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Published Date: March 14, 2022

Published Date: March 14, 2022

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What about Divorce?

Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from Mutual by Design: A Better Model of Christian Marriage published by CBE International.

Divorce is often experienced as a double rejection: by a spouse and by the church. Many churches forbid divorce even on the grounds of abuse or abandonment, so that even an innocent victim can find themselves without support from fellow Christians when they need it most. This is due to a misunderstanding of Jesus’ words on divorce.

At first glance, the New Testament teaching appears to be clear. Jesus said that the only valid ground for divorce is sexual immorality (normally understood as adultery), and that remarriage is equivalent to adultery (Matt. 5:31–32; 19:3–12; Mark 10:2–12; Luke 16:18). Paul seemingly contradicts Jesus, because he doesn’t mention divorce for sexual immorality and instead he appears to allow divorce for abandonment by an unbeliever. Paradoxically, this is the only place where Paul says he is relying on Jesus’ teaching (1 Cor. 7:10–16).

Virtually all churches conclude that the only valid ground for divorce is adultery. Most Protestants allow remarriage after a valid divorce, but the Catholic Church does not allow any remarriage unless the marriage can be shown to have been legally defective—the process of annulment. There is also a cautious acceptance that abandonment by an unbeliever may be an additional ground, though the definition of an “‘unbeliever” is problematic. The usual conclusion is that Jesus has called believers to a higher lifestyle, though in the modern church, marriages fail as often as among non-believers.

Another area of debate is the definition of “sexual immorality” (porneia in Greek). In ancient literature, this word had a fairly wide meaning, including prostitution and adultery, but some modern interpreters have stretched it to include the use of pornography or even anything that hinders a marriage. The motive for these improbable interpretations is the clear impression that there is something missing from New Testament teaching. There is no apparent biblical remedy for spouses who are suffering neglect or abuse, even when it is dangerous. Even separating from one’s partner is deemed to be forbidden by Paul (1 Cor. 7:10–11).

It appears that the New Testament teaching is illogical and impractical—Jesus and Paul contradict each other, and there is no pastoral solution for the problems of abuse or abandonment by a believer.

This apparent contradiction is due to a missing piece of information hidden in plain sight, among highly technical legally arcane rabbinic discussions about divorce. I stumbled across it while studying how the Pharisees interpreted the scriptures.

This discovery showed that divorce in Jesus’ day was allowed for adultery, abandonment, and abuse, though some rabbis found a loophole that allowed no-fault divorces. Another surprise was that divorce was almost entirely egalitarian, until soon after Jesus’ earthly ministry.

A Clue in Ancient Jewish Law

I didn’t realize I’d found the missing piece to this puzzle until after my doctoral studies. In the ministry I faced many practical challenges which drove me to re-read the divorce passages. For some strange reason, they didn’t look the same any more. Then I realized that I was reading them through the eyes of a first century rabbi.

Having spent three years reading everything the Pharisees had written, I understood their strange uses of Bible texts and their specialized terminology. I knew the specific ways in which they abbreviated their debates, and could expand their records like one adds water to a dehydrated meal. As I read the record of the Pharisees’ debate with Jesus about divorce, the narrative took on new clarity and meaning.

I realized there were a couple of components missing to modern readers which were obvious to the first readers of the gospels. First there was the cultural context: everyone knew the normal way one got married and divorced, and Jesus didn’t need to explain this to his audience. Second, there were specialized legal terms that were familiar to his audience. These terms were eventually forgotten and are no longer part of the context we have when we read these passages of Scripture.

Jesus wasn’t the first person to debate the Pharisees’ question about divorce. In records from later rabbis, we find that this debate started a generation before Jesus and continued for several decades after his death.

The debate regarding grounds for divorce started when Hillel, one of the founding Pharisees in the first century BC, discovered a loophole in Deuteronomy 24:1. This verse says you can get divorced for “immorality of a cause” (Hebrew: ervat davar). This strange phrase is usually turned around as if it says “a cause of immorality” and this is normally interpreted as adultery. That is how it was understood by Shammai, the founder of a rival school of Pharisees, and all modern Bibles follow this interpretation. But Hillel said the strangeness of this phrase implied something else.

Hillel’s reasoning followed a normal pattern for rabbis at the time, even if it seems strange to us. He saw that Deuteronomy 24:1 makes perfect sense if you remove the word “cause.” However, God is a perfect legislator, so this apparently superfluous word must refer to another valid “cause” for divorce. Now, the nature of this cause isn’t stated, so Hillel concluded that this verse contains two grounds for divorce:

1) sexual immorality

2) any cause.1

In the records of the debate, the Hillelites claim that Deuteronomy 24:1 contained this second ground for divorce for “any-cause,” and the Shammaites retort that the verse refers to “nothing except sexual immorality.” These two phrases, “any cause” and “except sexual immorality,” stood out when I re-read the gospel accounts:

Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “….whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Matt. 19:3, 9)

When you employ the normal methods for unpacking abbreviated rabbinic debates and add these new insights about legal terminology being used at the time, these verses become:

Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking “Is it lawful to use the any-cause divorce [based on Deut. 24:1]?” He answered, “… whoever divorces [on the basis of this verse for anything] except sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Matt. 19:3, 9

The adulterous nature of this remarriage is now obvious. Jesus rejected this ground for divorce, so anyone who had remarried after using the “any cause” divorce was actually still married to their first partner!

The Popular New Any-cause Divorce

These two phrases (“for any cause” and “except for sexual immorality”), are present only in Matthew and are missing in Mark’s otherwise similar account. This puzzled me, until I realised the question asked in Mark is, strictly speaking, meaningless. If the intention was to only ask: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (Mark 10:2) Jesus could have answered: “Of course it is lawful, because it is written in the law—dummy!” Matthew shows us the Pharisees were asking a more complex question in an abbreviated form.

We ask similarly meaningless questions but they don’t sound stupid. For example, “Is it lawful for a 16-year old to drink?” If you answer “No,” you have done one of two things: You have either condemned all teenagers to die of thirst, or you have mentally added the words “alcoholic beverages” to the question. First century Jews did the same thing when they read Mark’s gospel. The Pharisees’ question was very familiar to them, so they mentally added the words “… for any-cause.”

By the time Matthew was written, the debate was already starting to fade from peoples’ memory, so he helpfully added the implied words as a reminder. However, by the second century even this reminder was not enough, because the early church leaders misunderstood it. And by the third century even some rabbis had forgotten the meaning of this language.2 This legal terminology was forgotten because the any-cause divorce became the normal and sole form of divorce, so no-one debated it any more. But during the time of Jesus, it was still a subject of active and popular discussion.

When a Jewish couple faced divorce, the whole family suddenly had to become familiar with legal language, just as we have to understand phrases like prenuptial agreement. They had to pick three lawyers to hear their case, so should they pick a Hillelite or a Shammaite? If you wanted an any-cause divorce—and most people did—you needed to know that Hillelites allowed it and Shammaites didn’t. An any-cause divorce could be granted for any tiny thing including a new wrinkle or burnt soup—these were actual examples suggested by lawyers!3 Also, it would be granted automatically. There was no need for a trial where your neighbors listened to all your accusations and faults, so this interpretation of the grounds for divorce quickly become very popular.

Though this type of divorce could only be brought by a man (because of the context of Deut. 24:1), women preferred it because it guaranteed the woman would get financial support due to her. When couples married, the man promised his wife a minimum of 200 zuz (about a year’s basic wage) if he died or divorced her. However, she lost this if the divorce was her fault—for example if she committed adultery but there weren’t two witnesses to enable the death penalty. However, with an any-cause divorce, she knew that she would get the full settlement because there was no court case to apportion guilt.

The any-cause divorce quickly became the most popular form of divorce. Even Joseph planned to use it when ending his betrothal to Mary. He could have easily charged her with adultery, but “being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, he resolved to divorce her quietly” (Matt. 1:19). The any-cause divorce, which involved no court hearing, must have been what he had in mind. By the end of the century we stop hearing about grounds for divorce because the only form of divorce in use was the any-cause divorce.

Traditional Biblical Divorces

In Jesus’ day one could still get divorced on biblical grounds, based on the words of Exodus 21:10–11.

If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.

These verses were written or referred to in all the marriage certificates that have survived from the first two centuries. Karaite Jews, who rejected Pharisaic innovations such as the any-cause divorce, continued to record them in their marriage certificates until the 10th century. But mainstream Judaism adopted any-cause as their only means for divorce by the end of the first century, so the biblical grounds in Exodus were soon forgotten. Unfortunately they were forgotten by the church too, even though Christian marriage vows are based on them.

At first glance, Exodus 21:10–11 has nothing to do with marriage or divorce—they are regulations about slavery. The law says that if you marry a slave girl but fail to supply her with food, clothing and love, then she can go free. However, the rabbis recognized that the laws of Moses usually defined the most minor circumstance so that the law would automatically apply to more serious situations. For example, when the law said you shouldn’t deprive an ox from the benefits of his labor (i.e. eating some grain while treading it—see Deut. 25:4), this law also applied to anyone more important than an ox, such your human employees. That’s why Paul cited this law with regard to paying church workers (1 Cor. 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:18). Similarly, when Exodus made laws about the rights of female slaves, these rights applied automatically to non-slaves, both male and female.

This law meant that both men and women could gain a divorce in Jesus’ day if they could show that they suffered neglect with regard to food, clothing, or love. This wasn’t a matter of debate; as far as we know, all Jewish groups in the early first century agreed on this point. Even the Hillelites and Shammaites both accepted this interpretation, though they normally disagreed with each other on reflex, like Republicans and Democrats. After all, God himself spoke about his marriage to Israel in these terms. When Ezekiel described the reasons why God divorced Israel, he describes the food, clothing, and love that God provided, and how Israel had adulterously shared that food, clothing, and love with the idols (Ezek. 16:10–19).

The Pharisees took these grounds for divorce so seriously that they recorded the minimum food and clothing, and how long one had to be deprived of love, for these to qualify as neglect. Neglect occurred if the husband didn’t provide food and cloth (or money) or the wife didn’t cook and sew.4 The rabbinic lawyers said that neglect of love-making depended on your occupation. A camel-riding trader could be away for a month but an ass-driver could only excuse himself for a week. All other workers had to do their duty twice a week, and the unemployed every day! However, they made a concession for themselves: scholars could take a month off.5

The significance of all these details is that the Pharisees who were questioning Jesus clearly assumed, like everyone else, that both a woman and a man could demand a divorce for neglect. In fact, half of all the surviving divorce certificates from the first two centuries record divorces brought by women. (I’d better admit that this is a misleading statement, because only two divorce certificates have survived from that period; but one of them does record a woman divorcing her husband.6)

One slight problem was that only the man could actually write the divorce certificate and he had to do this willingly. The later rabbis recorded the solution to this: they beat him with rods until he was willing (Mishnah Arakin 5.6).

Abuse was also a ground for divorce, because of the principle that the law defines the least important circumstance in order to include everything more serious. Modern law codes work in the same way, so “battery” is often defined as any touch which is inappropriate, and this automatically includes anything worse. In the same way, ancient Jewish law forbade neglect, and this automatically included anything worse such as abuse. Abandonment was also included because even if they arranged for food and clothing to be delivered, an absent spouse was neglecting to share their love.

So why doesn’t the New Testament refer to divorce for abandonment and abuse when it was a fundamental right of all Jewish men and women? Jesus and Paul didn’t have to teach these grounds for divorce, because everyone already accepted them. Even the Greek-Roman world used similar terms in their marriage contracts. In the same way the New Testament doesn’t have to state that rape is wrong, because everyone already knew that. So we shouldn’t expect a statement about these grounds for divorce, unless the New Testament writers wanted to specifically deny that such divorces were wrong. However, now that we know what to look for, we can actually find allusions to these grounds for divorce.

Jesus’ Teaching

Before looking for abuse and abandonment, we need to understand what Jesus actually said about adultery. We can now see that when he was asked what he thought about “divorce for any cause” this didn’t mean “Do you agree with any kind of divorce at all?” but rather, “Do you agree with the new any-cause divorce?” At first, Jesus didn’t answer the question, because he was more interested in talking about marriage than divorce.

He criticized the practice of polygamy which was common at the time in Palestine. He quoted Genesis 2:24 with an additional word: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Matt. 19:5). We are now so used to seeing the verse cited in this way that we don’t notice that the word “two” has been added for emphasis. Jesus was saying that a marriage involves two and only two people. In this he was agreeing with the Jews of the Dead Sea Scrolls who also emphasizsed this. He also criticised those Pharisees who said that a man whose wife commits adultery must divorce her. They said “Moses commanded one to give a certificate of divorce.” Jesus corrected them: “Moses allowed you to divorce your wives.” On this point he agreed with many Hillelites.

Jesus also emphasized forgiveness rather than divorce. He said that divorce should only occur when there is “hard-heartedness” (Greek sklerokardia, Matt. 19:8). This word occurs nowhere in Greek literature, because it was invented by Greek translators of the Old Testament. Because the word occurs only twice, and only one of those relates to divorce, Jesus is clearly alluding to a specific Bible verse—Jeremiah 3:3. Jeremiah said that God divorced Israel because she was sinning hard-heartedly—i.e. stubbornly and persistently. Israel’s divorce was enacted when she was sent into exile for seventy years. Jeremiah described this as one year for every seven years that Israel had rebelled (2 Chron. 36:21). In other words, God had forgiven Israel seven times seventy times before he decided that divorce was the only remedy.

Some think that Jesus also criticized the divorce law of Moses, saying that this was given only “because of your hardness of heart” (Matt. 19:8)—as if the Jews had harder hearts so, unlike Christians, they needed provision for divorce. However, I think it more likely that Jesus was referring to the pervasive condition of humans, because we are all capable of stubborn sinfulness. God reluctantly allows victims to divorce unfaithful, abusive, and abandoning partners, because we are all capable of sinning hardheartedly. Jesus did not supplant the moral law of the Old Testament. In fact he criticized those who rejected the tiniest part of it (Matt. 5:17). He came to fulfill the ceremonial law and write the moral law on our hearts.

When eventually the Pharisees dragged him back to talking about the any-cause divorce, Jesus rejected it totally. He clearly agreed with the Shammaite position, and even cited their slogan approvingly. The Shammaites said one couldn’t derive the any-cause divorce from the phrase “cause of sexual immorality” because this was a single phrase; they said it referred to “nothing except sexual immorality.” Siding with the Shammaites in this case didn’t make Jesus into a Shammaite. As we saw above, he had just sided with the Jews of the Dead Sea Scrolls community who were against polygamy, and with some Hillelites who were against compulsory divorce for adultery. Jesus was entirely independent.

Jesus regarded the any-cause divorce as totally invalid. To emphasise this he said: “If you remarry after an any-cause divorce you are committing adultery”—because the original marriage had not ended. Since virtually all divorces at that time were based on any-cause, this could be simplified as: “Anyone who remarries is committing adultery” (Mark 10:11; Luke 16:18). The Gospels used this attention-grabbing rhetoric as a summary statement which (like most summaries) is confusing and misleading without understanding the background details.

Is this interpretation correct? An ancient Jewish reader may understand it like this, but we find it easier to understand it differently. A modern reader thinks Jesus is being asked if divorce is ever right, and he answers: only in the case of adultery. So which meaning is correct? We need enough humility to realize that the gospel writers were communicating primarily to readers in their days. We have to read over their shoulders, so we must translate not just the words, but seek to understand the meaning of the terminology at the time it was written.

Jesus on Abuse and Abandonment

We now know how Jesus’ audience would have understood him. He was denying the validity of the newly invented any-cause divorce. But which grounds for divorce did Jesus regard as valid? Jesus wasn’t asked that, and he doesn’t tell us. He did mention the ground of adultery ,but only in order to answer the question about the any-cause divorce. So why didn’t Jesus tell us which grounds he agreed with, and the rights of people who suffer abandonment or abuse?

Divorce is just one of a multitude of things that Jesus doesn’t tell us, because he doesn’t have to. Jesus didn’t normally tell people what they already knew—or at least, the gospel writers didn’t spend precious papyrus repeating it for us. Jesus doesn’t tell us the difference between murder and manslaughter, or tell us rules about charging interest, or using fair weights, or how to distinguish between a rape and consensual sex. He doesn’t have to teach about any of these things because they were already covered in God’s law, which he said he supported. He claimed to say the same as his Father, so it would sound strange if he contradicted the Old Testament law.

All the Jews listening to Jesus knew that biblical grounds for divorce included the neglect of food, clothing, and love, which automatically implied the more serious offenses of abandonment and abuse. These grounds were recorded in their marriage certificates and were taught by all branches of Judaism at the time. If Jesus had wanted to deny them, he would have had to teach strongly against them. To affirm them, he could simply do the same as he did on the subject of rape: he merely had to remain silent.

Paul on Remarriage

Paul did not remain silent on the matters of neglect and abandonment because although Greeks and Romans had remarkably similar views about neglect within marriage, non-Jewish converts did not know God’s law as well as Jews. However, he was remarkably silent about remarriage. This was very common in the Roman world due to their extremely easy no-fault divorce. Roman divorce-by-separation required no statement of grounds or fault; you simply had to tell your spouse to pack and leave or (if they owned the house) you just walked out. This was even easier than the Jewish any-cause divorce that Jesus rejected. It resulted in instant divorce, without any paperwork or court appearance, and you didn’t even need the consent of your spouse.

A woman in the church at Corinth wanted to use this Roman divorce-by-separation. Paul told her to remain with her husband, and if she had already separated she should ask to be reconciled (1 Cor. 7:10–11). She couldn’t simply return, because in Jewish law the victim always has the right to decide what will happen. She had walked out, so her husband now had the right to either regard this abandonment as a ground for divorce, or he could forgive her and be reconciled. The Jewish principle was that the victim always decides—and Paul appears to regard this as a biblical principle.

But what if she weren’t a Christian? In that case she wouldn’t listen to Paul, and her husband would remain abandoned. So Paul told people in those circumstances that they were “no longer bound” (1 Cor. 7:15). He can’t mean they aren’t bound by the marriage, because in Roman law their marriage is already finished. So presumably he means that are properly divorced and free to remarry.

Actually, in Roman law, they were obliged to remarry. In 18 BC a Roman law mandated that all divorcees must remarry within 12 months, because Augustus wanted to increase the number of legitimate Roman citizens. So if Paul was against remarriage he would have to state this very clearly, because he would be asking believers in Roman towns to risk prosecution. But all that Paul mentions on the subject of remarriage is found in a couple of ambiguous verses which say that marriage is ended by death (1 Cor. 7:39; Rom. 7:2–3). They are ambiguous because they don’t say that marriage only ends by means of death; it is just that they don’t mention divorce as another possible way to end a marriage. And that is to be expected, because the context in both cases concerns death—one is addressed to widows, and the other is a metaphor about death with Christ—so there’s no reason to mention divorce in either. Paul remained silent—he did not forbid remarriage—so we have to assume remarriage was permitted, as in Old Testament law.

Christian Marriage Vows

Modern marriage vows are based on Exodus 21:10–11, which Paul alludes to when he speaks about what marriage entails. He tells those who wish to abstain from sexual relations that they should do this only for a short period, because of their duty to their spouse (1 Cor. 7:3–5). When the rabbis discussed this same issue, they did it in a much more legalistic way. Paul also expected his readers to know about the requirements to supply food and clothing because he talks about the concerns for material support within marriage (1 Cor. 7:32—34). So although Paul doesn’t spell it out, he clearly expected his readers to follow the laws about supplying food, clothing, and love to their spouse. And if they knew this, they would also know that these were the standard grounds for divorce.

The wording for our modern vows was influenced by the version of them in Ephesians which records the wedding vows of Jesus for his church: he promised to love her, nourish her and cherish her (Eph. 5:25–29). The words “nourish” and “cherish” translate Greek words for feeding and clothing children. In other words, these are ways of expressing the three-fold vows to provide food, clothing, and conjugal love. This same transition from legal terminology to nicer-sounding language is found in later Jewish and Christian marriages which refer to “love, honor, and keep.” And the fourth ground for divorce based on Deuteronomy 24:1 was also included: “be faithful.”

In the Jewish world of Jesus, breaking any of these marriage vows could trigger a divorce. The aggrieved partner could bring evidence to a rabbinic court, or they could decide to forgive instead. Jesus emphasized forgiveness. Just because a partner has done wrong did not mean that the other party must divorce them. Jesus wanted our first reaction to be forgiveness and said broken vows should only lead to divorce if there was “hardness of heart.” By using this unusual word, Jesus reminded them of Jeremiah who said that Israel had sinned so persistently and unrepentantly (i.e. hardheartedly) that God had reluctantly divorced her.

It is remarkable that the Bible portrays God himself as a reluctant divorcee who seeks remarriage. Jeremiah questions whether God can remarry Israel because the law forbids remarrying someone you have divorced (Jer. 3:1, 6–8; Deut. 24:1–4). But the prophets said there would be a New Covenant in which the two former nations of Israel and Judah would be united as new nation—i.e. a brand new bride—who was later revealed to include the church (Jer. 31:31–34; Ezek. 37:15–28; Rev. 21:9–14).

Many churches reject people who are divorced, implicitly labelling them as having committed an unforgivable sin. Divorcees or those who remarry are often barred from communion and from holding leadership positions. But being a divorcee or remarried cannot be regarded as sinful if God can be described in these terms. God’s divorce was based on all four biblical grounds (as we saw above): Israel was unfaithful by committing adultery with the idols and Ezekiel says that she gave them the food, clothing, and love that was due to God.

Malachi recorded God’s anger against the non-biblical divorces of wives who had done nothing wrong (Mal. 2:13–16). When this practice become institutionalized in Hillel’s new any-cause divorce, Jesus was equally critical. Today’s no-fault divorce does essentially the same thing, though now it can be employed by both men and women to divorce an innocent partner against their will.

Jesus supported marriage by decrying the no-fault divorce of his day, but he did not intend us to abandon the biblical grounds for divorce. Instead, he wanted to allow divorce only on these grounds. He denied the any-cause divorce because it was the opposite of these biblical grounds by allowing divorce without the grounds of adultery, abuse, or abandonment or even the lesser fault of neglect.

I would love to see churches reaffirm these biblical grounds for divorce, and help build strong marriages while they work to reduce divorce for inconsequential reasons. We should also stop all discrimination against those who are divorced, especially when they are innocent victims.

However, change is difficult for churches whose doctrine is enshrined in a long-held misunderstanding of Jesus’ teaching. Lack of awareness of the ancient legal formulas used in the gospels has led us all into illogical and impractical doctrines that won’t be easy to correct. Even if a church accepts this new understanding, they will need humility and patience to change practices established by tradition. We all know that the larger the ship, the longer it takes to turn, and some of our churches have rudders that are stiff with centuries of rust. They can only be moved by prayer and the oil of the Holy Spirit.

Summary of Key Points

  • Jesus was asked not about divorce in general but about the new ‘any-cause’ divorce that was effectively a no-fault divorce.
  • Jesus rejected it, saying that the verse it was based on (Deut. 24:1) referred to nothing but sexual indecency.
  • This new divorce soon supplanted biblical divorces for adultery, abuse and abandonment (which were based on Deut. 24:1 & Ex. 21:10-11).
  • Jesus didn’t need to affirm these biblical grounds for divorce, because everyone at that time accepted them.
  • Paul didn’t affirm them either, but his teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 implies that he agreed with them.
  • Paul rejected the Roman no-fault divorce-by-separation just as Jesus rejected the Jewish no-fault divorce.
  • Traditional Christian wedding vows are based on the biblical grounds for divorce.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  1. “Adultery, Abuse, and Abandonment” is an easy-to-understand summary, but is it accurate? Which of the following would you want to include: neglect, emotional battery, distain, hatred, or others?
  2. If the church for centuries has misunderstood phrases like “divorce for any cause,” does this mean we can’t be sure what the Bible says? Do you think there are other areas where our understanding might prove to be wrong?
  3. Do you know of individuals that have felt rejected by the church? What changes would you make to help them feel more welcome?
  4. Think of when you’ve heard vows made at weddings, or when you made vows yourself. Do you think those making the vows realize the seriousness of what they are promising? What would you ask them to consider before making those vows?

Recommended for Further Reading

Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities by David Instone-Brewer. Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press 2003 & Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, USA 2007. This explains in more detail the basis and outworking of what this chapter says.

Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: 3 Views by Paul E. Engle, Mark L. Strauss, Gordon John Wenham, William A. Heth, and Craig Keener. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2006. This presents the main alternative ways of understanding these difficult texts.

Divorce and Remarriage: Biblical Principles and Pastoral Practice by Andrew Cornes. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1993. This is the best biblical and pastoral presentation of the no-divorce interpretation.


1. These debates are recorded at Mishnah Gittin 9.10; Sifré Deut.269; Jerusalem Talmud Sotah 1.1, 1a.
2. As seen by the misunderstanding of Shammaite teaching by R. Yose b. Zabida in Jerusalem Talmud Sotah 1.1, 1a.
3. Mishnah Gittin 9.10.
4. Mishnah Ketuvot 5.5,8.
5. Mishnah Ketuvot 5.6
6. David Instone-Brewer, “Jewish Women Divorcing Their Husbands in Early Judaism: The Background to Papyrus Se’elim 13,” Harvard Theological Review 92 (1999): 349-57.
7. Legally, neglect was considered a lesser offence because it was included in the law of abandonment. Not giving enough food or clothing was considered a lesser offense than giving none.