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Divorce, Remarriage or Marry Again

Jealousy potient, alimony legal divorce, unconverted mate, marital infidelity, sexual immorality, legal separation polygamy, vow, marriage

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Divorce has been an issue within the Christian community since the earliest days of the Christian church.  Indeed it has been an issue since the time of Moses.  The Law of Moses states, “…because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce (Deut 24:1).  This would indicate that there were marriage problems even before the time of Moses since Moses; or God deemed it necessary to include a specific provision directly covering the matter in Deuteronomy.


Many are still confused about divorce today.  Can someone else's conduct or state of mind outside of marriage affect whether or not some other person can remarry?  Is it true that a divorced person is never permitted to remarry, as Messiah in Mark 10:11-12 seems to say?  There are some things here that many people are missing.  Marriage is a serious business to God.  We need to treat it with great respect.  We also need to know what God’s instruction really is.  God's instruction is for our good.  We need to trust in that. 


Before anyone rushes in expecting that His yoke is easy and burden light and therefore this can't be all that difficult, I issue a word of caution.  'His disciples said to Him, "If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry. 11 But He said to them, "All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given"' (Mat 19:10-11).  You may find some of this difficult to accept.  You're in good company, i.e. the disciples!  I urge you to trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  Let the scriptures be your guide.  Quotes are from the New King James Version unless otherwise stated.


Jesus/Yeshua is quoted directly teaching on the matter of divorce and remarriage four times in the gospels, Matthew 5:31-32, 19:4-9, Mark 10:3-12 and Luke 16:18.  Generally it seems most who focus on this matter focus on these verses.  "…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" (Mt 5:32).  "…whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her that is divorced commits adultery" (Mt 19:9).  "…Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.  And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she commits adultery" (Mk 10:11-12). Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery. (Luke 16:18)


Although not perfectly identical these accounts indicate divorce is highly frowned upon by Yeshua our Savior.  However, two of these accounts include an exception for "sexual immorality".  There has been much discussion about exactly what this is.  The actual Greek word used in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 is ‘porneia’.  Many sources allow that it can mean general immorality as the NKJV translates it, or it can specifically mean ‘fornication’ as the KJV translates it.  Before we decide let’s look closely at Yeshua's instruction and examine the Law of Moses.


Back to the basics

A more complete account of Yeshua's instruction on marriage is quoted in Matthew 19 and Mark 10.  These two accounts agree very closely.  "…For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh…  So then, they are no longer two but one flesh.  Therefore, what God has joined together, let not men separate….  Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so." (Mat 19:5-8).  The authority for Yeshua's instruction came from Genesis 2:24.


What does it mean to be one flesh?  We know married couples aren't like Siamese twins, permanently bound together.  Neither are they bound with rope or an umbilical cord.  However the AIDS epidemic and the proliferation of sexual transmitted diseases has made it perfectly clear that there is a mixing of the flesh in the sexual union.  It is this union that consummates a marriage.  No officiator is really necessary.  God set this at creation.  It seems apparent that this mixing of the flesh makes them 'one flesh'.  This is reinforced in I Corinthians 6:16.  '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."'  Paul equates having sex with someone as becoming one flesh.


I have heard some attempt to confuse this issue of marriage by referring to "higher plane" analogies of our relationship with Yeshua our Savior.  Certainly there are those analogies, but they have no serious impact on God's instruction regarding the relationship of a male with a female in marriage.  The analogy on the "higher plane" doesn't reduce the responsibility of a believer on the "lower plane".  On the contrary, believers should always live to a higher standard.  This applies to their responsibility to their mates especially.  Believers are to remain faithful as God remained faithful.  This is true whether the mate is a believer or not. Human marriage is first and foremost a physical relationship.


Yeshua is saying that once the couple becomes ‘one flesh’ (what God has joined together in the sexual union) no man should separate them. It is contrary to the original intent of God to separate that relationship.  "from the beginning it (Moses allowance to divorce) was not so".  Indeed there is no indication as of the Sinai covenant that divorce was an option.  According to David Instone-Brewer, "The divorce certificate, which gave women the right to remarry, was unknown elsewhere in the ancient near east." (Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, Ch 2 p 20 Eerdmanns Publishers, 2002)


Apparently a new interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 was taking hold in New Testament Israel.  Evidence of this is seen in Matthew 19:3. 'The Pharisees also came unto him, testing him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”'


The Jewish school of Hillel was teaching that if a woman did anything that displeased her husband he could divorce her.  Yeshua is not only disagreeing with this liberal attitude towards divorce, but he is also saying that whatever Moses had allowed was really contrary to God's original intention as well.


Of course Yeshau's teaching continues in Matthew, .  "…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 5:32). So what is the exception?


The Greek word that the NKJV translates 'sexual immorality' is 'porneia'.  Most lexicons list a number of meanings that can be associated with this word.  Usually prostitution is high on the list, as is fornication.  Sexual immorality often shows up too.


Interestingly enough, neither Mark nor Luke mention the exception for 'porneia' that is mentioned twice in Matthew.  Were they uninformed, was this exception self evident, or just of little real application to believers?  Let's understand what Moses allowed.


Instruction in the Law

In the Law of Moses many things are cleansed with water.  In most cases if someone became unclean they could wash themselves and be clean by the evening.  What is not cleansed with water can usually be cleansed with blood (Heb 9:22).  If a couple was caught in the act of adultery their sin was purged with blood, death (Deut 22:22, Lev 20:10).  Also if a new wife was found to not be a virgin, she could be stoned (Deu 22:20-21).   Certainly no divorce would be needed in these cases.


However, if there was no real proof, a concerned husband could take his wife to the priest and have him prepare a potion for her to drink.  If her belly swelled upon drinking she was considered guilty.  She had defiled herself and was unclean.  She would thereafter be held up as a bad example and curse in Israel (Num 5:14-31).  Was she allowed to live?  Apparently she was.  Would the man divorce her?  Numbers 5 doesn’t say.  It leaves the woman unclean and in a miserable state, but gives no indication of any other punishment.  There is no remedy specified to cleanse the woman.  At this point there is no clear resolution. 


Note the divorce instruction of Moses:


“1 ¶  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, and puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,  2  when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife,..” (Deu 24:1-2)


The divorce instruction of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was not specifically given to handle prostitution or fornication.  Those issues were handled in Deuteronomy 22.  The offenders paid with their blood.  The regulation on divorce was to a large part an allowance to divorce the wife that failed the potion test administered by the priest.  When she failed that test ‘some uncleanness’ was the cause and the result.  The man can separate himself from that uncleanness with divorce.  That resolves the question regarding the wife that failed the 'jealousy test'.  The certificate of divorce could be issued.


The Jewish school of Shammai knew that the woman’s uncleanness was typically due to her having committed adultery.  That would have certainly been known if she had failed the priests' test, perhaps there may have been other circumstances as well.


The Jewish sages later considered this matter.  They determined that the woman had become unclean and therefore the man was required to divorce her.  (Gittin 90b, Jerusalem – Gittin 1:7 II-H)


This ruling by the sages makes a certain amount of sense, but there is little indication outside Ezra that divorce was ever really required for anyone.  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,… (Deut 24:1-2).  This text leaves the matter to the discretion of the husband.  He decides when this happens.


The new and burning issue in Yeshua's day revolved around the meaning of ‘some uncleanness’.  The Jewish school of Shammai determined that this could only be sexual immorality, especially adultery.  Indeed the Hebrew word for uncleanness, “`ervah”, has a close connection with nakedness and exposure of especially female genitals.  The same root word is used throughout Leviticus 18 and is translated nakedness.  In Leviticus 18 it is clear that it is a euphemism for sexual relations (Lev 20:11, 18, 18:18-19).  'The House of Shammai say, "I know only that a writ of divorce is issued on the grounds of unchastity"' (Gittin 9:11:I.A).  The school of Shammai taught that sexual unchastity was the reason the divorce certificate was issued.


The school of Hillel, emphasized other words, which they interpreted to allow greater leeway.  This was a new approach, and caused a new and significant controversy among the Jews of Yeshua's day.  Apparently this controversy was at least partly the reason for the questions the Pharisees asked Him (Mat 19:3).


Yeshua in His instruction makes it fairly clear that He certainly rejected Hillel’s thinking on this matter.  According to His teaching it appears once a man and wife were joined they were not to break that bond.  That bond could have existed for years.  Does God ‘unjoin’ that physical bond if adultery is involved and a divorce is issued?


Apparently not.  Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery(Luke 16:18).  Moses allowed that the union could be dissolved, but according to Yeshua this was not the way things should have been.  "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so" (Mat 19:8bc).  Moses instruction seems specifically addressed to the case where the woman has failed the 'jealousy' test.  She may be divorced if the man has found her to be unclean, “`ervah”.  However, Yeshua dismissed this judgment as caving in to the hardhearted. He encouraged his followers to forgive. 


So when Yeshua allows divorce for 'porneia' He would not be including simple adultery or anything else Moses might have permitted.  It makes no sense that He would undercut what Moses allowed, but then allow the same thing Himself.


What else is there?


Let's again focus on the Greek word 'porneia' and some similar words.  It should be noted that 'porne' is a prostitute, 'porneuo' is to prostitute.  A 'pornos' is a male prostitute.  A 'porneion' is a house of prostitution, or brothel.  'Pornidion' are brothel-keepers.  'Ek-porneuo' means to go a whoring or prostitute yourself.  'Kataporneuo' means to make a prostitute.  Pornokopeo’ is a whoremonger.  All these words probably derive from 'pernemi', which means to export for sale and usually applied to the "exporting of captives to foreign parts for sale as slaves" (Greek English Lexicon, Liddell & Scott).  Greek prostitutes were commonly bought slaves.


Can a prostitute be what she/he is, a prostitute-house be what it is, a prostitute-keeper be what he is, and yet prostitution does not primarily mean the business that a prostitute does under the direction of a prostitute-keeper in a prostitute-house?  Even so, the primary meaning of 'porneia' must be prostitution.  This is reflected in both the Liddell & Scott and Arndt and Gingrich lexicons.


The word 'prostitution' lends itself to metaphorical or figurative applications of condemnation of almost anything.  As such it should be no surprise that the word is given a range of meanings.  Most theologians seem to want to accept the more all inclusive definition, which would connect it with any sexual misconduct.  However, Yeshua clearly did not intend to connect it with adultery.  That is what Moses allowed for Israel.  He condemned that approach as hardhearted.


Prostitution is typically high on the list of most lexicons, as is fornication.  Although fornication can include adultery it especially is applied to sexual activity before marriage.  Fornication with no resulting commitment of marriage was just a specialized type of prostitution.  Lexicons tend to be better sources of this information than commentaries.  Lexicons are typically put together by linguists who should derive their meanings from the usage of the language and usually do.  Commentaries are put together by theologians who tend to slant facts according to their own set of beliefs.


Moses was not ruling on prostitution when he allowed divorce for adultery. Although not specifically detailed it seems apparent that God did not intend there to be prostitutes in Israel (Lev 19:29, Deut 23:17-18).  Prostitutes are typically somewhat open.  In that case they could be caught in the act and should have been executed (Deut 22:22, Lev 20:10).  No divorce was necessary.


Neither was Moses divorce allowance dealing with fornication.  In ancient Israel a woman who had sexual relations before an official marriage was also executed (Deut 22:13-14, 20-21).  No divorce was necessary.  It is easy to see that fornication, i.e. sex before marriage, if undisclosed would be grounds for breaking the bond of a later marriage.  Fornication would have occurred before the later marriage was consummated.  Therefore the woman was already joined to someone else. 


In that case a divorce could have been reinforcing the rule that once bound, a union should not be separated.  The divorce would have recognized the original binding as supreme.


The Law has other things to say about divorce.  God specifically disallowed any priest to be married to a divorced woman.  Doing so would have made him profane, not holy. (Lev 21:7, Exe 44:22)  Since God originally intended Israel to be an entire nation of priests (Ex 19:6) He evidently did not intend divorce, or divorced women to be married at all, in Israel.  Since He is intending that believers’ be priests (Rev 20:6, I Pet 2:9) it seems like we ought to be acting accordingly now.


The exact words of the seventh commandment forbid only adultery, not adultery and fornication.  In one sense there is really no such thing as fornication.  Once a couple is joined in the sexual union they are husband and wife. "If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride–price for her to be his wife. (Ex 22:16).  Only if they simply walk away from that relationship or otherwise hide it, do we call it fornication later after they are 'married' to someone else.  In reality the sin is adultery, because of the way the Creator made us.  They are really married to the individual with whom they had the first relationship.


The word fornication only appears four times in the King James Old Testament.  In most other translations it is even less frequently used.  Often it is not used at all.  This is because on each of these occasions where it is used, prostitution or whoredom is really a better fit.  It is usually talking metaphorically of Israel going after other Gods.  They were already married to the true God, therefore fornication, i.e. sex before marriage, doesn't really apply.


Of course, Leviticus 18 and 20 address sexual perversion in more detail than does the seventh commandment.  We will look at some of this later.


God's example

God’s own example is of course instructive.  Ezekiel 16 tells the story of God’s commitment to Israel, symbolized by her capitol Jerusalem.  He cleaned her up and nurtured her.  He provided for her, but she committed unspeakable whoredoms.  Yet He will remember His covenant with Israel and He will establish her yet again. 

Of course Deuteronomy 24:1-4 talks of a husband who divorces his wife.  She marries another but if they separate for any reason, she was not to return to the first husband. (vs.4). 

Yet God Himself is so committed in His relationship to Israel that it could be said He ignores His own instruction, or at least the Law of Moses.  He divorces Israel after her harlotry and adultery (Jer 3:6-8, cf. Eze 16).  She continues that harlotry although never officially married to another.  Yet God still remains committed, (vs. 14) and pleads with Israel to return.  He recognizes the evil and danger, but he pleads for her to return.  They say, ‘If a man divorces his wife, And she goes from him and becomes another man’s May he return to her again?  Would not that land be greatly polluted?  But you have played the harlot with many lovers; Yet return to Me” says the Lord’” (Jer 3:1).


Although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this for humans, this shows the commitment God Himself has toward His marriage covenant.  Hopefully it will not be necessary for any Christian to go through this, but God's example is one of great faithfulness.  Even after Israel first committed adultery God did not immediately divorce her.


It is instructive to examine the reason for God’s divorce from Israel.  Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also. (Jer 3:8)  But you trusted in your own beauty, played the harlot because of your fame, and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it.(Eze 16:15)  The cause for God’s divorce from Israel was repeated adultery, in effect prostitution.  It was not a single affair, but a way of life.  Adultery does not justify an automatic divorce, as the sages had incorrectly concluded.

God put away Israel using Moses stipulation in the Law.  However, He put her away after she showed herself to be an habitual adulteress, a prostitute.  Normally that would have meant her death.  Moses allowed the stony hearted men to divorce after catching the wife in a single episode of adultery.  However God showed himself to not be hard hearted.  He did not use that option until after Israel had shown herself to be a hardhearted habitual prostitute.  Even after that God still pleaded with her to return.

So prostitution would logically as well as linguistically be included in Yeshua's use of the word 'porneia'.  Moses in Deuteronomy 24 did not intend it.  God divorced Israel because of her whoredoms, i.e. prostitution (Jer 3, Exe 16).  Death would have been the more normal penalty.  God is merciful.


Fornication also fits with 'porneia' because it is the original marriage that supercedes any subsequent sexual unions.  Someone divorcing because he has found his new mate is not a virgin could be respecting the original union and reinforcing the original intent of God.  Both these meanings are intertwined in the primary meaning of 'porneia'.  Either conduct of this nature deserved death according to the Law of Moses.  So neither infraction was intended in Moses allowance for divorce.


It should be totally clear, He hates divorce(Mal 2:16). Once the husband and wife are joined they are no more two, but one flesh.  God set that when He created us.  Nothing a couple can do really changes that.  Moses allowed divorce if the wife had become unclean because of adultery from which there was no cleansing remedy.  Our merciful God considers exercising this option after a single infraction to be hardhearted.   God did not divorce until the circumstances were such that the alternate remedy would have been death for His spouse.


What God has joined in our bodies should not be separated even if adultery is involved.  God’s example is one of love and mercy.  This is probably why the disciples were so surprised and perplexed at Yeshua's teaching. 'His disciples said unto him, "if the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry "' (Matt 19:10).  Even if the wife ‘plays around’ Yeshua's allowance for 'porneia' does not automatically allow the husband to divorce his wife.


So did Yeshua intend only fornication and prostitution when he used the word 'porneia' in Matthew 5 and 19? 


Certainly from the perspective of reason and logic those two fit.  Was there other illicit conduct besides prostitution and fornication that might lead to an illicit union that God would not sanction or hold binding?


Leviticus 18 & 20 list a number of sexual unions that it seems apparent God would not hold binding.  Each of these was potentially punishable by death just like fornication and prostitution were (Lev 18:29).  Interestingly one of these unions was that of a man with his father’s wife (vs.8, Lev 20:11).  This is exactly the infraction discussed in I Corinthians 5 and is called 'porneia' by Paul. 


So it is most likely that in using 'porneia' Yeshua meant especially prostitution, which is the primary meaning of the word and includes fornication, but also any illicit or perverted sex that is included in Leviticus 18 or 20.  These are unions that should simply never happen.  It only makes sense that God would not expect them to be honored.  In ancient Israel such unions should have brought a judgment of death on the participants.


As it turns out Hebrew/Aramaic speakers during New Testament times included the perversions of Leviticus 18 when using their word for prostitution.  In a note posted to a forum (Topic: Divorce & Remarriage, Jan 25. 2011) David Bivin of JerusalemPerspective.com makes the following comment.  “In early Judaism, one of the three original Noahide Laws, or Noahide Prohibitions, along with idolatry (avodah zarah) and murder (shefichut damim, literally, "shedding of bloods"), was גילוי עריות (gilui arayot = porneia in, e.g., Acts 15:20).  In Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25, porneia may refer to the despicable practice of visiting cult prostitutes in Greek temples.  In Jewish society of first-century Israel, gilui arayot usually referred to the prohibited sexual unions detailed in Leviticus 18.”  


So while the Greeks used ‘porneia’ primarily as prostitution, Jews apparently included the prohibitions of Leviticus 18 in the concept.  Those that created the Greek text from the Hebrew/Aramaic speech of Yeshua and the Apostles evidently were content with a word for word translation even though the Greeks didn’t include the perversions of Leviticus 18 in their concept of ‘porneia’.



The law did allow anyone who was validly divorced to remarry.  Jewish practice in New Testament times allowed this as well.  It seems reasonable to assume the new partner would be aware of the circumstances of the first divorce.  If that was not a problem to the new partner then it was apparently not a major problem to God for Israel.  and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, 2 when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man's wife.. (Deut 24:1-2)  (Of course this mirrors closely what could happen if the husband had died.  This may have bearing on why the wife was forbidden to return to her first husband even if her second husband died. Vs. 4) 


The ability to remarry assumed a valid divorce, not one where the husband was just tired of his wife and wanted another.  The valid reason in the Law of Moses was especially adultery.


However, we have seen that Yeshua taught a higher standard than the Law of Moses, Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.  (Matt 19:8)  Since ancient Israel didn’t have the heart to obey (Deut 5:29, 9:6, 29:4) they were allowed something that God did not originally intend.  So anyone who wishes to grasp the New Covenant and the instruction of Yeshua has reason to reject this allowance in the Law of Moses to divorce as well as to remarry.  Neither the practice of first century Judea or ancient Israel are good examples for believers.  Yeshua's instruction indicates that most of the reasons for divorce in His time and society were bogus, and therefore the second marriages were tainted. Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery. (Luke 16:18)


Once a marriage was bound and joined it should not be separated.  God binds the marriage by making the couple ‘one flesh’.  What God has bound, men should not separate.  Of course if the original mate dies it is apparent they are no longer one flesh. "The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth…." (I Cor 7:39)


Remarry, or marry again?

Under the law, men were permitted multiple wives.  "If a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved,.." (Deut 21:15ab).  "If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her {the first wife}food, her clothing, and her marriage rights." (Ex 21:10).  Also Leviticus 18:18, Deuteronomy 25:5 and Exodus 22:16 strongly imply that multiple wives are not an issue.  David had many wives and God probably would have given him more had he asked (II Sam 12:8).  Of course before the Law of Moses was given, Jacob had four wives. Abraham was not condemned for having a child with Hagar and she is called his wife (Gen 16:3).  God himself treats Judah and Israel as sisters and indicates He was married to both (Jer 3:8-14 see also Eze. 23). 


Somewhat in contrast to this a church leader in the New Testament was to be the husband of one wife(I Tim 3:2, 12, Ti 1:6).  However, the mere mention of this as a qualification for leadership is evidence that having multiple wives was not a problem for the general believer even in New Testament times.  Paul’s instruction may be a recommendation against multiple wives.  However it is not a condemnation of anyone who has multiple wives.  How could someone with multiple wives even be considered for leadership in the church if multiple wives were not allowed to average believers?


Paul also seems to recommend against a widow being made a deaconess if she had been married to more than one husband or was under 60 years of age (I Tim 5:9).  This does not mean that a widow should not remarry.  Actually it was Paul's recommendation that they do remarry (vs. 14).  It just means that Paul didn’t think they made good deaconesses. 


He explains his reservation that younger women might remarry and discontinue their service to the congregation (I Tim 5:11-14). Unfortunately he does not explain his reservation about multiple husbands for the older woman nor does he explain his problem with multiple wives for the deacon or elder.  His instruction to Timothy does not quote any foundational precept of God, which is his typical practice.


It is also interesting that according to Craig Keener in And Marries Another, (Pg.87), (Hendrickson Publishers,  Peabody, Mass. 1991) multiple wives were illegal under Roman law.  In Palestine multiple wives were still allowed, but other areas fell in line with Rome (Pg. 88).  Since Timothy and Titus seem to be more involved in areas of Greece and Asia Minor it is highly unlikely that they would ever come across anyone with more than one wife…officially.  If they did, certainly that person would not have a good testimony among those who are outside (I Tim 3:7b).  This would be good reason not to set this person in a leadership position.  It seems this would have been obvious for Timothy and Titus, no explanation would have been necessary.  Indeed Paul doesn’t explain his reservation about leaders having multiple wives.  It is just as likely that he was concerned about respecting the law of the land, as it is that he had some personal reservation about multiple wives.


Evidently concubines were somewhat popular among the less wealthy (Ibid. Pg. 89).  It allowed for the easier dissolution of the relationship should that be desired.  Paul would not approve of this relationship if there were a perceived intention to cast away the concubine at some point.


Yeshua is quoted saying "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; (Luke 16:18a).  The wording is similar in Matthew 19 and Mark 10.  Is He disallowing multiple wives with this statement? 

The subject of these quotes is divorce.  The subject of multiple wives is nowhere to be found in this context.  However, having more than one wife was quite possible in Yeshua's place and time.  Are two wives at the same time allowed, but two wives one at a time are not?

We need to remember that Yeshua was not speaking Greek, but probably Hebrew and possibly Aramaic.  "And" or "In order to" Remarry by David Bivin (Jerusalem Perspective 1/1996) points up a quirk in Yeshua's divorce statement when translated back into Hebrew.  This use especially fits the account of Luke 18:16, but also makes sense in the other accounts, particularly Matthew 19 where the lead-in question hinted at a belief that a man might be able to divorce for almost any reason (vs. 3).  Mr. Bivin notes that Yeshua seems to especially be condemning someone who divorces the first wife in order to marry another.  This is likely the underlying Hebrew meaning.


According to the law, if someone married a second wife he was absolutely required to maintain the first wife in the manner to which she had become accustomed.  If he take him another wife; her (the first wife) food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish (Ex 21:10).

Yeshua is likely assuming that the man is simply trying to sidestep the intent of Exodus 21:10.  Indeed, that was often the typical use of Hillel's teaching on divorce.  The man had found some other woman more appealing.  He is being unfaithful in his duty to support his first wife, therefore he is an adulterer.

Yeshua's teaching showed such a divorce to be void.  It was not according to God's original intent.  Neither was it valid according to Moses.  It was the man’s selfishness that forced the first woman out.  Therefore, if she married another, that marriage was an adulterous union, because the original divorce was bogus.  So the one who instigated the original divorce caused his ‘former’ wife and the one she married to commit adultery.  Yeshua is not condemning multiple wives, but the unfaithfulness towards the first wife.


Another part of the context may revolve around John the Baptist.  He had condemned Herod for marrying his brother’s wife (Mt 14, Mk 6, Lk 3:19-20).  Ultimately John was beheaded for this.  Yeshua could easily have been addressing this issue at least in part.  The account in Mark 10:12 talks of a woman divorcing her husband.  This was not allowed in Israel.  However, this is exactly what Herodias had done to Herod's brother Philip, so she could marry Herod. (See Josephus Ant 15,7,10).  The ruler made his/her own rules.  Herodias was also in a position to appeal to Roman law, which did allow women to divorce.

In any case, the context of Yeshua's instruction was divorce.  He was addressing himself first to those who were being unfaithful to their wives for no good reason and secondarily to those who had justification according to the Law of Moses, but were being hardhearted.  The matter of multiple wives was not being addressed.


That being the case, Yeshua's instruction does not disallow multiple wives.  It forbids sidestepping the requirement of the law to appropriately provide for the first wife if a man marries a second wife.  The problem exists regardless of the timing of the second marriage.  For that matter it is easy to see this instruction even applies if the man never marries again.  Even divorce laws today recognize the responsibility of the breadwinner to support a non-working or shall we say under-funded spouse.


Some have used Matthew 5:28 as justification for disallowing multiple wives.  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 

The subject here is clearly adultery and lust (vs.27), not marriage, let alone a second marriage.  Yeshua's words in Matthew 5:28 apply to all men whether or not they have ever been married.  Is He forbidding virgin men to marry?  Logically this is not forbidding what was then considered proper marriage in any form.  Having more than one wife was acceptable during that time, although losing popularity.

Those who believe this scripture forbids a second marriage must think men always lust after a woman before they would ever marry her?  Claiming this scripture disallows multiple wives seems to say no man is capable of marrying out of respect and admiration or love for a woman.  In reality Matthew 5:28 is not addressing multiple wives at all.


So can a man marry again after a divorce, but a woman cannot?  Isn’t this differentiation between men and women a relic of an ancient culture?  Is this really godly?  In the western world we tend to allow or even promote equality of the sexes.  In God's instruction on divorce, equality as we typically think of it, is not easily found.


In Old Testament Hebrew society the wife was not permitted to instigate the divorce.    There is no hint that a woman could divorce her husband in the Old Testament.  If she was divorced it was expected that she would return to her father's home (Lev 22:13).  There was no equality of the sexes, at least as the Western world perceives it ought to be.  Of course this is underscored in Josephus comments indicating women could not divorce during New Testament times as well (Josephus Ant 15,7,10).


Moses allowed the divorced woman to remarry.  This was probably an attempt to even the marriage balance.  Since the man could now divorce his wife the woman now had the right to be joined to someone else. 


God's original plan would have provided happiness for both.  The original plan ought to be where we set the fulcrum for what is even handed and what is not.  Should we look to our society to make further improvements to correct any inequity?


As politically incorrect as it may be, if we are to Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; (Prov 3:5), we should be very cautious in doing this.  Certainly Paul said, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus(Gal 3:28).  However he also said, For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. (Eph 5:23, cf. I Cor 11:3)  He also went so far as to say, Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.(I Cor 11:9)


Some of this definitely flies in the face of the women’s liberation movement that engendered much of our leanings toward equality of the sexes in western society. Should we trust our culture or God’s word?


Galatians 3 is talking of our relationship to the Law of Moses and how we receive salvation through Christ not the law.  1 Corinthians 11 is talking of an organizational hierarchy and the display of respect where respect is due.  In some ways it is clarifying what Galatians 3 is saying.  Ultimately we are one with Christ, but within that unity there is organization and the man is the head of the woman just like Christ is the head of the man and God is the head of Christ.


If this is indeed so, the man will not connect with the Father except through Christ. 'Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.”' (John 14:6 see also Eph 2:18, John 3:17)  Could it be that the woman is involved in this equation at least partly through the conduit of her husband?  If she has not married it would likely be through her father..  A divorced or widowed woman might not be under the authority of any man (Num 30:6-11).  One would assume that she is then responsible directly to Christ.


Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. (Eph 5:24)


Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband (Eph 5:33 KJV, Reverence = Gr. sebomai = fear, reverence, worship see Acts16:14) 


"…that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed."(Titus 2:4-5)


For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror. (I Pet 3:5-6)


"I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing righteousness, with good works.  Let a woman learn in silence with all submission." (1 Tim 2:8-11)


The man was to be the authority in his home.  By asking in a public forum the woman was bypassing that order and making herself appear to be bypassing her husband and therefore making her husband appear inadequate.  Thus shame was brought on the whole household.


Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. 6 For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. 7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man is not from woman, but woman from man. 9 Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. 10 For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. (I Cor 11:4-10, There is reason to believe that 'angels' here is referring to the males who are, or ought to be, the messengers (Gr. Aggelous) of God).


Although it is not unusual for this context to be dismissed as a relic of ancient Middle Eastern custom, if we are to ‘lean not on’ our own understanding, we should think twice about this.  What this is saying is that while praying the woman was to have her head covered as a reminder that she is under the authority of her husband.  If she did not have this covering she was dishonoring her husband.  In that case she might as well shave her head, pretend to be a man and usurp her husbands' position as head of the household.  This would have been brazenly disrespectful and disgraceful in that society. 


It’s not altogether acceptable in our society either.  How many jokes are made of the overbearing or domineering wife, or timid fearful husband?  These jokes are in part successful because we still deride the man that is not the head of his home.  Perhaps if women would do this simple thing of covering their head when they pray we would not have so many divorces.


God chose to have I Corinthians 11:4-10 included in the exhortation of the apostles to us.  We need to be cautious about dismissing it as a relic.  It may indeed mean that a wife will be held very responsible for lightly esteeming or disobeying the will of her husband.  Also as the man has but one Christ, so the woman has but one husband.  When a woman marries, the law binds her to her husband as long as he is alive. But if he dies, the laws of marriage no longer apply to her. (Rom 7:2 NLT also "The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth…." I Cor 7:39)


Yeshua did not hold fast to the Jewish tradition that men not speak to a woman (John 4:27).  However, when a woman with whom he was talking in effect asked to be given the Holy Spirit, He told her to go get her husband (John 4:15-16).


Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God. (Ex 23:17).  Certainly in ancient Israel God worked through the man.  Paul didn’t seem to see any reason to change this.  Apparently Yeshua didn't either.


“…for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" (I John 4:20)  Can a wife love God but not her husband?  Of course this assumes the husband is a God fearing man.  It seems the husband has the more difficult relationship with his superior.


The authority and leadership of the husband is the standard throughout scripture.  The allowance for a divorced woman to remarry in the law must be understood based on the explanation Yeshua gave clarifying the original intent of God’s law before the Law of Moses was added.  What Moses had allowed was not allowed from the beginning (Mat 19:8).  Once a virgin has been married she is bound for life.  Yeshua teaches a return to God’s original intention for marriage.  Divorce is valid only in the case of prostitution, fornication or blatant perversion.  This must have been extremely rare within the Christian community.  It is not a great oversight that both Luke and Mark fail to mention the exception for 'porneia'.


No other divorce is valid in the eyes of God.  Even in the Law of Moses the priests were not to marry a divorced woman.  Anyone looking to be a priest to God should seriously consider that.



Present reality

For those who might chafe under male dominance it might be of some consolation to understand a little of why things are this way.  The most applicable explanation seems to be found in Genesis 3:16. To the woman, He said: I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; your desire [shall be] for your husband, and he shall rule over you.


This of course, was the penalty levied as a result of Eve's disobedience.  Of course, the man did not come away unscathed in this matter.  Verses 17-19 detail his penalty.  The ground would be cursed.  He would need to work in the fields and provide for himself from the sweat of his labor.


Some variation on this is how life has been for the vast majority of humanity throughout the ages.  However, these proclamations seem to be curses levied directly as a result of our first parents conduct.  It follows then that this is not what God intended for Adam and Eve. 


Generally what did God intend? 

It seems apparent that what He wanted in Adam and Eve was obedience to His instruction.  It seems apparent this is what God asked of Israel too. "Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people: for all the earth is Mine" (Ex 19:5)


In fact, in Hebrew speech this verse is being fairly specific as to what 'obey my voice' means.  This verse highlights what is commonly called Hebrew parallelism, i.e. repetition of a thought expressed in different words or from a slightly different perspective.  Obeying His voice means keeping His covenant.  According to the habit of Hebrew speech they are one and the same.


"Therefore thou shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to fear him." (Deu 8:6)  Again parallelism shows walking in God's ways is accomplished by keeping His commandments.  In order to do this one needs to fear to disobey.


And when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I [am] the Almighty God; walk before me, and be blameless. (Gen 17:1 )  God is not saying that if Abram just walks around in front of Him he will be blameless or whole and without fault.  He is asking him to walk His walk with Him.  This is exactly what the Patriarchs did and it is what endeared them to God.  And he blessed Joseph, and said, "God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has fed me all my life long to this day…(Gen 48:15 KJV)


Not only did Abraham, Isaac and Jacob walk with God, but Noah did too. This is the genealogy of Noah.  Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations.  Noah walked with God. (Gen 6:9)  Enoch did as well. "And Enoch walked with God: and he [was] not; for God took him" (Gen 5:24).


It seems fairly apparent that God is seeking those that will follow His instruction and walk in His ways.  These would be people that would reflect His character and approach. 


Adam and Eve evidently showed themselves incapable of living up to this standard in the best of circumstances.  So our lives have all been cursed as a result.  However now under less than optimum circumstances God is still seeking a people for Himself.  He wants His followers to conduct themselves in a manor properly representative of Him.  But you [are] a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; (I Pet 2:9)


In the same breath Peter goes on to encourage the true believers to avoid the typical desires of humans, which get in the way of a whole and blameless mind.  He requests complete honesty and obedience to all civil law.   He encourages doing good within the community.  He encourages us to not feel the need to defend ourselves at every slight, but depend on God's judgment of us.  None of these traits are innately ingrained in human beings.  Even those who consider themselves true believers typically fail to live to this standard.


If we would indeed live to this standard and all the many other recommendations made throughout the New and Old Testament, married life would be significantly different from what it is today.  God's way is the way of peace.  We have no peace because we don't really live God's way.  We want our own way and/or we want certain things that appeal to us.  We think we just can't live without many things. 


Man's way is the way of self-preservation.  God is looking for those who will depend on Him for preservation and concentrate on building up their brothers and sisters rather than themselves.  This would include a man treating his wife with concern truly equal to himself and vice-versa.  This doesn't mean we quit our jobs, but that we acknowledge Him and share what we have with our brothers and sisters, fellow man and especially our spouse.


This kind of conduct would revolutionize a marriage if truly adhered to.  This is a whole new subject on its own and internalizing and living it is key to truly stirring up the spirit of God.  Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find.  Meanwhile back to divorce.


Rulings in the New Testament Church

Paul discusses divorce especially in I Corinthians 7.  The topic of separation in a marriage begins in verse 10.  Paul addresses specifically a wife leaving a husband.  She should not leave, but if she did, she was to remain unmarried.  The husband was also not to send away the wife.  However there is no comment about the husband remaining unmarried.    It cannot be assumed that this was simply an oversight.  In the culture of that day there was no equality.  If Paul intended equality it would have been an exception. The Corinthians would have required an explanation.  In Greece women could divorce but that didn’t mean there was anything remotely approaching what we consider equality.


Beginning at verse 25 Paul again makes some judgments having to do with marital status.  Some of this seems confusing largely because we typically use the word ‘virgin’ to refer to a female.  The Greeks did too, but it was not limited to females just like in English it can include males.  Paul applies the term to males as well.


Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy. 26 I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress--that it is good for a man to remain as he is: 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But even if you do marry, you have not sinned;


Here Paul is obviously talking to the men. He apparently did not limit himself to virgins for long, but established some general guidelines for all men.  Apparently the men have the option to seek a wife whether or not they were ever ‘loosed from a wife’.  Paul recommends that they not pursue that option because of the stress of the times.  However whether they marry or not, they have not sinned.


It should be noted here that even though Paul received direct instruction from Christ in many things (Gal 1:11-12) this matter was evidently not part of what Christ revealed to Paul.  Paul is making "judgment as one whom the Lord ..has made trustworthy" (I Cor 7:25c).  It only stands to reason that Paul is making judgments within the bounds that he understood Yeshua intended.  Paul did not feel Christ had ever given him extra instruction in this issue.


Then Paul continues, “and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned.  So there is not a problem for the virgin female to marry at any time either.  Of course, in the Western world we probably would assume she would not marry an already married man.  Since Paul is talking primarily to Greeks it is reasonable to assume this was his intent for the Corinthians.  However it is not specifically so directed here.


What about the non-virgin female?   The issue is not addressed.  Later, verse 34 lists two types of women: a wife and a virgin.  Even though divorce was evidently prevalent in that society the divorced unattached woman is totally ignored. The "unmarried woman' of verse 34 seems to be only connected with a virgin.  Evidently no clarification of a divorced woman's status was needed.


The only comment that might apply to divorced women is in verse 39.  "A wife is bound by the law as long as her husband lives…".  Even though this thought is recorded in two different epistles in the New Testament (a somewhat rare occurrence, Rom 7:2, I Cor 7:39) neither occurrence notes any special status for a woman separated by divorce.


One could say that by definition a divorce separates a woman from the law of her husband.  Yeshua didn’t see it that way.  "whoever marries her that is divorced commits adultery" (Mat 19:9, see also Mat 5:32, Mark 10:11-12, Luke 16:18)  Except for 'porneia' divorces were bogus.  However for the man, Paul says, Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But even if you do marry, you have not sinned (I Cor 7:27b-28).


Earlier Paul addressed "unmarried and widows" (vs 8).  By 'unmarried' Paul here seems to be first referring to the men since verse 7 denotes the masculine.  Also the unmarried in verse 32 seems to be primarily the men evidenced by the context of verse 33. 


Treating the man differently than the woman will probably not be very popular.  Some may think it is sexist and anti-women.  However we should consider what Yeshua's disciples thought of this.  'His disciples said unto him, "if the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry"' (Matt 19:10).  This raises the stakes for both sexes.  The man must support the undesirable wife even though he probably doesn’t want to.  Although in some societies the woman could divorce, there is no indication the New Testament church supported or recognized that.  So once married the woman had to stay faithful to her husband or in effect reject Christ’s instruction. 


Yeshua's response to the disciples was, "All men cannot receive this saying"  (vs. 11).  Not everyone can appreciate and submit to God's instruction in this matter.  That doesn’t void God’s instruction.  It simply means the indwelling of the mind of God has not softened all of our hearts yet.


God undoubtedly understood when He created marriage that all couples would not live happily ever after.  Marriage takes work and commitment.  It requires selflessness, mutual respect and giving.  These are exactly the qualities God is looking for in His people.  If we can't do this with our mates how will we ever do it for our neighbors?  If we don't do it for our neighbor how do we think the spirit of God dwells in us at all? (I John 3:17)


Perhaps this is one of the reasons Yeshua earlier said, "Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way, which leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Mat 7:14) 


Other instruction from Paul

It is worth going through some other areas of 1 Corinthians 7.  Yeshua's instruction was the basis for Paul’s judgments in 1 Corinthians 7.  The topic of separation or divorce begins in verse 10.  Paul addresses specifically a wife leaving a husband.  She should not leave, but if she did, she was not to remarry.  The husband was also not to send away the wife.  These are the ground rules for subsequent judgments.  This instruction is remember, from the Lord (vs.10).

The Greek word for ‘depart’ in verse 10 is ‘chorizo’, which typically means separate or divide, but can imply the meaning of divorce.  However it is fairly clear Paul does not intend divorce as allowed by Moses, since he immediately indicates the woman’s options are remain single or return to her husband.  The husband’s options are not restricted except that he is exhorted to not send his wife away.  If Paul intends to allow different conduct in other exceptional situations we should expect him to state the variations specifically.

After verse 10 Paul claims to step out on his own, "But to the rest speak I, not the Lord".  We have to assume here Paul is not starting his own doctrine, but explaining his perspective as he does in verse 25.  "I have no commandment from the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy."  This seems reasonable since in Galatians 1:7-12 as well, Paul makes it clear he will not vary from what he received from Christ.

However, on what he is about to address he says he received no direct instruction.  So it makes sense that he intends to judge within the guidelines that have already been set down.  He is not claiming any authority from Christ to stretch what He taught.

Especially the NKJV gives the impression that Paul is dealing with questions of divorce in verses 11-13.  The Greek word in verses 11-13 translated ‘divorce’ (NKJV) or ‘put away’ and ‘leave’ (KJV) is ‘aphiemi’.  It typically means send away or leave. Most authorities 1 seem to claim it can also mean ‘divorce’.  Their claim is based on an anecdote in Herodotus 5,39.  Oddly enough this section of Herodotus does not specifically use ‘aphiemi’ at all, neither does it use a word meaning ‘divorce’. So the use of this text in establishing a connection between ‘aphiemi’ and divorce is a real stretch.  The point the authorities seem to be trying to make is that sometimes ‘divorce’ is implied even though the word is not used. 


1 Many authorities do not provide the source for their definitions.  Fortunately the best sources do.  These include lexicons by Liddell & Scott, Arndt & Gingrich, Thayer and Danker.  All of these lexicons reference Herodotus 5,39 exclusively for their connection of ‘aphiemi’ to divorce.


This section of Herodotus does indeed talk of a Spartan ruler sending away his wife and marrying another.  At first glance we might assume the intention is what we call divorce.  However we should keep in mind that wives of monarchs were not typically divorced and especially were not allowed to marry someone else.  Solomon had Adonijah executed because he dared to ask for Abishag, one of David's wives, after David was dead (I Kings 2:17-25).  Marrying a queen carried the weight of making one king.  So that even if this anecdote applied, the right of remarriage for the wife is not included in the context of this story in Herodotus.


In any case, we can hardly apply the Spartans implied meaning for the monarch in Herodotus to I Corinthians completely different wording and different contextual  use of aphiemiin Paul’s advice to Christians.  There is little similarity between Paul’s advice and this section of Herodotus.  The primary definition of 'aphiemi’, to send away or leave, works quite well in this context.  In particular Paul does not recommend anyone “marry another”.  If none of these authorities have found a better example connecting aphiemi with divorce than this anecdote in Herodotus there is little reason to believe Paul was intending divorce in the use of the word aphiemi’.


‘Aphiemi’ might be taken to imply divorce if the context very clearly supported that implication.  1 Corinthians 7:11-13 does not, especially when we remember Yeshua's instruction.  The typical meaning is ‘send away’ or ‘leave’.  If this typical meaning is used, Paul is making his judgment well within the bounds of Yeshua's instruction.  A believer shouldn’t separate from their unbelieving mate as long as the mate is agreeable. 


The ASV reflects this understanding. “But to the rest say I, not the Lord: If any brother hath an unbelieving wife, and she is content to dwell with him, let him not leave her. And the woman that hath an unbelieving husband, and he is content to dwell with her, let her not leave her husband.”   Paul is not talking about divorce in I Cor 7:11-13.  He is talking about separation. 


Some have come to the conclusion that Paul permitted a Christian who is married to an unbeliever to be eligible for remarriage if the unbeliever departs.  The only scripture sited for this conclusion is I Corinthians 7:15, which states, But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart: a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases.  But God has called us to peace.

This understanding seems to disagree with Yeshua's instruction.  He allows prostitution, fornication or perverted unions as a valid reason to break a union.  Divorce as allowed by Moses was a concession to the hardhearted.  No divorce is permitted after a union has been lawfully consummated except for prostitution.  Being an ‘unbeliever’ would not change the physical binding of the one flesh. 

To properly examine this verse and assure correct understanding we should remember a few things about the background of Paul in particular, and the Apostles and the New Testament Hebrew people in general.  Even though the earliest texts we have of Corinthians are written in Greek, Paul was by birth a Hebrew (Phil 3:5).  He was a member of the sect of the Pharisees. 


So what does this have to do with anything?  It helps us in this case to understand Hebrews speech habits.  These can be seen through the Greek, but can be confusing IF one doesn’t keep in mind the speaker was a native Hebrew speaker.  Much of the New Testament is not particularly good Greek.  This is because the flow is often more Hebrew and/or Aramaic.  All the Apostles were native Hebrew and/or Aramaic speakers.


It is easy to find Hebrew quirks in Paul’s writing and speech.  In this case Hebrew redundancy or parallelism is important.  I’ve included sample quotes from mostly the first chapter of First Corinthians, the same book that contained the quote that some believe allows a member to remarry if their unbelieving mate leaves them. 


“O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness”, (Acts 13:10)  “..to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (I Cor 1:2).  “Grace to you and peace from God our Father”, (vs. 3).  “.. that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment”, (vs.10).  “Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (vs.13).  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent”, (vs. 19 Here this redundancy is evident in a quote from Isa 29:14).  “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men”, (vs. 25).  “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty”, (vs.27).


More examples could be extracted.  You probably get the point. Paul was often what we might call redundant.  In fact Hebrew speakers are frequently redundant in their speech, especially when they are making an important point.  Actually this helps us greatly when we try to understand what they are saying, IF we are alert to this proclivity.  However as English speakers we seldom talk this way.  Therefore we are sometimes confused into thinking that a Hebrew speaker is talking about two different things, when in reality they are addressing the same thing from two slightly different perspectives. 


The confusion in I Cor 7:15 comes from a single phrase.  Let’s look at two different translations of this phrase: 1).  in such a case the brother or sister is not bound(RSV)   2). " the brother or the sister is not under servitude in such cases" (Young's Literal Translation)


The word translated 'bound' and 'servitude' here is the Greek word dedoulwtai a perfect tense verb form of doulow, which according to Thayer's Lexicon means, “to make a slave of, reduce to bondage”.   According to the Liddell and Scott Lexicon the word means "to make a slave of, enslave".  These two obviously agree closely and clearly support Young's translation (servitude) over the RSV. 


The RSV translation has caused confusion.  Some might take it to indicate something is unbound or released.  This is not the case.  Paul is talking of not enslaving or not binding.  He is not talking of releasing or unbinding at all.


Many translations translate dedoulwtai as 'bondage'.  This is the case in II Peter 2:19. “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the slaves of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage”.  Peter indicates here that a slave has been brought into bondage.  Historically bondage is slavery. 


According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary Copyright 1981 by G. & C. Merriam Co., bondage primary definition is; "The tenure or service of a villain, serf, or slave".  Unfortunately, so much time has passed since slavery was common that we forget the primary historical meaning of the word 'bondage'.  However, it is evident that is the definition the translators are intending because that agrees with the primary definition of the underlying Greek word doulow, to enslave.


Note the translation from the Emphasized Bible of J.B.Rotherham, it accurately preserves the correct Greek verb form in the English.  "The brother or the sister hath not come into bondage, in such cases" (I Cor 7:15b). The unbeliever leaving does not put the believer into bondage or slavery, i.e. does not enslave.  A modern translation would read; 'the brother or sister has not become enslaved in such cases'.  Again Paul is not indicating that anything is being unbound, but that bondage or slavery is not being imposed.


It is apparent that in the above phrase, Paul is saying that the brother or sister has not become a slave because the unbeliever departs.  He is telling the Corinthians that if the unbeliever leaves they should simply let them leave. The believer is not enslaved to the unbeliever in this situation.  God calls us to peace.  Peace will be fully served if they simply separate.


Paul's initial instruction answers 'What "if the unbeliever depart[s]"?' (I Cor 7:15a). The question Paul seems to be answering in verse 15 is; “What if my mate leaves me?  Must I stay with the mate at all costs?”   It seems this question would only come up if the Corinthian church were in great fear of splitting from their mates.  Had they been told "what God has joined together, let not men separate" (Mat 19:6b), or God hates divorce! (Mal 2:16)?  Or perhaps they were told the only valid reason for divorce is prostitution (Mat 5:32, 19:9).  Could they have been told those things?  Certainly!


If someone’s unconverted mate had then threatened to leave, a natural response would have been, “Oh no, now what do I do?”  Hence the question, “What if my mate leaves me?  Must I stay with the mate at all costs?”


Paul's answer then: “But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart: a brother or a sister has not been enslaved in such case, but God has called us to peace.”  Paul understood that Yeshua's command not to separate was addressed to appropriate divorce by those desiring to obey the Law of God.  It was not intended to apply literally when a mate was not particularly interested in 'Jewish law' and determined to separate.  Paul begins clarifying this in verse 10, "Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord:..".


That instruction assumed believers.  This is apparent because verse 12 says, But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe….” (I Cor 7:12a).  This brother is obviously married too.  He doesn't fit in the category addressed in verse 10 because his wife in not a believer.  Paul does not think that Yeshua addressed this circumstance: "I, not the Lord, say:"


So in verse 12-14 Paul instructs the Corinthians how to handle their part if their mate is an unbeliever.  They should not leave them or send them away.  There is no problem with being contaminated by their mate.


Then He addresses what to do if their mate is determined to leave even though the believer is intending to make the best of the situation. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart: the brother or the sister hath not come into bondage, in such cases.  But God has called us to peace.


There is nothing in marriage that requires mates to always stay in close proximity to one another.  So the marriage bond need not be legally severed in order to physically separate from a mate.  A slave however, was at the beck and call of the master and would not be allowed to separate.  The phrase a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases”, is simply another way of saying, "you are not your mates slave" and therefore giving added weight to the thought, “But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart”. Paul in typical Hebrew form is simply stating his perspective twice from differing angles to be sure the Corinthians understand.  'You need not stay with your mate at all costs.'  The believers’ hands are not unreasonably tied because Yeshua came down so strongly against divorce. 


Yeshua's disapproval of divorce was a difficult teaching for that time.  His words taught "what God has joined together, let not men separate" (Mat 19:6b).  So we shouldn’t be surprised that the Corinthians might have had some questions about exactly how to deal with an unbeliever that was determined to separate.


We should consider that the proclivity of Hebrew speakers to be redundant applies both ways.  If Paul were intending to teach something that could be considered to be contrary to Yeshua's instruction in Matthew 5, 19, Mark 10 and Luke 16 he would probably not simply state it once.  He would likely repeat the thought for emphasis and/or clarification.  If one pays attention, this practice can be seen throughout the Bible.  It was almost all composed by native Hebrew speakers and this type of repetition is pervasive.  Yet there is no such repetition or emphasis in this teaching that is interpreted as being directly contrary to the teaching of Christ.


Paul rightly judged that one could still separate and comply with Yeshua's instruction.  He even implied this in I Cor 7:12-13.  But to the rest say I, not the Lord: If any brother hath an unbelieving wife, and she is content to dwell with him, let him not leave her. And the woman that hath an unbelieving husband, and he is content to dwell with her, let her not leave her husband.” (ASV)  If they had not been 'content to dwell with him/her', then Paul implies there was no absolute requirement to stay together.


The thought in verse 16 makes no sense if Paul is granting a valid divorce in verse 15.  For how do you know, O wife, whether you shall save your husband?  Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (I Cor 7:16)  If they were just granted a valid divorce, the unbeliever would no longer be a husband or wife.  They would not likely be in a position to influence the unbeliever.


The context has progressed clearly and logically.  Believers are to be faithful to their marital covenant and one flesh.  Even if the mate is not a believer the believer is to remain faithful.  The unbeliever does not taint the believer.  However if the unbeliever insists on leaving, let them depart in peace.  Who knows whether or not you may ultimately save them through your influence and example?


Actually Yeshua allows that someone may need to separate from their wife in Matthew 19:29.  We may not only need to leave a mate, but also other relatives if we are to worship God in peace.  That does not allow one to ignore their responsibility towards their parents as required by the fifth commandment. Neither does it grant any automatic right to forever ignore the binding that God left in our flesh when we were married. 


Interestingly this verse neglected to allow leaving a husband.  Was this on purpose, or accidental, or due to cultural considerations?  Based on Paul’s comments in I Corinthians 7:10-15 and the context around Matthew 19:29 I would guess it was due to cultural considerations.  That culture expected the wife to obey and remain with her husband.  It did not expect a physically abusive husband.


Various commentaries seem to assume that if a believer can allow the unbeliever to depart then the believer can remarry.  However they fail to note Paul never says the believer was “free to marry again”.  The commentaries just assume that since permission was not specifically denied it was therefore granted.  The proper course would be to decide what was granted based on all other teaching of scripture and especially the context here.  Just because the restriction on the wife remarrying was only mentioned in verse 11 where dealing with two converted mates, doesn’t mean it needs to be repeated to have it apply to verse 15 when dealing with an unconverted husband.  Belief or the lack thereof does not affect the physical ‘one flesh’ state.


These commentaries and their authors base their opinion on the common practice of the times and the influence of their own society.  However, Yeshua taught the common practice of the times was bogus and without merit.  Later societies certainly should have no influence on the matter.  The common practice of that day is not a good example for true Christians.


1 Corinthians 7:15 does not talk of removing a bond of marriage, but of there not being made a bond of servitude or enslavement.  Servitude would be the resulting practical reality if the believing mate were absolutely required to stay with the unbeliever.  There is no such requirement.  The same requirements that are placed on the believer in verse 10 & 11 would apply to a believer in verse 15 unless something else was stated.  Don’t separate, but if you do the woman should remain unmarried or reconcile with her husband.


On the other hand, Paul does not forbid modern divorce.  Some probably don't consider there is a distinction between what Moses allowed and what courts do today.  Yeshua condemned Israel for being so hardhearted that the allowance for divorce was made.  That allowance only allowed divorce from a cheating wife.  Secondarily Yeshua condemned the then current loose interpretation that allowed the dumping of one wife for another.  Modern divorce can simply mean that one mate wants out for almost any reason.  This has no authority from even the Law of Moses let alone the Law of God.


A legal separation or even divorce might be appropriate in some circumstances.  Actually sometimes an unbeliever can force it on a believer.  If necessary, the believer should separate as peacefully as possible.  Any legal action would be treated as only a formality.  It would not affect the recognition of the believer that, A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives”.


Yeshua made it clear only the hardhearted divorced at the first opportunity by Moses allowance.  So the allowance for a woman to remarry while her original husband was alive was also flawed.  He also made it clear: "whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery. (Luke 16:18b)  Paul affirmed the same. "The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth…." (I Cor 7:39)  Therefore it appears God intended a believing woman remain faithful to her husband as long as he is alive.


Now what do I do?

Our society discarded this taboo against divorce or remarriage years ago.  So suppose a divorced woman is remarried and then some time later recognizes that God’s instruction forbids this.  What do they do?


The Samaritan woman of John 4 had evidently been married five times.  Yeshua said the man she was then presently living with was not her husband.  Yet He used this woman to reach a number of Samaritans.  It seems apparent she recognized Yeshua as the messiah and believed.  Yet there is no instruction or explanation of what the woman did or should have done to correct her marital situation.  The writers of the Gospels did not deem it of any particular importance or noteworthiness.  They didn’t know we would want to know.  The implication is she did nothing at all and certainly nothing unusual.


I Corinthians 7:18-24 must have some application in this case.  It is right there in Paul’s other comments regarding marriage.  Divorce was not uncommon then.  There must have been divorced women in the audience or at least the potential for some.  The admonition here is to make the best of whatever your situation might be.  They were to remain in whatever calling they were called.  as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk(I Cor 7:17b)


Can you remain in an "adulterous" situation and still be at peace with God?


Divorced women could be remarried within the Law of Moses (Deut 24:1-2).  This is obviously not what God would have preferred (Matt 19:8, Mark 10:5).  Remarriage under these circumstances must be condemned along with Moses allowance to divorce by the instruction of Yeshua.  However, God looked the other way for ancient Israel because He knew they simply did not have the heart to obey (Deut 5:29, 9:6, 29:4).  Would He hold us to a higher standard in our ignorance?  God has called us to peace (I Cor 7:15).  Breaking up in this case is fraught with a host of other problems that cause strife.  Those who have tried this have often found it to be counterproductive.


Paul said God joined someone to a harlot if they had sexual relations (I Cor 6:16).  If a woman has married again even if her previous husband is still alive, that new union has been joined too.  It is evident God would prefer the original was still honored, but time has marched on.  Yeshua did not require someone who found that his new wife was not a virgin to divorce her (Mat 5:32, 19:9).  Jesus only allowed that she could be divorced.  The implication being that this previous sexual relationship was unknown to the new husband.


The Creator can wink at our ignorance and past mistakes. (Acts 17:30)  However, He is probably not so inclined to hold us guiltless if we enter into a marriage where the husband of the woman is still alive and we know His instruction.  On the other hand, He seems to hold the husband primarily responsible if he initiated the divorce. 


There is an example in Ezra 9 & 10 that some might apply.  A number of those who returned from Babylon after the captivity there began to marry women of the surrounding peoples.  This was not in line with what God had instructed especially for the priests (Eze 44:22).  Ezra was very distraught when he learned of this (Ezra 9:1-3).  They had obviously made a serious mistake in marrying the foreign women.  It seems that Ezra and the leaders determined that anyone who had taken a foreign wife had to be divorced from her.  At first glance it appears God was pleased with this approach (Ezra 10:11). 


However, nowhere is there any comment in this account that God was indeed pleased.  There was no threat from God recorded against the people because of this.  God did not suggest the solution of divorce.  One Shechaniah, who was evidently a prominent leader of an extended tribal family (Ezra 10:2, 8:5), suggested it.  God did not comment one-way or the other.


Ezra was obviously a very reputable man.  God had granted Ezra's earlier request to be protected on his dangerous trip from Babylon to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:23).  This is stated, but there is no statement that God required, desired, suggested or appreciated this divorce from the foreign wives.  Of course, it would be a safe assumption that He was not pleased with the marriages.


So did Ezra do what needed to be done, or were there other options?


The clearly stated reason for the law forbidding marriage to foreigners is to prevent Israel from being turned to foreign Gods (Ex 34:15-16, Deut 7:3-4).  Actually we know of at least two foreign women in the family line of Yeshua, Rahab and Ruth.  Although the returnees made a major mistake and deserved correction, most of these marriages of and by themselves were not automatically a problem.  Deuteronomy 21:10-14 lays out instructions allowing foreign wives captured in war.  This could possibly have been of some use to Ezra in this problem. 


The priests had an additional problem in that they were specifically forbidden to marry outside of Israel (Eze 44:22).  So in this case perhaps Ezra was correct.  On the other hand there was not necessarily ‘some uncleanness’ of which these women were guilty.  That being the case it would have been illegal to divorce them.  Two wrongs do not make a right.  Perhaps Ezra considered this.  Ezra 10:16-17 indicates he took two or three months to resolve these cases.  Each had to be investigated and a decision made.


From the accounts we have, the Law of Moses did not specifically forbid the priests from marrying foreign wives, only the High Priest (Lev 21:10,14).  This general exhortation is only recorded in Ezekiel who lived and wrote at the beginning of the captivity.  We would expect his writing to be treated with respect, and it probably was the intent of the Law of Moses.  Technically it could not be added to the covenant that was the Law of Moses (Deut 29, 31, Gal 3:15).


Another technicality is that the instruction to not marry foreign wives is specifically referring to wives from the original inhabitants of the Promise Land (Ex 34:11-16).  Although some of the women involved may have qualified many were probably from other places.  Certainly this is a flimsy excuse, but the problem was wives that would compromise Israel’s commitment to the true God.


If the people had repented, discontinued their carelessness and diligently kept the Law of God there may have been no problem (Deut 10:12-13).  Now perhaps Ezra knew that something more drastic needed to be done.  Solomon obviously underestimated the corrupting power of foreign wives.  Were these people capable of making the kind of changes that needed to be made?  Based on the history of Israel and Judah, probably not.  However the whole situation is very specific to this particular occasion.  God’s will is really not clearly visible.  Nor is it clear what factors determined who was divorced and who was not.


Care should be taken when applying this situation to other situations.  The whole matter seems more relevant to marrying someone who had different fundamental religious beliefs.  It doesn't relate as much to someone who finds himself in an 'adulterous' marriage with another believer because of previous ignorance of God's will.


Actually the returnees evidently did not remember their sin for very long.  Later Nehemiah found the problem cropping up again (Neh 13:23-30).  In this case he evidently did not force divorces, but refused the offenders any participation in the government or priesthood.


There is one case where a foreign wife could be a bigger problem.  The High Priest was apparently told not to marry outside even the tribe of Levi let alone a non-Israelite. (Lev 21:14)  However in this case the simple solution is to appoint someone else as the High Priest.


Some have taken the account of the foreign wives in Deuteronomy 21:10-14 to be another allowance for divorce.  It might appear that verse 13 allows a man to take a foreign wife, but then if he later is displeased with her, verse 14 allows him to simply send her away.  This understanding is not fully taking into account Moses instruction on divorce or Yeshua's reference to that instruction.


The connection between verse 13 and 14 is the Hebrew 'vav'.  It is most often translated 'and' but actually can have a variety of meanings, including 'but'.  In this case to conform with other instruction of the Bible and the context itself, it fits better to understand these verses as connected with 'but'. 


So if after the one month waiting period the man still wanted this foreign woman she was to be his wife, but if she had lost her appeal, he was to let her go.  He was not to sell her because he had humbled her by shaving her head and clipping her fingernails.  In the context this is a recent event not something that may have happened years before.  In that case they would not yet have consummated the marriage.  So this is not a divorce without a certificate of divorce.


The shaving of the head and clipping of the nails was done in part to help the man to see the real woman not the outward appearance.  It was a requirement that he think about this for a while.  He then was to decide to either marry or let her depart.


In spite of invalid divorces that must have existed in Judea there is no instance of Yeshua suggesting that any couple split up.  This fits well with Paul's suggestion that, "as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk" (I Cor 7:17bc).


A Divorce primer

It seems there can always be exceptions to every situation.  Society is upside down and minds are warped and twisted.  If a woman (or man) is being beaten or abused, is it wrong to seek a legal divorce and separate from a spouse?  The obvious answer should be no.  In that case the abusing mate has shown that he is not 'pleased to dwell with her' in spite of what might be said.  However as specified in I Cor 7:11, "But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried."


In this case it is unlikely the husband will be inclined to support her as the Law of God requires.  It would be reasonable to expect that she would use the local laws to assure she can survive.  It would also be expected that she be reasonable in the support she requests or ultimately receives.


On the other hand, if a believer is legally divorced from a woman, is he free of all responsibility beyond what the local courts have judged?  It seems the answer might be no.  On the surface the law indicates that he should support her in a reasonable manner.  Deciding exactly what this would be will undoubtedly vary depending on circumstances.  If she abandoned the marriage for some unjust reason would she be entitled to the same support as a wife who was abandoned for no cause?


Obviously if she remarries it is unlikely her original husband would still have any obligation.  If she “took him to the cleaners” at the time of the divorce and then squandered this support it would be difficult to have much sympathy for her.  Also if she sought relief through the local courts it could be argued that she has given up her rights according to the Law of God, which should have more influence on a believer. 


The believer will have to weigh all this himself.  However the intent of the law was that he provide for her even if they are estranged.  It seems this would include legal divorce.  Believers will not be hard hearted in this situation.  They should be prepared in case the estranged mate has a change of heart.  For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (I Cor 7:16).  It might even mean supporting a former wife if she has married someone else and has divorced again or become a widow.  The bar is raised for everyone.


Of course, in that situation the Law of Moses indicates that the woman is not to return to her first husband (Deut 24:3-4).  This should be included in considering any responsibility.  On the other hand, given that Moses divorce allowance was somewhat bogus, perhaps the restriction on returning is too.  God did not feel absolutely bound by it (Jer 3:1).


What happens in the case of a woman who finds herself abandoned and is not in a position to adequately support herself?  In this case it will probably be apparent if she is associated with the body of Christ or not.  Matthew 25:34-46 and Exodus 22:22-25 show God's mind toward the poor.  He is the protector of the poor.  True believers if they understand the need, will band together in support of such a woman.  What believer would not want to be doing the work of God?  Of course, the woman should do everything she can to support herself too.


As much as the word of God seems to expect women to remain faithful to even an unbeliever, it should be noted that Moses just assumes they will remarry.  He doesn’t really give women permission to remarry.  when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife,.. (Deu 24:2).  Again it seems reasonable that if her mate is going to discontinue support or outright reject her, she will carry on with her life.  Connecting up with another man would seem like a logical option.  There is no condemnation of this by Moses.


Yeshua did condemn this, but He seems to put the primary blame on the Husband that forced the woman out.  Indeed in the structure of I Cor 11:3 the blame could be laid exclusively on the man.  Paul also indicated the woman should remain unmarried, but this seems to be a woman who left of her own accord. (I Cor 7:11)


The law of God allowed that if a husband did not support his wife in a manner reasonable to their circumstances she was free to leave. (Ex 21:11)   So it seems that He would not want her to starve to death rather than to remarry after being involved in a separation, forced divorce or abandonment of some sort. 


The instruction in Exodus 21:11 doesn’t really address whether He would allow a remarriage.  Based on Yeshua's interpretation of Genesis 2:24 it would seem no remarriage would be allowed.  However, He obviously allowed it in the Law of Moses.  The whole situation is a mess because our society has ignored the Law of God.  Everyone will need to make up their own mind.  To their own master they will report.


David and Michal were in an odd situation not exactly like anything we might expect to see today.  After a disagreement the two had in II Samuel 6, David apparently ignored Michal the rest of her life even though she continued to live in his house.  He could have sent her back to the husband Saul had given her while David was hiding from Saul, but he did not.  She was his wife and he never forgot this. (II Sam 3:14, 6:23)


This story of David and Michal might raise the issue of a woman divorcing a husband and then returning to him.  Technically that issue doesn’t apply in this case.  Saul took her without authority and gave her to the other man.  David never divorced her.  Her new marriage was unlawful.  David had every right, even a duty to demand her return.  This is also in agreement with God's treatment of Israel in Jeremiah 3:1 and helps us understand again why the Corinthians were in a quandary over a departing mate.  It could be said that almost any divorce is bogus (Luke 16:18, Mark 10:11-12).  That being the case there may never be a time when the original marriage does not take precedence.


Yeshua's instruction is clear when taken in light of the rest of scripture.  Only repeated adultery, fornication or perversion is cause for divorce.  Generally any divorce for another reason is without basis for a Christian.  Generally the husband is responsible for some maintenance of the wife should they separate.  If he chooses to marry again he may not withhold support from his first wife.  The woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive.  The husband is bound to her as well.  Any modern civil legal rulings contrary to this understanding are bogus.  Anyone who marries a woman while her original husband is still alive has committed adultery as has the woman herself.