Jesus' Teaching on Divorce Detraditionalized

A picture of a broken heart with divorce written on it

Jesus' teaching on divorce is a prime example of how the church has let tradition completely reverse what the Bible says.

Tradition says that divorce is a sin. This tradition can be traced back to the Roman Catholic Church. Most Christians and most churches agree with it: divorce is a sin. They twist the words of Jesus to support this. But what did Jesus really say?

One of Jesus' key teachings on divorce is in Matthew 5:31-32.

I encourage you to set aside tradition for a moment and take an honest look at what these two verses say.

The Context

First, look at the context of Matthew 5:31-32. These two verses are one point of six. The six points illustrate how Jesus did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). Before making these six points, Jesus states that one jot or one tittle will not pass from the law until it is fulfilled. He also says that anyone who breaks these least commandments and teaches others so is least in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:18-19).

Despite these statements, most people think that Jesus changed the law in these two verses, that He destroyed the part that tells people to get a divorce, and that He set up divorce as a sin.

If that is true, Jesus was a liar and He violated His own words.

The First Verse

Look at the first verse: "It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement" (Matthew 5:31 KJV).

Doesn't this verse imply that some people were putting their wives away without giving them a writing of divorcement?

(Please note that in Greek, "put away" (apoluo) and "divorcement" (apostasion) are two completely different words. It is not correct to translate both as divorce as some Bible versions do. Apostasion is divorce. Apoluo is not.)

What would it be if a man put away his wife but did not give her a writing of divorcement?

The Law

What does the law say about divorce? "...then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it to her hand, and send her out of his house" (Deuteronomy 24:1b).

Does the law say that a husband can put away his wife and they are divorced? No. He must give her a bill of divorcement.

Does the law say that a husband can say, "I divorce thee, I divorce thee, I divorce thee," and they are divorced? No. He must give her a bill of divorcement.

If a husband puts his wife away without giving her a bill of divorcement, are they divorced? No, not according to the law.

This is also true in America. A couple may split up and go their separate ways, but they are not divorced until one of them writes up a bill of divorcement, takes it to court, and the judge signs it.

What Jesus says in these two verses is not against divorce, it is against NOT getting a divorce. He is telling those who were putting away their wives without a writing of divorcement that they are wrong. They must get a writing of divorcement as the law states.

Jesus was validating what the law says, not changing it, not destroying it.

The Second Verse

Look at the second verse: "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 5:32 KJV).

(Please note that in this verse, "put away" and "divorce" are the same Greek word, apoluo. It is wrong to translate apoluo as "put away" the first time that it appears in the verse and then as "divorce" the second time. That hides the true meaning of this verse.)

This verse brings sin (adultery) into the divorce picture.

Or does it?

The Greek word for divorce (apostasion) is not in this verse.

This verse is not talking about divorce. It is talking about putting a wife away without giving her a writing of divorcement.

If a man puts his wife away without giving her a writing of divorcement, he is causing her to commit adultery. How can a wife who has been put away, stay faithful to her husband? She can't. She has to cheat on him (which is what adultery is) in some way. Her husband has forced her to commit adultery.

If the wife committed fornication (sexual sin), then the husband putting her away does not cause her to commit adultery because she has already done that on her own.

If a man marries a woman who has been put away by someone else, then he is marrying a woman who is already married and he is committing adultery.

(Please note the sin here, adultery. Adultery is a sin that involves at least one married person. Two single people cannot commit adultery, neither can two divorced people. By mentioning the sin of adultery, Jesus is showing that what He is talking about is not divorce. He is also showing that the practice of putting away a spouse does not end a marriage as divorce does.)

This verse brings sin (adultery) into the "putting away a spouse" picture, not the divorce picture.

The Conclusion

Jesus did not change the law in these verses. He supported it and went a step further by connecting their refusal to get a divorce with adultery.

During this time, the people were not following the law. They were separating from their spouses but NOT getting a divorce. A divorce took too much time and required them to air their greivences in public before a judge. It was much easier to tell the wife to leave and consider the marriage to be finished. But that was not how the law said to do it.

Divorce is not a sin. Ending a marriage without a divorce is. That is what Jesus taught in these two verses.

What will you Do?

You most likely have never heard these Biblical truths before.

Now that you have heard it, what will you do?

Will you accept it as truth and stop considering divorce to be a sin?

Or will you say that your church is correct, ignore what the Bible says, and continue to hold to a position that sets Jesus up as a liar, someone who violates His own words?

The choice is yours. Accept tradition or accept the Bible.