This phrase occurs in Jesus' discussion of divorce, "to write a certificate of divorce," and comes from Deut. 24:1-4 (cf. Matt. 5:31; 19:7-9; Mark 10:4-5). Moses enacted a legal procedure to protect the wife (cf. Exod. 21:1-11). This legal procedure would have several requirements.

1. it took some amount of time

2. it took a priest or Levite to write it

3. it probably required the return of the dowry

Hopefully, these procedures would give the couple a chance to reconcile.

It must also be stated that Deuteronomy 24 assumed the right of remarriage for both the man and woman. However, the Deuteronomy passage in context was not addressing the cultural issue of divorce as much as (1) assuring the virginity and faithfulness of the bride and (2) outlining the specific procedures and limits on the remarriage.

The real problem occurred in the liberal interpretation of this passage by the rabbinical school of Hillel (cf. The Christ of the Gospels by J. W. Shepherd, pp. 451-457). This school picked up on the term "indecency" (see paragraph #2 below) and extended its original time frame and meaning. In Matt. 19:3,7-8, the Pharisees were only quoting Moses in order to trick Jesus. They were not seeking information.

Jesus confirmed the intent of God for marriage as one man, one woman for life (cf. Matt. 5:31). Anything else is not the ideal. The problem comes in how to balance Jesus' words in this context with His words of forgiveness in other contexts. The standard for Kingdom followers is high, but so too, is the grace of God! In this area a case-by-case approach is better than rigid legal rules.

In the OT YHWH used divorce to describe His actions toward Israel because of their idolatry (cf. Isa. 50:1; Jer. 3:1-8; Hos. 2:2). There are examples in the OT where divorce is required (cf. Gen. 21:8-14; Exod. 21:10-11; Deut. 21:10-14; Ezra 9-10). There is an excellent thought-provoking article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, vol. 40 # 4, entitled "Old Testament Perspectives on Divorce and Remarriage" by Joe M. Sprinkle.

The two criteria for divorce in Deut. 24:1 are

1. she finds no favor in is eyes –

This common verb (BDB 592, KB 619) is used twice in this verse (first, Qal imperfect and the second Qal perfect). It is used in the sense of "to recognize an existing condition" (cf. Deut. 22:14,17).

The term "favor" (BDB 336) is used of both God's favor (e.g., Gen. 6:8; Exod. 33:17) and mankind's (e.g., Gen. 30:27; 33:8,10,15; Ruth 2:2,10,13). It means a favorable acceptance or attitude of responsiveness. Here it is negated. It recognized the fallen condition of human love, which is sometimes fickle and fleeting.

This text has been a source of great controversy among the rabbis. Shammai (the conservative group of rabbis) said it only referred to adultery, while Hillel (the liberal group of rabbis) said it could refer to anything, even trivial things (i.e., bad food, bad in-law relations, found a prettier woman). In Israel only the husband had the legal right of divorce.

2. some indecency –

Literally this is "the nakedness of a thing" (BDB 788 construct BDB 182). In Deut. 23:14 the same term is used in a non-moral sense. This cannot refer to proven adultery because the automatic penalty was death (cf. Deut. 22:22). Jesus, when quoting this text, seems to interpret it by the phrase "fornication" in Matt. 19:9, which was a Greek term (porneia) that involved any sexual impropriety or unfaithfulness. The term is meant to be ambiguous and, thereby covers the widest possible circumstances.

Moses wrote this text to protect the rejected, vulnerable wife. It is shocking to me that Jesus asserts that this legal protection of divorce and remarriage was never God's intention (cf. Matt. 5:27-32; 19:7-12; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:14-18), but Moses' idea because of the hardness of the hearts of the Israelites. How many other things recorded in the Pentateuch are not the intended will of God? Jesus, as Lord of Scripture, showed His authority by correcting both OT texts and their interpretation (cf. Matt. 5:17-48; Mark 7:1-23). This is distressing to us modern evangelicals who put such an emphasis on the Bible as the "word of God" (and it surely is!), but we must remember that Jesus is the Living Word and we only have a fraction of all the things He did and said (cf. John 20:30). The Bible is primarily designed to first give us salvation (cf. John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:15) and then to guide us in living the Christian life (cf. 2 Tim.3:16-17). We have all the information that we need to be saved and live a life pleasing to God. We do not need additional rules and laws. The texts we have and the indwelling Spirit guide us from the texts we have into the areas of uncertainty. I am reminded that Jesus commented that all Scriptural teaching on how to live for God is summed up in only two priority statements (cf. Matt. 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28):

a. Deut. 6:4 – love God completely

b. Lev. 19:18 – love your neighbor (which surely includes one's family members) as yourself

Surely #b includes one's spouse!

On the subject of "is remarriage a sin," please look at my commentary on Matt. 5:31; 19:3,5-9 online or listen to the audio sermons on these texts in "Difficult and Controversial Texts" (second green box on home page of www.freebiblecommentary.org).  Click on "The Christian Life," scroll down to sermon #2130 and 2131.


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