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About the Author

Gordon Wenham (PhD, University of London) studied theology at the Universities of Cambridge and London and at Harvard University, taught Old Testament at the Queen's University of Belfast and the University of Gloucestershire, and is now adjunct professor at Trinity College, Bristol. He has also show more authored a number of critically acclaimed Bible commentaries and books. show less
Image credit: Gordon J. Wenham

Works by Gordon J. Wenham

Jesus and Divorce (1984) 103 copies
Zion City of Our God (1999) — Editor — 37 copies

Associated Works

The New Bible Commentary (1953) — Editor, some editions — 1,906 copies
Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (2003) — Contributor — 163 copies
Canon and Biblical Interpretation (2006) — Contributor — 119 copies
Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God's Address (2012) — Contributor — 89 copies
Reclaiming the Old Testament for Christian Preaching (2010) — Contributor — 82 copies
Sacrifice in the Bible (1995) — Contributor — 50 copies

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Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Wenham, Gordon J.
Birthdate
1943
Gender
male
Nationality
UK
Places of residence
Gloucestershire, England, UK
Education
University of Cambridge

Members

Reviews

The second volume of Wenham's commentary covering the Patriarchal narrative follows the pattern established in the first volume and the series as a whole, but the results do not seem to offer as much insight as the initial volume. The attention to the text is consistent, and the focus on its final form rather than attempting to discern the underlying sources reinforces the skill of the ancient narrator and the essential unity of the text as it has been received. A brief introduction focuses in the relationship of the text and history, as the larger questions relate to the events recorded and their place in secular history. Wenham balances his high view of Scripture with a honest agnosticism about the correlation of many of the events and their relation to known history. He eschews many of the common place parallels between the Genesis narrative and ANE and Egyptian history that have become commonplace in Evangelical scholarship without embracing a ahistorical skepticism. Wenham carefully examines the structure of each passage before the detailed examination of each section. While his analysis of the narrative is solid, his application section is too frequently marked by a simple retelling of the narrative already painstakingly covered and less attention to the connection narrative in the rest of the canon.… (more)
½
 
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opeongo5 | 1 other review | Oct 17, 2023 |
Wenham's introduction a preview of what the rest of the volume would flesh out, a balanced and careful examination of the text of Genesis in light of modern scholarship. While the commentary is firmly within the evangelical tradition, it does not seek to defend traditional interpretations that no longer withstand critical scrutiny such as Mosaic authorship. Wenham defaults to a documentary theory, but is as unafraid to question and reassess the critical consensus as he is the conservative. The commentary focuses closely on the Hebrew text, considering the structure, grammar and literary parallels with other ANE literature. Following the pattern of the series, each contains a translation, textual/linguistic notes, discussion of the form and structure as well as a verse by verse exposition of the passage. A brief conclusion reflects on the significance of the passage in the rest of Scripture and for contemporary faith. Many difficult questions abound in the opening chapters of the Genesis involving the connection of the ancient text and modern science. These questions and the difficulties they pose are acknowledged, but dogmatic answers are not provided. Wenham offers guidance to how to understand the text while pointing to grounds for faith. This commentary represents the best of a responsible interaction of evangelical and critical scholarship that does not compromise either.… (more)
½
 
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opeongo5 | 1 other review | Sep 24, 2023 |
Review of the first edition (1984)

Hugely influential book in its day, although out of print now. Heth and Wenham attempt to challenge what they term the Evangelical Consensus or Erasmian View, that adultery invalidates the marriage covenant and therefore remarriage is permitted. Their thesis - that divorce is allowed, but remarriage absolutely is not - is built on two pillars:
1. That the marriage covenant is indissoluble.
2. Up until the 16th century (Erasmus), the church never permitted remarriage.

This is slightly undermined by the fact that lead author William Heth disavowed himself of pillar 1 shortly after the second edition came out.

The whole book is only about 195 pages, but its a scholarly work, so that is followed by 80 pages of notes, bibliographies, author and scripture indexes.

Of the main text, just under a third (62 pages) deals with the early church position. The first chapter is a fairly selective range of texts, drawn mainly from the work of Henri Crouzel, which nevertheless contradicts itself, because there clearly are instances of remarriage in the early church, some of which they mention. The second chapter purports to a modern exposition of the early church view. In fact it is nothing of the kind, it is just exegesis by some modern scholars (mainly Jacques duPont) who happen to share the authors' view. It does however contain some detailed grammatical analysis. Unfortunately, for much of the rest of the book, they repeatedly refer to their view as 'the early church view', as if they had already proven their point, which they haven't; so that gets quite annoying after a while.

The next 40% (80 pages) is their analysis of what they term the Erasmian View, which has dominated evangelical thought, and is codified into the Westminster Confession. They skip over about 1000 years of history, ignoring any exceptions and not acknowledging the existence of the eastern orthodox church. The exegesis of the Old Testament texts is surprisingly brief, considering that Gordon Wenham is an Old Testament scholar. The New Testament chapter is much more in depth, although it does repeat some of the grammatical stuff from chapter 2. The section on Paul is suitably detailed though. Unfortunately they have a habit of repeatedly using the term Erasmians to describe anybody who disagrees with them; which starts to sound rather patronising and pejorative.

The final quarter (53 pages) goes briefly through 4 other interpretations of the Matthean exception, which also do not actually allow an exception - at least in the authors' interpretation of them. These are certainly interesting, but not dealt with in a huge amount of detail.

This is certainly an important book for anybody studying divorce regulations in the New Testament from a scholarly point of view. And useful to read alongside someone like Instone-Brewer, which has a very different perspective. Although groundbreaking in its day, it ultimately fails to demonstrate that the marriage covenant actually is indissoluble, or that the early church (other than Augustine) saw it that way.
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Poodlequest | 1 other review | Jul 1, 2022 |
Jesus, Divorce and Remarriage by Gordon Wenham is a nice very summarized look at this controversial topic. A concise, examination at what God's Word teaches us about how we Christians are to look on divorce, remarriage, and of course, marriage itself. It doesn't really deal with modern Christian views on divorce, as the goal of this little book is to focus on what Jesus taught about divorce and remarriage and what the popular views were at that time.

Now, though informative background information regarding the contemporary views of the people Jesus is talking to is interesting, the most interesting parts to me were where the Biblical texts are focused on. Jesus' teachings in particular (In Matthew 5, 19, and in the other Gospels).Wenham makes you really look at what Jesus is saying, getting past the clutter of our preconceived notions of what He must, in our view, be saying. We see that Jesus goes after terms like "murder" and "adultery" reveals what these concepts really entail; what really amounts to "murder" or "adultery" before God. The people, even the scholars of the day didn't really understand. The book points out that, in defending the life-long union of marriage, Jesus doesn't say that the term "divorce" should be removed from the vocabulary, or that it doesn't exist, what He basically does is say to the religious leaders that 'divorce' doesn't mean what they thought it meant, and that the act of the divorce itself can be considered an act of adultery by God. By pointing the religious leaders back to the beginning of Creation, the original design, ("In the beginning God created them male and female…what God has joined together let not man separate") He reminds them that Marriage was to be lifelong, the man and woman are really are no longer two, but one flesh in God's eyes.

The religious leaders seem to take Jesus' pointing back to the beginning as an attack on the validity/concept of "divorce" altogether. They bring up the law, that Moses allowed them to write a certificate of divorce. But as Wenham says, "Jesus is not fazed by their appeal to the law. He argues that the need for a law on divorce proved their sinfulness, not their piety." And then Jesus tells them that marriage to a divorced person is adultery. It is noted that He essentially tells these people that their thought that the one flesh union is ended by legal divorce and/or physical separation is completely wrong. "…The divorced couple, though separated from each other, are still related to each other in the one-flesh union".

Apparently, though marital adultery is the 'adultery' of 'marriage', it is not the ending of a marriage; adultery doesn't put the man and wife asunder before God, rather it introduces someone else into the marriage who should not be included. Jesus didn't say that Moses permitted divorce because the marriage had been ended, before God, by whatever the wife did, rather He said that divorce was permitted because their hearts were hard. By implication, the marriage before God was actually still intact, but men didn't want live with that reality. So divorce was allowed, but Jesus clarifies that the only time divorce isn't considered adultery (before God) is if there has been sexual infidelity (which clarification is the so-called 'exception clause' that takes place in divorce/remarriage discussions). But Jesus does not give an "exception clause" to anyone marrying any divorced person. Thus, though it is not always adultery to divorce/deliberately leave your spouse, it is always adultery to marry a divorcee (divorced for whatever reason).

Now, as with, pretty much, any book I read, there were some statements made in the book that I wasn't sure about. I'll just bring up one: Wenham brings up a question, which I'll paraphrase here: how many times should one forgive one's spouse? What if they keep lying about their repentance? Should one separate/legally divorce from them? What apparently some early Christians thought that one ought to divorce one's spouse (though not remarry) if they committed adultery, but if they repented they should accept them back. "…if the guilty party repents, the other party must welcome the restoration of the marriage. But there should be a limit on the number of times the innocent party is expected to forgive the unfaithful spouse; while Jesus spoke of seventy-times seven, Hermes(an early church leader) reckoned once should be the limit." Wenham seems to agree with Hermes that there should be a limit of some sort. And I understand the practical dilemma. But (I'm just going to think 'out-loud' here. not take a definitive stance) if forgiving once, or even ten times, is the limit for forgiveness of a person for a specific sin, then wasn't Jesus statement about forgiving seventy-times seven nonsensicall? At least seventy-times seven, though it is shocking to us, makes mathematical sense in one's mind; but if Jesus didn’t mean what He clearly said then that makes His statement irrelevant in the long run, merely a shocking statement without substance. God demonstrates forgiveness Himself to believers: How many sins do we think that has God forgiven us? One? One BIG one? Several? I would think much more than 70 times seven. So perhaps He even redefined the common view of 'forgiveness'? Clarified what it really looks like. Shocking us even there!

Now, as Wenham rightly brings out, there is the BIG point that as Christians we are told in God's Word that we are to disassociate from professing Christians who are living ungodly lives and refusing repentance (1 Cor 5, and I understand that a whole church body should do that in such a case, but I kind of wonder if it would be absolutely imperative, say for a wife, to divorce her professing Christian husband who is living in sin. But I think that one might presume, based on how connected the couple is before God in marriage (pretty much becoming one person), that a spouse might be treated somewhat differently. Yes, if a professing Christian husband is committing adultery, and refuses to repent, then the church body should exercise church discipline/separation from that him as a body. Yes, apparently, Biblically the offended wife may choose to separate as well, as that seems to be allowed based on Jesus' clarification that separation from a sexually unfaithful spouse would not be adultery. But I'm wondering if it obligatory on the faithful spouse's part to divorce? You have a few texts from the Bible we might take hints from: one is the person who is married to an unbeliever (1 Cor 7). Now, how much more 'spiritually' separated can you be from your marriage partner than having a spouse who is spiritually lost? But interestingly, if the unbeliever consents to live with the believer that apparently allowed. And then, perhaps more specifically to the point, you have Paul (apparently speaking for the Lord - "not I but the Lord") saying that couples should not divorce, but if they do, they are to remain unmarried or else be reconciled (Still 1 Cor 7).

And then you have 1 Peter 3 which talks about how a wife is to respond if her husband is "disobedient to the Word", so he is apparently a professing Christian (it would seem strange to designate an unbeliever by that description as his being 'disobedient' would seem like a given). It doesn't say how he is disobedient to the Word. That statement is probably deliberately vague: 'disobedient to the Word'. That covers quite a lot of sins, and kind of seem like, "just fill in the blank", and yet Peter says that the wife is supposed to win him over without a word by her submissive behavior (1 Pet 3), not by separating from him, or even lecturing him from the Word. And then, husbands are supposed to love their wives like Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25), so would there ever be a point where Christ would refuse the church coming back to Him in repentance? So how should a husband act toward his wife who commits adultery many times and yet comes back sorrowful and repentant? Because of verses like those, I'm not so sure that divorce is obligatory on the part of the offended/faithful spouse, though church discipline may need to be administered by the church body.

Things like the above may be practical things we'll have to work through (perhaps, we should just cross that bridge when we come to it?). But we need to get down to what the text actually says and work from there, regardless of our practical difficulties. And Wenham does a good job at just looking at what Jesus says, not letting fears of what He might be saying cloud our vision. Wenham states: "it is clear that Jesus is putting forward a more demanding ethic than his hearers had ever known previously. Their righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees…." What Jesus is saying truly is initially shocking. Jesus is essentially telling both contemporary 'sides' (Wenham explains those) of the divorce remarriage issue that they didn't understand marriage at all. Just as His clarification that what amounts to 'lust' and 'murder' before God is truly startling and beyond self-righteous mankind's expectations, His clarification of "marriage" is just as startling. I'll end with one more quote from the book that pretty much sums all up: "At no point does he (Jesus) concede that they may have a point. Marriage is permanent, full stop. So Jesus challenges all who want to follow him to embrace the principle of no remarriage after divorce. 'Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.'(Matt 19:12)".

Many thanks to the folks at Lexham Press for sending me a free review copy of this book! My review did not have to be favorable.
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SnickerdoodleSarah | Nov 16, 2020 |

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