Compulsory Divorce For Adultery In New Testament Times

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of yourhardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” – Matthew 19:3-9, ESV

…the wording of the exception is deliberately formulated so as to encompass a slightly wider range of sexual offenses [than just adultery] and that there is considerable evidence that the death penalty prescribed in the Torah had in practice been replaced by compulsory divorce. As Raymond Collins observes, ‘It is probable that adultery was not punished by the imposition of a death penalty in Palestine during Roman times.’ – Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics, 354 (emphasis mine)


Think about the implications of this historical observation–i.e. compulsory divorce for adultery in New Testament times. Compulsory means choosing reconciliation was not even an option for Jewish faithful spouses in Jesus’ day. They were forced to divorce the adulterous spouse.

This historical context changes things greatly when looking at New Testament texts on divorce. It means the choice to divorce was not up to the faithful spouses in New Testament times. The community dictated what took place in the case of adultery.

Divorce was not even a question.

It was mandated.

Boy, have things changed in the “Christian” community!



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