Part II: MDR: Jesus and the Law

Editor’s Note

Robert’s original response is blockquoted, discourse markers are italicized, and Ethan’s responses are marked with ELDV. I have not modified Robert’s remarks for content, but have endeavored to fix many punctuation markers, italicized texts, and/or other such marks that did not translate over the e-mails.

MDR: Jesus and the Law (Ethan R. Longhenry)

[Editor’s note: In order to be less redundant I have posted here only my responses to Robert, since the vast majority of the material Robert presented is cited throughout the post.]

Robert said:

Now, Ethan thinks he has provided some examples and arguments that show that Jesus did teach things contrary to the Law. We shall see if they will stand the test of reason and logic.

ELDV: Who ever said that I was saying that Jesus was teaching contrary to the Law? Again, everything Jesus taught could easily have been practiced by [a] Jew and would never fall under condemnation of the Law.

Robert had continued:

Though I agree with Ethan on the matter of allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, and can appreciate his stand in showing Howard’s error regarding Deut24:1-4, I disagree with Ethan’s assessment of what Moses allowed. Ethan says Moses allowed (“suffered”) the Israelites to divorce their wives and to marry– with the connotation that it was perfectly ok.

Ethan, you seemed to have things in perspective until you quote from a translation that has “divorce” for “put away” (apoluo). Moses did not allow the people to “divorce” their wives because of the hardness of their hearts. He commanded it. Why? What he “suffered” was their putting away their wives– he did not punish them for it– there was no LAW AGAINST it. But, to combat that practice he commanded them to give the woman a bill of divorce. It must be noted that there was NO APPROVAL of their evil treatment of their wives. In the judgment day they who did the evil will give an account and will be judged accordingly. Since Ethan misunderstands on THIS matter he has misunderstood what Jesus said and did– or did not do as is the case.

ELDV: Jon Quinn has already responded well to this [explained a bit below; Jon essentially argued that while the Pharisees asked why Moses “commanded” divorce, Jesus corrected them by saying that Moses “suffered” it- ed.], but where does Jesus affirm that Moses commanded such things? Jesus did not affirm this– He said that Moses suffered them to divorce their wives– and most importantly, even the Deuteronomy 24 passage demonstrates that he commanded no such thing! As Howard and I are discussing [a discussion on Mars-List regarding what Moses is actually commanding or not commanding in Deuteronomy 24:1-4-ed.], Moses is giving a long protasis of many points followed by the apodosis. The ONLY legislation going on in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is Deuteronomy 24:4: that a man cannot take back an ex-wife who had married another. That is the ONLY “command” issued in that passage.

Although the means by which Howard is arguing is not right, his premise– if we had only the Law itself– could perhaps stand [the premise that Moses is actually not giving any form of legitimacy to a divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4- ed.]. The only problem with Howard’s premise is that Jesus declares in Matthew 19:8 that Moses did in fact concede to the Israelites the ability to divorce their wives. This is not a commandment– if only Jews who divorced their wives will be in Heaven, we’ll miss seeing Elkanah and Hannah, Joseph and Mary, etc.– but a concession. The Pharisees misspoke and Jesus rightly corrected them.

Robert continued:

I have not read much from anything from Dan [Billingsly, discussed in these posts regarding his position about the Gospels being formally a part of the OT- ed.] in over 7 years. I’m not sure what he teaches other than that he contends that the gospels are O.T. doctrine and should be part of the O.T. rather than the New. I have never taken that position. My position is that it does not matter– but what matters is that we consider the circumstances in our study and not draw any conclusions that are unreasonable and which do not allow for harmony of all the scriptures.

ELDV: Dan’s positions are accessible at Religious Debates, and the things you argue are in many ways similar. Both you and he attempt to cause great disharmony between Jesus and Paul by attempting to create harmony between Moses and Jesus, when the opposite is in fact true.

Robert continued:

What is “satisfactory” to some is that their ears be “tickled” with something that justifies their beliefs and practices, such as breaking up legal marriages and forcing celibacy on people who have no marriage. Albert Barnes explains the little objections Ethan offers as his proof that Jesus changed the Law, and he held the traditional view on MDR. Also, you can see my response to Galloway’s same misuse of Scripture at

ELDV: You speak much but provide little evidence. And again, where did I ever assert that Jesus changed the Law? He was preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Robert continued:

The above is more evidence of my observation that Ethan does not understand what was actually pleasing to God regarding divorce. He said, “There is no condemnation for a man who does not divorce his wife
in either the Old or the New Testament;”

That is not necessarily true. Suppose the man does what Mike Willis suggests– he put away his wife, but did not divorce her. He just left her hanging out there in limbo with no means of support and no right to marry.

ELDV: Nice “what if.” Where is the evidence that any such condition existed? Where do we see anyone “putting away” his wife without “divorcing” her in the Law or any example from the OT? It appears that you are merely attempting to separate the divorce custom of the Israelites to make some misguided argument that still holds no water according to Jesus’ instructions.

I said, and Robert responded:

[Ethan:] Now, what if a man simply divorced his wife for burning his toast? According to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 he would be justified;

[Robert]The only thing that would be justified in the case Ethan offers is the WOMAN in marrying another. That was the purpose for the command for the unfaithful man to give her the writ.

ELDV: Would he be condemned for violating the Law of Moses in this regard? Under what provision if so?

Robert continued:

Ethan, do you not see how your interpretation reflects on God? You have him establishing a law, changing it and then changing it again and again. You have No Divorce, Divorce, No Divorce, Divorce (if for fornication).

ELDV: Hm. God must have this kind of complex, because He allows for eating pig flesh in Noah’s day, denies it to the Jews, and allows it again under Jesus. For that matter, Noah was never circumcised, circumcision was for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the Israelites, and is no longer under the covenant with Christ? Or shall we do what you ostensibly want us to do and become slaves to the Law and be circumcised because of your desire to argue like a sabbatarian?

Jesus re-establishes God’s intentions for marriage under His covenant. It’s one of many things we have in common with Noah, for instance, and not with Moses. And to say otherwise would either make you an unbeliever or a sabbatarian.

Robert continued:

What we apparently have in Matt. 19 is Jews coming up to Jesus who have violated their marital obligations–they violated their covenant with their dealings with their wives. They had “put away” their wives and married another. Jesus condemned them by saying the practice was “adultery.” Ethan thinks Jesus contradicted the Law because he thinks “divorce” is the same as “put away.”

ELDV: I would love for you to explain to Mars-List how you came to this conclusion.

When I read Matthew 19, I see that Matthew already tells us what is going on:

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking…, (Matthew 19:3).

I think everyone on the list will agree that the Pharisees were fond of attempting to pin Jesus into a corner and demonstrate Him as false with tricky questions that were often hotly debated. Another great example of this is when they ask Him whether or not it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. They feel that if He says it is that they can proclaim that He is no Messiah since He obeys Rome, but if He says that they ought not pay taxes, they can proclaim Him an enemy of Rome. His answer, of course, dumbfounds them, and we have the same situation here. I am sure Robert is aware that the question of the valid reasons for divorce was hotly contested within the Jewish community during this period, with various rabbis lining up on the clearly delineated sides of the school of Shammai and the school of Hillel over the question. The divorce question is the easiest way to trap Jesus: He will either be caught up affirming Shammai’s teachings or Hillel’s teachings, and either way they can attempt to refute Him.

There are no “Jews coming up to Jesus who have violated their marital obligations;” where does the text say such a thing? Where is even the faintest hint of such things, Robert? If you are as much of a fan of letting Scripture interpret Scripture as you say you are, accept what Matthew says in Matthew 19:3!

Understanding this, the rest of the passage makes sense: Jesus does not directly answer them but points to the original truth in the Garden. The Pharisees then attempt to throw out Deuteronomy 24:2, and Jesus does the same thing: He affirms the truth established in the Garden. There is no hint of some highly specialized analyzation of “half-divorces” or whatever Robert considers the discussion to be. Further, how can Robert justify the reaction of the disciples in Matthew 19:10?

The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”

If the entire issue is not over divorce itself but the proper means of divorce, why is the first reaction of the disciples that it is better
not to marry at all if this is the case of a MAN with his wife? According to Robert’s explanation, the only difference for the men is
that they properly divorce their wives as opposed to improperly divorcing them; the effective difference only exists for the woman, who is thus freed to remarry.

Jesus’ further statement in Matthew 19:11-12 makes no sense in Robert’s line of thinking:

But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

According to Robert, the difference is not in the fact that the Jews are divorcing their wives but the means by which they achieve this end. The solution, therefore, would be only that the Jews properly divorce their wives and then move on. How can this be reconciled with Matthew 19:10-12? Why would Jesus establish that there are some who will be eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven?

Robert’s theories do not harmonize with the entirety of the text and leave much to be desired in regards to the reactions of the disciples and Jesus’ subsequent teachings. A proper understanding of Jesus’ condemnation of divorce for any reason but sexual immorality, however, harmonizes completely: the disciples, used to a covenant wherein they could divorce their wives for far less, consider it not even worth getting married if it were that permanent, and Jesus declares that because of this teaching there would be many who would have to be eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Robert continued:

Have you noticed that Ethan has not really said Jesus contradicts Moses? Ethan apparently does not like the sound of that thought, and rightly so. What he did say was “He points to a higher way.”

ELDV: When Jesus preaches the Gospel of the Kingdom, the message will not harmonize completely with the Law of Moses, because the Gospel of the Kingdom is founded in a better covenant than the Law of Moses. I speak as I do because, as I am sure we will deal with more specifically at some point, you are hung up with the statements of Matthew 5:17-19 without fully understanding what Jesus is doing and teaching.

Robert continued:

Friends, if what many of you are saying Jesus said is true, Jesus flatly contradicted the Law. You say he said a divorced person commits adultery if he marries another. (That the Law allowed it everyone sees except Howard.) That has Jesus flatly contradicting the Law. He was not pointing to a higher Law, for there was no higher law than God’s, which was currently in place and which ALL (including Jesus) were obligated to respect and obey.

Ethan said that Jesus, in this “higher way” that Jesus was supposed to be pointing to, “would establish that God Hates divorce.”

Ethan, the idea that God wanted to establish here was ALREADY established.

Mal 2:16 “For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.”

ELDV: The contradiction you wish to see is not present; what IS present is that Jesus’ Gospel of the Kingdom is on a higher path than the Law of Moses. Again, if a Jew obeyed what Jesus preached, he would not be condemned according to the Law. The significant question which I have yet to see even discussed let alone answered is the following: does Jesus bind what He is teaching? When Jesus teaches the Gospel message in Matthew 19, does He automatically condemn every Jew afterward who divorces his spouse for any reason but adultery? I will hazard that He does no such thing: His teachings are made with authority but are not bound as law until thecross and Pentecost. Therefore, Jesus can assuredly point to the higher way which will be established as law at Pentecost long before Pentecost.

And no, God’s intention for marriage was not established fully again until Jesus preached the truth that one man one woman for life save for sexual immorality if divorce is then desired. That you will not find in the Law or the Prophets.

Robert continued:

Now, Ethan thinks the “putting away” was divorce, thus he has made an assertion that is not in harmony with his own thinking (and assertion) and the above passage. What God hates is the treachery, not His Law to deal with the treachery. Jesus did not say a thing against God’s Law.

ELDV: God hates the treachery and God hates the separation. “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Robert continued:

First, I am a conservative and perhaps more so than Phil G. But I resent the suggestion that I’m willing to “throw out all the rules and all the clear statements…to gratify their lusts or to justify their compassion.”

No one on this list has EVER emphasized more strongly, or more often, the need to follows rules of hermeneutics in studying MDR than I have. I even have two pages on my web site dealing with this matter.

Ethan talks about the “clear statements” being thrown out… That is strange. The only “clear” statement Ethan has is Jesus’ teaching and he misunderstands it. The truth of the matter is, he is the one that has thrown out the “clear teachings”. Sorry, but my position, BY FAR is favored by the “clear teachings,” unless you don’t count Paul’s teachings. And evidently you were not and do not.

ELDV: Again, you speak much and say little.

Robert continued:

Ethan said, “To gratify their lusts or justify their compassion.”

There is no question but that God has always wanted people to be faithful to their spouses. He hates it when people deal treacherously with their spouse. However, in his wisdom he knew some would do so anyway. Thus, he established the command to “give a bill of divorce.” There was nothing in that command that was designed to gratify any unlawful “lusts” or “compassion.” To ridicule the idea of gratifying sexual needs and compassion is to ridicule God’s word.

Those who have an unfaithful spouse and can get free from the marriage (the woman of O.T. times often could not) are to be allowed to marry. Paul not only stated as much but also said why it was necessary to let them do so (1Cor7:2).

ELDV: Matthew 5:31-32:

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

And I’m sure you’ll bring out your “put away” vs. “divorce” attempt to split hairs, but I will say the following:

  1. the contrastive conjunction de is used in both parts of this construction, emphasizing that Jesus is contrasting two statements, and
  2. Jesus says that “everyone” (or “whosoever”) divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her to commit adultery. Even you, Robert, must admit that a Jew who does apoluo + apostasion has still done apoluo, and therefore they also fall under this condemnation.

Your position would perhaps be correct if Jesus had said, “but anyone who divorces his wife without giving her a certificate of divorce…,” which of course would specify the “whosoever” as you teach. That limiting statement, however, does not exist. Jesus here– as He does in Matthew 19– is not condemning divorce without certificates but the entire premise of divorce itself. When we see that Jesus’ evidence is not the rights of the divorced woman but in fact the original truth of Genesis 2, that God intends for one man to have one woman for life, we see that Robert has assuredly missed the forest for a few trees he perhaps has found.

God has infinite wisdom, Robert, but in that infinite wisdom He will not tolerate sin. He will further not tolerate sin upon sin, and that
is what happens more often than not in cases of improper divorce. And “improper divorce” has nothing to do with the means of the divorce, as you assert, but has everything to do with the REASON for the divorce. Another statement that makes no sense according to your system: why would Jesus specifically establish that divorce for sexual immorality would be justified if Jesus is rapping on those who would divorce without certification? If the issue really was the means of divorce, then sexual immorality would be no different from toast burning or abuse or what have you, now wouldn’t it? But Jesus not once but twice– in Matthew 5 and 19– gives the one exception clause as “sexual immorality,” which completely harmonizes with the truth that Jesus is condemning the concept of divorce, not the means by which divorce was implemented.

And to your 1 Corinthians 7:2 I would add 7:10-11:

To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

As I argued with Max Burgin on Religious Debates (accessible, if anyone’s interested, through Debates), Paul speaks in the beginning of 1 Corinthians 7 to those who have never been married and/or to those in proper marriages. There is nothing in 1 Corinthians 7 that would not harmonize with Jesus’ teachings. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, in fact, works very well with Jesus’ teachings, for those spouses who would depart from their spouses are to either remain unmarried or they are to reconcile. Marriage to another is not an option.

Robert continued:

Ethan, it is my desire to allow unmarried persons to have a marriage so they can avoid fornication. Such does not indicate that I want people to be allowed to “gratify their LUST?” If a legal and scriptural marriage is a means of gratifying “lust” then I plead guilty.

ELDV: Hey, if you speak to never married persons who have the right of marriage, they should by all means avoid fornication. But those who are improperly divorced do not have that right, Robert, and to encourage such persons to do so would be encouraging adultery and such is sin! Such persons must either gratify their lusts and be condemned or be eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Robert continued:

Now back to your question about where God is pleased with divorce.

The only instance I can see where God is pleased with divorce is where the marriage does not exist, for all practical purposes, as was the case with Him and Israel. There was no intimacy, no truth and no hope of reviving the marriage. I’m absolutely certain that God is not pleased with “putting away” as opposed to “divorce,” except where there was no acceptable marriage. In THAT CASE that He is pleased cannot be denied, and many of you think “put away” is the same as divorce. In the case of Herod and his “wife,” would God not be pleased if he had listened to John and “put her away?” In the case of the “man who had his father’s wife,” was not God pleased when the man “put her away” or ended the relationship, which was fornication?

ELDV: First, speaking about Israel and the LORD is a blatant misapplication of teaching. It is no different from premillennialism in
its attempt to literalize the metaphor.

And I have made it known that while God recognizes that people enter into civil bonds after improper divorces, He does not legitimate that bond. Bonds that are illegitimate are to be dissolved; if you want to call that divorce, call it divorce. But it still does not demonstrate that God is ever happy with divorces since all divorces occur because of some sin: either the sin of sexual immorality, improper divorce, or improper marriage. In the end, no divorce should ever have to happen.

Robert continued:

Ethan, I’ve answered your questions. I’m certain that God would rather no divorce would ever occur, but just as he would that no just person ever die in war, but because there are evil people certain things are necessary.

ELDV: And as we could make significant arguments against Christians fighting in wars anyway, this comparison does not really work, does it? Divorces are events between two persons that can always be avoided by the individual action of two persons. In dealings with Christians, those people should have some commitment to obeying God. The occurrence of sin does not justify further sin, Robert, and that is even true in the case of war. Divorce is never necessary– especially among Christians. Never, ever. Divorce is an option when one spouse has committed sexual immorality, and even then it would be disappointing if no attempt was made to preserve the marriage.

Nations come and go. Marriage was not supposed to come and go during one’s life. Major difference.

Robert continued:

God desires that just persons fight evil people who would control the world. Thus, he desires that what he established in cases where a marriage has failed, be implemented as a means to handle a bad situation. Indeed, when a divorce takes place there has been sin committed, but the sin committed might not have been done by the one doing the divorcing or it might be. Divorce is not sinful! Ethan. God did it and that proves you are wrong.

ELDV: Again, your literalizing of a metaphor is reprehensible considering your statements about your “proper use of hermeneutics;” if you truly followed that you would leave the metaphor as a metaphor. Marriages only fail when people fail to attempt to preserve them, Robert, and no marriage fails without sin on both sides. Ephesians 5:22-25 is not a one-way street, and I will hazard that in the vast majority of cases that if the wife properly fulfilled her role to her husband and vice versa no divorce would ever be even thought of. Immorality would not be a temptation. I don’t know of anyone yet who has always in every way fulfilled their marital obligations of Ephesians 5:22-25, yes, but that does not stop godly Christians from trying. Marriages do not fail; people fail one another and in so doing fail God.  The only failure that God gives an exit is when one spouse commits sexual immorality to the detriment of the other. And I firmly stand by my statement that every divorce is either sin or a result of sin, and you know that statement is true. Divorce = sinful situations. And what are Christians supposed to do regarding sinful situations? Flee from them! (Galatians 5:19-22).

Robert continued:

In the Bible I read of voluntary celibacy, but not of forced celibacy. In fact, forced celibacy is very clearly condemned (1Tim 4:1-4)- though the passage is discarded because it contradicts tradition.

ELDV: Who forces celibacy? I don’t force celibacy. Jesus Himself said that there would be some who would become eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, and there is always the choice between being faithful to God or being worldly.

Imposing celibacy on those who have the right to marriage is reprehensible and against the Spirit in 1 Timothy 4:4; making the
decision to follow one’s lust or follow God, however, is far different.

Robert continued:

Like the Catholic priests who are forced to practice celibacy? They can’t do it and have become perverted. The same fate (generally speaking) will be forth coming when we forbid marriage for those who are not married and need it to “avoid fornication.” Ethan, you give the implication that celibacy is good, but God said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” You, therefore, are WRONG. You try to justify going against God by referring to your conclusion that the person would commit adultery if he married, but you can’t pick yourself up by your own boot straps.

ELDV: Mixing apples and oranges does not prove your case, Robert. It is certainly improper to deny the privilege of marriage to those who are entitled to it, but it is just as wrong to give free license for adultery.

It is not good that man should be alone, but this does not give him free license to go through 2 or 3 women. The same God who said that man should not be alone decreed that man should have one woman for life. His Son proclaimed this and established that only two things allow for remarriage: divorce for sexual immorality and death of a spouse. Anything and everything else is sin and begets further sin. False teachers desire to gratify the lusts of the flesh, and that’s what I see you doing in the case of improperly divorced people.

People have to live with the decisions they have to make, especially the ungodly ones. We don’t give unwed mothers the option of tossing their children, do we? We condemn abortion as murder yet we will allow for marriages to be similarly murdered and apologize for that and excuse that? The option always exists for people to live in sin if they cannot fulfill their responsibilities toward God. If one is going to consciously reject the spouse that they made a covenant with God to keep, they have a choice: live in that condition and live for God or choose the world.

It is surely interesting: we would never believe that a person who violated the covenant they have with God would be saved if they later made a covenant with Allah and Muhammad, yet we have no problem with people breaking marriage covenants and entering into new ones? Have covenants lost all sanctity?

Robert continued:

Ethan, first, I continually teach on MDR on ML because it is needed. I’ve not preached on the subject in several years because it is not needed where I preach. There are other things that are a priority. Second, we are not talking about illicit sex. If we were we would be in agreement. We are taking about marriage, which God has instituted. Paul said to let “unmarried” people have a marriage “to avoid fornication.” Your doctrine does the opposite of what God intends. It PROMOTES sexual immorality, which is evidently why God thought it deserved to listed in the catalog of “Doctrines of devils.”

ELDV: You continually teach, IMO [in my opinion, for those who do not know Internetspeak- ed.], because you’re functionally fixated, and I always encourage such people to look around and make sure that they’re not the one walking into oncoming traffic, so to speak. We ARE talking about illcit sex in illicit marriages, Robert. Paul said to let those who were not married to avoid fornication through marriage, yes, but to those who were married and separated (and such separation includes divorce) were to remain unmarried or reconcile.

And the same emotional, non-Scriptural argumentation you provide can be brought back to you. Your doctrines promote sexual immorality cloaked in false marriages made illegitimately. Jesus said that those who divorced for improper reasons and married another committed adultery, and I see no statement by Paul that discredits that. There is no contradiction between Paul and Jesus, even if you want there to be.

Robert concluded:

Ethan, if you are determined to continue to misconstrue Jesus’ teachings and have him contradicting the Law by saying divorced persons commit adultery when they marry, then I can’t help you. But if you are determined to see, accept and obey the truth perhaps I can help. What I teach is in complete harmony with God’s word and it has nothing to do with Pharisaism. But if you could just understand what the Pharisees understood Jesus to say, you would be quite, as they were, and not say things that are tantamount to charging Jesus with transgressing the Law.

ELDV: I have seen your arguments, Robert, and they lack substance and basis in reality. Jesus’ teaching, the Gospel of the Kingdom, not yet bound on the world but assuredly preached, referred back to God’s original intent for marriage, one man one woman for life. Two concessions do exist, and those are given explicitly: divorce for sexual immorality or death of a spouse. All other reasons are not legitimate and lead to sin.

Your charge that Jesus transgresses the Law is again not based in fact, Robert, and you know this. If someone lived according to Jesus’ teachings that person would not be in violation of the Law. How can Jesus transgress the Law when the things He teaches do not violate any Law?

The Pharisees were merely attempting to trap Jesus with their internal disputes and He silenced them not because of a legal technicality but because they could not justify divorce in the sight of God’s original intent for marriage. You, also, Robert, cannot justify divorce– and any subsequent remarriage– in the sight of God’s original intent for marriage.

And then…

This ended the second round of discussions between myself and Robert Waters: after his response to these thoughts he was removed from Mars-List. The next portion of the material, available here, was sent both to Robert and to Mars-List. If you would like to return to the introductory page to this discussion, please click here.

Part II: MDR: Jesus and the Law

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