SnapperTrx asked a pertinent question in a comment after the previous post:
What do you do when you talk to people who believe in this gospel of mutual submission and servant leadership? Do you actively debate people with this belief (other than online)? I had thought about starting a conversation with some FB friends who hold on to these beliefs, but decided against it. I don’t feel they would listen to a single word, so what would be the point? It seems that it would be more effective to talk to those who question the narrative rather than try to convince those who are already a part of it. What do you think?
Snapper brings up several points. First, how does one challenge toxic and unbiblical doctrines? Second, to what end? Obviously some are more willing than others to hear the truth and the Bible has some good examples of how to do this. Today we have one from the Great Teacher Himself; and interestingly, it covers a toxic doctrine that is still with us today: Divorce. The story is told in Matthew 19, but keep in mind that the purpose of this post isn’t to rant about divorce, it’s to show everyone how Christ handled objecting to toxic unScriptural doctrines that pervert God’s design for marriage.
Before we begin, there is one point that needs to be made. This kind of confrontation cannot be successfully handled unless the person doing it knows the issue intimately and knows what Scripture says at every point. That requires a very high level of understanding, which requires that you not just read, but study, memorize and meditate on the passages involved. It isn’t enough to know what Scripture says in any particular passage, you must know how it relates to the rest of Scripture and understand it in context. Why? Because if you set out to teach you’re held to a higher standard.
If you want “wow” factor, all it takes is calmly quoting various passages at length, from memory, while your opponents don’t even know what chapter you’re in… and they not only look like idiots but everybody knows it. You won’t get challenged on that again.
Watching The Master At Work
Jesus was teaching and some Pharisees approached Him to test Him and asked Him what the grounds for divorce were. They were testing Him, so they didn’t ask an honest question, they tried to phrase the question so that no matter what answer Jesus gave, it could be used against Him: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?” That, my friends, is what you call a loaded question. Matthew 19 is tremendously misunderstood because the Pharisees thought they were asking about the Law of Moses, but Jesus slapped them down by demonstrating the question was really about the very first of God’s Laws for mankind(1) the Law of Marriage.
First, the Law of Marriage is 24 words that grant the man the authority to marry and explains exactly how that is accomplished. There are three elements to the Law of Marriage, also known as the “three shall’s.” The man shall leave, the man shall cleave; and (notice that it’s no longer ‘the man’) they shall become one flesh. Jesus is about to explain the significance of that.
While the Law of Marriage did not contain any authority for a man to end a marriage he began, Moses (sitting as the Judge of Israel) later observed that the men were sending their wives away. This created great distress for the women because they were married women. Even if they found another man who would have them, to join themselves to another man was adultery, which was a death penalty offense. Moses issued a judgment, commanding the men that if the wife found no favor in his eyes because he had found some ‘indecency’ in her and he sent her away, he must give her a certificate of divorce.
In this way Moses legalized the process of divorce. The certificate of divorce was the second witness for the wife, proving she was divorced and eligible to marry again. Many would see this as a compassionate move but it was not. It is never, ever a good idea to tamper with God’s design for things. Moses had previously had a case regarding the Law of Marriage, recorded at Deuteronomy 22:28-29. He held fast to the Law at that point, but this time he did not. The problem was the word Moses used (“indecency”) was rather vague. What does that mean? It’s normative and subject to interpretation.
Thus, by the time Jesus had His earthly ministry there were two schools of thought on what Moses meant with that word “indecency” as the grounds for divorce. The Rabbi Shammai claimed(2) that indecency meant a serious problem such as adultery and no woman was to be divorced for anything other than a very serious marital issue. The Rabbi Hillel and his followers took a decidedly different approach, saying that “indecency” was in the eye of the beholder and it could be anything and divorce was authorized if the wife burned her husbands meals.
That is the political issue Jesus is being asked to comment on. To their minds, no matter which way He answered He was in trouble with one of these groups. The modern-day equivalent is “So- have you stopped beating your wife?”
What Jesus did was He asked a simple question that reframed the entire issue. “Have you not read?” That was a slap in the face to the Pharisees, the keepers of the Law. Of course they’d read. Then Jesus slammed them even harder by quoting that which they should have considered but hadn’t: “that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh?” Jesus cited the Law, not the amendment to the Law instituted by Moses. Then He hit them hard:
Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let no man separate.
We now have Jesus, the Word made Flesh, explaining that the man is only responsible for two of the three elements in the Law of Marriage, that God is responsible for the third element of “they shall become one flesh.” There are, therefore, no grounds for divorce.
Was that a home run? No. Like many issues in Scripture it’s more complicated than it appears to be on the surface and this is why anyone who wants to confront toxic doctrine must thoroughly understand what they’re talking about. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
The Pharisees should have been dumbfounded, but they immediately came back at Him with a question: If there are no grounds for divorce, then why did Moses (our Hero) say we could divorce our wives? It’s a legitimate question and they put their finger on a dichotomy that Jesus had to resolve. As the Master Teacher He was treading very thin ice with His response, both politically and doctrinally. They set out to trap Him with a question that would put Him in opposition to either the camp of Shammai or Hillel and He was now in a position that could arguably be viewed as being in opposition to Moses. If the Pharisees were on the ball (and I believe they were) they probably couldn’t believe their good fortune and they asked their question “Why then…”
That “Why then…” reveals they knew exactly what Jesus had just done, pointing out a dichotomy between God’s Law of Marriage and the judgment of divorce by Moses. Was Jesus going to take the bait?
“Why then did Moses command to ‘give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?'”
“Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.”
OK, He acknowledged Moses and recognized the authority of Moses. Yes, Moses amended the Law of Marriage. Then, with all that as a prelude, Jesus explained what Moses meant when he said a man could divorce his wife if he found some “indecency” in her:
“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Matthew 19:9 is one of those verses that is widely misunderstood as teaching that a man commits adultery if he marries *any* divorced woman. That is not true, as explained in this post. The net effect of this passage is to point to the significance of 1st Corinthians 7:10-11, where we have an anomalous event. Other than the book of Revelation, 1st Corinthians 7:10-11 is the only passage in the entire New Testament in which the Risen and Ascendent Lord is giving instruction to His church as a direct command.
“But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not(3) divorce his wife.”
The Law cannot be changed, but if one pays close attention, Christ is not changing the Law with respect to divorce that Moses put in place. Not at all. An unbelieving husband may still legitimately divorce his wife for her immorality (c.f. Matthew 5:32; 19:9). However, not that this instruction applies to married believers within the church. Christ is implementing a rule for His servants- it will be as it was in the beginning, no divorce.
Know your material and know your opponents. Understand the political issues involved that effect the answers you give. It is imperative that you completely understand what you are talking about before you try to confront someone over what you *think* is a problem with any particular doctrine. Teachers are held to a higher standard and it isn’t enough just to know the material, you must understand it completely.
Frame is everything. Jesus carefully reframed the issue of divorce from being what Moses had said about it back to what God said about marriage. You will not win confrontations with feminists or their white-knight allies by arguing the tenets of their philosophies. Stick to God and what He said. His Word is sufficient.
Speak the truth- especially when it’s going to hurt. He is the Lord Jesus and was able to explain what the third element in the Law of Marriage really meant- that the “become one flesh” was not actually the act of intercourse, it was an act of joining that God did. He was also able to explain what Moses actually meant with the word “indecency.” Notice that when He did, He took a line so strict that His disciples (who were listening) then said “If the relationship of the man and his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” They knew exactly what Jesus had just said- that virtually every single one of the acts a wife could commit that would qualify her for divorce were already death-penalty offenses. In other words, being a rebellious, contentious, disobedient, lazy, slovenly, disrespectful and supremely gifted bitch did not qualify as grounds to divorce a wife.
We have all we need contained in the Scripture we posses. All that is needed is study in order to have the knowledge to oppose toxic doctrine. But, that takes work and time and energy. Not many do that these days.
You will give offense. Understand that taking on bad doctrine and popular misconceptions about what the Bible says will make you very unpopular. Telling the truth by quoting the relevant passages of Scripture and explaining them in context will convict people of their guilt and their sin. That is offensive because no-one likes being called on their sins, especially when they didn’t know what they were doing was wrong.
Look at how the Master did it: He asked a simple question that needs to be asked: “Have you not read?” That is the key in confronting bad doctrine because it focuses on what all Christians are supposed to do. We are to be like the Bereans who studied their Scriptures diligently to know that all they were taught was true. We are to be the same way but very few are. The question is also the set-up for a service ace, which is the proper application of Scripture (in context) that explains why the doctrine is bad.
Model your argument on the Master’s model: In the case of the “mutual submission” and “servant leadership” doctrines, the question to ask is “Have you not read, that He said to the wife- speaking of the husband -that ‘he shall rule over you?’ And for that reason the Law of Vows places a young woman in subjection to her father in her youth and in subjection to her husband when she has come of age. All of the commands to the wife to submit to her husband in the NT were not dreamed up by misogynists, they were written in accordance with the command of God when He spoke to the wife of her husband: ‘he shall rule over you.'” That is the argument that exposes the falsehood of the doctrine.
Know the arguments against. Just as with the Lord, you will get pushback. In this case a popular one is that Christ lifted the curse. Really? And snakes no longer crawl on their bellies? Women are squirting their kids out like watermelon seeds at a 4th of July picnic? Are men still required to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow?
A gentler approach is, instead of focusing on confrontation, to focus on the core passage first. In the case of mutual submission, the core passage is Genesis 3:16 and “he shall rule over you.” There are all kinds of ways to do this, from discussing how that passage is the source of hypergamy, to how that passage is the underlying command of God that all the submission commands to wives in the New Testament come from. In this way, you ignore their bad doctrine is specious and irrelevant. If they bring it up they look like idiots because it’s framed as them now opposing God with bad doctrine.
Has God changed? In this case it all boils down to one question: Is God no longer the same, yesterday, today and forever? That was the underlying point Jesus made in Matthew 19. The only way Ephesians 5:21 can be the “context” with which to take all the submission commands to wives is if God has changed and His curse on women is no longer in effect. So… do snakes still crawl on their bellies and do women still bring forth their children in pain? QED.
And pray for them. They need all the help they can get.
(1)The first command God gave mankind was to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it and take dominion over it. The second command God gave was the command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The first Law was the Law of Marriage, which implemented the first command of “be fruitful and multiply.” It begins with “For this reason…” For what reason? The reason or cause is the command to be fruitful and multiply. The command has been issued and the Law has been given explaining how this command is to be carried out.
(2)Confession time. Understanding what I read has never been difficult for me, provided I either have the correct vocabulary or a good dictionary at hand, although I admit it once took me almost three days to figure out how the infamous Subpart F (Controlled Foreign Corporations) of the tax code applied to my special situation. However, in trying to parse some of the writings by the Rabbi Shammai, specifically to see if I could get to the essence of what he considered “indecency” to be… I finally met my match. I gave up. Compared to him, parsing the tax code is a piece of cake. So, as near as I can tell, according to Shammai, when Moses said “indecency” it was a really bad word and a woman would have to do something really bad to be indecent. Maybe I looked at bad translations, IDK, but he was the other side in the Shammai – Hillel argument over what constituted a legitimate divorce.
(3) The meaning of the Greek words translated as “should not divorce his wife” are just as easily translated as “must not divorce his wife” and “must not send her away.” The word “should” must not be thought as providing some wiggle-room when it comes to the issue of divorce, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this post.