Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage: a Biblical, Jewish and Legal Perspective by Michael Sayen
Let me start off with the legal perspective.
This is not the Law of Moses but International Law standards that can be seen and accepted around the world.
There are two different contracts used in international law: “Bilateral” and “Unilateral”.
Bilateral is a contract where two people make promises to each other. This is commonly referred to as your every day “contract”.
A Unilateral contract is a “one sided” contract where only one person or party makes a promise to another. This is typically referred to in the Bible as a “Everlasting” covenant. This simply means that after the contract has begun it cannot be broken since there are no prerequisites. There is such a thing as a “conditional unilateral contract” but this has to do with the condition on entering or beginning the contract and not stipulations after it officially began.
Deut. 24:1 was a unilateral divorce that only the husband could initiate. The wife cannot initiate the divorce due to the Bride Price.
All Bride Price marriages are unilateral. Meaning, the Father of the Bride and the groom entered into a “bilateral” contract or agreement with one another. But, since the father obligated his daughter to the marriage, her marriage to him either after the cup covenant or the consummation (or performance) begins the unilateral marriage covenant between the spouses.
The wife never says “I do” or promises anything to her husband at any time. She only accepted a “cup of acceptance” after the Bridal Price or entered into a full cup covenant with the groom at the betrothal. Once accepted, she was now the man’s betrothed wife and unable to break the contract due to his authority/acquisition over her.
The man did not need to make oaths again after his betrothal, he simply came in a procession at night, called her name, took her to the Banquet Hall (or Chuppa) and entered into the canapé were their consummation began. Once consummated they fully entered into the marriage and a celebration occurred usually in a 7 day feast.
This is all typical in Jewish marriage ceremonies. Since the marriage was “unilateral” the divorce was also “unilateral”. If a Gentile marriage was “bilateral” (without bride price) then the divorce would also be presumed to be initiated by either party who might have “broken faith” by international legal standards. But, this causes a problem with biblical law.
It is key to note: a unilateral contract must be legally dissolved unilaterally. And a bilateral contract must be legally dissolved bilaterally. But, since God designed all marriages to be unilateral and subsequently all divorces unilateral according to the Law of Moses (Deut. 24:1) any and all divorces must be unilateral through the husband regardless in how it was entered (bilateral or unilateral).
The Jews practice this “unilateral marriage covenant” and call it the ketubah. Only the father of the bride, the groom and two witnesses were required to sign this document. The Jewish woman never made a promise to her husband in the marriage; she only accepted his proposal with an “act of acceptance”.
The Bride price was a purchase price. We see this in Jesus’ example to the Church. Jesus paid the purchase price and she became His. The Jews refer to the purchase price as a man “acquiring” his wife. Contractually, this made it impossible for her to divorce the man without his approval.
Now on to the New Testament:
Knowing that the Law of Moses’ divorce was based upon bride prices which were common in the land (Exodus 22:16-17, Deut. 22:29, Gen. 24:11 etc…) Moses only allowed the man to initiate the divorce. Jesus confirming this view said in Matt. 19:9 that if a man put away his wife for sexual immorality/fornication it would not be adultery if he married another. And he who marries a put away woman (presumed by context not to have committed adultery) commits adultery himself. The woman was not given an opportunity to put away her husband by Biblical law.
Yes, Mark 10:11-12 says a man and a woman is not to put away their spouse but this was not supporting bilateral divorces. We know in Mark 10:10 that this was a “private” account for the writer Mark to pass along a message to his Gentile readers. It can be presumed that Mark 10:10-12 is the exact same account of Matt. 19:9 by rhetoric. This Scripture does not support the woman divorcing a man nor does it show that it was commonly accepted by Jewish law.
We know that some prominent women were divorcing their husband by a writing of Josephus. Josephus stated that Salome (Jewish woman) divorced her husband (Harod) and gave him a wit of divorcement. But, Josephus later noted that this was not according to Jewish law. Since Greco-Roman law governed the Nations, many Gentile and Jewish women were anxious to use their new found freedoms.
1 Corinthians 7
Paul starts off by saying in 1 Cor. 7:10-11 that this was a command of the Lord regarding divorce. Paul was clearly using Jesus’ statement from the Gospel accounts to support what he was going to say next.
Paul said a woman is not to “separate” from her husband. The separate word in Greek is the same word Jesus also used, in which Paul addressed, in Matt. 19:6, “Let no man SEPARATE what God has joined together.” In the Greco-Roman documents in the 1 C.E. the Greek word “separate” was a common word to describe a divorce. This word never inferred the type of Greco-Roman or Jewish divorce. It simply stated that they were divorced.
We know she was divorced by Paul’s next statement:
“But if separated let her remain unmarried” – this means that she was a divorced woman.
But Paul goes on and says, “or reconcile with her husband.”
Paul wanted the Gentile women to understand she only has two options after she divorced her husband. Either she remains in her current state or she reconciles back to her former husband. There was not a third option for her.
Paul did not say this to the man. He simply said that he is not to divorce his wife. This word in the Greek implies a separation similar to one who would put away. We can also see this in Josephus’ statement of Salome and Harod in that the Greek word in emphasis of Salome was that she put away her husband and give him a writ of divorce. The writ of divorce was referred to as the Jewish Get and is the divorce document indicated in Deut. 24:1. Scripture indicates that the man put a writ of divorce in his wife’s hand in order to send her out of his home.
This may have been an excepted norm of this perspective if not for the confusion in the next two verses.
Paul goes on to say, a man is not to divorce his unbelieving wife, and a woman is not to divorce her unbelieving husband. If this Greek word implied some reference to Jesus “put away” spoken in Matt. 19:9 then why were both the men and women using this type of divorce.
The answer is in Ezra 10:3, “…put away wife and children born to them.”
It was clear in this Gentile church, as well as Paul’s letters to the other Gentile churches, that the women had to be taught gender issues regarding Adam and Eve. We see this in this letter both in 1 Cor. 11:2-16 and 1 Cor. 14:34-36. The women believed they had the same biblical rights as the man. And since many of these women were probably married before or not purchased by a bride price, they too thought they were under a bilateral contract with their husband and shared equal divorce privileges.
It is not clear why the women thought they had the same rights as man to initiate a divorce, but clearly that was the case in this church.
We have further logical proof that 1 Cor. 7:12-14 was in reference to Ezra 10:3 because of Paul’s later statement, “otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.” They were concerned about the “holy seed” in reference to Mal. 2:14 and being married to these unclean unbelievers. Did not Paul later say, do not touch what is unclean? (2 Cor. 6:17)
Paul lastly says to this church that “in such case” meaning an exception to the rule of 1 Cor. 7:12-14. That is, if the unbeliever separates, to let them be separated. Paul is clearly giving a proposed future perceptive to the unbelievers that they are married to. That is, let them have their divorce if they no longer “will” to be married to you. God has called us to live in peace with all people when possible even the marriage you were saved in.
When Paul says that they are not in “bondage,” this was a common term used by Paul. It usually was referring to feelings of obedience to something or someone outside of the will of God (such as the Law of Moses or circumcision etc…). Paul does not say what they may be felt in bondage too, other than clearly not allowing the divorce. Paul goes on and says that he does not want them to feel guilty because they are giving up on an unbelieving spouse who one day may be saved vs. 16.
Paul later says that a loosed (used to describe a biblical freedom) man and a virgin can marry if they so desire. It is not a sin.
Thanks, Love you guys.