New Covenant Patriarchy

Monday, April 01, 2013

Four Major Falsehoods in the Church Regarding Deut. 24:1-4 and Matt. 19:8-9

I have lately been musing over the condition of the Church today as it relates to patriarchy and issues of marriage, and attempting to crystallize in succinct, summary form what, in my view, are the chief falsehoods and misconceptions ensnaring Christians in false doctrine. This list could be very, very long, indeed, but here are what I believe are four of the most critical falsehoods in the Church. These relate mainly to the subject of divorce and what is the proper understanding of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and Matthew 19:8-9. Let us first examine the passages in question:

Deuteronomy 24: 1-4
24 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness (the literal Hebrew is “nakedness of a thing”) in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, 2 when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, 4 then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.

Matthew 19: 1-12
Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”10 His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: 12 For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.”

Here are four of the most common falsehoods regarding these passages:

  • FALSEHOOD #1: “Deuteronomy 24 permits lenient, morally illegitimate divorce.”
  • FALSEHOOD #2: “Deuteronomy 24 does not permit divorce at all.”
  • FALSEHOOD #3: “The “nakedness of a thing” or “matter of nakedness” (translated “uncleanness” in both the KJV and NKJV I have used above) cannot be inclusive of adultery, but must refer to something other than adultery, because adultery incurs the death penalty, not divorce.”
  • FALSEHOOD #4: “The ‘hardness of heart’ Jesus spoke of in Matthew 19:8 refers to the hard heartedness of men seeking to divorce their wives for illegitimate reasons.”

There are hardly two other passages in the Bible that have been the object of so much disagreement and-let’s face it-shoddy exposition. It is time for a little sanity here.

I. Let us begin with the easiest point to refute (#2) and the one which is clear and unambiguous in Matthew 19, namely,--Deuteronomy 24 does permit divorce. How do we know this is the proper interpretation of Deuteronomy 24? Because Jesus said so explicitly! No honest exposition of Jesus’ words in Matthew 19 can lead to any other conclusion. Those who deny that Deuteronomy 24 permits divorce rely very heavily upon linguistic analysis of the Hebrew language there—which is why I, for the sake of argument, have adopted the NKJV translation above which is favorable to their position. Read Deuteronomy 24:1-4 above again and note that verses 1-3 are stated as factual circumstances with the commandment coming in verse 4 prohibiting remarriage to the wife if there has been an intervening marriage on her part with another man.

Even if we accept the rendering of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 as translated above in the NKJV, we nevertheless have it on the highest authority possible, on the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, that Deuteronomy 24 permits divorce. It cannot be overemphasized that this is plainly stated. In other words, the scenario in Deuteronomy 24:1-3 is not to be construed as mere description. Mere description is a very different thing than permission. Permission goes way beyond mere description. The situation described in verses 1-3 is enumerated because it is understood to be normative. If Moses is merely describing a divorce scenario (presumably morally unlawful divorce if we are to believe some commentators) then Moses cannot possibly be permitting anything in verse 1. But Jesus says precisely that Moses is permitting divorce there. There is no rational denial of this point. I think we can take this point as established beyond any doubt or question whatsoever.

It remains to be shown whether that permission is universal in all cases (the Pharisees position, it would seem) or whether this permission is conditional, or whether it involves a "concession to sin," as so many expositors claim. But let us here bow first to the declaration of Scripture that divorce is permitted, and establish the rest below.

II. Let us proceed now to the next easiest falsehood to refute, #3 above, namely that the “uncleanness” mentioned in Deuteronomy 24:1 as the occasion and the offense to the husband motivating his divorce action, “cannot include adultery because the Law of Moses specifies the death penalty for adultery.” It is sufficient to refute this claim by examining Jeremiah 3:8, Isaiah 50:1 and Matthew 1:18-19.

Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also. –Jeremiah 3:8, NKJV

Thus says the LORD:
“Where is the certificate of your mother’s divorce,
Whom I have put away?
Or which of My creditors is it to whom I have sold you?
For your iniquities you have sold yourselves,
And for your transgressions your mother has been put away.—Isaiah 50:1, NKJV

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.—Matthew 1:18-19

In Jeremiah 3:8 and Isaiah 50:1, we have Yahweh, metaphorically as husband, divorcing his wife Israel for adultery, and in Matthew 1:18-19 we have Joseph intending to put away (divorce) Mary for presumably playing the whore during her betrothal period, which situation is addressed under the Law of Moses calling for the death penalty. The Holy Spirit tells us in this passage that Joseph was a “just man” in this intent, something which could not be said of him if he was intending to circumvent an absolute requirement of the Law requiring him to hand Mary over to the death penalty. Compassionate and loving, maybe, but not “just,” if the death penalty were an absolute requirement of the law.

These passages, especially considered in the aggregate, prove that the death penalty was not the only specified penalty for adultery under the Law of Moses but rather the maximum penalty. It will not suffice to resort to the subversive argument that the Jeremiah and Isaiah passages are “only” allegorical. The allegories of adultery and divorce are meant to allegorize the respective character of sin and holiness which they exemplify and apply to the situation of Israel’s idolatry and God’s punishment of exiling Israel to Assyria which is metaphorically characterized as a divorce. (We may want to consult the book of Hosea on this point also, and Yahweh’s passing over of the death penalty for David’s adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah.)

It is also relevant that the list of prohibited sexual relations in Leviticus 18, commonly called the incest chapter, uses the phrase, “Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of…” and then lists numerous prohibited sexual relations as abominations. It is the same Hebrew word for nakedness that appears in Deuteronomy 24:1. There is clearly an affinity of verbal expression here in characterizing the prohibitions in the two passages as dealing with “nakedness.” The use of the word “nakedness” in Leviticus 18 to denominate sexual misconduct certainly creates a strong presumption that it is referring to sexual misconduct in Deuteronomy 24.

So, to enumerate, what have we seen so far? We have established conclusively that 1) divorce is allowed or permitted under the Law of God (to some extent not established yet in this exposition) and 2) that the “nakedness of a thing” in Deuteronomy 24:1 is inclusive of at least adultery, and maybe covers broader ground than adultery.

III. Let us now turn to the next falsehood, #1 above, the claim that the Law of God in Deuteronomy 24 permits lenient and, indeed, morally unjustifiable divorce as a matter of civil polity, and that this provision in Deuteronomy 24:1 is a “concession to sin.” This is how the contenders for this position interpret Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:8, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives.”

This is where context is important. Remember: the precise question the Pharisees are putting to Jesus is, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for any reason?” The Pharisees assume (correctly) that some divorce is permitted under the Law of Moses (which is to say, the Law of God) in Deuteronomy 24:1. They want to know Jesus’ view of the extent of this permission. Let us read Jesus’ words again:

And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”—Matthew 19:4-9

So, Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees specific question is clearly, no. It is not lawful for a man to put away his wife for any reason whatsoever. The lawfulness of divorce under the Law of God (and the Law of God includes both Genesis 1 and Deuteronomy 24) is conditional. The antecedent condition must be fornication. The Greek word in the biblical text is porneia, properly translated as fornication or sexual immorality. Note well, that this concept also is inclusive of adultery, but is not limited to adultery, though adultery would certainly be in real-world circumstances the most common occurrence of fornication. So Jesus is here interpreting the meaning of “nakedness of a thing” in Deuteronomy 24:1 as fornication.

So to enumerate and summarize what we have learned thus far: We have established conclusively that 1) divorce is allowed or permitted under the Law of God and 2) that the “nakedness of a thing” in Deuteronomy 24:1 is inclusive of adultery and 3) that the valid lawful ground for a man to divorce his wife is restricted to fornication on the part of the wife, which usually occurs in the form of adultery; 4) The meaning of the Hebrew phrase “nakedness of a thing” in Deuteronomy 24:1 is, therefore, co-extensive with the Greek porneia, and the English word, fornication.

IV. Finally we come to our fourth falsehood, namely: “The ‘hardness of heart’ Jesus spoke of in Matthew 19:8 refers to the hard heartedness of men seeking to divorce their wives for illegitimate reasons, and God made a concession to sin by allowing this sin in the precepts of His law.”

The ground that we have covered thus far is sufficient to undo this erroneous and fallacious interpretation of Jesus’ words. Jesus must be saying, in effect, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts (manifested in fornication) permitted you to put away your wives.” Hard hearted men commit adultery with other men’s wives, and hard hearted women commit fornication, usually adultery, against their husbands. Jesus is interpreting the Law of God here, and the precise passage the Pharisees question Jesus about is Deuteronomy 24. When Jesus says "except for fornication," he is establishing the definition of “nakedness of a thing” in Deuteronomy 24:1, and declaring that divorce is allowed as a punitive measure against this hardness of heart manifested through fornication.--Tom Shipley

Posted by Tom Shipley on 04/01 at 11:10 AM
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