A Review of “Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage” by Jim Newheiser

A host of questions surrounding marriage and divorce have always existed, but they are certainly compounded by our current cultural context. Churches, pastors, counselors, and Christians all wonder if the Bible speaks to the complexity of marital issues we face today. Jim Newheiser compassionately and thoroughly demonstrates that it does indeed speak to our issues. In Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage Newheiser presents a careful, exegetical, and comprehensive response to the major questions of marriage and divorce. Readers will find, here, a perfect reference tool to guide them through this complex age in which we marry.

The subtitle of the book helps us understand something specific about its format. As a book on Critical Questions and Answers its format presents short chapters set up by specific questions and then carefully answered. In 293 pages, the author attempts to answer 40 different questions ranging from pre-marital to remarriage. He aims his sights on the “critical questions,” those questions which pose the most significant challenges to living in a godly way in a broken world. In one sense it can serve as an introductory guide to Biblical marriage, setting up the foundational issues for God’s marital ethic. In another sense, it serves as a counseling tool for the more complex issues and exegetical challenges. Readers will learn about the Bible’s teaching on the permanence of marriage and the possibility of divorce, and will learn benefit from technical word studies. This book is one of the most comprehensive guides available to date.

The book is broken down into two parts. Part one focuses on Marriage. Its four subheadings break up the first twenty chapters, covering topics such as: foundations, preparation for marriage, having a successful marriage, and common challenges to marriage. Readers will find details here about cohabitation, dating, engagement, marital roles, and conflict resolution within marriage. Part two shifts the focus to Divorce and Remarriage. The three subheadings in this section break up the remaining twenty chapters. Here Newheiser navigates the foundational issues of divorce and remarriage, the controversies, and the practical questions. He spends a great deal of time unpacking the divergent views on the Bible’s teaching about divorce and remarriage, noting that respected Christians disagree. He emphasizes the importance of Biblical exegesis for our defense, humility in our articulation, and yet conviction and consistency in our practice.

One of the more commendable aspects of this work is its nuance and careful exegesis. Newheiser does not allow tradition to be his guide, but rather Scripture. If Scripture does not say something is forbidden, then neither does Newheiser. If Scripture does forbid it, however, then he holds fast to God’s Word. So, for example, when he speaks to the issue of “What constitutes a valid marriage,” he notes that marriage is ordained by God and therefore governed by God. The state’s approval, permission, and licensure are not, therefore, necessary. He states:

While it may be wise and desirable to obtain a license from the government for practical reasons, such as tax advantages or certain spousal legal rights, a couple can be truly married in God’s eyes without the involvement of the state. The Bible does not explicitly authorize the government to define and regulate the marriage covenant. As human governments continue to pervert their definition of marriage, some Christians may choose to make their marriage covenant before God and their community (family, friends, and church) without involving the government. (21)

This is a bold answer and one rooted in what the text of Scripture actually states. Newheiser works across the board to show such careful articulation of a Biblical marital ethic. Where there are clear principles that influence our understanding (such as the Bible’s teaching on avoiding temptation as relevant reasons against living with the opposite sex outside of marriage, p. 43) he states those and makes compelling arguments. Where there is nothing which directly or indirectly forbids a practice, however, (such as natural family planning or the use of certain types of birth control, p. 155-56), then he does not argue against them. He is careful and focused on Scriptural teaching.

This book is a tremendous resource. The short, concise chapters provide a quick, and yet focused study on a specific element related to marriage and divorce. The clear and careful articulation of the Scriptures keeps the answers grounded in exegesis. Not everyone will agree, of course, with every interpretive decision Newheiser makes. But they will be forced to wrestle with Scripture in their disagreements. In all, this book will provide a great guide to navigate the difficult questions of marriage and divorce in our current climate. I highly recommend this tool to all pastors, counselors, and anyone who wants to understand God’s teaching on marital life.

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