Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Context can be literal!

In discussing same-sex marriage, we should recognise that we've all been here before with the 30-odd year church re-marriage debate. The indissolubility of marriage in the Anglican Church was overturned by the moral consensus approach to theology, but only after the emphatic statements of Christ against divorce were re-interpreted as out of character and equivocal.

Paul had to wrestle with the post-conversion validity of heathen marriages: an issue that Jesus did not address directly in His answers to Jews on divorce.

The apostle was no conservative: quite happy to dispense with the most fundamental Jewish initiation rite for his new converts. Yet, he was hindered by Christ from fitting his marital theology into a relaxed consensus derived from the wider society.

Paul's revelation from Christ echoed and maintained consistent position on the indissolubility of marriage to a fundamentally different Gentile audience and in a completely new context. The prohibition against divorce was re-iterated to him by the Lord: 'Let not the wife depart from the husband' (1 Cor. 7:10). How unprogressive!

Depressingly, Paul even declared that a sacramental quality is imparted to these mismatched marriages that might have been left for dead: 'For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband.' (vs. 14)

In contrast to this method, we are now given assurances that the correct interpretation is to apply the consensus on ethics derived from the wider society in order to overturn any challenge arising from the ‘plain meaning’ of canon law or the scripture upon which it is based.

Any interpretation apart from this is declared by detractors as a literalist imposition of personal views on others. Yet, the apostle's contextual interpretation sustained Christ's declaration on divorce as applicable beyond its initial Jewish context to Gentile converts as well. How should we describe his approach in today's terms? Consistent, but restrictive? Invalid? Too literal?

What does 'built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone' (Eph. 2:20) really mean, if we only pay lip-service to the apostle's recorded contextual approach to scripture?