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Divorce Versus Putting Away

by Christine Egbert

For some strange reason, many English translations of Matthew 5:32 say: “Whoever puts away his wife, apart from a matter of fornication, causes her to commit adultery. And whoever marries her that is divorced commits adultery.”

I find this strange because the word translated as “divorced” is Strong’s G630, apoluō (ἀπολύω), which means “put away”, the same word that’s translated correctly as “put away” in the first of the two sentences in verse 32.

In the Literal Translation of the Holy Bible, it’s translated correctly. Let’s read it:
“Whoever puts away his wife, apart from a matter of fornication, causes her to commit adultery. And whoever shall marry the one put away commits adultery.”
When this Greek word apoluō gets mistranslated as divorce, instead of put-away, it creates a very serious problem. The mistranslation makes it appear that Jesus (Yeshua) just contradicted Deuteronomy 24:1, and perhaps that’s the motive behind it.

Deuteronomy 24:1 lays out a three-step process for legally dissolving a marriage. The husband must (1) write his wife a bill of divorce, (2) place the bill in her hand, and (3) then he may send her away. After this three-step Torah proscribed process, the man and woman are legally divorced, and then both are free to legally remarry.

Mark Chapter 10

Let’s examine this same topic as it’s presented in the Gospel of Mark 10:2-12, in which the KJV and many other translations correctly translate apoluō as put-away, each time it appears. I will, however, omit verses 5-10 and deal with them at the end of this article, for the reason I will explain at that time.

Mark 10:2-12 “And coming near, the Pharisees asked Him if it is lawful for a man to put away a wife, testing Him. But answering, He said to them, ‘What did Moses command you?’…And again, in the house His disciples asked Him about the same. And He said to them, ‘Whoever puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman puts away her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’”

These Pharisees had hoped to trap Jesus (Yeshua) with this question about the lawfulness of putting away one’s wife because in the 1st century Rome governed Judea, and Roman law, unlike Torah Law, did not require a certificate of divorce to end a marriage. All a man under Roman law had to do was send his wife away.

This Roman method of divorce held great financial implications for the Jews. For if a wife were simply sent away, rather than legally divorced as directed in Deuteronomy 24, the woman would have no legal right to her dowry, which she would’ve had, had she been legally divorced, according to Jewish law (David Amram, The Jewish Law of Divorce).

In a legal Torah divorce, her husband would have to return her dowry. Furthermore, without this legal writ of divorce called a “get” both she and her new husband would be adulterers and any children they might have would be illegitimate. (David Amram, The Jewish Law of Divorce, New York, NY: Hermon Press, 1968, p.47 – 48.) That is why, in Malachi 2:16, God declared not that He hates divorce, but that He hates Israel’s putting away.

Malachi 2:16

Ask most people and they will tell you that Malachi 2:16 declares that God hates divorce. Only, the Hebrew word often mistranslated as divorce is shâlach (שָׁלַח)—Strong’s H7971—which means to send away. Notice that this declaration that God hates “sending away” appears in context to Israel’s treacherous dealings with their wives.

Let’s read it: Malachi 2:14-16. The LORD (Yahweh) has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously. Yet she is your companion, the wife of your covenant. Did He not make you one?… And why one? So that He might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the LORD (Yahweh), the God of Israel, hates your “putting away”.

Now I could go into the issue of foreign wives being an abomination, as stated in Malachi 2:11, which says that Judah profaned the Holy Place when they married the daughters of foreign gods (daughters of foreign gods would not be wives of covenant). But I won’t. I’ll save that bombshell topic for another article.

School of Shammai Versus School of Hillel

To quote Wikipedia, these two Orthodox Schools “had vigorous debates on matters of ritual practice, ethics, and theology…” Almost all of the Sadducees, who controlled the Temple during the 1st Century, followed the teaching of Rabbi Shammai. The Pharisees, however, were split. Some, including Paul, followed the teaching of Hillel, especially concerning the resurrection and ability of the Gentiles to be saved. But based on Paul’s writing it appears he did not adhere to Hillel’s liberal views about what constituted legal grounds for divorce.

Grounds For Divorce

On the matter of divorce, both Rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel supported a man’s right to divorce. They differed only on what constituted the grounds for a divorce. Rabbi Hillel allowed for divorce over trivial matters. Shammai limited grounds for divorce to serious matters of infidelity.

Intertestamental Period

Simeon ben Shetah (circa 140-60 BCE) was a Pharisee scholar and Nasi of the Sanhedrin, who enacted many reforms. Some of these granted greater financial security for legally divorced women. This not only made divorce far less calamitous for women, it also granted them the right to legally divorce their husbands.

To understand grounds for a legal Torah divorce, let us return to Matthew 5:32 (this time translating it correctly: “Whoever puts away his wife, apart from a matter of fornication, causes her to commit adultery. And whoever marries her that is put-away commits adultery.”


Now we must ask about this Greek word porneia (πορνεία) – Strong’s G4202, which is translated as fornication. Porneia can, according to Thayer’s Bible Dictionary, incorporate a variety of illicit sexual behaviors which include not only adultery but incest, homosexuality, and bestiality, as listed in Leviticus 18.

I believe, and I know many might disagree, that when Jesus (Yeshua) gave this one and only exception (porneia), for putting-away, rather than divorcing his wife, He was referring to the forbidden sexual unions of incest, homosexuality, and bestiality.

Why? For two reasons:
1. A man would have no legal standing to enter into such a marriage. He, therefore, would have no need to legally divorce someone he was never legally married to. In such a case, he could simply put her away.
2. If the woman was found guilty of adultery, she was to be stoned according to Torah. There would be no reason to divorce a woman who was about to be stoned.

A Matter Of The Heart

I will close with those verses in Mark 10, which I omitted earlier. I omitted them because I wanted to save the most important teaching for last, for it deals with a much deeper matter, the condition of our heart.

Mark 10:5-10 – “Answering, Jesus (Yeshua) said to them, ‘With respect to your hardheartedness he (Moses) wrote this command to you. But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. Because of this, a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh, so that they no longer are two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God yoked together, let not man put apart.”

The real reason for most divorces is hardness of the heart, on the part of one or both spouses. As Paul wrote, in Ephesians 5:28, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies, for he who loves his wife loves himself. He should nourish her and cherish her as Messiah loves His Congregation. And wives must respect their husbands. Why? Because marriage is a picture of the Messiah and His bride, Israel.

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