Brian Asbill

Brian Asbill, University of Aberdeen, Scotland

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.

(Review originally published in 2010 by Rutherford House. Link disabled: Link no longer exists.)