In a recent post on the blog of Baptist Women for Equality, Shirley Taylor has taken me to task for a paper I wrote over six years ago on “Marriage and Divorce According to the Apostle Paul.” I am thankful that someone is reading the paper, but I wish Mrs. Taylor had read it more carefully. She accuses me of putting my own thoughts into my discussion of Paul’s teaching in Romans 7:1-3. She writes:
Sorry, Pastor Steve Weaver,* you’ve got it wrong. Paul is not teaching on marriage in this scripture. He is telling them they can find a new law in Jesus Christ, and uses the illustration of a marriage to make it clear.
This is confusing. Is Mrs. Taylor accusing me of suggesting that Paul invented the idea that marriage is a lifelong commitment? I don’t say that. Does she think that I am denying that Paul was using what his readers already knew about marriage to illustrate a spiritual truth? Again, I must plead not guilty. I actually state in my one paragraph treatment of Romans 7:1-3 that “Paul’s high view of marriage serves as an illustration of the necessity of an individual’s death to allow the individual to be free from the law of God.”
In my paper, which I stand by, I outlined in four pages Paul’s influences which included the Graeco-Roman world of which he was a part, his training in Judaism, and the teaching of Jesus. These three clearly shaped Paul’s own views. I then state that “the apostle … refers to marriage in his letters as both an illustration and application of spiritual truth” (5). Mrs. Taylor counters my view by stating that in Romans 7:1-3, “Paul is simply using the marriage laws that they all understood, to explain how they can find a new love (Christ their savior).” I don’t think I said anything different than this. To clarify my own views, this exposition of Romans 7:1-6 (which I first preached within a year of the paper in question) should suffice. Therein I state,
It should be noted that the primary point of this passage is not to teach about divorce and remarriage. Scripture says much more about this topic than is found in this text. Paul is using a common understanding of the nature of marriage to make his point about the Christian life.
OK, I hope this clears me of the charge of misinterpreting Romans 7:1-3. Now, let me clarify what I believe are the real areas of difference between my views and those of Mrs. Taylor. I believe that Paul assumed that his readers would hold to the same view of marriage’s permanence as he did, namely that marriage was by divine design originally intended to be only ended by death. I believe that Paul wrote as inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore was protected from error in what he wrote. Therefore, Paul’s use of this illustration of marriage to describe the believer’s experience through faith in Christ also reveals a divinely inspired view of marriage. Thus, this is no mere cultural accommodation, but rather reflects the will of God regarding marriage.
This has obvious implications for one’s interpretation of texts related to gender roles, which is where I can only guess Mrs. Taylor is headed. In other words, did Paul merely accommodate the teachings of his day regarding marriage and gender roles, or do they reflect the revealed will of God for all people everywhere? This is the real issue, and I hope that in the future Mrs. Taylor would engage in her real area of disagreement with me and others who hold to similar views instead of hiding behind attacks that we have misinterpreted the Scriptures by reading our own views into them.