Divorce and Remarriage: Biblical Principles and Pastoral Practice, by Andrew Cornes. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993. 528 pp. $24.99 (paper). [Reviewed by the Editor.]
This is a careful, thorough treatment of Scripture’s teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Although concentrating on marriage, the book does justice to the single life as a blessed, preferable way of life for some Christians. Following the 300- page section of biblical exposition is a 200-page section devoted to instruction of officebearers and congregation concerning pastoral practice.
Anglican minister Andrew Cornes demonstrates that it is the doctrine of Christ and Paul, that is, the New Testament, that divorce is permitted only in the case of the sexual infidelity of one’s mate and that remarriage is always forbidden as long as one’s husband or wife is still living. Taking sharp issue with virtually all of Protestant thinking today, Cornes contends that the Bible forbids the remarriage also of the so-called innocent party.
This book is convinced that in
– as in
– Christ prohibits remarriage even in the case of divorce for adultery . .. (p. 305).
The one text that might possibly be understood to allow for the remarriage of the “innocent party” isMatthew 19:9. Cornes ejects this popular interpretation and convincingly shows that Jesus in fact is teaching that “it is always wrong to remarry in the lifetime of your divorced partner” (p. 220). Especially the surprise of the disciples at Jesus’ teaching and Jesus’ response to this surprise (vv 10ff.) lead Cornes to the conclusion that Matthew 19:9 teaches that “a man may divorce his wife for marital unfaithfulness, but anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman – for whatever reason – commits adultery!” (p. 236).
The basis for this view of divorce and remarriage, is the biblical truth about marriage. Marriage is an unbreakable bond between one man and one woman formed by God Himself. Death alone as the dissolving act of God breaks the bond. Divorce in the sense of the dissolving of the marriage is, therefore, not only forbidden, but also impossible. Accordingly, every subsequent remarriage is adultery.
Jesus’ teaching (in
– DJE) also means that divorce – at least in the sense in which he Pharisees thought of it is not only wrong (9) but is impossible. Again, it is of course perfectly possible to secure a divorce that is valid from the legal point of view. But it is not possible to undo what God has done, God has joined a man and his wife together (9). He has created a marriage “yoke” (9) or unity (8) or bond (
). Since, even after divorce, to marry someone else is to commit adultery (11, 12), clearly this marriage bond still remains, even after legal divorce. Therefore full divorce-in the sense of the “dissolution” or elimination of the marriage bond – is not something which any legal process is capable of achieving. Only death dissolves the bond (
) (p. 193).
The reason why the churches and their theologians, ministers, and marriage counselors permit remarriage is that they do not know the reality of marriage: “People today do not understand the New Testament position on divorce and remarriage because they have never understood what, according to the Bible, happens at marriage” (p. 288).
The one area of weakness in this powerful, courageous presentation is Comes’ tolerance of those who are already divorced and remarried as members of the church, especially if they remarried in ignorance of the biblical teaching. This tolerance is cautious and unenthusiastic, even grudging. It demands repentance for the sin of adultery in every case. It seems to call for stripping remarried officebearers of their office. But there is this tolerance.
Repentance will not mean breaking up a remarriage that has already been entered into, but it will mean recognizing that this second marriage – however much it is, rightly, a cause of praise to God – should not have been embarked upon, and attempting to be reconciled – to ask, to receive and to give forgiveness – with one’s first partner (p. 412).
Comes ignores the truth that on his own (biblical) view those who are remarried after divorce are involved in an ongoing adulterous relationship. He also fails to note that genuine repentance invariably consists of turning from the sin that is repented of. His tolerance of (repentant) remarried persons in the church runs the author stuck. He rightly condemns “a service of blessing” for a remarriage, that is, a ceremony in which the pastor or church blesses the remarriage that has just been performed by a civil magistrate since the church refused to be involved. But Cornes is forced to approve the church’s subsequent prayer on behalf of this remarriage:
Can it be right later on to pray for the healing of a second marriage that has run into difficulties or for the continued growth of a happy remarriage? We saw in chapter 10 that the new couple have entered into a marriage covenant. They should not have done so, but they have; and that covenant is now binding on them. They cannot repudiate it at will; they should not repudiate it, even if they subsequently realize it was a mistake (cf. Eccles. 5:4-7). Therefore it is entirely right that Christians should pray for a second marriage that has run into difficulties to be sustained. But it cannot be right at the very beginning of the marriage for the Church to give its seal of approval (which is how it is inevitably seen) by offering a service of blessing. This must be withheld (pp. 483, 484).
Like the section of biblical exposition, the section on pastoral practice is outstanding, with the exception just noted. Cornes pleads for education of the members of the church in the truths of singleness, marriage, divorce, and remarriage. He calls for a “caring” that sympathetically helps those in marital distress and that dares to discipline those who sinfully divorce and who remarry. Reconciliation must be the church’s aim, although this involves strenuous effort. In a culture dominated by the thinking and behavior of the world, the church must see her calling to be that she “bear(s) witness to God’s standards, to Christ’s teaching” (p. 465).
This is a splendid, timely, and rare book. Above all, it is a book that is uncompromisingly faithful to Scripture in a matter -marriage-that is simply crucial to the life of the Christian and to the existence of the church. It is the best book that I have read on the subject, and I have read many.
Published by Eerdmans (to their credit), it will have to be acknowledged by evangelicals who have long since abandoned the biblical principles that the book advocates and who approve the same easy unfaithfulness on the part of married persons to God and to each other that the book condemns. What will these evangelicals say about it?
Many Verses!, by Ernest Springer. Audubon, NJ: Old Paths Publications, 1993, i-ii, 73pp. $4.95 (paper). [Reviewed by Prof. Herman Hanko.]
The subtitle of this little book informs us of its main contents: “The importance of reading the Scriptures in Reformed worship.”
The author is concerned, and rightly so, that Scripture reading as a part of worship is increasingly being de-emphasized and even abandoned. This is not only being done in circles where contemporary forms of worship are being used, but also in more solid and staid churches which hold to traditional forms to worship God. He contends for the fact that Scripture reading has always been considered an essential aspect of worship and that its demise or de-emphasis is contrary to the Word of God. He points out that Scripture requires it and that the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition insist upon it, even to the point that commonly two entire chapters were read in the worship service. Whatever the motives of the minister maybe, and sometimes these motives are only to free up more time for the sermon, the reading of the Scriptures is crucial in Reformed worship.
In dealing with the subject, Mr. Springer takes the opportunity to discuss other matters connected with Scripture reading: the regulative principle, modem translations, annotated Bibles, red-letter Bibles, etc. In broadly addressing himself to whatever detracts from the reading of God’s Word, he takes on charismatics and the practice of putting unbelievers into office in the church.
Adding to the value of the book is an appendix which gives the debate which was carried on at the Westminster Assembly concerning Scripture reading in the worship services.
The book is an excellent reminder that, after all, sometimes the reading of God’s Word is the best part of the” worship service.
I cannot resist the temptation to add that ministers ought to read the Word of God fluently, without mistakes, and with proper emphasis – something which requires careful preparation.