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Foreword to Divorce and Re-Marriage (2nd Edition)

For those who wonder who I am and why I produced this book, perhaps a word about my background might help. I took my undergraduate work in pastoral training at the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago (1965-70), where I studied theology under my father, Dr. G. Coleman Luck, Sr., Chairman of that department. I studied Greek under Donald Wise, and apologetics under Alan Johnson. I took my graduate work in philosophy of religion at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois (1970-1973). There I studied apologetics under John W. Montgomery, and philosophy under David Wolfe, Norman Geisler and Paul Feinberg, theology under Carl F.H. Henry and Clark Pinnock. I took Old Testament under Walter Kaiser and New under Richard Longenecker. I studied church history under John Woodbridge. My classmates were Terry Miethe, Gary Habermas, Richard Kantzer, W. Corduin, and Erwin Lutzer. As a divinity student at McCormick theological Seminary of Chicago (1972-74) I studied under Church History Paul Rigdon, and Thomas Schafer, Old Testament under Edward F. Campbell, theology under Thomas Parker. The switch from Trinity to McCormick is a story in itself. My father nearly disinherited me.

As a student at Trinity I entered into a spirited debate with Norman Geisler in the field of Christian ethics over the subject of whether or not the laws of God conflicted in a fallen and finite world. He contested that God’s absolutes did conflict and I argued that they did not. As a budding apologist, I appreciated the position of John Haley in his classic defense of Scriptural integrity, Alleged Discrepancies in the Bible, in which he defended the consistency of ethical (as well as historical and doctrinal) teachings in the Bible.

After a short stint as a university lecturer with Probe Ministries, Intl. Of Dallas, Texas (1974-76), and upon the death of my father, I was invited to join the faculty of the Moody Bible Institute. As Professor of Bible and theology I taught apologetics, church history and Bible, but my favorite subject was Christian ethics. Though Moody was then a dispensationalist school, I always had a strong respect for the Old Testament. Perhaps that was due to the influence in my seminary days from Walter Kaiser. I taught ethics with a heavy input from the principles of the Ten Commandments. One of my students told me that I ought to talk with one of my colleagues, John Walton, whose teacher at Hebrew Union, Steven Kaufman had done work on the structure of Deuteronomy which involved the Ten Commandments. Upon reading that I was impressed with the pervasive influence of the Ten Commandments not only in Deuteronomy, but also in the Sermon on the Mount, 1 Corinthians, and the first four books of Moses. John and I worked together on refining Kaufman’s Deuteronomy work and John published his version of it in the Grace Journal in 1986.

During those years (1976-1986) I felt moved to write on the subject of divorce. But my impetus did not come from teaching ethics per se. It came out of that debate with Norman Geisler mentioned above. Through various papers presented in the Evangelical Theological Society (of which I was an officer) and the Evangelical Philosophical Society (of which I was a founding officer and later President), I believed that I had shown the theoretical necessity of a non-conflicting view. In my teachings at Moody I believed that I had shown the general harmony of biblical rules. But I felt that it was time to tackle the issue from a topical approach. I decided to take the most complex ethical issue I could find in the Scriptures and show how the passages related to it harmonized. I chose divorce. So you can see the work began as a sort of apologetical, theological study.

Regarding the subject itself, over the years of teaching ethics, I had developed some ideas about divorce and remarriage which I felt deserved a hearing. I contacted one of the major publishers and found an editor who was very interested in the way I was working with Exodus 21, to show how God protected abused women. As I did my work on that first edition, I constantly badgered John Walton on the Hebrew and Don Wise on the Greek and they proved to be most gracious colleagues.

Initially I intended only to present a rather popular presentation of my position on divorce and remarriage. But the publication of works by Carl Laney and Heth/Wenham convinced me that I needed to make the work scholarly and deal with the logical alternatives. Though that made it infinitely more painful to write, I am glad I changed my mind about the approach. Perhaps, if Christ “tarries” I will be able to write a complimentary “case study” approach which will apply the teachings of this book to hypothetical situations that people face all the time. Sometimes this book gets so academic that I am afraid my readers will become confused and find application difficult. That would be a shame.

I knew that the work would be controversial. My friends warned me not to make divorce the subject of my first published work, but I didn’t listen. Perhaps I should have. I also knew that the conclusions of the book might be difficult for a conservative school such as Moody to accommodate. So, as the book was set to come off the press, I resigned my teaching position and began my own ministry, called LodeStar Ministries, International—somewhat modeled after Probe, related to apologetics, ethics, and Christian interaction with culture.

Then came publication of Divorce and Remarriage; Recovering the Biblical View in 1987.

David Hume said of one of his major works, that “it fell stillborn from the press.” That could certainly typify the first edition of this book. Due to a number of matters beyond my control and having nothing to do with the book itself, it went out of print within a year and a half, and I was given the copyright. It was very discouraging.

From those who were able to get a copy of it, I expected criticism. I got it. Not by any means was all of it bad. But, one of the troubling reactions to the first edition was the criticism it received over the issue of polygyny. You would think from reading my critics that I was some kind of closet fundamentalist Mormon apologist. A posture I strongly denied in the book. Why then is it in the book?

When I began writing the book, I decided first of all to do my best to bring out the meaning of the text, not put my theories into it. I had my own ideas, but I wanted to do an inductive study, employing what is known as the “Analogy of Scripture”. This approach attempts to determine the chronological order of revealed teaching on the subject, and follow along as God saw fit to teach it. I committed myself to letting the text take me where it would.

When I arrived at the teaching of the Mosaic Law on the sin of adultery, I anticipated doing a quick and easy subject. But, in my attempt to define “adultery” in Old Testament terms, I was surprised to find that its definition was always related to the woman’s marital status, never the man’s. As I worked, I fought the conclusion that it was it was defined that way to accommodate multiple marriages for the male. Not in the sense of making it easy for him to have more than one wife—on the contrary such marriages were more or less forced upon him due to extenuating circumstances in ancient Hebrew Life. Old Testament professors I consulted seemed embarrassed by the subject, but few denied it. The New Testament teachers got their hair up, so to speak, but always quoted me N.T. passages and seemed, again, embarrassed by the ones in the Old Testament. I virtually pled with people to offer me a way out of what seemed a matter that could not be ignored but cried to be avoided. Which isn’t to say that arguments weren’t offered. The problem was that the arguments offered were not very sound logically or textually.

I realized that if plural marriages were morally accepted by God at least up to the days of Jesus, it had to be taken into account in understanding His teaching on adultery and remarriage. What didn’t seem reasonable was that God suddenly changed the rules of marriage half way down the historical pike. My colleagues and logic having failed to save me, I wrote on like a lamb going to the slaughter (if that can be said). And when the book was published the knives came out. You would think, as I said above, that it was the only topic in the book! Nonetheless, the “cutting” criticisms did not seem effective in proving my conclusions wrong.

Twenty years later I have not changed my mind about the positions stated in the first edition. Considering my critics, I do not find any real reason to do so. If anything, the test of time has deepened my conviction that what I have said stands up to criticism, though I am quick to say that I welcome any reasoned criticism and am open to change if a good argument appears. My email is located on the author page.

So why a new edition?

After years of people requesting copies that didn’t seem to exist, I decided to publish again. At first I thought of simply re-publishing the first edition. But in consideration of several criticisms, I felt that a slight revision was in order. I completed that in 1997. But shortly after “competing it” personal matters intervened and another ten years passed. When I became more or less retired I looked to do some writing. I made some half hearted attempts to find an agent for the divorce book. While waiting for a response, I began two popular level commentaries, one presenting John’s Gospel as an apologetics manual and the other Matthew as a discipleship manual. In writing them I recalled my father’s admonition to include the text of the Scripture in such a book, I looked around for a readable, modern translation. I happened upon the New English Translation (NET) with copyright held by Bible.org out of Dallas Texas. In seeking permissions for those projects, I mentioned the divorce book and they showed interest. In polishing the grammar, I ended up making significant changes in the text. Writers are never satisfied I guess. I guess that make this the third edition. But I wish to give thanks to the editors at Bible.org for their help in making it possible.

I suppose it could be asked, how my mind has changed from 1987 to 2008. If anything, I have become a bit more liberal in attitude toward the subject. Life has overtaken me, and I have come to realize that marriage, like the Sabbath, was designed for men and women, not men and women for marriage. I’m not sure that those feelings changed any of the positions of the first edition, but it certainly helped me be more understanding in the application of its teachings to the real lives of men and women, including my own.

So often the tone of books on the subject, especially those published by my conservative brethren seem so harsh and judgmental. Divorce is a tragic event. It breaks the heart of God when the institution designed by Him to enable us better to work in this world becomes an impediment to doing so. If people are hard-hearted in their treatment of each other in marriage or divorce that is beyond sad. It is justification for rebuke and correction. But I have found that in many, if not most break ups, divorce is the last resort of bitter, depressed and disillusioned people, and there is sin on both sides—which is not to say that a justifying ground for sundering, if it exists, cannot be found in the midst of the mess. The happiness visible in their wedding pictures have given way to the sadness of empty chairs at the table. Children wonder where God was when their family was coming apart, and they wonder if marriage is worth trying in their own generation. For every marriage which involves treachery, I have found one in which people just seem to have lost their way. For the former, God and we should be angry. For the latter, God and we should grieve. We must not be so long on ethics that we cannot let truth kiss mercy.

I can tell you stories of those who were long on ethics, who went through their own divorces or through divorces in their immediate families, and came to rethink their positions on the subject. It is not so much that they derive their teaching on the subject “from the newspapers” or “from their guts”, as it is that overly harsh views came under the harsh light of reality. As for this book, I can tell you all its positions were developed without such personal awakening, but I feel for my brethren who have gone through difficult times and changed their minds on the subject.

In addition to Bible.org, I would also like to express great thinks to John Walton for all his help with the Hebrew in the first edition. I badgered him to death time and again. Thank God for “resurrecting” him each time. My dear professor of Greek, Don Wise, has gone on to his reward. May God bless his memory for the help he gave me, both in teaching me Greek and with the New Testament issues I brought to him during my writing of the first edition. Without them this would still be the more popular version I once had in mind.

Finally, let me restate my hope that what I have presented herein is simply what the Scripture says on the subject. Writing a book on the ethics of divorce and remarriage is not like writing a book on air conditioning repair. If you fail at the latter, people just get hot. If you miss on the former by being more lenient that Scripture, people may be led into sin. On the other hand if you are too strict, people may remain trapped in tragic circumstances where someone is sinning against them—where even lives may be at stake. Neither is desirable.

For those going through divorce, or who have friends who are, my prayers are with you. May this book contribute to God’s healing in your lives. Pray with the Psalmist:

Ps. 119:169 Listen to my cry for help, O Lord! Give me insight by your word!
170 Listen to my appeal for mercy! Deliver me, as you promised.
171 May praise flow freely from my lips, for you teach me your statutes.
172 May my tongue sing about your instructions, for all your commands are just.
173 May your hand help me, for I choose to obey your precepts.
174 I long for your deliverance, O Lord; I find delight in your law.
175 May I live and praise you! May your regulations help me!
176 I have wandered off like a lost sheep. Come looking for your servant, for I do not forget your commands. (NET Bible)

Related Topics: Marriage, Divorce