Many churches, it appears, are challenged to a greater or lesser degree with divorce and remarriage. The 2×2 Church is no exception. The degree of legalism and traditions in any church group has a direct correlation to the level of difficulties and inherent consequences they experience. In most cases, it appears, as with the 2x2s, that the main issue is remarriage as long as the original spouse is living. In the 2x2s, divorce is not encouraged, but it is accepted provided one does not remarry.
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20).
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).
Initial Statement and Questions. “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth come by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Did grace come by Jesus to those suffering marital tragedies? Was grace provided in the Mosaic law? How does grace and truth abound to those who have suffered the tragedy of a marriage failure and divorce? Did Jesus show the way forward in his Sermon on the Mount?
Strong’s Concordance is the most complete, well-respected and widely used Bible concordance ever compiled for and from the King James Version Bible. The KJV was translated into English and published in 1611 from the various ancient texts of the Bible—Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). Strong’s Concordance has stood the test of time (over 130 years) and is invaluable.
Bible scholar James Strong (1822–1894) first published this monumental concordance in 1890. Over time, Strong’s Concordance has been revised and reprinted. The latest version was published in 2010, titled The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. NOTE: It appears that some definition/usages in Strong’s Concordance may include potential errors in the KJV translation/interpretation.
Strong assigned a number to each underlying Hebrew/Greek word in the KJV Bible; these numbers have become a reference standard. Countless books use Strong’s standard numbers. Each of Strong’s numbered words corresponds to a definition in Strong’s Dictionary and many other Bible dictionaries. In the following study, the standard reference number assigned to each Hebrew/Greek word appears as “Strong’s No. ####.”
The dictionary chosen for this analysis is: The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek by Franco Montanari, Brill, 2015, for its expertise in Ancient and Koine Greek (era 300 BC–600 AD), the time period of the Greek New Testament.
During his life and times, Jesus and the Jews were living under the law God revealed to Moses, also called the Mosaic law, the Old Law and Old Covenant/Testament, set out in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The Old Covenant contained laws and guidelines that governed most aspects of their lives, natural and spiritual. The New Covenant/Testament would not begin until after Jesus’ death on the cross.
When Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount, he spoke about “putting away” wives and lawful cause/grounds for divorce (Matt. 5:31–32). Throughout Palestine, the practice of husbands “putting away” wives for any reason was widespread.
At this time, there was a controversy over the interpretation of a passage in the Old Mosaic Law (Deut. 24:1-2) known in Jewish history as the Hillel-Shammai Debate. Both Hillel and Shammai held the title “the elder,” were heads of schools and were president and vice-president, respectively, of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court). The prevailing view was Hillel’s who taught that a man could divorce his wife for any cause whatsoever, even as trivial as burning a meal. Shammai held that divorce was lawful only for the cause of fornication. The debate was not about remarriage—it was about the cause/grounds for lawful divorce (which allowed for remarriage).
Jewish Marriages. In the life and times of Jesus, in Jewish culture, during the betrothal, the families of the future bride and groom negotiated a formal (conditional) Marriage Contract/Covenant (the ketubah), similar to a contemporary prenuptial agreement. The ketubah was a legally binding contract setting out the terms for marriage, potential divorce and death.
The basic obligations of the husband toward his wife during their marriage were to provide food, clothing, conjugal relations, and a pre-specified cash settlement for the wife’s support in the event of divorce or his death. The bride brought to the marriage a dowry (assets) provided by her father, of which she retained ownership. Her dowry helped provide her with financial security in the event of divorce or death of her husband.
A marriage contract/covenant is conditional—it is not a vow. There are no marriage vows in Scripture. A vow is an unconditional promise to a person and/or God. Note Jesus’ teaching about vows in Matt. 5:33–36.
Jewish Divorces. It was not uncommon for Jews to divorce and remarry. Jewish law required a Jewish Bill of Divorcement (Hebrew keriythuwth, Strong’s No. 3748; Greek άποστάσιον, apostasion, Strong’s No. 647), called a Get. Per The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek, the Greek word for Bill of Divorcement/Divorce is: άποστάσιον -ου, τό [άπόστασις] abandonment: άποστασίου δίκη trial for abandonment (of one’s master) DEMOSTH. 25.65,al. etc. | repudiation: βιβλίον τού άποστασίον act or declaration of repudiation VT Is. 50:1, al. NT Matt. 19:7, Mar. 10.4 = simpl. άποστασίον NT Matt. 5:31.
Traditionally, only the husband could initiate a divorce and give the wife a Get. Rarely could a Jewish woman divorce her husband. In Jewish law, to legally dissolve a marriage, the husband and wife went before a rabbinic court. The husband paid the wife the pre-specified cash settlement in the Marriage Contract (ketubah); put a properly signed/witnessed Bill of Divorcement in the wife’s hands, and she was sent/put away out of the home. Only then were they lawfully divorced, per the Law of Moses (Deut. 24:1-4).
The court acknowledged the document. Jewish laws governed child custody. Mothers received custody of all children under six and of all daughters; fathers received custody of all sons when they turned six. The wife, with her Bill of Divorcement in hand, was then legally free to remarry. Any marriage that was not dissolved legally with a Bill of Divorcement was still binding.
Putting Away. The Hebrew term for “putting away” is shalach, Strong’s No. 7971; the Greek term is άπολύω, apoluo, Strong’s No. 630. Shalach is defined as “to let loose, roam at large, to be scared, abandoned, forsaken” (Langenscheidt’s Pocket Hebrew Dictionary by Dr. Karl Feyerbend).
Per The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek, the Greek word for “putting away” is άπολύω [άπό, λύω] impf. άπέλυον, mid. pass. Άπέλυόμην || fut. άπέλυσω … EN. Cyr. 6.2.37 #1 act. #A to loosen, unbind…|| to repudiate NT Matt. 5.31 etc.; ά. τόν άνδρα to separate from one’s husband DIOD. 12.18.1 ||…[abbreviated].
There is a lawful “putting away” and an unlawful “putting away.” If the husband “put away” his wife (shalach i.e. “send her out”) as in Deut. 24:3 with a Bill of Divorcement, it was a final permanent separation that was lawful and was provided for by God. If the husband “put away” (shalach/apoluo) his wife without a Bill of Divorcement, it was an unlawful action that God hated.
As long as the husband failed to provide his wife with a lawful Bill of Divorce, also called a Get, she remained married (chained) to him and could not lawfully remarry. “Putting away” without a Bill of Divorcement was treachery that God hated (Def.: guilty of or involving betrayal or deception, hardness of heart, cruelty, etc.). “Yet ye say…Therefore, take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the Lord, the God of Israel saith that he hateth “putting away” (shalach, Mal. 2:14-16). Note: God did NOT declare that he hated divorce, but rather that he hated “putting away.”
Agunahs. The Jewish term, Agunah (literally, one who is chained, anchored or tied down), denotes a Jewish woman who is chained to a husband who refuses to give her a divorce, or who has disappeared, e.g. deserted or whose death is unconfirmed. An Agunah cannot lawfully remarry without a Bill of Divorcement or she would be committing adultery (Mark 10:11, Matt. 19:9), a crime punishable by death (Lev. 20:10).
At that time, Jewish wives had little to no recourse in court. With very few exceptions, they could not initiate a divorce; they could only accept one from their husbands. Even to this day, Jewish women continue to suffer spousal abuse from their husbands’ refusals to lawfully divorce them, which prevents them from entering a legal remarriage. This is no different from current secular laws that prohibit a separated married person who is not legally divorced from remarrying. To simultaneously be married to two people at the same time is a criminal offence called bigamy. Tragically, Agunahs are not uncommon in the Jewish community today.
The consequences could be calamitous for an Agunah who was driven out of her home, sometimes with children. Many Jewish women did not work out of the home and depended solely on their husband for support. Their marriage settlements that their husbands were withholding were intended to protect and provide for them financially. Even so, some became homeless and destitute.
The cruel, abominable practice of “putting away” wives may have been in Jesus’ mind when he delivered his “Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees” sermon condemning them for “omitting the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith” (Matt. 23:23).
Think Not. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus closes the Beatitudes with a proclamation of preservation and fulfilment with guidance and a vital challenge, which is also the introduction for his subsequent critical teachings with these words:
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:17–20)
The four verses above make three points, setting the stage:
1. Jesus started with the law and honored the law. Think not of destroying but of fulfillment, and its strength.
2. Think about what you do and teach and its reward. Follow me.
3. Where the “Bar” starts and the consequences.
The Foundation. Jesus went on to teach about “putting away” and lawful cause for divorce in Matt. 5:31–32. The foundation for this was the Mosaic law of divorce and remarriage which was known, understood and much debated by the Jews.
“When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife; Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the Lord: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.” (Deut. 24:1–4)
The four verses above make six points and one note concerning the Mosaic law of Divorce and Remarriage:
1. There are only two lawful sanctioned standings in this law: married and free to marry.
2. The lawful ground for a divorce is “find no favor in his eye, because he hath found some uncleanness in her.” See NOTE below.
3. A “Bill of Divorcement” (Hebrew ciphrah keriythuwth, Strong’s No. 3748) was required. It was to be put in her hand, and then she was to be sent (dismissed, “put away”; Hebrew shalach, Strong’s No. 7971) out of his house—in that order. This provided justice and security for the woman, the man, and all of Israel. Being sent (put) away without a Bill of Divorcement was unlawful. The only lawful way to send (put) away a wife was to first put a Bill of Divorcement in her hand.
4. “When she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.” Both are set free to remarry, if and when they choose.
5. Multiple subsequent marriages are lawful, and another ground was given for divorce, that of “hate” (Deut. 24:3).
6. Remarriage between the first husband and wife was forbidden, i.e. their separation was permanent. If the wife’s subsequent marriage(s) led(s) to divorce or death, the original husband could not remarry his original wife, as that would be an “abomination before the Lord: Thou shalt not cause the land to sin.”
NOTE: Jesus, in Matt. 5:32, clarified/defined “uncleanness” (Deut. 24:1) as “fornication,” keeping the focus on the first/primary condition for divorce—and not on the secondary example of: “And if the latter husband hate her”(Deut. 24:3). This is a study in its own right.
God cares more for the husband and wife who make up the marriage than He does the institution of marriage. This principle is illustrated in Mark 2:27-28, “And he [Jesus] said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.” The Mosaic law is God’s gift of understanding, compassion, mercy, grace and hope. God, who is Love, had reasons to provide for divorce and remarriage. In the Mosaic law, this was a gift of God’s love to those who experienced the tragedy of irreparable failed marriages, to have another chance at love. “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:6).
Now with this foundation of the Mosaic law in mind, let us return to the Sermon on the Mount, starting with Jesus stating:
“It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away (Hebrew shalach, Strong’s No. 7971; Greek άπολύω, apoluo, Strong’s No. 630) his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement (Hebrew ciphrah keriythuwth Strong’s No 3748; Greek [βιβλίον τού] άποστάσιον, apostasion, Strong’s No. 647). But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away (Hebrew shalach, Strong’s No. 7971; Greek άπολύω, apoluo, Strong’s No. 630) his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced (Hebrew shalach, Strong’s 7971; Greek άπολύω, apoluo, Strong’s No. 630) committeth adultery.” (Matt. 5:31–32)
Notice that the KJV/Greek interlinear below, each Greek yellow highlighted word and how they have been translated.
Source: Step Bible
The issue that has created so much grief, sorrow and tragedy is the mistranslated word divorced (“marry her that is divorced“) in the King James Version of Matt. 5:32. How do we know the translation of “divorced” is incorrect?
1. Are the words “divorce” and “put away” interchangeable? No, they are not the same nor synonymous. Each of these words are translated from a different Greek word and have a different meaning.
Refer to the KJV/Greek interlinear above (and Appendix A). In the last sentence of verse 32 above, the word “divorced” should have been translated “put away” as it was in the original text shown above (Hebrew shalach, Strong’s 7971; Greek άπολύω, apoluo, Strong’s No. 630). This would have been consistent with the two preceding uses of “put away.” Instead, it was translated incorrectly as “divorced” which would have required the original word to be (Hebrew [ciphrah] keriythuwth, Strong’s No 3748; Greek άποστόσιον, apostasion, Strong’s No. 647) as it is correctly used/interpolated at the end of verse 31. The KJV incorrectly translated the third instance as “divorced.” Concerning Jesus’ teaching about “putting away,” he used the word (Hebrew shalach, Strong’s No. 7971; Greek apoluo, Strong’s 630).
2. The word divorced could not be the correct translation due to the Mosaic law in Deut. 24:2 “she may go and be another man’s wife.” With a Bill of Divorcement in her hand, the subsequent marriage was lawful and could not be considered adulterous, especially since Jesus was not changing the law (Matt. 5:17–19).
3. After the Sermon on the Mount, there were three follow-up accounts about “putting away” and “for every cause.” Jesus’ response to all three were in harmony with each other and with the Mosaic law (Deut. 24:1-4):
First: When the Pharisees tempted him: Matt. 19:7–9, “They say unto him Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them…And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away [versus divorced] doth commit adultery.”
Second: His disciples asked him again of the same matter: Mark 10:2–12, “And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? Tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.” NOTE: This action can be initiated by either party.
Third: And in response to the Pharisees’ derision: Luke 16:18, “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.”
The questions were never about the lawfulness of divorce and remarriage or multiple remarriages, as provided for in Deut. 24:1–4. They were about “putting away” (shalach/ άπολύω, apoluo) without a Bill of Divorcement (Mark 10:2 above) and “for every cause” (Matt. 19:3, “The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?”), both of which were outside the law and deemed unlawful. Remember the current Hillel-Shammai debates of that time period.
4. Jesus, the Son of God, cannot contradict himself, nor can he depart from his mission statement in Matt. 5:17–19, “Think not…” (Read more in Box A above.) When the Greek word apoluo is mistranslated as “divorce,” instead of “put away,” it creates a very serious problem. The mistranslation makes it appear that Jesus contradicted Deuteronomy 24:1. This is impossible!
All the following Bibles correctly translate the words and verse in Matt. 5:32:
The American Standard Version (1901), “but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery.”
Darby Bible (1890), “But *I* say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except for cause of fornication, makes her commit adultery, and whosoever marries one that is put away commits adultery.”
Young’s Literal Translation (1862), “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.”
Wesley’s New Testament (1755), “But I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, save for the cause of whoredom, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is put away committeth adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is put away committeth adultery.”
Douay-Rheims Bible (1582), “But I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, excepting for the cause of fornication, maketh her to commit adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery.”
From the book, Holy Bible from the Ancient Eastern Text, George M. Lamsa’s translation from the Aramaic of the Peshitta: “It has been said that whoever divorces his wife, must give her the divorce papers. But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except for fornication, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is separated but not divorced, commits adultery.”
John Wesley Etheridge(1846), “It hath been said, that he who looseth his wife should give her a writing of divorcement. But I say unto you, that whosoever looseth his wife, except on account of fornication, maketh her to commit adultery; and whosoever taketh her who is sent away, committeth adultery.”
Now let us look at an accurate translation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount concerning “putting away” and lawful cause in the American Standard Version of Matt. 5:31-32.
“It was said also, Whosoever shall put away (Hebrew shalach, Strong’s No. 7971; Greek / άπολύω, apoluo, Strong’s No. 630) his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away (Hebrew shalach, Strong’s No. 7971; Greek / άπολύω, apoluo, Strong’s No. 630) his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away (Hebrew shalach, Strong’s No. 7971; Greek / ἀπολελυμένην, άπολύω, apoluo, Strong’s No. 630) committeth adultery.”
When the word “divorced” is accurately translated to “put away,” it is in perfect harmony with Matt. 19:7-9, Mark 10:2–12, and Luke 16:18.
In the two verses in Matt. 5:31–32, Jesus makes three points about “putting away” and lawful cause for divorce.
1. Jesus confirmed in Deut. 24:1, 3 that the lawful “putting away” (shalach/άπολύω, apoluo) must contain a “writing (Bill) of Divorcement.” Therefore, it was unlawful to “put away” a spouse without a Bill of Divorcement. Concerning marriage, “putting away,” is a physical action accompanied by a physical item, that of a Bill of Divorcement/Get prior to being enacted. It is unlawful without both. Technically, it is a two part word/process that cannot exist legally without both parts in their proper order—a (physical item) Bill of Divorcement/Get with a (physical action) put “in her hand,” followed by the (physical action) “send her out of his house” (“putting away”) permanently.
2. He, the Son of God, clarified that the lawful cause/grounds for divorce, that of “some uncleanness” (Deut. 24:1) is “fornication” (Matt. 5:32).
3. Therefore, divorce “for every cause” (Matt. 19:3; the Hillel teaching of that time) was rendered unlawful. Any divorce that did not meet the lawful cause (fornication) became an unlawful divorce; therefore, the parties were still married. Any subsequent relationships/marriages constituted adultery.
Abandonment, desertion, imprisonment, “putting away,” or whatever one calls the hard-hearted forsaking of a spouse without a lawful divorce, was and is forbidden by Jesus (Matt. 5:31–32 ASV, 19:9; Mark 10:11–12; Luke 16:18). There was no change to Deut. 24:1–4. The lawfulness of divorce, remarriage and multiple remarriages was upheld in its fullness per Matt. 5:17–19.
Divorce is a radical (Def. especially of change or action relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough) solution to insurmountable marital problems. It ends all hope that the marriage might be saved and declares before Heaven and Earth that the marriage has failed. Divorce is a portal given by God for healing and hope. Jesus referred everyone back to the justice of God’s gift of understanding, compassion, mercy, grace and hope in the law of marriage, divorce and remarriage in Deut. 24:1-4. “Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face” (Psalm 89:14).
The Challenge(s). Whether we have personally experienced or currently find ourselves in this tragedy, or stand on the outside as an observer, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
The following historical/current examples illustrate the 2×2 Sect’s divorce and remarriage issues in different regions/jurisdictions in the US and around the world.
Remarriage. The Mosaic law in Deut. 24:1–4 regarding remarriage after a lawful divorce is permissible “till Heaven and Earth pass” (Matt. 5:17–20).
“Living in sin.” A lawful remarriage is not “living in sin” or adultery according to Mosaic law (Deut. 24:1-4) and Jesus’ words in Matt. 5:31–32 ASV, Matt. 19:9 KJV; Mark 10:11–12 KJV; Luke 16:8 KJV.
Marriage Vow. There is no marriage vow in scripture—in whole or in part. Marriage is a conditional contract/covenant. The marriage vow is an invention/tradition of man (perhaps from around the 1500s).
“Going back.” Returning to the original spouse after being divorced and remarried is forbidden and declared “an abomination before the Lord” (Deut. 24:4). This is still the law of God until the end of time (Matt. 5:17-19).
“Forbidding to Marry.” When there is a lawful divorce, forbidding to remarry is unlawful. If a remarried person is being required to divorce and remain single (until the previous/first spouse dies) in order to be right with God and/or have full privileges in the church, that is unlawful and may be considered a “doctrine of devils.” “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry…” (1 Tim. 4:1–3).
Closing. The above examples illustrate issues that are needless tragedies to individuals and the church. Sin confessed carries the promise of forgiveness from (God) and peace with God. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Does this not include forgiveness for marital failures?
March 20, 2022, revised July 2, 2023
Strong’s Concordance by James Strong, 1890
New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson, 2010
Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek by Franco Montanari, Brill, 2015
Langenscheidt’s Pocket Hebrew Dictionary by Dr. Karl Feyerbend, Hodder and Stoughton, 1965
In many Greek New Testament Bibles (GNT) the Greek “inflection”: άπολελυμένην of the “Lemma”; άπολύω (put away) is used which does not change is root meaning/translation. Notice the interlinear below.