Peter Ballantine

Peter Ballantine, Anvil Vol. 26, no 2, 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.