Article Preview: Elohim (God) is fair! While this article came from what I would call a mainstream source, the approach is quite well balanced and extremely Biblically supported. There are a couple of peripheral comments that I would, of course, disagree with but the overall conclusion is quite uncommonly sensible.
NOTE: This article is unrelated to [Frank L. Caw, Jr.’s] new book on biblical prophecy.
During biblical times, Jewish Law recognized several basic moral justifications for divorce or nullification of a marriage contract between a man and his wife.
Those reasons were ordained by God Himself because they were based on the scriptural passages quoted below, and they generally involved the failure of either spouse to perform their duty in the provision of food, clothing, reasonable marital obligations and sexual fidelity. (See Biblical Divorce And Remarriage by Dr. David Instone Brewer)
Moreover, common sense logic and other biblical scriptures require us to add violence and health-or-life-threatening abuse to our list of reasons because such evil activities are always prohibited for everyone, regardless of their marital status in life.
Exodus 21:10-11 If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. 11 And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money. (KJV)
Deuteronomy 24:1-2 When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. 2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. (KJV)
Exodus 20:14,17 Thou shalt not commit adultery. 17 Thou shalt not covet ... thy neighbour’s wife .... (KJV)
The first scriptural passage, quoted above, addresses an archaic social situation that was despised by God, but tolerated as a necessary evil due to complex cultural considerations.
So, even though it does not apply to our society today, we can derive general moral principles from its text because God is a God of logical consistency.
Accordingly, if a Jewish man sold his daughter to be a servant, she did not become a free person even if she became the wife of her new owner.
However, if the owner/husband decided he did not care for her, then she could be redeemed by her family; otherwise, she remained his wife. Nor under any circumstances could she be sold to Gentiles. (Exodus 21:7-8).
Likewise, if she was betrothed to her master’s son, she was to be dealt with as if she was his own daughter; and she could not be sold. (Ex. 21:9).
Furthermore, if the owner/husband took another wife, he remained obligated to his slave-wife in terms of material support and marriage duties. (Exodus 21:10). But, if he refused to honor such obligations, then she was to be set free immediately without any need for her family to redeem her with money. (Exodus 21:11).
Thus, even slave wives, in ancient Jewish society, were protected in their marriages against extreme spousal neglect so far as their material and sexual needs were concerned.
Therefore, God’s Moral Law permits divorce if either the husband or the wife fails to honor the marriage covenant in matters pertaining to food, clothing (and shelter), reasonable sexual relations, marital faithfulness and non-violent treatment.
But, by the time in which Jesus lived, two major schools of thought among the teachers of the religious law, i.e., the Pharisees, had developed and coalesced around differing interpretations for the word “uncleanness” in Deuteronomy 24:1.
One line of thought maintained that the scriptural passage pertained strictly to matters of sexual impurity, whereas the opposing school of thought insisted on expanding the meaning of impurity to include virtually anything a man might find displeasing about his wife in any aspect of their lives together.
However, the word translated as “uncleanness” in euteronomy 24:1 comes from the Hebrew word ‘ervah (er-vaw’), which means “nudity, literally (especially the pudenda) or figuratively (disgrace, blemish)."
It is translated as “nakedness” or “shame” or “unclean(ness)” in the King James Version of the Bible.
Furthermore, it is based on the Hebrew word ’arah, which means “to make bare; empty; destitute; discover; make naked; uncover."
So, apparently the thought behind this passage involves discovering or uncovering something about the wife that previously was not known by the husband.
But, exactly what kind of “uncleanness” is meant here is not known–although judging from the Hebrew dictionary definitions given above, it would allude to something discovered that was shameful, and disappointing, and extremely dislikeable.
We do know, however, that if the word “uncleanness” is a reference to the moral sin of adultery, as in Deuteronomy 22:13-24, then the Law of Moses demanded the death penalty.
Accordingly, perhaps Moses realized that if the letter of the law always was enforced in such matters, there would be excessive numbers of executions due to the extremely lax moral standards that were prevalent among the Israelites.
Therefore, he may have decided to modify the law by permitting a wife to clear herself with a solemn oath in some cases (Num. 5:11-31), and in other instances, by allowing the husband to divorce his wife, privately, without subjecting her to a trial. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Matthew 1:19).
Thus, when prompted for His view regarding this matter, Jesus declared the proper and correct interpretation for this disputed passage as He began proclaiming the Good News about God’s New Covenant with Israel (and eventually, all of humanity).
Accordingly, please note in the following scriptural passage relating this incident, that Jesus never questioned or challenged the continued validity of the other Old Testament reasons for divorce.
Instead, He merely addressed the singular issue of what the word “uncleanness” in Deuteronomy 24:1 truly meant in its application.
Matthew 5:31-32 It hath been said, ‘whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32 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’. (KJV)
A survey of Matthew 5 will show that Jesus first began His ministry by introducing people to the most fundamental concepts which form the basis for the new and better covenant which God was about to give to all of humanity.
Among the general principles which He enumerated or expanded in meaning were moral commandments such as the prohibition against adultery which He modified to include not only the physical act, itself, but the mental thought as well, i.e., lust.
Likewise, after stating the principle of retaliation (not self-defense) in its classic Jewish form, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” Jesus then abolished it by saying that we should “turn the other cheek” in such instances, instead of retaliating.
But, once again, please note that since Jesus did not take issue with any of the other permissible grounds for divorce which God had given previously in other Old Testament scriptural passages, we must conclude that they remain in force today because they are laws which reflect God’s eternal, unchanging moral character, not ceremonial, symbolic laws lacking innate moral value in and of themselves.
As confirmation, the apostle Paul later even affirmed their validity in a more positive manner when he elaborated on the duties and obligations that are inherent within all Christian marriages. (I Corinthians 7) (Ephestians 5:23-33).
However, as noted previously, many of the Pharisees in ancient Jewish society taught that the only necessary requirement for a divorce, according to Mosaic Law, was a legal certificate of divorce; otherwise, they believed a man could divorce his wife for any reason whatsoever.
In actuality, Moses permitted (not commanded) such lax rules regarding divorce because although God hates divorce, He was forced to choose between the lesser of two evils in order to maximize the amount of good possible under the circumstances when no other reasonable option was available.
That is the real reason why He instructed Moses to issue such a decree. Thus, by allowing this decree to exist, God intended for it to accomplish two very important objectives. First, it would discourage sinful men from leading illicit lifestyles in an attempt to avoid marriages from which they could not escape legally.
Then, also, it would protect women against retribution, or even murder, from their resentful and dissatisfied husbands who might want a divorce for any number of flimsy reasons.
Thus, this is the “real-life” context in which Jesus gave His response to the Pharisees when asked to clarify and defend His proclamation in Matthew 5:32 concerning the fiercely-disputed meaning for the word “impurity."
Matthew 19:3-11 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’? 4 And he answered and said unto them, ‘have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5 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? 6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 7 They say unto him, why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? 8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. 10 His disciples say unto him, if the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. 11 But he said unto them, ‘all men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given’. (KJV)
Compare the following parallel passages:
Mark 10:2-12 And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, ‘is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. 3 And he answered and said unto them, ‘what did Moses command you’? 4 And they said, ‘Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away’. 5 And Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘for the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. 6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. 7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; 8 and they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. 9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 10 And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. 11 And he saith unto them, ‘whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery. (KJV)
Luke 16:18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery. (KJV)
Malachi 2:14-16 Yet ye say, ‘wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. 15 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. 16 For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously. (KJV)
Now the question arises as to what, exactly, fornication is? According to the Christian Bible, fornication can mean:
Therefore, fornication can be defined as any type of sexual or spiritual unlawfulness or unfaithfulness. This means, according to Matthew 5:32, that any such behavior is biblical grounds for divorce.
Accordingly, if a person divorces his or her spouse for any reason not involving fornication (or abuse or neglect or desertion), then that person is guilty of adultery (if he or she re-marries; Matt. 19:9).
Matthew 5:31-32 It hath been said, ‘whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement’: 32 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’. (KJV)
At first glance, this passage might seem to say that if a mean-spirited man arbitrarily divorces his wife without just biblical reason, i.e., fornication, then she—the innocent victim—is guilty of committing adultery (if she re-marries, according to a parallel scripture in Matthew 19:9).
However, because common-sense fairness dictates this can not possibly be true, we must analyze this passage more carefully by balancing it against everything else the Bible teaches concerning God’s moral laws. Because often, one passage will clarify the meaning of another passage by giving us additional information or insight regarding the issue at hand.
Accordingly, first of all, we must remember that God is a God of fairness and justness, and that is precisely how we are going to be judged on Judgment Day because the Bible teaches that we will reap what we sow and that we will be rewarded or punished according to what we have done in this lifetime.
Therefore, God never condemns a person (male or female; Galatians 3:28) for the sins and wrongdoing of another person; we each are responsible solely for our own deeds and misdeeds.
That is why I believe the initial impression one first gleans from a reading of the passage in Matthew 5:32 warrants a closer examination.
Likewise, since words often can be a very cumbersome tool for expressing ideas with complete accuracy and precision— especially if the context is not accounted for properly—we obviously have an additional reason for examining this passage more carefully.
Therefore, a very plausible explanation for the passage in Matthew 5:32 might be that Jesus was referring to women who do not object to an unfair divorce by their husbands. In such cases, they would be willing participants in the unjust divorce action, so they would be equally guilty of adultery under the Moral Law of God if they ever re-married.
Conversely, if a woman objects to an unbiblical divorce by her husband, then she must be held blameless for something her husband did. Therefore, she would be free under such circumstances to re-marry because divorce by its very nature, i.e., termination of the marriage contract, makes the marriage contract or marriage covenant null and void.
Please keep in mind that for a contract or covenant to be valid and morally-enforceable, it must be agreed to by both parties to the (marriage) contract.
If one party to the contract violates any of the terms contained within the contract, or even outright abolishes or cancels the contract, then, of course, the other (offended) party is no longer obligated to the contract, either, because the contract no longer exists.
But, if a contract or covenant no longer exists, then how can the offended party still be obligated to it?
Of course, there can be consequences or penalties for the offending party who arbitrarily terminated the contract, but nevertheless, the contract is null and void—unless it is possible for some outside authority to force the continued existence of said contract (which is not normally the case in marriage contracts).
We also must point out that another very good explanation for the text found in Matthew 5:32 involves historical contextual considerations we discussed earlier in this article.
In other words, Jesus simply was saying to the more radical Pharisees that they were wrong in their ongoing dispute with their pharisaical colleagues when they insisted that the word “uncleanness” in Deuteronomy 24:1 meant that virtually anything was a valid reason for legal divorce.
Instead, Jesus sided with their religious rivals who defined the word “uncleanness” as sexual impurity and nothing more. The word He actually used in this instance, however, was “fornication,” a word meant to convey more than just sexual impurity as we saw earlier.
Likewise, some people might argue that both Luke 16:18 and Matthew 5:32 speak of a man divorcing his wife for just, biblical cause and then marrying again, but that nothing is said about a woman being permitted to do likewise by divorcing her husband for just, biblical cause and then later re-marrying.
Or, they might argue that the rules are different for men and women because the man is the “head” of the wife.
But, such arguments are refuted by the following passage:
Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (KJV)
Accordingly, there is neither male nor female in moral issues because God judges all of us on an absolutely equal basis!
Therefore, moral instructions in the Bible generally apply equally to both men and women except for those defining the different, respective roles or functions of men and women within the family structure.
So, if murder or robbery or lying or adultery or whatever is morally wrong for women, then it is also wrong for men and vice versa!
That is why Jesus appeared to repeat Himself in the following passage; He wanted to make it perfectly clear to everyone that His teaching concerning divorce and re-marriage applied equally to both genders:
Mark 10:11-12 And he saith unto them, ‘whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery. (KJV)
Someone might object that a divorce decree is not valid except in cases involving fornication because of the following passage:
Matthew 19:6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. (KJV)
But, obviously man can tear apart what God has joined together or otherwise it would have been pointless for God to say “let no man tear them apart.” (Compare Matt. 19:6-8.)
So, then, if the reality is that they have been torn apart, i.e., divorced, then the marriage covenant, by definition, is null and void. Therefore, the victim, i.e., the offended party, is, in reality, single—and therefore, free to re-marry.
Likewise, God is a God of reason and logic and rationality. Therefore, if in reality, the husband has continued on with his life after unfairly divorcing his wife, perhaps even re-marrying, then how could God hold the victim of the unjust divorce action responsible for what has happened?
It would make far more sense for God to hold the offending party responsible for the sin that occurred, rather than punishing or blaming the offended party by condemning that person to a lifetime of loneliness and frustration as a single person. Let us never forget that each person is responsible for his or her own deeds and misdeeds and no one else’s!
Accordingly, if a woman has been divorced through no fault of her own and against her will, it is her former husband, not she, who will be held accountable to God on Judgment Day (unless, of course, he subsequently repents of his sins sometime later in his lifetime). Since the reality would be that she would then be divorced (and therefore, single) through no fault of her own, she would be free to re-marry.
This type of reasoning whereby we must balance various moral laws and biblical scriptures against each other in order to glean the highest level of truthful understanding possible is further illustrated by Luke 16:18, which reads as follows:
Luke 16:18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery. (KJV)
Once again, at first glance, this passage seems to indicate that whenever a man divorces his wife for any reason whatsoever and later re-marries, he is automatically guilty of adultery. But, in order to achieve a proper perspective on this passage, we must do two things.
First, we must analyze other parallel scriptural passages which deal with this same issue. Then next, we must collectively balance these scriptures against each other to ascertain a balanced, truthful view. It is only after we follow this procedure that we realize fornication on the part of one’s spouse is biblical justification for divorce and re-marriage.
Therefore, the scriptural passage in Matthew 5:32 must be clarified in the same manner in which we have just clarified the meaning of Luke 16:18; we must collectively weigh and balance all pertinent, parallel passages and moral teachings against each other in order to ascertain the truth because that is the only way we can evaluate everything God has said on the issue.
Since we have established from Scripture that a person is biblically justified in divorcing their spouse if their spouse is guilty of adultery or any other form of fornication, we should point out that Scripture does not insist on a person divorcing their unfaithful spouse; only that they are justified, morally, if they wish to do so.
Although we should forgive the betrayal by releasing any feelings of hatred or anger or resentment or revenge for both scriptural and health reasons, continuation of the marriage union is not commanded in the Bible under such circumstances. Instead, it is a matter for individuals to decide for themselves.
Another question that people often will ask me is whether or not mental adultery, by their spouses, provides them with sufficient grounds for a biblically-permissible divorce. Accordingly, here is what Jesus had to say about the matter in:
Matthew 5:27-28 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, ‘thou shalt not commit adultery’: 28 But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (KJV)
Because God is logically consistent, His moral laws reign supreme in both the material and spiritual realms of existence. Therefore, we are guilty of adultery whether it is an accomplished physical act of infidelity or merely an adulterous fantasy in which we indulge for sexual pleasure.
Of course, the consequences resulting from the literal, physical act of adultery generally are more severe and noticeable than when we simply engage in immoral fantasies, but nevertheless, both are wrong to one degree or another.
However, one very important point to keep in mind is that we are not guilty of sin merely because Satan tempts us with evil thoughts. The sin occurs if, and when, we give in to the temptation by dwelling on the evil thought and deriving pleasure from it.
The right thing to do in such moments is quickly to dismiss the evil thoughts when they occur and to have nothing to do with them. As Christians, we must not forget that Satan truly is our adversary, walking about as a lion seeking to devour its prey:
1 Peter 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: (KJV)
So, is mental adultery or sexual fantasy sufficient biblical grounds for a divorce?
In my view, this is something which must be considered very carefully and judiciously. It is not always so easy to ascertain beyond a reasonable doubt that a mental transgression of this type really has occurred.
Besides, we all know that the physical act of adultery requires a greater willingness to sin than does indulgence in adulterous sexual fantasy–and that has to count for something in the balance scales of justice.
Furthermore, we always have the option of reconciliation after we forgive the betrayal by releasing any feelings of hatred or anger or resentment or revenge. It is always an option because the Bible does not command or mandate divorce necessarily in cases of adultery.
On the other hand, it can be quite devastating to learn that a very beloved spouse is harboring thoughts of infidelity and sexual fantasies about someone else. Especially, if they are ongoing and habitual in nature.
Obviously marital betrayal can be so heart-breaking and psychologically shattering that I am sure this is one of the primary reasons God permits divorce in such instances even though, generally, He hates divorce.
Accordingly, each case has to be judged on its own individual merits and unique set of circumstances. People will have to decide for themselves the truth of the matter on a number of issues pertinent to this question.
For instance, did their mate really betray them sexually in their thoughts? Is their mate truly repentant for what they have done, and can they be deemed trustworthy in the future? How committed is your mate to the concept of moral character and integrity? Can you put the hurt and pang behind you, and focus on healing your marriage?
I do not believe God necessarily wants us to look at divorce as a first response to marital problems like this. But, if the mental betrayal by your spouse is sufficiently severe or habitual, and they are not repentant, and your feelings of hurt and pang over this matter are substantial, then perhaps divorce is a viable biblical solution.
1 Corinthians 7:2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. (KJV)
1 Corinthians 7:10-11 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. (KJV)
According to this passage, if both husband and wife are Christian believers, and one of them leaves the other, then both of them are commanded to remain in an “unmarried” or separated condition unless they reconcile and reunite back with each other; neither party has the biblical right to seek a divorce from the other.
Instead, they should try their very best to heal their marital relationship through Godly prayer, love, tolerance, kindness, marriage counseling and marital negotiations between the two of them in an attempt to find good solutions or compromises to problems in their relationship.
So, generally, Christian couples may separate from each other, but not divorce.
Not only because God hates divorce, but also because it would hurt the cause of the Gospel if unbelievers began to think that Christian believers were lax in their moral and marital values.
However, if either of them obtains a divorce despite God’s commandment not to do so, then, of course, the marriage covenant no longer would be valid and in effect.
Therefore, the offended marriage partner who is divorced against their will, without just biblical cause, would no longer be under any further obligation to their now-defunct marriage contract, so obviously they would be single again and free to re-marry.
So as to make the meaning of the above passage even more clear, we should note that the word “reconciled” in verse 11 is derived from the Greek word “katallassw,” and that it was utilized in Greek marriage contracts to indicate reconciliation between separated couples who were still married.
In essence, then, Paul was saying that even though they became divorced as soon as they separated according to Roman Law, as far as God’s Moral Law was concerned, they were still married and should reconcile and reunite with each other if at all possible. (Brewer)
Some might argue that a marriage covenant between two believers can never be broken because God never would approve such an act.
But, if a “believing” spouse exercises their God-given gift of free will by getting a divorce without just biblical cause, then the covenant is, in fact, broken despite God’s admonition not to do so.
Because for a contract or covenant to be valid, both parties must adhere to the terms of the marriage agreement “till death do us part.” Therefore, if the contract has been invalidated by either party, it is no longer in effect, regardless of how one may feel about the matter.
Others might say that Christian marriage partners who separate should always forgive and reconcile and even reunite, regardless of the circumstances involved.
But, “forgiveness” and “reconciliation” and “reunion” are three different things. It is very possible for a person to forgive their spouse and therefore feel no ill will or anger towards them, but still not wish to reconcile or reunite with them for a variety of reasons.
If that is the case, then the scripture above commands them to remain separated until if and when they reconcile and then also agree to reunite. However, under extreme circumstances, I believe there can be biblical exceptions, even to this rule, if we carefully and honestly weigh all relevant moral concerns in a judicious manner.
For example, I can imagine situations where a sincere Christian couple separate for a lengthy period of time without either one of them ever asking for a divorce.
But, even though one of them may wish to enjoy the blessings and benefits of a marital relationship, what if the other party remains completely indifferent to such feelings and concerns, or they continue to have their own personal reasons for wanting to live separated from their spouse?
Perhaps they simply are no longer interested in a marital relationship with anyone.
Perhaps their job or career or children or grandchildren or hobbies or social activities with friends or whatever provides them with complete fulfillment in their life.
Or perhaps there are important personal traits or concerns that make living with each other impossible.
So, whatever the reason, they simply make it very clear to their spouse that a marriage relationship is something they are not interested in, period.
Furthermore, what if the person, who wants to enjoy a marital relationship again, has made numerous “good-faith” attempts to effect a reasonable reconciliation and/or reunion during their long period of separation, but the other party continues to be indifferent because they are content to remain separated, then what?
In such instances, what is the plight of the hapless individual who has just been informed by their spouse that they are determined, essentially, to live a life of celibacy and singleness?