|Easton's Bible Dictionary|
The dissolution of the marriage tie was regulated by the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). The Jews, after the Captivity, were reguired to dismiss the foreign women they had married contrary to the law (Ezra 10:11-19). Christ limited the permission of divorce to the single case of adultery. It seems that it was not uncommon for the Jews at that time to dissolve the union on very slight pretences (Matthew 5:31, 32; 19:1-9; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18). These precepts given by Christ regulate the law of divorce in the Christian Church.
Noah Webster's Dictionary
1. (n.) A legal dissolution of the marriage contract by a court or other body having competent authority. This is properly a divorce, and called, technically, divorce a vinculo matrimonii.
2. (n.) The separation of a married woman from the bed and board of her husband -- divorce a mensa et toro (/ thoro), from bed board.
3. (n.) The decree or writing by which marriage is dissolved.
4. (n.) Separation; disunion of things closely united.
5. (n.) That which separates.
6. (n.) To dissolve the marriage contract of, either wholly or partially; to separate by divorce.
7. (n.) To separate or disunite; to sunder.
8. (n.) To make away; to put away.
Int. Standard Bible Encyclopedia
DIVORCE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
(to apostasiou): The Scripture doctrine of divorce is very simple. It is contained in Matthew 19:3-12.
We are not called upon to treat of divorce in the Mosaic legislation (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). That was passed upon by Jesus in the above discussion and by Him ruled out of existence in His system of religion. After Jesus had spoken as above, the Mosaic permission of divorce became a dead letter. There could not be practice under it among His disciples. So such Old Testament divorce is now a mere matter of antiquarian curiosity.
It may be of interest in passing to note that the drift of the Mosaic legislation was restrictive of a freedom of divorce that had been practiced before its enactment. It put in legal proceedings to bar the personal will of one of the parties. It recognized marriage as a social institution which should not be disrupted without reference to the rights of society in it. In this restrictive character "the law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ" (Galatians 3:24). But here, as in numerous other instances, Christ went behind the enactments to primitive original principles whose recognition would make the law of none effect, because no practice was to be permitted under it. Thus the Old Testament is disposed of.
Of course what Jesus said will dominate the New. In fact, Jesus is the only author in the New Testament who has treated of divorce. It has been thought that Paul had the subject in hand. But we shall find on examination, further along, that he did not. We need then look nowhere but to Matthew 19 for the Scripture doctrine of divorce.
True, we have other reports of what Jesus said (Mark 10:2-12 Luke 16:18). But in Matthew 19 we have the fullest report, containing everything that is reported elsewhere and one or two important observations that the other writers have not included. Luke has only one verse where Matthew has ten. Luke's verse is in no necessary connection with context. It seems to be a mere memorandum among others of the spiritual or ethical teachings of Christ. Luke however caught the gist of the whole teaching about divorce in recording the prohibition to put away one wife and marry another. The records in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 cover one and the same occasion. But there is nothing in Mark that is not in Matthew; and the latter contains nearly a third more of text than the former. There is nothing, however, essential in Matthew that is not in Mark, save the clause "except for fornication." That exception will be treated further along. We seem to be justified then in saying that the total doctrine of the Scripture pertaining to divorce is contained in Matthew 19.
Attention must be called to the fact that, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:27-32), Jesus treated of divorce, and that in every essential particular it agrees with the elaboration in Matthew 19. Jesus there as plainly as in the argument with the Pharisees put Moses' permission of divorce under ban; as plainly there declared the putting away of one partner to marry another person to be adultery. This may also be noticed, that the exception to the absolute prohibition is in the text of the Sermon on the Mount.
We have then a summary of the New Testament doctrine of divorce stated by Christ Himself as follows: "Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery" (Matthew 19:9). This puts Him in line with the ideal of the monogamic, indissoluble family which pervades the whole of the Old Testament.
1. The Family:
It may be well here to treat of the exception which Christ made in His rule to the indissolubility of marriage. It is very widely maintained in the Christian church that there should be no divorce for any cause whatever. This position is in plain contradiction to Christ's teaching in Matthew 15 and Matthew 19. One of the grounds adduced for this denial of divorce in case a partner is guilty of adultery is that Luke and Mark do not record the exception. It is a difficult matter to invade the psychology of writers who lived nearly two thousand years ago and tell why they did not include something in their text which someone else did in his. Neither Luke nor Mark were personal disciples of the Lord. They wrote second hand. Matthew was a personal disciple of Christ and has twice recorded the exception. It will be a new position in regard to judgment on human evidence when we put the silence of absentees in rank above the twice expressed report of one in all probability present-one known to be a close personal attendant.
This may be said: Matthew's record stands in ancient manuscript authority, Greek and also the Versions. And on this point let it be noted that the testimony of the manuscripts was up before the English and American Revisers, and they have deliberately reaffirmed the text of 1611 and given us the exception in Christ's rule in each place (Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9). This makes the matter as nearly res adjudicata as can be done by human wisdom.
Let us consider the rationality of the exception. That feature has had scant attention from theologians and publicists, yet it will bear the closest scrutiny. In fact it is a key to much that is explanatory of the basic principle of the family. To begin with, the exception is not on its face an after-thought of some transcriber, but was called out by the very terms of the question of the Pharisees: "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" This plainly called for a specification from Jesus of exceptions which he would allow to the rule against divorce. It is fortunate that the Pharisees asked the question in the form they did, for that put on Jesus the necessity of enumerating such exceptions as he would allow. He mentioned one, and but one in reply. That puts the matter of exceptions under the rule in logic: Expressio unius-exclusio alterius. All other pretenses for divorce were deliberately swept aside by Christ-a fact that should be remembered when other causes are sought to be foisted in alongside this one allowed by Christ. The question may come up, Whose insight is likely to be truest?
Why, then, will reason stand by this exception? Because adultery is per se destructive of monogamic family life. Whoever, married, is guilty of adultery has taken another person into family relation. Children may be born to that relation-are born to it. Not to allow divorce in such case is to force an innocent party in marriage to live in a polygamous state. There is the issue stated so plainly that "the wayfaring man need not err therein," and "he who runs may read," and "he who reads may run." It is the hand of an unerring Master that has made fornication a ground for divorce from the bond of matrimony and limited divorce to that single cause. Whichever way we depart from strict practice under the Savior's direction we land in polygamy. The society that allows by its statutes divorce for any other cause than the one that breaks the monogamic bond, is simply acting in aid of polygamy, consecutive if not contemporaneous.
Advocates of the freedom of divorce speak of the above view as "the ecclesiastical." That is an attempt to use the argument ad invidiam. The church of Christ held and holds its views, not because ecclesiastics taught it, but because Christ taught it, and that in His teaching we have a statement out from the righteousness, wisdom, insight and rationality of the all-wise God.
Paul is the only other New Testament author besides Christ who has been supposed to treat of divorce. But a careful examination of Paul's writing will disclose the fact that he has nowhere discussed the question-for what cause or causes a man might put away his wife, or a woman her husband, with liberty of marriage to another person. If Paul has treated of divorce at all it is in 1 Corinthians 7. But even a careless reading of that chapter will disclose the fact that Paul is not discussing the question for what causes marriage might be disrupted, but the question of manners and morals in the relation. Paul has not modified Christ in any respect. It has been supposed that in 7:15 Paul has allowed divorce to a believing partner who has been deserted by one unbelieving, and so he has been sometimes understood as adding desertion to the exception Christ made as cause for divorce.
But Paul has not said in that verse or anywhere else that a Christian partner deserted by a heathen may be married to someone else. All he said is: "If the unbelieving departeth, let him depart: the brother or the sister is not under bondage (dedoulotai) in such cases: but God hath called us in peace." To say that a deserted partner "hath not been enslaved" is not to say that he or she may be remarried. What is meant is easily inferred from the spirit that dominates the whole chapter, and that is that everyone shall accept the situation in which God has called him just as he is. "Be quiet" is a direction that hovers over every situation. If you are married, so remain. If unmarried, so remain. If an unbelieving partner deserts, let him or her desert. So remain. "God hath called us in peace." Nothing can be more beautiful in the morals of the marriage relation than the direction given by Paul in this chapter for the conduct of all parties in marriage in all trials.
Many reasons might be given why Paul could not have given liberty of remarriage, besides the one that he did not in his text; but attention should be called to the fact that such an assumption of authority in divorce would soon have brought him into conflict with the Roman government. Paul's claim that he was a Roman citizen was of some value to himself. Would not some Roman citizen have claimed to scrutinize pretty closely Paul's right to issue a decree of divorce against him because he had "departed" from a wife who had become a Christian? There would be two sides to such divorces. Would not Paul, careful, shrewd, politic as he was, have known that, and have avoided an open rupture with a government that did not tolerate much interference with its laws? That neither Paul nor anyone else ever put such construction upon his language, is evidenced by the fact that there is no record in history of a single case where it was attempted for 400 years after Paul was in his grave, and the Roman Empire had for a century been Christian. Then we wait 400 years more before we find the suggestion repeated. That no use was ever made of such construction of Paul in the whole era of the adjustment of Christianity with heathenism is good evidence that it was never there to begin with. So we shall pass Paul as having in no respect modified the doctrine of divorce laid down by Christ in Matthew 19.
3. Remedies for Marriage Ills:
In all civilized countries the machinery of legislation and law can always be open for removal or relief of troubles in marriage without proceeding to its annulment. If a father is cruel to his children, we do not abolish the parental relation, but punish the father for his cruelty. If he deserts his children, we need not assist him to rear other children whom he can desert in turn, but we can punish him for his desertion. What can be done by law in case of parent and child can be done in case of husband and wife. By putting in absolute divorce (frequently for guilty and innocent alike) we invite the very evils we seek to cure. We make it the interest of a dissatisfied party to create a situation that a court will regard as intolerable, and so he or she may go free. Then by affording an easy way out of the troubles of married life we are inviting carelessness about entering marriage. We say by divorce statutes to a young woman: "If your husband deserts you, you may have another. If he is cruel, you may have another. If he fails to support you, you may have another. If he is drunken, you may have another. If he is incompatible or makes you unhappy, you may have another"-and yet others beyond these. When an easy road is thus made out of marriage, will there be proper caution about entering into marriage? By just as much as a crevice for relief of the miseries of married life is opened by divorce, by so much the flood gates are opened into those miseries. The more solemnly society is impressed that the door of marriage does not swing outward as well as inward the more of happiness and blessing will it find in the institution. SeeFAMILY.
DIVORCE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
1. Subordinate Position of Woman:
Woman, among the Hebrews, as among most nations of antiquity, occupied a subordinate position. Though the Hebrew wife and mother was treated with more consideration than her sister in other lands, even in other Semitic countries, her position nevertheless was one of inferiority and subjection. The marriage relation from the standpoint of Hebrew legislation was looked upon very largely as a business affair, a mere question of property. A wife, nevertheless, was, indeed, in most homes in Israel, the husband's "most valued possession." And yet while this is true, the husband was unconditionally and unreservedly the head of the family in all domestic relations. His rights and prerogatives were manifest on every side. Nowhere is this more evident than in the matter of divorce. According to the laws of Moses a husband, under certain circumstances, might divorce his wife; on the other hand, if at all possible, it was certainly very difficult for a wife to put away her husband. Unfortunately a double standard of morality in matters pertaining to the sexes is, at least, as old as Moses (see Exodus 7-11).
2. Law of Divorce: Deuteronomy 24:1-4:
The Old Testament law concerning divorce, apparently quite clear, is recorded most fully in Deuteronomy 24:1. A perusal of the commentaries will, nevertheless, convince anyone that there are difficulties of interpretation. The careful reader will notice that the renderings of the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) differ materially. the King James Version reads in the second part of Deuteronomy 24:1: "then let him write a bill," etc., the Revised Version (British and American) has "that he shall write," etc., while the Hebrew original has neither "then" nor "that," but the simple conjunction "and." There is certainly no command in the words of Moses, but, on the other hand, a clear purpose to render the proceeding more difficult in the case of the husband. Moses' aim was "to regulate and thus to mitigate an evil which he could not extirpate." The evident purpose was, as far as possible, to favor the wife, and to protect her against an unceremonious expulsion from her home and children.
3. Marriage a Legal Contract:
As already suggested, marriage among the Hebrews, as among most Orientals, was more a legal contract than the result of love or affection. It would be, however, a great mistake to assume that deep love was not often present, for at all times the domestic relations of the Hebrew married couple have compared most favorably with those of any other people, ancient or modern. In its last analysis it was, nevertheless, a business transaction. The husband or his family had, as a rule, to pay a certain dowry to the parents or guardians of the betrothed before the marriage was consummated. A wife thus acquired could easily be regarded as a piece of property, which, without great difficulty, could be disposed of in case the husband, for any reason, were disposed to rid himself of an uncongenial companion and willing to forfeit the mohar which he had paid for his wife. The advantage was always with the husband, and yet a wife was not utterly helpless, for she, too, though practically without legal rights, could make herself so intolerably burdensome and hateful in the home that almost any husband would gladly avail himself of his prerogatives and write her a bill of divorcement. Thus, though a wife could not divorce her husband, she could force him to divorce her.
4. Divorce Applicable Only to Wives:
The following words of Professor Israel Abrahams, Cambridge, England, before "the Divorce Commission" (London, November 21, 1910), are to the point: "In all such cases where the wife was concerned as the moving party she could only demand that her husband should divorce her. The divorce was always from first to last, in Jewish law, the husband's act." The common term used in the Bible for divorce is shilluach 'ishshah, "the sending away of a wife" (Deuteronomy 22:19, 29). We never read of "the sending away of a husband." The feminine participle, gerushah, "the woman thrust out," is the term applied to a divorced woman. The masculine form is not found.
5. Process and Exceptions:
The Mosaic law apparently, on the side of the husband, made it as difficult as possible for him to secure a divorce. No man could unceremoniously and capriciously dismiss his wife without the semblance of a trial. In case one became dissatisfied with his wife,
(1) he had to write her a BILL OF DIVORCEMENT (which see) drawn up by some constituted legal authority and in due legal form. In the very nature of the case, such a tribunal would use moral suasion to induce an adjustment; and, failing in this, would see to it that the law in the case, whatever it might be, would be upheld.
(2) Such a bill or decree must be placed in the hand of the divorced wife.
(3) She must be forced to leave the premises of her former husband. Divorce was denied two classes of husbands:
(1) The man who had falsely accused his wife of antenuptial infidelity (Deuteronomy 22:13), and
(2) a person who had seduced a virgin (Deuteronomy 22:28 f). In addition, a heavy penalty had to be paid to the father of such damsels.
It is probable that a divorced wife who had not contracted a second marriage or had been guilty of adultery might be reunited to her husband. But in case she had married the second time she was forever barred from returning to her first husband, even if the second husband had divorced her or had died (Deuteronomy 24:3 f). Such a law would serve as an obstacle to hasty divorces. Divorces from the earliest times were common among the Hebrews. All rabbis agree that a separation, though not desirable, was quite lawful. The only source of dispute among them was as to what constituted a valid reason or just cause.
6. Grounds of Divorce (Doubtful Meaning of Deuteronomy 24:1):
The language in Deuteronomy 24:1 has always been in dispute. The Hebrew words, `erwath dabhar, on which a correct interpretation depends, are not easy of solution, though many exegetes, influenced possibly by some preconceived notion, pass over them quite flippantly. The phrase troubled the Jewish rabbis of olden times, as it does Jewish and Christian commentators and translators in our day. the King James Version renders the two words, "some uncleanness," and in the margin, "matter of nakedness." The latter, though a literal translation of the Hebrew, is quite unintelligible. the Revised Version (British and American) and the American Standard Revised Version both have: "some unseemly thing." Professor Driver translates the same words "some indecency." The German the Revised Version (British and American) (Kautzsch) has "etwas Widerwartiges" ("something repulsive"). We know of no modern version which makes `erwath dabhar the equivalent of fornication or adultery. And, indeed, in the very nature of the case, we are forced to make the words apply to a minor fault or crime, for, by the Mosaic law, the penalty for adultery was death (Deuteronomy 22:20). It is, however, a question whether the extreme penalty was ever enforced. It is well known that at, and some time before, the time of our Saviour, there were two schools among the Jewish rabbis, that of Shammai and that of Hillel. Shammai and his followers maintained that 'erwath dabhar signified nothing less than unchastity or adultery, and argued that only this crime justified a man in divorcing his wife. Hillel and his disciples went to the other extreme. They placed great stress upon the words, "if she find no favor in his eyes" immediately preceding `erwath dabhar (Deuteronomy 24:1), and contended that divorce should be granted for the flimsiest reason: such as the spoiling of a dish either by burning or careless seasoning. Some of the rabbis boldly taught that a man had a perfect right to dismiss his wife, if he found another woman whom he liked better, or who was more beautiful (Mishnah, GiTTin, 14 10). Here are some other specifications taken from the same book: "The following women may be divorced: She who violates the Law of Moses, e.g. causes her husband to eat food which has not been tithed... She who vows, but does not keep her vows... She who goes out on the street with her hair loose, or spins in the street, or converses (flirts) with any man, or is a noisy woman. What is a noisy woman? It is one who speaks in her own house so loud that the neighbors may hear her." It would be easy to extend the list, for the Mishna and rabbinic writings are full of such laws.
From what has been said, it is clear that adultery was not the only valid reason for divorce. Besides, the word adultery had a peculiar significance in Jewish law, which recognized polygamy and concubinage as legitimate. Thus a Hebrew might have two or more wives or concubines, and might have intercourse with a slave or bondwoman, even if married, without being guilty of the crime of adultery (Leviticus 19:20), for adultery, according to Jewish law, was possible only when a man dishonored the "free wife" of a Hebrew (Leviticus 20:10).
Divorcement, Bill of:
This expression, found in Deuteronomy 24:1, 3 Isaiah 50:1 Jeremiah 3:8 is the translation of the Hebrew cepher kerithuth. The two words, literally rendered, signify a document or book of cutting off, i.e. a certificate of divorce given by a husband to a wife, so as to afford her the opportunity or privilege of marrying another man. The Hebrew term is rendered by the Septuagint biblion apostasion. This is also found in the New Testament (Mark 10:4). Matthew 5:31 has "writing of divorcement" in English Versions of the Bible, but Matthew 19:7 the King James Version has "writing," while the Revised Version (British and American) and the American Standard Revised Version have "bill." The certificate of divorce is called geT, plural giTTin, in the Talmud. There is an entire chapter devoted to the subjects in the Mishna It is not positively known when the custom of writing bills of divorcement commenced, but there are references to such documents in the earliest Hebrew legislation. The fact that Joseph had in mind the putting away of his espoused wife, Mary, without the formality of a bill or at least of a public procedure proves that a decree was not regarded as absolutely necessary (Matthew 1:19). The following was the usual form of a decree:
On the ____ day of the week ____ in the month ____ in the year ____ from the beginning of the world, according to the common computation in the province of ____ I ____ the son of ____ by whatever name I may be known, of the town of ____ with entire consent of mind, and without any constraint, have divorced, dismissed and expelled thee ____ daughter of____by whatever name thou art called, of the town who hast been my wife hitherto; But now I have dismissed thee ____ the daughter of ____ by whatever name thou art called, of the town of ____ so as to be free at thy own disposal, to marry whomsoever thou pleasest, without hindrance from anyone, from this day for ever. Thou art therefore free for anyone (who would marry thee). Let this be thy bill of divorce from me, a writing of separation and expulsion, according to the law of Moses and Israel. ____, the son of ____, witness
The Hebrew prophets regarded Yahweh not only as the father and king of the chosen people, and thus entitled to perfect obedience and loyalty on their part, but they conceived of Him as a husband married to Israel. Isaiah, speaking to his nation, says: "For thy Maker is thy husband; Yahweh of hosts is his name" (54:5). Jeremiah too makes use of similar language in the following: "Return, O backsliding children, saith Yahweh; for I am a husband unto you" (3:14). It is perfectly natural that New Testament writers should have regarded Christ's relation to His church under the same figure. Paul in 2 Corinthians says: "I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: for I espoused you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ" (11:2); see also Matthew 9:15 John 3:29 Revelation 19:7. Any unfaithfulness or sin on the part of Israel was regarded as spiritual adultery, which necessarily broke off the spiritual ties, and divorced the nation from God (Isaiah 1:21 Ezekiel 16:22 Revelation 2:22). See also MARRIAGE.
Amram, Jewish Law of Divorce according to the Bible and Talmud, London, 1897; Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, London, 1896; Mackie, Bible Manners and Customs, London, 1898; The Mishna, Translated into English, De Sola and Raphall, London, 1843; Benzinger, Hebraische Archdalogie, Freiburg, 1894; Nowack, Lehrbuch der hebraischen Archdologie, 1894.
W. W. Davies
see DIVORCE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT; DIVORCE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Divorce (18 Occurrences)
Matthew 1:19 Joseph, her husband, being a righteous man, and not willing to make her a public example, intended to put her away secretly. (See RSV NIV)
Matthew 5:31 "It was also said,'Whoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorce,' (WEB KJV WEY ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Matthew 19:3 Pharisees came to him, testing him, and saying, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?" (WEB WEY NAS RSV NIV)
Matthew 19:7 They asked him, "Why then did Moses command us to give her a bill of divorce, and divorce her?" (WEB KJV WEY ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Matthew 19:8 He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it has not been so. (WEB NAS RSV NIV)
Mark 10:2 Pharisees came to him testing him, and asked him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" (WEB WEY NAS RSV NIV)
Mark 10:4 They said, "Moses allowed a certificate of divorce to be written, and to divorce her." (WEB KJV WEY ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
1 Corinthians 7:11 (but if she departs, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband not leave his wife. (See NAS RSV NIV)
1 Corinthians 7:12 But to the rest I-not the Lord-say, if any brother has an unbelieving wife, and she is content to live with him, let him not leave her. (See NAS RSV NIV)
1 Corinthians 7:13 The woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he is content to live with her, let her not leave her husband. (See RSV NIV)
1 Corinthians 7:27 Are you bound to a wife? Don't seek to be freed. Are you free from a wife? Don't seek a wife. (See NIV)
Deuteronomy 22:19 and they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver, and give them to the father of the young lady, because he has brought up an evil name on a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days. (See NAS NIV)
Deuteronomy 22:29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the lady's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has humbled her; he may not put her away all his days. (See NAS NIV)
Deuteronomy 24:1 When a man takes a wife, and marries her, then it shall be, if she find no favor in his eyes, because he has found some unseemly thing in her, that he shall write her a bill of divorce, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Deuteronomy 24:3 If the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorce, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, who took her to be his wife; (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Isaiah 50:1 Thus says Yahweh, "Where is the bill of your mother's divorce, with which I have put her away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities were you sold, and for your transgressions was your mother put away. (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Jeremiah 3:8 I saw, when, for this very cause that backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a bill of divorce, yet treacherous Judah, her sister, didn't fear; but she also went and played the prostitute. (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Malachi 2:16 For I hate divorce," says Yahweh, the God of Israel, "and him who covers his garment with violence!" says Yahweh of Armies. "Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you don't deal treacherously. (WEB NAS RSV NIV)