Sent Away or Divorced?

Sent Away or Divorced?When discussing what the Bible has to say about divorce, there have been many attempts to correlate the passages into a cohesive theory. One that has gained popularity lately is that "put away" and "send away" in key passages don't actually describe a full, legal divorce. This theory claims that "send away" refers instead to making a wife leave the house WITHOUT divorcing her.

Listed are the key Hebrew and Greek words with the passages they are found in.

"Put/Send Away" "Writing/Bill of Divorcement"
Greek "apoluo" "biblion apostasion"
Hebrew "shalach" "sepher keriythuwth"
OT Passages Deuteronomy 22:19, 29
Deuteronomy 24:1-4
Isaiah 50:1
Jeremiah 3:1, 8
Deuteronomy 24:1-4
Isaiah 50:1
Jeremiah 3:8
NT Passages Matthew 1:19
Matthew 5:31-32
Matthew 19:3-9
Mark 10:2-12
Luke 16:18
Matthew 5:31-32 ("apostasion" alone)
Matthew 19:3-9
Mark 10:2-12

As we can see, the Hebrew word translated "put/send away" is "shalach" and corresponds to the Greek word "apoluo" which is translated "put away." The often accompanying Hebrew words "sepher keriythuwth" and Greek words "biblion apostasion" are translated "writing/bill of divorcement."

The theory holds that if a wife was sent away without a bill of divorce, she would be trapped in limbo, unable to marry anyone else as she is technically still married. So the claim is that "put away" in these passages means sending her away without a bill of divorce and that the passages aren't even talking about a full divorce except when "bill of divorcement" is also used in the phrase.

So, for instance in Luke 16:18b, once the "without a bill of divorce" idea is added, the passage would be saying, "Whoever marries her who is put away (without a bill of divorce) from her husband commits adultery." In this passage, the theory makes sense. It would, of course, be adultery to marry a woman who still has a husband and is just living somewhere other than his house. But does the theory hold up when all the passages are examined? Let's try inserting the parenthetical "without a bill of divorce" in other passages and see if they also make sense. Mark 10 and Matthew 19 record the same or a very similar encounter, I'll quote Matthew's account as it includes a couple relevant details (especially the fornication exception) that Mark skips.

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 (without a bill of divorce) for every cause?
4 And [Yeshua] 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.
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 (without a bill of divorce): but from the beginning it was not so.
9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife (without a bill of divorce), except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away (without a bill of divorce) doth commit adultery.

The Pharisees' opening question can make initial sense read this way. Yeshua then makes an answer that sounds like He prohibits putting away (and divorce) entirely, so the followup question is, "Why did Moses allow putting away with a bill of divorce?" It would be strange (but not completely outrageous) if the initial question was about putting away without a bill of divorce and the followup was about actual divorce. The issue is when we get to verse 8. In response to the question about Deuteronomy 24 (the only passage in the Torah that mentions the bill of divorce), Yeshua would be saying that Moses allowed putting away wives without a bill of divorce, while Deuteronomy 24 says the opposite!

So the only way Yeshua's use of the phrase in verse 8 makes sense in context is if He uses "put away your wives" to mean the entire legal process. This alone blasts a huge whole in the "put away" theory since we already have a use of its key phrase where it clearly means a full divorce even without the additional "bill of divorce" wording. Since verse 9 is in the same context and Yeshua just used the phrase "put away" to mean the whole process including giving a bill of divorce, that would mean that Yeshua IS talking about full divorce when He makes His famous statement that putting away can only be for the cause of fornication.

Keep in mind that verse 9 is in response to the question about Deuteronomy 24 which similarly has a divorce taking place for "a matter of nakedness." If Yeshua is upholding Torah here (which He is, see Matthew 5:17) then it only makes sense that the putting away (for fornication) that He makes allowance for matches the Torah allowance. Torah states that that putting away comes with a bill of divorce, so we know Yeshua would have the same inclusion. So again we see that His use of the phrase "putting away" must be inclusive of the whole divorce process.

When thinking through the statement in verse 9, a third proof that "put away" means a full divorce emerges. If verse 9 is left as being only about putting away without a bill of divorce, then it specifically allows men to send away (without divorcing) wives that have committed fornication. This would mean that although she is somewhere else, he is still married to her when He "marries another" and yet somehow this exception Yeshua excludes from being adultery? It doesn't flow with the rest of the theory for Yeshua to be giving permission to marry another woman without divorcing the fornicating wife, when the foundation of the theory is that that type of putting away is what causes the adultery problem.

Another passage in Matthew (chapter 1) that uses the word for "put away" is the story of Joseph and Mary. The main verse, with our theory's parenthetical, makes it look like this.

Matthew 1:19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily (without a bill of divorce.)

In the verse, Joseph is called just (the Greek word means righteous) for considering putting away Mary. As we know, the Torah tells us what righteousness is and it says that to put away a wife who has a "matter of nakedness" as Joseph believed of Mary at the time, the man is required to give her a bill of divorce. It doesn't make sense for "put away" here to mean put away without a bill of divorce as that would make Joseph unrighteous rather than righteous. "Put away" again clearly means a full divorce.

Another thing that would be incongruous if "put away" here only carried a meaning of "sent away" with no intimation of divorce is that Joseph and Mary (as we see from context) are not living together yet. Joseph can't "put away" Mary in the literal meaning of the word, "send her away," as she isn't there. The only way the word makes sense here is if it is used in a specific way and means divorce rather than simply sending her out of the house as the theory claims is its meaning.

What about what we see in the Torah itself? Does Deuteronomy 24 work with the theory meaning applied?

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 (without a bill of divorce), 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.

Verse 4 is the only place in the passage where "put away" is used without specifying a bill of divorce, but making "put away without a bill of divorce" be the meaning, really doesn't work. The use here is in reference to the husband who DID give her a bill of divorce, but the passage simply says "put away" to mean the whole thing. So it is an instance where "put away" is used to mean a full divorce.

There are a couple other places in the Torah where "put away" is used of a wife and the bill of divorce is not mentioned. They are both in consequences given for various situations. In one case, a man has slept with a virgin and is now marrying her as required and in the other a man has falsely accused his wife of not being a virgin when he married her.

Deuteronomy 22:29 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 (without giving her a bill of divorce) all his days.

Deuteronomy 22:19 And they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away (without giving her a bill of divorce) all his days.

While not impossible to rectify these passages with the theory, it does seem incongruous to prohibit these men from putting away their wives without a bill of divorce when that type of putting away is already not allowed by the Torah to anyone.

What about when we see these phrases in the prophets?

Isaiah 50: 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 (without a bill of divorce).

Jeremiah 3:1 They say, If a man put away his wife (without a bill of divorce), and she go from him, and become another man’s, shall he return unto her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith Yahweh.

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.

Isaiah 50 isn't too bad for the theory. If the questions are read as rhetorical, then just like God has not actually sold Israel, He also has not actually put her away and so the second phrase could work with the idea of not including the bill of divorce. On the other hand, it isn't usually read that way and in that case it seems to contradict Jeremiah 3:8 which says that God did give a bill of divorce. (Unless these are separate analogies that shouldn't be combined, which is also possible.) In sum, Isaiah's usage is tolerable for the theory.

Jeremiah, however, is a bit of a problem. It starts out with a reference to Deuteronomy 24 about a woman who has been put away not being allowed to return to her husband. Yet read according to the theory, Jeremiah 3:1 would be saying that the putting away was without a bill of divorce whereas the Torah specifies the scenario HAD a bill of divorce. Verse 8 also clarifies that in this analogy there is a bill of divorce. So, by comparison of the quote with Torah, or reading verse 8, or even just knowing that God would be in line with His own law, there was a bill of divorce given along with the putting away in verse 1. Yet Jeremiah uses only "put away" to mean a full divorce. Again, we have a full divorce even when only "put away" is used.

That makes four passages that outright contradict the theory's claim for the meaning of the phrase with a couple more that don't fit nicely. In fact only one or two DO fit without any issue being raised. It certainly isn't a theory that fits well with the scriptures that we have that use the key phrases.

Finally, I want to show that this theory (that "send away" alone is not allowed, but that "send away with a bill of divorce" is allowed) already existed in the first century. In fact, it was one of the teachings that Yeshua CORRECTED during His sermon on the mount. In the sermon on the mount, He goes through various teachings that the disciples had heard (such as "love your neighbor and hate your enemy") and corrects them, applying more of God's law and principles to the situation. When it comes to divorce, this is the section.

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.

What the disciples had heard was, "If you want to put away your wife just be sure and give her a writing." Or, in other words, "Putting away is bad, unless you give her a bill of divorce." It essentially amounts to the theory we have examined. Yeshua corrects it with His, "but I say unto you," explaining that the bill of divorce isn't the point. The point is that Torah only allows putting away for the "cause of fornication." (Note that Yeshua is quoting Torah, as the Greek is "logos porneia" or literally "word of immorality" coming from Deuteronomy 24's "debar ervah" which is literally "word of nakedness.")

Our conclusion is, that when "apoluo" and "shalach" are used, they do mean "divorce" not just "send away." The "put away" theory fails to work in most of the passages about divorce that use the phrase, and Yeshua even corrects it with His "but I say unto you," in the sermon on the mount. So Yeshua says that when the reason that Torah allows putting away for doesn't exist - when there is no fornication - the divorce is not recognized by Torah and thus the divorce is null and void. When the divorce is null and void, the marriage is still in place regardless of man's paperwork and thus remarriage in the cases Yeshua listed, are indeed adultery.


Luke 6:37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive [apoluo], and ye shall be forgiven [apoluo]:

Here, showing that even outside the context of marriage "apoluo" still includes a meaning of release along with sending away, it is used for "forgive" and "forgiven." We to others and God to us, do not just "send away" those who have offended when we forgive, we release them from their debt to us. This usage of "apoluo" is similar to how we have seen it used in reference to marriage, it isn't just send away, it is also release, which in context with marriage is divorce.

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