“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 and an environment for violence and abuse 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 wanted to correct the misinterpretations of the Pharisees and scribes.
“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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 places the role of women as being anything less than equal is abhorrent.)