Recently Brendan Larsen of the God or Absurdity (https://www.facebook.com/godorabsurdity) website made the false claim that all Christians are able to divorce their spouses and remarry… for any reason whatsoever.
Despite the attempts of myself and a few others, Larsen will not listen to reason and accept that he is wrong on this topic and teaching others falsely. Larsen even goes so far as to twist the words of Jesus Himself on this topic.
So why make a post about this? Why not just forget it and move on? After all, one more person being wrong on the Internet is hardly cause for concern, is it?
The bible shows us that false teaching about Jesus and the Way are to be challenged, especially by those that call themselves Christians and twist what is taught. That Larsen believes falsely is bad enough, but the fact that he teaches others falsely and promotes the sin of adultery by his teaching, is even worse.
Presumably, given his various certifications, Larsen knows the difference between Exegesis (Critical interpretation/explanation of text) and Eisegesis (Imposing an interpretation on the text). So it’s a little baffling to see him so readily abandon good scholarship and adopt the position he has.
So why is this? What could possibly make him abandon a clear teaching of Christ on the subject and believe and teach falsely?
Well dear reader, sadly, Brendan Larsen is divorced… and he does not want to be.
Personally, I don’t blame him. While I have met a few people that are glad they are no longer married, I’ve met quite a few who are angry, resentful and bitter at the state they find themselves in. Healing from the wounds of divorce can take an incredibly long time but, and here’s the good news, it is possible!
It is my strong belief that it is Brendan Larsen’s pain, and his desire not to live the rest of his life as a divorcee, that has led him to grasp onto anything that will allow him to remarry, even if it is in direct violation of what scripture teaches.
Jesus’ Teachings on Divorce
In Matthew 5 and 19 Jesus presents clear teaching on the topic of divorce. Since Larsen uses Matthew 5:31 & 32 to develop his false teaching on divorce, let’s focus on these two verses.
31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (ESV)
In the example of Matthew 5:31 & 32, Jesus seems pretty clear on the topic. However, in an effort to prove that Jesus was not saying that one may not divorce for any reason, except infidelity, Larsen claims, “There are actually two greek [Sic] words – one means to separate, the other means to divorce” and that because of this, one need “be careful” not to interpret the Greek in any manner that produces explanations other than the ones that Larsen himself provides.
Larsen uses this reasoning to make the claim that Jesus simply meant that if one should “send away” his wife without first giving her a divorce, when he remarries he would be committing adultery. Specifically, Larsen states in a dedicated blog post on the topic, “A key issue related to the topic of divorce is that the word that is translated as divorce in many Bibles actually means ‘send away’ rather than divorce. (See KJV and many other more literal translations which use ‘send away’). The cultural context is that in the Middle East then (and still today in some parts of the middle east [Sic]) men were sending away their wives for trivial reasons but without giving them a certificate of divorce. In that situation they’d be then marrying a second person and committing adultery if they remarried.” http://godorabsurdity.blogspot.co.nz/2013/08/divorce-hope.html
In addition, Larsen makes the claim that, “…nearly all of the more literal translations…” and the KJV correctly translates these two passages, all others are in error. He further goes on to say, “I don’t believe most churches have a biblical understanding of divorce and remarriage. It’s important to understand the cultural context of many of the verses to avoid misunderstanding them.” http://godorabsurdity.blogspot.co.nz/2013/08/divorce-hope.html
It’s All Greek To Me
So is Larsen right?
Nope, he’s dead wrong on both on the Greek and the history.
In a recent comment on his site Larsen noted about himself, “I’m not a greek [Sic] expert…” and he’s absolutely right, this is one of the reasons that his interpretation is inaccurate to the point that he is now promoting adultery.
Since Larsen likes the KJV and uses its interpretation to justify his position, let’s take a look at it in the book of Matthew, chapter 5: “31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” (Bold mine).
Now here we note that the KJV does not translate this word divorce as “send away,” as falsely claimed by Larsen, rather it is translated as “put away.” Using the New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (2010), let’s take a look at the Greek. And in case anyone should object at my source, Strong is a well-respected resource and has been in consecutive use since 1798.
For both instances of the phrase, “put away” in verses 31 and 32, Strong’s would have us look up the “630” reference in the Greek Dictionary of the New Testament. The same Greek word is used in both occurrences, i.e. ἀπολύω which is apoluó, meaning “to free fully,” “relieve,” “release,” “dismiss,” and “divorce.”
Apoluó is a verb combined from two Greek words – ἀπό or apo, meaning “from, away from” and λύω or luó, meaning “I loose, untie, release, destroy, dissolve.” The textus receptus, the text-type upon which the KJV is based, uses the transliteration, “apoluse,” which is the same “630” reference used above.
The KJV, in fact, uses the same “put away” meaning (Greek 630) for when Joseph considered divorcing (put away) Mary when he found out she was pregnant with Jesus. And it is the very same word used by Jesus when referencing Moses who permitted the people to divorce (put away) for any reason (see Mark 10:4).
Now Larsen has argued that the Greek word used by the KJV and the phrasing “put away” can mean to “send away, BUT NOT divorce.” However, Larsen presents no evidence to back up his claim, he simply makes statements and expects others to accept what he is saying as fact.
In Matthew 5:32, Jesus notes at the beginning of the verse, “…That whosoever shall put away his wife…” and it is this particular verse upon which Larsen’s false teaching hangs. Larsen translates this as “apolyon” and says it means, “sending the wife away without giving her a certificate of divorce.” This is factually incorrect.
The word “apolyon” does not mean to “send away a wife without first giving her a certificate of divorce.” I’m not sure if Larsen is deliberately lying or if he has just grabbed this definition from someone else and not bothered to research it. Whatever the case, it is troubling to see him make these statements and proclaim them as truth.
Apolyon is simply a form and transliteration of apoluó. It has no special meaning beyond the definitions given above for the word “apoluó,” i.e. “to free fully,” “relieve,” “release,” “dismiss,” and “divorce.”
It is this same Greek word apoluó that is used by the KJV and by other translations, such as the ESV and NASB, for all the “put away” instances used in Matthew 5:31 & 32. Jesus was not talking about sending away a wife without first giving her a certificate of divorce, as alleged by Larsen, that is blatantly false.
Christ’s meaning is quite clear and only those with different agendas will choose to twist what He said.
Cultural Context and History
The second unsupported claim made by Brendan Larsen is that the Jews of Jesus’ time were in the habit of sending their wives away without first giving them a certificate of divorce. Specifically in a dedicated blog post to the topic of divorce, Brendan notes: “in the Middle East then (and still today in some parts of the middle east (Sic)) men were sending away their wives for trivial reasons but without giving them a certificate of divorce.”
While Larsen makes this claim, he once again offers no sources for this alleged historical occurrence.
In fact, Larsen may as well argue that Jesus also loved to ride dolphins and eat pork burgers on the weekend. Without offering any sources to justify his version of history, he forces us to simply take his word that what he is saying is true.
It didn’t take a lot of effort to uncover the truth of the matter.
Dr. Gary M. Burge, professor of New Testament studies at Wheaton College and Graduate School, noted in a 1999 article written for Christianity Today, that Jesus was directly addressing teachings on divorce by several famous Rabbis in His Sermon on the Mount address – specifically in Matthew 5:31 – 32. (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1999/october4/9tb082.html?start=2)
Burge noted that Rabbi Hillel (110 BCE – 10 CE), one of the most famous and influential religious leaders of Jesus’ day and instrumental in the development of the Talmud (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillel_the_Elder), had taught that any man may divorce his wife for whatever reason he liked, including, “Even if she has merely spoiled his food” (http://www.come-and-hear.com/gittin/gittin_90.html#90a_3).
Hillel’s teaching was a reflection of the tradition of Moses as commented on by Jesus in Matthew 19, i.e. that Moses had permitted the people to get divorced because of their hardness of heart.
As a counterpoint during this time, it was Rabbi Shammai (50 BCE – 30 CE), a 1st century scholar with an influential role in the development of the Jewish Mishnah (first major written document covering the Oral Torah), who taught, “A man should not divorce his wife unless he has found her guilty of unseemly conduct” (http://www.come-and-hear.com/gittin/gittin_90.html#90a_3).
The Jewish Encyclopedia also supports this historical account and shows that it wasn’t even until the 11th Century the Jewish law was enacted to prevent husbands from simply divorcing their wives on a whim http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5238-divorce.
So what can be concluded? Can a man divorce his wife for any reason, remarry, and not be guilty of adultery?
According to Jesus, the answer is “no.” One may only divorce due to infidelity.
While I sympathize with the position that Brendan Larsen finds himself in, he is teaching people falsely on the subject of divorce and promoting the sin of adultery.
Larsen gets both the Greek interpretation and the historical account wrong.
As a divorcee, he desires to remarry and it is this chief desire that has led him to ignore scripture, twist the words of Jesus, pervert the original Greek text and spread blatantly false statements about the historical context of the day.
Larsen should repent and make a public apology for his false teaching and the harm he has done to others by selling them a lie.