’ book, I am in agreement with the larger whole and the sage counsel this monograph presents. However, the title could be misleading. The majority of the book has to do with divorce and remarriage in general or porneia in particular, not, as the sub title reads, ‘for Abuse, Adultery & Desertion.’ Since she herself is a ‘victim’ of divorce by abuse, fellow victims would find in her an identifiable resonance. Rather than re-present the excellent works she cites, such as Adams (1980), Duty (1983), Murray (1961) and particularly Instone-Brewer (2002, 2003), I believe the Christian community would have benefited from a greater focus on the abuse issue. Having said this, many who would never read such scholars (as listed previously), will read Roberts and gain enormously from her faithful ‘popularising’ of their scholarship.
Roberts is obviously working with a (soft/complementarian) patriarchal model of marriage e.g., ‘his headship’ (Roberts 2008, 23, 25, 57, 160 n. 138) where she cites the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood with approval, and especially “God created woman with a submissive and responsive nature (Gen 2:18)…man’s nature is to lead rather than to respond” Roberts 2008, 99). I am persuaded her work will be enhanced by a “complementarity without hierarchy” model (Groothuis 2004, 15).
Campbell, Constantine R. Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.
Groothuis, Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill.Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without hierarchy. Edited by Gordon D. Fee. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004.
Hays, Richard B. The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1996.
Instone-Brewer, David. Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities. Carlisle: Paternoster, 2003.
Instone-Brewer, David. Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.
Barbara Robert’s life experience has given birth to a unique book. Coming to Christian faith as a young adult, she married a man she describes as an ‘unbeliever’. Her book opens by telling the reader that the marriage turned abusive, they separated, he became a Christian, they reconciled but the abuse recurred and now they are divorced. Barbara’s acknowledgments read like a ‘who’s who’ of thoughtful Australian Presbyterian and Reformed leaders.
This is very important information if the book’s argument is to be appreciated. Conversely, this review may not be understood unless the reader knows that I am a life-long Anglican of evangelical conviction, married for 40 years, and engaged in significant theological engagement with the Roman Catholic Church.
What does a theologically conservative Christian woman do when her husband becomes abusive – physically, emotionally, sexually, spiritually? As she reads the holy scriptures, and listens to the pastoral teaching in her congregation, she is very likely to conclude that she should just ‘cop it sweet’ (as Australian men might say) and suffer for the sake of Christ (or at least an unruffled church). That is the situation which Barbara seeks to address.
In reading her book, I found myself engaging with some utterly amazing ‘exegesis’ which Barbara has encountered of texts such as Deuteronomy 24.1, Numbers 30, Malachi 2.16 etc. Clearly there is a world of scriptural interpretation which grasps at unimpressive exegetical straws to maintain a rigidly ‘conservative’ response to marital abuse. The author is brave in exposing these, and (I suspect) risking significant misunderstanding and possible ecclesial and personal abuse in doing so.
The book is well organized, if somewhat repetitive, and has both the strengths and faults of the informed ‘amateur’ scholar: and by ‘amateur’ I mean both the old-fashioned sense of one who seriously engages in a pursuit without monetary interest, and also the work of one who is not professionally trained. Barbara Roberts’ very close exegetical work on the classic ‘divorce’ texts is precise, occasionally laboured, sometimes uncertain when original languages come into play, and relies heavily on the work of others. But it is well done, even if (to my mind) it leads to overstated conclusions.
The claim is made that this book would ‘revolutionise evangelical ethics’ – which is indeed the case. Barbara Roberts has in essence written a ‘liberationist’ text on gender relationships, ‘reading’ the scriptures ‘from below’, stressing many times the importance of ‘cultural context’ in interpretation. She is sometimes inconsistent: while stressing ‘gender equity’ in Paul and the gospels, she maintains ‘male headship’ (a term that does not occur in the scriptures): this is most apparent in pages 92-97, especially the discussion of Ephesians 5. This is the damaging root which must be removed if its fruits are to be truly healed.
If I had a criticism, it is that the author’s approach is very individualistic – the assumption is that each Christian is to make up her or his own mind independently regarding what the scriptures teach, rather than inter-dependently, in the context of ecclesial community and the wisdom of Christian tradition. Thus the Fathers (especially Augustine of Hippo) are appealed to as if their teaching was mere personal opinion, rather than received by the churches as in some way distilling the mind of Christ according to the scriptures. And the Appendix on ‘a brief history’ is wrong at several points, especially as regards what the Roman Catholic Church teaches (the author seems not to realize that the Catholic Church was her church until the 16th century!). But this assessment reflects our different starting places, and different assessments of the impact of the cultural contexts within which we live as Australians.
Barbara Roberts argues from the beginning towards a closely-defined openness to the legitimacy of ‘biblical’ divorce for ‘abuse, adultery and desertion’, with freedom to marry if the spouse was an ‘unbeliever’. The last point is given the least attention, however, and in practice could prove to be very difficult – the judgment that a church-goer is an ‘unbeliever’ could itself be a form of abuse. Despite her clear orientation towards what I might call ‘practical grace’, something of a legal tone remains: which raises the classic question in moral theology as to the place of ‘rules’.
All this said, Barbara Roberts’ experience-included approach to reading the scriptures to engage with a particular ethical issue is carried through very impressively. If it were taken with full seriousness, it would indeed ‘revolutionise evangelical ethics’. In particular, her method would offer considerable pastoral support to a homosexual woman struggling with lesbian desires, and very likely open the way to same-sex partnerships (for men or women) being seen as at least permitted for Christians. I very much doubt if Barbara would see it that way, however!
Both the strength and weakness of this impressive, passionately disciplined writing lies in the method. How are personal experience, ecclesial context and the Christian tradition inter-woven in the practical application of the scriptural testimony to the will of the Lord?
Charles Sherlock is an Anglican priest whose ministry in theological education commenced in 1971. He is a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, Executive Secretary of the Liturgy Commission of General Synod, and currently (2009) ministers in the Diocese of Bendigo.
St Mark's Review, June 2009
The Christian church has been opposed to divorce, and usually decries the modern divorce culture. Not Under Bondage reminds us that this has had unseen consequences, forcing Christians (most often women) to remain in abusive marriages. Barbara Robert’s book addresses the issue of divorce from an abusive marriage. Although she writes from personal experience, the book has no autobiography or personal anecdotes. It is a carefully researched and argued book, dealing with the biblical, theological and pastoral aspects. It is a model of Christian ethical reflection, strongly grounded in Scripture and at the same time intensely engaged with the experience of life with obvious empathy for victims of abuse.
The thesis of the book is that abuse, adultery or desertion are grounds on which a ‘disciplinary divorce’ should be allowed, and that after such a divorce remarriage is permissible. A fairly common Protestant view has been that a marriage is a not an indissoluble sacramental bond but a covenant which can be broken by unfaithfulness. The focus of the book on abusive marriage deals with a grounds for divorce which has not often been given sufficient consideration (a very helpful appendix outlines the history of the issue in the church).
The first chapter deals with the identification of abuse, arguing that not only physical violence but the use of emotional, financial, social, sexual and spiritual power can “so undermine a person’s well being that the result is abuse”. This important observation is as close as the chapter comes to defining abuse. The burden of the chapter is to describe abuse and its patterns rather than to offer a technical definition. It may be argued that such a definition is not of any great practical help and that if we are properly sensitive we know abuse when we see it. However some reflection in this chapter on what constitutes ‘abuse’ may have helped victims, pastors and even abusers to properly name behaviour which is more than the usual conflict and disappointment of married life. The chapter finishes with a very clear warning about naïve assessments of abusive marriages.
Chapter 2 deals with the Biblical pattern of discipline. That may seem an unusual topic to which to turn, however Robert’s case is that divorce is a proper action of discipline. This approach gives a very helpful biblical perspective to the issue, and means that it is integrated with pastoral theology in a way that most books on divorce are not. Although she is talking about civil divorce she approaches the question through the process of church discipline. Her argument is that disciplinary divorce is a special case of the general principle of separation (see 2 Thess 3:6,11-15; 1 Cor 5:4-5; 11-13).
The next chapter takes on more directly the question of divorce, especially on the basis of 1 Corinthians 7:10-16. Here Roberts uses Luck’s distinction between treacherous and disciplinary divorce. She argues convincingly that disciplinary divorce is proper in the case of an adulterous partner, or desertion or abuse. She also argues that 1 Cor 7:15 (“if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so, a believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances”) teaches that someone who has been treacherously divorced or has divorced an adulterous or abusive partner may remarry. It is from this passage that the title of the book is taken, as Roberts argues persuasively that “not bound” could be translated “not under bondage”. This does not change the basic implication of the text, but certainly suggests interesting connotations.
Roberts also considers Paul’s instruction that if a non-Christian spouse is willing (suneudokeoh) to remain in a marriage then the Christian should not divorce (1 Cor 1:13). She argues that this can not be held to mean that the non-Christian spouse may demand any terms in order to stay and hence that a Christian must remain in an abusive situation. This is right, although her suggestion that Paul’s meaning could be glossed as “the unbelieving husband… may approve of his wife and her godly values” is probably attempting to read too much into a single word. A better argument would be that Paul’s statement here is not intended to be a principle which deals with all possible cases but should be seen as a contrast to the previous clause about his an unbelieving partner who does want a divorce.
Chapter 4 deals more fully with the question of remarriage. It is interesting that it is at this point that church discipline is dealt with. Presumably this is because in Australia marriage is still often a church matter, while divorce is a civil process. Despite the legal situation I would like to see some consideration as to how the church might be able to render judgement at the point of divorce as well.
The rest of the book deals with various issues which “clear the ground”. Chapter 5 is a rebuttal of theological arguments that marriage is indissoluble. Chapter 6 argues that the Old Testament assumes remarriage after divorce. Chapter 7 tackles the question of whether a Christian may break vows made at marriage, arguing that the marriage covenant has a conditional aspect. Chapter 8 deals with the text of Malachi 2:16 arguing that it should be translated “For the man who hates his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts” (as in the ESV) rather than “I hate divorce, says the LORD God of Israel, and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment, says the LORD Almighty” (as the NIV). That is the text condemns divorce which comes from a husband’s lack of love or hatred (the Hebrew word is sane’ which is usually rendered as hatred or enmity). The evidence marshalled from a wide range of scholarship (detailed in Appendix 7) makes a convincing case.
Chapters 9 -11 deal with Jesus’ teaching and the so-called Matthean exception that only adultery is a grounds for divorce. Roberts argues that Jesus teaching is in continuity with the Old Testament. The final chapter draws together the conclusions of the study and finishes with a thoughtful plea for Christians to be more careful about statements such as “God hates divorce” and for preachers and teachers to be aware of how victims of marital abuse would hear such statements.
Not under bondage is a useful and important book. It is a good model of Christian ethics applied to an agonising issue. It is recommended reading for pastors and those working in marriage counselling. It is also readable enough to be given to people struggling with these questions in their own lives and families. It is encouraging to see such a useful work produced by an Australian Christian and first time author.
John McClean (teacher of Ethics, Systematic Theology and Christian Worldview at Presbyterian Theological Centre, Sydney)
Barbara Roberts has read widely and wrestled with the text of scripture and I stand in awe of what she has achieved.
Michael Hill (The How and Why of Love: An introduction to evangelical ethics; Vice Principal, Moore College, Sydney)
This book removed the scales from my eyes and brought me face-to-face with the plight of victims of abuse who entered their marriage promising to honor Jesus’ command ‘not to separate what God had joined together’. Several years ago I changed my mind about the scope of this seemingly absolute prohibition.
Not Under Bondage will help you wrestle through the when and the why of how you might be exempted from a marriage covenant that has been violated by various forms of abuse. Roberts is definitely not trying to ‘open the floodgates’ of excuses for divorce.
William Heth — author of Jesus on Divorce: How my mind has changed (SBTJ) and contributor to Remarriage After Divorce in Today's Church
David Instone-Brewer (author of "Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible" & "Divorce and Remarriage in the Church")
This book bravely faces up to the consequences of abuse within the Christian community, in a practical and theological way, without ignoring the complexities of the Bible teaching on divorce and remarriage.
David Instone-Brewer - Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible; Divorce and Remarriage in the Church; Tyndale House, Cambridge
David Clyde Jones (Professor of Theology and Ethics, Covenant Seminary, USA; author of Biblical Christian Ethics)
From time to time I tell my students that what keeps me going in ethics is the opportunity to quiet frightened consciences by providing a more adequate biblical perspective on various issues. Not Under Bondage achieves this to an eminent degree. The chapters on ‘abuse’ and ‘separation’ are especially illuminating – the best I've seen, in fact, on abuse and the biblical response to it.
David Clyde Jones — Professor of Theology and Ethics, Covenant Seminary, USA; author of Biblical Christian Ethics