Christadelphian Care







Marriage and Divorce in the OT and Law of Moses 

The Basis of the Marriage Covenant

Ex. 21:7-11 

Divorce in the Law and OT 

Deut. 24:1-4 

A ‘matter of nakedness’ (v.1)

The Bill of Divorcement (v.1)

Other Grounds permitted by the Jews 

In Conclusion 

God’s Marriage to Israel and Judah 

God’s Marriage to Israel

God divorces Israel

Judah’s position 

A contradiction? 

Israel and Judah Reunited 

A New Covenant with Israel and Judah 

Jesus on Marriage and Divorce 

Background to the Discussion in Mat. 19 

Matthew 19:3-12 examined 

The Question 

Jesus response and teachings 

In Summary 

Mat. 5:31 and Luke 16:18 

Mat. 5:31 

Luke 16:18 


Paul on Marriage and Divorce 

Background to the Graeco-Roman World 

I Corinthians 7 examined 

Celibacy versus Marriage 

Unto the Married I command …   

Paul’s Practical Guide 

In Summary 

Eph. 5 and Col. 3 

Eph. 5:22-33 

Col. 3:18, 19 




While the concept of marriage (a bond of companionship) was there in the beginning and part of the plan for men and women (see. Gen. 2:24), because ‘it is not good for man to be alone’ (Gen. 2:18 ), divorce is a result of ‘fallen humanity’, the tendency of following our own will stubbornly and selfishly, rather than that of our Father (see. Mat. 19:8). God, in His wisdom, gave laws to protect from suffering as a result of Man’s ‘hardness of heart’, and also advice on treating each other in a caring and loving manner to prevent such suffering in the first place.

While the concept and ideals of marriage can be found in Genesis, the principles governing the obligations within Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage can be traced back to the Law of Moses, seen to be applied by God Himself in his covenant with Israel and Judah, and confirmed by both Jesus and Paul, though the New Testament concentrates more on the bond of love and forgiveness than the legalities.

Marriage and Divorce in the OT and Law of Moses

Though the primary purpose of marriage in itself was understood to be for the mutual companionship, love and intimacy, the Marriage Covenant was much like any other covenant or contract, in that it was an agreement between two parties for their mutual benefit with penalties for not keeping to the terms. [1]

The Basis of the Marriage Covenant

The terms of the marriage contract were based on Ex. 21:10, the words often being used ad verbatim. [2]   Since this passage forms the basis of the marriage contract, it is a good idea to have a look at it in more detail in context and follow through the conclusions drawn from it:

Ex. 21:7-11

7 And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.

8 If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.

9 And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.

10 If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.

11 And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.

The situation presented here is that of a wife-slave, who was originally sold to a master (v.7), became his wife (v.8) or that of his son (v.9), her rights within that marriage (v.10), and the penalties attached should her rights not be observed (v.11). The verses which are of importance within the context of marriage and divorce are obviously verses 10 and 11.

The wife-slave had an automatic right to the following three things (v.10), which were specified to protect her from neglect and abuse [3] in the event of a second wife being taken:

  1. food,
  2. clothing
  3. ‘duty of marriage’, which was understood to mean physical and emotional affection, or Love and Care

The first two are equivalent to physical and practical support, while the last equates to emotional support. If these rights were not maintained, the penalty was that she was to ‘go free’, in other words, no longer be subject to her master/husband, but be ‘unbound’, both as slave and as wife.

The Rabbies and Jews generally understood these rights and penalties to pertain not just to slave-wives, but to any married person; their reasoning being as follows:

  • if a slave-wife has these rights to protect her from neglect or abuse, then so has a ‘free’ wife, and
  • if a ‘free’ wife has these rights, then so does the husband
  • hence each party within  a marriage has an automatic right to support in terms of food, clothing and love [4] , and
  • where these are not met on a consistent basis, they are no longer bound by the marriage contract, but are free to go.

That this reasoning was correct seems to be confirmed by the terminology used by God Himself in his ‘marriage covenant’ with Israel and Judah, as we will see in the section dealing with this covenant later on. Another point which lends credence to this reasoning, is that the words of the marriage contract have basically remained unchanged throughout the last few millennia, still providing the basis for modern marriages, though they are today hidden in the words of ‘to love, cherish and nourish’ in Christian services. Hence it would appear that God, through His Spirit, has ensured consistency. More on this later in the section on Paul.

In practical terms it was assumed that each party would maintain these obligations within marriage by the man providing the money for food and clothing, and the wife preparing the food and making the clothes. Neither of them were allowed to refuse intimacy for a prolonged period of time or without good reason, and specific Rabbinical laws governed how long this period of abstinence could be. [5] God Himself uses the same terminology in Psalm 132, where He describes His fulfilling His part of the marital obligations to Zion in abundance:

13  For the LORD hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation.

14 This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it.

15 I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread. {abundantly: or, surely}

16 I will also clothe her priests with salvation: and her saints shall shout aloud for joy.

Here we have the obligations for love, food and clothing fulfilled in the concepts of ‘desire’ (v. 13 and 14), ‘provision’ and ‘bread’ (v.15) and ‘clothe’ (v.16). (Note also how the principles governing marriage in Gen. 2:24 are referred to in the concept of ‘dwelling’ together, i.e. becoming one flesh.)

The main points to bear in consideration though are that the marriage contract or covenant carries obligations on both sides to protect each party within the marriage.


Divorce in the Law and OT

In the Law of Moses there were four grounds for divorce, which are based on the passage in Ex. 21:10 (as seen above) and Deut. 24:1. These grounds protected husband and wife in the event of neglect, abuse and infidelity or sexual impropriety. As seen above in Ex. 21:10, there was a right to physical and emotional support and intimacy in the terms of food, clothing and love, while in Deut. 24:1, divorce is allowed for sexual infidelity or impropriety. Hence the four valid grounds for divorce in the Law are as follows:

  1.   neglect of food (physical sustenance)
  2.   neglect of clothing (material support)
  3.   neglect of love (emotional and sexual attention), and
  4.   ‘sexual impropriety’ (which can mean several things, including adultery, sexual violence, etc, see below for a closer look at this word)

Let’s take a closer look at this passage in Deuteronomy:

Deut. 24:1-4

1 When a man doth take a wife, and hath married her, and it hath been, if she doth not find grace in his eyes (for he hath found in her nakedness of anything), and he hath written for her a writing of divorce, and given it into her hand, and sent her out of his house,

2 and she hath gone out of his house, and hath gone and been another man’s,

3 and the latter man hath hated her, and written for her a writing of divorce, and given it into her hand, and sent her out of his house, or when the latter man dieth, who hath taken her to himself for a wife:

4 Her former husband who sent her away is not able to turn back to take her to be to him for a wife, after that she hath become defiled; for an abomination it is before Jehovah, and thou dost not cause the land to sin which Jehovah thy God is giving to thee—an inheritance.

This passage basically provides us with a case-law pertaining to a specific situation, but also gives us further information. The case is one of man who marries a wife (v.1) and then finds that there is some ‘matter of nakedness’ (v.1), and therefore divorces her (v.1). She then marries a second husband (v.2), but this second husband also divorces her or dies (v.3), and she wants to return to her first husband (v.4).

Some of the conclusions which can be drawn from this passage are as follows:

  1. sexual impropriety is a valid ground for divorce (v.1)
  2. the divorce has to be confirmed in writing (v.1)
  3. once the couple are separated and a bill of divorcement has been written, a subsequent marriage is permitted both for the innocent and for the guilty partners (v.2),
  4. marriage is ended either by divorce or by death (v.1 and v.3) [6] , and
  5. it is not permitted to return to the first husband upon the ending of any second or subsequent marriage [7] (v.4)

A few points which warrant further study are what is meant by ‘nakedness of anything’ and what the Bill of Divorcement actually meant in practical terms.

A ‘matter of nakedness’ (v.1)

The exact meaning of this phrase has always been a matter of contention as it can mean a number of different things. The actual original meaning of the phrase is ‘a matter of nakedness’, and we will therefore refer to it as such [8] . The word ‘nakedness’ (Strongs no. 06172) seems to imply ‘nakedness of a thing, indecency, improper behaviour and exposure’. Hence the idea seems to refer to sexual inappropriate behaviour which has an element of shame. The root of the word (Strongs no. 06168) carries the meaning of ‘to make naked, strip bare (of sexual offences), leave destitute’. It has been assumed to include sexual offences such as adultery [9] , fornication (e.g. lack of virginity upon marriage [10] ), sexual violence or abuse, sexual perversions and even discussing one’s sex life with outsiders inappropriately, all of which were considered valid grounds in the Rabbinical teachings based on this verse in Deuteronomy. What is clear is that that the term involves more than just one form of offence, but that it was probably specifically designed by God to carry a certain amount of vagueness and to cover several different scenarios.

It is important to understand this verse to the best of our ability, as it is the law referred to by the Pharisees in discussion with Jesus in Mat. 19 and Mark 10.


This first century divorce certificate was found at Wadi Muraba´at.. It reads: ´I divorce and release of my own free will, today, I Joseph, son of Naqsan, from [...]ah, residing on Masada, you Mirian, daughter of Janathan from Hanablata, residing on Masada, who had been my wife before this time, that you are free on your part to go and become the wife of any Jewish man that you wish.´


The Bill of Divorcement (v.1)

As mentioned above, the bill of divorcement was an official document which had to be written down. The wording usually consisted of the following phrases:

1)      I am not your husband and you are not my wife [11] , and

2)      You are now free to marry any man you wish

where the second of these was considered compulsory. The main objective of the bill of divorcement was to state that the marriage had ended and that the woman was free to marry again should she so wish. This was necessary for the woman to prove that she was not another man’s wife when she married, for otherwise any subsequent marriage would be considered adultery. The certificate or bill was very similar to that given to a freed slave, who received a bill of freedom from slavery to prove that he was a free man and could be hired by another. In fact, both scenarios, both those of male slaves let free, and those of the wife-slave let free, are to be found within the same passage in Ex. 21.

Since polygamy was accepted as a reality in the Law and catered for as such, there was only the need for the wife to be the recipient of a divorce certificate, as the man had no need to prove he was unmarried to marry another woman. Also, while there is mention only of the husband writing the divorce certificate, which seems to imply that only men could instigate divorce, a wife could divorce her husband indirectly by applying to the priest where she was suffering neglect or abuse, and they could force the husband to write her a bill of divorcement or even write it on his behalf where he refused to do so but the wife had valid grounds. [12]

In all cases, getting a divorce was neither a quick nor easy process, as the grounds had to be proven before the priests. This in itself would provide an opportunity of talking through the problems and theoretically at least, the possibility of trying to mediate and resolve the differences and save the marriage [13] . Quick divorces without adequate valid grounds were not permissible or possible.


Other Grounds permitted by the Jews

The Jews also permitted divorce on one other ground apart from the four already mentioned, namely for bareness in women. This was based on the words of God to Adam and Eve in the beginning telling them to ‘multiply’ (Gen. 1:28 ) and confirmed in His words to Noah in Gen. 9:1. The Jews understood this to be a commandment, and therefore lack of fertility in a wife would force a man to break that commandment (assuming he had only one wife), hence he had the right to divorce her and take another wife to provide him with offspring and fulfil the assumed commandment.

As we will see later on in examining the words of Jesus on the topic (in Matthew 19) and also those of the apostle Paul (in I Corinthians 7), this was not a correct assumption on the part of the Jewish leaders, i.e. it was not a direct commandment in the same sense as those found in the Law, and was therefore not a valid ground for divorce.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, where a wife was physically or emotionally neglected or abused, the terms of the marriage contract had been broken and she had a right to be set free. This right extended to all married persons in the same way as the obligations within marriage extended to all those married. Where a woman was set free and divorced from her husband, she had a right to marry another husband, which effectively ensured that she did not end up destitute on the street, lonely or without companionship and the possibility of raising children.

The Law truly was just and proved that God cared for his children and was mindful of our weaknesses and failings.


God’s Marriage to Israel and Judah

God’s covenant marriage with Israel and Judah is one the most beautiful studies in the Bible, showing God’s love, mercy and care, and also one of the saddest, since it shows up human failing and lack of appreciation, unfaithfulness and treachery. This very brief look at the subject will show also, how God Himself keeps faithfully to his own laws on marriage and divorce (since that is our main topic of discussion at present), though I do recommend a more in depth study on a personal basis to appreciate the beauty.

In brief, we learn how God found Israel when she was unwanted and unloved and still young, cared for her as she grew and wooed her, married her when she was of age, and looked after her tenderly. But Israel, divided into Israel and Judah, turned her back on Him, committing adultery and not reciprocating His love or care. Finally, Israel’s adulteries and treachery became too much and God divorced her. Judah was sent into exile for her sins, but God has not divorced her, leaving the way open for repentance and reconciliation. Eventually, Israel and Judah will reunite too, which means that Israel too will once again be God’s bride.


God’s Marriage to Israel

We have already looked at Psalm 132, which describes God love and care for Zion, but there are many more passages in the Bible which tell the story of God’s marriage.

Ezekiel looked at God’s marriage covenant with Israel in Eze. 16 :

v. 3 to v. 7 describe Israel’s birth and childhood, abandoned by her parents and left in the wilderness or field. God found her and took her in and cared for her until in v. 7, she was fully grown.

v. 8 describes Israel, now a young virgin, coming of age, and entering a covenant of marriage with God:

 “Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine.

v. 9 describes how God ‘washed’ and purified his young bride, making of her a holy people.

v. 10 to 14 describes how God clothed and fed his bride, not just with the basics, but with abundance and with the ‘fine linen, silk, badger’s skin and the most precious and costly raiment and jewels’, while eating not just bread, but ‘honey and oil’ too.

Here we can see how God Himself, as the husband, fulfilled his marital obligations to his wife Israel, not in meanness, but in abundance.

v. 15 to 19 then describes Israel’s behaviour within the marriage. Instead of sharing herself with her husband, she played ‘the harlot because of thy renown, and pouredst out thy fornications on every one that passed by; his it was.’, and withheld her love from God, her husband (v. 15). Instead of preparing the food provided by her husband to enjoy together, she ‘set it before them (her lovers) for a sweet savour’. The clothes and cloth also which God had given her, she ‘deckedst thy high places with divers colours, and playedst the harlot thereupon’.

God is shown to have been faithful to his bride, to have fulfilled his part of the marital obligations to love, clothe and feed her and be faithful to her. Israel on the other hand, neglected her obligations, using the food and clothing for her lovers (the surrounding nations with whom she made agreements and the false idols whom she served), refusing to love her God-husband and instead committing adultery. According to his own law then, God was in a position of being the victim of broken marriage promises, since Israel had broken not just one, but all of the obligations of the marriage covenant, and therefore had the right to divorce her if he so chose.


God divorces Israel

The book of Hosea is in part a re-enactment of the relationship between God and Israel. Hosea is told to marry a woman whom he knows will be unfaithful to him, in the same way as Israel had been unfaithful to God (Hos. 1:2 ).

In Hos. 1:4-8  we read that God has decided to reject the house of Israel for their unfaithfulness and whoredoms, but not the house of Judah. And while v. 9 reminds us of the words contained in the divorce certificate: ‘Then said God, Call his name Loammi (which means: not my people): for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God’, the actual divorce is spoken and written down in Hos. 2:2 : ‘Plead with your mother, plead: for she is not my wife, neither am I her husband’. This was the Bill of Divorcement given to Israel. The following verses, v. 3-13, confirm this separation, as God no longer provides her with food and clothing, nor love:

Hosea 2:9-12  reads:

9 Therefore will I return, and take away my corn in the time thereof, and my wine in the season thereof, and will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness. {recover: or, take away}

10 And now will I discover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and none shall deliver her out of mine hand. {lewdness: Heb. folly, or, villany}

11 I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts.

12 And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, whereof she hath said, These are my rewards that my lovers have given me: and I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall eat them.

Israel then, we assume, spiritually betrothed herself to other men, the allies or lovers she thought she had. These however, abused her harshly, betrayed her and she went into captivity.

Another passage which tells us of the whoredom and divorce of Israel by God can be found in Jer. 3:6-8 :

6 The LORD said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot.

7 And I said after she had done all these things, Turn thou unto me. But she returned not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it.

8 And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.

Israel can be seen to be playing the harlot, breaking her obligation of faithfulness to her husband (v. 6 and v. 8). Though God forgave her, asked her to repent of her adultery and return to Him, she refused (v. 7), so finally God divorced her and sent her away from his house (v. 8). The actions of Israel were meant to be a warning to Judah also, to learn from her mistakes and turn back to their God-husband, and yet Judah also acted ‘treacherously’ and ‘played the harlot’ (v. 8).

In the same way as God had grounds for divorce according to His own Law against Israel because she had broken the marriage covenant [14] made with him:

For thus saith the Lord GOD; I will even deal with thee as thou hast done, which hast despised the oath in breaking the covenant. (Eze.16:59 )

This verse is clear that it is not the divorce itself which God hates, but the breaking of the covenant of marriage, breaking the oaths and promises made upon getting married, which lead to the breakdown of the relationship and the subsequent divorce.

God also had grounds for divorcing Judah, since she too had ‘despised the oath in breaking the covenant’, but chose not to.


Judah’s position

As seen in both Hosea 2 and Jeremiah 3, God had valid grounds for divorcing both Israel and Judah, but while Israel was given a Bill of Divorcement and sent away (into captivity, never to return to the land), Judah was not, though she was chastised for her treacherous behaviour, by also being sent into captivity for a while (see Is. 54:7).

Isaiah asks after Judah’s divorce in Is. 50:1 : ‘Thus saith the LORD, Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you?’ and comes to the conclusion that Judah was not put away, but only ‘forsaken’ for a period of time and will be reunited with her God-husband.

7 For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.

8  In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer. (Is. 54:7,8 )

The Jews often understood Deut. 24:1 to mean that in the case of adultery the offending party HAD to be divorced, but it is clear from God’s attitude to Judah that this is not the case. Even those who commit adultery can be forgiven and providing they ‘sin no more’ [15] can be accepted back into the marriage covenant. This is made clear by Christ in his discussion on divorce with the Pharisees in Mat. 19 too.

But what about Israel?


A contradiction?

While it is obvious from Scripture that Israel has been divorced from the marriage covenant of God, there are numerous passages which indicate that Israel will be re-united to God. In Hosea for instance, immediately after the passages which divorces Israel and describes how she will no longer benefit from the support of her God-husband (Hos. 2:2-13, see above), we find messages of hope and reconciliation:

14 Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her. {comfortably: or, friendly: Heb. to her heart}

15 And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt.

16 And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me Ishi (which means: my Husband); and shalt call me no more Baali (which means: my Master). (Hos. 2:14-16 )

This passage seems to indicate that Israel will again be married to God, and there are many other passages in Scripture which clearly say the same thing, see Jer. 3:14 [16] , and 22ff, Jer.31:10; Eze.34:13, Hos. 2:19, etc.  But as we have seen in regard to His marriage and the divorce of Israel, God keeps to the Law He gave Himself, and Deut. 24:4  says plainly that it is an ‘abomination to the LORD’ for a woman who has been divorced and then been the wife of another man to return to her former husband. How then can He take Israel back without breaking that law?

They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man’s, shall he return unto her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD. (Jer. 3:1 )

There are two means in which this is possible, without the law being broken: the reuniting of Israel and Judah and a new covenant with both, including the Gentiles.


Israel and Judah Reunited

In the last Day, Israel and Judah will be reunited as one nation in the land. There are almost countless passages which tell us this, so I will chose only a few to exemplify the point:

Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land: for great shall be the day of Jezreel. (Hos. 1:11 )

In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of the north to the land that I have given for an inheritance unto your fathers. (Jer. 3:18 )

Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand. (Eze. 37:19 )

See also Jer. 50:4, 31:1, Eze. 37:22, etc. The remnant of Israel shall return and be once again united to Judah as one nation. Together as one they shall be able to renew their marriage vows to their God-husband, since Judah was never divorced. [17]

Since it is one a few of the remnant of the house of Israel [18] who will be reunited with their sister Judah, the marriage will still be intact and the law not broken.


A New Covenant with Israel and Judah

Another further understanding of how this reconciliation can come into being without the law being broken is when considering the New Covenant which shall be made:

31 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:

32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD. (Jer. 31:31,32 )

Since a new covenant cannot be made unless the old one ends, these verses beg the question of how such a new covenant could be. Paul, in Romans 7:1-6, also looks at the problem of how the Jews (still married to God under the old Covenant of the Law) could be partakers of the New Covenant in Christ. Marriage can only be ended by death or divorce, and since the Law was perfect, the Jews (typified by a woman in Rom 7:2 ) would have no grounds for divorce, nor would the Law divorce them. To then enter into another marriage contract would be adultery (v. 3). But if her husband is dead, then it is not, and she is free to marry again (v. 3).

But Christ ‘abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances’ (Eph. 2:15 ) [19] , and thereby has ‘slain the enmity thereby’, so that he ‘might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross’ (Eph. 2:16). The result is that the Jews can consider the Law, which bound them, to be dead in Christ, and enter the New Covenant together with the Gentiles:

4 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.

6  But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. (Rom. 7:4,6 )

This dying to the Law and being recipients of the New Covenant obviously applies to all Jews, whether of the house of Israel or the house of Jacob. Both she who was divorced and she who was not, are reconciled together to their husband in a New Covenant through Christ.


Jesus on Marriage and Divorce

Jesus’ teachings on Marriage and Divorce are found in the following passages in Scripture:

  •    Mat. 19:3-12
  •    Mark 10:2-12
  •    Luke 16:18, and
  •   Mat. 5:31

Where the first two passages in Mat. 19 and Mark 10 seem to be referring to the same discussion between the Pharisees and Jesus. Since these cover his teachings, we shall look at them in detail in the account which Matthew gives.

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?

4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?

8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

9 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 doth commit adultery.

10 His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.

11 But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.

12 For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

Before we look at this passage more closely, we shall look at the context of the discussion in 1st Century Israel.


Background to the Discussion in Mat. 19

By the 1st Century there had arisen a debate between the followers of Hillel (called Hillelites) and the followers of Shamai (called Shamaites) [20] on the grounds of a valid divorce, based on the phrase ‘a matter of nakedness’ found in Deut. 24:1. The Hillelites allowed divorce for ‘any matter’, the equivalent of our modern ‘no-fault’ divorce, as they reasoned that the Law said ‘if she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found any matter’ in her, therefore they considered that even spoiling the dinner or simply fancying a younger more beautiful woman were adequate grounds for divorce. The Shamaites, on the other hand, reasoned that the law said ‘matter of nakedness’ and therefore rejected the ‘any matter’ divorce and allowed divorce only for sexual impropriety, and the grounds mentioned in Ex. 21:10 . By the time of Jesus the Hillel ‘any matter’ divorce was most popular and used most of the time, since there was need to bring any proof against the offending party.  After AD 70 most of the Shamaites had been killed and the Hillelites became the religious leaders of Israel, hence the ‘any matter’ divorce became the norm, and remains to this day [21] .

Another understanding of the case-law presented in Deut. 24:1 , which was held by both the Hillelites and the Shamaites, was that it was believed that a man had to divorce his wife if she committed a sexual transgression. This had been included in the Talmud as a specific Rabbinical law, and is still observed as such by the [Orthodox] Jews. [22]   As we have seen from looking at God’s marriage with Judah, this was not the case.

One point on which both schools agreed, was that procreation was a specific commandment, based on Gen 1:28 , hence they held both that it was legal obligation to marry and to bear children, hence also that it was permissible to divorce an unfruitful wife in favour of one who could bear him children. The only point on which they differed was in the gender of the children required to fulfil this commandment: the Hillelites arguing that a man must have a boy and a girl, as ‘male and female he created them’ (Gen 5:2), while the Shamaites considered two boys to be sufficient. Another aspect of this was that a male was not considered to be a true man until he had a wife. This idea was also based on Gen. 5:1-2 . [23]


Matthew 19:3-12  examined

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? (Mat. 19:3 )

The Pharisees were again trying to trick Jesus into making a statement which would give them reason to accuse him, and did so by asking his opinion on a matter which was already a known point of contention between opposing parties. [24] The idea no doubt was that to their mind, he could not win, having to either side with one or the other or disagree with both. In either case, he would alienate one group, who would then be more than willing to accuse him. [25] Possibly they also hoped to be able to diminish Jesus’ popularity amongst the people by their question in this case.

The Question

The question the Pharisees asked was one of the most topical at the time, a bone of contention between the schools of Hillel and Shamai, and also of interest to the general population. It was a direct question asking Jesus to state his opinion on whether the Hillelites interpretation of Deut. 24:1  was correct and divorce was acceptable for ‘any matter’, or not.

The question was not whether divorce was lawful in itself, as Ex. 21:11 specifically stated that if the obligations for food, clothing and love were not met, divorce was permitted, and this was understood and agreed on by all schools of thought. The contention was the understanding of the phrase ‘a matter of nakedness’ specifically. In other words, is this phrase to be understood to say that divorce for ‘any old reason’ is lawful or is it speaking of only ‘any type of sexual impropriety’?

In Mark 10:2  the same event is depicted slightly differently, and the Pharisees ask only: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? Without mentioning the words ‘for any matter’. As pointed out above, questioning only whether divorce was lawful in itself would not have made any sense, since Ex. 21:11 specifically states that it is. One can assume then, that both those involved in the discussion, and those hearing it, would have inserted the words ‘for any matter’ automatically into the question in their minds, since that was the current debate. In much the same way, we could add the word ‘alcohol’ to the question of: ‘Is it legal for a teenager to drink?’ It is obvious that a teenager can legally drink in itself, hence it is also obvious to us that what is actually being asked is whether or not it is legal for them to drink alcohol. In fact, it is so obvious, we don’t even need to include the word ‘alcohol’ as each person automatically inserts it in their own minds. [26]

Jesus response and teachings

Jesus did not immediately answer the question but instead used the occasion to teach the original ideal of marriage as designed by God, and also to correct some of the false assumptions and understandings generally held by that time.

4  And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

First of all Jesus reminds them that Marriage in the beginning was instituted by God to be an exclusive relationship between one man and one woman. Interestingly, Jesus adds the word ‘twain’ to the original text in Genesis, which reads only ‘… and they shall be one flesh …’ hence he clarifies that the ideal is monogamy, rather than polygamy or consecutive marriages, which were one of the consequences of the quick and easy ‘any matter’ divorces.

Jesus also stresses by quoting this passage that a marriage is intended to be a very close relationship, in which the couple are to consider themselves ‘at one’ with the other. They are to be one flesh, one life together, one aim and of one mind. Hence, if at all possible, marriage is to be a life-long commitment and relationship.

Jesus also reminded them that God is a witness to each and every marriage, the oaths being said before Him, He effectively ‘joins’ the couple together. As such marriage is taken very seriously by God, as is the breaking of those promises, the breaking of that one flesh, and separating the husband and wife. [27] “Marriage is an institution and appointment of God, and therefore not to be changed and altered by man at his pleasure; this not merely a civil, but a sacred affair, in which God is concerned.” [28]

7  They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?

Having understood that Jesus had said that it was God’s will that marriage is to be for life and divorce to be avoided, the Pharisees are perplexed (or possibly think they have found a fault in his teaching?), and referring again to Deut. 24:1, present their understanding that God, through Moses, commanded a divorce. This appeared to be a counter argument to Jesus’ teaching that divorce is not God’s will, since if He commanded it, then it must be His will too in some cases at least and therefore possibly even pleasing to Him.

8  He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

Jesus immediately pointed out that God did not command divorce, but allowed divorce, but that this was not the original ideal of marriage. Jesus also explained WHY God allows divorce, namely because of the hard-heartedness (stubborn and wilful disobedience to His commandments and principles) of man. Hence divorce is only necessary due to the disobedience to God’s will, rather than that divorce itself is sinful. And divorce was allowed, not to enable liberties in the man, but to protect the wife from neglect and abuse (see Ex. 21:11). Divorce is always the consequence of hard-heartedness or sin, but not sin itself.

Another allied consequence of the understanding that divorce is permitted rather than commanded is also that there is the possibility of healing a marriage which is on the rocks, even where, as in the context of the following verse, adultery has taken place. In common with Jesus other teaching [29] , repentance, forgiveness and a renewed commitment to live with each other according to God’s will, rather than our own stubborn selfishness, is always a possibility to be sought after.

9  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 doth commit adultery.

Here, finally, Jesus answers their original question: does Deut. 24:1 allow divorce for ‘any matter’ or only for ‘a matter of nakedness’? Jesus’ answer is very clear that the passage should be understood to mean ‘a matter of nakedness’, as understood by the Shamaites, and not that divorce is acceptable for ‘any matter’ as taught by the Hillelites. [30] But Jesus does not leave the discussion there, he continues to clarify the serious consequences of wrongly interpreting the words in Deut. 24:1 : if you divorce your wife for ‘any matter’, as opposed to ‘a matter of nakedness’, then your divorce is invalid, and any subsequent marriage is actually adultery – hence if you divorce your wife for ‘any matter’, and then marry another wife, you are committing adultery, and anyone who marries a woman who has been divorced for ‘any matter’, is also committing adultery.

At this point it is worth reminding ourselves, that the discussion was specifically based on the correct understanding of Deut. 24:1, since this was the issue of contention. Neither the Pharisees, nor Jesus were discussing the other grounds based on Ex. 21:11 , since these were agreed upon by both parties.

10  His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.

11 But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.

It would appear that even the disciples were surprised at Jesus’ teaching, considering how different it was to that which was generally taught (bearing in mind that the teachings and followers of Hillel far outweighed that of the Schamaites in number and influence) and the common practise in Israel at that time. Hence they commented that it would be better not to marry at all. However, bearing in mind that the Jews taught and believed that it was necessary for a man to marry to be a true man, and a commandment for him to bring children into the world, Jesus uses this comment to rectify that false belief too. Hence he pre-empts the correction of this false teaching by first stating that not all are in a position of being able to be unmarried, but that it is something which is ‘given’ to some.

12  For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

Although it is interesting to consider the three different kinds of eunuchs mentioned by Jesus in this passage, we shall just note in the context of this study, that Jesus clarifies that it is acceptable to remain unmarried, hence also that the understanding of ‘go forth and multiply’ was not a commandment to bear children in the same way as the Law was. It cannot be sinful or wrong not to marry and have children, as otherwise it would be impossible to chose to be unmarried for the ‘kingdom of heaven’s sake’. Quite the opposite, it would appear that Christ considered the ability to deny oneself for the sake of the kingdom to be a gift which not many could receive. [31]

In Summary

In brief, Jesus used the question set to ensnare him by the Pharisees to teach the Biblical ideal of marriage, the correct understanding of Deut. 24:1, and to rectify certain false teachings which were being taught and were leading people to sin.

The table below sets these out briefly but clearly.


Pharisees taught:

Jesus taught:


Marriage designed to be monogamous

Polygamy was acceptable and practised, as were serial marriages

God originally designed marriage to be a bond between two people – one man and one woman, i.e. monogamy.

4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

Marriage to be serious life-long commitment

Divorce for ‘any matter’ was one of God’s laws, divorce not serious and marriage therefore not considered serious commitment

Husband and wife are to be one flesh, one life. It is a very serious matter to break apart a marriage witnessed by God.

6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Divorce is due to Man’s sin & not God’s will

Divorce is required by and pleasing to God in some cases

Divorce was allowed only because Man stubbornly refuses to follow God’s will (in their treatment of others)

8 Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

Divorce not mandatory after adultery, etc

Moses commanded divorce in the case of adultery

Moses allowed, not commanded it. If possible, repentance and forgiveness should be sought.

8 Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

Invalid divorce leads to adultery

Marriage after ‘any matter’ divorce is not sin.

Divorcing your wife or husband via the ‘any matter’ divorce is not a valid divorce and therefore those who marry another are committing adultery/sin.

9 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 doth commit adultery.

Marriage is not compulsory

Marriage is compulsory to follow the ‘commandment’ to multiply, and not to do so is sin.

Marriage is not compulsory (hence nor is the bearing of children a commandment), and being single does not prevent a place in the Kingdom, but can be a gift.

12 For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.


Mat. 5:31 and Luke 16:18

The only other occasions in which Jesus specifically talks about Marriage and Divorce are in Mark 10:2-12 , Mat. 5:31  and Luke 16:18 .  Since the Mark record is almost identical to that in Matthew 19 (though in a slightly different order and with the absence of the term ‘any matter [32] ), we shall not be looking at that one specifically.

Mat. 5:31

31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:

32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

This passage is part of the Sermon on the Mount, and is, as are most teachings spoken of by Jesus on that occasion, in brief format, being expounded further in other parts of the Gospels.

Once again, Jesus’ main aim seems to have been to restate the ideal set out by God in the beginning while refuting the false teachings of the spiritual leaders of his time which had permeated into common understanding and usage.

Jesus first refers the hearers straight back to Deut. 24:1 , though quoting only a brief part of it, and leaving out the contentious phrase, with the words ‘It hath been said’, which seems to indicate that Jesus was thinking of the teachings of the elders rather than the Law specifically, which had effectively reduced the law to: ‘If you want to divorce your wife, give her a bill of divorcement’ (no grounds or reason needed). This, as we have seen previously, was the most common and widely used form of divorce, since it required no proof and was therefore quick and easy. By far the most divorced persons in Israel at that time had been divorced using the ‘any matter’ divorce. Jesus then expounded the true understanding of the passage to the people, as seen in the section above.

Hence it would seem that Jesus was condemning as adulterous those who remarried after an invalid ‘any matter’ divorce in the same way as in Mat. 19, rather than divorce and remarriage in total, i.e. after a valid divorce too. [33]

Luke 16:18

18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.

Again Jesus uses the same words as in Mat. 19, which were used to refute the argument of the Hillelites. Another clue that this is what he had in mind can be found in v. 17 , which reads:

17 And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.

The Hillelites were watering down the Law, removing jots and tittles and thereby causing Israel to sin. [34] Their argument in many ways was reminiscent of that of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, teaching that to ignore God’s commandments would not lead to death.

But basically, in much the same way as seen when looking at Mat. 5:31, since almost all divorces at the time where based on ‘any matter’, almost all were invalid divorces and led to adultery.



Jesus taught the ideal principles of marriage being monogamous, between one man and one woman and designed to be a sacred union for life witnessed by God and not to be lightly broken by man. He validated the understanding that divorce for sexual impropriety was permissible but refuted the ‘any matter’ divorce popular by the NT times. Jesus also took the opportunity to address some of the false teachings on marriage, such as the necessity to marry and bear or father children, teaching instead that marriage is optional [35] , and quashed the belief that divorce was commanded following adultery.

Jesus did not specifically talk about the other grounds of divorce found in Ex. 21:11  (neglect of food, clothing and love). However, considering that he refuted those teachings held by the Pharisees with which he disagreed, one would assume that if they were all wrong on this very important point, Jesus would have rectified the matter. [36]

But if Jesus was silent on other grounds than sexual impropriety, Paul was not.



Paul on Marriage and Divorce

Paul’s main comments on marriage and divorce can be found in I Cor. 7, though he also speaks about marriage in Eph. 5  and Col. 3:17-18 . It is often assumed that Paul was not very positive about marriage, since he ‘would that all men were even as I myself’ (I Cor. 7:7). However, upon closer examination one finds that Paul was quite positive about the marital state, but wished to protect the 1st Century believers from the ‘present distress’ and ‘trouble in the flesh’ (I Cor. 7:26,28) which was to come upon them, and also was aware that a married person was concerned about the ‘things that are of the world, how he may please his wife’ (I Cor. 7:33 , see also v. 34), and therefore less able to devote his time to the work of the Lord.


Background to the Graeco-Roman World

Outside Israel marriage was generally considered less of a sacred or binding union than a simple convenience based on mutual consent to live together. Nor was it usual for any but the highest classes of society to enter any form of legal agreement:

Marriage in the Graeco-Roman World:

“In the early days of Rome, there were three different kinds of marriage …. Well before the end of the Republic, … , though the original forms of marriage were still recognized, they were rare in practice. The 'free marriage' had taken their place.

The first form of marriage called coemptio was a survival of the primitive bride purchase. In the presence of five witnesses the bridegroom made a fictitious purchase. …
The second was marriage in virtue of simple cohabitation (usus). Some sort of declaration of honourable intent must have been involved or there would have been no way of distinguishing between a man and his wife on one hand and a man and his concubine on the other. …
The third form of marriage, confaerreatio, was the only form of marriage that was considered legitimate for the holders of four of the highest priesthoods of the State...

As early as the third century BCE, free marriage had become the general practice. … divorce was easy.” [37]

People were not necessarily free to chose whether or not to get married, especially if they lived within an area subject the Roman law. By the end of the first century BC, Augustus mandated laws [38] (including the lex Julia et Poppia Poppaea) providing privileges to women who bore at least three children and forcing them to remarry. This was due to the general decline in legally binding marriages, and the subsequent decline of legitimate Roman citizens being born.

In order to promote marriage, various penalties were imposed on those who lived in a state of celibacy (caelibatus) after a certain age. The Lex Julia allowed widows a term of one year (vacatio) from the death of a husband, and divorced women a term (vacatio) of six months from the time of the divorce, within which periods they were not subject to the penalties of the lex: the Lex Papia extended these periods respectively to two years (for widows), and a year and six months (for divorcees). A man when he attained the age of sixty and a woman when she attained the age of fifty were not included within certain penalties of the lex. [39]

Divorce in the Graeco-Roman World

A Roman marriage was dissolved by the death or the wife or the husband or by divortium in the lifetime of the husband and wife. The word divortium signified a separation and in a special sense, the dissolution of marriage. Divorce divertere means going one's own way.

The Laws of the Twelve Tables (about 446 BCE) codified the law code [40] and provides us with an insight to common values, including divorce but still does not allow the wife to divorce her husband:

”To repudiate his wife, her husband shall order her .... to have her own property for herself, shall take the keys, shall expel her.” [41]

Towards the latter part of the republic and under the empire (i.e. the time period in which Paul is writing), divorces became quite common. Marriage by this time was always consensual, that is, by agreement. It existed if the man and woman intended their relationship to be a marriage and ended when one or both ceased to have this firm intention. Either spouse could divorce the other by simple notification. There were no penalties as such associated with divorce (though the dowry could be reduced which pertained to the wife if she could be proven to have committed adultery, and the man could also be fined), but both were penalised if they stayed unmarried after either divorce or the death of their spouse.

Basically the social context in which Paul was writing was one where marriage was simply a mutual decision to live together as husband and wife, while divorce was usually by separation (I shall refer to it as ‘divorce-by-separation’). The husband could formally divorce his wife by ‘sending her away, while the wife could divorce herself by ‘separating herself’ and leaving the house. There was no need for grounds of divorce, and neither could prevent the other divorcing them – separation was considered proof that divorce had occurred, even where this had not been verbalised. To remain celibate or unmarried after death or divorce was against the laws of the land and therefore incurred penalties.


I Corinthians 7  examined

In looking at I Cor. 7, we will not be examining every verse, but only those which are specifically relevant to the present study, i.e. deal with marriage, divorce and remarriage.

Celibacy versus Marriage

1 Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch <680> a woman.

2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

3 Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence <2133>: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.

4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.

5 Defraud <650> ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency <192>.

Paul is obviously answering a query from the Corinthian regarding whether it is better to remain single or to get married (v. 1). His response is that it is better to remain single, since the word ‘touch’ carries the implication of ‘to fasten one’s self to, adhere to, cling to’, but carries on to say that considering human nature, and specifically the human need for sexual and physical intimacy, it is recommended that each person be married (v. 2). Paul carries on to give advice on how to treat each other in marriage, namely with benevolence (in a kindly and peaceful manner) (v.3), not to refuse sexual and physical intimacy [42] (v. 4) and also states that they should not defraud (which carries the idea of ‘to separate themselves’) each other of their company or intimacy for a prolonged period of time or without each others consent [43] (v. 5). Hence what is immediately obvious is that Paul is more concerned with marriage and how to treat each other than he is in divorce. Maybe if we followed his lead and concentrated more on building a marriage for the mutual benefit of both husband and wife, and less time arguing about what should happen with broken marriages, we would have less divorces to deal with within the ecclesias.

7  For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

8 I say therefore to the unmarried <22> and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.

9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

Paul then returns to his argument that to his mind, it would be better to remain unmarried (v. 7, 8), as one can then concern oneself with ‘the things of the Lord’ (v. 32, 34), but clarifies that there is no sin in getting married.  The word in v. 8 ‘unmarried’ is not referring to a virgin (as is often maintained), but to someone who is not married, since he refers to virgins in v. 25 and 28, and this word ‘virgin’ <3933> is not the same in the Greek as the word ‘unmarried’<22>. Since Paul is not referring to widows or virgins, the only other possible understanding of those unmarried, is that they are divorced.

The benefit of remaining celibate or unmarried is repeated time and again in this chapter by Paul, who was obviously very concerned that the Corinthians were properly prepared and able to withstand the ‘distress’ that was coming upon them and did not want them to be caught up in worldly cares which may distract them from the Lord (v. 28, 29, 32 and 35, see below).

Unto the Married I command …

10  And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart <5563> from her husband:

11 But and if she depart <5563>, let her remain unmarried <22>, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away <863> his wife.

Here Paul lays down the general principle for divorce as given him by Christ. Bearing in mind that Christ had himself already specified that it was not permissible to divorce one’s wife for ‘any matter’ (which was applicable to the Jews), here the divorce-by-separation is being condemned as equally invalid, as will be shown. The commandment is as follows:

  1. the wife is not to ‘depart from her husband’, where the word ‘depart’ means ‘to  separate, divide, part, put asunder, to separate one’s self from, to depart’. This, as we have seen, was the normal way for a wife to divorce herself using the groundless divorce-by-separation common at the time (v. 12).
  2. the husband is not to ‘put away his wife’, where the words ‘put away’ mean ‘to send away’. As above, this was the normal way for a man to divorce his wife under the groundless divorce-by-separation (v. 11). And,
  3. where a wife has ended the marriage by separating herself from her husband, i.e. using the divorce-by-separation, she should either remain unmarried [44] , or reconcile herself to him, i.e. go back to him and continue the marriage, since the divorce is not based on valid grounds.

Hence it is clear that in the same way as the ‘any matter’ divorce common in Israel and taught by the Jews was not valid, the divorce-by-separation used commonly in the Graeco-Roman world was equally invalid. Also, by commanding the wife who has separated herself to reconcile herself to her husband, we can see the same aim toward repentance, forgiveness and the renewal of the bond, which pervades Christ’s teachings (and as we saw in his words on marriage in the section on Mat. 19).

It is generally assumed that these two verses contain a blanket prohibition on divorce, i.e. divorce for any reason at all rather than just the divorce-by-separation which it obviously covers. There are however two good reasons why this cannot be the case:

  1. Jesus himself specifically validated sexual impropriety as a grounds for divorce in Mat. 19, Mat. 5:31, Mark 10:2-12 and Luke 16:18, hence if I Cor. 7:10,11 were a complete prohibition on divorce, he would be contradicting himself, and
  2. Paul, who also had the Spirit, specifically allows for divorce in the case of desertion by an unbeliever, so he too would be in direct opposition to Christ’s command if these two verses really did mean that ALL divorce was not permissible as opposed to specifically referring to the divorce-by-separation.

Hence the assumption that this passage forbids all divorce under any circumstances cannot be held as Christ does not contradict himself and Paul does not contradict him either. The only possible logical understanding therefore, over and above the specific terminology used, is that both Christ and Paul are here referring specifically to the divorce-by-separation and not divorce generally.

Paul’s Practical Guide

Paul, always practical as well as spiritual, continues to discuss the real-life situations with which the Corinthians were faced together with the implications and his recommendations for how to handle them.

12  But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.

13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.

As the Church in Corinth grew, there were cases where either the husband or the wife were baptised, but their partners were not. Quite possibly, some of these had already divorced their unbelieving partners, by either sending them away in the case of a husband, or separating themselves in the case of the wife. Either way, Paul specifies that if the unbelieving partner is willing to remain in the marriage in peace, then it is wrong to divorce them. The possible reason for this divorce to be happening in the first place is provided for in Paul’s further reasoning, namely that the unbelieving husband or wife is sanctified (made holy, pure, separated from the World) by their believing partner. Hence it may be that the Corinthians had been concerned that to by staying with their unbelieving, ‘worldly’ partners, they were not separating themselves from the World sufficiently to serve and love Christ [45] , if they did not also separate themselves from their unbelieving partners. Paul reassured them that this was not the case, but rather that the ‘clean’ purified those who were ‘unclean’ rather than being contaminated by them.

15  But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.

Sometimes the opposite happened, and the unbelieving partner decided that they did not want to continue living with and being married to the baptised Brother or Sister. In such cases, said Paul, let them go without fuss. [46]   They were not to make an issue out of it, because ‘God hath called us to peace’. The use of the word ‘bondage’ is also relevant to the concept of divorce, since it reminds us of the case of a slave or servant, under bondage to his master (the word is related to that meaning servant or slave), who being released from such bondage, no longer has any relationship with or obligations toward his former master. In much the same way, those Brothers and Sisters who had been divorced, were freed from relationship with and obligations toward their former partners, but were free.

25  Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.

26 I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.

27 Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. 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. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.

Having spent the previous eight verses persuading the Corinthians not to be discontent with their current situation (at the time of baptism), but rather to concentrate on serving the Lord as they are, whether circumcised or not, whether bond or free, he now turns his attention to the marital state upon baptism and whether or not this can or should be changed.

  1. First he considers the position of virgins (v. 25), those who have never been married but are of a marriageable age, and judges that it would be best for them to remain as they are too (i.e. celibate), considering the ‘present distress’ (v. 26).
  2. Then Paul turns his attention to those who are already married (bound unto a wife), and may want to be celibate/unmarried for the reasons Paul recommended previously (being better able concentrate on the ‘things of the Lord’ and due to the ‘present distress’), not to seek to be loosed from their partner (v. 27).
  3. Finally he recommends that those who are divorced/unmarried (loosed from a wife), don’t spend their time looking for a wife or seeking to get married (v. 27), as the ‘time is short’ (v. 29). [47]
  4. However, Paul continues, if the divorced person does get married, he/she has not sinned [48] , and if a virgin marries, he/she has not sinned either. But Paul would advise them not to, as he would like to spare them the ‘trouble in the flesh’, thinking, no doubt, of the added burden toward each other in a time of ‘distress’, such as Paul knew they were entering.

The following verses (v. 29 to 35 ) explain why Paul again would recommend that if one is not married, one refrains from getting married: because time is short (v. 29), because the world as they knew it was passing away (v. 31), because those who were married had to be concerned with the things of the world to maintain their marital obligations (v. 33, 34) and Paul would have them with as few cares as possible to make things easier for them (v. 32) and for them not be distracted from ‘attending upon the Lord’ (v. 35).

Verses 36  to 39 again state more or less the same as Paul has been writing generally on the matter of staying single if at all possible (i.e., if you could control your mind and body sufficiently to prevent you from falling into temptation), but in the context of whether or not to marry someone who is betrothed (his virgin) or whether to put this off.  Either is fine, says Paul, but he would recommend staying single for the reasons already given in the previous passages. [49]

Finally Paul looks at the position of a widow:

39 The wife is bound by the law <3551> as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.

40 But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.

Paul here refers the Corinthians back to the Law of Moses (the word translated ‘law’ here is always used for the Law of Moses), which does a number of things:

  1. it encourages the Corinthians to consider marriage in the context of the Jewish understanding of what it consists of, i.e. a serious and sacred union witnessed by God between two people with obligations to care for each other and act as one flesh [50] ,
  2. it reminds them that marriage as designed by God is intended to be a life-long commitment, and
  3. it points out that in the same way as the Israelites were not to marry Gentiles [51] , those in spiritual Israel were also to marry their like rather than unbelievers, so as not to cause them to stumble.

Although Paul states that one is bound in marriage by the Law while the husband or wife is alive, that same law allowed for divorce in cases of neglect, abuse and infidelity, hence one can assume that while Paul only mentions marriage ceasing due to the death of the husband or wife, this was probably to impress on the Corinthians the seriousness of the commitment made, and not designed to specify that death was the only possible end to a marriage.

The possible reason for only the widows to be instructed to be married ‘only in the Lord’ may be due to arranged marriages still being quite common, especially in the Greek speaking world, where women had much fewer rights than men [52] , hence often it was only the widows who had a choice of whom to marry.

In Summary

In summary the principles taught by Paul in I Corinthians 7 are as follows, though not in the same order as found in the chapter:

  • divorce-by-separation is not to be used by Christians;
  • where two believers have divorced by this method, they should seek to be reconciled to each other, or remain single;
  • a Christian should not initiate divorce against their unbelieving partner if he/she is willing to live with them in peace;
  • if a Christian has been divorced (and reconciliation is not possible, e.g. they were divorced by their unbelieving partner) they are no longer bound to the marriage but are free;
  • marriage is possible after divorce and in some cases desirable to prevent temptation getting the better of one;
  • given the choice, a Christian should chose to be married to another believer;
  • if a Christian is able, it is better to remain unmarried so as better to concentrate on the ‘things of the Lord’ and not be too worn down with cares and obligations;
  • marriage is ended by the death of the wife or husband;
  • marriage is not just a cohabiting, but a solemn and sacred commitment toward each other witnessed by God and carries obligation of care for one another;
  • a Christian should act in a kindly and peaceful manner toward their partner and not separate themselves from them physically or sexually except by mutual consent for prayer and meditation.


Eph. 5 and Col. 3

Paul generally was less concerned about the issues surrounding divorce, than about the relationships within marriage and the ecclesia in general. Both Eph. 5 and Col. 3 are examples of this.

Eph. 5:22-33

This passage carries a analogy of the relationship between Christ and his Bride in the relationship between husband and wife, which we will be looking at later. At this point though, we are looking specifically at the ideal Christian marriage relationship which Paul uses for that analogy.

22  Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

Having told each member of the body of Christ to be in submission one to the other (v. 21), Paul exhorts wives to be in subjection to their own husbands (v 22-24). Ignoring for one moment the spiritual counterpart [53] , there are several possible reasons for this command:

  1. a Sister with an unbelieving husband might encourage his conversion by such humble behaviour, as described in  I Pet. 3:1,2 : ‘Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.
  2. the highest form of marriage at the time in the Graeco-Roman world was the confaerreatio (see the section on Marriage in the G-R World), in which, unlike the common ‘free marriages’ required that the wife be in subjection to her husband [54] , and hence wives being in subjection would both set the Christian marriages apart from the worldly ones [55] , and earn most respect from the general population, hence bring the Gospel into good repute. [56]
  3. Although marriage was intended to be the coming together of two to become one flesh, since Gen. 3:16  the relationship between husband and wife had often been one of contention involving a power struggle between man and woman, hence by specifying a final authority within a marriage and household, this power struggle could be avoided or reduced, increasing the possibility of being of one mind, one flesh.

Paul then turns his attention to the part the husband plays in a marriage:

25  Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

28  So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.

29  For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:

30  For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

31  For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.

This passage is very interesting as it confirms the obligations within marriage first stated in Ex. 21:10 , though the emphasis is more on a relationship built on love than one on duty. The obligations of food (physical support), clothing (material support) and love (emotional and sexual support) are confirmed in the words to ‘love your wives’ (v. 25), to ‘nourish’ (lit. to nourish or to nurture) and to ‘cherish’ (lit. to warm or keep warm) it in v. 29 [57] . It is this verse which forms the basis of most Christian marriage vows to this day, but has it’s source right back in the Law of Moses, as we have seen.  On a closer examination, Paul offers more insight and advice on the attitudes which govern this relationship within marriage, based on love rather than legal duty. Husbands are to love their wives as ‘Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it’ (v. 25), not for selfish gain or with an attitude of dominance, but as a servant [58] ministering to the needs of his bride, being willing to make sacrifices himself for her benefit, as Peter also called for:

Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel [59] , and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. (I Pe 3:7 )

Paul writes that husbands should love their wives ‘as their own bodies’ … ‘for no man hateth his own flesh’ (v. 29), where the idea behind ‘hateth’ is that of to pursue with hatred. Practically, nobody would abuse, neglect or be violent toward their own body, and Paul is here reminding the Ephesians that since in marriage husband and wife are ‘one flesh’, to act in a harmful or neglectful manner towards one’s wife is akin to harming or neglecting one’s own body, i.e. destructive to the marriage union. Paul then again refers his readers back to the ideal of marriage as ordained by God in Gen. 2:24 (v. 31), having emphasised the unity of body (which carries in it the meaning of ‘to be whole’), of flesh (which carries the implications of both human nature and the mind), and of bones (which reminds us of Adam’s words when first seeing Eve in Gen. 2:23).

Hence Paul in this passage is concerned not about what happens when a marriage goes wrong, but in establishing the attitudes of love, care and consideration in husband and wife, which – if followed – will build a strong marriage in which both members can grow together emotionally and spiritually, and mirror that of Christ and the ecclesia. His concluding advice to married couples is:

33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

This last sentence confirms that although much of what Paul has written is to be understood with reference to Christ and his Bride, the same reasonings hold true for those married, and are to be understood as such.

Col. 3:18, 19

18 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

19 Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

Here basically Paul is giving a shorthand version of the same advice as already seen in Eph. 5. Which again shows that Paul is more concerned about encouraging the right attitudes within marriage, avoiding the sort of problems which would break such a union: prevention is better than cure. Although these two verses seem very short, and appear not to give much advice or guidance, they have to be read in context and also contain more information than immediately apparent. In v. 11 we read that ‘Christ is all, and in all’ (noting that wives are reminded to act in a way which is fit for those ‘in the Lord’), while v. 12 to 17 are a commentary on the relationships, attitudes and behaviour of all believers in the Lord:

12  Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;

13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

14 And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.

15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

Since these are the qualities and attitudes to be sought within the one body, how much more would they apply to those who are one flesh in marriage? Paul laid down the foundations for general behaviour and attitudes, based on charity and peace for all Brothers and Sisters and then looked at specific relationships, those of husband and wife, children and parents and masters and slaves.

Taking another brief look at the specific advice to husbands and wives, we see that Paul states again that wives should ‘submit’ to their own husbands. The Greek word here carries slightly different associations than the English with which it has been translated. Strong’s Concordance notes:

In non-military use, it was "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden".

This, then, is the understanding of the ‘help meet [60] ’ for Adam (man).

The husbands are again reminded to love their wives with the agape love, and also not to be ‘bitter against them’. These words to ‘be bitter’ can also be understood to ‘make bitter [61] . It is clear that the marriage, the being as one flesh, can only work successfully and bring that unity, companionship and joy intended by God in the beginning if both husband and wife heed the words and try to put them into action.



Paul in his writings is much more concerned with establishing and encouraging a loving and caring attitude within marriage, than he is in discussing divorce and remarriage. Eph. 5, Col. 3, I Pet. 3 and Tit. 2 all contain advice, directions and encouragement for husbands and wives to enable them to grow both together as one flesh and to provide a suitable ground for growing spiritually in the Lord.

When asked for clarification by the Corinthians on matters of marriage and divorce however, Paul confirms that Christians should not initiate divorce (even where their husband/wife is an unbeliever), and should attempt reconciliation if at all possible where separation does occur. If, however, divorce has taken place and they are in the position of being ‘unmarried’ (i.e. no longer married or bound to a marriage partner) they are free to marry again, though he recommends only in the Lord. Paul’s personal opinion though is that if one can, one should remain single, so as to be better able to devote oneself to the ‘things of the Lord’. [62]

While Paul does not specify the OT grounds for divorce [63] , he does confirm the obligations to nourish (feed), cherish (clothe) and love in marriage, though not depicted as duties or burdens, but as actions and attitudes of love in representation of Christ’s love for his Bride.

(to be continued ...)







[1] This understanding based in the Law of Moses is still held by modern Jews: “The signing of the Ketubah (marriage contract) shows that the bride and groom do not see marriage as only a physical and emotional union, but also as a legal and moral commitment which delineates the human and financial obligations of the husband to his wife according to Jewish law and custom.”

[2]   According to probably the most comprehensive study of Jewish marriage agreements, the most ancient actually use the words from Ex. 21:10 exactly, many often make reference to the passage and it is alluded to in most. Mordecai Friedman [1980]. The terminology is also picked up by the prophets and the Rabbinical writings.

[3] In many ways the Law of Moses can be seen to protect those in society who might otherwise have suffered at the hands of those who held more power than they, which set the Law apart from the other laws and ordinances of surrounding nations at the time. Further examples are the rights of those raped, and slaves. Wives were often at the mercy of their husbands, but in the Law of Moses, they had the means not only to defend themselves but also to leave abusive or neglectful husbands.

[4] Though note that it was only the wife who had an automatic ‘right’ to intimacy, while the husband was not allowed to have intercourse or make any sexual advance toward her without her consent. It was generally assumed that the wife would have an automatic ‘desire’ for her husband (Gen 3:16), while the husband would often need encouragement.

[5] For instance, a man who worked away from home was allowed to go one month, while a man of independent means was only allowed 10 days maximum. Where these obligations were not met without good cause, a fine was imposed, which was increased the longer abstinence took place. One of the practical consequences was that any problems in the relationship had to be brought to the priests, where they were discussed to try to find out the reasons and a solution was looked for. Effectively, this meant that where marriage problems occurred, so did automatic counselling and mediation, which would often prevent a situation spiralling out of control until the parties sought divorce.

[6] If it were not the case that divorce ended the marriage and the parties effectively became ‘unmarried’, then both the wife and the second husband who took her would be committing adultery, which carried the death penalty, hence one would assume that this would appear at this point in the case-law.

[7] It is important to bear this principle in mind when looking at the marriage and divorce between God and Israel.

[8] That the phrase is rendered as in the original is important since it forms the basis of the discussion between Jesus and the Pharisees in Matthew 19.

[9] Though in the Law of Moses adultery was theoretically always punishable by death (see Lev. 20:10 ), in practise it was often preferable to show mercy and divorce the offending partner instead. Hence while it did not always lead to the actual death of a person, it did usually lead to the death of the marriage.

[10] Again, as above, this was theoretically punishable by death (see Deut. 22:13-22), but mercy and divorce was preferable, and due to the verse in question, i.e. Deut. 24:1, permitted under the Law.

[11] It is important to understand that these words in written format constituted divorce as we shall see in a later section looking at God’s marriage covenant with Israel and Judah.

[12] See also Mark 10:12, where Jesus mentions the case of a woman divorcing her husband.

[13] Also, financial pressure was put on the offending party in the form of penalties either on income or dowry money to try to force them to resolve the issues, and only when all avenues had been tried and failed, was divorce permitted.

[14] The covenant was not a one-sided agreement, but one which both parties had sworn to keep. Israel’s ‘I will’ was uttered when she received the Law at the hands of Moses in Ex. 24:7 : ‘And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient’. See also v. 3 and Jos. 24:22.

[15] Hence we can understand the event of the woman taken in adultery and presented to Jesus as a direct parable of the situation between the Jews and God. They too had been taken in adultery, a sin worthy of death, yet Jesus (God with us) does not throw the first stone, though he himself is without sin, but shows the forgiveness and mercy of God toward the Jews, asking only that they ‘sin no more’ and turn back to their husband.

[16] Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion:”

[17] Another aspect of this is that at the point of initial vows and the entering into a covenant relationship with God, Israel and Judah were one nation, not two, as was the case at the time of Israel’s divorce. Hence God’s marriage also followed the Biblical ideal of one man and one wife, rather than polygamy.

[18] See footnote 16.

[19] See also Col. 2:14 and Gal. 3:13.

[20] The two opposing schools of Pharisees.

[21] Judaism recognized the concept of ‘no fault’ divorce thousands of years ago. … Under Jewish law, a man can divorce a woman for any reason or no reason. The Talmud specifically says a man can divorce a woman because she spoiled his dinner or simply because he finds another woman more attractive, and the woman’s consent to the divorce is not required.”

[22] Jewish law requires divorce in some circumstances: when the wife commits a sexual transgression, a man must divorce her, even if he is inclined to forgive her.”

[23] When God created man (adam), he made him in the likeness of God; male and female He created them. [And when they were created, He blessed them] and called them Man. Therefore a man is not a Man without a wife’. (Rabbi Eleazar)

[24] “ … the scribes and the Pharisees began to urge him vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things: Laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him.” (Luke 11:53,54 ) See also Luke 20:27 and Mark 12:13.

[25] Another such example is to be found in Mark 12:14 , when the Pharisees, in the company of the Herodians, asked whether it was lawful to pay tribute to Caesar. In this case, the Pharisees thought not, while the Herodians were supportive of the Romans.

[26] This seems also to be given credence by the assumption that the Gospel of Matthew was written about AD 90, i.e. after the destruction of Jerusalem, by which time the school of Hillel were the spiritual leaders and the debate no longer current, hence in Matthew the words ‘for any matter’ are included to clarify the question, while the Gospel of Mark was probably written about AD 65, i.e. before the destruction of Jerusalem, while the Shamaites were still around and therefore the debate was still current.

[27] It is often assumed that the phrase ‘let not man put asunder’ carries the meaning that man cannot separate what God has joined. The tense of the verb however is imperative, which means it is commanding, hence Jesus is not saying it is impossible to separate, but not to do so.

[28] John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible, Mat. 19:6.

[29] See Mat. 18:21,22 and Luke 17:3,4 etc.

[30] This discussion is unusual in that Jesus actually agrees with one of the contemporary schools of thought, usually he presents his conclusions in a way which differs from either of them, e.g. when asked about paying tribute, etc.

[31] This is reminiscent of Paul’s words in I Cor. 7:7-9: ‘For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.’

[32] See Footnote 26 and also in the section discussing the question posed by the Pharisees.

[33] Another indication that Jesus specifically had the ‘any matter’ divorce in mind could be considered to be in v. 27 , which says that just ‘looking on a woman to lust after her’ is committing adultery, since one of the examples used in their argument was that simply wanting to marry a younger, prettier woman was adequate grounds for divorce.

[34] See also Mat. 5:18 : ‘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.’

[35] Hence also disallowing infertility as valid grounds for divorce.

[36] Although an argument based on silence is always precarious, I tend to think this one is valid.

[37] Source:

[38] these laws were passed in 18 BCE and became effective by 13 BC, i.e. were current at the time of Paul’s writings.

[39] Source:

[40] The first law regarding divorce has been attributed to Romulus and stems from the Laws of the Kings in the 8th or 7th century BCE, subsequent laws were based on these, modifying them.

[41] Laws of the Twelve Tables (about 446 BCE); source:

[42] This is in contradiction to the Judaic understanding that only the wife had any right to demand intimacy from her husband, but the husband no such right to intimacy in return. Paul states that fulfilling the other person’s needs is a mutual obligation within marriage.

[43] Although under Roman law the wife was to be in subjection to her husband, this was only after cohabitating for a period of 12 months, and was usually avoided by the wife ‘separating herself’ from the husband for a period of three days each year, so that she was never in a position of being under her husband’s authority.

[44] Bearing in mind that one was penalised if one remained unmarried under Roman law, financial considerations for following this commandment might also encourage the divorcing partner to attempt reconciliation.

[45] Maybe based on teaching similar to that found in 1 Jo 2:15 : ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.’

[46] Realistically, as Paul realised no doubt, there was little a husband or wife could do to prevent their partners from divorcing them in any case.

[47] Note Paul does not state that they cannot get married, but recommends that they not seek to get married.

[48] That the subject of this clause is the divorced/unmarried is obvious, since the married person is already married, and the virgin is addressed in the following clause.

[49] There is some debate as to whether this passage refers to whether a father ought to ‘marry off’ his virgin daughter or whether an engaged man should marry his fiancée, but this is not relevant to the study.

[50] As opposed to the ‘free marriage’ within the cultures they were living in.

[51] See Deut. 7:3,4 .

[52] In some cases, where a woman was divorced, she would again return to being under the authority of her father, who could have instigated the divorce in the first place, and he had the right to marry her to someone else (this happened both under the Greeks and the Romans as a means of increasing power and wealth by marrying one’s daughters repeatedly into respected higher class families).

[53] And resisting the temptation of doing a fuller study on submission and headship at this point!

[54] Without the possibility of absenting herself for three days to avoid this submission as commonly practised by co-habituating married wives.

[55] With the possible implication or assumption that these were marriages between ‘priest-like’ people? See I Pet. 2:5,9 and Rev. 1:6; 5:10.

[56] See also Tit. 2:5 .

[57] Note also that Paul in I Cor. 7 mentions repeatedly that those who are married are concerned with the things of the world, and their responsibilities to each other. This is not mentioned in a condemning sense, but in a realistic one: if you are married, you have a responsibility toward your husband and wife which is time and energy consuming.

[58] See Mat. 20:28 : ‘Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ Also Mark 10:45 and John 13:14-15.

[59] Literally: weaker body, i.e. bearing in mind that the woman is not a physically strong as man.

[60] The meaning of ‘help meet’ in the Hebrew is Strong’s no. 05828 and carries the meaning of ‘to help, succour, support’.

[61] Which understanding makes sense in the 3 other occurrences of this word in Rev. 8:11; 10:9,10.

[62] For a fuller list, check the last section of ‘I Cor. 7 examined’.

[63] If Paul had not considered these valid grounds for divorce, he would have had to be very clear about this, since not only the Jewish converts, but many of the Greeks and Romans shared these as legally valid grounds over and above simple divorce-by-separation.