Was tolerated by Moses for sufficient reasons, De 24:1-4; but our Lord has limited it to the single case of adultery, Mt 5:31-32.
The dissolution of the marriage tie was regulated by the Mosaic law (De 24:1-4). The Jews, after the Captivity, were reguired to dismiss the foreign women they had married contrary to the law (Ezr 10:11-19). Christ limited the permission of divorce to the single case of adultery. It seems that it was not uncommon for the Jews at that time to dissolve the union on very slight pretences (Mt 5:31-32; 19:1-9; Mr 10:2-12; Lu 16:18). These precepts given by Christ regulate the law of divorce in the Christian Church.
De 24:1-4 permits the husband to divorce the wife, if he find in her "uncleanness," literally, "matter of nakedness," by giving her "a bill of divorcement," literally, a book of cutting off. Polygamy had violated God's primal law joining in one flesh one man to one woman, who formed the other half or converse side of the male. Moses' law does not sanction this abnormal state of things which he found prevalent, but imposes a delay and cheek on its proceeding to extreme arbitrariness. He regulates and mitigates what he could not then extirpate. The husband must get drawn up by the proper authorities (the Levites) a formal deed stating his reasons (Isa 50:1; Jer 3:8), and not dismiss her by word of mouth. Moses threw the responsibility of the violation of the original law on the man himself; tolerating it indeed (as a less evil than enforcing the original law which the people's "hardness of heart" rendered then unsuitable, and thus aggravating the evil) but throwing in the way what might serve as an obstacle to extreme caprice, an act requiring time and publicity and formal procedure.
The school of Shammai represented fornication or adultery as the "uncleanness" meant by Moses. But (Le 20:10; Joh 8:5) stoning, not merely divorce, would have been the penalty of that, and our Lord (9/3'>Mt 19:3,9, compare Mt 5:31) recognizes a much lower ground of divorce tolerated by Moses for the hardness of their heart. Hillel's school recognized the most trifling cause as enough for divorce, e.g. the wife's burning the husband's food in cooking. The aim of our Lord's interrogators was to entangle Him in the disputes of these two schools. The low standard of marriage prevalent at the close of the Old Testament appears in Mal 2:14-16. Rome makes marriage a sacrament, and indissoluble except by her lucrative ecclesiastical dispensations.
But this would make the marriage between one pagan man and one pagan woman a "sacrament," which in the Christian sense would be absurd; for Eph 5:23-32, which Rome quotes, and Mr 10:5-12 where even fornication is not made an exception to the indissolubility of marriage, make no distinction between marriages of parties within and parties outside of the Christian church. What marriage is to the Christian, it was, in the view of Scripture, to man before and since the fall and God's promise of redemption. Adulterous connection with a third party makes the person one flesh with that other, and so, ipso facto dissolves the unity of flesh with the original consort (1Co 6:15-16). The divorced woman who married again, though the law sanctions her remarriage (De 24:1-4), is treated as "defiled" and not to be taken back by the former husband. The reflection that, once divorced and married again, she could never return to her first husband, would check the parties from reckless rashness.
This was explained by the Lord. Moses had suffered a man to put away his wife for any cause, as we see in De 24:1,3; but the Lord maintained God's original ordinance that what God had joined together, man had no right to put asunder, therefore a man must not put away his wife except for fornication, when she herself had broken the bond. Mt 5:31-32; 19:3-9. A BILL OF DIVORCEMENT must be given to the woman, the drawing up of which, and having it witnessed, was some little check upon a man's hasty temper.
a legal dissolution of the marriage relation. The law regulating this subject is found
and the cases in which the right of a husband to divorce his wife was lost are stated ibid.,
The ground of divorce is appoint on which the Jewish doctors of the period of the New Testament differed widely; the school of Shammai seeming to limit it to a moral delinquency in the woman, whilst that the Hillel extended it to trifling causes, e.g., if the wife burnt the food she was cooking for her husband. The Pharisees wished perhaps to embroil our Saviour with these rival schools by their question,
by his answer to which, as well as by his previous maxim,
he declares that he regarded all the lesser causes than "fornication" as standing on too weak ground, and declined the question of how to interpret the words of Moses.
DIVORCE. As the ancient Hebrews paid a stipulated price for the privilege of marrying, they seemed to consider it the natural consequence of making a payment of that kind, that they should be at liberty to exercise a very arbitrary power over their wives, and to renounce or divorce them whenever they chose. This state of things, as Moses himself very clearly saw, was not equitable as respected the woman, and was very often injurious to both parties. Finding himself, however, unable, to overrule feelings and practices of very ancient standing, he merely annexed to the original institution of marriage a very serious admonition to this effect, viz. that it would be less criminal for a man to desert his father and mother, than without adequate cause to desert his wife, Ge 2:14, compared with Mal 2:11-16. He also laid a restriction upon the power of the husband as far as this, that he would not permit him to repudiate the wife without giving her a bill of divorce. He farther enacted in reference to this subject that the husband might receive the repudiated wife back, in case she had not in the meanwhile been married to another person; but if she had been thus married, she could never afterward become the wife of her first husband; a law, which the faith due to the second husband clearly required, De 24:1-4, compare Jer 3:1, and Mt 1:19; 19:8. The inquiry, "What should be considered an adequate cause of divorce," was left by Moses to be determined by the husband himself. He had liberty to divorce her, if he saw in her any thing naked, any thing displeasing or improper, any thing so much at war with propriety, and a source of so much dissatisfaction as to be, in the estimation of the husband, sufficient ground for separation. These expressions, however, were sharply contested as to their meaning in the later times of the Jewish nation. The school of Hillel contended, that the husband might lawfully put away the wife for any cause, even the smallest. The mistake committed by the school of Hillel in taking this ground was, that they confounded moral and civil law. It is true, as far as the Mosaic statute or the civil law was concerned, the husband had a right thus to do; but it is equally clear, that the ground of just separation must have been, not a trivial, but a prominent and important one, when it is considered, that he was bound to consult the rights of the woman, and was amenable to his conscience and his God. The school of Shammai explained the phrase, nakedness of a thing, to mean actual adultery. Our Lord agreed with the school of Shammai as far as this, that the ground of divorce should be one of a moral nature, and not less than adultery; but he does not appear to have agreed with them in their opinion in respect to the Mosaic statute. On the contrary, he denied the equity of that statute, and in justification of Moses maintained, that he permitted divorces for causes below adultery, only in consequence of the hardness of the people's hearts, Mt 5:31-32; 18:1-9; Mr 10:2-12; Lu 16:18. Wives, who were considered the property of their husbands, did not enjoy by the Mosaic statutes a reciprocal right, and were not at liberty to dissolve the matrimonial alliance by giving a bill of divorce to that effect. In the latter periods, however, of the Jewish state, the Jewish matrons, the more powerful of them at least, appear to have imbibed the spirit of the ladies of Rome, and to have exercised in their own behalf the same power that was granted by the Mosaic law only to their husbands, Mr 6:17-29; 10:12.