Criswell Theological Review 2.1 (1987) 73-84

[Copyright © 1987 by Criswell College, cited with permission;

digitally prepared for use at Gordon and Criswell Colleges and elsewhere]






Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL 60015


Mal 2:10-16 is at once one of the most important and one of the

most difficult pericopes in the book of Malachi. It is also one of the

most succinct statements we have on our Lord's attitude toward



            I. Mal 2:10-16: Its Importance and Difficulty


            The importance of this pericope may be seen in the fact that it

treats the topic of individual family life from the perspective of its

ties with the life of the nation, the realm of spiritual development,

and also as a covenant made in the presence of God. The outbreak of

ethical problems that this passage attempts to rebuke are: disloyalty

to the spiritual unity of the national family (2:10), disloyalty to the

family of faith (2:11-12), and disloyalty to the marriage partner to

whom one pledges covenantal loyalty before God (2:13-16). The

evidences of these disloyalties can be seen in spiritual harlotry, mixed

marriages with unbelieving partners, adultery, and finally divorce!

Part of the difficulty of this text is the state of the MT. Almost

every commentator has taken his/her turn bemoaning the difficulties

found in Mal 2:10-16. This is especially true of v 15 where J. G.

Baldwin complains:


            Here the text becomes difficult, having suffered perhaps at the hand of

            scribes who took exception to its teaching. . . . It is impossible to make

            sense of the Hebrew as it stands and therefore each translation, including

            the early versions, contains an element of interpretation.1


            1 J. G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity,

1972) 240.




Likewise A. C. Welch said, "The text is so corrupt and the sense so

uncertain that the verses cannot form the basis of any sure con-

clusion."2 And in utter frustration, R. C. Dentan wrote, "In Hebrew

this is one of the most obscure verses [v 15] in the entire Old Tes-

tament. Almost every word raises a question."3

            The other part of the difficulty is in knowing what position the

OT has previously taken on the issue of marriage and divorce. Many

have assumed, as Baldwin did in the citation already quoted from

her, that Malachi advocated a new or different opinion on marriage

and divorce from that which had already been espoused by earlier

OT texts. Such an assumption, however, remains just that--an assump-

tion which must be demonstrated by the actual texts themselves.


                        II. Mal 2:10-16: Its Structure and Argument


            The literary form continues the prophetic dispute4 which the

prophet Malachi has been using thus far in this book. Up to this point

the disputants have been the priests and God. Now, however, the

scope is enlarged to embrace all the people. Since the spiritual level

of the leadership was low, it could not be expected that the spiritual

attainment of the people would be any higher.

            The pericope opens with a double question which amounts to a

double premise (much as the proverbial nature of the two-fold asser-

tion in 1:6 functions):  1) all Israel has one Father (God);  2) God

created that nation; therefore, they should be one happy family.

However, the sad truth was that they were dealing treacherously with

each other by profaning the covenant that God had made with the

fathers (v 10).

            Before the people could dispute this charge, another was leveled

in vv 11-12. Israel was openly indulging in marrying women who

worshiped pagan gods. This action flew right in the face of warnings

against religiously mixed marriages, such as Exod 34:12-16, Num

25:1-3, Deut 7:3-4, and 1 Kgs 11:1-13.

            And the accusations continue: "And this again you do" (v 13).

You cause the Lord's altar to be flooded with tears and mourning


            2 A. C. Welch, Post-Exilic Judaism (London: Blackwood, 1935) 120.

            3 R. C. Dentan, "Malachi," IB 6.1136, as quoted by R. L. Smith, Micah-Malachi

(Waco: Word, 1984) 321.

            4 See E. Pfeiffer, "Die disputationsworte im Buche Maleachi," EVT 19 (1959)

546-58; J. A. Fisher, "Notes on the Literary Form and Message of Malachi," CBQ 34

(1972) 315-20; G. Wallis, "Wesen und Struktar der Botschaft Maleachis," Dax Ferne

und nahe Wort: Festschrift Leonard Tost (ed. F. Maass; Berlin: A. Topelmann, 1967)

229-37; and W. C. Kaiser, Jr., Malachi: God's Unchanging Love (Grand Rapids: Baker,

1984) 17-19.

                        Kaiser: DIVORCE IN MALACHI 2:10-16                         75


because the Lord refuses to accept your sacrifices (v 13). And if you

ask "why?" Why does God not pay attention to our offerings any

longer? The answer is, because of the broken marriage vows to

which God was a party since marriage is a covenant to which He is a

witness. Plainly stated, the result is this: "I hate divorce, says the

Lord" (v 16).

            Two key words dominate this pericope: The word "one" (dHx)

which occurs four times (2:10, 10, 15, 15), and the word "to be

faithless," "deceitful" or “treacherous" (dgb), which appears five times

in this brief passage (2:10, 11, 14, 15, 16).

            The identity of the "One" in v 10 is not "Abraham your father"

(Isa 51:2) as Jerome and Calvin thought or Malachi's frequently

mentioned patriarch Jacob (Mal 1:2; 2:12; 3:6) from whom the twelve-

tribe nation descended. Instead, as in Mal 1:6 where this long indict-

ment began, God is the "One" who "created" Israel (cf. Isa 43:1,

"Thus says the Lord, that created you, O Jacob"). The implication is

that people who have the same creator should be one family. But no,

they were dealing treacherously with each other.

            Just as pivotal is the decision on the identity of the "one" in v 15.

Once again it is incorrect to refer the "one" to Abraham5 and make it

the subject of this sentence in this manner: "Did not one [viz.,

Abraham] do so?" [i.e., take a pagan Egyptian named Hagar to

wife?]. In this case, the prophet would be viewed as conceding the

point and replying, "Yes, he did."

            But Abraham is never called "the one" nor could his conduct in

"putting away" Hagar be considered to be the issue here in Malachi

since the wives in the Malachi text who were divorced were covenant

wives and not pagan wives. Indeed, Hagar had been brought into the

picture in Genesis because of Sarah's wishes, not in disregard for the

wishes of the wife of his youth as here in Malachi.

            The subject of v 15, then, must be God and "the one" would be

the object of the sentence, not its subject. As such, "the one" would

parallel the "one flesh" of Gen 2:24, for what could be more natural in

a disputation on covenant-breaking divorces than for the prophet to

return to the originating passage where the biblical norm for marriage

had been set forth? It would be as conclusive an argument as our

Lord would later make when confronted by the same topic of divorce,

"Have you not read, that he who made them from the beginning

made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall


            5 C. F. Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets (2 vols.; reprinted, Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1949) 2.453. See also S. R. Driver, The Minor Prophets (New York: Oxford

University Press, American Branch, Henry Frowde, 1906) 316.




leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two

shall become one flesh?' So they are no longer two but one flesh"

(Matt 19:4-6; cf. Mark 10:7-8).

            Even though there is no explicit indication in the first clause of

v 15 that it is an interrogative or that by "he," the prophet means

God, both possibilities are accepted here as being consistent with the

context and Hebrew grammar and syntax. The resulting thought

would be this: why did God make Adam and Eve only one [flesh]

when he might have given Adam many wives, for God certainly had

more than enough residue of the Spirit in his creative power to

furnish multiple partners? So why only one? Because! God was seek-

ing a godly offspring, but multiple partners would not have been

conducive to this result.6

The other key word is dgaBA, "to act treacherously, to be faithless,

deceitful." This verb possibly is derived from the noun db,B,, "garment."

C. Isbell says this:


As a verb, it originally meant the taking of a beged, "garment," but it

soon came to describe other acts that were improper within the setting

of a community composed of equal partners in covenant with God.

Cheating, swindling the gullible, defrauding poor or helpless members

of society, etc.--all were called begeding or "garmenting."7


Perhaps an even more contemporary expression for "dealing

treacherously" would be tantamount to being involved in a "cover-

up" job: a masking of the covenant that God had made with his


The two examples of faithlessness in this passage are: 1) "marry-

ing the daughter of a foreign god" (v 11) and 2) "breaking faith

with. . . your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant" (v 14).

Both were violations of God's holy law and therefore both acts

profaned the holiness of God and reduced the holy people to a

common and profane level.

Just as those who acknowledge and serve the living God are

called his "sons and daughters" (Deut 32:19), so those who worshiped

and served false gods were, on the same grounds, daughters of that

god.9 It is doubtful that the phrase "marrying the daughter of a

foreign god" merely meant worshiping an idol, indeed a female idol


6 For further discussion on this analysis of the text, see Kaiser, Malachi, 69-74.

7 C. Isbell, Malachi (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980) 50.

8 Kaiser, Malachi, 67.

9 T. T. Perowne, Malachi (Cambridge: University Press, 1890) 25, citing Pocock.

Kaiser: DIVORCE IN MALACHI 2:10-16                         77

such as the goddess Asherah. C. C. Torrey,10 while having acknowl-

edged that all interpreters from Jerome to the present have seen two

evils rebuked in these verses: 1) marrying heathen women and 2)

divorce, nevertheless, argued that the passage rebuked Israelites for

being wedded to a strange cult. Such a "marrying" was an encroach-

ment on their covenantal position before God. But such a view

presses the figurative meaning of the text without any textual warrants.

Another more recent reaction to the traditional or literal view

that this passage refers to mixed marriages and divorce is the cul-

tic interpretation exemplified in A. Isaaksson.11 Isaaksson lists five


1. The meaning of Hlw xnW is unclear because no subject is given

                 for xnW and no object is mentioned for Hlw.

2. The OT concept of tyrb "covenant" is incompatible with the

     idea of marriage in the OT.

3. "Covered the altar of Yahweh with tears" must allude to ritual


4. Neither the LXX nor the Tg take v 16 as a prohibition against

    divorce; instead, they grant permission to divorce one's wife

    in this passage.

5. The interpretation which views this portion as an attack on

    apostasy to an alien cult fully agrees with the rest of the book

    of Malachi.

Each of these five arguments has been successfully refuted.12

1. The speaker of the words hlw xnW clearly is Yahweh--rmx

hvhy. xnW is to be regarded as a participle,13 the pronominal subject

being omitted, as often happens in Hebrew.14 The reading "I hate

divorce" is to be preferred even though the Hebrew words have an

element of uncertainty about them. As L. Kruse-Blinkenberg affirmed,

"In my opinion, the meaning of ii. 16 is that Yahweh hates divorce."15


10 C. C. Torrey, "The Prophecy of Malachi," JBL 17 (1898) 4-5, and Welch, Post-

Exilic Judaism, 120 also supported the figurative meaning.

11 A. Isaaksson, Marriage and Ministry in the New Temple (Lund: 1965) 31-32, as

cited in Smith, Micah-Malachi, 323. See also G. W. Ahlstrom, Joel and the Temple Cult

of Jerusalem (Leiden: Brill, 1971) 49-50 for a similar view.

12 I am indebted to Smith, Micah-Malachi, 323 for his fine discussion of these


13 J. M. P. Smith, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of

Malachi (ICC; Edinburgh: T & Clark, 1912) 60 disagrees: "It seems better to follow

Du. Pro [Duhm, Die zwolf Propheten (1910)] in keeping xneWA as a pf. and reading Hl.awa

in asyndetic construction with it."

14 GKC §1165, adds, however, "But these passages are all more or less doubtful."

15 L. Kruse- Blinkenberg, "The Book of Malachi according to Codex Syro-

Hexaplaris Ambrosianus," ST 20 (1966) 103-4.



2. The concept of "covenant," tyrb, is used in the OT for mar-

riage as witnessed by Gen 31:50, Prov 2:17, Ezek 16:8,16 and Hosea


3. The only positive reference to cultic tears in the OT is found

in Ezek 8:14 where women are weeping for the goddess Tammaz.

The tears of Mal 2:13 are the tears of the divorced wives which

poured forth as a mist that figuratively clouded the altar from the

view of God as the Tg and Jerome infer or (more preferably) the

tears of guilty worshipers whose offerings God no longer paid atten-

tion to or accepted.

4. The Tg, LXX, Vg, Luther's translation and the Peshitta of 2:16

have all been corrected from the MT to bring it into line with what

these translators believed Deuteronomy was saying.17 These translators

avoid the ordinary sense of  yk, "for, because," and instead translate it

"if": "if he hate her, let him put her away." This translation also

rejects the Piel infinitive construct, as we find it in the MT, and

substitutes a Qal perfect verb which also has no pronominal suffixes

with it.

5. It is true that much of the book of Malachi attacks the pagan

cult, but not everything in the book need be interpreted from this

single point of view. The literal view of marriage is the one found

most frequently in the commentaries and articles on this passage.18

We conclude that Mal 2:10-16 does deal with the two issues of

marrying heathen women and divorce.


III. Mal 2:10-16: Its Theology of Marriage and Divorce


How, then, may we apply the teaching of this pericope to the

Church's current dilemmas concerning the topics of marriage and

divorce? In fact, these two topics must always come as a unit. As

J. R. W. Stott affirmed, "The biblical teaching on divorce must never

be studied in isolation, but always against the background of the

biblical understanding of marriage."19

The biblical teaching on marriage is given its earliest OT defini-

tion in Gen 2:24. It consists of a "leaving" one's parents and a

"cleaving" to one's partner of the opposite sex. The "leaving" and the

"cleaving" go together in that order. Therefore, marriage is an act,


16 Cf. M. Woudstra, "The Everlasting Covenant in Ezekiel 16:59-63," Calvin

Theological Joumal 6 (1971) 25.

17 Kruse-Blinkenberg, "Malachi," 103-4.

18 Isaaksson, Marriage and Ministry, 30.

19 J. R. W. Stott, "The Biblical Teaching on Divorce," Churchman 85 (1971) 165.

Kaiser: DIVORCE IN MALACHI 2:10-16                         79


which is publicly recognized ("leaving"), to establish a permanent

relationship ("cleaving") and is sexually consummated ("becoming

one flesh").20 Marriage is in principle such a lifelong union that any

breach of the marriage covenant may be labeled an act of "treachery"

which God hates (Mal 2:13-26).

Scripture clearly regards marriage as a "covenant of God" (Prov

2:17), instituted as well as witnessed by him. The covenant relationship

established in marriage is far more enduring than those found in

friendship pacts (e.g., between Jonathan and David), suzerainty

treaties (e.g., between the great king of the Hittites and their vassal

kings), or even business compacts. The result of the marriage treaty is

"one flesh." In the words of G. Wenham,

With our understanding of biology we can readily see that our children

are an extension of ourselves; they are in a vertical blood relationship

with us. But foreign to our way of thinking is the idea that a wife's

nakedness is her husband's nakedness and vice versa. In other words,

marriage, or more precisely sexual intercourse, makes the man and wife

as closely related as parents and children. In the words of Genesis 2:24,

"they become one flesh."21

So fundamental and inviolable is the union created by this mar-

riage covenant that nothing less than a rupture in sexual fidelity can

begin to affect its durability. Only the distortion of that which origi-

nally made them "one flesh" can serve as possible grounds for dis-

solution of that abiding covenant. Not only is this apparent from the

"one flesh" argument, but our Lord will make this single offense the

sole exception which might permit a divorce (Matt 5:31-32; 19:3-12).

But already in the OT there are additional hints that such an

exception exists. For example, in Ezekiel 16 God's marriage covenant

with Jerusalem is described in detail. "I gave you my solemn oath

[KJV "I plighted my troth, to you"] and entered into a covenant with

you" (v 8). Sadly, Jerusalem "used [her] fame to become a prostitute"

(v 15) "with. . . increasing promiscuity" (v 26) and became an "adul-

terous wife" (v 32). Therefore, "I will judge you as women who

break wedlock. . . are judged. . ." (v 38, New KJV). Nevertheless,

even though Jerusalem has "despised my oath by breaking the cov-

enant" (v 59), "yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in


20 Note Paul's quotation of Gen 2:24 in I Cor 6:15-17 concerning the case of a

Christian becoming sexually involved with a prostitute.

21 G. Wenham, "The Biblical View of Marriage and Divorce: 2--Old Testament

Teaching," Third Way (Nov. 3, 1977) 8; also see R. C. Campbell, "Teachings of the

Old Testament Concerning Divorce," Foundations 6 (1963) 174-78; also G. Wenham,

"The Restoration of Marriage Reconsidered," JJS 30 (1979) 36-40.



the days of your youth" (v 60). Divorce is not always the necessary

and only outcome of even this, the sole reason why any marriage

covenant could be broken,

But the result was not always as bright as it was in this text. In Jer

3:8 God warns "I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce

(hyttyrk rps) and sent her away because of all her adulteries."22 In

effect, God divorced Israel! And his grounds were the same as those

found in the NT "exception clauses" of Matt 5:31-32 and 19:3-12.

Accordingly, we must acknowledge the fact that the Bible is

silent neither on the subject of divorce nor the circumstances under

which it may be granted. Yet when God emphatically states, "I hate

divorce" (Mal 2:16), we may also gather how passionately strong is

his deep desire to see that marriage covenants succeed. Everything

that frustrates that goal is the object of his holy hatred--no more and

no less.

This statement of Mal 2:16, however, must not be taken to mean

that there is nothing that could provide grounds for any divorce. "If

God Himself became involved in divorce proceedings with Israel [Jer

3:8], it is surely wrong to condemn any and all divorce out of

hand."23 J. Adams continues:


It is altogether true that God hates divorce. But He neither hates all

divorces in the same way nor hates every aspect of divorce. He hates

what occasions every divorce--even the one that He gave to sinful

Israel. He hates the results that often flow to children and to injured

parties of a divorce (yet even that did not stop Him from willing

divorce in Ezra 10:44, 11). And He hates divorces wrongly obtained on

grounds that He has not sanctioned.24


The OT word for divorce occurs in the phrase, certificate of

"divorce" (ttyrk); literally, it reads "certificate" or "bill of cutting

off."25 Thus the other party was "cut off" by the one divorcing

him/her. However, even though the vocabulary for "divorce" is in


22 It is worth noting that the LXX uses the same word that figures in the "except"

clauses in Matthew, viz. pornei<a, Jer 3:9. This word is used interchangeably with

moixei<a, "adultery" in this passage, thereby underscoring the marital context of the act

of immorality.

23 J. Adams, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in The Bible (Grand Rapids:

Zondervan, 1980) 23.

24 Ibid., 23-24.

25 The phrase occurs in Deut 24:3; Isa 50:1; Jer 3:8. The other Hebrew words are

wrg, "to expel, put away"; Lev 21:7, 14; 22:13; Num 30:10; Ezek 44:22; Hlw, "to dismiss,

send away, let go"; Deut 21:14; 22:19, 29; 24:1, 3, 4; Isa 50:1; Jer 3:1, 8. The NT

"certificate of divorce" is bibli<ou a]postasi<ou; Matt 5:31; 19:7; Mark 10:4. There is also

xwri<zw "separate [by divorce]"; Matt 19:6; Mark 10:9; I Cor 7:10, 11, 15; and a]fi<hmi,

"to leave, divorce, send away"; I Cor 7:10-11.

Kaiser: DIVORCE IN MALACHI 2:10-16                         81


place in both testaments, one must not automatically infer that there

were two opposing views to the permanence of marriage in the OT,

as some have held--especially in those popular or scholarly treatments

which falsely pit the strong disdain for divorce found in Mal 2:13-16

against an imagined approval of divorce in the Mosaic legislation of

Deut 24:1-4.

In fact, the purpose of the Mosaic regulation was neither to

encourage divorce, enjoin it, nor to approve it; instead, it was given to

prescribe certain procedures if and when it tragically took place.

What it did do was to force the one divorcing his spouse to give his

former wife the protection of a "certificate of divorce" lest the one

divorcing her engage in a type of polygamy--now claiming he was

divorced, later claiming he was still married to her when he wanted

to indulge his passions with his former "wife."

But the main teaching of Deut 24:1-4 specially forbids a man to

remarry his first wife after he had divorced her and she had

remarried--even if her second husband had subsequently died or

also divorced her.

It is unfortunate that the KJV, the English RV, and the ASV

adopted a translation of Deut 24:1-4 which added to the confusion

and misunderstanding of this key Mosaic passage. On their rendering,

divorce is not just tolerated or permitted; it is commanded when the

"uncleanness" described in the protasis of these verses occurs.

However, instead of demanding "then he shall write a certificate

of divorcement" in 24:1 and beginning the apodosis in v 1, most

commentators agree that vv 1-3 form the protasis with the apodosis

coming only in v 4 ("then her first husband. . . is not allowed to

marry her again").26 The conditional "If" which begins v 1 continues

through v 3 (not the jussive force of the AV, RV, and ASV). Thus we

conclude with R. Campbell, "If Deut 24:1-4 is properly rendered, it

cannot be understood as initiating the practice of divorce. No Old

Testament oracle or law institutes divorce; Hebrew law simply toler-

ated the practice."27 The practice of divorce appears fairly frequently

in the OT (Lev 21:7, 14; 22:13; Num 30:9; Deut 22:19, 29; Isa 50:1; Jer

3:1, 8; Ezek 44:22), but this is totally different than establishing it as a

right or as divinely approved. Permission and toleration may exist for

something that is basically evil and wrong. Thus divorce is nowhere

commanded or even encouraged in either testament. It is only per-

missible, and even that on a rather reluctant basis, where there is


26 W. C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward Old Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,

1983) 200-204. See the commentaries and articles cited there.

27 Campbell, "Old Testament Concerning Divorce," 175.



irreconcilable immorality (a violation of the "one flesh" principle) or

where there is irremediable desertion (a violation of the "cleaving"

principle, 1 Cor 7:10-16).

Even after we are satisfied that there are two grounds for a

biblically permissible divorce and after every possible attempt for

effecting a reconciliation has failed, there still must be some public

expression of sorrow for the failure of what both had promised

before God was to be as enduring as life itself. This is necessary

" . . . simply because every divorce, even when biblically permissible,

is a declension from the divine ideal."28 Divorce must be recognized

as another evidence of the effects of sin and a direct violation of the

will of God.

It is just as easy to err by adding to scripture as it is to err by

subtracting from the divine word. Therefore, when it is taught, "we

must remove the option of divorce"29 and declare that divorce is

never permitted, period, we exceed the Bible's teaching. All attempts

to limit the "except for the cause of immorality" of Matt 5:32 and 19:9

to the unique betrothal custom among the Jewish people fail since

our Lord is not applying his rule to an unconsummated marriage, but

to the one who is divorcing his wife (Matt 19:3; cf. also vv 6, 8, 9).

Indeed, the text specifically says in Matthew "whoever divorces his

wife." The idea that the exception applies only to a betrothal situation

just will not work here.

Another objection to the position that there are two grounds for a

biblically permissible divorce is that the absolute statements of Scrip-

ture, such as "I hate divorce, says the Lord," do not admit any

exceptions in the same context where this teaching is set forth. If God

wanted to qualify his own case, goes this argument, he certainly

would have done so right alongside of his absolute statement! Why

would the exception clause only be included in the Gospel of Matthew

written to a Jewish audience?

But such a situation is not all that uncommon in the Bible or in

legal literature. As T. Crater points out:


Romans 13:1-7 and I Peter 2:13-17 give believers the general rule of

obeying governing authorities and mention no exception. Yet in Acts

5:29 Peter says, "we must obey God rather than men," justifying his

refusal to obey the order of the rulers to quit testifying of Christ. The

Bible records other instances (e.g., the three Hebrews and Nebuchad-

nezzar's order to worship the golden image, Daniel 3) where the saints


28 Stott, "Teaching on Divorce," 173.

29 B. Gothard, Supplementary Alumni Book, vol. 5, 1979, "Foreward," as cited in

T. Crater, "Bill Gothard's View of the Exception Clause," The Journal of Pastoral

Practice 4 (1980) 6.

Kaiser: DIVORCE IN MALACHI 2:10-16                         83


refused to obey the secular authority and were justified in doing so. The

fact is that, given the particular needs of his audience, Peter felt the

need only to cite the general rule and say nothing of exceptional circum-

stances. But this cannot be construed as negating the exception cited

elsewhere in Scripture. Similarly, the handling of the divorce issue in the

synoptic gospels, with Mark and Luke omitting the exception Matthew

cites, cannot be construed as negating the exception.30


The whole counsel of God must be consulted on any topic even

when we are tempted to make any single statement or context the

definitive teaching on that subject.

One more serious question has recently been raised by W. A.

Heth:31 There is no right to remarry implied in the act of biblically

permissible grounds for divorce. This argument takes a curious turn.

It argues that "one flesh" is not to be equated with any concepts of

sexual union, but instead it denotes kinship or blood relationship. If

this definition can be established biblically, then that "one flesh"

"cannot be obliterated by legal divorce or post-marital relations with

a third party."32 However, none of the texts that Heth cites prove that

"one flesh" is equivalent to blood relatives. The metaphor must not be

pressed beyond its own limits. Therefore, we affirm the solidarity that

exists between husband and wife without affirming that they have

become actual blood relatives.

A second line of argumentation in Heth's recent writings centers

on Lev 18:6-833 where he attempts to show that exposing nakedness

in a marriage relationship makes the husband and wife a brother and


But nothing in Leviticus 18 suggests such a "brother and sister

relationship" or that this context is dealing with divorce or the remar-

riage after death. For if it did, what would this suggest, we might also

ask, about levirate marriage which was approved in the OT (Deut

25:5-10; cf. Gen 38:8-10)?

Heth appeals for this third argument to Deut 24:1-4. Heth con-

jectures that the reason why a man is forbidden to remarry his former

wife who has been married to another man is that this would create

an incestuous relationship because she would be marrying back into


30 Crater, ibid., 9.

31 W. A. Heth, "The Meaning of Divorce in Matthew 19:3-9," Churchman 98

(1984) 136-52. Also see his International Council of Biblical Inerrancy paper at the

December 1986 Chicago Conference, "Divorce and Remarriage." Note also W. A.

Heth and C. Wenham, Jesus and Divorce (Hodder and Stoughton, 1987).

32 Heth, "The Meaning of Divorce," 147. Heth cites these proof texts: Gen 29:14;

Judg 9:1-2; 2 Sam 5:1; 19:12-13.

33 See our discussion on this whole text, especially the vexing text of Lev 18:18 in

Kaiser, Ethics, 93-94, 114-16, 185-86, 189.



the family. But the text does not give this explanation of incest; that is

Heth's construction which remains to be demonstrated.

Heth's argument that remarriage is never permitted by Christ in

Matt 19:3-9 fails for these reasons:


1. Jesus' use of a]polu<w in vv 8 and 9 has the same meaning as

    the Pharisee's usage rather than the two different meanings

    sought by Heth.34

2. Both Hillel and Shammai assumed the right of remarriage; this

    point Jesus did not contest.

3.  ]Aplu<w "has now turned up in the clear sense of 'divorce' in a

    Greek document of remarriage from Palestine."35

4. There is no passage where a]polu<w signifies a separation while

    prohibiting at the same time any remarriage.

5. The phrase mh e]pi< is best understood as modifying both

    phrases ("divorces. . . and marriages") in Matt 19:9. To say

    this phrase only modifies the one would leave the sentence

    without meaning and does not take into account the Greek

    syntax. Normally in Greek, the statement is first given in its

    entirety and then the exception is stated.


Therefore, we cannot adopt Heth's restrictions against any remar-

riage when a biblically permissible divorce takes place. Do any of

these three arguments, or any other Scriptures, demand that those

who divorce their spouses by biblically permitted reasons remain

unmarried? We have not found any such arguments in Scripture. In

fact, the NT specifically teaches that the man who does divorce his

wife by reason of adultery, does not himself commit adultery when

"he marries another [wife] ."

Nevertheless, God's ideal for the married couple remains at the

same high level originally announced in Gen 2:24. His utter disdain

and adamant rejection of divorce likewise remains as it is stated in

Mal 2:16--"I hate divorce."


34 Contrary to Heth, "The Meaning of Divorce," 140.

35 J. A. Fitzmyer, "The Matthean Divorce Texts and Some New Palestinian

Evidence," TS 37 (1976) 212. It is from Murraba'at Cave II of the Bar Kokebah era,

dated A.D. 124.


This material is cited with gracious permission from:

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            4010 Gaston Ave.

            Dallas, TX 75246

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