In this article we will pay close attention to the argument put forth by those who believe that the Bible allows for divorce and remarriage. Our emphasis is upon their Biblical reasoning. We will not deal with many of the emotional arguments involved in divorce and the sad consequence it brings upon an individual who has to either live alone or raise the family alone. These are indeed difficult experiences and we will have something to say about this later. For now our interest is in what the Word of God teaches. Are the arguments put forth by those who advocate divorce and remarriage true to the Word of God?
Rather than put words into the mouths of those who teach that divorce allows for remarriage, we will let them speak for themselves. In fairness to this position, we will pay attention to Rev. Guy Duty who expresses his views in his book, Divorce and Remarriage. According to the cover insert, he was “ordained in 1931 and has continued his pastoral and teaching work in Virginia, etc.” There is no indication of church affiliation. This work is published by the Bethany Fellowship Inc. of Minneapolis, Minn. We admire this work, because it deals with an exegetical study on this subject. Attempting to decide issues on the basis of the Word of God is all too rare today. This work is the best attempt to do this that we have read, even though we will criticize much of it in a later article.
Rev. Duty defends the position that Scripture teaches that adultery is grounds for the dissolution of marriage through divorce and that the parties are free to remarry afterwards. This, to say the least, is a conservative position; many in the church today want divorce and remarriage for all kinds of reasons.
MOSES’ DIVORCE LAW
Any discussion of divorce soon leads to Deut. 24:1-4. Look this up in your Bible. This text deals with the Mosaic law as it applied to the remarriage of husband and wife who were divorced and subsequently had remarried someone else. Often just verses 1 and 2 are quoted, and then one gets the distorted view that Duty has. Listen.
All a Jew had to do to divorce his wife was to give her the divorce bill in the presence of two witnesses. The marriage was then legally dissolved and both parties were free to remarry. This “writing of divorcement” is recorded in
Rev. Duty explains the “uncleanness” which gave rise to the divorce as anything which aggravated the husband.
Some argue that this “uncleanness” was immorality, but this could not be true because the unfaithful Jewess was stoned to death. When the Jewish theologians brought the divorce dispute to Jesus, they argued from this Deuteronomic law that divorce was allowed for “every cause”. Jesus conceded this, but explained that it was allowed for “hardness of heart”. Jesus would not have said that this divorce was for hardness of heart if the woman had been immoral. This is proved by the fact that Jesus allowed divorce for fornication,
The main point is that he contends that the bill of divorcement referred to in Deut. 24 was a dissolution of the marriage. The text seems to teach this, “Let him write her a bill of divorcement and give it in her hand and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house she may go and be another man’s wife.” Concerning this he writes,
We are here mainly concerned with the fact that the divorce dissolved the marriage and the woman could “go and be another man’s wife”. If the second husband divorced her, then the second marriage was dissolved and she was free to marry the third time; but God specified that she could not return to her “former husband”. When the woman married the second time, she did not have 2 husbands because God spoke of the first as her former husband, page 23.
The author insists that “divorce” means dissolve by virtue of the Greek and Hebrew words used.
Read any book by those with the opposite view on divorce and you will see that not one of them has quoted a Hebrew or Greek authority on the teaching that divorce means, “separation from bed and board”. There is none. Every lexicon I have searched has the same meaning of dissolution.
In all Jewish divorce history, divorce was called “a cutting off’. The Mosaic divorce bill was called by the Jews, A Bill of Cutting Off. The Hebrew word for divorce (put away) is Kerithuth and signifies “a cutting off” . . .
The Greek word for divorce (put away) in the New Testament is apoluo. It is the exact equivalent of the Old Testament kerithuth, and it has the same precise meaning of absolute dissolution, page 40.
If one honestly studies the references made to lexicons, it cannot help striking the reader that “to cut off, to set free, to loose” is not in all instances the same as to dissolve.
In summary he teaches that the law of Moses allowed “for every cause” a dissolving of the marriage union and remarriage for anyone but the “former spouse.”
CHRIST’S TEACHING ON DIVORCE
In Matt. 19:3-12, Christ deals with the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament concerning divorce. The Pharisees were involved in a dispute concerning lawful divorce and came to Jesus for His ideas. Christ summarized it, “And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery,” Matt. 19:9.
In commenting on this Rev. Duty observes,
Here Christ met the Jewish theologians on the issue of divorce. It was, as we have seen, the hotly debated question between the rival Rabbinical schools of Hillel and Shummai.
The subject matter of this Scripture was the lawfulness of the Mosaic divorce for “every cause.” These Jewish scholars were able and clever men. They wanted to know if it was lawful for a Jew to divorce his wife for all the trivial causes that their famous Rabbi Hillel allowed. They did not mention remarriage because that was not the point at issue. There was never any question about this. It was allowed by both Hillel and Shammai,” page 63.
From this and the previous quotation, it is obvious that Rev. Duty concludes that Christ took the position of Shammai. This we believe to be a basic error which we will show later.
Because Duty believes that Deut. 24 teaches the dissolution of marriage for the Old Testament times, we should notice how this leads him to make the same conclusion for New Testament times. He reasons this way,
In verses 3-9 the legal term “put away” was used four times in this discussion—twice by the Pharisees and twice by Jesus. Three times, in verses 3, 7, 8 on both sides, this term meant dissolution. Then by what word-magic does it become “separation” in verse 9? Jesus didn’t use double talk. The meaning was not shifting back and. forth from dissolution to separation, page 69.
The trouble is that Duty begs the question when he assumes that he has proven that the “put away” used by Moses and subsequently by the Pharisees means “dissolution.”
In support of his conclusion that Christ taught that the dissolution of marriage was applicable only to one which involved fornication, Duty writes as follows:
Why didn’t He (Christ) say, “It was not so from the beginning and it shall not be so now?”
There is only one reasonable answer, fornication was an exception to all that Jesus taught about marriage and divorce. What we learned about “except” comes into play again . . . the exception signifies to exclude from the scope of statement or enactment—to exclude from an aggregate under consideration. Like this:
1. The original male-female purpose in marriage remains in force, except for fornication.
2. The man must forsake father and mother and cleave unto his wife, except for fornication.
3. What God hath joined together man must not put asunder, except for fornication.
4. It was hardness of heart for a Jew to divorce his wife, except for fornication.
5. A Jew must not use the writing of divorcement, except for fornication.
The significant question is this, does the “except for fornication” apply only to the preceding clause “whoso shall put away his wife,” oral so to the following clause, “and shall marry another” as well? This changes the picture entirely and Duty claims that it applies to both.
PAUL’S TEACHING ON DIVORCE
There are especially two passages in the Pauline Epistles that bear upon this question. The first is Rom. 7:1-4 quoted by those who believe that divorce does not dissolve the marriage. To this Duty responds,
Paul said a woman is free from the “law of her husband” at his death. The husband by right of marriage law, ruled over his wife by the power invested in him. She was in subjection to his marital authority. The husband’s death released the woman from her husband’s power over her and the legal connection was broken. The dominion of a law ceased when the one who exercised the law died. It is fundamental with Paul that “where no law is, there is no transgression,”
When a marriage is dissolved for adultery, the “Law” of the husband no longer exists,” page 85.
The second passage referred to is I Cor. 7:10-15. “Let not the wife depart from her husband, but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband; and let not the husband put away his wife.” Of this he writes,
The woman in the case of verse 11 had obtained a divorce according to Greek law, which was easy to get but Paul refused to recognize the validity of the divorce. The fact that the woman had obtained a divorce is indicated by his command for the woman to remain “unmarried”. She was commanded to remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband because the decree she obtained did not dissolve the marriage. She was still the wife of the man she divorced. The divorce had left the marriage undissolved as in the case of
If she had divorced her husband for adultery, the case would have been different, page 91.
In trying to present concisely and fairly the argument of those who teach a dissolution of marriage by adultery and subsequent approval of remarriage, we learn one outstanding thing. The entire argument for this position hinges in a large part on a proper understanding of “divorce” referred to in Deuteronomy 24. If Moses granted “dissolution” for almost any cause, the argument seems convincing. This however, is the Achilles heel. We shall examine this next time, D.V.