Is ‘tradition’ equally inspired with the scriptures and equally authoritative? Moreover, have we let tradition overrule God and Jesus in just the same way that the Pharisees did in New Testament times?
In the New Testament many translators have not made a proper distinction between ‘divorce’ (apostasion) and ‘put away’ (apolyō), even though these are two separate actions, described by two specific Greek words.
We can see how the words have been translated correctly and incorrectly in Matthew 5:
It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away (apolyō) his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement (apostasion). But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away (apolyō) his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced (in the original manuscripts it is apolyō, “put away” and NOT the word for divorce) committeth adultery. ~ Matthew 5
In other words: The law says that she commits adultery if she remarries without a written bill of divorcement. But I say unto you that whoever puts her away (without divorce papers, that is, unlawfully) causes her to commit adultery (if she remarries under such conditions). Thus, he who simply put her out of his house without divorcing her properly is just as liable as she is. And whosoever marries her that has been put away (without divorce papers) also commits adultery, because he is marrying another man’s wife.
The First Husband Was Just As Guilty!
Jesus was telling the Pharisees that they could not simply blame a woman for adultery in such cases, her husband was equally liable before God for placing his wife in such a position, as they were allowing men to put away their wives treacherously rather than divorcing them. The first husband shared in the guilt because he would not sign the certificate of divorce. At the same time the Pharisees allowed those very same men to marry another woman without committing adultery.
It was the Pharisees who were not obeying the law in Deuteronomy 24. That law protected women from being destitute and none of the men were legally entitled to remarry, as they hadn’t followed the rules of God’s law:
- The husband had to write the wife a bill of divorcement
- He had to place it in her hand
- Then he sent her away
- Then both were free to remarry
Jesus was addressing remarriage after putting away NOT remarriage after a divorce!
The same mistranslated word can be seen in Mark when the word divorce was used instead of putting away.
“Whoever divorces ( apolyō- putting away is in the original text) his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.” Mark 10:11 -12
The verse does not refer to a divorced woman, but to a wife who has been put away without divorce papers. By not translating apolyō correctly it twists Jesus’ words to say that it is adultery to marry a divorced woman, when in fact the law says it is adultery to marry a woman who is still married to another man.
Jesus was not talking here about divorce, but was dealing with the evil in men’s hearts that exploited their wives by putting them away without a bill of divorce. The woman simply became a victim which the Mosaic Law was supposed to protect. Jesus was yet again taking care of women’s rights within that misogynistic culture.
and if she herself divorces (apolyō- without divorce papers) her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery. ~ Mark 10:12
But what is interesting is found in Mark 10:12 as Jesus said that a woman too would be committing adultery if she put away her husband without divorce papers and married another man. Jesus was raising the status of the woman to be equal with her husband.
This is important as it shows that the right to divorce in Deut 24:1 was given equally to men and women. As both were required to give a written bill of divorce before putting away a spouse.
In the NASB, even though the translators use the word ‘divorce’ which is the incorrect translation of apolyō, they have placed a footnote saying that the word is really ‘send away’.
Greed = Putting Away in Luke 16
Jesus was talking to the Pharisees who He said were lovers of money when he brings up the topic of putting away. Jesus focused on their greed when they put away their wives, as under their tradition/oral law, they didn’t have to return the dowry. That was such a treacherous thing to do to a woman as it was her only financial support in that patriarchal society. A woman could end up in a life of prostitution, or in servitude, or commit adultery and marry another man in order to survive. Any man who married her would commit adultery too and both of them could be liable to being punished by stoning to death, though the Romans did not let the Jewish authorities execute capital punishment.
Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail. Everyone who divorces (apolyō- without divorce papers) his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced (apolyō- without divorce papers) from a husband commits adultery. Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day… ~ Luke 16:15-19
Human rights were for men only in those days. Jesus changed that! He demanded equality for women!
The Samaritan Woman at the Well
For thou hast had five husbands
If Jesus said she had (past tense) five husbands, then Jesus recognised the complete ending of the marriages by divorce and/or death of some of her previous husbands. Otherwise Jesus would have stated that after her first husband, she had five affairs.
He said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.” ~ John 4:16-18
In other words, “You have told the truth—you now have no husbands.”
We are not told if she had become a widow at various points in her life and under the law remarried some of the brothers.
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. ~ Deut 25:5
But the assumption in church tradition is made that she had multiple divorces BUT it was only ever men who could divorce their wives.
The traditional view of divorce states that if a divorced woman marries another man, she along with that man become adulterers. If that was true then Jesus would have said that the first man had been her lawful husband and the others were adulterers. But He didn’t. He said that she was no longer married to all five or any one of them.
Hopefully you’ll now be able to see that the problem in the gospels was that most of the men did not want to write a ‘certificate of divorce’ because it would mean that they had to return the dowry to the woman, as it was an abomination for a man to take back a former wife after she had married another (Deut 24:1-4).
God’s law – including Deuteronomy 24:1-2 – is perfect. And what is perfect cannot be sin. Jesus did not come to destroy the law but to fulfil it (Matt 5:17) therefore He did not condemn ‘certificates of divorce’. Even though I know that Jesus is deeply saddened with the consequences of divorce, He still clearly provided for divorce. But what He did condemn was the treacherous act of ‘putting away’ which left a woman destitute.
Next time we’ll head into the epistles to see what Paul had to say on the matter of divorce and remarriage.
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