Divorce in the Bible

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Divorce in the Bible

[Note: This is a re-post, July 31st 2011. I went looking for this paper on the site this morning, and could not find it, although I was under the impression that it was posted here.] 

Many so-called Bible scholars attempt to draw a distinction between the phrase “put away” and the word “divorce”, to assert that these two words mean something different, when in reality they are both often used in relation to the act of a man divorcing a wife. And by making a distinction between these two terms, many of these men even take it so far as to justify divorce, as if it were an acceptable practice. At the same time, those same men also often misconstrue the relationship of marriage, divorce, and remarriage that Yahweh has with his people Israel in the Old and New Covenants.

These so-called scholars often start by identifying and attempting to make a distinction between the Greek word apoluo, a verb often translated to put away, and the noun apostasion, used to refer to the writing which officially documents the act of separation of a man and his wife. Used with another noun which means writing or a document, apostasion is used in the Greek Septuagint Old Testament (the LXX) and in the Greek of the New Testament to describe a bill of divorcement. However in trying to create a distinction between the use of the noun and the use of the verb, because the two words truly are from separate Greek roots, certain apologists for divorce overlook several facts, the first and most obvious simply being that they are trying to create a distinction between a noun and a verb, words that are two different parts of speech, without examining how they are commonly used elsewhere. These words shall be discussed here, and the Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon (L&S) shall be the primary source used in order to do so.  

In order to gauge how these two words are used without partiality, because the words represent different parts of speech (a noun and a verb), one must assess how these words are used in the parts of speech which correspond, as well as how their counterparts are used. In other words, apoluo has a corresponding noun which is derived from the same root, and apostasion has a corresponding verb which is derived from the same root. One would not compare “racing” to “walkway”, however one may certainly compare “racing” to “walking”, or “raceway” to “walkway”.

The noun apostasion has a verbal form: aphistami, which primarily means to put away, remove (L&S), much like the word apoluo is used in the New Testament when referring to the dissolution of a husband-wife relationship. The verb aphistami appears a total of 244 times in 227 different verses in the Greek Septuagint and New Testament combined (Bible Works 7.0). However the definitions for this word offered by Liddell & Scott make no mention of its use concerning husband/wife divorce. In fact, never once in the Septuagint or in the New Testament Greek does the verb aphistami appear in the context of marriage, or the dissolution of marriage at separation, which is divorce.  

The verb apoluo is defined by Liddell and Scott primarily as “to loose from … to undo … to set free from, release or relieve from … to discharge … to divorce a wife …” and the verb has a noun form: apolusis, which Liddell and Scott define as “… release, deliverance from a thing”. The noun does not appear in the New Testament and in the Septuagint Greek it appears only in 3 Maccabees 6:37, 40 and 7:16, in the sense in which Liddell and Scott have defined it. This noun is never used in the Bible to describe the separation of a man and a wife. It was evidently not used in the common Greek vernacular specifically related to divorce, or separation from a wife.

If it were that the verb aphistami or the noun apolusis were ever used in the Greek literature or in the Bible to describe divorce or the act of divorcing, then it would be fair to distinguish apoluo and apostasion as if they possibly may refer to two different things when used to refer to the dissolution of a husband-wife relationship. However the former are not ever used in such a manner, and so we see that for whatever reason, when describing the act of divorce between a husband and wife, that the noun apostasion is used to signify “divorce”, when speaking of the piece of paper that records the divorce – but the word or its corresponding verb aphistami are never used anywhere in Scripture or in secular Greek writing to describe the act of divorce itself. For this, the verb apoluo is used. The noun corresponding to apoluo, which is apolusis, is never used to describe the act of a man separating from his wife; only the noun apostasion is used to describe the piece of paper which makes an official record of the event! Yet the paper is certainly not the event itself. That is described by the verb, apoluo!

I would challenge any of the so-called scholars who have written papers on this topic holding the contrary point of view – that apostasion and apoluo somehow refer to two completely different things, to present actual evidence from ancient Greek sources which contradicts the simple concepts which I have presented here, because if there is not another specific Greek verb used to describe the action of a husband and wife getting or being divorced, then apoluo, usually translated in the Bible as to put away, must be that verb! Paul does use a synonym, aphiemi, at 1 Cor. 7:11 and 12, however that only reinforces the assertions being made here, rather than weakening them. There was no concept of a distinct period of legal “separation” and then “divorce” in ancient Greek or Hebrew: these are modern legal terms and we can’t apply them to the Biblical writings. Therefore the bottom line is this: Where Yahshua Christ says that “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:9, KJV), we have a clear indication that to Christians, divorce must not be considered an acceptable practice.

Now to move on to the application of this knowledge and a discussion of the relationship of marriage, divorce, and remarriage that Yahweh has with his people Israel, as outlined in the Old and New Covenants. The verb aphistami is used in the LXX of the removal of Israel at 2 Kings 17:18, of the removal of both Judah and Israel at 2 Kings 23:27, of Judah again at 2 Kings 24:3, and also in other like passages in the prophets, such as at Jeremiah 14:19. These passages, along with the words of the prophets found at both Jeremiah 33:24 and Zechariah 10:6 clearly demonstrate that Judah was divorced from Yahweh along with Israel. Jeremiah 33:24 states thusly: "Considerest thou not what this people have spoken, saying, The two families which Yahweh hath chosen, he hath even cast them off? thus they have despised my people, that they should be no more a nation before them." (KJV) And then Zechariah 10:6: “And I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them again to place them; for I have mercy upon them: and they shall be as though I had not cast them off: for I am the LORD their God, and will hear them.” (KJV)

Yet even if after all of this one still insists that the verb aphistami must be used to describe a divorce, rather than apoluo, then this verse must be considered: Ezekiel 23:18: “So she discovered her whoredoms, and discovered her nakedness: then my mind was alienated from her, like as my mind was alienated from her sister.” In Brenton’s Septuagint, the reading is “And she exposed her fornication, and exposed her shame: and my soul was alienated from her, even as my soul was alienated from her sister.” The Greek word translated “alienated” here is the verb, aphistami. The same word of which the noun form apostasion is translated “divorce”! Judah was indeed divorced by Yahweh, as well as Israel. Stephen E. Jones and his followers are little but fools to think otherwise.

The moral of this story is three-fold. First, it is dangerous to study Greek from a concordance, and then attempt to contrive doctrine with an obviously incomplete understanding. Secondly, it is clear that both Judah and Israel were divorced by Yahweh, and the many so-called scholars who state that Judah was never divorced are simply in error. The third is this: do not let your personal circumstances or the errors of your life manipulate your doctrinal beliefs. This writer was also divorced – and several times, both officially and unofficially. However rather than attempting to contort Scripture to justify the past, it is much more just and reasonable to simply admit being a sinner.

William Finck
April 19th, 2009

On Divorce, Again

July 31st, 2011: This paper was undated, copied from an email and saved to my archive folders. There is another longer paper discussing divorce somewhere in my archives which I am looking for. The paper below was to clarify the term "bill of divorcement". As soon as I find the longer paper, if I find it, I will add it to this post. The paper below was last modified on my hard disk on July 15th, 2009.

[I do not remember who the original recipient of this email was.]

Divorce vs "Putting Away"
In this phrase up there in your title, is “Divorce” a verb, or a noun? If it is a noun, you are comparing two different things. If it is a verb, well, the word does NOT appear as a verb anywhere in scripture. So, why do you make the distinction?

Malachi 2:15-17
Deuteronomy 24:1-5
Matthew 5:31-32
Matthew 19:3-9
(King James Version)

Deuteronomy 24:1-5 (This establishes what divorce is, nowhere are the words "put away" mentioned, rather a mention is made of DIVORCEMENT, an official WRIT of divorcement, and the woman being sent away from the house)

1 When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife.
3 And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife;
4 Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before Yahweh: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the Yahweh thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.
5 When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.

The command for a husband to write a bill of divorcement was not to relieve the husband of any burden of guilt. Rather, it was to protect the wife and anyone who may take her in out of compassion. The words “send her out of his house” are tantamount to a “putting away”.

Malachi 2:15-17

15 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.
16 For Yahweh, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith Yahweh: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.
17 Ye have wearied Yahweh with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of Yahweh, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?

Yahweh hates “putting away”, the act of which describes the condition for the “bill of divorcement” (see Matthew 5:31, 19:7). The verb describes the act. The noun only describes a piece of paper officiating the act!

Matthew 5:31-32

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.

Right! In other words, do not put her away at all unless you have caught her having committed fornication! If there is no putting away, certainly there is no need for a “Bill of Divorcement”!

See Mark 10:4-9: “ 4 And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. 5 And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. 6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. 7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; 8 And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. 9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. “

NO putting away, NO divorce, period! Because Yahweh knew that men would separate from their wives regardless, He bade them issue the separation notice (“Bill of Divorcement”) in order that the wife would be protected!

Matthew 19:3-9

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.

Only the most stubborn and arrogant men reject the notion that this pericope forbids divorce. Where there is no “putting away” there is no need for a divorce paper! Notice that the phrase “put away” has no use as a noun anywhere in Scripture. Neither is the word “divorce” ever appear as a verb. The Greeks used the verb apoluo, usually, but Paul also used another verb, to describe the doing of the act. But they used the noun apostasion, which is very close in meaning, to describe the piece of paper officiating the act!

This reply is brief, but in my mind I see no need for anything greater. The case that “putting away” and the divorce paper itself (only a piece of paper signed by the husband freeing the wife – not an official court decree like we have today) are used to describe two different acts cannot be made to stand: there is no basis for it at all in Scripture or in secular Greek literature – anywhere!

I hope this helps.