A Biblical look at Divorce
To understand divorce we need to start by looking at what the definition of a biblical marriage is. If we look in the bible we do not find any specific details or directions about how to hold a marriage ceremony. We only have the ancient documents which tell us how marriages were conducted and know that the way marriages were conducted was steeped in tradition by the time of Yeshua (Jesus). We know that marriages are mentioned a number of times in the bible and that Yeshua attended at least one marriage. Scripture is very clear about marriage being a divinely established and holy covenant. Scripture is also clear about our obligations to honour and obey the laws of the country we live in as all governments are divinely put in place by Almighty G-d. We need to look at what constitutes a marriage in G-d’s eyes. From what scripture tells us a couple is married in the eyes of G-d when the marriage has been consummated by sexual intercourse. The couple, a man and a woman are married in the eyes of G-d when they are legally married and that they have had a formal religious wedding ceremony.
In Malachi 2:14 we read that marriage is a Holy Covenant before Almighty G-d. In a Jewish Wedding the two people getting married hold their marriage ceremony in public so as to show their commitment to one another. There is also a signed written agreement so as to seal the covenant of marriage. In the time of Jesus and before it was the covenant commitment before God and man that was very important and not any ceremony. If we consider the ancient traditional Jewish wedding ceremony we can learn a lot. All Jewish people when they get married have a Ketubah or marriage contract drawn up. This was started by the Macabees as so many Jewish women were divorced by their husbands and left with nothing so the Rabbi’s of the day decided that a contract needed to be written. This is normally written in Aramaic and is still done today. The husband accepts marital responsibilities for the wife such as clothing, food and shelter as well as promising to care for her emotional needs. The marriage ceremony is not complete until it is signed by the groom and two witnesses. The father of the bride and the father of the groom help with the drawing up of this document and sign this as well before it is given to the wife. This shows that the husband and wife see marriage as more than a physical and emotional union but a moral and legal commitment. It was and still is forbidden for Jewish couples to live together without having this document. For Jewish people the marriage covenant also represents the covenant between God, Israel and his people.
For Christian’s, marriage is a picture of the relationship between Yeshua the bridegroom and his Bride. Romans 13:1-2 is one of several passages in Scripture that refers to the importance of believers honouring governmental authority in general: "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which G-d has established. The authorities that exist have been established by G-d. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what G-d has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves." NIV
These verses give position number 2 (the couple is married in the eyes of G-d when the couple is legally married) a stronger biblical basis for support.
The problem, however, with a legal process only is that some governments require couples to go against the laws of G-d in order to be legally married. Also, there were many marriages that took place in history before governmental laws were established for marriage. Even today some countries have no legal requirements for marriage.
Therefore, a more correct biblical position for a couple, as believers, would be to submit to governmental authority and recognize the laws of the land, as long as that authority does not require them to break one of the laws of G-d.
Excuses I have heard many excuses about why a legal marriage should not be required:
- "If we marry, we'll lose certain financial benefits."
- "I have bad credit. It will ruin my spouse's credit if we get married."
- "A piece of paper won't make any difference. It's our love and private commitment to each other that matters."
Deuteronomy 28:2 "You will experience all these blessings if you obey the L-rd your G-d." New Living Translation Stepping out in faith and obedience requires us to trust in the Master as we follow his ways and laws
The dictionary states that the meaning of divorce (or the dissolution of marriage) is the final termination of a marital union cancelling the legal duties and responsibilities of marriage and dissolving the bonds of matrimony between parties.
Annulment is different which declares that the marriage was null and void. Normally due to the marriage not having been sexually consummated.
What is the understanding of divorce in the bible?
The first mention of Divorce in the bible is found in Deuteronomy 24:1, 2
“ When a man has taken a wife, and married her, and it comes to pass that she finds 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.”
When we look at this scripture it reveals that when you have a genuine case of divorce there are two steps that need to take place. One must first have a legal bill of divorce written up and recognized by both parties. Secondly, there must be a separation or a departure from living together as man and wife.
In Hebrew the word for divorce or divorcement comes from the Hebrew “keriythuwth” Strong’s 3748 and means to cut a matrimonial bond. This word is the only Hebrew word translated divorce or divorcement.
Secondly the phrase “…sends her out…” which comes from the Hebrew
“Shelach” Strong’s 7971 meaning to send away, to send out so that they do not live together as man and wife. It also means to cast out, put out, leave, depart, send away. This word shelach is used in Genesis 3:23 when Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden.” The L-rd G-d sent him forth from the Garden of Eden…”
It is interesting that the written Get or Divorce decree must be handed out before he sends her away. She is then free to remarry.
It is important that we as Believers in Yeshua understand the two components to divorce and what there respective Hebrew words mean.
Many people say that G-d hates divorce. With all the research I have done I cannot find it any where that G-d says “I hate divorce.” Why does G-d not say this? Well G-d neither hates divorce nor the people that have been divorced. In Malachi 2:16 we read “For the
L-rd G-d of Israel, says that he hateth putting away….”
The Hebrew word here is NOT “keriythuwth” (Divorce) but “Shalach” (to put out, to send away) that represents the second component of divorce. Due to mistranslation and in many translations the word divorce has been used in place of putting away. Many people have therefore not understood correctly the meaning of this verse.
When we read other verses in the bible many of the men were separating from their wives and were not giving them a legal divorce bill but were just marrying foreign women and worshiping their gods. This would have angered G-d as their divorce and new marriages were not legal as they were not following the teachings of Moses and Moses had received this teaching from the L-rd G-d Almighty. Which said, “write her a bill of divorcement (keriythuwth) and give it in her hand, and send her out (shalach) of his house.”
In Malachi 2:15 the L-rd says that he is “..seeking a godly seed…”
In Malachi 2:11 G-d talks about the Israelites actions of separating from their wives and not giving them a bill of divorce, as well as marrying foreign women, and worshiping strange gods, this was polluting the land and violating the Covenant G-d had made with Israel.
In the book of Ezra 10:11 we see that G-d told the men of Israel to separate from their foreign wives. These were G-d’s sanctioned divorces which he ordered to be annulled as they were outside His will. In Ezra 10:44 it says that these were not good marriages. Nowhere does it say that G-d hates divorce and neither should we hate divorce. What scripture tells us that G-d has sanctioned thousands of divorces and that G-d does not like bigamy or a person being married to one person while still being legally married to a different person?
WHAT DOES JESUS TEACH ON DIVORCE
When we fully understand the Hebrew words used with divorce and there meaning we will get a clear understanding of what Yeshua teaches on divorce.
In his teachings Yeshua was reacting to other teachings from certain liberal Pharisees whose teachings were based on the ideas of Rabbi Hillel’s. Hillel died when Yeshua would have been a boy and his teachings on divorce were very popular. He taught that a man could divorce for practically “any cause” Where as the school of Shammai who was another Rabbi of the day opposed his thoughts on divorce and you could only get divorced if the wife or husband were caught in adultery. We also need to remember that the punishment for adultery was stoning, but at the time of Yeshua the Sanhedrin “the Jewish court of law” could say that they wanted the death sentence to be given but had to go to the procurator of Judea i.e. Pontius Pilate and ask him to agree to allow them to proceed with a death sentence i.e. stoning. The Roman’s at that time did not see anything wrong with adultery as they would have mistresses as well as committing adultery with other married women.
Yeshua also had to contend with the problem of the day concerning King Herod Antipas who stole the wife of Herod Philip and forced a divorce that was unlawful. They knew that the arrest of John the Baptist was due to John’s vocal rejection of the divorce and remarriage
In Mathew 5:31 Yeshua said “It has been said, whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement. “ Here Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy 24:1 as he also mentions the two steps that need to take place. The words in Greek used for “put away” is “apoluo” Strongs 630 which means to send away, to dismiss, to depart and means the same as “shalach” which I have said means to send out, to send away. When Yeshua uses the word “put away” he is using the second step of divorce.
The phase of “writing of divorce” in Greek is “apostasion” Strongs 647 which means a bill of divorce identical to the Hebrew word “keriythuwth”
In the next verse Yeshua said” But I say unto you, that whoever shall put away (apoluo- to send forth) his wife, saving for the cause of fornication; causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced (apoluo- to send forth, to put away) committeth adultery.”
The Greek word which in many translations is translated divorce here is incorrectly translated as the word used is “apoluo/to send forth” and NOT “apostasion” meaning divorce.
Yeshua is not saying that whoever marries a divorced woman is committing adultery but that whoever marries a woman that has been separated from her husband without a legal bill of divorcement commits adultery; because she is still legally and officially married to her estranged husband.
In Mark 10:11-12 Yeshua teaches”… whosoever shall put away (apoluo- to send forth) his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away (apoluo to send forth) her husband, and be married to another she committeth adultery.”
In Luke 16:18 Yeshua teaches the same again and this you learn when you look at the Hebrew words as well as the Greek words. Apoluo is used.
(Whosoever putting away (apoluo- to send forth) his wife and marrieth another, committeth; and whosoever marrieth her that is put away (apoluo – to send forth) her husband and be married she committeth adultery.”
In each of the above Yeshua is talking about people who have separated from their spouses and have not legally divorced.
What do we understand about adultery?
Adultery is voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than ones lawful spouse. One cannot commit adultery unless one or both parties involved in the intercourse are still legally married.
When a person marries and has intercourse with a person that is only separated from their spouse and has not been legally divorced from their spouse then in the eyes of G-d they have committed adultery.
According to the Word of G-d when someone marries a person that has been legally divorced, that marriage and sexual relationship is NOT an adulterous relationship in the eyes of G-d as Deuteronomy 24:2 says that a legally divorced woman is free to marry another man.
We need to look at the causes of divorce –
In Mark 10:2 “… the Pharisees came to Him and asked him, is it lawful for a man to put away (apoluo – to send forth) his wife testing Him.”
We need to remember that the hypocritical religious Pharisees of the day were forever trying to test Yeshua into misquoting or interpreting the scriptures. Note that not all the Pharisees were like this. They knew very well Moses’ teaching on the subject of divorce; they were trying to have a debate with him so as to have some ammunition against him.
In Matthew 19:3 “The Pharisees also come unto Him, testing him and saying unto Him, is it lawful for a man to put away (apoluo – to send forth) his wife for every cause. Once again we see the Pharisees trying to test Yeshua and want to debate and argue with Him.
In Mark 10 we are given the response. “And He answered and said unto them, what did Moses command you?” And they said, “Moses suffered to write a bill of divorce (apostasion- divorce), and to put her away (apoluo – to send forth). We again see that the two steps of a legal, scriptural divorce are enumerated. It then goes on to say “And Yeshua answered and said unto them, “For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.” In simple English Moses wrote a command like this due to the hardness of your hearts.
Divorce like marriage should not be entered into lightly but sometimes for the sake of the two individuals and children it is better that they divorce. We do need to try and help the couple to try to save their marriage if it is at all possible.
If we look at scripture carefully we will see that Yeshua began His teaching on marriage and divorce in Matthew 5: with the following words. “ And if thy right hand offends thee cut it off and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for the that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” In another translation it reads “if a part of your body is causing you to stumble, if it is a snare to you, and is causing you to fall, then you must cut it off so that the rest of your body will not go to hell.”
In Matthew and Mark, Yeshua goes to Genesis 5:2 which points to the fact that marriage was instituted by G-d and that the two people involved in the marriage are very important to him. In fact G-d loves people; not institutions and we should not exalt the institution of marriage above the best interests of the two people involved in the marriage.
Often it is not healthy for the two people involved to stay together as their constant fighting and arguing are not beneficial to them or their family i.e. children. Saving a marriage is not always the right thing to do and so we need to do what Yeshua says and taught. “It is better to cut it off, so the people involved won’t perish and go to hell.”
It is interesting to note in Jeremiah 3:8 that it says G-d was involved in a divorce. If it is true that G-d hates divorce incorrectly translated in Malachi and all divorces are against his will then how could G-d divorce Israel and still be a Holy G-d. G-d divorced Israel but then forgave and brought them back. G-d had to divorce Israel so that they would come back in line with his covenant as G-d does not break covenant. Jeremiah 3:14 -18 G-d says that he will bring them back and restore.
Isaiah 50:1 In Isaiah 50 we see that again Israel is divorced by G-d but it is due to their sin and so he will allow Babylon to capture them and take them into captivity but he goes on in Isaiah 51 & 52 that he will restore and bring them back.
In Ezra we also see G-d sanctioning divorce; this was against marriages he did not allow.
In Mark 10:9 Yeshua says” What therefore G-d has put together let not man put asunder.” In other words Man must not part what G-d has joined together. Remember not all marriages are ordained by G-d. Many people decide for themselves and do not consult with G-d. In Ezra 10:11 it says that G-d has the right to instruct His children to separate and to walk from a bad marriage when it is outside His will.
The word asunder in Greek is “chorizo” and means to separate or part to go away. We must not walk away nor separate from the will of G-d for our lives.
Deuteronomy 24:1 says “When a man hath taken a wife and it comes to pass that she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found uncleanness.” We need to look at the Hebrew word for favour is “chen” Strong’s 2580 which means favour, grace, acceptance. It comes from the root word “chana” Strong’s 2603 which means to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior, to show favour, to be considerate. In other words Moses was saying that if you no longer have the grace to continue because of some uncleanness. Grace is the manifestation of G-d in our life and this allows us to do what we are unable to do in our own strength. With the L-rd’s Grace and if it is correct we can do anything with out it we will fail.
In Hebrew the word for uncleanness is “ervah” Strong’s 6172 and means shame, filthiness, improper behaviour and indecency.
Yeshua in Matthew 5:32 says “But I say unto you. That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication….” We need to look at the word for fornication and what it means. The Greek word is “pornelia” Strongs 4202 and means illicit sexual intercourse as well as idolatry and refers to acts of adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bestiality etc. as well as the worship of false idols.
The dictionary defines fornication as any unlawful sex and the worshiping of idols.
When is divorce lawful in G-d’s sight?
The Old Testament is the source of Yeshua views on this. Beware of taking a single statement of Yeshua and generalising it to cover all circumstances. For example, Matthew 19:9 is not the whole story. For instance, what if a man is beating his wife and children but not committing adultery, does she stay with him?
Exodus 21:7-11 provides us with important details about what was expected from each partner in a marriage covenant. Unusually, this law gives a woman the right to leave her husband!
This passage imagines a married man who decides to marry a second wife. In this case, his first wife is entitled to expect him to provide her with food, clothing, and to sleep with her. Failure to care for her or make have sexual intercourse with her meant that the woman was free to walk away.
The Hebrew marriage covenant therefore included a commitment to five things:
- Personal loyalty (i.e. not committing adultery – this is what Deuteronomy 24:1 really means)
- To provide food (literally, “meat” implying more than just the necessities)
- To provide clothing
- To have sexual intimacy with each other
- To give her husband a son
At the time of Yeshua and during the time of the Macabees due to parents arranging marriages it was known that if the marriage irretrievably broke down the man would give the wife the divorce decree that they would get from the Jewish law court (Sanhedrin) at time of Yeshua and since the Diaspora the Beth Din and he would then send her out. This was not done quickly, they would go before the Sanhedrin and family and friends would be brought in to try to save the marriage.
Today the man still has to go to the Beth Din and states his case of irretrievable breakdown. The wife will then be brought in and spoken to, to find out what the problems are. They will then try to sort the problems out with social workers and councillors. If this does not work as long as the wife is willing to receive the get (divorce decree) the Beth Din will then grant a divorce. This then allows both parties to remarry. The divorce decree is written by a scribe on parchment and cannot have any spaces on to be filled in later or any errors. It is normally written out by the scribe straight after the Beth Din have granted the divorce to the man who will then call the wife into the Beth Din and she will be told that they are now officially divorced in the eyes of the Jewish law court and before Almighty G-d.
Jewish Law states that if a man or a wife is abused by their spouse and they have the proof the L-rd allows them to get divorced; they must get the divorce decree and then the sending out. Many people have to leave before the sending out can take place as their lives are in danger and I do not believe that the L-rd would want them to stay in a home where they will be further abused while the divorce is taking place.
The last section I would like to look at is the section in the New Testament all about a person being ordained as a deacon, pastor or bishop. Paul who was a highly educated man and who new the scriptures backwards knew that Yeshua accepts anyone even himself “the number one sinner” as he calls himself in 1Timothy 1:15 many of the early believers had a number of wives as well as concubines and each of these marriages would be seen as adulterous. Paul rejected these types of people to be leaders as they needed to get there lives sorted out in line with Deuteronomy 24:1 which limited a man to one wife. Paul agrees with this when he says in 1Timothy3:12 “A bishop must be blameless and the husband of one wife.”
In 1 Corinthians 7:10 Paul uses the word “apoluo – to send forth” as well as “apostasion – divorcement”. Paul speaks about giving a divorce degree and then sending out. We need to go back to the Greek so that we get the correct understanding. If a wife just leaves or a man just sends the wife out without a divorce decree then the remarriage will be adulterous. Pauls understanding about divorce is no different to Yeshua.
Yeshua ministered to all who came to him. The Samaritan women in John 4 who had, had 5 husbands is told by Yeshua to “Go and sin no more.” In other words get married to your common law husband. A common law marriage was not accepted at the time of Yeshua amongst the Jews and the Samaritans. She was more than likely a woman who had been unable to have a son and so her previous husbands had divorced her. Remember that it did not matter if she had daughters. In bible times it was very important to have a son and this is why a man was allowed to divorce his wife. The Samaritan woman was more than likely embarrassed that she had been married so many times and so did not want to get married again.
I would say that marriage was instituted by G-d for the fulfilment of man and woman and was designed to take place in an environment of love, trust and fidelity. But sometimes and especially for believers it is better to divorce than to stay together. Also sometimes it can be the will of G-d to divorce. We also are not G-d and therefore do not have the right to judge anybody who does get divorced. We need to be helping people to sort out their issues to try to keep the marriage together. The church for many centuries has rejected people who have been divorced and will not even allow them to sing or read from scripture and fellowship. They have made them sit at the back and caused them to be outcasts. Yeshua came to save the sinner. I do not believe that Yeshua would treat a divorced person in the way the church has. The only people Yeshua rejected were the self righteous religious Pharisees, Sadducees and people of the Sanhedrin who were out of G-dly order and were not interested into coming into right order.
In the L-rds eyes we are told that there is to first be a written decree i.e. the “get” and then the sending out. The written get is very important as this is a protection for the woman so that she can remarry. One needs to remember that at the time of the Old Testament and the New Testament women did not have many rights and this was a way that the L-rd could protect the women.
L-rd help us to treat all people who are divorced or seeking a divorce in the way Yeshua would. Help us to be humble and pass on the love of Yeshua.
Bibliography: The Jewish Study Bible: The Jewish Publication Society
Biblos.com Greek /Hebrew
The Living Bible
Josephus: Jewish Antiquities.
Rabbinic Literature: Midrash
Chumash Rabbi Schermann
King James and New King James
David Bivin: New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus:
Insights from His Jewish Context
The Net Bible
Jesus the Jewish Theologian Brad H Young