Marriage and Divorce pt. 1
August 30, 2020
by Barry Fike
Some of the concepts that Jesus is setting forth in this context are very limited, narrow, and even legalistic in one sense. In another sense Jesus is setting forth thoughts the way God sees them in the idealistic sense. He is setting forth the ideal, or that in which one should strive to obtain. Notice that in most translations have the word “unfaithfulness”, “unchastity”, “martial unfaithfulness” or “sexual immorality” listed here as to why such a divorcement is given. This is far from what Jesus is saying. To be honest, the subject is so complex that the body of Christ as a whole does not have the proper background at their disposal to really treat the subject adequately. You have to look at the total scope of the subject in a Hebrew context. Without an understanding of the Mishnah and the tractates that are relative to women (Na-shem), the bill of espousement, the bill of divorcement, and all of the other teachings of the subject that are directly related to the subject from a Biblical perspective, it’s going to be very difficult to get to the essence of what Jesus is taking about. Because of this the church has never understood this verse and has probably brought more condemnation down upon people at this one particular spot, in this particular passage, than perhaps anything else. You can commit murder and get forgiven and get a show on TV. But if you get a divorce you’re living in adultery and cannot have any place or position in the body of Christ. This is a subject that we’ve never understood because of the Roman Catholic perspective on the subject of marriage and divorce. What’s really going here?
Again, it is impossible to describe exactly what Jesus is describing without going into the background of what divorce, fornication and marriage meant to the Jews that he was speaking to.
Far from discontinuity with the Law of Moses, Jesus saw his statements as explanations of the Hebrew text. On the matter of divorce he saw himself not as ushering in a new ethic, but as properly interpreting the old ethic.
“It was said”- What scripture is Jesus referring (back) to? Deuteronomy 24:1-4
“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his
eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a
bill of divorce, puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and when
she departs out of his house, she goes and marries another man, and if the
latter husband dislikes her and writes her a bill of divorce and puts it in
her hand and sends her out of his house; or if the last husband dies,
who took her as his wife, then her former husband, who sent her
away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she is defiled; for that is an
abomination before the Lord; and you shall not bring guilt upon the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance.”
The key to understanding this verse is in the one word translated “indecency” or in Hebrew "ervat davar". This implies some kind of unchastity or immorality. This idea was opposed to the ideal that God set forth that the two shall become one. The ordinary term for a marriage is Kiddushin, denoting ‘sanctification.’ It is so called because ‘the husband prohibits his wife to the whole world like an object which is dedicated to the Sanctuary’ (Kid. 2b). It implies the strictest chastity in both parties. Now, according to this verse, the two are not one, their three. Jesus will say to them, “You have missed the point! When you put this woman away, and she marries someone else, she is in a relationship that she ought not to have - she ought to be your wife because God’s ideal is one man one woman for one life. You have to bear the responsibility. You have caused her to become involved in adultery. You have sinned against the second man that marries her because when he married her (passive or middle voice) he does not commit adultery but becomes involved in her adultery. But what is she doing that gives Jesus the idea that both she and the second husband are involved in adultery?
In order to see what is happening, we have to see Jesus coming into conflict with the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai over the subject of divorce and remarriage. In Everyman’s Talmud (p. 166) we read that in the first century of the present area, the schools of Shammai and Hillel took opposite views of the biblical text in Deut. 24:1 which allows a man to send his wife away if she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some “unseeming thing” in her. The phrase “unseeming thing” it literally means the nakedness of a thing which the school of Shammai explained to mean that a man may not divorce his wife unless he discovered her to be unfaithful to him. Hillel, on the other hand, declared the husband may divorce her even if she spoiled his cooking. From the word, “...if she find no favor in his eyes,” Rabbi Akiva argued that he may divorce her even if he found another woman more beautiful than she. (Order Nashim, Tractate Gittin 9:10) All three schools found ervat davar as "something obnoxious," the former as adultery, the latter as a general expression of something displeasing or odious. The more lenient opinion of Hillel was adopted as law so that in Jesus’ day a man could put away his wife even if he did not like her looks.
Here we have an example of something Jesus taught when he talked about the scribes and the Pharisees teaching for commandment the traditions of men. This was not a commandment. In Jesus’ day, Jewish law was very specific. There were reasons whereby a man could put away his wife and a wife could put away a husband. It was specific in law and everybody knew it. Under the law of the Talmud if the husband and wife wished to separate there was no difficulty in dissolving the marriage. ‘A bad wife is like leprosy to her husband. What is the remedy? Let him divorce her and be cured of his leprosy’ (Jeb. 63b). It was even asserted, “If one has a bad wife, it is a religious duty to divorce her.” (Everyman’s Talmud, p. 166) In Jewish law, and custom, the marriage is arranged between the bridegroom and the father of the bride. A marriage price is agreed upon. Then a bill of Espousement is signed (Order Mashene, tractate Tubah). In the introduction to the tractate there is a whole blank Tubah and it’s a fill in the blank - at such and such a time and at such and such a place, the son of __________ will pay X amount of dollars for the virginity of the virgin daughter of _________. What they did was that they paid a certain price for the virginity. What they did was that they paid a certain price for the virginity. Then the marriage was consummated at such and such a time. It could be several weeks, months, or a year after the contract was signed.
When it was consummated the woman slept on a special sheet and the next morning the sheet was hung outside so that all of the people that had come to the wedding celebration could see that she was a virgin because it had blood on it to attest to the fact that she was a virgin. That was then folded up and stayed with her for the rest of her life. It was called, in Deut. 22:14-17, the tokens of her virginity. At any time, during the course of their marriage, if the husband accused her of not being a virgin when they were married, it would render the marriage contract null and void. A lot of times they weren’t virgins by the time they were married because the signing of the contract was tantamount to marriage even though it might be before the actual ceremony took place.
Here you have Shammai saying that you can’t be put away except for the case of adultery, and Hillel saying that you put her away for any reason. Jesus steps into the midst of the discussion and says, “You’ll not put away your wife for any reason except for the cause of fornication (meaning the marriage contract was falsified), in which case the marriage was rendered null and void”. That’s all that he has to say about it. They don’t argue on these other points of law that specify why a man would put away his wife and a wife her husband. There were legal decrees in law that allowed for a man to put away his wife and a wife to put away her husband, and they already knew this. That’s not the issue. The issue was is Shammai right or is Hillel right? He bypasses the whole thing. He says that when the marriage contract is falsified that the law is clear based on Deut. 24 that the husband can initiate a bill of divorcement because of the violation of a legal contract. He doesn’t get into these other matters of law.