Unduly Influenced

“One humanist would eventually overshadow all others in Europe. Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469-1536), a man who embodied all the reforming impulses of the new learning and late medieval piety. Ever the consummate scholar and man of letters, Erasmus never tired of critiquing the ethics and religious life of his own culture. Often with a healthy dose of humor and no small measure of sarcasm. A philologist, translator, satirist, philosopher, poet, and theologian, Erasmus would become the first literary superstar in modern history thanks to the printing press and his unique talents. He would influence his contemporaries as no writer ever had in all of human history, receiving invitations to teach in nearly every nation from Spain to Poland, and giving rise to an entire generation of young Erasmians throughout all of Europe” (Carlos M. N. Eire, Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650; underlining mine).

Some examples of the Erasmian influence.

“The early Christian writers’ interpretation of the divorce texts remained the standard view of the church in the West until the sixteenth century when Erasmus suggested a different view that was adopted by Protestant theologians” (Heth & Wenham, Jesus And Divorce, p.73).

The view of the so-called “early church” was that ALL remarriage after divorce while the original spouse was living was (without exception) considered adultery until Erasmus came along with what is called “the exception clause.” This gave the “innocent party” the alleged freedom to remarry. And yet, Jesus says that the innocent party (Matthew 19:9), apart from a matter of fornication, is CAUSED TO COMMIT ADULTERY (Matthew 5:32; emphasis mine).

David Instone-Brewer writes:

“Erasmus was one of the clearest thinkers among the new biblical scholars, and the publication of his Greek New Testament in 1516 was an important impetus to others …

Erasmus also took a new look at the divorce texts and tried to interpret them in the context in which they occurred. He suggested that the divorce sayings of Matthew 5:32 should be interpreted less legalistically, in line with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. He suggested that the sayings in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 were addressed to disciples who represented truly committed members of the kingdom, rather than to ordinary, imperfect ones ….

[Erasmus] pointed out that neither of the proof texts that were used for demonstrating that marriage ended only with death (i.e., Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Cor. 7:39) were actually dealing with divorce. He concluded that Paul allowed divorce with remarriage after desertion by an unbeliever, and that Jesus’ exception allowed remarriage after divorce for adultery” (David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, p. 259; paragraphing and underlining mine).

By Instone-Brewer’s account Erasmus employed the “Less-Legalistic-Sermon-on-the-Mount hermeneutic” in order to cloud the clarity of Christ’s words: “CAUSES HER TO COMMIT ADULTERY” (Matthew 5:32). Erasmus is represented as a tenacious student of “only committed disciples of the kingdom” are “able to accept” (cf. Matthew 19:10-12) Jesus Christ’s teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage; while it is only the “ordinary, imperfect [disciples]” who are allowed to reject His teachings and commit adultery — or CAUSE to commit adultery — upon their remarriage while the previous spouse is still living.

Instone-Brewer detailing Luther’s cavalier trifling with God’s word:

Luther normally followed the Fathers in matters of theology, but he departed from their almost universal teaching by allowing remarriage during the lifetime of a former spouse. In order to be faithful to the Fathers, who said that only death could truly end a marriage, Luther argued that the adulterer or unbeliever was spiritually dead. Adultery deserved the death penalty in the OT, and so an adulterer could be considered dead in God’s eyes, as was also the unbeliever.

Since it is only death that can dissolve a marriage and set you free, an adulterer has already been divorced, not by men but by God himself, and separated not only from his wife but from this very life….He is already dead even though the judge may not have him executed. Because it is God that is doing the divorcing here, the other partner is set completely free and is not obliged, unless he chooses to do so, to keep the spouse that has broken the marriage vow. We neither commend nor forbid such divorces, but leave it to the government to act here; and we submit to whatever the secular law prescribes in this matter.’32

This was part of his teaching on the two kingdoms, of the Church and the State. The Church could only excommunicate, while the State could carry out the death penalty if it wished. The State could also let an unbeliever or a non-Evangelical (nonreformed believer) divorce. Luther accepted this as a valid divorce” (David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, p. 260; underlining mine).

32 Luther, The Sermon on the Mount, regarding Matt. 5:31-32, Luther’s Works 21:96 from Jaroslav Pelikan, ed., Luther’s Works, 55 vols. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955-86).

Luther did not tremble at God’s word; and he is further condemned out of his own mouth (e.g., “Since it is only death that can dissolve a marriage”).

More from Instone-Brewer:

“The third ground [of divorce, with the option of remarriage–CD] is the refusal of conjugal rights. He only discussed refusal by a wife, but presumably, like Paul whom he quotes, he would have said the same about a husband who refused:

‘The third case for divorce is that in which one of the parties deprives and avoids the other, refusing to fulfil the conjugal duty or to live with the other person. For example, one finds many a stubborn wife like that who will not give in, and who cares not a whit whether her husband falls into the sin of unchastity ten times over. Here it is time for the husband to say, ‘If you will not, another will; the maid will come if the wife will not.’ Only first the husband should admonish and warn his wife two or three times, and let the situation be known to others so that her stubbornness becomes a matter of common knowledge and is rebuked before the congregation. If she still refuses, get rid of her; take an Esther and let Vashti go, as King Ahasuerus did [Esth. 1:1-17].

Here you should be guided by the words of St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 7[:4-5], ‘The husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does; likewise the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does. Do not deprive each other, except by agreement,’ etc. Notice that St. Paul forbids either party to deprive the other, for by the marriage vow each submits his body to the other in conjugal duty. When one resists the the other and refuses the conjugal duty she is robbing the other of the body she had bestowed upon him. This is really contrary to marriage, and dissolves the marriage. For this reason the civil government must compel the wife, or put her to death. If the government fails to act, the husband must reason that his wife has been stolen away and slain by robbers; he must seek another. We would certainly have to accept it if someone’s life were taken from him. Why then should we not also accept it if a wife steals herself away from her husband, or is stolen away by others? …

What about a situation where one’s wife is an invalid and has therefore become incapable of fulfilling the conjugal duty? May he not take another to wife? By no means. Let him serve the Lord in the person of the invalid and a wait His good pleasure.’ 35

Luther argued, from Paul, that conjugal activity was a necessary part of marriage, and that refusal was ground for divorce. He regarded this refusal as equivalent to a dissolution of the marriage. In the process of arguing this, he also showed that he allowed remarriage in the case of a wife who has been kidnapped, without hope of return but without proof of death” (David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, pp. 261-262).

35 Luther, “The Estate of Marriage,” Part 2, Luther’s Works 45:33-35.

Thus the wicked and vile Erasmus and Luther showed themselves to be corrupt cavaliers, apt to study arguments unduly for the express purpose of justifying adulterous wickedness.

“Then the scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus from Jerusalem, saying, Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread. But answering He said to them, Why do you also transgress the command of God on account of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honor your father and mother, The one speaking evil of father or mother, by death let him die. But you say, Whoever says to the father or the mother, A gift, whatever you would gain from me; and in no way he honors his father or his mother. And you annulled the command of God on account of your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy concerning you, saying: This people draws near to Me with their mouth, and with [their] lips honor Me; but their heart holds far off from Me. But in vain they worship Me, teaching [as] doctrines [the] precepts of men’” (Matthew 15:1-9).