Biblical Marriage: Mark 10/ Matthew 19

 ***This is the 5th article in this series. It is VERY important that you read these articles in order. If you have missed any in this series, please go back and read them before continuing to read this post. First Article, Second Article, Third Article, Fourth Article***

The two largest passages in the Gospels concerning marriage and divorce are recorded in Mark 10 and in Matthew 19. These are parallel passages. Meaning, they are describing the same event. It is important to study both of these texts together, as doing so can help to “fill in the gaps.”

The Setting

1 And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. 2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

Mark 10:1-2 (ESV)

1 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”

Matthew 19:1-3 (ESV)

What we see taking place before our eyes is a pretty familiar scene at this point in the ministry of Jesus. The Pharisees came to test Him. They were not coming to Jesus for instruction. They were not coming to Jesus in order to learn. They were coming to Him in order to put Him to the test, and do their best to trap Him. Here, Matthew records a slight detail that Mark does not. The Pharisees were not simply asking if it was lawful to divorce. As has been demonstrated in previous writings, it was lawful to divorce. The question was, is it lawful to divorce for “any cause”?  

Not as simple as it seems:

When the Pharisees came to Jesus and asked Him this question, it was not as simple as it appeared to be. They were trying to lure Him into a trap. They were asking Him to pick a side in an ongoing debate that had been taking place. Many pages have been written detailing this debate. I will briefly summarize the issue here, but will make no attempt or claim to exhaust every facet of this debate. 

The Jews were essentially divided into two camps when it came to their understanding of what God allowed as reasons to divorce. Each of these two schools of thought had a leader. Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai. These two Rabbis disagreed on what constituted grounds for divorce. In a previous article we discussed Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and what God, through Moses, was communicating there. Within that text, there was a Hebrew word that was a little ambiguous and hard to define. Some translations translate this word as “uncleanness” or “some indecency”.  It is difficult to define the word precisely, as shown below.

nakedness of a thing, i.e. prob. indecencyimproper behavior”

Richard Whitaker et al., The Abridged Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament:

Nakedness of a thing. That is about as clear as mud. Shammai focused on the word “nakedness” and determined that this was to refer to sexual sin. Therefore, one could divorce if their spouse was sexually unfaithful. Hillel focused more on the word, “thing”. He took the approach that this wasn’t about sexual sin, but rather something that was shameful. Which opened the door for basically, “any-cause” divorce. Anything that the husband found to be shameful, was grounds for him to divorce his wife. Consider the following excerpt:

 “On the other hand, the school of Hillel interpreted this something objectionable in the widest possible way. They said that it meant that a man could divorce his wife if she spoiled his dinner; if she spun, or went with unbound hair, or spoke to men in the streets; if she spoke disrespectfully of his parents in his presence; if she was an argumentative woman whose voice could be heard in the next house. Rabbi Akiba even went to the lengths of saying that the phrase if she does not please him meant that a man could divorce his wife if he found a woman whom he liked better and considered more beautiful.”

– William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Third Ed., The New Daily Study Bible (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 2001), 231.

Think about this. Jewish Rabbis were teaching that if a wife messed up a meal, the husband could divorce her for that reason. If a wife argued with her husband, he could divorce her. If a man found another woman he liked better than his wife, and now found his wife displeasing because he liked someone else more, he could divorce her. This was what was being taught within Judaism. As you might imagine, the school of Hillel was more popular than the school of Shammai. People preferred the less restrictive approach, which freed them to essentially discard their marriages at will. This was the trap that the Pharisees were laying for Jesus. They were not asking Him questions for the purpose of learning. They were not interested in what the totality of God’s design, desire, and laws were for marriage. They wanted to involve him in this debate, and make Him pick a side. When they asked the question, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for “any cause?” They were asking, “Do you agree with Hillel?” 

         Let Not:

3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Mark 10:3-9 (ESV)

4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.

Matthew 19:4-8 (ESV)

Before answering their line of questioning Jesus turns their attention back to creation. Sin had certainly done it’s damage among God’s people concerning their marriages. What God designed to be a lifelong union between one man and one woman, had devolved into discussions about being able to divorce because a man found a woman he found to be more attractive, or because last night’s dinner didn’t go as planned. How can man go from God’s beautiful design, to this extreme display of selfishness and disregard for God’s laws? Jesus called their minds back to the beginning. Back to the design. Back to the intent. 

Jesus then spoke these words, “let not man separate.” He is clearly stating God’s design/intent for marriage. It is to be lifelong. Man is not to separate for “any cause”. They are supposed to hold fast to one another, cherishing this union. Some have taken this statement to mean “cannot separate”. Indicating that it is not possible for them to separate. This does not track with the other commands of God. For example, God commanded His people to not murder (Exodus 20:13). However, they still had the ability (and sometimes did) murder. God’s people were told repeatedly to rid themselves of idols, yet they repeatedly turned to idols. When Jesus said, “let not man separate” He was not indicating the impossibility of their separation. Rather, that to separate would go against His command, and would therefore, be a sin.  

Following the story:

This concluded what Jesus said to the Pharisees. They tried to lure Him into a trap. They wanted Him to pick a side. They wanted to see if He would side with Shammai or Hillel, or possibly teach something that was not in the law so that they could have grounds to charge Him. Jesus did not side with either school of thought. He called their minds back to the design for marriage that was unchanged since creation. One man, one woman, for life. Rather than giving the pharisees “reasons” for divorce, He told them that they should not separate what God joined together. 

10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.

Mark 10:10 (ESV)

In Matthew’s Gospel, the account reads as if it were one flowing conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees. However, Mark records for us that this was the end of His discussion with them on this matter. At a later time, (possibly the same day) the disciples were still thinking about what Jesus had said to the Pharisees, so they asked Him about His teachings again. 


9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

Matthew 19:9 (ESV)

11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Mark 10:11-12 (ESV)

Matthew is the only NT writer who records what is commonly referred to as “the exception clause”. The word translated as sexual immorality is the word πορνεία (porneia). 

πορνεία (porneia)- “fornication, sexual immorality, sexual sin of a general kind, that includes many different behaviors”

– James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament). 

While alone with His disciples, Jesus is stating his agreement with Shammai in the debate that the Pharisees tried to lure him into. Can we divorce for “any cause” or for sexual immorality? Jesus states that only πορνεία (porneia), not “any cause”, was grounds for divorce. 

One other additional observation about some differences in Matthew’s Gospel and Mark’s is that Mark also addresses women. While not possible to confirm, a common belief is that Matthew does not include Jesus’s address of women in his Gospel account because women initiating divorce was not common and possibly not practiced at this time within Judaism. Whereas, Mark’s audience was of a completely different makeup, and those women were active in initiating divorce. The same rules applied equally to men and to women. 

Commits Adultery:

In Matthew 19:9 we read that a man who divorces his wife (without cause) and marries another commits adultery. When we parallel this account with Mark 10, we see a detail that Mark records that Matthew does not. 

11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her,

Mark 10:11 (ESV)

Mark records that, yes, this man who behaves in this way commits adultery. However, He is committing adultery “against” his first wife. This is significant for our understanding of the text. Consider with me:

22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works,

Revelation 2:22 (ESV)

We read of Jezebel, and how God had given her time to repent of her sexual immorality. In this text we read of those who committed adultery “with her”.  When we consider Jesus’s teachings in Mark 10 He is not describing an individual who is committing adultery “with” someone, but “against” someone. In our next article, we will delve deeper into this by examining what is meant by, “adultery” in the Biblical context.

Better Not To Marry:

Mark’s account of this teaching and conversation has come to a close, and we are left now with only what Matthew writes. After hearing not only what Jesus said to the Pharisees but also the private conversation that they had with Him. The disciples were in shock. After all, the teachings of Hillel were the dominant voices of the day. To them, marriage wasn’t a large commitment, because it could be discarded for “any cause”. When they heard what Jesus had taught, they realized that there was a lot more to this marriage commitment than they had previously believed. 

10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

Matthew 19:10-12 (ESV)

The disciples had a classic overreaction when they heard what Jesus had to say. They stated that if “such is the case”, (man cannot divorce for “any cause”) it would be better not to marry! Jesus pointed out to them that not everyone could receive this saying. What saying could some people not receive? The statement that the disciples had just made. Jesus said that only those to whom it had been given could receive this statement. He then concluded with, “Let the one who is able to receive this, receive it”. Jesus certainly, is not referring to His command. God does not command something that we do not have the ability to obey. However, the statement concerning “not marrying” is something not everyone can do. This agrees with what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:6-7. Jesus said, only those “to whom it is given”. Paul would call the ability to remain single/celibate a gift from God in his writings. 

This is the longest article in this series, but it needed to be so. We have seen what sin’s corruption ultimately did to God’s design. What was meant to be a lifelong union was being discarded for “any cause”. Jesus instructed the Pharisees to go back to God’s design. Jesus elaborated on His teaching with His disciples. He did not side with Hillel in this debate, rather He sided with Shammai. He taught that those who did otherwise were committing adultery against their spouse. In our next article, we will talk more about what that means. 

Biblical Marriage: John The Baptist

***This is Part 4 in a series. If you have not yet read parts 1 you can read it here. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.***

Speaking forth God’s message concerning marriage can be controversial to say the least. There are many reasons for this, chief among them is the emotion attached to the subject. It is personal, and yet God still lays out his plan on the matter. Many preachers through the years have pointed to John the Baptist’s untimely death as a prime example of how emotional and controversial such a topic can be. They are right in doing so, since it was John’s confrontation of Herod concerning his marriage that led to John being beheaded. 

Usually when we approach a Biblical text while engaging in a topical study, we want to rush to “the end”. We just want to know how something applies to us. What are we to do with these rules? How does this play out in my life? Or the life of my friend? These are good questions, and generally come from the honest heart of an individual seeking to discover how they can walk in a manner that pleases God. 

However, we would do well to remind ourselves that when we study scripture, we are not reading something that was written directly to us, about our situation. For us to make appropriate application of the text, we must first understand what it meant to the original audience. Only then, can we make proper application to our lives, where appropriate. 

What was it exactly that transpired between John the Baptist and Herod the tetrarch that led to John’s execution?

Mark 6:17–18 ESV

17 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

The scene here (also recorded in Matthew 14, and Luke 3) is that John the Baptist had been preaching against Herod because he had married a woman named Herodias. Herodias was the wife of Herod’s brother, Phillip and now Herod had married her. John, while speaking out in condemnation against Herod, told Herod that it was not lawful for him to have her. 

We must be careful in our study to not make a text say something that it does not. It can be easy for us to blur those lines and rush to an application that we want to make. Let us be careful not to do that, but just examine this text, in its setting, and understand it’s meaning.  

Not Lawful:

Several things about this passage are abundantly clear. First, is that whatever John was saying to Herod was not easy for him (or Herodias) to hear. In fact, they (she) were so upset concerning what John said, that it eventually led to John’s head being brought to Herodias on a platter (Mark 6:25-28). Another thing that is abundantly clear about what John had taught, is that Herod’s union with Herodias was not lawful. 

This is where we need to dive a little deeper. What was meant by “not lawful”? Was this a reference to The Old Testament Law?  Was this a reference to the laws of the land? What exactly was John getting at when he said that this union was not lawful? A couple of possibilities present themselves.

Old Testament Law:

Let’s take note of exactly what John had spoken to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” John did not tell Herod that he could not have “a” wife, or that he could not have “a different” wife. He said that he could not have his brother’s wife. Is this significant? According to the Old Testament, this is significant. 

Consider a couple of references from the Old Testament Law (which the Israelites were still under during the reign of Herod). 

Leviticus 18:16 ESV

16 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness.

Leviticus 20:21 ESV

21 If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impurity. He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.

Two times in the Law it was specifically forbidden for a man to take his brother’s wife. In Leviticus 20, this was viewed in the same category as incest. It was specifically condemned under the law. It bore a penalty of being childless. It is likely, that John the Baptist, was angry that Herod would so blatantly violate the laws that they were under. John condemned his law breaking, and this public rebuke brought much anger and resentment from Herodias that John eventually lost his life for taking a stand concerning God’s laws condemning incest. 

Could A Woman Divorce?

This topic has been debated, and there is some disagreement on the matter. However, many believe that during the time that John would have been preaching against Herod, women did not have the right/legal ability to divorce their husband under Jewish law (although Gentile women were allowed to divorce their husbands). Many scholars maintain that only men had the right to initiate a divorce under Jewish law during this time. Consider with me how in Matthew’s Gospel (written to a Jewish audience) when Jesus spoke about divorce in Matthew 5 and Matthew 19, He never addresses women. He only addresses the men. Mark records in his Gospel (written to a more Gentile audience) in chapter 10, that women also were able to divorce and were bound by the same law as men.  

 So, if it was true that a woman was not allowed to divorce her husband under Jewish law, then if a woman were to separate herself from her husband without him giving the certificate of divorce and sending her away, she would likely still be legally married to her husband. Therefore, it would have been illegal for her to marry another man. 

Josephus, the famed Jewish historian writes concerning Herodias and her divorce with Phillip, and it just might shed a little light on this matter. Here is what Josephus wrote in Antiquities- 

“but Herodias, their sister, was married to Herod [Philip], the son of Herod the Great, who was born of Mariamne, the daughter of Simon the high priest, who had a daughter, Salome; after whose birth Herodias took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorce herself from her husband while he was alive, and was married to Herod [Antipas], her husband’s brother by the father’s side; he was tetrarch of Galilee; … but Herod and Alexander, who, as we told you, were the brothers of Antipater, died childless.” –  Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 485.

Two very important details are found in the historians record of Herodias and her marriage to Phillip. The first detail is that she confounded the laws of the country by divorcing her husband. She was not divorced and sent away with a certificate freeing her to marry again. She took it upon herself to divorce, which at that time, many believe was illegal, and would thereby be unlawful. The second important detail contained in this writing is that Herod died childless. This is the exact punishment that was said to be placed upon Israelites who violated God’s laws concerning incest. 

So, what exactly was John saying when he said that it was not lawful for Herod to have Herodias? Well, it was not lawful in the sense that it violated their laws of incest (and Herod bore that punishment of dying childless), and there is a possibility that Herodias was never legally divorced from her first husband since she was not legally allowed to do what she did.

John the Baptist sees Herod breaking one (or both) of these laws. He boldly spoke out in condemnation of this sin, and he paid the price with his life. We, likewise, must be willing to boldly proclaim God’s truth on subjects, even if they are sensitive in nature. However, we must be discerning enough to not rush to application without understanding the text. 

Biblical Marriage: What God Hates

 ***This is the 3rd article in a series. The series is meant to be read in order. If you have not yet read the earlier articles, please stop and do so and then come back here. The first article can be found here. The second article can be found here.***

We discussed in our last article that when sin came into the world it brought with it tremendous damage and destruction. Nothing was safe from sin’s affects. Included in this, was God’s design for marriage. Satan went right to work on attacking what God intended. He did his best to distort it and break it apart. In many ways, he succeeded. 

We see countless examples of polygamy, abuse, and even divorce in the OT. When Moses wrote the law (which came from God) he was not “instituting” divorce, as if he was bringing about a way for people to get out of their marriages. Rather, he was attempting to regulate/limit the divorce that was already happening. He attempted to stop people from divorcing rashly by stating that if you divorced your spouse and they married again, even if they got a second divorce, or if their second spouse died, you could not take them back (Deut 24:1-4). The divorce certificate was always a part of Israelite divorce. It was a way to protect the woman from her former spouse and free her to marry again.

God, through Moses, made sure that there were laws in place to protect women from abuse of their husbands. Not only do we read about this in Deuteronomy 24, but in other places as well. In Exodus 21:7-11 we read of God’s protection of the slave/wives. If a man neglected her by diminishing her food, clothing, and marital rights in favor of a new wife that he had chosen to take, the slave/wife was to be released. She was not to be bound and kept in that awful situation. In Deuteronomy 21:10-14 we read that if a man married a foreign woman and then he no longer found delight in her, he was to release her. What was happening in these situations is that if a man decided later that he didn’t really delight in his wife any longer, he would treat her as a slave. God steps in and protects these women. He could not sell her, or treat her as a slave, he had to release her. 

We read of many examples and laws concerning divorce in the OT. So, since we see God instituting laws designed to protect the abused, and release them from their marriages and we even read of God divorcing Israel because of their unfaithfulness (Jeremiah 3), does that then mean that God is “ok” with divorce? 

God Hates Divorce

Hate is such a strong word. We generally don’t like to use it, nor do we allow our children to throw that word around haphazardly. The word brings about a certain kind of darkness that is uncomfortable, and our natural response is to flee from hate. However, there is no way around the fact that there are some things (several, in fact) that the Bible tells us that God hates. 

Proverbs 6:16–19 (ESV)

16 There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: 17haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil19 a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

In this well-known and often quoted text we read of many things that God hates. If you and I love the Lord and want to serve Him, we would do well to make sure we are not doing any of these things. I cannot tell lies and think God is ok with that. I cannot shed innocent blood and think God is ok with that. I cannot stir up trouble within the brotherhood and think God is ok with that. As a child of God, our desire should always be to do what makes God happy, and avoid what He hates. 

This list in Proverbs is not an exhaustive list of things that God hates. In Malachi 2 we read about another.  

Malachi 2:16 (NASB95)

16 “For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel…”

In context, Malachi is speaking about Israel dealing treacherously or “faithlessly” with the wife of their youth. What was taking place is that Israelite men were divorcing their Israelite wives in order to marry foreign wives who worshipped other gods. Malachi points out that God’s desire for them was to produce Godly offspring with their Israelite wives (Mal 2:15). Instead, these men were divorcing their wives in order to marry other women. God refers to this as dealing treacherously. “Treacherously” comes from the Hebrew word- מָעַל(mā·ʿǎl) which literally means- “unfaithfully, break faith, commit a violation”. These men who divorced their wives for the purpose of marrying another (foreign) woman, had not been faithful, they broke faith with their first wife by breaking the covenant that they had made with her. As God looked at what was happening, He hated it. 

God had a plan for marriage. This was not it. What was supposed to be a beautiful union between two people for life had been distorted and abused in just about every conceivable way. God put in place laws to limit divorce, as well as laws to free women who were being abused from their marriages. However, the fact that something was allowed does not mean that it pleased God. It didn’t. We will see Jesus address this very point when we enter the NT in this series. God was not pleased, in fact, He hated what men were doing. 

Just a casual observance of the damage that divorce can bring to the lives of people still today helps us to understand why God hates divorce. People break faith in their covenants. Unspeakable pain is brought into the lives of those involved. Not just for the two who are no longer married, but also to their children, friends, and family. All of that pain, all of that damage, was never part of God’s plan. 

To this point, we have examined God’s plan for marriage and it’s beautiful design. We have looked at how sin corrupted all that was once pure and good, and that included marriage. We have examined various laws that were put in place to both limit divorce and protect women from abuse. We have also seen where God’s heart was on the issue, He hated what was happening. 

Where does that leave us today? What does God expect today? How can we do what we need to do in order to make God happy? These are some of the questions we will begin examining in coming articles. 

Biblical Marriage- Sin’s Destruction

***This is the second article in a series. They are written to build upon one another. If you have not read the first article, please read it here and then come back to this one***

I dare say that there is not a person who will read this writing who has not felt the pain of divorce in one way or another. Perhaps you have gone through a divorce, or your parents, or a close friend. Divorce’s sting tends to affect us all. Which sometimes makes discussing these issues difficult. However, personal experiences and the emotions that go along with them are not the only things that make these topics difficult. 

The fact that we sometimes tend to use the Bible as a resource book, (when we have a question, we search a keyword and read a few verses looking for the answer) can impact/distort our understanding of the narrative of scripture. Before we jump right to “what does the Bible say about my situation?” We need to walk through the story of scripture together on the topic, so that we feel the weight of the fall. Before we jump to a discussion of the words of Jesus or Paul in the NT, we must see what the world developed into, leading up to their discussions.

We covered in our first article, what God’s design was for marriage. One man was joined to one woman, and they were to “hold fast” to each other (Gen 2:24). Something terrible happened in the very next chapter of the Bible. Sin entered the world. 

The world was no longer pure. The earth was now going to be hard to work. Pain and death were now a normal part of life on this planet. Where there used to be peace, now there was strife. Along with all the other corruption, marriage was also under attack. 


Polygamy was a common sight in the Old Testament. We don’t make it very far (Gen 4) before we read of Lamech (a descendant of Cain) who had two wives. You are no doubt aware of the fact that many of our Bible heroes had multiple wives. 

Perhaps the most infamous was King Solomon.  1 Kings 11:3 states that He had 700 wives and 300 concubines! Most other men we read about were not anywhere close to that, as this is certainly an extreme example. One thing is clear, people were a long ways away from the “one flesh” relationship that God designed in Genesis 2.


Not only do we see polygamy as fairly commonplace in our reading of the OT, but we also see that unfaithfulness to one’s spouse was rampant as well. Not only was sexual unfaithfulness not tolerated by God, it was condemned in the strongest possible way. Consider the writing in the law…

Deuteronomy 22:22 ESV

22 “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.

Scripture refers to sexual unfaithfulness to a spouse as “evil”. Unfortunately, so many within our world today have experienced this evil firsthand. Under the old law, notice what the punishment would be for someone who was caught in this sin… death. The mere fact that there was a law concerning this punishment lets us know that this was a problem that had already been taking place.


Not only do we see countless examples of polygamy, (even by men after God’s own heart), and unfaithfulness in the Old Testament, but we also see divorce. Perhaps one of the most well known OT texts concerning divorce is found in Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 24:1–4 (ESV)

1 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.

Let’s spend a few moments examining this text together. 

“When a man” – Lets us know that Moses is not commanding divorce. Moses is simply describing a situation that was already happening in culture. Moses was not commanding divorce for any reason, rather he was giving some restrictions to a practice that was already taking place.

“Some indecency”– Countless volumes have been written concerning what exactly is meant by “some indecency”. Some assert that what Moses was speaking about was sexual unfaithfulness. This thinking is brought on by the meaning of the Hebrew word עֶרְוָה ʿěr·wā(h),and it’s association with nakedness. Others believe that Moses was not likely referring to sexual unfaithfulness because in Deut 22:22 of the same book, Moses wrote that those who are sexually unfaithful should be put to death. This phrase is a little ambiguous and has caused great difficulty not only in our minds as we attempt to study it, but as we will see when we get into the NT, it caused a great deal of debate amongst the Jewish leaders. We will delve into this more in future articles, but for now, let’s stay focused on what Moses was saying. 

“another man’s wife”– Regardless of what was meant by  “some indecency”, what is clear is that in this scenario that Moses was describing, this woman who had the certificate of divorce (which freed and protected her from her first husband) is now another man’s wife. Moses, then continues the scenario to get to his point. 

“Then her former husband” – In this woman’s new marriage it ends tragically. Either by divorce or death. The reason for the end of this marriage is not important, because that isn’t the point Moses was making. The point that Moses was making is that if a man divorces his wife, and then she goes and marries someone else, and then that marriage ends for one reason or another, the first husband cannot get her back. 

Why was Moses writing this? Moses was not writing a command to divorce. Moses was not writing reasons for marriages to end. Rather, Moses was making it plain that if a man divorced his wife and she became another man’s wife and then that second marriage ended either by divorce or by death the first husband could not take her back. 


Not only do we read of polygamy, sexual unfaithfulness, and divorce in the OT, but we also read about abuse. The same Moses who wrote Deuteronomy 24:1-4 also wrote Exodus 21.

Exodus 21:7-11 details a common practice of the day. Women were often sold as slaves, and sometimes those slaves became wives or concubines. This text describes something that was common practice. A man would buy a slave woman, and this woman would become the wife of his son. Sometimes then, the son would find a new wife. Perhaps one that he found to be more attractive, or more pleasing in one way or another. Now, not only does he have two wives, but he would begin to neglect and mistreat his first wife. By diminishing her food, clothing, and “marital rights” , (V.10). This practice was apparently commonplace enough that it warranted a law being written to prevent men abusing their wives by neglecting them when they found someone else. God protects these slave/wives by saying that if their husband diminished their food, clothing, or marital rights they could go out for nothing, meaning they would not need payment for their freedom from being a slave-wife. They would be free from their husband.

What we have seen so far is that God had a beautiful design for one man and one woman to become one flesh, and to hold fast to each other for life. Then, sin entered the world. Like everything else that was pure and holy, we see the stains of sin on the marriages of the Bible. We see polygamy, unfaithfulness, divorce, and abuse. God never wanted it to be this way. 

There may be someone who is reading this in pain. Your pain. Real pain. I want you to know that you are not alone. God Himself knows the sting of divorce (Jeremiah 3:8-10). As we continue our study of this topic, it is my prayer that you will find direction and healing for your soul.