Generally speaking, much of the church has misunderstood Jesus’ statements on divorce, and the church has typically increased, rather than relieved, the suffering and scandal of Christians who have left abusive marriages. This is not right.
If we want to genuinely understand Jesus’ teachings on divorce, particularly his teaching in response to the question posed to him by the Pharisees, we need to have some understanding of the issues concerning divorce that the Jews of Jesus’ day were discussing. (Jesus’ words on divorce in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount are discussed in another article, here.)
Herod Antipas and Herodias
The Pharisees were testing Jesus with their question about divorce (Matt. 19:3; Mark 10:2). They may have been trying to trick Jesus into saying something scathing about Herod Antipas (ruler of Galilee) and his new wife Herodias. The couple had recently divorced their previous partners so that they could marry each other, and they were the talk of the town.
John the Baptist was executed because of his vocal criticism about their divorces and subsequent marriage (Mark 6:17ff NIV cf. Luke 3:19-20). Were the Pharisees hoping Jesus could be got rid of in the same way?
The example of Herod Antipas and Herodias could well be the context for Jesus’ teaching on divorce which can be paraphrased as: “You must not divorce your spouse so that you can marry someone else, as that is tantamount to adultery” (cf. Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18; Matt. 19:9). Similarly, the immediate context of Malachi 2:16 NIV, in the Old Testament, “suggests that the divorce in view is that of one Jewish person by another in order to undertake subsequent marriages.”
Shammai and Hillel
But there was probably more behind the Pharisees’ question. The Pharisees were currently engaged in a debate about the legitimate grounds for divorce in light of Deuteronomy 24:1.
The Rabbinic document Mishnah Gittin gives us insight into the opposing views on divorce of the Shammaite Pharisees and the Hillelite Pharisees in the first and early second centuries. (Shammai (50 BCE–30 CE) and Hillel (110 BCE–7 CE) were highly influential Jewish scholars.)
The School of Shammai says: “A man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her”, for it is written, “Because he has found in her indecency in anything” (Deut. 24:1). The School of Hillel says: “Even if she spoiled a dish for him”, for it is written, “Because he has found in her indecency in anything”. Rabbi Akiva says: “Even if he found another fairer than she”, for it is written, “And it shall be if she finds no favour in his eyes” (Deut. 24:1). Mishnah Gittin 9.10 
The School of Shammai rightly focused on the word “indecency” in Deuteronomy 24:1. The school of Hillel unjustly focused on the word “anything.” Some wives were unfairly treated and seriously disadvantaged by divorce for “any” reason, one reason even being that a husband “found another fairer than she.”
The Pharisees’ debate was unfairly focused on the husbands’ rights. The well-being of wives does not seem to have been a consideration. Yet, while the law was unfairly biased towards husbands, wives could seek a divorce.
David Instone-Brewer summarises the situation in first-century CE Judaism.
Only a man could enact a divorce, but this did not mean that women could not initiate a divorce . . . The principle that divorce could be enacted only by a man was based on the law that said that a man should write out the get or “divorce certificate” (Deut. 24:1). This resulted in the principle that a man had to enter into divorce voluntarily, but a woman could be divorced against her will . . .
The Pharisees may have wanted to get into a debate with Jesus on one of their pet topics, but Jesus succinctly answered their question and took the conversation in a different direction, all the way back to creation (Matt. 19:4-6).
Jesus and Moses
A further possibility is that the Pharisees asked their question hoping that they would trick Jesus into speaking against the law of Moses, in particular, Deuteronomy 24:1, and thus discredit him. If this was their hope, they would have been disappointed as Jesus immediately quotes from Genesis in his reply. (The book of Genesis is part of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, the Pentateuch, also known as the Law of Moses.)
In Matthew 19:4-6 Jesus tells the Pharisees,
Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate (Matt. 19:4-6; cf. Gen 1:27; 2:24; 5:2).
In Genesis 2:18-25 we are given a glimpse at God’s ideal model for marriage: one man and one woman, perfectly suited to one another, joined in an intimate and exclusive, mutual and safe, life-long partnership. This is what husbands and wives should aspire to. Sadly, however, many marriages do not live up to this ideal.
When a bride and groom make their wedding vows today, they make a covenant upheld by certain promises: to love, honour, cherish, etc. But some people, even professing Christians, habitually break these promises. A few even do the opposite of love, honour, and cherish. When a spouse consistently and repeatedly breaks the wedding vows he or she has made, the marriage covenant breaks and the one-flesh union fractures, and this may lead to divorce. It is important to note that a legal divorce usually occurs long after the marriage covenant has already been broken by broken promises.
Divorce and Adultery
In his comments on divorce given to the Pharisees, Jesus specifically addressed the Pharisees’ debate on divorce (Matt. 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12). His comments were not meant to be a comprehensive statement on divorce or a comprehensive statement of all the permissible reasons for divorce. Rather, Jesus correctly interprets Deuteronomy 24:1. Furthermore, he reminds the Pharisees of the ideal in marriage and he explains that divorcing one person in order to marry another person is immoral and adulterous.
In reference to Mark 10:12 and a woman who divorces and remarries, David Bentley Hart notes,
. . . no woman, under the circumstances of that age, would have abandoned her husband for any reason other than to attach herself to another man. . . . It would have been perfectly natural, then, for the earliest Christian interpreters of the gospels to assume that Jesus was speaking specifically about a wife who leaves her husband in order to be wed to another, perhaps obliging her second husband in the process to dispose of an inconvenient prior wife of his own. Certainly it would have been assumed that the man who marries a divorced woman (Matthew 5:32; Luke 16:38) is in fact someone who has lured the woman away from her home.
“Divorce, Annulment and Communion,” Commonweal Magazine Vol. 146 (September 2019) (Source)
It is plausible, even probable, that all of Jesus’ statements about adultery, in respect to divorce and remarriage, were given in the context of someone divorcing one person with the express aim of marrying another particular person (Matt. 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18). If so, it means that someone who divorces their spouse because of betrayal or abuse, but later finds a new partner and marries, is not committing adultery.
Divorce and Our Duty of Care
Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees had the potential to protect married women. Jesus would not have wanted wives to be divorced and dumped by their husbands for no real reason. As mentioned in my previous article on divorce (here), a divorced woman could be vulnerable in Bible times.
The Bible expresses a clear mandate that we are to protect vulnerable people from injustice. A faulty understanding of Jesus’ teaching on divorce cannot be used to overturn this basic principle. We completely miss the point of Jesus’ remarks to the Pharisees, and elsewhere, if we insist a spouse remain with an abusive partner in a harmful marriage. Instead, we are to provide consolation, care, and support.
 I strongly suspect that Jesus’ words “divorces his wife and marries another” in Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18 form a hendiadys. That is to say, Jesus is speaking about divorce and marriage as two components of one course of action: divorcing one person in order to marry someone else. It is this scenario that is tantamount to adultery.
 Note 24 on Malachi 2 in the NET Bible here.
 Deuteronomy 24:1-4 “is directly concerned only with forbidding a divorced man from remarrying his former wife, and indirectly with checking hasty divorces, by demanding sufficient cause and certain legal formalities. Divorce itself is taken for granted and tolerated as an existing custom whose potential evils this law seeks to lessen . . . By New Testament times Jewish opinion differed concerning what was sufficient ground for divorce; cf. Matt. 19:3.” Footnote on Deuteronomy 24, from The New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE) here.
Philo (20 BCE-50 CE) and Josephus (37-100 CE) also commented on Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and highlighted the “any cause” clause and the fact that it was forbidden for a husband and wife to remarry if they had been previously married to each other but then divorced.
But if, proceeds the lawgiver, a woman having been divorced from her husband under any pretence whatever, and having married another, has again become a widow, whether her second husband is alive or dead, still she must not return to her former husband, but may be united to any man in the world rather than to him, having violated her former ties which she forgot, and having chosen new allurements in the place of the old ones.
Philo, Special Laws 3.5 §30
He that desires to be divorced from his wife for any cause whatsoever (and many such causes happen among men), let him in writing give assurance that he will never use her as his wife any more; for by this means she may be at liberty to marry another husband, although before this bill of divorce be given, she is not to be permitted so to do; but if she be misused by him also, or if, when he is dead, her first husband would marry her again, it shall not be lawful for her to return to him.
Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 4.8.23 §253
 The Mishnah was written around 200 CE but refers to some Jewish traditions before that time which were passed on orally.
 Hyam Maccoby, Early Rabbinic Writings, Book 3 of Cambridge Commentaries on Writings of the Jewish and Christian World 200BC to AD200 (Cambridge University Press, 1988, digital version 2008)
Mishnah Gittin 9:10 can be read online here.
 Rabbi Akiva (50-137) lived soon after Jesus’ time on earth, but his idea, that a husband could legitimately divorce his wife just to marry someone prettier, could be an echo of earlier rabbinic ideas.
 David Instone Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 85-86. Parts of this book can be read online here.
However, Jewish women who were Roman citizens could enact a divorce under Roman law. For example, Salome I (Herod the Great’s sister) and Herodias issued a writ of divorce and divorced their husbands. More on this here.
© Margaret Mowczko 2016
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The Pharisees and the Sadducees Come to Tempt Jesus, by James Tissot (1886-1894) (Wikimedia)
Hyperbole and Divorce in the Sermon of the Mount (Matt. 5:31-32)
God on Divorce (Malachi 2:16)
Malachi 2:16 and the Priest who Divorced his Wife
Paul’s Words on Divorce, and Leaving an Abusive Marriage
A Note on Divorce Terminology in the Bible
All my articles on divorce are here.
Various articles on Genesis are here.
34 thoughts on “Jesus on Divorce, Remarriage and Adultery”
Powerful explanation here, Marg, and one which echoes the heart of God. It is so tragic that very often the legalistic and ignorant reading of the English translation with no desire to study the original manuscripts, so often leads to the very opposite of God’s intention.
God’s heart is to protect people, especially women who, as you have shown here, have been victims of society, being discarded at will by husbands who no longer care for them and prefer a newer model. If people would take the time to read beyond the English translation and into the heart of the society at the time of writing, they would get a wider view of God’s word. Mercy is a huge issue in the church, and one which so often goes by the board in favour of legalism and judgement.
Notwithstanding ‘the exception clause’ in 5:32 & 19:9 Matthew upholds the entire New Testament (and OT) truth that there is NO excuse for divorce. Forgive..70×7. IF we do separate, we are called to remain in covenant for life. That means remain single, unmarried, celibate, chaste, pure, and holy. The only alternative is to be reconciled by God’s leading: “..remain unmarried, or be reconciled” 1Cor 7:11. If it is inevitable that we are to remain single for life, He WILL supply the grace (ability) to do His will, only IF we consent to it. This is a ‘major Cross’. WE MUST NOT walk around the Cross. WE MUST pick it up; if Jesus is truly LORD of our life!
The “case-study” of the law on divorce and re-‘marriage’ in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 has nothing to do with the discussion here on reconciliation, nor the debate by the Pharisees. But notice there, who divorces who and who might attempt to take who back. Also, why was this particular wife who was ‘hypothetically’ found unclean by the first and second husband, not stoned to death? What did they find unclean about her? Why was it an abomination to God only (read it) for the first husband to take her back? Well, this man first let her go by law, because he found, before attempting to consummate the marriage that his betrothed wife was pregnant – she was not a virgin (as Joseph found with Mary). She may have been previously innocently ‘taken by force’ and not have been stoned to death by law, in this scenario. Do read Deut 22:25-27. She was then, by law, able to remarry because she did not become a covenant wife to her first husband who did not consummate the marriage. Note also, he only found “no favour” with her because he did not defile himself through attempting consummation. Note, the second husband though, “detests” her because he defiles himself through attempting to consummate a marriage to a defiled woman evidenced by finding no blood on the bedsheets [Deut 22:17]. She also becomes defiled again through her second betrothed ‘husband’ who did not want her either for the same reason as the first husband! – she was not a virgin. Yet she was innocent of her lost virginity on both accounts (the ‘taking by force’ and the second husband), therefore she was NOT an adulteress. THAT IS WHY she was not stoned to death! But it appears, she did not admit to either ‘husband’ of her lost virginity. She was at fault here. Today this constitutes fraud and THAT IS WHY the two husbands could annul the betrothals [Matt 5:32 and 19:9 again!]. Even if this second husband died, she was now not pure on two accounts but innocent, so by law anyone else could marry her if they knew of and accepted her defilement. BUT for the first husband to take her back, this would be hypocritical when you consider WHY he apparently divorced her in the first place! God detests hypocrites. They are an abomination to Him. Read the passage again in this ‘light’. Remember this is Old Testament. Justice and law ruled. Not New Testament mercy, grace and love. Jesus Christ had yet to die at Calvary for that to function. So today we forgive 70×7!
[Marg, I have a paper on this subject which deals with this important subject (viz, Eph 5:31,32) comprehensively. I can send it to you if you wish – Robin]
I edited out your opening line. If you want to be taken seriously, don’t be condescending.
If a couple have made the decision to permanently live apart, there is no longer a marriage as Jesus or Genesis 2:24 describe it.
~ There is no cleaving (joining). Rather, there is a separation.
~ There is no one-flesh union. There are just two individuals who once shared such a union.
The decision to permanently live apart effectively breaks or nullifies the marriage covenant. (How can you love, honour and cherish someone you may rarely meet?)
Where does the Bible say anything like, “IF we do separate, we are called to remain in covenant for life”?
The explanation of Deuteronomy 24:1 in endnote 2 of the article makes much more sense to me than your suggestion.
I assume that you make your arguments with the best of intentions and with an open mind and heart. I would appreciate the same courtesy.
In response to my previous post on divorce, I’ve had several people share with me a pdf of their papers. These people include David Instone-Brewer (Senior Research Fellow in Rabbinics and the New Testament at Tyndale House, Cambridge) and Hebrew scholar Martin Shields. (Both agree with the premise of my previous post.) You are welcome to submit a paper also (preferably via facebook).
Thanks for this brief article. Very courageous of you Marg. Particularly applaud you for dealing with the abuse issues that are at pandemic levels in our country. I have been researching this topic for sometime and working towards my own paper, like too many others I also have been deeply touched by this issue in many ways.
I am sure you are right about the context of Mathew 19. That said, I think the primary context (as you note above) is a response by Jesus to an attack by the pharisees regarding an internecine issue within first century Judaism. He responds using typical hyperbolic expressions. I suspect that maybe the content of this passage has far less to say directly to say to the post-resurrection audience about marriage than is often posited. In any case I think the teaching here has been pushed beyond its reasonable application due to its subject matter rather than its exegetical features. For example, many of the “church fathers” adapted the no remarriage idea it appears at first glance (without considering its context) but extended its meaning to fit there own ascetic views to include no remarriage after the death of a spouse (something most acknowledge that Scripture never taught).
I suspect the issue some who are objecting to your position here are not prepared to limit or concede that marriage is a volitional commitment (covenant). Rather, I suspect they see marriage as an [mystical / spiritual] ontological union (and maybe also a covenant) formed by sexual union (argued from, for example, Gen 2:24 and 1 Cor 6:21-22). Such an approach becomes rather focused on the physical union part (sex) and I have heard taught in many different Christian circles.
My current thoughts are that yes, marriage is a spiritual union but one formed by covenant and not intercourse. I would be interested your thoughts on this.
By the way, I was also glad to see your making this clear point which speaks to our Australian context: “legal divorce usually occurs long after the marriage covenant has already been broken.”
I could say a lot more, but maybe just one thing. May God bless you and strengthen you in His love and grace in this ministry He has given you.
I haven’t thought much about divorce, and my approach in the last two posts has been mostly philological, with a little bit of ethics and logic thrown in.
I strongly suspect that Jesus’ words about divorce and marriage in Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18 form a hendiadys. That is to say, Jesus is speaking about divorce and marriage as two components of one course of action: divorcing one person in order to marry someone else. It is this scenario which is tantamount to adultery.
The wording is a little different in Matthew’s gospel. Craig Keener suspects, like you, that hyperbole is being used in Matthew 5:31-32, as it is in preceding verses. (Most people recognise the hyperbole in Matthew 5:21-22 and 27-30, but not in 5:31-32.)
(More on this here: https://margmowczko.com/hyperbole-divorce-sermon-on-the-mount-matthew-5/ )
I appreciate your thoughts about a volitional commitment versus a spiritual union. The way I see it is that a covenant no longer exists when one person breaks the covenant and walks away from the marriage. The spiritual (sexual) union also ceases to exist when one person chooses to have a sexual relationship with someone else, and no longer with their original spouse.
It seems to me that some (too many?) Christians interpret Bible verses so narrowly and rigidly that they fail to use simple common sense when applying biblical principles. There’s a lot to be said for the simple virtues of common sense and kindness.
I appreciate your blessing very much.
Hendiadys – interesting idea – any evidence of references to support this supposition? I would agree that in Matthew, Hebraic idioms and thoughts are common.That said, I would appreciate some enlightenment here.
I do not think it is just about common sense or rigidity. Traditions have influenced pulpits, bible translations and published materials. Especially as these ideas have, until very recent times, been mainstream in our society.
I suspect (still working through this complex issue) that you are over simplifying the nature of the marriage covenant within the radical context that the NT frames it (namely. Central to this I would think would be the idea that love (grace/forgiveness) is a key component – as I understand it this was a counter-cultural idea in biblical times. Indeed, for example, Hosea illustrated such in his own life.
While I do not disagree with your basic assertion, that if one walks away or breaches the marriage agreement. Such breaches I would consider would be:
1. Genuine abandonment, as Curtis mentioned above as in his case, sadly this is usually accompanied by the adultery. Fine line here in that marriage is a serious covenant made before God. We don’t make many of these in life (or at least we shouldn’t). If you accept Jesus as your Lord, then his Lordship would have you do all you can to preserve and sometime reclaim your marriage. In my view this is between that person and God – not a matter of church ruling. I feel sorry for many like Curtis who, on the other hand, have concluded that God want them to remain single for the rest of their days (it is not good for a man to be alone) as punishment (ok – maybe this is a heavy term) for there partner sinning against them and God.
2. Adultery. While the RCs would deny this as a grounds, early Protestants had no problem with this. In any case, as I suggest above, the offended party can forgive (given the other party does repent).
3. Abuse – same caveat as 2. Trouble here is if you are dealing with a psychopath or pathological liar how can trust be re-established? Marriage is more than an agreement/contract/covenant. Mostly I have seen that domestic violence ends marriage even if the fiction continues. See Barbara Robert’s comments above – she is an expert in this area.
You’re quite right. I am approaching this simplistically. As I said before, my approach to the subject of divorce is philological . . . and accidental. I had no intention of writing about divorce. I came across the discrepancy between the Hebrew and traditional English translations of Malachi 2:16 without looking for it. And then I remembered reading Luke 16:18a a while ago, in the Greek, thinking it was a hendiadys. There are many hendiadyses in the Greek New Testament and Luke 16:18a looks like a textbook example to me.
In using my simplistic approach, I mean no disrespect to the Christians who are agonizing and wrestling with the issue of divorce and remarriage for themselves.
There is so much false teaching about marriage and divorce and the result is believers are put in bondage. One question is how to reconcile the apparent contradictions in Mat 5 & 19, Mark 10, Luke 16, and 1 Cor 7. One challenge is that the second best way to try to understand the relevant passages as a coherent whole is very restrictive; however, seeing that it as not the best way takes some discussion and can also fly in the face of the ways some have been taught to understand Scripture. Another aspect is that the idea of covenant has been complexified and distorted. Another aspect is that Jesus is often seen as anti-Torah or at least free from Torah (being God), which actually he followed Torah as a 1st century Jew.
A covenant between 2 people is a contract with emotional content. It is established by a vow or vows that are the stipulations of the covenant, if only one party makes vows, then it is called a promise, but most covenants have both parties making vows. A covenant is ended either by death of one of the parties or termination of the covenant. A covenant should not be terminated for any reason, but for violation of vows and even then it is optional, not required. All this is true for any covenant, not just a marriage covenant.
A marriage covenant is intended to be for life, a temporary marriage is not according to Scripture, but is allowed in other religions, such as Islam. This is often reflected in words like “until death do us part” or similar.
When one party violates a vow, this is called breaking the covenant. Of course there can be a goal of restoration so the covenant remains in effect in general, but if there is not, then the covenant can be terminated; for marriage, this is called a divorce. The main purpose of a divorce is to clarify that the former marriage vows are now terminated in full, this means the parties may marry another and the first spouse has no claim on them, this is in contrast to other ANE cultures.
The Pharisees derived many rules in their so-called Oral Torah that extended the rules found in Torah. In Matt 19 Jesus corrected 7 of the misinterpretations of the Pharisees, including the one about Hillel’s “Any Matter” divorce.
We need to look correctly at the word of God by studying scripture accurately and not putting our thoughts in what the text does not say. This confusion of what people say about divorce and remarriage begin with the reformers. They were influenced by Erasmus, the father of humanism. Erasmus injected the exemption clause found in Matthew 19:9 one Greek word “el” Jesus Christ never said to divorce if you did and remarried. In the Greek, it says you are living in a constant of adultery. Yes, people have martial problems, the apostle Paul said, if you separate, not telling people to do but not to divorce four times. If you divorce, two options, either reconcile or stay single. God is very clear on this topic. To say you can divorce and remarry by twisting God word, is the worst sin of all.
Ken, there are some dodgy statements and exaggerations in your comment.
In Roman times, the customs and laws of marriage were very different to the customs in modern western society. Typically, separating was synonymous with divorce.
Many marriages in Rome, and in Roman colonies such as Corinth and Philippi, weren’t even legal marriages, as only marriages of a Roman citizen to another Roman citizen of comparable status were legal.
Marriage “ceremonies”, whether legal or not, could be as simple as a couple privately agreeing to live as man and wife. No legal services or legal documents were required unless there was a dowry. Divorce was equally simple, and it was common among high-status Roman citizens.
No doubt the local customs in Judea and Galilee differed in some ways to marriage customs in other parts of the Roman Empire, but there’s no reason to think they upheld laws and customs about marriage and divorce spoken about in the Old Testament. Judea and Galilee were Roman provinces. They were allowed to follow their own laws up to a point, but Romans citizens within these provinces could abide by Roman laws, and Antipas, a client king, was answerable to Rome.
As for the Greek word “el”, I think you mean ει. This word is usually transliterated as ei, and is pronounced “ay” or “ee”. It is an extremely common word and simply means “if”. When it occurs with μη, however, as it does in a few manuscripts of Matthew 19:9 (i.e., ει μη) it usually means “except”. As you say (rather poorly) ει is absent in the better and the older Greek manuscripts.
However, the older and better manuscripts still contain an exemption clause, even though they do not contain the word ει:
μη επι πορνεια, in the SBL Greek New Testament
ει μη επι πορνεια, in the Stephanus 1550 Greek New Testament
As for looking at the word of God correctly, I assure you that I take the word of God seriously and strenuously avoid putting my own thoughts into what the biblical texts say. I might say the same thing about you; however, I will be kinder and acknowledge that people interpret these verses differently without being disingenuous or committing “the worst sin of all.”
I’ve enjoyed reading your blog post “Jesus on Divorce, Remarriage and Adultery” (May 24, 2016). In it, you state:
“The example of Herod Antipas and Herodias could well be the context for Jesus’ teaching on divorce which can be paraphrased as: “You must not divorce your spouse so that you can marry someone else, as that is tantamount to adultery” (cf. Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18; Matt. 19:9).”
“It is plausible, even probable, that all of Jesus’ statements about adultery, in respect to divorce and remarriage, were given in the context of someone divorcing one person with the express aim of marrying another particular person (Matt. 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18). If so, it means that someone who divorces their spouse because of betrayal or abuse, but later finds a new partner and marries, is not committing adultery.”
I agree with you, as does David Bivin in ““And” or “In order to” Remarry” (https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/2756/, Jerusalem Perspective, publication of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research, Jan 01, 1996), however many scholars cannot get past the claim that the Greek kai in Luke 16.18 does not involve consequences. I believe that kai was simply a less-than-contextual literal translation of the Hebrew vav (which in Gen 42.18: זאת עשׂו וחיו, “do this and you shall live” = “do this [then you shall/in order to] live” does involve consequence). Have you found any other biblical instances where vav was translated into Greek with a consequential meaning?
My interest in this is not about marriage and divorce per se, rather than determining with some degree of certainty that Jesus’ statement was a reiteration of John’s earlier statements about Antipas and Herodias, and when they were made. I believe if we could determine when Antipas divorced the King Aretas IV’s daughter we could go a long way in dating the beginning of or at least find a terminus a quo with general scholarly consensus for John’s and Jesus’ ministries.
I’m puzzled why the short article you linked to would cite The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary to help explain the parameters of meaning of the Greek word kai. The article doesn’t begin to explain the uses and nuances of kai.
I’m unable to answer your question about vav, and I’m not sure how relevant it is.
My suggestion is that Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18, in particular, contain a hendiadys: “divorces his wife and marries another”. I do not claim that kai carries the sense of purpose or intention or consequences. Rather, kai joins the two actions together, making them, in a way, one action or one episode. My paraphrase is not to be taken as a literal translation, but I want to show that both actions have the one objective. (Also, kai can be used to add epexegetical information.)
I take Bivins to mean that they divorced their spouses and married each other as joined actions with the marriage depending on their prior divorces. Is this what you intend? I’m working on contextualizing all chronological references in the Gospel of Luke. My notes so far on Luke 3.19-20 and 16.18 are as follows. If you have any suggestions for making them more accurate, especially but not limited to kai/vav, please let me know.
Herod Antipas was first married to an unnamed daughter of Nabataean King Aretas IV Philopatris (formerly known as Aenaeas, king ca 9 BCE, died ca 40 CE) in ca 10-9 BCE — N. Kokkinos (The Herodian dynasty: Origins, role in society and eclipse. Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha, Supplements, 30. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998) deduces the daughter’s name by process of elimination as Phasaelis and that they were married ca 7/6 CE — in an attempt to settle the long-running conflict between Herod I and Obodas III which their successors Antipas and Aretas IV continued. Antipas divorced Aretas’ daughter in ca 27 CE per J. Starcky (The Nabateans: A historical sketch. The Biblical Archaeologist, 18(4), 1955), however Encyclopedia Judaica (2007) states 31 CE, in order to marry Herodias, which event is the background for Luke 3.19. Herodias (ca 15 BCE-39+ CE) first married her uncle Herod II [Philip?] (brother of Antipas, b. ca 27 BCE, d. ca. 33 CE), whom she had to divorce in order to incestuously marry (she had a child, Salome, by Herod II, in addition to him still being alive) Antipas. Antiquities 18.5.4 (Whiston trans.) states that “Herodias took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorced herself from her husband while he was alive, and was married to Herod Antipas.” Agrippa I left Rome destitute ca 24-25 CE after the death of Drusus (son of Tiberias) in the fall of 23 CE, and sometime (shortly?) thereafter sought assistance from the already married Antipas and Herodias (per R. S. Kraemer’s (Implicating Herodias and her daughter in the death of John the Baptizer: A (Christian) theological strategy? Journal of Biblical Literature, 125(2), 2006) speculation; stated per Ant. 18.145-160).
Antiquities 11.118 states that Antipas arrested John because “he feared his great persuasiveness with the people might lead to some kind of strife.” R. L. Webb (Jesus’ baptism: Its historicity, and implications. Bulletin for Biblical Research, 10(2), 2000) confirms that, theorizing that John’s popularity and activities in the lower Jordan valley in Peraea were too close to Nabataea for Antipas’ comfort. Aretas resumed hostilities with Antipas ca 37 CE, perhaps just after the death of Tiberius, as a result of this incident.
In Luke 16.18, Jesus restates John’s admonition (Mark 6.17-18 and Matt. 14.3-4) to Antipas: “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.” Bivin (2003) states that “and marries” here would be better translated as “in order to marry,” perhaps pointing to Mark 6.17-18 and Matt. 14.3-4 being adultery charges leveled at Antipas and Herodias by John. It should also be noted that earlier Archelaus divorced his wife Mariamne in order to marry Glaphyra, daughter of King Archelaus of Cappadocia. Glaphyra was first the widow of Herod I’s son Alexander and then married King Juba II of Numidia and Mauretania. She divorced him in order to incestuously marry (she had children by her first husband Alexander) Archelaus. I speculate that Antipas would not have been happy with John or Jesus comparing him to his brother Archelaus in any way, especially negatively so.
Yes, a joint action. We have come to the same conclusion. Mine doesn’t rely on the Hebrew word vav, though. It relies on the hendiadys.
Divorce, with the express aim of marrying a different spouse with more advantageous prospects, politically, was common-place in the first century, especially among the elite.
Here are the assumptions of the “simple interpreter” as I see it:
1) The books of Scripture are inspired by God and God is not trying to trick us.
2) God can do anything and Jesus is God, therefore what Jesus says trumps all other Scripture.
3) God speaks the truth and Jesus is God; therefore every statement by Jesus is a simple truth.
When using the above paradigm, Jesus in Mat 19:9 says, “I tell you that whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” This seems like an atomic truth statement with no possibility of quibbling. Inside the above paradigm, to even try to discuss it beyond what it seems to say in a straightforward way is suspicious. Thus accusations of “You are trying to change the clear meaning of the word of God!”
The challenge is to try to show such a simple interpreter that there are some wrong underlying assumptions in their paradigm. So here are my short attempts to do that.
1) It is true that God is not trying to trick us, but Scripture was written FOR us, not TO us. There is a wide gap in time, space, and culture between Scripture when originally written and us today. We need to try to do our best to bridge that gap.
2) Perhaps surprisingly, there are some things that God, as revealed in Scripture, cannot do. God keeps God’s covenants and never breaks any vows associated with them. Furthermore, Jesus points out that there are many Scriptures that point to him and that he fulfills. And even further, Jesus’s teaching must conform to the Tanakh/OT, otherwise, it would be sin according to that same Tanakh and Jesus was without sin.
3) Jesus does correctly interpret Scripture, but then we need to correctly interpret what Jesus said to see why this is the case. In the specific case of Mat 19:9, taking that verse out of the immediate context damages and alters the meaning when taken in context. In order to see that however, one needs to see the differences between what Hillel and Shammai taught on the subject and how Jesus is repudiating Hillel’s interpretation of (what we now call) Deu 24:1. I agree that this takes some study.
For the similar verses in the gospels to Mat 19:9, I interpret them along the same lines as I interpret Mat 19:9, that Jesus is repudiating Hillel’s interpretation of an “Any Matter” divorce and saying such a divorce is invalid in very strong terms (that any subsequent remarriage after such an invalid divorce is adulterous as the couple is still married. These verses are found in Mat 5, Mark 10 and Luke 16. This is my preferred alternative to the hendiadys possibility, although I do agree it is also possible.
A note on the Greek language used for divorce in the Septuagint (LXX) and the New Testament.
Exapostellō is typically used in the LXX (Greek Old Testament) for divorce and it literally means “send away” (e.g., Deut 24:1; Isa 50:1; Jer 3:8; Mal 2:16). Exapostellō, however, is not used in the NT to mean divorce. Language about divorce may have changed during the 300 odd years between the translation of Deuteronomy in the LXX to the writing of the Gospels.
The verb apoluō has a range of meanings. It means “release” or perhaps “dismiss.” “Send away” is not a precise meaning, though it may have this sense in the Gospels, idiomatically, in relation to divorce.
Biblion apostasiou (“certificate of divorce”) occurs in both the LXX and NT. In the NT it occurs twice, both times with the verb apoluō (“divorce”): see Mark 10:4 and Matthew 19:7-9. Apostasion, which also refers to a certificate of divorce, is used with apoluō in Matthew 5:31. Apoluō also occurs, as a participle, in Matthew 5:32 (cf. Matt 19:9).
In all, apoluō occurs, in various forms, three times in Matthew 5:31-32, fives times in Matthew 19:3-9, four times in Mark 10:2-12, twice in Luke 16:18, all with the sense of “divorce.” It also occurs in Matthew 1:19 where Joseph plans to break off his betrothal to Mary.
Apostasion/apostasiou which means “certificate of divorce” and apoluō are the only Greek words used for “divorce” in the Jewish setting of Gospels. Chōrízō is used in Matthew 19:6 and Mark 10:9 and means “separate.”
Paul, on the other hand, writing to the church in Roman Corinth uses the word chōrízō (“separate”) in 1 Corinthians 7:10 & 11 for a Christian wife who separates from her Christian husband, and in 1 Corinthians 7:15 (X2) for an unbeliever who separates from their Christian spouse.
Paul uses the word aphiēmi (“leave” or “send away”) in 1 Corinthians 7:11 for a Christian husband who must not leave or send away (i.e. divorce) his (separated?) Christian wife. He uses the same word, aphiēmi, in 1 Corinthians 7:12 for a Christian husband who must not leave or send away his non-Christian wife if she is willing to stay, and in 1 Corinthians 7:13 for a Christian wife who must not leave or send away her non-Christian husband if he is willing to stay.
I’ve heard many people claim that apoluō doesn’t mean divorce, but the actual evidence in the Gospels does not support the claim.
Jewish Divorce Customs in the First Century
Many of the laws found in Deuteronomy were not followed in Jesus’ day, or not followed to the letter. And some Jews chose to marry and divorce according to Roman rules rather than local customs. Divorce was easy for men and for women according to Roman regulations.
We need to understand what was happening in Roman-occupied, first-century Judea and Galilee to understand Jesus’ teaching. We need to understand the concerns of the day. Deuteronomy gives us next to no information of the world Jesus lived in.
Later rabbinic teaching may, likewise, have no bearing on Jesus’ words on divorce. But we should pay attention to the debates, including the rabbinic debates, current in Jesus’ time.
Wow, what a fascinating and helpful read, Marg. You are so insightful. Thank you for taking so much time to unpack scriptures and seek out their meaning while giving cultural context. I am currently going through a divorce and would very much like to be married again. I want a marriage where I can truly love and be loved and not feel like I am never enough or constantly criticised. I have painfully sought to understand the scriptures and your post and comments have helped a lot. Bless you, sister!
Divorce is hard and painful. I wish you healing and peace as you seek to follow God’s will.
The family unit is a principle Christ supports, and expects us also to support (see Malachi 2:15-16). A common mistake many professed Christians make, is to try and impose biblical principles to the world, rather than being the light of the world by way of example. At this time, both men and women are under attack by external worldly influences, who’s ultimate aim is to destroy the family unit. Replacing Christ as the head of the family, with a godless state. That is most defiantly not what Christ was requesting. Too see the folly of this approach simply consider, John 15:8 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” As to family’s with verified systemic domestic violence, they have already demonstrated they are not following Christs directions, and need to go back to first principles (love one and other as self, love your enemy, turn the other cheek, put Christ before all else… etc), as previously stated, if you live by Christs standards it is impossible to commit violence against another. Grace covers much, but does not cover continual and unending abuse.
Consider following Christs example.
I agree, Martin, that it is not possible to commit violence against another family member if we are following Jesus and his standards. The problem is that many people are not following Jesus and are not becoming more like him.
I also agree that families are important. This is not under debate. However, I don’t recall Jesus ever teaching on families or family life except to say that some will leave their family for the sake of the kingdom, and others will be forsaken by their families because of the kingdom.
For example, Jesus said, “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:35-37).
Have I forgotten a passage where Jesus speaks or teaches more positively about families?
Jesus also says little about marriage, but he does say this: “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’” (Mark 10:6-7).
Please keep any further comments more directly on topic. The topic of this blog post is the context, or backstory, to Jesus’ words on divorce given to some first-century Pharisees, as well as the hendiadys idea.
Although I’m not sure I agree with your conclusions, I’m certainly not arguing against the possible validity of this interpretation. But I do think the practical application of this is difficult. Specifically, when are the difficulties in a marriage abusive, to the level of breaking the covenant completely, and when are they in the spectrum of normal marriage difficulties (which can include some very hard and hurtful experiences)?
You stated that, “God’s ideal model for marriage: one man and one woman, perfectly suited to one another, joined in an intimate and exclusive, mutual and safe, life-long partnership. …many marriages do not live up to this ideal.” The truth is NO marriage lives up to this “ideal”. We are all too human for that. Some marriages certainly do much better than others but, similar to our relationship with God, we all “sin” against our spouses routinely by not living up to the vows we took. Sometimes these infractions seem small but they are all in violation to these vows. Good people in good marriages hurt one another at times. Jesus certainly wasn’t giving justification for divorce when or if this “ideal” isn’t met or all marriages would have reason to break. Grace does have a place in marriage and between spouses to cover our being human. Consequently, I believe your statement “When a spouse consistently and repeatedly breaks the wedding vows he or she has made, the marriage covenant breaks.” deserves much more context and guidance in light of this.
Even though I am certain you don’t intend your words to be used in this way (I know you are actually trying to help people who are hurting very much), many could read your post as justification to get out of a non-ideal “human” marriage. I know that a valid response to that would be to say that they shouldn’t take your words out of context. But using such words, even if valid, with such an important subject (I cant think of many more important things to protect than a family) comes with a huge responsibility, especially when broadcast to so many people on the internet without any accompanied “face-to face” counsel. Because of this, I think it’s important to also include some guidance to those who are potentially contemplating applying your thoughts to their situation in order to protect vulnerable families where a divorce is not needed or the best choice.
This would include letting those persons know that “abuse” is not necessarily the same thing as “marriage difficulties” which in varying degrees is normal but should be dealt with. That they need to seek personal/qualified help if they are contemplating these words as a potential justification for divorce so that they can determine if what they are dealing with is chronic abuse that rises to a level where separation or divorce becomes reasonable or if they are in a dynamic with more hope. Seeking this kind of counsel would also help them look inward to determine how much of the negative dynamic they are experiencing might be from their own contributions and therefore possibly within their control to improve.
Unfortunately, I am writing these words from a place of direct experience. I want to help other families not suffer the same fate as mine has while at the same time also helping those who you are trying to help. I hope what I’ve written might help accomplish that.
Only the spouses in a marriage know the details of their marriage, and only each person knows their own breaking point. If people are going to divorce for a trivial reason, you cannot really stop them, they are abandoning their spouse and their former spouse should accept it and move on, per Paul.
I do recommend going to see a pastor as an individual and as a couple and I do recommend going to see a counselor with degrees as an individual and as a couple, as a person is willing to do this, but if someone sees no value to it, it is just a way to waste money. Repentance includes the desire for change and being willing to take steps toward change.
I think trying to figure out some finely drawn demarcation line for another to figure out when a divorce is problematic is problematic in itself. One can encourage another to try again, set good boundaries with consequences and yet at some point, someone can say enough and this decision should be accepted also.
I agree, Don.
I also agree, Bruce, that not many marriages are ideal, simply because we have flaws. However, I stand by my statement: “In Genesis 2:18-25 we are given a glimpse at God’s ideal model for marriage: one man and one woman, perfectly suited to one another, joined in an intimate and exclusive, mutual and safe, life-long partnership. This is what husbands and wives should aspire to. Sadly, however, many marriages do not live up to this ideal.”
Nowhere do I say that divorce is an appropriate response to a marriage that is not ideal. Rather, in the paragraph above I have put forward how (I think) the Bible portrays an ideal marriage in Genesis 2.
I also stand behind this paragraph:
“When a bride and groom make their wedding vows today, they make a covenant upheld by certain promises: to love, honour, cherish, etc. But some people, even professing Christians, habitually break these promises. A few even do the opposite of love, honour, and cherish. When a spouse consistently and repeatedly breaks the wedding vows he or she has made, the marriage covenant breaks and the one-flesh union fractures, and this may lead to divorce. It is important to note that a legal divorce usually occurs long after the marriage covenant has already been broken by broken promises.” (Italics added)
I think the statements in this paragraph are true.
Perhaps you are missing the purpose of the article. It is to comment on Jesus’ teaching on divorce; it is not to provide justification one way or the other about getting a divorce.
I’ve reread the article, and I think my statements are carefully worded and are fine. But I do appreciate your concern, Bruce. 🙂
“As mentioned in my previous article on divorce, a divorced woman could be vulnerable in Bible times”…
Can you please link to that previous article within the text? Many if us aren’t reading your blog chronologically. 🙂
Hi Christie, I’ve just now added a link in the article. 🙂
And here it is as well: https://margmowczko.com/divorce-malachi-2/
Thank you for taking the time to study these topics in depth and explain them so succinctly. There are countless people in the church who are unknowingly being hurt by a faulty theology of marriage /divorce held by pastors and congregations. Your work brings peace and healing to souls who desperately need it.
Thank you for your view here.
Could you please clarify who would be able to remarry and what verses support God’s blessing to do so?
I am the wife who was abandoned and divorced for the neighbours wife many years ago. I would like to marry another now, yet have found nothing but doctrine to support remarriage is adultery…
I would like peace and my life to glorify God.
Hi Tan, the Bible doesn’t cover every scenario. The few Bible verses that mention divorce were given in response to particular concerns. They are not general teaching on God’s overall views on divorce.
The ideas that Christians have read into the verses that mention divorce are skewed. They are not quite right. They usually fail to understand the circumstances behind the verses and the reasons for them. One of the circumstances behind Jesus’s words was men divorcing their wives (putting them at risk) with the express purpose of marrying another particular woman straight away, a particular woman they have had their eyes on while they were still married.
You did not do this, Tan. From what you’ve told me, you didn’t divorce your husband just so you could marry someone on the scene that you liked better. So Jesus’s words do not strictly apply to you or your situation. None of the Bible verses that mention divorce and remarriage strictly apply to your situation.
I’m sorry that your marriage is over. That would have been very painful. But since the marriage is over, I believe you are free to remarry as long as (according to Paul) it is “in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39). You are no longer bound. See 1 Corinthians 7:15
Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any Bible verse that says of any marriage that it has (or had) God’s blessing. However, it would have been highly unusual for a divorced woman in Bible times not to remarry. Most women in Bible times (but not all) depended on financial support and shelter from the men in their families: first their father, then their husbands, and if they outlived both, their sons. (The widow of Nain had outlived all the men in her family which made her situation dire.)
Also, divorce and remarriage in the first-century Jewish world, in Jesus’s world, was much less controversial than what many churches have turned it into!
I truly wish you well as you seek to do the right thing. I appreciate your heart. We are called to peace and to glorify God. I truly hope you achieve these things and have said a prayer for you.
If a spouse abandons you, consider that the following verse may apply: ISV 1Co 7:15 But if the unbelieving partner leaves, let him go. In such cases the brother or sister is not under obligation. God has called you to live in peace.
The idea so that this may be seen as applicable in more cases is that one can be “unbelieving” in 2 ways, (1) just not accept Jesus as Messiah and Lord and (2) give mental assent to the idea, but not obey Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Also, the “obligation” part is actually “no longer in bondage” that is, the bonds are marriage are severed in a divorce and it is certainly the case that the abandoning spouse is the direct cause of it.
Your ASSUMPTIONS about divorce and remarriage are diabolical.
“It is plausible, even probable, that all of Jesus’ statements about adultery, in respect to divorce and remarriage, were given in the context of someone divorcing one person with the express aim of marrying another particular person (Matt. 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18). If so, it means that someone who divorces their spouse because of betrayal or abuse, but later finds a new partner and marries, is not committing adultery.”
None of this is ABSOLUTELY BIBLICAL. It is rather suggestive, YOUR SUGGESTION, to be particular, so you are writing your own doctrine here. And this is the guidance you are giving to people?
Please stick to what the bible really says, and save yourself from God’s wrath for misleading His sheep.
But is it unbiblical, Simeon? Or is it what the Greek text actually says? The hendiadys idea is worth considering.
Also, I have framed my words carefully. I’m not making strong, definite statements. I’m having a discussion. It’s shame you have not followed my tone, but bellowed and vented using overblown, emotional, and ugly language, in response.
I value constructive critiques, but my website is not the place for you to vent. So goodbye, Simeon. If you calm down, perhaps have another look at the article. I might actually be offering accurate biblical and historical information.
Some cultures don’t change much. There are some cultures today that have strong similarities with cultures from 2000 years ago. And cultures changed more slowly in the past.
Western culture has changed enormously in the past 100 years, and especially in the past 50 years. This rate of change is unprecedented. Many of our values 100 years ago, and even 50 years ago, were very different from our values today.
However, the laws in Bible times did change. The Jewish laws in Jesus’s day, or the way Moses’s laws were implemented in the first century, was different from how the laws and their implementation in the Bronze Age. Jesus himself put a different spin on them. As one example, Jesus lets a woman who committed adultery walk free (John 8:11).
Laws should reflect the customs and values of the culture of the people the laws are written for!
As I said above, Jesus makes no allowance for polygamy. There is nothing in the New Testament that says polygamy is fine or acceptable.
A one-flesh union is an exclusive relationship of two people. A wife cannot have a one-flesh union with a man who is having sex with other people. “One flesh” doesn’t stop as soon as sex is over.
Further, all instructions, guidelines, and regulations in the Bible need to be implemented with kindness and commonsense.
The laws in the Hebrew Bible regulated against the worse excesses of practices such as polygamy, slavery, and warfare, etc.
These laws were also realistic. Abolishing these things altogether wasn’t going to work at a time when simply surviving was difficult. Polygamy and slavery sometimes saved lives, and the Israelites frequently had to defend themselves against enemy armies and raiding parties.
Leviticus 20:14 warns about taking polygamy too far. The relationship described in Leviticus 20:14 is almost incestuous.
And Genesis 20:6 is not about polygamy so much as adultery. Sarah was a married woman. Men didn’t take married women as wives, whether it was their first or tenth. Even the non-Israelite king Abimelek recognised that it was wrong to take a married woman as a wife (Gen. 20:3ff).
There are no laws about polyandry precisely because it was not a practice among the Israelites. (Speculations are unhelpful.)
I see it as a no-brainer. Polygamy is far from God’s ideal. It was a part of a few marriages in ancient Israel, especially among the elite, and occasionally out of necessity. And polygamy was rare in New Testament times.