"Then Yehowah God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.' …So Yehowah God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man and he slept; then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place. And Yehowah God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. And the man said, 'This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh…' For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh." (Genesis 2:18-24)
That, of course, is what is known as the story of Adam and Eve. A love story, and I am quite confident that the half of it was not told. How thrilled Adam must have been when he first gazed upon Eve. And oh, how he must have loved her, having been alone, without anyone for some unknown period of time. How thankful he must have been that God's plan for him included marriage, a wife and children. It has been the same for untold numbers of men and women ever since.
In verse 18 of Genesis 2, we are told that God did not consider it good for man to be alone. Consider also the inspired wisdom of Solomon on this same subject:
"He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from Yehowah." (Proverbs 18:22)
According to these passages marriage is a good thing. It was from the beginning ordained and blessed by God. God used it as a model for His own special relationship with His people Israel. He was married to them, and them to Him. It was also at a marriage ceremony that Yehoshua commenced to unveil his divinity by performing His first miracle. All of this demonstrates that the sacrament of marriage was and is held in high esteem by Yehowah. It should be safe to say that the act of marriage is even loved by Yehowah.
With this being true, would it not also be safe to say that the opposite is just as true as well, that is, that God hates divorce? "Of course," many Christians would declare, "after all, that is exactly what Malachi was inspired to write!"
"For I hate divorce, says Yehowah, the God of Israel." (Malachi 2:16)
Is that not correct? No, it is not! Please do not misunderstand me. I did not say that God does not hate divorce. I strongly suspect that He does in most cases. What I did say was, that this is not what Malachi was inspired to write.
Hopefully, I now have your attention so that you will stay with me through the rest of this treatise. I will explain my reason for writing what I just did concerning Malachi 2:16. However, first let me assure you, the reader, that I am not promoting divorce amongst God's people in these articles.
Divorce is tragic and has lasting effects on generations to come, at least when children are involved. In most instances it leaves deep, often permanent scars on one or both divorcees, sometimes even resulting in suicide and/or murder. Yet even with that, probably the most grievous aspect about divorce is the impact that it has on the children. One study conducted on the effects of divorce on children, after studying 131 children under thirteen years of age whose parents were divorced, reported that the "…most pervasive fact to emerge from the study was the enormity of the grief all the children studied felt over their parents' divorce. They were sad beyond measure." After reading this, one can not help but think of Yehoshua's words as recorded by Matthew:
"But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!" (Matthew 18:6-7)
A six year old that I was personally acquainted with was helping his mother make cookies. He was using a cookie cutter and after producing a heart-shaped piece of dough he declared, "Our family has a lot of this!" He then tore the heart shaped piece of dough in half and said, "This is what happens to hearts when people are divorced!" It would seem that he spoke more truth than his young mind could even comprehend. Or, possibly he understood it better than the hardened and callused minds of most adults.
As harmful as it is on the immediate children of divorcees, let us not forget that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children to the third and fourth generations (Deuteronomy 5:9-10). In other words, in many cases it becomes a perpetual cycle unless one generation finally breaks the cycle.
What about the grandparents? Seldom are they considered, yet they are victims of divorce as well. When couples divorce they not only divorce themselves, but in many cases they also divorce the grandparents from their grandchildren. Often one of the divorcees remarries and moves away with the children. In some cases, the genetic grandparents on one side are told that their grandchildren now have new grandparents and that it would be best if they did not confuse matters and are then asked to stay out of the lives of their grandchildren. The grandchildren lose, and one of the most important influences in their lives is sacrificed on the altar of divorce. Divorce is almost always a losing proposition for everyone involved, except of course, for the divorce lawyers who promote divorce for their own financial gain.
Every couple before deciding to be wed should understand that "Getting married is like buying a phonograph record. You buy it for what is on one side, but you have to take the flip side as well. Divorce is like getting the hole in the middle."
The answer to divorce, simply put, is marriage! Yehowah's design is for man to "cleave to his wife." Far too many people look upon marriage as being an event, when in actuality the wedding is the event; marriage is a lifetime accomplishment. Nevertheless, does all of this mean that God does not permit divorce under any circumstances?
Yehoshua declared that it had been God's design from the beginning that husbands and wives should remain together (Matthew 19:4-8). Does this then mean that God hates divorce? Does the Bible say that He does? No, it does not. However, as was stated previously, I strongly suspect that God does hate divorce since, almost without exception, divorce brings grief, heartache and havoc upon everyone it comes in contact with. Yet, on the other hand, Yehowah did provide for divorce:
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 indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house… (Deuteronomy 24:1)
According to God's Law divorce was an option, but, for what reasons was it allowed? This may shock a lot of evangelical Christians, nevertheless we are told that a husband may divorce his wife if she "finds no favor in his eyes" and if he finds "some indecency in her." Yet, when we come to the New Covenant era, many modern preachers and commentators insist that Yehoshua changed the law on divorce. Whereas Moses wrote that a man can divorce his wife for any just cause, in the gospels Yehoshua appears to limit divorce to only cases of adultery. At least that is what many are led to believe from reading most modern commentaries, as well as from reading several New Testament passages in some of the newer translations.
Although many Christians have taken this position on divorce, I doubt whether they really understand what doing so implies. If their theology is correct, then Yehoshua would have been a sinner, or at the very least promoting sin. In order for Yehoshua to have been our perfect sinless sacrifice He had to fully keep and accurately teach the Old Covenant Law. The Apostle John declared, "Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness." (1 John 3:4). Thus, had Yehoshua broken or changed the law, He would have been guilty of sin and thus could not have been our Savior.
Even if Yehoshua had changed God's moral law under the New Covenant dispensation, as some Christians claim, His dissertations on divorce in the Gospels were given during the Old Covenant dispensation. Additionally, Yehoshua Himself declared, "…Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." (Matthew 5:18).
Whatever the law on divorce was in Deuteronomy 24, not the smallest letter or stroke of it was changed by Yehoshua. Therefore, we can safely conclude that something is wrong with the theology usually advanced regarding divorce.
The erroneous interpretation of Yehoshua's instructions can be traced to two modern mistakes. This error is first made because most of today's preachers and commentators believe that Yehowah's Old Covenant laws have been abolished and replaced, thus they seldom consult them. Secondly, mistaken conclusions on this subject are derived from translation errors in most modern English versions of the Bible.
My purpose in the remainder of this treatise is to clear up the mistaken notions held by many Christians regarding divorce and remarriage. Let us begin by going back to Yehowah's law concerning divorce. In Deuteronomy 24 we find that the divorce process can be broken down into three parts: (1) The husband must write out a certificate of divorce, (2) he must deliver it himself to his wife, and (3) he must then send her away. It takes all three integral parts in order for the divorce to be lawful, and to be recognized by God. A husband was not allowed to simply send his wife out into the streets. He was to formally divorce her through the aforesaid process. She was to be given a certificate of divorce, that is, a breaking of the lawful contract of marriage with a lawful contract of divorce. In other words, she was to be provided with proof that she was a lawfully divorced woman.
This is more serious than probably it first appears. Without this lawful document, and if a woman was to "remarry" or attach herself to another man, she and the one whom she "remarried" would have been considered adulterers, and that was a stoning offense!
In this light, the writ of divorcement was intended to be a letter of protection for the woman, more than a letter of permission for the man.
In addition, the two terms "divorce" and "sends her out" (also translated as "put away" and "send away") should also be considered. It is extremely important to understand that nowhere in the Scriptures are these two terms used interchangeably. The Hebrew word for "divorce" in Deuteronomy 24:1 is found in only two other locations: Isaiah 50:1, describing Yehowah's future divorce of the House of Judah, and Jeremiah 3:8, regarding Yehowah's previous divorce of the House of Israel.
Deuteronomy 24, Isaiah 50 and Jeremiah 3 are the only three instances where the Hebrew word for "divorce" can be found in the Old Testament. That is right; this is not the word used in Malachi 2:16 as would be expected if God were saying that He hated divorce in that passage.
The Hebrew word translated "divorce" is a very specific term, and in all three instances it is used in conjunction with the term "bill," "writ," or "certificate." On the other hand the Hebrew word translated "sent out" or "put away" is a very common term and is used nearly a thousand times in the Old Testament.
There is no interchangeability between these two Hebrew words. One could not be divorced without being put away. However, one could be put away without being divorced. It is this latter condition that was addressed by the Prophet Malachi:
…you cover the altar of Yehowah with tears … because He [Yehowah] no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. Yet you say, "For what reason?" Because Yehowah has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. (Malachi 2:13-14)
Note that the women spoken of in this situation were still considered as being wives by covenant or contract with their husbands, that is, they had never been lawfully divorced.
…Take heed then, to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce, says Yehowah, the God of Israel… (Malachi 2:15-16 — New American Standard Bible)
Is that how God intended this verse to be translated? No it is not. Had He intended this, He would have inspired Malachi to use the same Hebrew word translated as "divorce" in the twenty-fourth chapter of Deuteronomy. Instead, He inspired Malachi to use the same Hebrew word translated as "sends her out" or "put away" in Deuteronomy 24.
The King James Version translated Malachi 2:16 correctly:
For Yehowah, the God of Israel saith that He hateth [the] putting away…
In other words, the treachery committed by these men was not in divorcing their wives, but rather in that they were putting their wives away without a certificate of divorce. In their vindictiveness, they were putting their wives in a horrible no win predicament. If the wives had "remarried" or had attached themselves to another man, they would have been subject to stoning for adultery since without a certificate of divorce they were still lawfully married to their first husband. If they would not commit adultery then these women were left to fend for themselves which was nearly impossible under the conditions of that time.
Consequently, one can perceive the treachery in what these men were doing, and consequently understand why God would hate it. You can also visualize the hardness of some men's hearts and then understand why Yehowah would provide for divorce (Mark 10:2-5). On the other hand, if divorce itself is treachery then even God promoted it by allowing for it and even making provisions for it in Deuteronomy 24. Additionally, God would be guilty of treachery Himself since He divorced His wife, Israel.
As can be seen, much has been misunderstood about this subject, resulting in much injury and unnecessary guilt being laid upon the backs of divorcees. This has occurred because much of modern Christendom has rejected Yehowah's perfect law and because of the mistranslation of some key words pertaining to this subject.
The same has happened with the New Testament Scriptures. God is not the author of confusion, thus He cannot be blamed for the turmoil over this subject. Rather, man is to be blamed for it. The devastation of divorce is undeniable, however under certain conditions both divorce and remarriage were permitted according to God's Law as provided to us in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Taking then what we have already learned from the Old Testament let us now see if we can not make sense of Yehoshua's statements in the New Testament on this important subject.
The two Hebrew words translated "divorce" and "sent out" or "put away" in Deuteronomy 24 mean two different things and are not interchangeable. The same is true with the corresponding New Testament Greek words. The Greek word for "put away" is apoluo, whereas the Greek word for "divorce" is apostasion. With this knowledge, let us examine Yehoshua's instructions on divorce and remarriage in Matthew 5:
And it was said, "Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of dismissal"; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:32-32 NASV)
Have the translators of the New American Standard Version conveyed accurately God's will on this matter? Hardly! Contrast the New American Standard Version's rendition of this passage with the King James Version's rendition:
It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away [apoluo] his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement [apostasion]…
Yehoshua was simply quoting Deuteronomy 24:1 which declares that it is not permissible for someone to put away his wife without giving her a certificate of divorce. Verse 32 in the King James Version continues:
But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away [apoluo] his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced [apoluo] committeth adultery. (Matthew 5:32-33 KJV)
The King James Version is nearly flawless. Had the King James translators rendered the last apoluo as "put away" it would have been perfect. If God had wanted this last phrase to have read "whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery," He would have inspired Matthew to have used the word apostasion. Instead it should have been rendered, "whosoever shall marry her that is put away committeth adultery."
If, in verses 32 and 33, Yehoshua had said what the New American Standard and King James' translators wrote, Yehoshua would have been guilty of heresy for having changed God's Law. Earlier in Matthew 5, Yehoshua Himself declared:
Think not that I [Yehoshua] am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. …Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven… (Matthew 5:17-19)
Are we to believe that Yehoshua is "least in the kingdom of heaven"? We have no choice but to admit that He is if the translators of the New American Standard and King James versions are correct.
The first phrase of verse 32 in the New American Standard reads: "…everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery…" In God's law (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) divorce is not limited to just cases of unchastity. If the New American Standard is correct then Yehoshua is at variance with Yehowah's morality as communicated to us in His laws.
In the latter part of verse 32, both the New American Standard and King James translators have Yehoshua declaring that "whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." Yet God's law (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) allowed for a properly divorced woman to remarry. On the other hand, when verse 32 is translated correctly we find that Yehoshua is in perfect harmony with the Law as one would expect Him to be. He was simply saying that any man who only puts away his wife, that is, without a writ of divorcement (a lawful breaking of the marriage contract with a lawful divorce contract) causes his wife to commit adultery if she "remarries." And the one who "marries" a woman only put away but not lawfully divorced commits adultery as well since by contract she would still be the wife of another man.
With the foregoing understood, someone is sure to inquire, "What about the exception clause in Matthew 5:32?" The New American Standard Bible renders it:
"…except for the cause of unchastity…"
The King James Version renders it much better:
"…saving for the cause of fornication…"
The word "fornication" is translated from the Greek word porneia. What constitutes porneia or fornication? Rather than speculating let us allow the Bible to answer that question for us. Following is a list of acts described by the Greek word "porneia":
Those four acts of immorality are all identified in the New Testament as being cases of porneia or fornication. Although not specifically identified as such in the New Testament there are other immoral acts that should also be viewed as fornication:
The foregoing acts should all be identified as fornication because porneia is simply unlawful sexual relationships. So what do these acts have to do with what Yehoshua declared in Matthew 5:31-32?
It must be remembered that in Matthew 5 Yehoshua was not condemning divorce, but rather the putting away of a wife without a bill of divorcement. Following is Matthew 5:31-32 as it should have been translated, including what can now be understood as being acts of fornication:
It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away [apoluo] his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement [apostasion]: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away [apoluo] his wife [without a writing of divorcement], saving for the cause of fornication [incest, prostitution, forbidden lineage and/or interracial relationships, homosexuality, etc.], causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is put away [apoluo, without a writing of divorcement] committeth adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32)
In other words, a man is not permitted to put away his mate without a certificate of divorce unless it is an incestuous relationship, or one with a prostitute, or a forbidden lineage or interracial relationship, or one with someone of the same sex, or one with an animal, or one with a wife previously divorced and divorced a second time, or one with a woman unlawfully divorced.
Note, I identified these as relationships not marriages since in God's eyes none of these relationships constitute a lawful marriage. That is why a man could put away these partners without having to provide them with a certificate of divorce. In these cases, a bill of divorcement was not required since (from God's perspective) there was no lawful marriage contract that required annulment with a divorce certificate. These kinds of relationships only required repentance and the putting away of the unlawful partner.
In Ezra 10:1-9 God provided us with a Biblical example of such a separation. Nowhere in this passage is a certificate of divorce required for the Israelites to "separate [put away] … their strange wives." The following passage from the book of Ezra provides us with the reason why a writ of divorcement was unnecessary:
…The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands … even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands… (Ezra 9:1-2)
All of the nations cited in that passage with whom the Israelites had intermingled were descended either from Canaanites, Moabites or Ammonites; all of which were lineages that Yehowah had forbid Israel to intermarry. Thus they were unlawful unions, and therefore acts of fornication. Hence, in that particular instance, they were not required to present them with a certificate of divorce. They were only required to repent of their sins and put away their foreign wives.
This is the correct interpretation of the exception clause. It validates God's Law and Yehoshua's confirmation of the same. Anything else puts Yehoshua in conflict with the Law and morality of Yehowah. Instead of being at variance with God's Law, Yehoshua was simply expounding upon the same. In so doing, He confirmed that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was the standard for divorce and remarriage except in cases of fornication.
It is to be hoped that this thesis has cleared up what has been mistranslated and misinterpreted by many in modern Christendom. Hopefully this study will aid in removing unnecessary guilt from those who have been lawfully divorced and who have remarried. God's Law does not promote divorce, but it does permit it.
Once again, I am not promoting divorce either, but simply wanting to put it in its proper Scriptural perspective. I am also hoping to relieve the pseudo guilt that some have carried on their shoulders for far too long. Divorce should always be the last resort, the solution only when all else fails and reconciliation is absolutely impossible. Divorce is seldom, if ever, a positive good but usually just the lesser of two evils. Nevertheless, in light of God's Law and Yehoshua's validation of the same, divorce and remarriage can no longer be entirely denounced.