- Churchianity states that you can only divorce a person because of adultery, but is that true?
Tradition is the enemy of truth and it is my understanding that tradition has misused scripture and is keeping people in spiritual bondage. Only the real truth can be found in the Bible so let’s see what Jesus really says on the matter …
Was divorce and remarriage allowed by Moses, but forbidden by Jesus?
In the previous blog we discovered that God does not hate divorce. But what He does condemn is the ‘sending away’ (i.e Malachi 2) and marrying another, before the first marriage has legally ended, as this was treacherous in God’s eyes. Hopefully as this series develops you’ll begin to see that Jesus does not condemn divorce as He upholds the teaching of Moses, though He’s very sad about the tragic consequences of divorce.
Now let’s add some historical information to help us understand Matthew 19 in a better light…
The Pharisees Try To Trap Jesus
In Matthew 19 the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with a question. They knew all too well that John the Baptist had been beheaded for speaking out against Herod Antipas and Herodias and their unlawful marriage according to the Mosaic law. The Pharisees probably hoped that if Jesus also spoke out about their illegal marriage, then Jesus might face the same fate as John the Baptist.
For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” ~ Mark 6
This is the law that John was referring to:
Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother’s wife: it is thy brother’s nakedness. ~ Lev 18:16
And if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is impurity: he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless. ~ Lev 20:21
The law did not allow Herod Antipas to marry his brother’s wife even if they were both legally divorced. The only way Herod Antipas could have legally married Herodias was if her former husband Philip (Herod’s brother) had died.
When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. ~ Deuteronomy 25
The law did not prevent Herod Antipas or Herodias from remarrying after their legal divorces – but just not to each other.
Therefore Herod and Herodias had a fornicated, illegal marriage that went against the Law of Moses!
Now that we have all the background information we need, let’s look at the encounter with Jesus and the Pharisees in the scriptures…
Putting Away For Any Cause in Matthew 19
Jesus had crossed the Jordan river into Judea, the region that was ruled by Herod Antipas. There He encountered some Pharisees …
“The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?
Mistranslated from the Greek
What the Pharisees were really asking was ‘could a man send away his wife for any reason at all – not just for fornication, without a certificate of divorce as stipulated in the Mosaic law and be free to remarry?’
In the original manuscripts the word used is apolyō G630 which means simply to ‘put away’. But so many of the bible translations use the word ‘divorce’ which is apostásion G647. The two actions are different.
From G575 and G3089; to free fully, that is, (literally) relieve, release, dismiss (reflexively depart)
From G868; properly, something separative, i.e. (specially) divorce:—(writing of) divorcement.
When Jesus had finished these words, He departed from Galilee and came into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan; and large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there. Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all? ~ Matthew 19 1-3 NASB
Notice that the NASB uses the word ‘divorce’ while the KJV uses the word ‘put away’.
The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? Matthew 19:3 KJV
Jesus chose His words carefully, but many translators were careless in their translations, treating the two words as if they were interchangeable. In so doing, they make Jesus teach something contrary to the law of Moses, thus invalidating the law.
God’s Original Intent
Jesus reminded the Pharisees of God’s original intent for marriage in a perfect sinless world. In that world there would never be any need to divorce as there would never be any fornication, abuse, hierarchical control or neglect. But they didn’t live in a perfect world and neither do we today! God had to make some compromises because of the sin of man. He even had to reluctantly divorce one of His wives, The House of Israel.
God’s original plan was for a ‘one wife at a time’ marriage … but throughout the bible we see that husbands had more than one wife as well as concubines. But as long as they gave food, clothing and love to each wife they were not in breach of the Law of Moses. If the husband neglected any one of those things then divorce was allowed and the woman was allowed to remarry again.
And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh.
The Pharisees Were Not Competent To Serve As Judges
What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
In those days the Pharisees decided who could divorce and who could not as they were the experts in the law. They had even made up a new oral law that a man could divorce ‘for any cause’ which was not part of the Laws of Moses. For divorce to be legal in the Mosaic law the man had to neglect feeding, or clothing or loving his wife / concubine as set out in Exodus 21.
But Jesus made a profound statement. Jesus reminded the Pharisees that they had absolutely no jurisdiction in matters of putting away and divorce as they were putting marriages away asunder contrary to the Law of Moses. But when the law was upheld correctly then GOD could allow the putting asunder. Only God could put asunder because it was His own law!
In other words ‘putting away for any cause’ without signing a bill of divorce was man’s putting asunder. This was not in God’s law! It resulted in a woman committing adultery if she took up with another man. Women were so vulnerable in that society and the Pharisees were making the lives of women even harsher than they needed to be.
JESUS IS THEREFORE PREACHING AGAINST THE ABUSE OF HIS OWN LAW – NOT CHANGING IT!
Jesus was always condemning the Pharisees for their oral law/mishna and there were two very controversial interpretations of the Mosaic Law in regards to putting away and divorce which caused constant disagreements between the Pharisees.
- The Shammaite interpretation (Saduccees)
- The Hillelite interpretation (Pharisees)
Both interpretations believed that divorce and putting away was lawful but neither interpretation had a favourable outcome for a woman.
But as we can see, the question the Pharisees asked Jesus wasn’t about divorce at this point in the conversation, but putting away. Jesus answered their question correctly based on the Mosaic Law.
When a wife was put away without a bill of divorcement she was merely separated from her husband and they were still legally married.
Divorce in Matthew 19
It’s only now at this point in the conversation that the Pharisees mention divorce alongside putting away.
They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
Not from the Beginning
He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
Jesus then said that their tradition of putting away, causing the woman to become destitute was the result of the hardness of their hearts. She could never remarry but the man could. In fact the Mosaic law was trying to aid women because men were abusing them by simply putting them away.
From the outset i.e from the beginning, the Law stated that a man must find some uncleanness in her – Deuteronomy 24:1 or neglect her in accordance with the laws in Exodus. But the Pharisees were going by their man made traditions rather than the actual law.
Did Jesus Correct Moses?
Church tradition says: that Moses only allowed divorced because of their hard hearts, and that Jesus was now stating that divorce was not allowed and he was changing the law back to what it was in the beginning.
- Well if Jesus did mean that, why did the Pharisees not cease Jesus immediately and accuse Him of changing the law of Moses?
- Why was this not brought up at His trial?
The reason is because it’s church tradition and not scriptural truth. Jesus never contradicted the law of Moses because Jesus could not contradict what God had established. If He did, then He sinned and was not our Saviour!
Exception For Fornication
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.” ~ Matthew 19
You see there was only one legal way to put away a wife without a bill of divorcement and that was if there was fornication (Greek: porneia) as stated in Deuteronomy 22:13-21. Fornication automatically broke the marriage covenant.
If a man discovered that his wife had been unfaithful to him by being an adulteress, he did not need to write her a bill of divorce.
Now go back and look at the law in Deuteronomy 24 – it is impossible for adultery to be included as a reason to divorce.
When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him 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.
Adultery was a death sentence delivered by stoning, it didn’t need a certificate of divorce. Therefore adultery is not the ‘uncleanness’ spoken of in Deuteronomy, otherwise a woman could never remarry again as she would have been killed.
The Mosaic law said that a man could put away his wife without a bill of divorce for fornication and Jesus said the exact same thing to the Pharisees “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication …”
But the Mosaic law never taught that a man could put away a wife for any reason/cause – only for adultery.
The law ONLY allowed them to divorce for ‘uncleanness’ by issuing a certificate of divorce and putting the wife out of the home. But the Pharisees abused the law and they allowed women to be ‘put away’ without a certificate of divorce even if they burnt the dinner or had bad breath! They trivialised ‘uncleanness’ to mean just about anything they didn’t like about their spouse and then threw the spouse out and left her destitute without divorcing her and without returning her dowry. Jesus upheld the teaching of Moses in Deuteronomy when confronted and the Pharisees couldn’t accuse Him of breaking the law.
So what Jesus was saying was …But I say to you that whoever puts away (without writing his wife a bill of divorcement), the exception being for cases of fornication, causes her to commit adultery (when she marries another). And whoever shall marry her who is (only) separated commits adultery.
In other words, a divorce certificate was not required if the spouse became fornicated. Under the Mosaic covenant you could put away an adulterous spouse, but you could not divorce an adulterous spouse. Such relationships were not lawful marriages in God’s eyes, because as soon as you put her away, you stoned her to death.
Herod Antipas and Herodias Were the Exception
- Did Herod Antipas need to give Herodias a bill of divorce? No because of the exception Jesus spoke of. “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication …” in other words except in cases where there is fornication.
All Herod Antipas had to do was put Herodias away – i.e separate, as in God’s eyes it was an unscriptural marriage to begin with. It was null and void.
The Pharisees knew the law, but they decided to ignore it and appease Herod Antipas instead.
Many in Churchianity state that you can only divorce a person because of adultery alone and for no other reason. They use this passage to justify their belief. But scripture shows that assumption to be false, as they are misapplying the fornication exception that Jesus spoke of.
- God’s law does not promote divorce and remarriage, but He certainly permits.
Further Useful Resources: