Summary: Jesus didn't forbid divorce and/or called remarring adultary. He condemned Babylonian style of divorce in which a man could divorce a woman without divorce papers and giving her some money/things to live from.
but I--I say to you, that whoever may put away his wife, save for the matter of whoredom, doth make her to commit adultery; and whoever may marry her who hath been put away doth commit adultery.
This book was NOT written to encourage divorce, but rather to show that if one remarries after a lawful divorce, he has not committed adultery. Divorce itself is not a sin, but a judgment for sin. Many translations of Matt. 5:32 make Jesus appear to forbid remarriage, but we show that the text has been mistranslated and then misunderstood. Jesus did not put away the Law. Deut. 24:1-4 specifically permits divorce and remarriage.
Hammurabi's Law on Divorce
According to Hammurabi's Code, a marriage was a simple contract, valid only if it was written, sealed (signed), and witnessed (Par. 128). Divorce was allowed, but treated in various ways, depending on which party broke the contract. If the wife were guilty, he could divorce her with the words, "I put her away," and he could send her away empty-handed (Par. 141).
Divorce that is, a complete break in the marriage contract is lawful, because virtually all marriage contracts involve vows made by two parties. In God's marriage to Israel at Mt. Sinai, Israel (the bride) agreed to submit to His authority and obey His laws (Ex. 19:3-8). God, on the other hand, agreed to give them the Kingdom and the blessings of the Birthright. These included honor, protection, sustenance, and children (Gen. 12:1-3).
Israel violated this contract, being incapable of full obedience, and refused to repent; and thus, her Husband divorced her and sent her out of His house. Jeremiah 3:8 says,
8 And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce
, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.
Note that God not only sent her away, but only did so after giving her a written bill of divorce. This was in accordance with the law in Deut. 24 that we will quote shortly. Hosea 2:2 also shows that God's divorce meant Israel was no longer God's wife, saying to her,
2 Contend with your mother [Israel], contend, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband;
Because God Himself is a divorcee, we can safely say that divorce itself is not necessarily a sin.
Did Jesus Outlaw Divorce?
In Mark 10:2-9 the Pharisees asked Jesus if it were lawful to put away one's wife. Jesus asked them in turn what Moses had said. They answered that Moses had commanded them to write a bill of divorcement and to put her away. Jesus then replied, "For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept." He went on to explain that divorce did not follow the perfect order of creation that was set up at the beginning. In other words, divorce is not a good thing, but because men's hearts are hard, it is necessary that provision be made for handling broken marriage contracts. For the same reason, God instituted the death penalty for first-degree murder. From the beginning it was not so, for God created us to live together in harmony. But for the hardness of men's hearts, it became a very necessary judgment to curb such violent crime.
In a nutshell, then, the purpose of the "Sermon on the Mount" was to improve upon the law's interpretation and application. The true spirit of the law had been lost through the traditions of the elders.
With that context in mind, and knowing that Jesus did not destroy the law, let us look at Matthew 5:31, 32 in greater detail. These two verses are a part of His comment on "Thou shalt not commit adultery," so the final thrust of His comment is to define adultery in relation to the laws of divorce and remarriage. Verse 31 simply refers to Deut. 24:1, where God demanded that men give their wives a WRITTEN
bill of divorcement before they could lawfully put away their wives. Verse 2, of course, allowed divorced wives to remarry after a lawful divorce. So let us take another look at Matthew 5:31, 32, inserting a few key words in the original Greek, so that we get a proper translation of the passage.
31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away (apoluo) his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement (apostasion). 32 But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away (apoluo) his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced (apoluo, lit. "put away") committeth adultery.
To paraphrase this: The law says that she commits adultery if she remarries without a written bill of divorcement. BUT I SAY UNTO YOU that whoever puts her away (without divorce papers; that is, unlawfully) causes her to commit adultery (if she remarries under such conditions). Thus, he who simply put her out of his house without divorcing her properly is JUST AS LIABLE AS SHE IS. And whosoever marries her that has been put away (without divorce papers) also commits adultery, because he is marrying another man's wife.
Jesus is here condemning men who put away their wives Babylonian style (verbally), instead of putting them away in the manner prescribed by God's law. Under the laws of liability, this would make him guilty of adultery if she were to remarry. So we see that the whole point of this commentary is to bring out a point of law that had not been covered by the Pharisees in their interpretations.
In Hebrews 12:16 Esau is called a fornicator ; yet there is no record in Scripture of his buying the services of a prostitute. But Genesis 26:34 does say that he married Hittite wives. From the account in Scripture, this obviously went against God's command not to take a wife from among the Canaanites. Thus, it may be classified as an unlawful marriage.
27 Art thou bound (by law) unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed (from the bonds of marriage). Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife. 28 But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned.
Few verses are plainer than these. If you are married, do not seek a divorce. If you are divorced or widowed, do not seek a wife (because of the "present distress" mentioned in verse 26). But if you do marry, YOU HAVE NOT SINNED; and if a virgin marry, she has not sinned either. In other words, Paul says, remarriage after a divorce is NOT a sin. Thus, divorce and remarriage is NOT adultery.