Moses and Divorce

Question

In Mark 10:4, why did Moses allow for people to get divorced?

Answer

Moses permitted divorce because of the men's hardness of heart (Deut. 24:1-4; Mark 10:5), though the ideal had always been for one man and one woman to live in loving, forgiving monogamy. Sometimes there are legitimate grounds for divorce, such as sexual infidelity -- Matthew noted Joseph's righteousness in choosing to divorce his pregnant wife Mary (Matt. 1:19). In Matthew 19:9, Matthew records that Jesus' own teaching on this subject made this exception explicit. But it would seem that in Moses' day, some divorces were born of hard hearts, and were not based on sexual infidelity. The regulations Moses imposed did not specifically permit divorce, but assumed it. The regulations were that a certificate be given, and that remarriage not occur if there were an intervening marriage to another man.

In Moses' day, the people knew God's ideal because it had been modeled for them in Eden (Gen. 1:27; 2:18,24; Matt.19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9). The ancient Jews understood creation ordinances to have been established by God's creative acts, so that the way God had established creation became a normative model for life (compare the Sabbath commandment in Exod. 20:11; 31:17). Thus, Moses permission of divorce was not intended to condone the practice. Rather, it was part of God's accommodation to his sinful people. The permission did not imply divine approval, but divine forbearance.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.