Divorce. When is it Allowed?

Divorce. When is it allowed?

 

Keeping One’s Word

Numbers 30:2 If a man vow a vow unto Yahweh, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.

Leviticus 19:11 ¶ Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another.

Psalm 15:1 ¶ A Psalm of David. Yahweh, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
2 He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
3 He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.
4 In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear Yahweh. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.

Deuteronomy 7:1 ¶ When Yahweh thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou;
2 And when Yahweh thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them:
3 Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.

Joshua 9:14 And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of Yahweh.
15 ¶ And Joshua made peace with them (the Gibeonites), and made a league with them, to let them live: and the princes of the congregation sware unto them.
16 And it came to pass at the end of three days after they had made a league with them, that they heard that they were their neighbours, and that they dwelt among them.

2 Samuel 21:1 ¶ Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David enquired of Yahweh. And Yahweh answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.
2 And the king called the Gibeonites, and said unto them; (now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; and the children of Israel had sworn unto them: and Saul sought to slay them in his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah.)

Numbers 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

Leviticus 26:44 And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am Yahweh their God.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, yet it is enough to show that adhering to one’s spoken word or covenant is considered very important throughout scripture. Even when we make a covenant expressly forbidden by Yahweh, He expects us to keep it. Yahweh sent punishment on Israel because Saul in his zeal broke such a covenant made hundreds of years earlier. Yahweh is a covenant keeper and we need to be also. It is vital that we understand this principle before we approach the divorce issue, because one of the primary aspects of marriage is that it is a covenant.


 

Husband and Wife at Betrothal

Malachi 2:14 Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because Yahweh hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.

Deuteronomy 22:23 If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her;
24 Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour’s wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you.

Matthew 1:18 ¶ Now the birth of Yeshua Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of Yahweh appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

During Biblical times, the marriage covenant was entered into at the beginning of the betrothal period and it was so binding that it took a divorce to separate it. They were also called husband and wife during the betrothal. These are important points to understand when looking at the passages that can be brought to bear on divorce and remarriage, for without the scriptural definition of what a husband or wife is, we could easily misconstrue certain passages.

 

Consummation, Sealing the Covenant

Matthew 19:3 ¶ The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?
4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Mark 10:6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.
7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;
8 And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh.
9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
10 And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter.
11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.
12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.

Malachi 2:14 Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because Yahweh hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.
15 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.
16 For Yahweh, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith Yahweh of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

Deuteronomy 22:28 If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;
29 Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

As we see from these passages, the covenant is not the only binding aspect of a marriage, the physical relationship of marriage or consummation is the seal of the covenant and makes the marriage even more binding.

In fact, in the case of fornication without a covenant in place, the covenant is required (pending the father of the bride’s approval, Exodus 22:17), and is then fully binding with no divorce allowed. Sadly, this particular situation is common in our culture where much of the time the couple has fornicated before deciding to get married. Even if you think certain circumstances justify divorce after consummation, it is important to remember that this passage bans many of those couples from divorce anyway.

So approaching the divorce question with the significance of both covenant and consummation in mind, we can expect all of scripture to uphold these two principles. Also, if there is a way to honestly interpret all relevant passages in this manner, it should take precedence over any interpretation that requires exceptions to the principle of no divorce after covenant and consummation.

 

The Fornication Exception

Matthew 5:31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:
32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

Matthew 19:5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

Can this statement be reconciled with the principles already examined? Remembering that scripturally a couple are called husband and wife during betrothal, yes. The phrase, “whosoever shall put away his wife,” is referring to either a betrothed or ‘one-flesh’ wife. However, “Saving for the cause of fornication (porneia),” is a little different. ‘Porneia’ is used throughout the New Testament to describe a variety of sexual sins, sometimes broadly and sometimes specifically. Its exact meaning depends on context and the context is critical here. Yeshua has just stated that one-flesh marriages are not to be put asunder (Matthew 19:6), so unless He is contradicting himself in His next statement, we know that "fornication" here must be referring to a sin prior to the couple being joined together by God.

Also these passages make it clear that the only reason for a lawful divorce is fornication. There are three times in scripture where an example of divorce takes place. Yahweh divorcing Israel, Joseph planning to divorce Mary, and the divorces at the time of Nehemiah and Ezra. The first two fit very nicely with viewing the exception clause this way. We will examine the divorces at the time of Nehemiah and Ezra later.

 

Two Just Divorces

Isaiah 50:1 ¶ Thus saith Yahweh, Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.

Jeremiah 3:8 And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.

Revelation 1:19 Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;

Revelation 19:9 And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.

Matthew 22:4 Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage.

Matthew 1:18 ¶ Now the birth of Yeshua Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.

Scripture indicates that the divorces by Yahweh and Joseph would be approved. The first is rather obvious since it is Yahweh giving the divorce and in the second it says that the reason Joseph was planning to divorce Mary privately was because he was just (righteous).

So, do these ‘approved’ divorces fit the requirements we have deduced for the divorce exception? If so, it should be confirmation that we are on the right track.

First, do the divorces take place before consummation? In the case of Yahweh and Israel, we know that the marriage supper of the Lamb is yet to come and Biblically, the marriage supper is celebrated before or at the time of consummation (Judges 14:17-15:1). Thus we can safely say that Yahweh’s divorce of Israel took place during betrothal. Likewise Joseph’s divorce of Mary would have been during betrothal for it was “before they came together.”

Next, are the divorces “for the cause of fornication?” Since Mary was “with child” Joseph would have every reason to believe that she had committed fornication. Apparently some Jews once cast this in Yeshua’s face saying, “We be not born of fornication (John 8:41).”

Israel also was put away for “transgressions” and because ‘she’ had “committed adultery.” Granted, this adultery (and unfaithfulness can be referred to as adultery even during the betrothal period since the two are already husband and wife, Deuteronomy 22:23-24) was spiritual, not physical, fornication. However, in order to be equitable we should also take into account that the marriage of Yahweh and Israel is spiritual. Understanding this, the pattern holds true. A spiritual marriage would be divorceable for spiritual unfaithfulness during the betrothal period, and a physical marriage would be divorceable for physical unfaithfulness during the betrothal period.

 

Moses Wrote You This Precept

Mark 10:4 And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away.
5 And Yeshua answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.

Deuteronomy 24:1 ¶ When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.
3 And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife;
4 Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before Yahweh: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which Yahweh thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.

Yeshua said that Moses wrote a divorce precept. Yeshua, being the Word made flesh, did not speak against or change “one jot or one tittle” of the law while He was on earth. (To do so would have made him a false prophet and no longer able to be our sinless sacrifice according to Deuteronomy 12:32-13:5.) This means that Moses’ reason for allowing divorce and Yeshua’s reason must be the same. So, unless what we think was meant by Yeshua’s divorce exception can be found written in the Torah, we are not properly understanding Him. Deuteronomy 24:1 seems to be the passage that the Pharisees are referring to, as it is the only time in the Torah that a “bill of divorcement” is mentioned.

One difficulty that has been raised against Deuteronomy 24 being a permission to divorce is that the Hebrew in verses one and two, contrary to the way it is rendered in the King James Version, seems to be a succession of conditionals. Thus the phrase “she may go and be another man’s” at the end of verse 2 is usually rendered “and she goes and becomes another man’s.” If this is the case, Deuteronomy 24 would seem to be a ruling on whether a divorced and remarried woman could return to her first husband rather than a “sufferance” of divorce.

The problem with this is that apparently both Yeshua and the Pharisees agreed that the passage was a statement about what divorce is permissible, and while we might get away with claiming that we understand the Hebrew of the Torah better than the Pharisees, do we really want to say that we know what Deuteronomy 24 says better than Yeshua? Of course not! That being the case, let us examine Deuteronomy 24 as a “sufferance” of divorce, for no matter what explanation one has for the divorce exception, the precept must also be found written in the Torah.

Deuteronomy 24:1 ¶ When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.

Leviticus 20:10 ¶ And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

Deuteronomy 22:22 If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.

Deuteronomy 13:6 ¶ If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;
7 Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;
8 Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him:
9 But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.

I have seen expounded in detail three ways of interpreting the divorce exception clause Yeshua gave; the first, that divorce is allowed for adultery (after consummation), the second, that divorce is allowed for idolatry, and the third, that divorce is allowed only for fornication during betrothal. Which one of these best fits with Deuteronomy 24?

If the divorce exception is for adultery (after consummation), we have a problem, for the passage says that the man has “found some uncleanness” in his wife. In order for him to “find” adultery in his wife after consummation, she would have to be caught in the act. However, in that case the Torah commands that the death penalty be enforced on the two people involved. The rest of the passage then makes no sense as a dead woman cannot go marry another man. The same problem develops if the divorce exception is for idolatry, because the death penalty is to be enforced on an idolater as well.

However, in the case of fornication before consummation it is possible for the man to find “uncleanness” (also translated “matter of nakedness”) in her (i.e. missing “tokens of virginity” or pregnancy) without discovering who the man was. Since the adulterer and adulteress are both to be executed, killing only the woman would not fit that requirement, thus the woman would be alive after the divorce and it would be possible for her to marry another man.

Some people might point to the fact that the passage says a man has “Taken a wife and married her” and that he sends her “out of his house” in order to say that the divorce described must be after consummation. However, looking at a couple examples of how those Hebrew words are used, it can be seen that consummation is not required by them.

Genesis 20:3 ¶ But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife.
4 But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?
5 Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.
6 And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.

Jeremiah 3:14 Turn, O backsliding children, saith Yahweh; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion:

Abimelech had taken Sarah, yet not touched her. Yahweh is married to Israel, yet the consummation of that marriage has not taken place either. This is further borne out by the definition of the words as the Hebrew for “taken” is simply to take, fetch, or receive, and for “married” is to rule or have dominion over.

As for the woman being in the man’s house before consummation. Consider that according to the Hebrew custom the man prepared a place for his bride then brought her there to celebrate the wedding (John 14:2-3). (This is also witnessed by the fact that the Hebrew word for ‘taken’ means ‘fetched’ or ‘received’). Since that is the point at which a man could discover the “tokens of virginity” to be lacking in his bride, the man could still send her “out of his house“ without consummating the marriage.

 

Hardness of Heart

Matthew 19:7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

Mark 10:4 And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away.
5 And Yeshua answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.

There is an apparent contradiction here, for we would expect that since the divorce exception is for fornication on the bride’s part, the precept would have been given for the wife’s hardness of heart. However, Yeshua specifically says divorce was allowed because of the husband’s hardness of heart. How can we explain this?

Examining the story of Joseph and Mary again, we see that Joseph had two choices, either “make her a publick example” or “put her away.” Being “a just man,” Joseph was planning to divorce Mary. This implies that had he been a hardhearted man, he might have been inclined to “make her a publick example.” So what would that entail? Looking at the Torah, there are two procedures that on the surface could be what is referred to as making her “a publick example.”

Numbers 5:12 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man’s wife go aside, and commit a trespass against him,
13 And a man lie with her carnally, and it be hid from the eyes of her husband, and be kept close, and she be defiled, and there be no witness against her, neither she be taken with the manner;
14 And the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be defiled: or if the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be not defiled:
15 Then shall the man bring his wife unto the priest, and he shall bring her offering for her, the tenth part of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it, nor put frankincense thereon; for it is an offering of jealousy, an offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance.

Deuteronomy 22:13 ¶ If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her,
14 And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid:
… 20 But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel:
21 Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.

At first glance the Numbers 5 passage could be describing the situation of Joseph and Mary. However, one of the requirements for going through this procedure is that the defilement “be hid from the eyes of her husband,” in other words, he has no evidence. This could not be the case if the defilement took place during the betrothal, because the man would know whether she was defiled. For either the woman would be found pregnant, as in the case of Mary, or she would not be a virgin at the time of consummation as in the case of Deuteronomy 22. Thus Numbers 5 cannot to be the “publick example.”

Deuteronomy 22 fits better. Under it, a man in Joseph’s situation would have been able to go ahead and take the defiled woman as his wife, “go in unto her,” keep her as a wife until he got tired of her, and then denounce her as not having been a virgin in order to get her stoned. If he was especially cruel, he could even hold the threat of denouncing her over her head the whole time they were married. This would certainly qualify as hardhearted.

With this background, the statement, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives,” makes sense. For once the divorce exception was given, a man would have to think twice before putting Deuteronomy 22 into effect, if only for his reputation’s sake.

This is the only explanation I have found, even in other ways of understanding the divorce exception, for Yeshua’s statement that it was for the man’s hardness of heart, not the woman’s, that the divorce precept was written.

 

What about 1 Corinthians 7?

1 Corinthians 7:1 ¶ Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
… 4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.
… 8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.
9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.
10 ¶ And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Master, Let not the wife depart from her husband:
11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.

12 But to the rest speak I, not the Master: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.
13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.

16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
17 ¶ But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Master hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.
… 25 ¶ Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Master: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Master to be faithful.
26 I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.
27 Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.
28 But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.
… 33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.
34 There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Master, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.

The middle section of the passage above, especially verse 15, is often used to say that divorce between a believer and non-believer allows for remarriage. Others point to verses 4, 33, and 34 saying that the “bondage” the brother or sister is freed from is not the entire marriage covenant, but merely the requirement to daily serve and please one’s spouse. Although the second is a plausible alternative in keeping with the idea that divorce must be during betrothal, considering that the “loosing” spoken of in verses 27-28 is probably referring back to verse 15, it does seem that this is permission to remarry. However, before assuming that consummated marriages between believers and non-believers are being dissolved here, let us examine the passage a bit deeper.

1 Corinthians 7:25 ¶ Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Master: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Master to be faithful.
26 I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.
27 Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.
28 But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.

Revelation 14:4 These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.

First, examining the “loosing” spoken of in verse 27 (which seems to refer back to verse 15’s “not under bondage”) we see from verse 25 that the question, “Art thou loosed from a wife?” falls into a section addressed to virgins. Now the word used in verse 25 for virgins (parthenos) usually means a virgin woman, but, depending on context, it can refer to men as well, like it does in Revelation 14:4.

Verse 26 of 1 Corinthians 7 indicates that the use of parthenos in verse 25 is such a case as it says, “it is good for a man so to be.” Thus when verse 27 refers to a man “loosed from a wife,” it is referring to a virgin man which would only be the case if he had never become “one flesh” with the wife in question. This fits with Yeshua’s statement “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” and points to the fact that the “loosing” it refers to (verse 15) happens before consummation.

1 Corinthians 7:8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.
9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.
10 ¶ And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Master, Let not the wife depart from her husband:
11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
12 But to the rest speak I, not the Master: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.

A strong indication that verses 12-15 are referring to a believer/non-believer marriage in the betrothal stage is Paul’s use of the phrase “to the rest.” As he has just finished addressing the unmarried (verses 8-9) and the married (verses 10-11) who could “to the rest” possibly refer to? Betrothal fits the description. Yet what if “to the rest” is only based off of the last group Paul had addressed (the married)? Then the next section should once again be addressed to the unmarried, but this causes an apparent contradiction as well, for verse 12 speaks of the brother having a wife. Unmarried yet having a wife? That, too, describes a betrothal situation.

1 Corinthians 7:12 But to the rest speak I, not the Master: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.
13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.

Matthew 19:6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Those who advocate divorce being allowed between a believer and non-believer might say that taking these two passages together proves that God does not join even consummated marriages between a believer and non-believer. (A glaring problem with this interpretation is the fact that Paul recommends/commands the believers stay in the relationship. Yet surely it would be fornication for two people whose marriage is not recognized by God to cohabitate!)

That God does not join consummated marriages between believers and non-believers would only be a plausible deduction if we knew that the marriages described here had already been consummated. However, as we have already seen, there are clues indicating that this is not the case.

In fact, since Paul says a believer is not “under bondage” if the non-believer departs, and Yeshua says not to “put asunder” that which God has joined, all that is necessitated from comparing these passages is that the marriages in verses 12-15 (for whatever reason) are ones that have not been joined together by God. In other words, since these marriages can be put asunder and marriages that have been joined together by God cannot be, these marriages must not have been joined together by God yet.

1 Corinthians 6:16 What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.

Matthew 19:6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Since specifically the only requirement for two people being joined together by God is that they become one flesh, and, as we have seen above, the marriages in 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 have not been joined together by God, it makes sense once again to view these marriages as still being in the betrothal stage. It is helpful to understand here that "joined to a harlot" is not necessarily fully married to her if there is no covenant yet in place. However, it could result in a marriage, since if the father approves the covenant for her, they are married. (See Exodus 22:17) Essentially, there is a joined state, a betrothed/covenanted state and a fully married state where you are both covenanted and joined.

1 Corinthians 7:1 ¶ Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

Another thing to consider about this passage is that according to verse 1, the rulings Paul is giving here are in answer to questions the Corinthians sent to him. As we do not have the questions they asked, we are at a disadvantage in discerning what is going on. Thus having three clues indicating that these marriages to unbelievers were in the betrothal stage could be as much as we would expect to find.

Yet we also have one clue that seems to point in the other direction.

1 Corinthians 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.

This passage speaks of children, and how could an unconsummated marriage have children produced from it? This is a serious objection to the idea that these marriages between believer and non-believer were in the betrothal stage. However, considering the following scriptures, there may be a relatively simple explanation for this.

Genesis 34:9 And make ye marriages with us, and give your daughters unto us, and take our daughters unto you.

Deuteronomy 7:1 ¶ When Yahweh thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou;
2 And when Yahweh thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them: shalt thou take unto thy son.
3 Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.

Nehemiah 13:25 And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves.

Matthew 22:2 The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son,

Genesis 26:34 ¶ And Esau was forty years old when he took to wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite:

Hebrews 12:16 Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.

1 Corinthians 5:9 ¶ I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.
11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

The scriptures above outline three points. First, in Biblical times it was common for the parents to arrange the marriages for their children. Second, Esau was called a fornicator and as far as we know the only remotely sexual sin he committed was marrying these Hittite women which is forbidden in the Torah. Third, Paul had already written to the Corinthians that they were not to keep company with fornicators.

Putting these three things together, we might have a situation where the Corinthians, who had arranged marriages for their children before becoming believers, suddenly found themselves in a position where their children are betrothed to spouses who are non-believers. Since marrying non-believers is forbidden (Malachi 2:11, 2 Corinthians 6:14 etc.) it would fall into the broad category of fornication. Thus these Corinthians, on receiving Paul’s previous letter that taught they were not to keep company with fornicators, could well be wondering whether they would be allowed to keep company or even eat with their own betrothed children!

It is certainly plausible that they wrote back to Paul on the subject and that we find his answer in 1 Corinthians 7:14, where Paul assures them that their betrothed children are not unclean to keep company with.

Thus the “your children” here can be seen in reference, not to those in the marriages with the non-believers, but to the parents of the betrothed sons and daughters. In fact, in a marriage between a believer and a non-believer, it is reasonable to say that they will both be either clean or unclean. Since it is the unbelieving spouses that are referred to as "sanctified," it makes sense that the "else" that would have been unclean, is referring to the believing spouses.

 Divorcing the pagans

The Divorces at the Time of Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi

Nehemiah 13:23 ¶ In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab:
24 And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people.
25 And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves.
… 30 Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business;

Ezra 9:1 ¶ Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.
2 For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass.

… 10:2 And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said unto Ezra, We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing.
3 Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law.
4 Arise; for this matter belongeth unto thee: we also will be with thee: be of good courage, and do it.
5 Then arose Ezra, and made the chief priests, the Levites, and all Israel, to swear that they should do according to this word. And they sware.
… 7 And they made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem unto all the children of the captivity, that they should gather themselves together unto Jerusalem;
… 10 And Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them, Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel.
11 Now therefore make confession unto Yahweh God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives.
12 Then all the congregation answered and said with a loud voice, As thou hast said, so must we do.
… 16 And the children of the captivity did so. And Ezra the priest, with certain chief of the fathers, after the house of their fathers, and all of them by their names, were separated, and sat down in the first day of the tenth month to examine the matter.
17 And they made an end with all the men that had taken strange wives by the first day of the first month.
…44 All these had taken strange wives: and some of them had wives by whom they had children.

Malachi 2:11 Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of Yahweh which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god.
12 Yahweh will cut off the man that doeth this, the master and the scholar, out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto Yahweh of hosts.

At the times of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi certain Israelites had married pagan wives and later divorced them. These marriages were not in the betrothal stage; Ezra 10:44 and Nehemiah 13:24 both clearly speak of these marriages as having children born to them.

Some of these wives were probably of the seven nations forbidden by the Torah. See Ezra 9:1-2 and the prominence of Ashdod in Nehemiah 13:23-24, which is listed in Joshua 11:22 as being part of the promised land that was not conquered at the time of Joshua. However, even if that is not the case, both Ezra and Nehemiah refer to Deuteronomy 7:1-3 in condemnation of the marriages.

Deuteronomy 7:1 ¶ When Yahweh thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou;
2 And when Yahweh thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them:
3 Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.

Ezra 10:15 ¶ Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahaziah the son of Tikvah were employed about (lit. stood against) this matter: and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite helped them.

Ezra 8:16 Then sent I for Eliezer, for Ariel, for Shemaiah, and for Elnathan, and for Jarib, and for Elnathan, and for Nathan, and for Zechariah, and for Meshullam, chief men; also for Joiarib, and for Elnathan, men of understanding.

Nehemiah 8: 7 Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place.

Deuteronomy 7:1-3 is the same passage that forbids making covenants with the people of the land. Yet Yahweh held Israel to the covenant that they had made with the Gibeonites even though it was made in disobedience to the command. Also, Ezra 10:15 states that there were a few leaders who disagreed with the divorces before they were enacted. At least one of these, Shabbethai, knew the Torah well; he had helped to explain it to the people in Nehemiah 8.

These two circumstances certainly make valid the question, “Did Yahweh actually approve of the divorces Nehemiah and Ezra instigated here or was this done improperly?”

The fact that we must ask this question is in itself a strong argument for not basing our view of acceptable divorce on what Nehemiah and Ezra did, for we do not have an outright statement that these divorces were done properly.

Malachi 2:11 Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of Yahweh which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god.
12 Yahweh will cut off the man that doeth this, the master and the scholar, out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto Yahweh of hosts.
13 And this have ye done again (lit. second, next), covering the altar of Yahweh with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand.
14 Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because Yahweh hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.
15 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.
16 For Yahweh, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith Yahweh of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.
17 Ye have wearied Yahweh with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of Yahweh, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?

Malachi, a prophet of Yahweh, also condemns marriages to pagan women in verses 11-12 here. This parallels the storyline of Ezra and Nehemiah. We know that next they instigated divorces, but Malachi goes into a condemnation of divorce at this point, saying, “And this have ye done again (i.e. next).”

If Malachi was dealing with the same or a similar situation as Ezra and Nehemiah it would make sense that Malachi is condemning the type of divorces instigated by Ezra and Nehemiah, for then the storylines continue to run parallel. (Notice that Malachi blames "the master and the scholar" and Ezra says, "the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass." Also, Malachi's finishing statement that they are praising evil as if it were good is telling.)

Some people have suggested that the problem here was that the Israelite men were divorcing their Israelite wives in order to marry the pagan women, but this does not fit with Malachi’s statement that the condemned divorces were occurring after the condemned marriages to the pagan women.

In other words, what we have here in Malachi is a direct condemnation of the type of divorces listed in Ezra and Nehemiah. Not only would this fit with the storylines of Malachi, Ezra and Nehemiah, but the principle of keeping even forbidden covenants is thus upheld by Yahweh as it was in the similar case of Saul and the Gibeonites.

Ezra 10:3 Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law.

Nehemiah 13:25 And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves.

Deuteronomy 6:13 Thou shalt fear Yahweh thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.

The verse that could most easily be seen as giving scriptural approval to the divorces here is Ezra 10:3 which says “let it be done according to the law.” If this is seen as referring to the divorces then one could argue that the divorces were done according to the law and thus are acceptable.

However, the “according to the law” phrase could instead be referring to the covenant made to divorce the wives rather than the divorces themselves. This idea is furthered by the fact that according to the law, swearing is to be done by the name of Yahweh. Nehemiah 13:25 even brings out the fact that they did, indeed, “swear by God” in this matter, so it makes just as much sense to view the swearing of the covenant as what was done "according to the law."

This brings up another important issue. If a man has made two conflicting promises, which one stands?

 

Conflicting Covenants

Genesis 27:33 And Isaac trembled very exceedingly, and said, Who? where is he that hath taken venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before thou camest, and have blessed him? yea, and he shall be blessed.
… 36 And he said, Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing. And he said, Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me?
37 And Isaac answered and said unto Esau, Behold, I have made him thy lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants; and with corn and wine have I sustained him: and what shall I do now unto thee, my son?

Galatians 3:17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

Mark 6:18 For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.

1 Corinthians 5:1 ¶ It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.

2 Corinthians 7:12 ¶ Wherefore, though I wrote unto you, I did it not for his cause that had done the wrong, nor for his cause that suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear unto you.

Luke 16:18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.

A man’s word, once given, stands. Yet what if he later contradicts himself? Consider the story of Isaac being tricked into giving the blessing to Jacob rather than Esau. By their statements (underlined above) it appears that both Isaac and Esau realized that once a man has given something away by his word, he cannot retract it or change it to another person. It would be like a man trying to give away his neighbor’s car; he cannot do it because the car is not his.

Once you have fully given yourself as husband or wife to one person, you cannot reverse that by making a second promise. In fact, in Herodias’s second marriage she was not properly termed Herod’s wife, but his “brother’s wife.”

In Luke 16:18 (and its parallel passages), we can see that neither the act of divorce or of making a marriage covenant with a second person changes the fact that you are married to the first person. It is called adultery which by definition means you are actually married to someone else.

So looking back at the covenant that the men of Ezra and Nehemiah’s time made to divorce their wives, it looks like this would fall into the case of trying to change one’s promise, which makes the second covenant void in reality. This fits with Malachi 2:15 which says, “let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth” in regard to pagan marriages.

 

The Exception Principle

An objection that could be raised to the consistency of this view is the fact that since the covenant was made at betrothal, even divorces “for the cause of fornication” or “if the unbeliever depart” would break the covenant. Strictly, this is true. Yet there is a principle behind this. Yahweh divorced Israel for “transgressions” (Isaiah 50:1). This means that Israel had broken the covenant. Since Yahweh could give her a bill of divorce without breaking His word (which He never does) we must assume that the covenant of betrothal is conditional up until consummation.

Thus if the betrothal covenant (still unconsummated) has been broken by one side (either by fornication or illegal divorce), the other has the option of discontinuing the covenant and then marrying someone else.

 

Conclusion

In the scripture, we can see an entirely consistent teaching on divorce that is based on the principles that a man must keep his word and that consummation seals the marriage covenant permanently. This consistent teaching allows for true divorce only during betrothal, emphasizing the sanctity of marriage as it was intended from the beginning: a man and woman, joined together by Yahweh, for life.

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