Friday, January 21, 2011

Holy Divorce

Onward though Deuteronomy, where Moses is relaying God's Law to the next generation of Israelites. In Deuteronomy 23, we saw God prohibit groups of peoples from entering His assembly, including the exclusion of men with damaged testicles. The chapter continued with some miscellaneous laws, such as protecting runaway slaves, charging interest only to foreigners, abhorring the offerings of prostitutes, being committed to your vows to God, and taking freely from your neighbor's field. The next chapter begins with one of the most prevalent issues of our time.

Holy Divorce
You have heard that it was said that Jesus is against divorce, but this position seems to be a divorce from Scripture itself. No, not the New Testament Scripture, but the Old Testament Scripture – the foundation for the entire Bible. Let us look at Deuteronomy 24:1-4:
“If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.” NIV
First, whose words are these? In the majority of Deuteronomy, Moses is speaking, but he is simply proclaiming God's own words (Deuteronomy 1:3, Deuteronomy 8:11). Much of God's words are a series of commandments and laws which are collectively known as God's Law, with one of those laws being not to add to or take away from God's Law (Deuteronomy 4:2, Deuteronomy 12:32). So this is not Moses providing his opinion or defining the laws which he sees fit to enact, but rather they are the very word of God.

Now, what does this law actually say? This is not a law specifically about permitting divorce. This is a law prohibiting a man from remarrying his divorced wife if she marries again. The process of divorce is recorded in the law, but that is not the main focus of the law.

The right of divorce is implicit with marriage. God expected divorce to occur sometimes, which is the reason for this law, as well as the specific mention of divorce elsewhere in the Law (Leviticus 21:7, Leviticus 21:14, Leviticus 22:13, Numbers 30:9, Deuteronomy 22:19, Deuteronomy 22:29).

Look at the reason given for divorce in this case. The man is displeased in his wife, finding something unseemly about her. This is not to be understood as her having committed adultery, as she would have been put to death for that, instead of simply being divorced (Leviticus 20:10). Instead, this comes down to the man's opinion of his wife, that something about her is just not up to good standards.

In modern times, we have a tendency to read “man” as “a person” in legal matters to remove gender, but do not do so here. Only men had the implicit right of divorce from God in this patriarchal system.

An aspect of this sexual inequality is played out in this law. It is detestable for the divorced wife to marry a different man and then remarry her original husband because she has been defiled; because she has slept with a different man. Is that because a married man and woman are one flesh? No, not so fast. A man can have multiple wives, and he can sleep with one wife one night and another wife the next night, yet this behavior is not detestable to God (Genesis 30:14-18).

OK, so now fast-forward to the New Testament. Jesus says that anyone who divorces except because of adultery, causes the divorced wife to commit adultery, and the man who marries the divorced wife also commits adultery (Matthew 5:31-32, Luke 16:8). As you will remember, per God adultery is a sin worthy of immediate death (Leviticus 20:10). This is in contrast to this law from Deuteronomy 24:1-4, where God only has a problem with the divorced wife remarrying her original husband; not a problem with the divorce itself or with her second marriage, or even with her third marriage except for this restriction. That would be strange enough, but what Jesus says later really is messed up.

In Mark 10:2-12 and Matthew 19:3-9, when the Pharisees ask Jesus if divorce is OK, Jesus again proclaims that divorce is sinful and subsequent marriages are forms of adultery. The Pharisees ask Jesus why then did Moses permit divorce (Mark 10:4, Matthew 19:7)?

Jesus could have accurately either replied that Moses never gave (explicit) permission for divorce or that they have misunderstood the intention of that law because God was only providing provisions for when divorce occurred (which is still a weak defense because there is implicit approval). Instead, Jesus wrongly states that Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of their hearts (Mark 10:5, Matthew 19:8). This law was not the opinion of Moses; it was the command of God. It is unfathomable that Jesus neither knew the Scripture nor the source of the command, if He truly was God Himself.

The story gets even more strange as it continues in Matthew 19:10-12. Jesus' disciples say that if that is the case with marriage, then it is better not to marry. Jesus says that not everybody can accept this, explaining further in Matthew 19:12 that:
“For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the Kingdom of Heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” NIV
Or in other words, Jesus says that some choose to act like those with damaged or removed testicles in order to gain access to the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus is not saying that everyone should do that, but that some have chosen that path and (implicitly) that it is a good path to take. When you consider that in the Deuteronomy 23, God forbid those with damaged or removed testicles from entering the Assembly of God, this is an interesting reversal of policy.

Summing up all of this information concisely: God implicitly permitted men to divorce their wives, and had no problems with subsequent marriages as long as they are not between the men and their original wives. Jesus, on the other hand, does not know what He is talking about. That should be a huge red flag.


  1. Moses reminds me of my mom. She goes around declaring commands that fit her grumpy nature, and then she finds ways to justify the non-sense with the bible.

  2. LOL, if your mom was anything like Moses, you should congratulate yourself for turning out healthy despite that! :-)

  3. It is a huge red flag. The fundies would say that God never intended for people to divorce, he was only regulating a practice because people were already doing it. He's God, can't He just command them not to get divorced? In the NT did He think that people's hearts would suddenly not be hard? Makes no sense!

  4. I know what you mean, D'Ma! :-) God really did not have a problem making other laws that run against hard hearts, such as giving to the poor and the alien. And we sure have not changed since Jesus showed up. It does not make any sense at all when you think about it. And that should be proof enough that this was created by men. ;-)

  5. "Jesus could have accurately .. replied that Moses never gave (explicit) permission for divorce"

    Lol, it's funny - the bible NEVER does anything clever when it has the chance !

    Does anyone even know if Jesus could read ?

    Great blog WF - I discovered you via dwindlinginunbelief..

  6. Thanks skanksta! Ha! I know, right? They really missed some comedic gold and incredible opportunities for wit.

    I doubt Jesus could read, at least based on how often He butchers the OT!