Bnonn Tennant (the B is silent)

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When italics won’t cut it

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5 minutes to read In which I find a difference of emphasis with Doug Wilson, and proceed to emphasize its importance.

Doug Wilson has responded to my concerns about his teaching on wives separating from their husbands. [ Douglas Wilson, I, Not the Lord (August 2018).]

I am generally encouraged by his response, because it turns out that we read the passage in exactly the same way. It is good to be on the same page about what the text actually says. It is also good to clarify that we are considering the options of one believer married to another (badly behaving) believer (vv. 10–11), and not a believer married to an unbeliever (vv. 12–16).

We do have a point of disagreement still, and also a point of confusion.

The point of disagreement is perhaps merely a difference of emphasis, but it has to do with how we understand the moral status of separation. Paul instructs the wife not to separate, but if she does, not to remarry. Doug takes this as permission for her to separate if she judges it right; i.e., while it is not good that they separate, it might nonetheless come to that, and if it does then there is no occasion for discipline.

But the command from the Lord is “do not separate,” and so Paul cannot be offering the “but if she does” as a merely less preferred alternative. That would contradict the command. Rather—as does happen in the law—he must be adding a regulation in the event that she disobeys the command: if she separates, that’s bad enough, but she may certainly not remarry on top of it.

Now, this is not to prejudge that disobedience to the command is always high-handed sin. Indeed, I think it is possible to break commands without sinning, and I think that because the Lord Jesus did it (Jn 5:17). The law is not a contract that is ipso facto violated by performative failures, any more than it’s a contract that is ipso facto maintained by performative successes (Amos 5:21–24). [See D. Bnonn Tennant, Works-righteousness: a square contractual peg in a round covenantal hole (March 2018).] It’s a covenant, which means that it’s predicated on personal fidelity (Mt 12:3; cf. 1 Ki 3:6). But neither the fact that one might break a command without sin in some cases, nor that God regulates breaking that command, can be construed as permission to break it.

Despite my reservations about Doug’s seemingly cavalier attitude to separation, I think we do both agree that hardness of heart is a two-way street, and there may be occasions where God would want a woman to stay with her husband less than he would want her to separate—even though he doesn’t want either. Moreover, unlike Dalrock, [ Dalrock, Pastor Wilson discovers the secret meaning of 1 Cor 7 (July 2018).] I see exactly the analogy Doug draws from runaway slaves (Dt. 23:15), and I agree that its general equity applies here. It’s no coincidence that the New Testament’s admonitions about submission to authority mention wives and slaves in the same breath. But it can’t follow from the fact that we may not give up a runaway to her master, her ba’al, her lord, that we should simply accept her running away, as implied by Doug’s comment that Paul would not hassle her about it. I think Paul would be extremely concerned to hassle both her and her husband about it, and by hassle I mean get to the bottom of what is going on.

This raises the point of confusion, because Doug appears to be sending mixed messages here himself. (This is, unfortunately, a feature of his writing often commented on; his clarifications seem to commit him to divergent positions, and he ends up looking like he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth. I don’t believe that’s his intent, but it is definitely the effect.)

In the first post, he indicates that if the apostle would leave a woman alone for separating from her husband, so should her eldership. She is free to go, no questions asked. But in the second post, he indicates that in his assembly, the eldership “would allow a woman…if married to (an extraordinarily) difficult man, to separate from him.” In other words, he seems to walk back his previous interpretation from saying that the eldership must leave her alone period, to saying they must leave her alone only if she is justified in separating. Well yes, exactly—but how are they to know if she is justified without “hassling” both her and her husband to get to the bottom of it?

I have another concern as well, and this is on the issue of the general equity of 1 Corinthians 7. In the ancient world, it would be comparatively rare for a woman to improve her lot by running away from her husband. As a rule, that was a recipe for poverty, ostracization and general misery. But today we are in the opposite situation: in our society, a woman can (and often does) improve her lot by running away—in fact, it is wildly “misogynistic” to even call it that, as if she does not have the authority to unilaterally leave—while it is her husband who is typically plunged into poverty, ostracization and general misery thanks to our wildly partial courts and the vigorously prejudicial Duluth model. [See for instance Dalrock, All roads lead to Duluth (July 2016).]

If the commands in 1 Corinthians 7 are written to a situation where the temptation to break them is unlikely, and the penalty for doing so built in, how should we adapt their application to our situation, where the temptation to break them is a standing narrative of empowerment for women who are unhaaappy in their marriages, and the penalty has been replaced with cash and prizes? It concerns me that Doug, in formulating his general advice, is not sufficiently allowing for how diametrically different our situation is.

Now, he can rightly say that he is speaking to situations where it is still the woman who needs protecting—and he does, after all, still forbid divorce. Well and good. But I can equally say that doing so without speaking to the inordinately more common reverse situation is a rather misleading way of going about things. A little like preaching on how husbands are to love their wives, without ever preaching on how wives are to obey their husbands. Our disagreement may be only a difference of emphasis, as I have said, but sometimes emphasis is, you know, important.

 22 comments

YoreyC

“Indeed, I think it is possible to break commands without sinning, and I think that because the Lord Jesus did it”

Did he, though?

We are told that obedience to God’s commandments is the superlative demonstration of closeness to him (1 john 5:3). But we are also tasked to obey, not merely the letter of the law, but the principles that inform it (eph 5:17). Jesus’ accusation against the pharisees was that they were doing the former, but not the latter (matt 23:24). So is it really “disobedience” when he rejected an imperfect law for the superior guiding principle?

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

As a general rule that’s quite right, but I picked examples where Jesus isn’t even obeying the principles behind the particular laws he’s breaking. I think while it is often helpful to distinguish between the letter and the spirit of the law, sometimes even that fails to capture what is going on. For instance, he elsewhere speaks of the priests profaning the Sabbath without guilt; in cases like these, you can’t really say they are adhering to the principle of the law even while breaking the letter, since the principle is complete rest.

It seems better to say that every law, in both letter and spirit, is part of a “standard operating procedure” for representing Yahweh’s rule with complete accuracy and chesed. As such, it’s generally necessary to obey each law as written, but sometimes necessary to obey it as intended, and occasionally even necessary to overturn it, since its intended use would actually misrepresent God (e.g., refusing to heal or serve on the Sabbath because God wants us to be rested).

Barnie

Deuteronomy 23 appears to refer to slaves escaping to the territory of the nation of Israel out of surrounding nations. In this, the instruction would serve to undermine the authority of surrounding regimes. I’m not sure you want to apply this to husbands.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

The command certainly expects refugees, but it doesn’t require it. That makes sense given that the laws of Israel strictly regulated the treatment of slaves in a way that was alien to the other nations; you’d be much more likely to be abused as a slave in Phoenicia, for instance, than in Israel.

Indeed, the fact that Israel did have such humanitarian slavery laws puts the lie to the idea that this humanitarian slavery law would only apply to foreigners. If they are to protect even foreign slaves from bad masters, how much more their own brothers?

We can’t overturn a principle that is clear in the text (not returning a slave to his master) by appealing to some speculative polemical/political motive for the principle (that it only applies to non-Israelites to undermine the authority of surrounding regimes), while ignoring an obvious a fortiori argument.

Barnie

You might want to have a look of the various other verses pertaining to slavery written over several thousand years and different historical contexts. For instance, the populace of a surrendering Canaanite city state was to be taken into slavery. Do you think several thousand recently captured foreigners are going to be allowed to wander off and settle wherever they want in Israel. Like Wilson, you are taking one brief bit of scripture out of context and projecting your modern sensibilities on it.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Thanks be to Barnie, I now realize that I need to read all the laws about slavery, rather than just one verse. I see the light—it was only my modern sensibilities making me think that slaves in general had any rights under Israel’s laws, and that wives are analagous to slaves.

Maybe next time you could try interacting with arguments rather than pitting Scripture against itself while failing to give any cogent counter-interpretation of the passage under dispute.

Barnie

Wilson references this verse precisely because there is little context in the remainder of the chapter. He spins it to make the obligations of the slave and rights of the slave owner subject to the day by day consent of the slave and then deploys this interpretation against husbands. He and you are going to find scripture pitted against your interpretation in every other verse on the subject. Hebrew slaves got to walk off the job on Jubilee, not whenever they felt like it. Foreigners not even then.
I gave a counter interpretation of the verse in question in my first comment and I provided scripture to back it up to which you called “pitting scripture against scripture” and you argue like a snarky teenaged girl.

Barnie

I’m an enterprising young Iron Age man, here’s my plan. I’m going to wander over to Israel and borrow every piece of silver I can get my hands on (at interest since not a Hebrew). Then I’m going to bury it all. When I get hauled into court Im gonna say “Sorry, guess you’ll have to sell me into slavery.” Day one Im going to walk off the farm, “Deuteronomy 23, suckas”. Then I can settle anywhere I want so I’m going to pick the most fertile river valley I can find, “Back off Jethro, Deuteronomy 23”. Then I’m going to dig up my silver and set myself up with some nice livestock. Gonna be sweet.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Doug doesn’t spin anything; he takes the verse to mean what it says, which is more than can be said for your counter-interpretation. Ironically, it is you who is imputing modern sensibilities to the text, especially your assumption that ancient slaves had the same mindset and options as modern wives when it came to dumping their masters.

Even if your inventive scenario held water, which it doesn’t because as soon as this entrepreneurial scoundrel ventured out of town he’d be fair game for recapture, it would work under your own interpretation with minor modifications. So what do you think it proves, apart from the fact that laws have to balance a lot of bad options and thus never deal with all of them perfectly?

I’m guessing you came from Dalrock. While I appreciate his insight, the cult he has allowed to fester in his comments section is not something I shall be replicating here.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Do you read the comments on his posts very much? It’s largely a radicalized amog echo-chamber of men who have become consumed with defining themselves as not-feminists, and go about it in much the same way that the Pharisees went about being not-gentiles.

YoreyC

I do read the comments. I guess I can see that, if that’s how you see it. In my experience it’s just how any online community is, messageboard or comment section. At least in the manosphere it’s countercultural and thus novel enough to warrant listening.

I’m intrigued that you would go against them with such strong words. Can you be more specific in your criticism and perhaps formulate a closeby alternative? Just for my curiosity.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

I often read at least some of the comments because they are a good source of alternative views, and especially of anecdotes that provide insight into the nature of a problem that I’m actually relatively insulated from. The same is true on Rollo’s blog. But the attitudes and mindsets on display there are not typical of all online communities, thankfully. My impression is that many of the most frequent commenters are men who are angry and bitter about being alone or being hurt by women (in most cases probably both). They get catharsis from gathering with other men to vent. Ironically, there’s something quite effeminate and disempowering about such bitchfests, and I think Dalrock’s very permissive moderation policy is a mistake. It reflects poorly on his own content to see so many readers posting comments that are so self-righteous, legalistic, contemptuous etc; it is much more like watching a gang of thugs hacking away at a downed foe than watching iron sharpening iron.

I don’t say this in a holier-than-thou way; I have many times considered disabling comments on my own blog because of the tendency for what can broadly be termed trolling (whether intentional or not). Even seemingly reasonable debates often turn out to be two people wanting to be right, rather than two people wanting to learn. I’m guilty of it myself so I understand the temptation. Fortunately my blog has remained blessedly obscure, so I haven’t had to make that decision yet…

YoreyC

Even real life conversations are like that. To find someone who enjoys arguing for the sake of mutual edification is very, very rare, as I think you may have forgotten. I would say especially when it comes to contentious topics like Christian perspectives on identity politics; even the ones willing to consider dissident thought must themselves be particularly contrary persons. Perhaps having a conversation intoned with the utmost agreeableness should be mercifully understood to be uncanny.

I have observed what you say about the “pity-party” aspects of manosphere comment sections.* But I think that this also is a spot where mercy is a more correct attitude than judgement. It’s an ugly world that’s getting uglier by the minute, and I think it’s very normal to feel stressed and hemmed in by the oppressive demonic forces that make you feel like an outsider in the world God created for good people. ecclesiastes 9:11

You seem to have a successful marriage with a cooperative wife, so you don’t have as much “space” to be angry at the ungrateful state of mind most women possess, and you haven’t been majorly hurt by things like divorce rape. You do enough of your own personal Bible study that you likely have a good relationship with the truth of God’s good word, so you have a hope for the future unlike the non-christian sectors of the manosphere, and you know not to engage in spiritually deleterious behavior like fornication. Maybe you’re doing good in business matters as well. So I would say yes, you are, to your good blessing, insulated from some of them bad things men commonly experience.

You’re not wrong that spending too much time commiserating over what’s wrong with the world is bad for a human. But maybe passing judgement on grieving persons as being a “cult” is too strong a way to say that maybe they ought to direct their focus more towards God’s grand promises for the future. After all, there is a time and place to weep and mourn.

*This is not unique to Dalrock, either, so I wouldn’t say “he” has allowed a cult to develop there.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Heh, I take your points, but I’m not looking for uncanny agreeableness. I really just feel inclined to hold Christian men to a higher standard. You ought to be able to spot the difference between unplugged secular folks, who are in the flesh and thus just swinging into zero-sum anti-feminism, and unplugged Christians, who are in the Spirit and should be swinging to positive biblical masculinity.

I do get that that’s a process, and it’s valuable to have a venue where they can talk to other people going through the same things. And I do get that some of them are genuinely grieving. But I see the same commenters saying the same kinds of things across years of archives. And I can’t retract my cult comment, because I see so much adherence to a leader who defines reality for these guys, along with vilification of all those outside the camp as unsaved. That’s classic cultism man…

OKRickety

“I see exactly the analogy Doug draws from runaway slaves (Dt. 23:15), and I agree that its general equity applies here. It’s no coincidence that the New Testament’s admonitions about submission to authority mention wives and slaves in the same breath.”

I see the analogy, but I disagree that it is relevant to this scenario. As you point out, there is a difference in equity between the situation of the Bible and the situation of today, a diametrical difference. There is incentive for a wife to divorce today. (I know that neither you nor Wilson have argued for divorce, but I expect a great many would try to extend the principle of allowing separation for alleged abuse to allowing divorce.)

It is a stretch to say that New Testament passages “mention wives and slaves in the same breath”. The admonitions are very separate, although often contiguous. I would accept “in the same breath” if they read like this: “Wives and slaves, submit to ….”, but they don’t. They are addressed separately, presumably because they are in fact different relationships, and thus I consider the argument of equity to be noticeably weakened.

Even supposing wives and slaves are in the same category of treatment, I am unaware of any New Testament teaching of this principle about Christian slaves. On the contrary, we find 1 Cor. 7:24 saying to slaves that “each one is to remain with God in that [condition] in which he was called.” We have the example of the Apostle Paul, who rather than keeping the slave Onesimus, sent him back to his master Philemon. Again, I consider this to further weaken the support for the equity of the Deuteronomy 23 argument.

I am rather dumbfounded that Doug here abandons his usual staunch position that we should hear both sides of the story before determining how to proceed. I am pleased that you instead advocate talking to both husband and wife to “get to the bottom of what is going on”.

I wish, not for the first time, that Doug had said nothing at all. I believe his fictional scenario is extremely rare, and agree that it is a “rather misleading way of going about things.”

RichardP

@BT said: But the command from the Lord is “do not separate,” and so Paul cannot be offering the “but if she does” as a merely less preferred alternative. That would contradict the command. Rather—as does happen in the law—he must be adding a regulation in the event that she disobeys …

Please, BT, and everyone else – read the actual scripture. Pauls says that God says BOTH phrases – “she should not” AND “but if she does”. Paul resumes speaking in his own voice only after the “but if she does” part. So everything stated between … not I, but the Lord and I, not the Lord is God speaking, not Paul, according to Paul. And the but if she does part is part of what Paul says is God speaking.

There are a number of scriptures that define who won’t inherit the Kingdom of Heaven / God – idolators, liars, fornicators, etc. No where do any of those lists contain the word divorce. But it IS made clear elsewhere that one who divorces and marries another commits adultry. And adultry is listed as sin. But never divorce.

By the words of the Bible, divorce is never mentioned as sin. But divorce and remarriage is listed as sin. 1 Corinthians 7:10-12 is consistent with what is included and what is left out of those verses that define behaviors that will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven / God.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

OKRickety, I take your point about the general equity of the runaway slave law; what I’d want to be able to do is trace out a sensible way to attenuate it to our situation, without completely overriding the principle. The Bible is obviously strongly in favor of slaves remaining in submission to their masters even despite poor treatment (e.g., cf. Hagar being sent back to Sarah). So we can’t apply the runaway slave law in a way that overturns that. But the Bible is also concerned about the genuine suffering of the innocent.

As I’ve said, I strongly disagree with Doug’s thesis of “not hassling” a woman who leaves her husband. But it seems to me that, more than simply inquiring into the matter, her elders have a duty to teach her the importance of submission. I.e., what they may not do is return her to her husband against her will. But what they very much ought to do is teach and exhort her to willingly return—assuming their inquiry doesn’t reveal something fishy enough to fear for her safety.

Regarding slaves and wives, I have an article on this relationship in the works, but until then I’d encourage you to read 1 Peter 2–4 without the chapter and verse headings displayed. Pay careful attention to his use of “likewise.”

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Richard, the second part of Paul’s command appears parenthetical (so many translations), which is why I treated it as Paul’s addition. However it really makes no difference whether he is adding his own gloss or speaking directly from the Lord since it is all the word of God anyway.

I’m afraid you’re confused on the nature of divorce. You’re taking a word-studies approach to exegesis, where if the word “sin” is not explicitly used of divorce, you think it’s not a sin. But Jesus said that what God has joined man should not separate, and that divorce is because of hardness of heart. Is hardness of heart not sin? Have you not read the story of Pharaoh? Is undoing the work of God not sin? Of course it is.

As regards remarriage, Jesus is clear in Matthew 5 that marrying a divorced person is adultery except when the divorce was on account of adultery in the first place. That’s because divorce itself is only permissible in the event of adultery—or, as Paul adds, desertion. In other words, marrying a legitimately divorced person is not adultery; marrying an illegitimately divorced person is, because that person isn’t actually divorced, so you’re marrying another man’s wife!

OKRickety

Bnonn,

But it seems to me that, more than simply inquiring into the matter, her elders have a duty to teach her the importance of submission.

That should not be necessary, but likely is, because it is rare to find such teaching done publicly in most churches today. I would argue that the failure to do this (and back it up with Christian discipline as found in Matt. 18:15-17) is the primary reason that marriages of Christians fail today.

Regarding slaves and wives, I have an article on this relationship in the works, but until then I’d encourage you to read 1 Peter 2–4 without the chapter and verse headings displayed. Pay careful attention to his use of “likewise.”

Actually, I have recently looked closely at that passage to investigate its usage to argue that husbands are to submit to their wives. The claim is that the “Husbands, likewise” in 1 Peter 3:7 implies submission to the wife because 1 Peter 3:1 says “Wives, likewise, submit to your own husbands”. It is clear to me that this is a ludicrous claim, but it shows the lengths some will take. If it does not already, perhaps you might extend your article to address the “likewise” to the husbands.

 


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