Russell Moore Interview on CNN about Pat Robertson

Russell Moore appeared on CNN this afternoon to set the record straight about the Christian view of marriage. He did a fantastic job. If you missed it, the video is above. If you haven’t read his must-read article yet, you can do so here.


  • Derek

    I agree with what he said, but I hope that Dr Moore has the same courage to challenge some of the lax standards regarding divorce among Southern Baptists. We have a major problem with churches and pastors who very easily accommodate divorce and remarriage – and for circumstances that are far less difficult than Alzheimers. I say that as someone who has benefited from Moore’s work and writings, including “Tempted and Tried”, which I am reading right now.

    • Derek

      I don’t see what lax standards in the church has to do with eating with sinners and tax collectors. For starters, my comment dealt with those in the Church, not outside it. You’re mixing apples and oranges.

      Yes, we are to extend liberal grace with one another inside the Church as well, but telling our brothers and sisters that they are doing right when they are in fact violating their oath is not grace. Not by any Biblical definition of grace.

  • Rick

    Moore wrote, “This is a repudiation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

    As bad as Robertson sounded, did he really repudiate the life, death, and resurrection of Christ?

  • Tommy

    I would say in a sense that it does distort the Gospel. Russell Moore at his blog pointed out how us as men are supposed to love our wives, through God’s Word in Ephesians 5:25-28. It does not say in a single word what we are supposed to expect back from our wife, only how we can love and serve her as Christ loves and serves us. If we allow exceptions through hardships, then we must concede that Christ can separate from us when are distant and unresponsive to Him. That is not how God views Christ’s bride, and to follow it through the theological implications(being consistent) would lead to a Gospel message that God will hold you up, love you and support you, until a certain circumstance comes in between. That is not the Gospel. Obviously you would have to have some serious issues to take to that level, but I think that’s what Moore was pointing at.

  • Don Johnson

    The idea of covenant has been complexified and transmogrified by some. It is a simple idea, one that could be understood by the initial hearers of Torah, who were mostly farmers and shepherds. Parties enter into a covenant with their vows, this includes a marriage covenant. If just one side makes the vows, then it is a promise covenant, but most examples are both sides. And if one breaks a covenant vow, then the other party can choose to seek termination of the covenant, but is not required to do so. And if the other party has not broken any vows, to choose to end the covenant breaks your vow.

    So a church should teach that everyone should keep their covenant vows. If everyone did this there would be no divorces or reasons for divorces. This does not mean that a marriage is ONLY represented by marriage covenant vows, but these are a “meets minimum requirements” type of thing, that each spouse can depend on. The most obvious example is no adultery. They should also teach what vows are appropriate, based on the Bible.

    And when a divorce happens, then the leaders should try to discern whether it was a case of a vow being broken or not. If not, then they should encourage reconciliation. If there was, then it is up to the other party. In any case, once there is a divorce, the parties are unmarried.

    • Derek

      Donald, It seems to me that you are introducing guidance that exceeds and contradicts what Jesus said in Matthew 19. If we think that Jesus was not issuing a difficult and challenging command regarding the keeping of the marriage covenant in that passage, we need to look at the disciple’s response to Jesus there – they actually told Him that this command seemed too hard for even them. Jesus doesn’t disagree with his disciples! The main thrust of my point is that we live in an evangelical culture that does not maintain the full impact or difficulty or tension in Christ’s words regarding divorce and remarriage.

  • Don Johnson

    No, I actually use Matt 19 as the primary part of my teaching on this. But it needs to be understood in 1st century cultural context. Jesus is correcting 7 mistaken interpretations of the Pharisees.

  • Don Johnson

    Or to put it another way, “plain reading” of this text as it is often translated leads to major misunderstandings of what is being taught, since it is most often not compared and contrasted with what the Pharisees taught.

    • Derek

      I disagree and a primary reason I disagree is because the disciples were a bit shocked by Christ’s words in this passage and their response gave Christ an opportunity to soften the hardness or tension in his comments (note, He did not alleviate the tension, other than to promise God’s help and strength for those rendered single by the actions of another). That tells me that the disciples interpreted his words the same way a “plain reading” in our day would.

      I also disagree because we also have Christ saying much the same thing in Luke 16, Mark 10 and Matt. 5:32.

      An observation: Don, you make a habit of looking for obscure anthropological evidence to do an end around on difficult passages of Scripture. While I would totally agree that we need to look at Scripture through a first century Jewish perspective, this can be taken to an extreme – especially when that habit leads you and your listeners to remove a tension in the text that God intended to be there.

      This passage is a good example of how you are playing a dangerous game by looking for convenient end arounds on difficult passages. I believe you will one day regret this habit and pattern, perhaps on the other side of eternity. I’m sure you will disagree, but one day we will see.

      • Don Johnson

        There is a tension in the text, no question about that, it is just that you misunderstand it by using a “plain reading” hermeneutic. A reader should ALWAYS seek to lessen the cultural gap between where he/she is at and where the original reader/hearer was at. It is simply not possible to know too much about the cultural context, like you imply.

        Yes, I go thru all the other gospel verses also, including Mat 1:19. In fact I go thru all the Torah verses and how the Pharisees understood them, after all, in Matthew and Mark, Jesus is talking with Pharisees. And we know that a constant drumbeat in Jesus’ discussion with the Pharisees thoughout the gospels is that they misunderstood Torah in some cases.

        A big clue that one is misunderstanding text is that the texts do not appear to align into a coherent teaching. Matthew has an exception clause that Mark and Luke do not have and Paul discusses an exception that Matthew does not discuss. Putting all these verses together is like solving a puzzle, but when one is missing the (assumed by original readers) cultural pieces of the puzzle, the remaining pieces do not fit together in any obvious way.

        • Derek

          Don, the problem is when you use debatable historical evidence to trump plain meaning and intended tension. In this case, the passages, when put together, do fit together and do not violate the meaning of the other texts. Yes, some of the passages lack the “immorality clause”, but this does not constitute a conflict between texts – rather some texts are simply more specific than others. A proper hermeneutic always allows the text with greater detail and specificity to interpret the meaning of the less detailed text. We don’t get to say “I’m confused that I didn’t get a clause in Mark 10″ so I’m going to use anthropological wrenches into this thing and create my own meaning”. If we do that, we are very likely to come up with a cherry picked conclusion as one anthropologist is likely to say “there are no clauses” and another might discover that there are 100 clauses – if for no other reason than that we know that Jewish culture was as diverse and complicated as our own culture. Yes, helpful to understand and study, but we must proceed with extreme caution and never with a desire to perform end arounds of this nature (particularly on the interpretation of a passage).

          • Don Johnson

            Evidence from the Mishnah is not really debateable in terms of what the Pharisees believed. That is the cultural context that is assumed but not explicit in the gospel texts. If you subtract that cultural context (either deliberately or innocently) you end up misunderstanding the gospel text.

            This is why the idea of a supposed “plain meaning” is a canard, as it dodges the question of the cultural gap that needs to always be bridged. “plain meaning to the original reader” is a much superior method.
            But this can take work today and not be so plain, since so much has changed. But the alternative is to rip the text out of its context, which can lead to most anything.

  • Derek

    For background, there were two basic schools of thought on divorce and remarriage in Jesus’ day – the Shammai camp and the Hillel camp.

    Hillel’s perspective verged onto a “no fault” view of divorce (I’m putting this into modern vernacular) – a woman could famously be divorced for cooking a bad meal. Shammai was much more restrictive, but did allow for divorce for adultery. So both camps agreed on this.

    Scholars will continue to debate whether Christ was endorsing the Hillel camp or Shammai camp. It shouldn’t surprise us that they debated the same basic question evangelicals debate today – what kind of sexual immorality constitutes a vow the other party is free from (and will not be charged with adultery by God)? Are there reasons outside of adultery or sexual immorality? If so, what are they? Neither the Torah nor Jesus explicitly spells this out. But it is important to see that Jesus’ comments in Matthew 19 do seem to lean pretty hard into the Shammai camp. So what are we left with here? It still affirms a plain reading of the text – it is almost inconceivable that Jesus would have been favoring the liberal interpretation of his day (Hillel’s virtual no-fault position) given his various responses, especially when you review the disciple’s response and His final comments in Matt 19.

    FWIW – I differ from John Piper in his interpretation on divorce and remarriage. He believes that Jesus was annulling a marriage only in the case of fornication or incest during the engagement period. I have read his explanation and remain unconvinced, even though I usually find myself in agreement with him.

    • Don Johnson

      Derek, Since I am replying late, I know you may not see this.

      What you wrote is about 5% of what you need to know from the Mishnah in order to understand the NT verses on marriage and divorce. It is a very important 5% but it is totally insuffient. The basic challenge for all of us today is that we do not know what we do not know about the culture of the times that the various books of the Bible were written in.

      Specifically, you do not know how much the 2 schools agreed on various interpretations of Torah regarding the texts on marriage and divorce. Since you do not know their agreements, you do not see where Jesus is correcting them in places they agree, but both turn out to be wrong. This should be no surprise to a believer, Jesus often corrected the Pharisees on their wrong interpretations of Scripture.

      And yes there are Torah verses that explain reasons for divorce that are not adultery, they are even confirmed on the Prophets if you know what to look for, but since you lack knowledge in this area, you think that Torah does not speak where it actually does, although it is regretably not taught much and so takes effort to discover.

      On Piper’s interpretation, it is one way to reconcile the NT verses, however, it is a particularly bad way as it leads to a wholesale denial of actual Biblical reasons for divorce.

      • Derek

        I think people should be aware of what you are suggesting to us. That is, one needs to have a strong command of the Mishnah and/or a highly detailed understanding of the Jewish religious views on divorce in order to properly understand Jesus’ words (or Paul’s, for that matter).

        I would suggest to Denny’s readers that you are doing exactly what Jesus is rejecting here – he refuses to endorse any of the extra-Biblical constructs that the Pharisees relied on and takes his listeners back to Moses. The only reason that some or many pharisees and Jews didn’t agree on how to interpret the Torah was because it was inconvenient.

        As I’ve stated before, from a functional standpoint, if not an official standpoint, you believe in the magisterium whereby only academics, historians and anthropologists and more can interpret Scripture for the unwashed masses. I reject this.

        I believe in the perspicuity of Scripture. I believe that when Jesus said to the Pharisees that they put burdens on the regular folk that God never intended, he was referencing the way that they had built a construct that was intended to limit people’s access to the Torah and set up a whole system of rules that was based loosely on the Torah, but really amounted to a system that allowed leaders to accumulate power, comfort and prestige. It allowed them to make political compromises with Rome, get rich, fail to support their aging parents and to easily divorce their wife, among other things. No wonder that Christ wanted nothing to do with the religious experts of his day.

        Sadly, I personally believe he would say much the same thing to many of the people running today’s seminaries, denominations and churches – especially those who focus a lot more on periphery arguments and details than they do on repentance and childlike faith.

        • Derek

          One point of clarification. I agree that we should study historical context, that systematic theology is important and that we should aim to understand the historical context and anthropology of the Bible and its characters. These things can benefit us individually and do benefit the Church. They can add a good deal of color to our understanding of the plain reading and sometimes, help us with a passage that is confusing without that background knowledge. But there is a difference between illuminating the meaning of a confusing passage and rendering the passage unrecognizable and incompatible to a plain reading.

          Upon study of this topic, I am convinced that those who would liberalize the NT teachings on divorce and remarriage are brothers and kin to those who distorted and liberalized the Torah’s teaching on divorce (i.e. the Pharisees). And I reject the idea that one must be an expert on the Mishnah to render such an opinion on this.

  • Don Johnson

    Yes, this is true, one does need a strong understanding of what the Pharisees believed in order to see exactly how Jesus is correcting them. This is because he is talking about marriage and divorce with Pharisees who knew all this stuff since they taught it and the Jews knew it since they lived it in the 1st century before the temple was destroyed. So if the reader today choose NOT to bridge that culture gap, they WILL make a hash of the text, they have zero chance of interpreting it as intended by the author. So this text is most certainly NOT perspicious (clear). This surprised me when I first discovered it and has led me to always seek more info on the cultural context of Scripture.

    The clarify of Scripture as a doctrine taught by the first Reformers applied ONLY to salvation, as contrasted with the Catholics who taught that you needed their church to understand even salvation. The prots AGREED that other texts were not necessarily clear. Somehow this idea has been horribly transmogrified into the idea of the perspicuity of ALL Scripture, this is simply a horribly wrong idea. The result is that each pastor gets to teach that some text means “A” as that is what the text “clearly means” to him and another teachs “B” and yet a third teachs “C” and prots get to divide into ever more and more denominations. And these types of pastors mislead their flocks day after day when the solution is to use all the context available.

    And you are wrong about what Jesus taught. Jesus taught that when tradition NEGATES Scripture, it is to be rejected. The Pharisees were the closest to Jesus in theology, but you will never see that if you decline to see what they taught.

    Everyone needs childlike faith to come to Jesus, no question about that. But interpreting Scripture takes being humble and accepting all the help one can get. And it is not really a Magisterium, since one can look stuff up for oneself once one knows where to look. But if you do not seek, you will not find.

    • Don Johnson

      I just saw your second post. Again you show that you simply do not know about the subject and furthermore have a interpretation method that means you will NOT learn how to do better.

      It is not a question of being liberalizing what Scripture teaches; it is a question of rightly dividing Scripture. Because you misunderstand, you assert without knowledge that it is “liberalizing” something. And because you will not exert the effort to learn WHY you are wrong, you will stay as you are, in your ignorance.

      • Derek

        You wish to remove the tension and difficulty of Christ’s words in Matthew 19, just as some pharisees (apparently not all) did. Moses, Christ and Paul’s words are straightforward, but difficult to accept. That is clear from the response of Christ’s disciples- so difficult that they felt it would be better not to marry in the first place. I fail to see how your interpretation – supposedly opaque and misleading to readers of Scripture, but supposedly clear to experts on the Mishnah – would maintain that difficulty and tension. You have not demonstrated that to me in the least.

  • Don Johnson

    I do not wish to remove anything, I wish to correctly interpret the text. Context is king when trying to do one’s best to interpret the text and this includes the cultural context. One will ALWAYS use a cultural context to understand text, the only question is whether it is the correct one and one thing you can be sure about, using the 21st century context (AKA supposed clear/plain meaning) to interpret 1st century text is often a total loser.

    One thing to see is that while God is not trying to trick us, the text HAD to be understood by the original readers as it was written TO them. The text was not written TO us, altho it was written FOR us. This means it can take more work FOR us to figure it out. Reading it as if it was written TO us is simply a way to misread it.

    Yes, the disciples said it would be better not to marry, I discuss this and so do others that teach the 1st century context. The basic reason is they were trying to trump Jesus, and Jesus overtrumps them. WHY they said this is critical and you needs to understand the previous text IN CULTURAL CONTEXT to see WHY they said this “trumping” statement and exactly how Jesus overtrumped them.

    On demonstrating something detailed, this is not the forum to do it. My teaching on this subject takes 9 sessions or the better part of a day. Reading a good book like Instone-Brewer’s on it takes longer than that. But if you do not see the need to do such a thing, you will not invest the time to do it.

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