Marriage, Deuteronomy 24, and Can Women Divorce?

From the beginning, God ordained one man to stay with one woman and one woman with one man (Genesis 2:24).  The two joined together becoming one flesh, one body.

Man in his sinfulness began to be involved in polygamy, adultery, and a host of other improprieties (Malachi 2:14).  Man’s heart was hardened against God’s commands and he chose to follow his own desires.

Deuteronomy 24, (only for usage by Israel under the Law of Moses until the coming of the New Covenant Jeremiah 31:31-34, Colossians 2:14, Galatians 3:24-25), dealt with the marital atrocities.  In an environment where man, contrary to God’s intention for marriage, divorced his wife for any number of unauthorized reasons, God, through Moses, regulated divorce.  A writ of divorcement became required so that the woman could clearly demonstrate freedom from the bond of her previous husband.  Additionally, when the woman joined herself to another man in marriage, the original husband would not be authorized to take her as a wife again at any point thereafter.  Deuteronomy 24 caused a man to more cautiously consider his decision to divorce his wife and it put the guilt of divorce upon the husband, enabling the wife to remarry.  Yet, this passage of the Law of Moses did not represent an eternal principle of God and only represented a temporary ordinance.

Jesus states in Matthew 19:8 that Moses suffered (allowed) the children of Israel to put away their wives, but that was not God’s original intent.  His intent was that they stay together until death.  However, Jesus does provide information in Matthew 5:32/Matthew 19:3-12 not previously written.  He states that putting away one’s spouse was acceptable (though not desired) if fornication (adultery when in a marriage) had been committed by the other party.

Why allow the sinfulness under the Law of Moses?

Fact: the law was not meant to make anyone perfect; Christ fulfilled that function (Hebrews 7:19, Hebrews 10:1, Galatians 3:3-5, Philippians 3:12-16, Colossians 1:27-29, Colossians 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Quite to the contrary, God ordained the Law of Moses that sin might abound (Romans 5:20).  The nation of Israel, through their abounding sin demonstrated the power, wisdom, and mercy of God, as well as the truth that men could not find eternal life through their own works (Romans 9:21-33).  The directives in Deuteronomy 24 did not approve of sin or establish an eternal principle.  They simply minimized the chaos that had been created, overlooking the sin for that time (Acts 17:30).  It was much like sweeping dust under the rug.  The problem still exists, but overlooking the dust provides a temporary adjustment until cleaned properly.

Some men declare, as a code of behavior applying today, that Deuteronomy 24 establishes that only the husband can put away his wife and not the wife her husband.  Can women divorce?

Deuteronomy 24 certainly provides marital guidelines from the point of view of a man wishing to divorce his wife under the Law of Moses.  No other guideline under the Law of Moses is given for the vantage point of the woman.  Yet, the Law of Moses does not provide authority for man’s actions today.  Furthermore, prior to the Law of Moses, no mention of situations authorizing divorce existed. Thus, authority for divorce cannot be found by going back to the beginning.  Following the establishment of the Law of Moses, written Jewish traditions did allow divorce by women under a different process from Deuteronomy 24, but neither the Law of Moses nor the traditions of men, represent God’s eternal commands as set forth in Genesis 2:24 and the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:32/Matthew 19:3-12.

At this point, it is important to consider Mark 10:2-12 and I Corinthians 7:10-11.  Verses 11 and 12 of Mark identify two incidents of divorce.  In the first, the man puts away his wife.  In the second, the woman puts away her husband.  Understand the following truths about scripture:  First, a permanent ordinance condemning a woman for divorcing her husband doesn’t exist.  Second, Jesus (in the context of being questioned about Deuteronomy 24) specifically identifies an occurrence where a woman does put away her husband and that action by itself is not condemned.  Now take into consideration also I Corinthians 7:10-11.  This passage clearly identifies that a wife may divorce her husband and explains the conditions on doing so.  From the two passages examined, the Bible establishes a woman may divorce a man.  Today men follow the commands under the New Covenant in Christ (Matthew 4:23) and the eternal principles of God (Romans 15:4).  The words of Jesus (by His mouth and the apostles) judge a man on the final day (John 12:48).  Consequently, by the authority of Christ, under proper circumstances, a wife can divorce her husband.

Many concerned individuals actually have an underlying concern when asking if a woman can divorce her husband.  They really want to know if she can remarry after divorcing.  Mark 10 establishes, if a man or a woman remarries after divorce, they commit adultery.  I Corinthians 7 only gives a woman the option of staying single or reconciling after divorce.  There are no verses in the Bible with a direct command or example approving of a woman remarrying following a divorce she has initiated.  Yet, command and example are not the only ways to demonstrate God’s authority.  Necessary inference can demonstrate authority.  Since God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), by necessary inference, it can be concluded that if He allows both the male and female to divorce, the same rules must apply for both sexes in remarriage.  Immediate objection might be raised stating that man has authority over woman so his rules for remarriage will be different.  However, man’s authority over woman applies to his duties, not to preferential treatment when it comes to sin.  If by Matthew 5 and 19 a man can divorce his wife scripturally and remarry because she has committed adultery, then it can be inferred that a wife certainly can do the same in a case where the husband has committed adultery.

When examining the topic of marriage, the student of scripture must always be aware of the context and purpose of the scripture written.  Deuteronomy 24 represents a passage with very specific purposes for a very specific dispensation.  Jesus identifies that the direction the Law of Moses gave man for marriage did not represent God’s will.  Thus, when considering authorization for marriage today, Deuteronomy 24 must be set aside.  Jesus and the apostles, under the New Covenant, reaffirm God’s Will for marriage and identify authority for both the husband and wife to properly act on their marriage status under the circumstances of fornication.  Because God is a just God, he applies the same rules for dealing with sin for woman as He does man. Those rules can be gleaned from the New Testament scriptures regarding marriage and divorce.

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