Letters

Ignorance, Misapplication, or Another Explanation

I do not like to give criticism to one of the Lord's servants. But I must say that I was totally surprised by your statements under "Letters" in the 4/1/98 issue of the Standard Bearer concerning divorce.

I love the God of grace and the grace of God. I read everything that I can on the subject. Most of present-day works by Calvinists is not scholarly. I am glad to say that your paper is one of the rare exceptions. This is why I enjoy reading it so much. So this is why I was set back by your advice concerning divorce.

Regardless of one's position on divorce, we should not misapply Scripture to our side of the issue. We all make mistakes. But I cannot believe that you made one concerning Mark 6:18 with the statement—"Thy brother's (neighbor's) wife." I know that you know this was his real, actual, blood brother's wife. I do not have to give to you the history. You are a professor. To try to pass this passage off as speaking against taking your neighbor's wife after a divorce is totally misapplying the Word of God. We both know that what John the Baptist was preaching against here was the Mosaic law of taking your natural brother's wife as stated in Leviticus 18:16. The Mosaic law was not against taking another man's wife after divorce (Deut. 24:1-4)—just your brother's. As you well know, the law of Moses directed a man to marry the wife of his deceased brother if he had left no child.

I am caught between a rock and a hard place with this. If you were ignorant of this history, what kind of professor are you? If you knew and misapplied the passage to your side of the issue, what kind of a Christian teacher are you? Maybe there is another explanation. If there is, please explain.

(Elder) Eddie Roberts

Faith Baptist Church

Madison Heights, MI

Response:

Surely it is not as bad as this?

In replying to a request for passages of Scripture bearing on the duty of a man twice divorced and now married to the wife of another man, to insert "neighbor's" in parentheses after "brother's" in a quotation of Mark 6:18?

Is it ignorance or deceitful exegesis to suggest, as I did, that the Baptist's condemnation of Herod for having his (half) brother's wife is properly to be explained as implying the condemnation also of a man's having his neighbor's wife, though the neighbor is not a relative by blood?

Certainly, the doctrine of my inserted, one-word interpretation of the text cannot be faulted. If the 10th commandment of God's law forbids coveting the neighbor's wife, it forbids having the neighbor's wife.

Reformed exegesis generally has seen more in the passage than only the condemnation of marrying a (blood) brother's wife.

In his commentary on Mark 6:17-29, John Calvin described the "atrocious character" of Herod's sin this way: "not only did he keep in his own house another man's wife, whom he had torn away from lawful wedlock, but the person on whom he had committed this outrage was his own brother." Calvin added: "John condemns the rape still more than the incest." In his indictment of Herodias, Calvin did not speak of an incestuous relationship, but of "the disgrace of a pretended marriage" (Harmony of the Evangelists, vol. 2, Eerdmans, repr. 1957, pp. 220-226).

William Hendriksen analyzed the sin of Herod as "this incestuous and adulterous relationship (emphasis added). He concluded: "such a marriage was incestuous. Was it not also adulterous (Rom. 7:2, 3)?" (Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark, Baker, repr. 1979, pp. 236, 237)

Nor is this understanding of Mark 6:18 limited to Reformed interpreters. The Anglican scholar, Andrew Cornes, appeals to Mark 6:17ff., with the parallel passages in Matthew 14 and Luke 3, in support of his contention that remarriage after divorce is adultery.

It is not possible to contract a true marriage—a marriage in God's eyes—while your divorced partner is still living. It is only possible to commit adultery. This is because the first marriage still exists. It may be for this reason that Matthew continues to call Herodias "Philip's wife" after she has divorced Philip and been remarried to Herod Antipas (Matt. 14:3f//Mark 6:17f, cf Luke 3:19). (Divorce & Remarriage, Eerdmans, 1993, p. 214)

The Committee on "Marital Problems—Ecumenical Synod Report" was correct when it asserted in its report to the Fourth Reformed Ecumenical Synod (1958) that "most exegetes regard the marriage (of Herod and Herodias - DJE) as both adulterous and incestuous" (Acts of the Fourth Reformed Ecumenical Synod of Potchefstroom South Africa, p. 78).

To my mind, the fundamental teaching of Mark 6:18 is that remarriage after divorce to anybody's wife or husband is unlawful. That the neighbor sinned against is a relative aggravates the iniquity.

Would you, therefore, regard my "neighbor's" in parentheses as neither ignorance nor deceit, but as accounted for by "another explanation"?

—Ed.

For All Times, Condemned, Rejected, and Denounced

In your editorial, "Where are the Theologians of the Cross?" (Standard Bearer, April 1, 1998), you quoted Gerhard O. Forde as saying that Luther's Thesis 13 at the Heidelberg Disputation, condemning the Roman Catholic doctrine of free will, was "the only one from this Disputation actually attacked in the bull 'Exsurge Domine' threatening Luther with excommunication."

Would you give me the actual attack on Luther's Thesis 13 from the papal bull, "Exsurge Domine"?

(Rev.) Wesley Pastor

Christ Memorial Church

Williston, VT

Response:

In 1520, Pope Leo X published a bull, or official decree, "Exsurge Domine" ("Arise O Lord"), threatening Martin Luther with excommunication if he did not repent and recant his teachings. The bull listed 41 of Luther's teachings, which it condemned as "deadly poison" and which were the ground of the excommunication. The 36th allegedly erroneous teaching of Luther was the following: "Free will after sin is a matter of name only; and as long as one does what is in him, one sins mortally."

This was a virtual quotation by the pope of Luther's Thesis 13 at the Heidelberg Disputation: "Free will, after the fall, exists in name only, and as long as it does what it is able to do, it commits a mortal sin."

About the 41 teachings of Luther that it condemned, including Luther's teaching that free will (the heart of the "theology of glory") is a fiction and false, the bull declared:

For all times do we want them condemned, rejected and denounced. We order in the name of the holy obedience and the danger of all punishment each and every Christian believer of either sex, under no circumstances to read, speak, preach, laud, consider, publish or defend such writings, sermons, or broadsides or anything contained therein.... Indeed, they are, upon learning of this bull, wherever they may be, to burn his writings, publicly and in the presence of clerics and laity in order to avoid the punishment stated above.

The theology of (man's) glory has always recognized and detested the theology of the cross.

The feeling is mutual.

—Ed.