By Timothy Sparks
(This brief study addresses the texts of Deut. 24:1ff, Mt. 19:6-8 and Mk. 10:5-9.)
I have seen no evidence from Aramaic, Hebrew or Greek Scripture that God anywhere grants favorable permission regarding divorce of a one flesh union. Some, however, believe that God granted favorable approval for a man to divorce his one flesh wife in the text of Deut. 24:1ff. However, when Scripture says “Moses” (Mt. 19:8) we should not automatically read “God” into the text.
God wrote the text of Deut. 24:1ff through Moses. However, what Jesus refers to in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 concerning what Moses wrote is not a reference to the text of Deut. 24:1ff. In Deut. 24:1ff there is no permission to divorce. What Moses wrote, which Jesus refers to as a permission to divorce, Jesus clearly refutes (Mt. 19:8). Some assume Jesus is refuting the text of Deuteronomy 24. However, Jesus is actually refuting a permission to divorce that Moses wrote (which the Pharisees knew about), but which God did not inspire. Moses’ written permission is not contained in Deut. 24:1ff. We do not have Moses’ written permission to divorce within God’s Law.
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is not about allowing divorce, but is rather about prohibiting an abomination (Deut. 24:4). There is not a permission, but a prohibition in the form of “If/when . . .” (Deut. 24:1-3) . . . “then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance” (Deut. 24:4).
Since many assume Jesus is absolutely referring to the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 24 when he mentions Moses’ written permission (Mt. 19:8; Mk. 10:5), we should be careful since it is not “absolute” because the assumption is that “Moses” means “God.” The truth is that Moses wrote the precept. It was a written commandment by a man (Moses) allowing men to divorce their wives. It was from man and for men. God did not write a commandment to divorce nor a commandment allowing divorce. [Notice the word “precept/command/commandment” is from the same Greek root in both Mt. 15:9 and Mk. 10:5.]
What Jesus refers to when he says “Moses” is not a permission God inspired Moses to write. The reference to what Moses allowed is not contained in the text of Deuteronomy 24.
Unless one is willing to pit Jesus against God’s Law (the very law Jesus upheld to the smallest part of a letter, Mt. 5:17-19), the correct answer is that Jesus refutes the command Moses wrote concerning permission to divorce. Moses’ written permission did not have God favorably authorizing it and God did not include it in the old covenant.
Please see the following for closer examination of the issues: