Divorce and Remarriage

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Yeshua explains that sexual immorality is the only reason for divorce. So, if the man divorces his wife for any other reason, why is she called an adulteress?
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Divorce and Remarriage

by Lex Meyer

I want you to know that I really appreciate all of the feedback I received about the last video. Your comments have caused me to dig deeper into some things, and as a result, I feel that I have a much better grasp on this topic than before. That is why I deleted the last video, and made this video to replace it.

I understand that this subject is a very sensitive and emotional topic, therefore, I want to treat this video with as much tenderness and sensitivity as possible. I also ask that you would be sensitive to others when you post comments on this video. We do not want to cause any extra burden or pain for those who have already suffered a divorce. Remember also that Yeshua spoke with kindness and sensitivity when speaking to the Samaritan woman who had been married and divorced multiple times.

Jesus 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 well said, 'I have no husband,' for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly." - John 4:16-18

Notice that He did not accuse her of sin, He did not judge her, and He did not call her an adulteress. We need to keep this in mind when we are speaking to others who are dealing with divorce and remarriage. We must always teach others with love and gentleness.

The subject of divorce is a very difficult topic, and anyone who has experienced a divorce knows how devastating it can be. I want to make this disclaimer up front that I do not encourage anyone to get a divorce. If you are having difficulty in your marriage, please seek counseling, try to find reconciliation, and do whatever you can to repair the brokenness in your relationship. The Bible tells us that God hates divorce.

“For the Lord God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one's garment with violence," Says the Lord of hosts. "Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously." Malachi 2:16

Divorce is a violent act. Divorce tears apart two people that God has made into one. This is why Yeshua said,

"Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." Matthew 19:4-6

This is why divorce is so devastating and painful to everyone involved, and why we should try to avoid divorce at all costs. However, some people have already experienced a divorce, and some people will suffer a divorce even if they don’t want one. Therefore, we need to see what the Bible says about it.

I want to look at the Torah first, because it lays the foundation for the conversations that Yeshua and Paul give us in the New Testament.

"When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man's wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.” Deuteronomy 24:1-4

This passage is addressing a situation in which a man decides to divorce his wife, and he is instructed to write her a certificate of divorce (a sepher kerithuth in Hebrew). Listen to what the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia has to say about this.

“This expression, found in Deuteronomy 24:1, Deuteronomy 24:3; Isaiah 50:1; Jeremiah 3:8 is the translation of the Hebrew ספר כּריתת , ṣēpher kerı̄thuth. The two words, literally rendered, signify a document or book of cutting off, i.e. a certificate of divorce given by a husband to a wife, so as to afford her the opportunity or privilege of marrying another man.” Entry for 'Divorce in Old Testament'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

The purpose of the divorce certificate was to favor the wife and allow her the ability to marry another man. The passage in Deuteronomy 24 even provides us with the example of the woman marrying another man. Notice that it is not a problem for the divorced woman to marry again. However, if her second marriage comes to an end, she cannot remarry the first husband.

Here is a commentary on this subject from the Jewish Encyclopedia.

“After the parties had been divorced, the law favored their remarriage. But if the wife had married another man after her divorce, she could never be remarried to her first husband.” Entry for 'Divorce'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia

There has been a long history of debate about the topic of divorce. In fact, before the time of Yeshua, there was a disagreement between the schools of Hillel and Shammai about if a man can divorce his wife for any reason.

“In the Mishnaic period the theory of the law that the husband could divorce his wife at will was challenged by the school of Shammai. It interpreted the text of Deuteronomy 24:1 in such a manner as to reach the conclusion that the husband could not divorce his wife except for cause, and that the cause must be sexual immorality. The school of Hillel, however, held that the husband need not assign any reason whatever that any act on her part which displeased him entitled him to give her a bill of divorce. The opinion of the school of Hillel prevailed.” Entry for 'Divorce'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia

This is why the Pharisees questioned Yeshua about this topic. They were trying to find out where He stood on the subject of divorce. The popular view of the pharisees was in agreement with Hillel, that a man could divorce his wife for just about any reason, and they wanted to see if Yeshua agreed with their interpretation or not.

“The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to send away his wife for just any reason?" And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to send her away?" He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever sends away his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is sent away commits adultery.” Matthew 19:3-9

So, we see that the Pharisees wanted to know if Yeshua would take the side of Hillel or Shammai. However, He took a different stance on the topic than they expected, appealing to lifelong marriage as the standard and goal, not divorce. He explained that God does not wish for divorce to happen at all, and that from the beginning, “God created them male and female… and the two shall become one flesh”.

This answer did not satisfy the Pharisees question, so they pressed the matter, asking Him why the Torah allows for divorce. This time He explained that divorce is allowed “because of the hardness of your hearts”. This could be seen as a jab at the Pharisees hard-hearted desire to seek a reason to divorce.

However, what He said next is where this subject starts to get a bit confusing. He made a statement that seems to agree with Shammai, saying, “whoever sends away his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is sent away commits adultery.” Which is very similar to what He taught in the Sermon on the Mount, saying,

”Furthermore it has been said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever sends away his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is sent away commits adultery.” Matthew 5:31-32

So, the question that I have been wrestling with is why does He say that the woman commits adultery if she is divorced for any other reason except sexual immorality? If she has done nothing wrong, but her husband divorces her, why is she called an adulteress? This seems to be a very unfair treatment for someone who is the victim of an unjust divorce.

Remember that the Pharisees taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason. They might not like her cooking, or she might have put on a few too many pounds, or gotten a bad haircut. It didn’t matter what the reason was to the Pharisees because they simply said that if the woman no longer finds favor in the husband's eyes, he can divorce her.

However, Yeshua explains that sexual immorality is the only justifiable reason for divorce. So, if the man divorces his wife for any other reason, why is she called an adulteress? If the woman is innocent, and has not done anything immoral, yet the man divorces her anyway, why would she called an adulteress? This question has been troubling me for a long time, which is why I wanted to study this topic more in-depth.

There are three main theories concerning divorce and remarriage.

The first theory, says that divorce is never valid and that marriage only ends in death (not divorce), therefore she cannot get remarried without being a adulteress. This is commonly taught in many Churches, and is usually connected to what Paul said about death ending the marriage.

“Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.” Romans 7:1-3

However, if death is the only Biblical way to end a marriage, why does the Torah make provision for divorce?

The second theory says that divorce is only valid if there is sexual immorality,therefore divorce for any other reason is not valid, and remarriage is not allowed because it would be adultery. This theory is very popular among conservative christians, because it discourages most types of divorce, but allows for it in certain circumstances.

The third theory addresses the matter of legality, and is based on the specific language that is being used in these passages. There are two very different Greek words used here. The first word is “apoloo” in Greek, which means “to send away, dismiss, release, let go, depart, or get rid of”, and corresponds to the Hebrew word “shalach” used in Deuteronomy 24, also translated “send away”.

The second word is “apostasion” means “a bill of divorce”, and refers to a legal document given to validate the divorce. It corresponds with the Hebrew phrase “sepher kerithuth” used in Deuteronomy 24, which is translated as “certificate of divorce”.

It is very clear that Yeshua is referencing what the Torah says concerning divorce and remarriage. So, lets look at Deuteronomy 24 again to compare it with what Yeshua is saying.

"When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce [sepher kerithuth], puts it in her hand, and sends her out [shalach] of his house, when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man's wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce [sepher kerithuth], puts it in her hand, and sends her out [shalach] of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.” Deuteronomy 24:1-4

The Torah uses these two distinct phrases in the same way that Yeshua did. The man is to write a certificate of divorce (sepher kerithuth) and send her away (shalach).

Notice that the Torah does not forbid the woman from taking a second husband after her divorce. However, she is forbidden from marrying her first husband after taking a second.

Notice also that the Torah allows for both divorce and death as the end of the marriage.

Was Yeshua disagreeing with the Torah in saying that after a divorce you can never get remarried? I do not believe that Yeshua ever taught anything different or contrary to the Torah. Therefore, I believe He was addressing a different issue altogether.

In Jewish culture, when a husband refuses to issue a certificate of divorce, the woman cannot remarry and is referred to as “Agunah”, which means "anchored" or "chained”. This is a halachic term for a Jewish woman who is "chained" to her marriage. Another example of this is when a man takes a journey and has not returned, or has gone into battle and is missing in action. The woman does not know if he is dead or alive, so she is stuck waiting, unable to remarry because she does not know if her husband will return or not.

For a divorce to be effective, the Torah requires that a man grant his wife a certificate of divorce. Without this certificate, no new marriage will be recognized. Because of the serious nature of adultery, an agunah is forbidden to marry another man, regardless of the circumstances that left her an agunah in the first place, and any child she might have with another man would be considered an illegitimate child.

Is it possible that this was the situation Yeshua was addressing? Was He saying that if you send away your wife, you must giver her a certificate of divorce, otherwise you are causing her to commit adultery? Without the certificate of divorce, she is still legally married, so she cannot marry another without committing adultery.

Listen to what the Holman Bible Dictionary says on this subject.

“[Divorce is] the legal ending of a marriage. From early time provision was made for divorce among the Israelites (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Presumably prior to this decree, a wife could be put out of the home at the pleasure of the husband. Now he was required to write out “a bill of divorce” and give it to his wife as proof that he was divorcing her. This gave some dignity and protection to the divorced woman… Among the Jews, only the husband had the right to secure a divorce. The wife might leave her husband, but she could not divorce him.” Entry for 'Divorce'. Holman Bible Dictionary

Did you catch that? At that time in history, a Jewish wife was not allowed to divorce her husband. She could leave him, but she could not divorce him. This helps us better understand the statement in Mark 10:12 which says,

“So He said to them, "Whoever sends away his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman sends away her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." Mark 10:12

Since a woman could not divorce her husband, we can conclude that Yeshua was not talking about divorce, but separation. The act of sending away does not constitute a divorce. This means if you are separated from your husband or wife, and you have sex with another person, you are committing adultery, because you are not legally divorced.

“Whoever puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is put away from her husband commits adultery.” Luke 16:18

The Torah gives permission for divorce because of sexual immorality, and allows the woman to get remarried, if she has been given a certificate of divorce. However, if there is no certificate, then the instructions about divorce in the Torah are not being followed correctly.

So, which theory do you think is most accurate?

  • Theory 1, which says divorce is never a valid end to marriage, therefore all remarriage is adultery.
  • Theory 2, which says that only sexual immorality is a valid reason for divorce.
  • Theory 3, which says that Yeshua was addressing a matter of legality, and that if you have good reason for divorce, you must give her a certificate, or else the divorce is not valid, and remarriage is adultery.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

I hope this teaching has helped to clear up some of the confusion on the subject of divorce and remarriage.

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