Divorce and Remarriage

When we study what Jesus said about divorce, we must also study the life He lived among those of broken marriages, as well as what he taught about Jewish law, especially their divorce law.

The scriptures say in Luke 16:18 “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.”

And yet we find that Jesus’ actions seem to contradict His words when he sent the woman at the well into Samaria to be His witness. The big question is; Are people who are divorced and remarried to another living in adultery? Are they forbidden service to Christ? 1 Timothy 3:2 states, “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach.” Is this speaking of a person who has been divorced and remarried?

Luke records only one very concise comment on this subject: Luke 16:17-18 “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail. 18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.”

When asked by the Pharisees in the Gospel of Mark, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?” (Mark 10:2), Jesus answered, “What did Moses command you?” (Mark 10:3). “They said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement” (Mark 10:4). (Paraphrases mine). There is a law.

The law is found in Deuteronomy 24:1-2, and at the time Christ lived, Flavius Josephus, who also lived then, paraphrased it and referred to it as the “law of the Jews”:

“He that desires to be divorced from his wife for any cause whatsoever, (and many such causes happen among men), let him in writing give assurance that he will never use her as his wife any more; for by this means she may be at liberty to marry another husband, although before this bill of divorce be given, she is not to be permitted so to do…” (Antiquities of the Jews (The Life and Work of Flavius Josephus), Book IV, Ch. VIII, Sec. 23, p. 134).

This is the law from Deuteronomy: Deuteronomy 24:1-2 “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. 2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife.”

The law was still around in the time of Christ. We must, therefore, deal with the “tittles” of the law. The Bible only records one divorce. God said He did it! In Jeremiah 3, God reminded Judah that she was heading for trouble. Israel had already been taken captive. God told Jeremiah to warn Judah that she had witnessed her sister Israel’s infidelity and had seen God give her a bill of divorce and send her away; and yet she did not fear (Jer. 3:6-8).

Many men of old married more than one wife, and without bothering about divorce. Some of these were God’s servants: Solomon, David, Abraham, and Esau, for example. Heroes of God’s revelation, but also products of their culture. If a man did not divorce his wife he would put her away. There is a word for that in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word ‘shalach’. It is different than the Hebrew word for divorce, which is ‘keriythuwth’. ‘Keriythuwth’ (Jeremiah 3:8) literally means ‘excision, a cutting of the marital bonds’; legal divorce was written, as commanded in Deuteronomy 24, and permitted subsequent marriage. ‘Shalach’ is usually translated ‘to put away’. Women were ‘put away’ when their men married others, ‘put away’ to be available if needed or wanted again, ‘put away’ to become mere property, as slaves, or ‘put away’ in total dismissal; it was a cruel system. They were ‘put away’ in favor of another, but not given a divorce and the right to marry again. This word (Shalach) described a cruel tradition, common, but contrary to Jewish law.

Some of the hardships women experienced who were ‘put away’ can be seen as this Hebrew word ‘shalach’ is described in the Langenscheid Pocket Hebrew Dictionary (McGraw-Hill, 1969); “to let loose, roaming at large, to be scared, abandoned, forsaken”.

J. B. Phillips, in his book of meditations For This Day (Word, 1975) wrote: “The Christian faith took root and flourished in an atmosphere almost entirely pagan, where cruelty and sexual immorality were taken for granted where slavery and the inferiority of women were almost universal, while superstition and rival religions with all kinds of bogus claims, existed on every hand.”

God hated this ‘putting away.’ Malachi the prophet broken-heartedly pleaded with God’s people to stop the practice.

Malachi 2:14-16 “Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. 15 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. 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.”

The word translated ‘putting away’ in Malachi 2:16 is not the Hebrew word for divorce but it is ‘shalach’ – ‘put away.’

Jesus said the same thing in Luke 16:18 “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.”

Whoever ‘putteth away’ his wife (husband) commits adultery! This practice was cruel and was adulterous, but it was not divorce. This New Testament word, translated ‘put away’ is a form of the Greek word ‘apoluo’. It is the word in Greek which parallels the Hebrew word ‘shalach’ – ‘put away.’

The Old Testament Hebrew word for divorce, ‘keriythuwth’, and the New Testament Greek word, ‘apostasion’ also parallel. The Arndt-Gingrich Lexicon of the New Testament cites usage of the word ‘apostasion’ as the technical term for a bill or writing of divorce as far back as 258 B.C.

Apoluo’, the Greek word for ‘putting away’, was not technically divorce, though often used synonymously. In that age of total male domination men often took additional wives and did not provide written release when they forsook wives and married others. The Jewish law demanding written divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-2 was largely ignored. If a man married another woman, so what? If a man ‘put away’ (apoluo) his wife without bothering with a written divorce, who was going to object? The woman?

Jesus had some objections. He told them that this earth would pass away before the law requiring a written bill of divorce should fail (Luke 16:17). And He said when you put away a wife (without a written bill of divorce), and marry another (while still married), you are guilty of adultery. And the women who is ‘put away’ though abandoned, is still married. She would commit adultery if she married again (Luke 16:18) just as the man has done.

The distinction between ‘put away’ and ‘divorce,’ between the Greek ‘apoluo’ and ‘apostasion’ is critical. Apoluo indicated that the women were enslaved, put away, with no rights, no recourse; deprived of the basic right to monogamous marriage. Apostasion ended marriage and permitted a legal subsequent marriage. The paper makes the difference. (“…then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. 2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife.”) (Deut. 24:1b – 2)

There are passages other than Luke 16:17-18 above where Jesus spoke on this matter. They include Matthew 19:9, Mark 10:10-12 (where Mark records that Jesus laid down the same law for women as for men), and Matthew 5:32. Jesus used a form of the word ‘apoluo’ (put away) eleven times in these passages. In every passage he forbade ‘apoluo’ or ‘putting away’. Not once did He forbid giving ‘apostasion’, a written divorce, required by Jewish law.

Of the eleven times this word ‘apoluo’ is used in one instance it was translated ‘divorce’ instead of ‘put away’. Matthew 5:32 “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away (Strong’s No. 630) his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced (Strong’s No. 630) committeth adultery.”

That eleventh instance seems to be the source of misunderstanding today. In 1611 in ONE place the King James translators wrote ‘divorced’ instead of ‘put away’ in the same verse. (Again, Strong’s # 630 in Matthew 5:32)

Matthew 19:3-10 records the Pharisees taunting Jesus about this matter, asking him, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” He responded that marriage is a permanent relationship and said, “Whatsoever God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6).

They then asked, “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement (apostasion), and to put her away?” (Matthew 19:7). Jesus answered, “because of the hardness of your hearts!” (Matthew 19:8). Jesus told those men that to put away a wife and to marry another was adultery! The law (Deuteronomy 22:22) called for the death penalty for adultery, for both the woman and the man! That was bitter medicine for men who did as they pleased with women. Matthew 19:10 records their shock: “If the case of a man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.” They did not live in a culture wherein a man was expected to live with only one woman for life, much less give her equal marriage rights.

How did we ever begin to read “whosoever divorces his wife’ into those places where Jesus literally said “whosoever puts away, or abandons, his wife?” It may be that one place where apoluo was mis-translated ‘divorced’ in 1611 started the whole process.

God hates divorce. There is no question in that regard. And we know from the word of God that it is because of the hardness of heart that divorce occurs. However, divorce is not the unpardonable sin! The blood of Jesus cleanses us from ALL unrighteousness. Most traditions today teach in essence that the blood of Jesus cleanses from all unrighteousness EXCEPT divorce!

Can a divorced person be ordained as a deacon or a preacher? The Apostle Paul, who was a well educated man in the Law of Moses, knew the Greek word for divorce (apostasion) and knew his culture. He also knew Christ would accept anyone, even him, the “chiefest of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Unquestionably some early converts had multiple wives, slave wives, and concubines. Each of these relationships, though given the nicer title, polygamy, was adultery. Paul rejected the heads of such households as leaders in the church. The command to give a writing of divorcement in Deuteronomy 24 limited a man to only one wife and thus prohibited polygamy and the adultery inherent in it. Paul seemed to concur fully when he said, “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2). He rejected polygamy, not divorce.

As opposed to putting away, written divorce, commanded by the law, provided a degree of human dignity for women subjected to cruel abuse, adulterous polygamy, and the whims of hard-hearted men. Nothing so flimsy as an oral “I divorce you” would do. Divorce declared the legal end of a marriage, thereby precluding any charge of adultery or bigamy should either party every marry again. Divorce severed all marital ties and all control by the former spouse. Divorce demanded strict monogamy. Divorce prevented unilateral dismissal and preserved the basic right to be married. Divorce does the same today. Abandonment, desertion, putting away, or whatever one calls that hard-hearted forsaking of one spouse for another, without divorce, was and is forbidden by the Lord Jesus himself (Mt. 19:9; Mt. 5:32; Mk. 10:11-12; Lk. 16:18).

For centuries much of the Christian community has interpreted these teachings of Jesus to say: 1) Divorce is absolutely not permitted, or at best, is permitted only in the case of admitted or proven adultery. 2) A divorced person is not allowed to marry again. 3) A divorced person who does marry again lives in adultery. 4) A person who is divorced cannot be ordained as a deacon or a minister. Every one of these beliefs is wrong.

The first three are contrary to Mosaic Law and are based on scripture in which Jesus did not even use the Greek word for divorce (apostasion); the fourth is based on scripture in which Paul did not use it. The word Jesus used was ‘apoluo’, to ‘put away.’ This was the problem with which Jesus dealt; putting away, not divorce.

Bruce D Allen 2013 abidesinrest@msn.com