Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and the Issue of Divorce -- By: J. Carl Laney

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 149:593 (Jan 1992)
Article: Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and the Issue of Divorce
Author: J. Carl Laney


Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and the Issue of Divorce

J. Carl Laney

Professor of Biblical Literature
Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, Oregon

Divorce and remarriage have become regarded by many evangelicals as viable solutions to intolerable marriages. Most of those who seek a biblical basis for this opinion interpret Deuteronomy 24:1–4 as providing grounds for divorce and the right of remarriage in cases of adultery or sexual sin.1 Is there adequate textual evidence for this interpretation? Did Moses affirm the right of divorce for sexual sin? Is the remarriage of a divorced person without moral consequence? What application may Christians make of the legal precepts found in Deuteronomy 24:1–4?

The Background and Context

Not long after the Fall, God’s standard of one man married to one woman was violated (Gen 2:24; 4:19). By the time of Moses, divorce had become a custom even among Israelites (Deut 24:1–4). And so the issue was addressed by Moses. The importance of this Deuteronomy passage in Jewish thinking is seen in the fact that it served as the background for the Pharisees’ comments on divorce when they questioned Jesus (Matt 19:1–12; Mark 10:1–10).

The Book of Deuteronomy gives a restatement of the Mosaic Covenant for the benefit of the second generation of Israelites in the wilderness. Deuteronomy 24:1–4 is part of a larger section that

expands and applies the basic stipulations of the covenant (5:6–21). As observed by Kaufman,2 the Decalogue seems to provide the basis for the instruction given in Deuteronomy 12–26. Kaufman suggests the following structure and arrangement:

Commandment

Deuteronomy

Description

1-2

12:1–31

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