Nazarene Space

Marriage, Divorce and YHWH
Do Matthew And Ben Sira Contradict?
By James Trimm

It has been alleged in the past that there is a contradiction between Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:3-9 which allows a man to divorce his wife only for the cause of “fornication”, and Ben Sira who advises his student to divorce the wife who “does not go as you direct” (Ben Sira 25:25-26).

But do these passages truly contradict one another? One basic rule of Hermeneutics (objective rules for understanding the Scriptures) is called Analogia Scriptura. This rule tells us that if we understand two passages in such a way that they contradict each other, then we are misunderstanding one or both of them. Similarly the Sixth Rule of Hillel tells us if two passages seem to conflict, one or more other passages can often resolve the conflict.

To begin with we must understand Yeshua’s teaching on divorce in Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:3-9 where Yeshua is commenting on Deut. 24:1. The Torah passage in question is:

When a man takes a wife and marries her,
and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes
because he has found some unclean matter in her,
and he writes her a bill of divorcement,
puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,...
(Dt. 24:1)

Here Yeshua presents a Yalemmedenu Homiletic Midrash on Gen. 2:24 &
Deut. 24:1. The keywords for the midrash are: "man"; "put away" and
"wife." The Midrash takes the following format:

Question/dialog:

19:3 And the P'rushim approached him, and tempted him,
saying, "Is it right for a man to put away his wife for every cause?"

Initial passages:

19:4 And he answered and said to them:
"Have you not read that he who made man the beginning,
'made them male and female' (Gen. 1:27)

19:5 And said,
'Wherefore shall a man shall leave his father
and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one
flesh' (Gen. 2:24)

Exposition:

19:6 And now then, they are no more two but one flesh
only. What therefore Elohim has joined together
man cannot separate."


Further question/second text:

19:7 But they said,
"And why then did Moshe then command
to give a bill of divorcement, and to put her away
if she was not pleasing in his sight?" (Deut. 24:1, 3)

Exposition:

19:8 And he answered them and said,
"Because Moshe on account of the hardness of your hearts,
allowed you to put away your wives,
but from the beginning it was not so.

19:9 And I tell you,
every man that has put away, or shall put away his wife,
except it be for fornication, and takes another,
commits adultery. And whoever takes the divorced also
commits adultery.

Yeshua's midrash is very relevant to first century Jewish halachic
debate on this issue. Yeshua's use of Gen. 1:27 to prove his halachic
position is paralleled in the Dead Sea Scrolls:

...they are caught in two traps:
fornication, by taking two wives in their lifetimes
although the principle of creation is:
"male and female He created them."
(Damascus Document Col. 4 line 20 - Col. 5 line 1)

except for the cause of fornication – This halacha of Yeshua is given
four times in Scripture (Mt. 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mk. 10:2-9 & Lk. 16:18)
but only in Matthew is this "escape clause" included giving men the
right to divorce their wives in a case of the charge of davar z'not
essentially "a word of fornication".

Again, the Torah passage in question is:

When a man takes a wife and marries her,
and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes
because he has found
some unclean matter (ervat davar) in her,
and he writes her a bill of divorcement,
puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,...
(Dt. 24:1)

In the first century a major debate was ongoing as to the meaning of
the words for "unclean matter" (davar ervat) in this text. (The Hebrew
word davar can mean "word" or idiomatically "matter". The debate is
recorded in the Mishna as follows:

The House of Shamai say,
"A man should divorce his wife only because
he has found grounds for it
in unchastity (davar ervah)
, since it is said,
"Because he has found in her
an unclean matter (ervat davar) in anything (Dt. 24:1)"
And the House of Hillel say,
"Even if she spoiled his dish, since it is said,
"Because he has found in her
an unclean matter in anything (Dt. 24:1)"
Rabbi Akiba says,
"Even if he found someone else prettier than she,
since it is said,
"And it shall be if she find no favor in his eyes (Dt. 24:1)"
(m.Gittin 9:10)

The controversy surrounded the ambiguity of the phrase "matter of
uncleanness." This phrase in Hebrew can be taken literally, or can be
taken as an idiomatic expression for fornication. Yeshua interprets
davar ervat (to mean davar z'not which the Peshitta (both in Matt.
5:31-32 and in Mt. 19:9) literally translates but which the Old Syriac
paraphrases in Mat. 5:31-32 with "it is said against her `adultery'"
and in Mt. 19:9 "a word of adultery".

In the Scriptures YHWH/Messiah is represented as a bridegroom with Israel being His bride (Hosea 2:16; Is. 62:5; 66:5-13; Mk. 2:19; Jn. 3:29; Rev. 18:23; 21:9; Song of Songs). This relationship serves as a model for our own marriages:

Wives be subject to your husbands as to our Adon,
Because the husband is the head of the wife,
Even as the Messiah is head of the Assembly; and he is the life-giver of the body.
But even as the Assembly is subject to the Messiah,
So also wives [should be subject] to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, as also the Messiah loved his Assembly,
And delivered his nefesh for its sake,…
(Eph. 5:22-33 see also 1Cor. 11:3).

After the time of Solomon the Kingdom of Israel split into two kingdoms known as the two Houses of Israel. The Southern Kingdom became known as the Kingdom of Judah. The Northern Kingdom became known as the Kingdom of Israel. This Northern Kingdom was also often called "Ephraim" after its most prominent tribe. 2Kings 17 tells us of how the Assyrian king Sargon II took the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom captive in 723 BCE and resettled them so that "none was left except the tribe of Judah" (17:18). These came to be known as "the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel". They were divorced by YHWH (Jer. 3:8 )

Northern Kingdom rebelled against the rightful king, High Priest and Temple. They established their own non-Davidic King, their own High Priest and their own Temple at a new location in the Northern Kingdom. They were unwilling to submit to YHWH’s headship and go as YHWH directed. They, in effect, started their own new religion.

In Jeremiah Chapter 3 the two houses of Israel are discussed. Notice that Israel and Judah are allegorical sisters in this prophecy (Jer. 3:6-7) In Jer. 3:8 YHWH says:

And I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Yisra'el
had committed adultery,
I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce;
yet her treacherous sister Yehudah did not fear,
but went and committed whoring too.
(Jer. 3:8 - The Scriptures Version)

However YHWH did not divorce Judah as well, as that would have left no remnant. Instead the Prophet Hosea compares the two Houses of Israel this way:

"Ephrayim has surrounded Me with lying,
and the house of Yisra'el with deceit.
But Yehudah is still wandering with El,
and is true to the Set-apart One."
(Hosea 11:12 - The Scriptures Version)

YHWH gave the House of Israel a certificate of divorce and sent her away in keeping with Deut. 24:1. The House of Israel had refused to acknowledge his headship and refused to go as YHWH directed.

Now the Hebrew word translated “fornication” in Matt. 5:31-32; 19:3-9 is Z’NOT. This word does not only refer to “fornication”. The Hebrew word z'not can refer to sexual immorality, usually by a woman, but it can have other meanings as well. This word
can refer to one who is an idolater (Lev. 17:7; 20:5-6; Deut. 31:16) or to one that goes astray from YHWH (Ps. 73:27). In fact this word can be translated “going astray”:

For, behold, they that go far from You shall perish;
You do destroy all them THAT GO ASTRAY from you.
(Ps. 73:27)

Husbands hold the same kind of headship over their wives that Messiah holds over the Assembly:

Wives be subject to your husbands as to our Adon,
Because the husband is the head of the wife,
Even as the Messiah is head of the Assembly; and he is the life-giver of the body.
But even as the Assembly is subject to the Messiah,
So also wives [should be subject] to their husbands in everything.
(Eph. 5:22-27 see also Gen. 3:16; Eph. 5:22-27; 1Cor. 11:3; 14:34-35; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:2-5; 1Kefa 3:1-7).

(This authority must never be abused, as the husband is likewise commanded to love the wife, honor her, and treat her as a delicate vessel (Eph. 3:22-31; 1Kefa 3:1-7)).

Just as the House of Israel was guilty of Z’NOT because they had refused to recognize His headship, had gone astray and would not go as He directed, the wife who refuses to acknowledge her husband’s headship “goes astray” (Z’NOT) and does not go as he directs. Thus Ben Sira advises his students:

Allow no outlet to water,
and no boldness of speech in an evil wife.
If she does not go as you direct,
separate yourself from her.
(Ben Sira 25:25-26)

And this in no way contradicts Yeshua’s statement:

…every man that has put away, or shall put away his wife,
except it be for fornication, and takes another,
commits adultery.
(Mat. 19:19 see also 5:31-32)

Views: 34

Replies to This Discussion

James..I have this uncanny ability to remember things but not be able to remember where I read them. Do you recall a treatise on Jewish divorce at the time of Christ, where the priests were putting away one wife, marrying another just prior to the Sabbath, then divorcing that new one and remarrying the old one the day after? If so, this further puts the rebuke to the Pharisees in a new light...sort of like not going beyond a stone's throw, but having a pocket full of rocks. This is not exactly a well known treatise, for it blows holes in some of the modern hobbyhorses. Along that line, have you considered the verses of "dealing unseemly with ones virgin?" The ancients had kinks they could teach modernists on!

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