Consider Jesus’s well-known teaching on divorce from Mark 10:
"Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
“What did Moses command you?” he replied.
They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10: 1-12, NIV)"
I’ve heard my fair share of sermons and lectures on divorce, which is itself a difficult question to wrestle with, regardless of your perspective. But, even when Jesus’s teaching on this is brought into the discussion, as it often is, one thing I rarely hear mentioned is the way he broadens Moses’s teaching in a specifically gender-inclusive way. The Pharisees, quoting Moses directly, ask Jesus about a man divorcing his wife, based on their literal, gender-specific reading of Deuteronomy 24:
" If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. (Deut. 24:1-4, NIV, emphases added)"
Note all the gender specific nouns and pronouns in this passage. Surely the Pharisees were right to raise their question in the way they did: asking about whether a husband was permitted to divorce his wife. Yet, when Jesus later explains his interpretation of this passage to his disciples, he naturally—and one might even say nonchalantly—gives it a reciprocal or gender-inclusive interpretation: the principle applies not only to a man divorcing his wife but also to a woman divorcing her husband.
But where is the precedent for such an interpretation in Deuteronomy itself? Hasn’t Jesus imposed something on the text that isn’t there? Isn’t Jesus on a slippery slope to liberalism with his gender-inclusive reading of Deuteronomy?
I don’t think so.
I think he’s just giving a pretty natural and faithful reading of the text in his context. Yes, Deuteronomy was gender-specific, but that doesn’t mean that he has to be in his application of it.
I wonder if there might be a lesson here for how we read and interpret, say, Titus 1:
"The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:5-9, NIV)"
Here’s another passage chock full of masculine nouns and pronouns. Yet, speaking hypothetically and anachronistically, I wonder if Jesus might add something like this in his interpretation of this passage:
"And, of course, if the elder is a women, she likewise must be blameless, faithful to her husband, a woman whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, she must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, she must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. She must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that she can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. "
I imagine some today would find this gender-inclusive interpretation of the biblical text quite troubling and offensive—just as I imagine some Pharisees felt about Jesus’s gender-inclusive interpretation to the biblical text in his day. But for those of us seeking to be disciples of Jesus in every facet of our lives, it would seem that the common question, What would Jesus do?, might entail the less common consideration, How would Jesus interpret?