On-Line Bible Lessons

Deuteronomy - Chapter 24, Lesson 2

Sorry, but time prohibits correcting the grammar in these lessons, Pastor Ovid Need


Now, how does Deut. 24:1-4 fit into the NT? We can rest assured that God did not change the basic principle for He changes not. The basic principle for the NT doctrine would be the words of the Law Maker in Matt. 19:9; 5:32.

First, notice our Lord uses two distinctly different words, fornication vs. adultery. If He had meant for the first word to be restricted to adultery, (immoral act) He would no doubt have used that word, but He didn't.

Second, observe some usages of this word, fornication. a) It includes adultery, Jn. 8:41, yet far more often it is separated from adultery. Our Lord used this word separate from adultery, Matt. 5:32; 15:19; Mk. 7:21. Paul also separated this word from adultery, Gal. 5:19.

In I Thess. 4:3-4 we see fornication is contrasted with possession of one's vessel in sanctification and honor. Here Paul puts all sin which would dishonor our bodies under the head­ing "fornication".

In Rev. 2:21 (9:21; 14:8; 17:2, 4: 18:3; 19:2) we see the reference to unfaithfulness of all kinds to the law of God. He especially refers to a hardness in sin with a refusal to turn from it.

This would be consistent with the usage in Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25. Those passages are not tell­ing the new Gentile converts that they can do anything except sexually immoral acts. The issue there was over circumcision and obeying the Jewish rituals, 15:5. The council still required obedience to God's law-word, not for salvation, but for purity of life and avoidance of sin.

Therefore, the word fornication can include sexual immorality, but, basically, it is infidelity to the law-word of God, a hardness in sin and refusal to turn from that sin.

Now, the other word our Lord used, "Adultery". This is consistently restricted to be used to describe unlawful acts outside of the marriage union with another's spouse. Let's look at what our Lord is saying in its context. Matt. 19:9, "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."

First, He is responding to a question put to Him by the Pharisees. It was meant to "trip Him up", v. 3. Second, Notice what they said, "for every cause?" We need to look at the historical context of this question.

Alfred Edersheim (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Erdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich., part two, pg. 333-335) gives us this insight. There were two schools of thought on this subject in Christ's day, both based in Deut. 24:1-4.

First, the school of Shammai took the expression of Deut. 24:1, "some uncleanness" as the mar­gin reads, "matter of nakedness (matter of shame)," and applied it only to moral transgressions, exclusively to unchastity. This school held that even a wife as mischievous as Ahab's wife should not be divorced, except on the ground of adultery. Now, the question is not is divorce allowed, but on what grounds is the law permitting divorce put into effect?

Then, the other line of teaching in Christ's day was the School of Hillel. This school took the words "matter of nakedness (matter of same)" in the widest possible sense and declared it suf­ficient grounds for divorce if a woman spoiled her husband's dinner. It was even taught that the words "if she find no favor in his eyes," implied that it was sufficient if a man found another woman more attractive than his wife. Included was also the teaching that if she transgressed the law of Moses or of Israel she could be divorced. This would include a failure to tithe, the failure to set apart the first of the dough and violation of the laws of purification. Going fur­ther, if she went into public with her head uncovered, or spinning in the public streets, or enter­ing into talk with men, brawling or disrespectfully speaking of her husband's parents in his presence. A troublesome or quarrelsome wife could be sent away. Bad reputation, as well as childlessness for ten years, was also considered grounds for divorce.

This is the situation which our Lord came upon. The reason for the question was to tempt Him with , "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" This indicated those speak­ing were on Shammai's side and sought to put down those on Hillel's side. Rather than to take sides, our Lord appealed to the written word of God as He originally intended it to be and quoted Gen. 1:27; 2:23-25. Now they answer, "Well, if this is true that God commanded the two are now one, then why did Moses command to give a bill of divorcement? This seems to be a contradiction."

Our Lord answered, "Moses did not command divorce, he only tolerated divorce because of hardness of the heart in sin." This separation of the unity of marriage had not been provided for originally by God. Because of sin this provision was made. Divorce is God's answer to the hard­ness of sin within this union. Keep in mind, though, one spouse is trying to serve and please God while the other is going their own way in rebellion against God. THE SIN IS AGAINST GOD. Going farther, all of the law of Moses is in response to sin. If man had not fallen, there would have been no need for the law as man would have pleased God in his natural state. Yet, because of sin, man is at war with God in his natural state.

Follow our Lord's words here, Matt. 19:9; (Mk. 10:12). "If one puts away that spouse for any reason other than for their hardness in sin and rebellion against God, then remarries another, they commit adultery. The one who marries that spouse who is put away for any other reason also commits adultery." As long as this unity lasted, adultery was the result, yet, when this unity was broken by the hardness of the heart in sin, then adultery was no longer involved. Hardness of the heart, hardness in sin, breaks the union which was originally intended by God.

Again, divorce was given by Moses as the solution to the problem of sin, rebellion and hard­ness towards God within the marriage union. Sin broke that union and divorce was permitted. Un­der the Mosaic law, those sins which fell into this term "fornication" required (separation) divorce by death. Now, Christ applied divorce rather than death.

We can look to the OT for this principle as Jeremiah, chp. 3, sheds some light here. First, Is­rael, Jehovah God's wife sinned, vv. 1, 2. Second, God warned her, yet she refused the warning, v. 3. Then third, God wrote her a bill of divorce, v. 8. God calls this hardness in sin "a whore's forehead, thou refused to be ashamed." Here we can clearly see that not only did God permit divorce, He practiced it when His wife became so hardened in sin that she refused to be ashamed and return to His Law-Word.

This leaves us with one last question. "Well, how about I Cor. 7:11-24?" This is indeed a good question. There seems to have been a "rash" of intermarriage between believers and un­believers. Notice, v. 12, Paul is speaking as a minister of the gospel, not as a law-giver. He still speaks with the same authority, yet in this he did not draw the fire of the Judaizers who felt he was teaching disrespect to God's law.

Paul writes this in response to the question which arises from these new converts inter­married with unbelievers. "Now what? Should we divorce them in light of our Lord's enforcement of Deut. 24:1-4?" (Lesson 24-1)

The answer lies within the above principle which our Lord established. As long as that un­believing mate is willing to stay with the believing mate who is living for God in terms of the covenant (law), then there are no grounds to separate, vv. 12, 13, 24. Yet, if the unbelieving cannot stand the pressure which the believer's righteous life brings and departs, the believer is free to remarry. This would especially be true in the light of I Cor. 6:11-20. There the believer turned their back upon the law of God and married, not in accordance to God's will for their lives but their own will.
The same basic laws for divorce would apply as mentioned previously in the list because the strangers were covered under the death penalty as were the children of Israel. Yet, Paul clearly says here that divorce cannot take place just because that person is an unbeliever. The believ­ing woman chose to be a servant (under the authority of another) of the unbeliever, thereby leav­ing the protection of the law of God. The believing man chose to be joined with a "harlot", un­believing woman.

One last thing. Everything which can be done within the Word of God needs to be attempted to reconcile any difference within a marriage or even within a broken marriage where neither ex-spouse has remarried. Patience must prevail as it did between Jehovah God and His wife, Israel, and her sister, Judah. Only the "whores forehead", where the offending spouse refuses to be ashamed permits this bill of divorcement. Then, it can be only in terms of God's Word. Hardness and rebellion against GOD, and Him alone, permitted the putting apart of what He united as one.

Conclusion: The purpose of marriage lies within the purpose of God. It is for God's benefit and glory, in obedience to Him. Therefore, any divorce can only be in terms of His law, not in terms of how man feels about it. Today we not only see marriage made almost exclusively in terms of what pleases the individual, but also the divorce is grounded in this, whatever pleases the in­dividual. This is humanism to the core. The only thing which will work is what is pleasing to God.