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Did Moses �Suffer� Divorce or was it a Command?

by Robert Waters

What Did Moses Suffer?

The traditional teaching of our day is that Moses “suffered” or allowed divorce but that Jesus changed the law on the matter to what God intended from the beginning, which, by the way, was BEFORE sin and any need for divorce laws.

In my debates on divorce and remarriage I have yet to get an answer from an opponent to questions relating to this issue. Why do they refuse to answer the question? I do not intend to get into the matter of why I think they do not want to go there but in this article I hope to make it clear to you that Moses did give a command, regarding divorce, rather than simply give permission to divorce. This may, at first, sound contrary to the idea that to be faithful to God a man must be faithful to his faithful wife (a point to which I agree), but listen carefully as I try to help you understand the teaching of Moses and Jesus, who took the opportunity to explain Moses’ teachings to men who misconstrued it and misused it and who thought they could use their “understanding” to entrap Jesus in his words to his destruction.

In Mark 10:2, we see where Jesus was asked, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him.” Jesus responded by asking, “What did Moses command you?” Later in the house his disciples asked him again on the same matter. Jesus answered saying, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her” (verse 11).

Thus, what the Jews were doing was adultery against their wives. There was a command but it evidently was not being obeyed. However, for some reason teachers of tradition on MDR are not willing to admit that Moses’ teaching (Deut. 24:12-4) was a command.

Let us note another matter where a command was given but where some refuse to admit that it is a command. In Acts chapter 10:21-48 we have the record of the case where the first Gentile family obeyed the gospel. Peter said, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?” After apparently getting no response Peter then gave a command: “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ" (verse 48).

Now, to those who reject baptism as being a command and essential to obedience, we would ask: what did Peter command? We would endeavor not to allow one to ignore this clear teaching or ease their mind with some quibble, and we certainly would not let anyone get away with denying that baptism is a command in view of such a clear statement.

Indeed, that Moses gave a command regarding divorce is an undeniable fact. The fact that he “suffered” something does not change the fact of the command, and “command” and “suffered” cannot both be about the same matter. What Moses “suffered” was the Jews putting way their wives. There simply was no punishment for it. Such putting away resulted in adultery against their wife (covenant breaking, Mark 10:11) but such sin was not the same as where a man would commit adultery with “another man’s wife.” (Remember, men were allowed to have more than one wife.) Although Moses commanded that a “writ of divorcement” be given there was never a punishment associated with merely putting a wife away; thus the practice continued among men who were “hard hearted” and wanting to keep the dowry they received from the woman’s family and/or not wanting to allow the women to “be another man’s wife.”

However, many argue that “put away” means divorce and they proceed to explain Jesus’ teachings as if He was talking about legal divorce. Thus, they have Moses permitting something and at the same time commanding it. Therefore we see inconsistency in their thinking and error in their practice because truth does not contradict itself. Those who want the truth must reject the idea that “put away” means divorce. When one understands the Mosaic text under consideration when Jesus spoke and that “put away” simply means what it says (what we English speaking people understand it to mean), he will be on his way to a clear understanding of what Jesus really taught and be able to accept and harmonize the plain teaching of Paul as found in 1Tim. 4:1-4; 1Cor. 7:2, 8, 9, 27, 28, with Jesus’ teaching.

Did Jesus contradict the Law by pointing to God’s original intent and thus teach that a divorced person commits adultery in marrying another? Let us now look as some select comments from various well-known and respected commentators.

Clark:

Mat 19:8 – There was no divorce between Eve and Adam; nor did he or his family practice polygamy. But our Lord, by the beginning, may mean the original intention or design.

It was evidently God’s original intention that men stay with their wife and treat her as his own flesh. What the Jews were practicing, which Jesus condemned, was obviously contrary to what God intended from the beginning.

Barnes:

Mat 19:8 – He saith unto them ... - Jesus admits that this was allowed, but still he contends that this was not the original design of marriage. It was only a temporary expedient growing out of a special state of things, and not designed to be perpetual. It was on account of the hardness of their hearts. Moses found the custom in use. He found a hard-hearted and rebellious people. In this state of things he did not deem it prudent to forbid a practice so universal; but it might be regulated; and, instead of suffering the husband to divorce his wife in a passion, he required him, in order that he might take time to consider the matter, and thus make it probable that divorces would be less frequent, to give her a writing; to sit down deliberately to look at the matter, and probably, also, to bring the case before some scribe or learned man, to write a divorce in the legal form. Thus doing, there might be an opportunity for the matter to be reconciled, and the man to be persuaded not to divorce his wife. This, says our Saviour, was a permission growing out of a particular state of things, and designed to remedy a prevailing evil; but at first it was not so. God intended that marriage should be between one man and one woman, and that they were only to be separated, in the case specified, by him who had formed the union.

Barnes errantly indicates that divorce was given as permission; however, I can agree to the rest of his statement above. Jesus, in elaborating on Gen. 2:24, said, “Let not man put asunder.” Moses’ Law (Deut. 24:1-4) was designed to “remedy a prevailing evil.” Jesus, in explaining the Law, was not telling the Pharisees and disciples that if they divorce and marry another they commit adultery; He was saying YOU cannot do it YOUR way. You must do it God’s way, which was explained in simple terms by Moses. It involved doing three things: 1) Write a bill of divorcement; 2) put it into her hand; and 3) send her out of the house. Man’s way of “divorcing” was wrong because it resulted in adultery. God’s way of ending a marriage frees both parties completely, and when those legally and scripturally divorced marry another they do not commit adultery. Only by obedience to the command to be baptized is one freed from sin and bondage to Satan. In the same way, obedience to the command of Moses, who received such by inspiration of God (Deut. 24:1-4), resulted in freedom from marital bondage.

People’s New Testament:

Mat 19:7-8 – Why then did Moses command? (Deu 24:1-4). They insinuate that he contradicts Moses.

It is evident from the above comment that Johnson understood that Jesus did not contradict Moses’ teachings in Deut. 24, but that it was the Jew’s intention to charge Jesus with doing so.

Moses, for your hardness of heart. Moses "suffered" some things that were not right on account of "the hardness of your heart," a low state of morals. A people cannot be lifted from moral depravity to a high standard at once. Hence the law permitted some things that were below the perfect standard of Christ.

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Indeed, an evil was “suffered”; however, the evil was not the divorce procedure because that was what was commanded as opposed to ending the relationship by merely putting away or permanent separation. The evil was "putting away" and not giving the divorce, which would free the woman to “go be another man’s wife.”