Click to listen to the second talk (18 min) in the series.

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Podcast notes:

Exod 21:10-11: If a married man takes a second (slave) wife, then the food, clothing, and sexual love—material support plus emotional support—received by the first wife must not be reduced. If the husband reneges, the first wife may be released from the marriage.

  • The rabbis correctly saw that if a slave had such rights, so did a free woman, who implicitly expected his faithfulness as a husband.
  • If any of these four rights is neglected, there may be grounds for legitimate divorce. The four grounds are withdrawal of physical support (food or clothing), withdrawal of emotional support (manifest in sexual engagement), and (implicitly) adultery.
  • Incidentally, ancient Sumerian law required that a man provide a prostitute who has born him children with gifts of grain, oil, and clothing. To withhold material support, in other words, was illegal.

Deut 24:1-4: The purpose of the divorce certificate was to protect the woman against future claims by her husband, thus enabling her to remarry. (A certificate not needed by a man, since he could marry any Jewish woman he wanted—as polygamy was condoned in the OT.)

  • A man unsure of whether the first husband was coming back to claim his woman, or the children, or her assets, would be far less likely to marry her.
  • The divorcée needs a clean break!
  • “[The] certificate, which was the right of a few privileged women in some ancient Near Eastern legal systems, was extended by the Pentateuch to all divorced women. This certificate freed women from the fear that their ex-husbands could reclaim them after abandoning them. The wording of the ancient Near Eastern certificates was similar to the traditional rabbinic get, which states ‘you are free to remarry any man you wish.’” (David Instone-Brewer)
  • The right of remarriage after divorce is implied in Lev 21:7, 13-14—others could marry a divorced woman, but not a priest.
  • Deut 24 was not originally understood as referring to adultery.
    • After all, the Law of Moses already had a death penalty for adultery.
    • The word adultery does not appear. Rather, it is literally "the indecency of the matter." This was commonly interpreted to refer to sexual sin.
  • Deut 24 allows divorce, assuming there are grounds; it does not support arbitrary divorce.
  • This doesn’t mean there should be a divorce, only that if the innocent party initiates proceedings, she may legally divorce.
  • Deut 22:13-18 implies that groundless divorce was not permitted—with possible severe financial penalties to those who initiated a divorce unlawfully.
  • These provisions are reflected in other O.T. texts, like Deut 24:5; Psalm 132:9-16; Ezek 16:8-19; and Hos 2:5. See also Eph 5:29.

Mal 2:16

  • The older rendering “I hate divorce” is taken to imply that the Lord disapproves of all divorce (or most divorce). However, this translation (as in the NKJV and NRSV), is far from certain.
  • The Hebrew does not say “I hate,” but “he hates.” It refers to the husband: he is treating his wife hatefully.
  • Better translations are the ESV and the (current) NIV.
    • “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.” NIV
    • But if you hate [your wife] and put her away, says the Lord God of Israel, then ungodliness shall cover your thoughts, says the Lord Almighty: therefore take heed to your spirit, and forsake [them] not. LXX (the Greek version of the OT, made a couple of centuries before Christ, and which was the Bible for most Jews in the time of Jesus, as the majority lived outside the land of Israel.)
  • Mal 2:16 is still a strong passage against divorce, but it is not a passage forbidding divorce.


  • The OT permitted divorce.
  • Four grounds for divorce can be detected in Exodus 21, Deuteronomy 24, and other passages.
  • The divorce certificate—still in use in Jesus’ day, and well beyond that time—extended much-needed protection to the women.
  • God is opposed to those who do violence to or otherwise hate and divorce their wives.

British scholar David Instone-Brewer

  • PhD in Rabbinic Judaism. For three years he studied the Dead Sea Scrolls, Midrashim (ancient comnmentaries/expansions of biblical texts), Mishnah (the oral law supposed received by Moses on Mt. Sinai, codified around 200 AD), Talmud (discussions of the Torah and Mishnah, written in c.400-600 AD), Philo and Josephus (the two most prominent Jewish writers of the first C. AD), and the rabbinic literature. He is well qualified to understand issues surrounding marriage and divorce in 1st C.
  • Two helpful books:
    • Divorce & Remarriage in the Church: The Social & Literary Context (2002)—scholarly. Assumes familiarity with Hebrew and Greek.
    • Divorce & Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities (2003)—for the general reader, especially those involved in counseling or pastoral work.
  • His work is important for the next part of our series, as we look at what Jesus said about divorce. Instone Brewer's position: “I agree with the two traditional grounds of adultery and desertion by an unbeliever, and two other OT grounds that are alluded to by Paul and Church tradition. These two are emotional neglect and material neglect and are alluded to in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, 32-34.”