Decree Nisi

divorce“Furthermore it has been said, `Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ “But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.  (Mat 5:31-32 NKJ)

 I want to spend some time on this text primarily because of the poor teaching and pharisaical attitudes often expressed in the Church.  A great deal of damage was done in the very beginning by certain denominations that sought to make marriage a holy sacrament and thereby making divorce out of the question.  Scripture was taken out of context in order to bolster this teaching.  For many, marriage became a sentence rather than a loving commitment.

 Going back to the beginning, Jesus says that he had not come to abolish the Law of Moses, but rather to fulfill the Law.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is not changing or trying to correct the Law of God, rather he was wanting to correct the misinterpretations of the Pharisees and scribes.  Today, I want to look at just what exactly does the Mosaic Law say regarding divorce?

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, “when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, “if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, “then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. (Deu 24:1-4 NKJ)

In the days of Moses adultery was not mentioned in the context of divorce—adultery resulted in a judgment of death.  However, because women were not regarded as equals to the man and more like property, divorce was becoming an issue.  Men were throwing out their wives for any miniscule reason they could find.  It should be mentioned that the very fact this issue comes after Jesus’ teaching on lust should not go amiss.  Wives were not to be divorced because the man had his eye on a newer model.  To regulate this trend, Moses introduced some controls.

1.            A husband could divorce his wife if he found some natural, moral or physical defect in the wife.  This had to be confirmed by two witnesses.

2.            The wife was to be given a certificate of divorce.  This would keep her from being stoned as an adulteress, and allow her to re-marry.

3.            Should the second husband divorce her, the first husband was not allowed to re-marry her again, emphasizing the importance of marriage.

So Moses was not trying to lay down the law, merely trying to control a chaotic situation.  (Can I say ladies, that anything that considers a women as being anything less than equal abhorrent.)

Let’s look at the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees.  To get an idea of their teaching we need to look at Matthew 19.

The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He 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 then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” (Mat 19:3-9 NKJ)

 The Pharisees had no concept as to what the Law allowed or what Moses said.  In fact, they were allowing the very things to happen that Moses tried to stop.  So what did Jesus say?  Jesus clearly stated that the only reason for divorce was sexual immorality.  The reason for this is simple; marriage is a lifetime covenant contract. Marriage is a sign and a symbol of a person’s faithfulness and fidelity. It should not be entered into likely.

 Paul says, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. (1Co 6:15-18 NKJ)

Just as a postscript—when you meet somebody that has been the injured party in a marriage relationship, treat them with the love and grace that the Lord would offer, and not like a Pharisee seeking to see the letter of divorce.

About Terry Threadwell

Dr. Terry Threadwell has thirty five years ministry experience. Author, educator and Director of the Institute of Progressive Pentecostal Studies.
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