Matthew 5:31
It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:
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(31) It hath been said.—The better MSS. give, “But it was said,” as though stating an implied objection to the previous teaching. Men might think that they could avoid the sin of adultery by taking the easy course of divorcing one wife before marrying another.

Whosoever shall put away . . .—The quotation is given as the popular Rabbinic explanation of Deuteronomy 24:1, which, as our Lord teaches in Matthew 19:8, was given, on account of the hardness of men’s hearts, to prevent yet greater evils. The words of the precept were vague—“If she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her,” and the two school of casuists took opposite views of its meaning. The stricter party of Shammai held that the “uncleanness” meant simply unchastity before or after marriage. The followers of Hillel held, on the other hand (as Milton among Christian teachers), that anything that made the company of the wife distasteful was a sufficient ground for repudiation. Even a moralist generally so pure and noble as the son of Sirach, took in this matter the laxer view—“If she go not as thou wouldest have her, cut her off from thy flesh, and give her a bill of divorce, and let her go” (Ecclesiasticus 25:26). It is noteworthy that our Lord, whose teaching, especially as regards the Sabbath question, might have been, for the most part, claimed by the school of Hillel, on this matter of divorce stamps the impress of His approval on the teaching of his rival.

Matthew 5:31-32. Let him give her a writing of divorcement — “The doctors of the school of Sammai affirmed, that, in the law concerning divorce, Deuteronomy 24:1, the words some uncleanness, were to be understood of adultery only; whereas, they of the school of Hillel interpreted them of any matter of dislike whatever. Hence the Pharisees asked Jesus, Matthew 19:3, if it was lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? The opinion of Hillel was generally espoused by the Jews, as appears from both their practice and their writings. Thus, Malachi 2:16, the clause which in our translation runs, The Lord says, He hateth putting away, that is, divorces on frivolous pretences, is, by the Chaldee paraphrast and the LXX., turned thus, (εαν μισησας εξαποστειλης,) if thou hatest thou shouldest put her away. Also, the son of Sirach says, Matthew 25:26 : If she go not as thou wouldest have her, cut her off from thy flesh. And Josephus, Ant. lib. 4. cap. 8, ‘He that would be disjoined from his wife, for any cause whatever, as many such causes there may be among men, let him give her a bill of divorce.’ Nay, one of their doctors, R. Akiba by name, delivered it as his opinion, ‘that a man may put his wife away, if he likes any other woman better.’” As, therefore, they had perverted the law of divorce that they might give full scope to their lusts, Jesus thought fit to reduce it to its primitive meaning, assuring them, “that he who divorces his wife for any of the causes allowed by the doctors, whoredom excepted, lays her under a strong temptation to commit adultery; unjust divorce being no divorce in the sight of God; and that since such marriages still subsisted, he who married the woman unjustly divorced, committed adultery also.” Saving for the cause of fornication, &c. — Fornication here, as elsewhere, is often used for adultery: in general it denotes the exercise of all the different species of unlawful lusts. Although in these words only one just cause of divorce is acknowledged, namely, adultery; “yet the apostle, 1 Corinthians 7:15, plainly allows another, viz., malicious and obstinate desertion in either of the parties; and that because it is wholly inconsistent with the purposes of marriage. We must therefore suppose, that our Lord here speaks of the causes of divorce commonly said to be comprehended under the term uncleanness, in the law; and declares, that none of them will justify a man’s divorcing his wife, except fornication.” Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery — Here we learn, “that if the cause of a divorce be just, the innocent party is freed from the bond of marriage, so as to be at liberty to marry again.” But if the divorce be made without a just cause, the marriage still subsists, and consequently both parties, the innocent as well as the guilty, thus divorced, commit adultery if they marry, as do the persons likewise whom they marry.” — Macknight.

5:27-32 Victory over the desires of the heart, must be attended with painful exertions. But it must be done. Every thing is bestowed to save us from our sins, not in them. All our senses and powers must be kept from those things which lead to transgression. Those who lead others into temptation to sin, by dress or in other ways, or leave them in it, or expose them to it, make themselves guilty of their sin, and will be accountable for it. If painful operations are submitted to, that our lives may be saved, what ought our minds to shrink from, when the salvation of our souls is concerned? There is tender mercy under all the Divine requirements, and the grace and consolations of the Spirit will enable us to attend to them.It hath been said ... - That is, by Moses, Deuteronomy 24:1-2. The husband was directed, if he put his wife away, to give her a bill of divorce, that is a certificate of the fact she had been his wife, and that he had dissolved the marriage. There was considerable difference of opinion among the Jews for what causes the husband was permitted to do this. One of their famous schools maintained that it might be done for any cause, however trivial. The other maintained that adultery only could justify it. The truth was, however, that the husband exercised this right at pleasure; that he was judge in the case, and dismissed his wife when and for what cause he chose. And this seems to be agreeable to the law in Deuteronomy. Our Saviour in Mark 10:1-12, says that this was permitted on account of the hardness of their hearts, but that in the beginning it was not so. God made a single pair, and ordained marriage for life. But Moses found the people so much hardened; so long accustomed to the practice, and so rebellious, that, as a matter of civil appointment, he thought it best not to attempt any change. Our Saviour brought marriage back to its original intention, and declared that whosoever put away his wife henceforward, except for one offence, should be guilty of adultery. This is now the law of God. This was the original institution. This is the only law that is productive of peace and good morals, and that secures the respect due to a wife, and the good of children. Nor has any man or set of men - any legislature or any court, civil or ecclesiastical - a right to interfere, and declare that divorces may be granted for any other cause. They, therefore, whoever they may be, who are divorced for any cause except the single one of adultery, if they marry again, are, according to the Scriptures, living in adultery. No earthly laws can trample down the laws of God, or make that right which he has solemnly pronounced wrong. 31. It hath been said—This shortened form was perhaps intentional, to mark a transition from the commandments of the Decalogue to a civil enactment on the subject of divorce, quoted from De 24:1. The law of divorce—according to its strictness or laxity—has so intimate a bearing upon purity in the married life, that nothing could be more natural than to pass from the seventh commandment to the loose views on that subject then current.

Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement—a legal check upon reckless and tyrannical separation. The one legitimate ground of divorce allowed by the enactment just quoted was "some uncleanness"—in other words, conjugal infidelity. But while one school of interpreters (that of Shammai) explained this quite correctly, as prohibiting divorce in every case save that of adultery, another school (that of Hillel) stretched the expression so far as to include everything in the wife offensive or disagreeable to the husband—a view of the law too well fitted to minister to caprice and depraved inclination not to find extensive favor. And, indeed, to this day the Jews allow divorces on the most frivolous pretexts. It was to meet this that our Lord uttered what follows:

See Poole on "Matthew 5:32".

It hath been said,.... It is not added here, as in the former instances, "by them of old time"; nor prefaced with these words, "ye have heard"; because the case of divorce was not any law of Moses, or of God by him; but only a permission, because of the hardness of the hearts of the Jews: and as to the controversy, about the causes of divorce, this was not debated by them of old time, but was a new thing, just started in the time of Christ; and was a controversy then agitating, between the schools of Hillell and Shammai: the one allowing it upon any frivolous cause; the other, only on account of adultery.

Whosoever shall put away his wife, dissolve the marriage bond, dismiss her from his bed, and send her from his house, see Deuteronomy 24:1 "let him give her a writing of divorcement", , "a bill of divorcement", or "a book of cutting off". For though a wife was obtained by several ways, there was but one way of dismissing her, as the Jews observe (f), and that was, by giving her a bill. The form of a writing of divorcement, as given by Maimonides (g), is as follows:

"On such a day of the week, in such a month, of such a year, either from the creation, or the epocha of contracts, according to the usual way of computation, which we observe in such a place; I such an one, the son of such an one, of such a place; or if I have any other name, or surname, or my parents, or my place, or the place of my parents; by my own will, without any force, I put away, dismiss, and divorce thee. Thee, I say, who art such an one, the daughter of such an one, of such a place; or if thou hast any other name, or surname, or thy parents, or thy place, or the place of thy parents; who wast my wife heretofore, but now I put thee away, dismiss and divorce thee; so that thou art in thine own hand, and hast power over thyself, to go, and marry any other man, whom thou pleasest; and let no man hinder thee in my name, from this day forward and for ever; and lo! thou art free to any man: and let this be unto thee, from me, a bill of divorce, an instrument of dismission, and a letter of forsaking, according to the law of Moses and Israel.''

"Such an one, the son of such an one, witness. Such an one, the son of such an one, witness.''

Would you choose to have one of these bills, filled up in proper form, take it in manner (h) following.

"On the fourth day of the week, on the eleventh day of the month Cisleu, in the year five thousand four hundred and fifty four, from the creation of the world; according to the computation which we follow here, in the city of Amsterdam, which is called Amstelredam; situated by the sea side, called Taya, and by the river Amstel; I Abraham, the son of Benjamin, surnamed Wolphius, the priest; and at this time dwelling in the city of Amsterdam, which is called Amstelredam, which is situated by the sea side, called Taya, and by the river Amstel; or if I have any other name, or surname, or my parents, or my place, or the place of my parents; by my own free will, without any compulsion, I put away, dismiss, and divorce thee, my wife Rebecca, the daughter of Jonas the Levite; who at this time abides in the city of Amsterdam, called Amstelredam, situated by the sea side, called Taya, and by the river Amstel; or if thou hast any other name, or surname, or thy parents, or thy place, or the place of thy parents, who wast heretofore my wife; but now I put thee away, dismiss, and divorce thee; so that thou art in thine own hands, and hast power over thyself, to go and marry any other man, whom thou pleasest: and let no man hinder thee in my name, from this day forward, and for ever; and lo! thou art free to any man. Let this be to thee, from me, a bill of divorce, an instrument of dismission, and a letter of forsaking, according to the law of Moses and Israel.''

"Sealtiel, the son of Paltiel, witness. Calonymus, the son of Gabriel, witness.''

This bill being written in twelve lines, neither more nor less, and being sealed by the husband, and signed by the witnesses, was delivered, either by him, or by a messenger, or deputy of his or hers, into her hand, lap, or bosom, in the presence of two persons; after which, she might, if she would, enrol it in the public records, and marry whom she pleased.

(f) Baal Hatturim in Deuteronomy 24.1. Maimon. Hilchot Ishot, c. 1. sect. 2, 3.((g) Hilchot Gerushin, c. 4. sect. 12. (h) In Surenhusii Misna, Vol. III. p. 324. Vid. Moses Kotsensis Mitzvot Tora pr. affirm. 50.

It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:
Matthew 5:31 f.[410] In Deuteronomy 24:1 there is stated as a reason for the dismissal which is to be carried out, עֶרְוַת דָּבָר, something hateful, loathsome (see Ewald, Alterthum. p. 272; Keil, Archäol. II. p. 74 f.; Gesenius, Thes. II. p. 1068). This was explained by the strict Rabbi Sammai and his adherents as referring to adultery and other unchaste behaviour; but the gentle Rabbi Hillel and his school as referring to everything in general that displeased the husband (Josephus, Antt. iv. 8. 23; Vita, 76). Lightfoot, p. 273 ff.; Ewald, Jahrb. X. p. 56 ff., 81. Rabbi Abika went still further, who allowed dismissal if the husband found a more beautiful woman; see Wetstein. To these and other (see Othonis, Lex. Rabb. p. 504) ill-considered principles—for Hillel’s doctrine had become the prevalent one

Christ opposes Himself, and draws out from the original and inmost nature of marriage (comp. Matthew 19:4 ff.) a firm rule, preserving the sanctity of the idea, and admitting only that as a ground of separation by which the nature of marriage and its obligations is, as a matter of fact, directly and immediately destroyed.[411]

ἀπολύσῃ] not repudiare constituerit (Fritzsche after Grotius), but will have dismissed. In this is implied the oral declaration of dismissal, the accomplishment of which as a fact is to take place by means of a letter of divorce. The command to give the letter of divorce, moreover, the use of which was already in existence before the law, is only indirectly implied in Deuteronomy 24:1; comp. on Matthew 19:7. The Greek expression for the dismissal of the woman is ἀποπέμπειν, Bekker, Anecd. p. 421; Bremi, ad Dem. adv. Onetor. iv. p. 92. On the wanton practice of the Greeks in this matter, see Hermann, Privatalterth. § 30.

ἀποστάσιον] departure, that is, by means of a βιβλίον ἀποστασίου, Deuteronomy 24:1; Matthew 19:7; Mark 10:4; Jeremiah 3:8. In Demosthenes, 790. 2, 940. 15, it is the desertion of his master, contrary to duty, by a manumitted slave; Hermann, l.c., § 57. 17.

The formula of the letter of divorce, see in Alphes. in Gittin, f. 600; in Lightfoot, p. 277. The object of the same was to prove that the marriage had been legally dissolved, and that it was competent to enter into a second marriage with another man (Ewald, l.c.). Observe, moreover, how the saying of the scribes, which has been quoted, is a mutilation of the legal precept, which had become traditional in the service of their lax principles, as if it, beside the arbitrary act of the man, were merely a question of the formality of the letter of divorce.

[410] The assertion that, if Jesus had delivered this declaration here, the discussion regarding divorce in ch. 19 could not have taken place (Köstlin, p. 47; Holtzmann, p. 176 f.), has no foundation, especially as in Matthew 19:3, Mark 10:2, the discussion is called forth by the Pharisees; comp. Weiss. Olshausen and Bleek also find in ch. 19 the historical position for the declaration, which Hilgenfeld regards as a non-original appendix to what precedes; which is also substantially the judgment of Ritschl, who regards the metabatic δέ in ver. 31 as introducing an objection to vv. 29, 30.

[411] Comp. Harless, Ehescheidungsfrage, p. 17 ff.

Matthew 5:31-32. Third illustration, subordinate to the previous one, connected with the same general topic, sex relations, therefore introduced less formally with a simple ἐρρέθη δὲ. This instance is certainly directed against the scribes rather than Moses. The law (Deuteronomy 24:1) was meant to mitigate an existing usage, regarded as evil, in woman’s interest. The scribes busied themselves solely about getting the bill of separation into due legal form. They did nothing to restrain the unjust caprice of husbands; they rather opened a wider door to licence. The law contemplated as the ground of separation a strong loathing, probably of sexual origin. The Rabbis (the school of Shammai excepted) recognised whimsical dislikes, even a fancy for another fairer woman, as sufficient reasons. But they were zealous to have the bill in due form that the woman might be able to show she was free to marry again, and they probably flattered themselves they were defending the rights of women. Brave men! Jesus raised the previous question, and asserted a more radical right of woman—not to be put away, except when she put herself away by unfaithfulness. He raised anew the prophetic cry (Malachi 2:16), I hate putting away. It was an act of humanity of immense significance for civilisation, and of rare courage; for He was fighting single-handed against widely prevalent, long established opinion and custom.—ἀπολύσῃ: the corresponding word in Greek authors is ἀποπέμπειν.—ἀποστάσιον = βιβλίον ἀποστασίου in Deuteronomy 24. The husband is to give her her dismissal, with a bill stating that she is no longer his wife. The singular form in ιον is to be noted. The tendency in later Greek was to substitute ιον for ια, the plural ending. Vide Lobeck, Phryn., p. 517.—παρ. λ. πορνείας: a most important exception which has given rise to much controversy that will probably last till the world’s end. The first question is: Did Christ really say this, or is it not rather an explanatory gloss due to the evangelist, or to the tradition he followed? De Wette, Weiss, Holtzmann (H. C.) take the latter view. It would certainly be in accordance with Christ’s manner of teaching, using strong, brief, unqualified assertions to drive home unfamiliar or unwelcome truths, if the word as He spoke it took the form given in Luke 16:18 : “Every one putting away his wife and marrying another committeth adultery”. This was the fitting word to be spoken by one who hated putting away, in a time when it was common and sanctioned by the authorities. A second question is: What does πορνεία mean? Schanz, a master, as becomes a Catholic, in this class of questions, enumerates five senses, but decides that it means adultery committed by a married woman. Some, including Döllinger (Christenthum und Kirche: The First Age of Christianity and the Church, vol. ii., app. iii.), think it means fornication committed before marriage. The predominant opinion, both ancient and modern, is that adopted by Schanz. A third question is: Does Christ, assuming the words to have been spoken by Him, recognise adultery as a ground of absolute divorce, or only, as Catholics teach, of separation a toro et mensa? Is it possible to be quite sure as to this point? One thing is certain. Christ did not come to be a new legislator making laws for social life. He came to set up a high ethical ideal, and leave that to work on men’s minds. The tendency of His teaching is to create deep aversion to rupture of married relations. That aversion might even go the length of shrinking from severance of the tie even in the case of one who had forfeited all claims. The last clause is bracketed by W. H[27] as of doubtful genuineness. It states unqualifiedly that to marry a dismissed wife is adultery. Meyer thinks that the qualification “unjustly dismissed,” i.e., not for adultery, is understood. Weiss (Meyer) denies this.

[27] Westcott and Hort.

31. a writing of divorcement] See note on ch. Matthew 1:19. The greatest abuses had arisen in regard to divorce, which was permitted on very trivial grounds. One Rabbinical saying was “If any man hate his wife, let him put her away.” Copies of these bills of divorce are still preserved. The formula may be seen in Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. ad loc. The same facility of divorce prevails in Mohammedan countries.

Matthew 5:31. Ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ, whosoever shall put away) They held divorce to be an arbitrary matter.[211]—ἀποστάσιον, a divorce) i.e. a writing of divorcement. A metonymy which occurs in ch. Matthew 19:7, and is also employed by the LXX.

[211] δότω does not indicate a command but a permission. [He may give.] They seemed to think Moses had nothing in view save the observance of certain formalities.—Vers. Germ.

Verses 31, 32. - Divorce. Verse 31. - Here only. It hath been said (ἐῥῤέθη δέ). This is the only one of the six examples to which our Lord does not prefix "ye have heard," and inserts δέ. Hence Lightfoot ('Hor. Hebr.') writes, "This particle hath this emphasis in this place, that it whispers a silent objection, which is answered in the following verse," i.e. Christ had said even a sinful look is too much; the lawyers said, "But the Law allows divorce, and therefore a married man can after all obtain the woman he desires." But this is strained. The shorter expression is here sufficient, because of the close connexion of this subject with the preceding. Hence, Revised Version, better, it was said also. It is, by the by, curious that the translators of the Authorized Version should have altered the rendering of ἐῥῤέθη, which they had given rightly in vers. 21, 27, and should have preferred the perfect here and in vers 33, 38, 43. Whosoever shall put away, etc. The substance of Deuteronomy 24:1, but leaving out all mention of cause for such putting away. This may be perhaps because our Lord is going to refer to this immediately, or because, in fact, the giving "a writing of divorcement" was now considered as alone of importance. Let him give her; Hebrew, into her hand; i.e. into her own possession (cf. Isaiah 1:1; Jeremiah 3:8). A writing of divorcement. See the translation of such a get in Lightfoot ('Hor. Hebr.'). Matthew 5:31
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