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Thursday, 01 November 2007 00:12

Response To David Instone Brewer's Article In Christianity Today Magazine

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David Instone Brewer, a scholar of some note at Tyndale House, Cambridge , UK specialising in rabbinics with an academic interest in The Jewish background of The New Testament, published the article in Christianity Today,   October 2007 edition  entitled "WHAT GOD HAS JOINED"  whose contents  were in part opposed by John Piper. We preface our own response by pointing out that Moriel regards this magazine itself as having departed from biblical orthodoxy in general, but after a request we believe this article deserves our comments.  David Instone Brewer attempts to argue for a New Testament basis for divorce based on a rabbinic understanding of Exodus 21:10-11. While  holding no admiration  at all for John Piper, but a fair amount of regard for David Instone Brewer (at least from an  an academic perspective), we respectfully disagree with his  conclusions.

The article:Â   http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/october/20.26.html

As an evangelist to the Jews for some years with an interest in Midrash and use of First century/ Second Temple period Jewish hermeneutics in the New Testament (I did a portion of my post graduate research at Tyndale House a number of years ago), I am in one sense closer to David Instone Brewer than I am to John Piper. In fact, I do not share Piper's Calvinism and I staunchly oppose his supercessionist doctrine.

Hence, if I have a predisposition it is to favor David Instone Brewer , whom I regard as a credible scholar, over John Piper whose Reformed replacementist  dogma I can only view as theologically delusional.

David Instone Brewer is certainly correct contrasting The School of Shammai with The Pharasaic School of Hillel which produced such luminaries as Rabbis Gamaliel, Onkleos, and Shaul of Tarsus cum Paul the Apostle. I was therefore somewhat surprised that David Instone Brewer did not make brief examination of Paul's apparent departure from the rabbinic school in which he was groomed on the issue of divorce and remarriage. Like Jesus, Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 marks a pronounced and revolutionized reassessment of the prevailing status quo.

The absence of evidence is never evidence, and eisegesis (reading into a text something not stated)Â   is never exegesis (drawing out what is stated). David Instone Brewer's arguments are purely deductive, not inductive and only induction is a basis for doctrine.

Jesus established a firm discontinuity between Mosaic and New Covenant thought on the subject of divorce drawing a distinction between what Torah allowed and what He did (Mark 10:1-9). Moreover, both the Gospel narratives and Pauline writings take a radically negative view of rabbinic authority where what would become 'chalakik adjucation' was predicated on diverse conjectured interpretations in a form of rabbinic argumentation and rhetoric called 'pilpul'.  Such pilpul  in fact accounts for the discrepencies in opinion between the schools of Shammai and Hillel correctly pointed out by David Instone Brewer (it also contributed to the broader philosophical differences between Pharisees and Saducees , and opposing perspectives of rival parties within the Sanhedrine). In introducing the principles of The New Covenant, Jesus sought to remedy this kind of fragmentation in religio-judicial opinion by first re-establishing the original intent of Torah , and then super-cede it with a superior New Covenant legislation.

Indeed, viewed in the context of the Judaism of the day, The Sermon On The Mount was in significant measure a polemic against this 'pilpul' approach to scripture evident in the "you have heard - but I say" format underscoring a pronounced covenental contrast with a simultaneous approach conspicuously divergent from rabbinic method of  juridical interpretation. Additionally,  the implied comparison between pilpul (which legalistically disputed the letter of the Torah) and Jesus (who interpreted the letter in light of the spirit of the Torah)  is inherent in Matthew 7: 28-29.

David Instone Brewer's article would appear to imply a closer proximity by Jesus and Paul to the School of Shammai concerning divorce and remarriage, than to the School of Hillel. This however  can prove to be  dangerous turf. In other areas, such as the benevolent disposition towards Gentiles exhibited by Jesus, Jesus was plainly closer to The School of Hillel, and His dismissal of the authority of 'Torah b'Al Pei' (oral law) rendered him in that area closer to the Saducees whom He regarded as heretical deniers of the resurrection. As his trial before Caiphas revealed, Jesus, like Paul, would 'chalakakly' be at odds with predominant rabbinic thought of all factions - full stop.

The inductive evidence mitigates against David Instone Brewers conclusions, and the deductive opinion he resorts to appears at odds with it. David's citation of the reiteration by Jesus of Deuteronomy 24 is inductive, exegetically plausible, and doctrinally solid. His speculative inclusion of   Exodus 21 buttressed by an opinion of ancient rabbinic opinion however -  is deductive, eisegetical, and consequently flawed.

The Pentateuchal legislation of Exodus 21:10-11 is omitted from New Testament narrative and 'didaskein' and affords no basis for doctrinal conclusions governing divorce and remarriage by Christians.

Again, the absence of evidence is never evidence. We interpret the nebulous and ambiguous in light of the blatant, the implicit in light of the explicit, and the omitted   in light of the included. Amplification of the nebulous or ambiguous passages  to cast doubt on the plainly stated meaning  with appeals to some extra  scriptural commentary (be it Rabbinic, Patristic, Papal, or Reformed), leaves us with a Christian Pilpul replacing a  Rabbinic One  , when Yeshua The Messiah in fact came to rid us of Pilpul altogether.

We are left with only the two  New Testament grounds for divorce and remarriage being abandonment by an unbeliever, or 'pornea', blatant sexual immorality - at least where it is unrepentant.

Jacob Prasch
Moriel Ministries

(These remarks were posted on the CT blog site.)

Read 4315 times Last modified on Friday, 05 December 2008 02:47

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