Does The Exception Apply Today?

By Johnny Stringer

When Jesus prohibited divorce and condemned the second marriages or divorced persons as adulterous (Matt. 19:3-9; 5:32), He made one exception to the rule: Divorce is permissible if it is for the cause of Some, however, teach that there is no scriptural ground for divorce. They recognize that Jesus allowed divorce for fornication, but they say Jesus’ teaching does not apply to us.

Proponents of this position maintain that Jesus was merely explain the meaning of the Law of Moses regarding divorce. There was debate among the Jews about the matter; some contended that under the Law, of Moses, divorce was permissible only for fornication, while argued that it was allowed for any reason, no matter how trivial. Advocates of the position under discussion claim that Jesus was merely settling this controversy, showing that. under Moses’ law, divorce was only for fornication. It is, their, contention that the New Testament, which we are now under, allows no exception to the rule that marriage is permanent.

Based On Erroneous Definition

In order for this position to be true, Jesus’ teaching must have been the same as Moses’ teaching on the subject of divorce. He could not have been explaining Moses’ teaching if He were teaching something different from what Moses taught. Advocates of this position contend that Jesus was indeed teaching precisely what Moses taught.

This contention is based on an erroneous, definition of the word rendered “uncleanness”, in Deuteronomy 24:1. According to that divorce was allowed if a man found some “uncleanness” in his wife. It is argued that the word rendered “uncleanness” meant “fornication.” Hence, it is concluded, the Law of Moses allowed divorce only for fornication; Jesus, therefore, was only setting forth what the Law of Moses taught.

In fact, the word rendered “uncleanness” does not have that meaning. It is a rather broad term, vague an indefinite meaning. Young defines it as “a thing offensive.” Brown, Driver, and Briggs define it as “indecency, improper behavior.” God used a term that was vague and indefinite in meaning, because His purpose was not to set forth specific offenses which would make divorce permissible. If God had meant to make fornication the only ground for divorce under the Law of Moses, He would have used a word that had that specific meaning; but He did not.

It is obvious that the word rendered “uncleanness” in Deuteronomy 24:1 did not have reference either to adultery or to pre-marital fornication; for the woman guilty of either of these sins was to be put to death (Lev. 20: 10; Deut. 22:20-21), whereas the woman with “some uncleanness” was to be given a writing of divorcement and sent on her way. What was to be done to the fornicator was different from :what was to be done to the woman with some uncleanness.

What Jesus taught was clearly not in harmony with what Moses taught. Under Moses’ law the adulteress was not to be divorced, but to, be put to death. Moreover, under Moses, one who was divorced could go and be another man’s wife (Deut. 24:2); but according to Jesus’ teaching, she could not (Matt. 5:32; 19:9; Lk. 16:18). It is false, therefore, to say that Jesus was merely explaining and reaffirming the Law of Moses.

Purpose Of His Teaching

When Jesus delivered His teaching regarding divorce, His purpose was not to explain and reaffirm what Moses taught on the matter. Rather, His purpose was to set forth the principles that would govern His kingdom. His teaching in general pointed to His kingdom and was designed to instruct men regarding His kingdom (Matt. 4:17, 23).

A good sample of His teaching is found in the Sermon on the Mount, in which He clearly was setting the tone for His kingdom. Jesus’ teaching regarding divorce, allowing divorce for the cause of fornication, is found in that sermon (Matt. 5:32). It is in a section beginning in Matthew 5:20, in which Jesus contrasts the righteousness taught and practiced by the scribes and Pharisees against the righteousness He would demand in His kingdom. He was making the point that since a higher degree of righteousness was required in His kingdom than was taught and practiced by the scribes and Pharisees, one whose righteousness did not exceed theirs could not be a part of the kingdom of Christ. The scribes and Pharisees even fell short of what was required in the law on many points; but even when they set forth precisely what the Law taught about divorce, their teaching still fen short of what Jesus required. In the Sermon on the Mount, therefore, as Jesus was setting the tone for His kingdom, He gave His teaching on divorce to help describe the higher righteousness required in it.

Jesus had no intention of entering into and settling a Jewish controversy about what was allowed under a law which would not be binding much longer anyway. He did not argue that His position was correct on the basis of the wording found in the Law of Moses. In fact, He made no effort to show that it was what the Law of Moses taught. Rather, He presented His teaching as being correct; not because it was what the Law of Moses taught, but because of His own authority. With the words, “I say unto you,” He affirmed that this was his teaching resting on His authority (note Matt. 7:29). He was not acting as an expositor of the Law of Moses, but as the King setting forth His own laws to govern His soon-to-be-established kingdom (Mat 4:17, 23).

Then after the Apostles received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the Spirit taught them all things, reminding them of all that Jesus had taught (John 14:26), including what He had taught regarding divorce. Under His guidance, they wrote it into the New Testament. It is now our obligation to be governed by it.

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 4, pp. 101-102
February 21, 1985