For Bible Study Nerds

You may be surprised to discover that Old Testament Law did not codify the practice of divorce. In fact, biblical history indicates that divorce predated the time of Moses. As such, it was acknowledged by the Law (see Deuteronomy 24:1), but not created by it.

Divorce in Jewish society was generally frowned upon, but as far as men were concerned, “No-Fault Divorce” was already firmly in place—and had been for millennia. The accepted reasoning in ancient Israel was that a man could divorce his wife for being “displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her” (Deuteronomy 24:1). Of course, that left the definition of “something indecent” up for broad interpretation.

Rabbinical teaching by Jesus’ time offered wide-ranging justifications for a husband to divorce his wife. If she claimed to be a virgin before betrothal and marriage and was subsequently found to not be virginal (either during betrothal or after the wedding), that was cause for divorce. If a wife overcooked her husband’s food, that was cause for divorce. If a husband decided his wife was “less beautiful” than another woman, that was cause for divorce. Basically, as long as a man could point to any reason why his wife was “displeasing to him,” that was counted as “something indecent” and a legitimate cause for divorce. The wife, though, was not afforded any justification for divorcing her husband.

It was in the context of these lax social mores that Jesus made this radical statement: “Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery” (Matthew 5:32 NKJV).

That opinion would have been shocking to most of Jesus’ audience—perhaps labeled extreme, intolerant, and unrealistic, as it is today. For some reason, though, Jesus was unconcerned about how people would react to this hard teaching of his.

Works Cited:

[HSJ, 56-57, 59]



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