It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery. (Matt 5:31-32)
The issue of divorce was a thorny one in first-century Jewish society. Opinions were divided between those of rabbis Hillel and Shammai
“Hillel and Shammai were two leading sages of the last century BCE and the early 1st century CE who founded opposing schools of Jewish thought, known as the House of Hillel and House of Shammai. The debate between these schools on matters of ritual practice, ethics, and theology was critical for the shaping of the Oral Law and Judaism as it is today.
“The House of Shammai held that a man may only divorce his wife for a serious transgression, but the House of Hillel allowed divorce for even trivial offenses, such as burning a meal.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillel_and_Shammai (from the article on “Hillel and Shammai”, retrieved March 2015).
Jesus expanded and clarified His teaching on divorce on one occasion when some Pharisees questioned Him on His opinion because they wanted to know which of the sages He supported. As always, He did not base His view on what other rabbis taught, but on Torah, applying His yoke based on the spirit of Torah.
Some Pharisees came to Him to test Him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’
‘Haven’t you read,’ He replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female”, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.’ (Matt. 19: 3-6)
Jesus did not dally with the rabbis’ opinions. He went back to the beginning – to God’s instruction in the Torah. Divorce was not in God’s equation in the beginning. It was an addition because of men’s hardness of heart.
‘Why, then,’ they asked, ‘did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?’
Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman, commits adultery.’ (Matt 19: 7-9)
How we have fouled this one up in Jesus’s name! What is “marital unfaithfulness”?
The opinion of Christian theologians and preachers is that this refers to adultery on the part of the wife. However, marital unfaithfulness was much wider than adultery.
Before a Hebrew couple was formally engaged and began their betrothal period, they entered into a ketubah, a prenuptial marriage contract which stated the conditions of their relationship as husband and wife. If either party willfully broke the ketubah and refused to repent after the other party had followed the correct procedure of intervention (Matt. 18: 15-17), the offended husband or wife was permitted to divorce his or her spouse on the grounds of marital unfaithfulness.
Jesus was dealing here with the abuse of the reason for divorce. Since the House of Hillel was more lenient on the grounds for divorce, men were finding an excuse to divorce their wives if they found someone more to their liking. Women were sent away and left destitute, based on a flimsy excuse, while their husbands married someone else. Jesus declared that these men were committing adultery because they had already lusted after other women in their hearts.
Divorce only became an option because of the hardness of men’s hearts. Once again, when mercy prevailed in a marriage relationship, it formed the basis on which echad could be built. Without mercy, husbands felt they were free to dump their marriage partner for one they thought more suitable on the Halakhah that “Hillel said it was okay.”
Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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