Sunday, January 1, 2017

Dissolving the Doctrine of Divorce

I don't have a problem with all of the tenants of Fundamentalism, in example, we agree on Soteriology and other doctrines which I will not enumerate here.

But I do have a problem with Legalism, and on the point of divorce, I find them both in agreement. But Legalism is a problem in an of itself, separate from the 21st-century definition of Fundamentalism that I have in mind in this essay.

The Principle of First Mention

The Principle or Law of First Mention (see here) simply means this: when someone is first exposed to an idea, that exposure will color or influence every exposure to the same information thereafter. This principle is why most parents want to teach their children about sex before anyone else: they want to set a proper context and framework from which the subject will be understood henceforth. We can see this principle in the extreme when a child is sexually abused: the abuse colors their self-worth and understanding of intimacy for the rest of their lives.

In scripture, the principle functions much the same way - although it must be handled carefully. In example, you can't look to Cain's offering and assume the Grain Offering (more here) that was instituted later, is unacceptable.

The Mosaic Law mentions divorce, and it specifically addresses key issues that must be considered as Jesus deals with the topic when questioned by the religious leaders of the time.  In this way divorce, as found in the Law, must be considered as "first mention" material.

The Fundamentalist's Viewpoint of Divorce

It is practically impossible to parse any Christian doctrine of divorce, listen to a sermon about divorce, or discuss divorce with a Fundamentalist without having at least these scriptures used as proof texts as to why divorce is sin and no one should ever get a divorce:

It hath been said, whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32) 
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. (Malachi 2:16)
The problem I've encountered (and have in the past been guilty of myself) is that while discussing some doctrines with a Legalist or Fundamentalist, people will find they may not rely upon well-reasoned or well-formed exegesis to arrive at their conclusions. They instead point to how other Pastors teach the same thing, or how their denominational sect has maintained the doctrine for a very long time, or they cherry-pick their scriptures carefully to support their doctrine, or perhaps they may take a page from a certain Southern Baptist Preacher who first said in the mid 1980's, "God said, I believe it, that settles it," - without any real reasonable scriptural foundation, thus calling their beliefs a faith.

I would like to suggest that good doctrine is reasonable:
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. (James 3:17)
The astute student will note that wisdom is different from knowledge: wisdom addresses how to do something whereas knowledge addresses what something is.  Thus wisdom, in view of the doctrine of divorce, is correct in this instance since the doctrine address how to do (or not do) divorce.

But suffice it to say, the Fundamentalist's viewpoint on divorce is simply this:
  1. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16)
  2. Jesus said one commits adultery by remarrying after divorce (Matthew 5:31-32)

Does God Really Hate Divorce?

If divorce is sin, then yes: God hates divorce.  But we must have a proper understanding of hate.  

From a Biblical point of view, hate is not criticism or mean words, or an intense dislike, as typically defined throughout the blogosphere and various pulpits of today.   Hate is the opposite of love; it is not apathy as many have been taught.  Love is an action word and apathy is inaction, therefore, apathy cannot be the opposite of love.  Love builds up, it is constructive.  Hate tears down, it is destructive.  Therefore, hate is the opposite of love.  What Jesus did on the cross was hate poured out upon death:
But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: (2 Timothy 1:10)
The word abolished means to "render entirely idle".  What Jesus did in the flesh was the manifest action of hatred towards sin and death.  So then, if God hates divorce, then He wants to abolish it.  That is actually a reasonable position, in my opinion.

But is divorce sin?  I will provide you the following scripture and let you be the judge:
"And I {God} saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also." (Jeremiah 3:8)
In other words, God is divorced - and He initiated the divorce Himself.  I would also like to suggest that God in the process of reconciliation, but that is a topic for another time.

However, for our Fundamentalist friends, that bit of scripture should put them in a treacherous quandary - should they accept the Bible as written here: for when one teaches that divorce is a sin, then they have the unfortunate and untenable position of defending their theology in the light of Jeremiah 3:8.  

Notice also the two activities associated with divorce: He "sent her away," and secondly, He gave "her a writ of divorce."  Those activities, while related, are not one in the same as we will see later.  In other words, you can send someone away without being divorced (inside or outside of marriage), but you can't be divorced without sending someone away.  Thus, sending away can be likened to sending someone on an errand or being estranged prior to divorce, while being divorced consists of a decree and a separation.

Divorce vs. Sent Away

In the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), the word divorce is used 4 times:
This word in Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is indexed as H3748:
er-ee-thooth' (kerı̂ythûth): From H3772; a cutting (of the matrimonial bond), that is, divorce: - divorce (-ment).
Notice that marriage is an assumed pre-requisite for this word.  

Now let's look at Malachi 2:16, and putting away: the proof text used by many to prove that God hates divorce.  The Strong's index for putting away is H7971.  It is found 848 times in the KJB in 791 verses.
H7971: shaw-lakh' (shâlach) - A primitive root; to send away, for, or out (in a great variety of applications): - X any wise, appoint, bring (on the way), cast (away, out), conduct, X earnestly, forsake, give (up), grow long, lay, leave, let depart (down, go, loose), push away, put (away, forth, in, out), reach forth, send (away, forth, out), set, shoot (forth, out), sow, spread, stretch forth (out).
And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: (Genesis 3:22)
And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth. (Genesis 8:7)
When Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob, and sent him away to Padanaram, to take him a wife from thence; and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan; (Genesis 28:6)
And I will send fire upon Magog and those who inhabit the coastlands in safety; and they will know that I am the Lord. (Ezekiel 39:6)
Neither shall they shave their heads, nor suffer their locks to grow long; they shall only poll their heads. (Ezekiel 44:20)
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. (Malachi 2:16)
Genesis 3:22 doesn't imply their hands would be separated from them; Genesis 8:7 doesn't suggest the raven never came back, and Genesis 28:6 likewise does not teach that Jacob never returned.  While it is clear that interpretation is a necessary function of translation, we cannot ignore that an alternative reading of Malachi 2:16 could be "For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth growing long ..."  Albeit, that rendering is improper: it ignores the meaning of the context; but I provide it as a hyperbole, to help demonstrate the difference between "putting away" and "divorce" in the Old Testament.

I would like to suggest that in examining how this word for putting away is used elsewhere in the OT, we clearly find no support for it being inferred or translated as divorce.  When the OT wants to talk about divorce, it uses a very specific word for that idea.  When the OT wants to talk about a separation, it uses an entirely different word for that idea which has no inference with divorce, except when used in such a context.   Furthermore, in no way would anyone understand these examples of put away to mean divorce between a married couple after reviewing the scriptural usage of this word in the OT.

But that is exactly what the Fundamentalist wants you to believe in regards to Malachi 2:16.  The question we must ask them is this: why?  Why do they want you to believe that put away means divorce in Malachi 2:16?

Perhaps the Teaching of Jesus

In Matthew 5:31-32, and in the companion verses in Mark 10, we see two words: "divorce" and "put away."
It hath been said, whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32)
The Strong's number for put away is G630.  It is used 69 times in 63 verses in the KJB NT, but it's translated as divorce only once in Matthew 5:32.  It is translated as released, depart and even as forgiven:
G630: ap-ol-oo'-o (apoluó) - From G575 and G3089; to free fully, that is, (literally) relieve, release, dismiss (reflexively depart), or (figuratively) let die, pardon, or (specifically) divorce: - (let) depart, dismiss, divorce, forgive, let go, loose, put (send) away, release, set at liberty.
The word indicates a separation between one thing and another, even as far to liberate one from a thing (as from a bond).  So divorce can clearly be within the implied scope of its meaning (Thayer's Greek Dictionary: H630).  But is that the primary usage of the word?  Perhaps not.

The Putting Away of Mary

In Matthew 1:18-19, we find Joseph and Mary are engaged, Mary is pregnant with Jesus and Joseph is going to end the relationship.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.  Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away (apoluó) privily.
The word for "espoused" is mnēsteúō. It means to court or woo one over for the purpose of being married. In essence, Mary was not married to Joseph when she was found to be pregnant with Jesus.  The word for "put her away" is apoluó.  If we are to assume that apoluó always means divorce, as some do teach, then we must by necessity re-write the doctrine of the virgin birth.

There's a Word for Divorce in the NT Too

The Greek word for divorce is apostasion, Strong's G647.  It's used only 3 times across 3 verses in the NT, all being translated into a form of the word divorce. 
G647: ap-os-tas'-ee-on (apostasion) - Neuter of a (presumed) adjective from a derivative of G868; properly something separative, that is, (specifically) divorce:- (writing of) divorcement.
  • Matthew 5:31 - "It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement"
  • Matthew 19:7 - "They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?"
  • Mark 10:4 - "And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away."
In all of the examples provided by scripture (both OT and NT) regarding divorce, we find two words, two ideas: one for put away and one for divorce. It is incongruent to suggest that put way should always be translated as divorce when Holy Spirit made a specific distinction between the two words in the original text.

In other words, scripture doesn't say, "whosoever shall divorce his wife, let him give her a writing of putting away."  But that is exactly what the Fundamentalists are suggesting you believe.  Contrary to that doctrine, we find that a Biblical divorce must be executed with a written decree and a separation: it's not just a separation, it's not just a decree.  To suggest it's only a separation is to twist it's usage into something not supported by scripture.  And as we will see later, the implementation of divorce was exactly the problem being corrected.

What's Being Hidden

But what the Fundamentalist doesn't disclose to you, in their eloquent sermons regarding divorce - either through ignorance or purposeful obfuscation - is this: Matthew 19:7, 5:31-32 and Mark 10:4 describe the same two distinct actions that God performed in Jeremiah 3:8 -  put away and divorce.

  • Jeremiah 3:8 - "And I {God} saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also." 
  • Matthew 5:31 - "It hath been said, whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement" 
  • Matthew 19:7 - "They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?" 
  • Mark 10:4 - "And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away."
Furthermore, they don't show you that in Matthew 5:31-32, divorce was substituted for put away by the translators at a very key place within the message.  Reverting divorce back to the original put away changes the message completely.

In the text below, we find the Greek word for divorce (apostasion) only once.  To help you understand what the translators have done, I have put into bold type every instance of apoluó (put away), and the final rendering of apoluó (translated as divorced) I have reverted to put away, which is a consistent translation with of the Greek:
It hath been said, whosoever shall put away (apoluó) his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement (apostasion): But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away (apoluó) his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is put away (apoluó) committeth adultery.
The character of the scripture is thus changed to provide a sense that someone can be put away  (estranged) without a divorce and in that instance, marriage to a woman who has been put away, but not divorced, causes her and the new husband to commit adultery.

What is being addressed are the needs of the woman who has little no standing as an estranged, non-divorced woman.

The Two Step Divorce Process

When we accept that the scriptures reflect what everyone knows about divorce, that there are two actions - the decree and the separation - then the conversations between the Jews and Jesus come into better clarity. 

In Matthew 19, we find a conversation between the Pharisees and Jesus regarding divorce.  In this testing of Jesus, the Pharisees refer to the two-step process of divorce: give a writing of divorcement and to put her away.  The words of Jesus in red:
The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away (apoluó) his wife for every cause?  he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, for this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?  Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.  They say unto him, why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement (apostasion), and to put her away (apoluó)?  He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away (apoluó) your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.  And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away (apoluó) his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away (apoluó) doth commit adultery. (Matthew 19:3-9)
While this may seem axiomatic - there's a divorce decree and a separation - it's possible to have a separation without a divorce. In today's vernacular we call it estrangement. The estranged person is a one who is not divorced but is living on their own, separated from their spouse. I knew a woman like this when I was a young man. Her husband was living with another woman, while the estranged wife had a home elsewhere.

Matthew 19 does seem to well make the case for putting away being tantamount to divorcing a wife; but there are two problems: the Law of Moses, and the pesky bit about tempting Jesus.

Tempting Jesus

The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?  
The phrase tempting him, is described by Thayer's Greek dictionary as follows:
in a bad sense: to test one maliciously, craftily to put to the proof his feelings or judgment, Matthew 16:1Matthew 19:3Matthew 22:18, 35Mark 8:11Mark 10:2Mark 12:15Luke 11:16Luke 20:23 (Thayer's Greek Lexicon: 3985)
In other words, the Pharisees were putting Jesus' view of the Law regarding divorce to the test.  They were using, in the context of a lawful divorcement, the word for estrangement but casting it into the culturally accepted context of divorce.  In other words, putting away a wife - into a state of estrangement - was culturally accepted form of divorce.  This is why the they were trying to entrap Him with the Law of Moses: that's what to test one maliciously means in this context.  

Hebrews 10:28 tells us, "anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses." The word for "set aside" is Strong's G114; it means "'to act toward anything as though it were annulled'; hence, to deprive a law of force by opinions or acts opposed to it, to transgress itMark 7:9Hebrews 10:28 (Ezekiel 22:26)" (Thayer's Greek Lexicon: 114).  If Jesus had taught anything different that what the Law commanded regarding divorce and putting away, then the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees would have been able to catch Him at His words (Mark 12:13-34).

This is an important consideration for us as Christians.  The entirety of the life and ministry of Jesus rests upon Him being the spotless, sinless lamb of God.  In other words, to contradict the Law - to teach or do something other than what the Law instructed - was considered as sin and certainly would have been used against Him at His trial.  Hence, this is why they were trying to trap Him: to find some cause to have him arrested and killed (Matthew 12:14, 26:4).

But, they eventually had their fill reasoning with Him regarding the law, so much that "no one would venture to ask Him any more questions."  And at His trial, the Chief Priests and Council may have recalled that Jesus said, "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), and knew that "whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10).   Therefore, they did their best to procure false witnesses against Him in order to levy charges against Him.  It was only when Jesus confessed to being the Son of God did they find an excuse to accuse Him of blasphemy (Matthew 26:63-66).

Therefore, it is axiomatic that Jesus' doctrine regarding divorce is in perfect alignment with the Law of Moses based both upon what He said (not "one jot or tittle shall ... pass") and the fact that the Council were require to manufacture false accusations against Him, and finally, at one point in His ministry, they ceased bringing arguments to Him at all.

What Saith the Law

So then, in summary we have the OT using divorce but a few times, the NT using divorce but a few times, and finally, the NT using put away seemingly as a synonym for divorce in at least one case when the religious leaders were trying to trap Him in a logical quandary against the Law.

But the real question is what does the Law say regarding divorce, the Law that Jesus fulfilled in word and deed?  If the Mosaic Law says anything contrary to what we are told to believe regarding what Jesus taught about divorce, then Jesus would have at least offended at one point and consequently been guilty of all.  If on the other hand, the Law of Moses does indeed contradict the Fundamentalist's doctrine of divorce, then perhaps their doctrine is more suited tradition rather than truth.  As Jesus said,
But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:9
Essentially the Law of Moses teaches the following regarding divorce and re-marriage:
  1. Write a bill of divorce
  2. Put it in her hand
  3. Send her out
  4. Then she may re-marry
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.
And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife.  (Deuteronomy 24:1-3)
Since putting away (sending out) is not writing a bill of divorce, then it is axiomatic that we understand it to not be a divorce.  In other words, the process of writing a decree and then physically separating is the way divorce actually works - both scripturally and in our courts.  

If Jesus had actually taught that putting away a wife (without the written decree) was the same as writing a bill of divorce and that remarriage after a divorce caused adultery, then He would have contradicted, or at least stumbled at this very point in the Law of Moses: 
And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife.
In other words, writing a bill of divorce and giving it to her must occur before sending her out, after which time she may remarry - alas without committing adultery - otherwise, the Mosaic Law regarding divorce contradicts both the Ten Commandments and Leviticus 20:10:
And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
Recall that "to catch him in His words" was a goal of the Pharisees.  However, scripture is clear that in failing to do any such thing, they eventually left Him alone.  So, either the Pharisees didn't notice that Jesus was contradicting the Law when reasoning with Him about divorce, or they understood that according to the Law of Moses, putting away a wife (estrangement) was different from legally divorcing a wife.

We also need to understand why they were trying to catch Him in a fault at this point in the Law.  Estrangement, while an improper form of divorce, was culturally acceptable.  But the religious leaders knew the difference between estrangement and writing a divorce decree, they knew they were not the same according to the Law of Moses.  Hence an unlearned Man (which is how the religious leaders viewed Jesus) might not understand the subtle differences between the two and would perhaps  stumble on this finer point of the Law.

Understanding that the exchange in Mark was for the express purpose of tricking Jesus into stumbling regarding the Law, it is reasonable to see Jesus using their language (put away) while discussing their cultural interpretation of divorce.

Did Putting Away Ever Happen?

So then, the question might be this: did Jewish men put away their wives without divorcing them, and if they did, why? There are at least two sources we can draw upon to answer this question.

The first is Micha 2:9
The women of my people have ye cast out from their pleasant houses; from their children have ye taken away my glory for ever.
The word for "women" is "neshei" it occurs 10 times in the OT, and in each instance, except this one, it is translated as wives.  This verse seems to indicate that not only were the wives being evicted from their home, their husbands retained the children.

According to Robert Waters, this eviction, or putting away, was exactly the problem:
The wife that was put out of the house may well have been innocent of any wrongdoing, yet she could not marry another without a certificate of divorcement that proved her marriage was legally dissolved.  Thus, husbands who refused to give a bill of divorcement to those whom they had put away were disobeying God.  It is interesting that the same evil practice among the Jews is still going on to this day.
During the Mosaic age, a husband would often send (put) his wife away (Heb. shalach, Gk. apoluo) without a certificate of divorce. In God's sight, though, the husband committed adultery against her. Furthermore, his wife would find herself homeless and destitute and unable to remarry; to do so would be to commit adultery, and any man who married her would commit adultery (see Mark 10:11; Matt. 5:31-32), a crime that was punishable by death (Lev. 20:10). 

However, God laid down a procedure to prevent such evils and protect wives from such treachery. This procedure consisted of three actions: writing her a bill of divorcement, placing it in her hand, and sending her away (Deut 24:1-2).
But what was the advantage to the man, why would he put a woman on the street without a writ of divorce?  Waters goes on to explain thusly:
Previous to this {Deut. 24:1-2}, men were simply putting away or sending their wives out of the house (women did not have the same rights). At that time, men were permitted to have more than one wife and received a dowry also. But if a man divorced his wife then the dowry had to be returned. The dowry, however, did not have to be returned in a case where there was no formal divorce. We can see, then, that simply sending his wife out of the house was a way of avoiding any financial loss. However, the consequences were very serious for the wife: without a formal divorce, she was left without a home and a means of support; and, being still married, it was not lawful for her to remarry.


Jesus did not set aside, or amend the Law of Moses regarding divorce: He did not add consequences (adultery) to the act of divorce, contradictory to the Law (Deuteronomy 24:1-3).  Furthermore, He never used the word for divorced when speaking of committing adultery, but He did use the word for estranged and eviction.  Finally, there is scriptural evidence that wives were being evicted from their homes without a divorce decree; there is clear support for a proper divorce only occurs with a written decree, and there is clear support for remarriage after a proper divorce that does not result in adultery.  The bottom line is the NT has been translated in line with the tradition of men: with bias and without consideration of appropriate cohesion God's stated relationship with Israel (divorced) and with the Law of Moses.

Otherwise, the traditional, Fundamental interpretation of divorce causes us to put on blinders and make excuses for Jesus and/or scripture by ignoring the connection between the Mosaic Law and Jesus towards His fulfillment thereof.
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.  For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18)
Jesus fulfilled the Law so perfectly that He could not be found guilty of any infraction by the Chief Priests and Council on any point - including divorce and grounds for adultery - even in the presence of false witnesses and the testimony of the Mosaic Law.
When He left there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile and to question Him closely on many subjects, plotting against Him to catch Him in something He might say. (Luke 11:53-54)
The Fundamentalist's doctrine of divorce relies upon tradition, the power of the Institutional Church, it's Pastor and the Congregants for its enforcement and avoidance thereof, and in the process, it removes the personal protection provided by God for those in real danger.

The better interpretation, the understanding that putting away without divorce is an estrangement and an eviction, that divorce consists of a decree and a separation, coalesces with reason and scripture by adding cohesion between both Testaments, while at the same time demonstrating that Jesus kept and fulfilled the Law even under intense scrutiny from the scribe and Pharisees who were trying to find a way to catch Him in something contrary to the Law.

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