seems to be taken for granted by many that when Jesus condemned the practice of
"putting away" a wife, he was talking about divorce as we understand
it today. But, if that was the case, why have translators not consistently used
the word divorce instead of put away where divorce is
supposedly (according to many) the meaning? It is argued that put away
and divorce mean the same thing, but is this true? Is it possible that the
Jews were practicing “putting away” their wives and this practice was something
different from a legal divorce, and which did not dissolve the marriage,
regardless of the reason for the separation?
Law under which Jesus lived (and was obligated to follow) made provisions for a
marriage to be dissolved (Deut 24:1-2, ASV) because of the hardness of man’s
heart (Mt 19:8).
When a man taketh a wife, and marrieth her, then
it shall be, if she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some
unseemly thing in her, that he shall write her a bill of divorcement, and give
it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of
his house, she may go and be another man's wife.
see, then, that God laid down the procedure for a man to dissolve a marriage.
This command was a procedure consisting of three separate actions (see below).
Previous to this, men were simply putting away or sending their wives out of
the house (women did not have the same rights). At that time, men were
permitted to have more than one wife and received a dowry also. But if a man
divorced his wife then the dowry had to be returned. The dowry, however, did
not have to be returned in a case where there was no formal divorce. We can
see, then, that simply sending his wife out of the house was a way of avoiding
any financial loss. However, the consequences were very serious for the wife:
without a formal divorce, she was left without a home and a means of support;
and, being still married, it was not lawful for her to remarry. For a married
woman to have sexual relations with another man was considered an act of
adultery that was punishable by death (Lev. 20:10). Husbands who dealt
treacherously with their wives (by putting them away and marrying another,
which was contrary to the teaching of Moses) were committing adultery against
them–adultery meaning "covenant breaking" or "breaking
wedlock." (See Mark 10:11 and Ez 16:38, ASV, BBE, and CEV.)
Luke’s record of Jesus’ teaching on “MDR” he was talking to men who were lovers
of money. He talked about the rich man and Lazarus and he brought in the issue
of men putting away their wives. He was showing that it was their greed that
kept them from giving the decree so they wouldn’t have to give back the dowry.
Their actions were described as adultery.
Mark’s account observes that their actions were “adultery against her,” i.e.,
the wife who was put away (Mark 10:11; Luke 16:14-20).
wife that was put out of the house may well have been innocent of any
wrongdoing, yet she could not marry another without a certificate of
divorcement that proved her marriage was legally dissolved. Thus, husbands who
refused to give a bill of divorcement to those whom they had put away were
disobeying God. It is interesting that the same evil practice among the Jews is
still going on to this day. (See the chapter “Jewish Women in Chains.”)
in most countries, wives too are permitted to divorce their husbands;
consequently women are not so vulnerable to being left homeless and destitute
the way Jewish wives often are due to their husbands' refusal to present them
with divorce papers. Nevertheless, the same sort of thing is experienced by
both women and men today! People who have been divorced are being told by
church leaders that, being divorced, they are ineligible for marriage and must
remain unmarried or face the loss of fellowship in their church.
the Mosaic age, a husband would often send (put) his wife away (Heb. shalach, Gk. apoluo) without a certificate of divorce. In God's sight, though,
the husband committed adultery against her. Furthermore, his wife would find
herself homeless and destitute and unable to remarry; to do so would be to
commit adultery, and any man who married her would commit adultery (see Mark
10:11; Matt. 5:31-32), a crime that was punishable by death (Lev. 20:10).
God laid down a procedure to prevent such evils and protect wives from such
treachery. This procedure consisted of three actions: writing her a bill of
divorcement, placing it in her hand, and sending her away (Deut 24:1-2).
nothing in Jesus' teaching even suggests that the man who initiates “divorce” commits adultery (Matt 5:31-32; Mark
10:11). Seeing this, some people, contending that the "put away
person" has no right to marry, reason that a person needs only to ensure
that he is the one filing for divorce. (This suggestion is imprudent as it
tends to encourage divorce because people feel compelled to divorce when they
have the "grounds" and before the other spouse divorces them, making
them a "put away person" and "ineligible for marriage.") But
the real significance to this observation is that the men would not commit adultery in the marriage with another because
they were allowed to have more than one wife. We can find no evidence that the
men discussed in the context (which goes back to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 for the
specific passage of the Law) were divorcing their wives "for
fornication" or because they had committed adultery. Since the Law called
for the death penalty for adultery, this theory lacks credence (Lev 20:10).
like all faithful Jews, was obedient to the Law. No one could accuse Jesus of
changing the Law (before the cross) because He Himself promised, "Till
heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the
law, till all be fulfilled" (Matt 5:18). In view of this, we see a serious
error with the traditional teaching, attributed to Jesus, that a divorced person commits adultery if he
remarries. The problem, then, in understanding who has a right to marry, hinges
on the meaning of divorce. Many of
the newer Bible versions translate the Greek word apoluo as divorced but the older and more reliable versions
consistently translate apoluo as
"put away" (or something similar).
us now note a couple of definitions from Random
House Dictionary and make some observations:
1. Law. a judicial declaration dissolving a marriage
in whole or in part, esp. one that released the husband and wife from all
2. any formal separation of man and wife according to
established custom, as among uncivilized tribes.
3. total separation; disunion: a divorce between
thought and action.
4. to separate by divorce: The judge divorced the
5. to break the marriage contract between oneself and
[one's spouse] by divorce: She divorced her husband.
Law. a decree of legal separation of husband and wife
that does not dissolve the marriage bond. Also called limited divorce.
is interesting that some contemporary writers use the phrase "put away
person" when referring to a divorced person. This is misleading because
"put away" is equal to being separated,
not divorced—according to the Law of Moses. Even a judicial separation is not a divorce and does not end the marriage.
While it is true that a divorce does separate a couple, it is also true that a
couple can separate without divorcing. A married couple who separate might
claim they are divorced but, in reality, they are still married. Those who
teach that "putting away" a spouse (without a "bill of
divorcement") constitutes a divorce are not only teaching error, but make
Jesus a liar! If a "put away" person equals a "divorced"
person then Jesus broke His promise that the Law would not change until all was
fulfilled (Matt 5:18). When a woman who is "put away" (or separated)
marries another she obviously commits adultery. But it is important to
understand that God gave a procedure for divorcing that would allow the
divorced woman to marry another. Jesus could not possibly have contradicted
Moses on this because to do so would have been transgression and would have
given the Jews just cause to condemn him. Interestingly, they did not charge
Jesus with breaking the Law on this matter, yet people today (supposedly his friends!)
contend that He did.
apostle Paul spoke to the "unmarried" person in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9.
The word unmarried means: single,
unattached, free, not married. “Not joined to another by marriage" [Encarta
Dictionary]. To anyone who might not understand His universal
divorce law, which freed the divorced, God gave a direct command: "let
them marry." Unfortunately, a misunderstanding of Jesus' teaching has led
many to ignore or try to explain away this command.
believe the only time God recognizes a divorce is when fornication has been committed,
which they insist has to be the cause
of the divorce and it frees only the initiator of the divorce to marry. This is
based on their conception of what Jesus was teaching in Matthew 19:9:
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife,
except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and
whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
misunderstanding centers around two things: 1) the phrase "put away"
and, 2) the definition of fornication.
We have already discussed the meaning of put
away so we will focus on the meaning of fornication.
The word fornication is often
believed to be a general term for any type of illicit sex. But consider the following
The Old Testament commandment that a bill of divorce
be given to the woman assumes the legitimacy of divorce itself. It is this that
Jesus denies. (Unless the marriage is unlawful): this ‘exceptive clause,’ as it
is often called, occurs also in Matthew 19:9, where the Greek is slightly
different. There are other sayings of Jesus about divorce that prohibit it
absolutely (see Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18; cf 1 Cor 7:10, 11b), and most
scholars agree that they represent the stand of Jesus. Matthew's ‘exceptive
clauses’ are understood by some as a modification of the absolute prohibition.
It seems, however, that the unlawfulness that Matthew gives as a reason why a
marriage must be broken refers to a situation peculiar to his community: the violation
of Mosaic Law forbidding marriage between persons of certain blood and/or legal
relationship (Lev 18:6-18). Marriages of that sort were regarded as incest (porneia), but some rabbis allowed
Gentile converts to Judaism who had contracted such marriages to remain in
them. Matthew's ‘exceptive clause’ is against such permissive-ness for Gentile
converts to Christianity; cf the similar prohibition of porneia in Acts
15:20, 29. In this interpretation, the clause constitutes no exception to the
absolute prohibition of divorce when the marriage is lawful” (www.usccb.org/nab/bible/matthew/matthew5.htm).
word fornication, then, is the
violation of Mosaic Law forbidding marriage between persons of blood
relationships. The only two examples we have recorded in the New Testament
where a marriage was said to be unlawful, or fornication, were the man who
"had his father's wife" (1 Cor 5:1) and Herod, who married his
brother's wife (apparently after divorce) while he still lived (Mark 5:18; Lev
this in mind, we offer the following paraphrase of Matthew 19:9:
And I say unto you, whoever shall put away his wife
without a certificate of divorcement, except for the cases of an illicit or
illegal marriage, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso
marrieth her that is put away without a certificate of divorcement doth commit
versions lend support to the accuracy of the above paraphrase: The New Jerusalem Bible and the New American with Apocrypha. These
are quoted in another chapter.)
the traditional teaching that divorced people are still married in the sight of
God is without biblical support.
idea that Jesus was giving the grounds for a “scriptural” divorce, and that
only the one who initiated the divorce may marry another, is not in harmony
with the Bible. Such a doctrine has God not only punishing innocent persons,
contrary to his nature, but also has him contradicting himself. When the
apostle Paul (by inspiration) dealt with questions pertaining to marriage, he
said to let men and women have a spouse so they can avoid fornication (1 Cor
7:1, 2). By teaching men to "love their wives" (Col 3:19) and women to "be in
subjection" to their husbands (Eph 5:22) he teaches against separation and
divorce; but obviously it happens. Yet only during the "present
distress" were those who were separated commanded to remain
"unmarried" or in the state they were in—as no command, example or
inference teaches that divorced persons must remain celibate. That idea is an
assumption that is based on false premises.
his answer to the brethren in Corinth,
Paul makes it clear that people should marry, if necessary, to avoid
fornication. He says to anyone who would object to the unmarried marrying:
"let them marry" and "he sinneth not." We must accept that
a legal divorce dissolves a marriage and that "unmarried" persons do
not commit adultery when they marry. Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 8,
9, 27, 28, 36 should leave no doubt in our minds that divorced persons may scripturally
marry another. For a church to refuse to accept a couple because one person in
the marriage has been divorced is to place an unnecessary burden on the couple,
and their children, which often results in their turning away from Christ.
Thus, Paul's classifying "forbidding to marry" as "doctrines of
devils" (1 Tim 4:1-3) surely condemns the traditional teaching and
practice of forbidding legally divorced persons to marry or continue in a legal
marriage already contracted. Furthermore, he said:
But if any man think
that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of
her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them
marry. (1 Cor 7:36).
The phrase “any man” is not limited to virgins or
those who have never been married. Thus, persons who are “unmarried,” which
includes those legally divorced, must be allowed to marry if the need is there,
for they do not sin if they do. On the other hand, one who is guilty of
"forbidding to marry" does indeed commit sin.
Recommended reading: The Clear and Simple Truth on Divorce and Remarriage
Forbidding to Marry