The Bible Doctrine Of Divorce -- By: Joseph Tracy

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 023:91 (Jul 1866)
Article: The Bible Doctrine Of Divorce
Author: Joseph Tracy


The Bible Doctrine Of Divorce

Rev. Joseph Tracy

As preliminary to any investigation of this subject, it is necessary to remark that divorce, or “putting away,” mentioned anywhere in the Bible, was not a judicial act performed by a court. The husband desiring divorce from his wife did not bring her into court, and charge her with some offence for which she ought to be divorced. No court inquired whether she had committed any offence, or if so, whether her offence was such as to justify a divorce. No court ever heard and recorded the husband’s decision to divorce his wife. There was no statute authorizing any such proceedings. The husband himself, at his own discretion, or indiscretion, acted as complainant, witness, judge, jury, and clerk of the court. He made out the writing of divorcement, gave it to her in her hand, and sent her away, and that was all. From this she had no appeal, except to the day of judgment. It might be a very wicked proceeding on his part, but it was legally valid. It released her from the bonds of marriage, so that she might lawfully “go and be another man’s wife” (Deut. 24:1-2. This implies that another man might lawfully take her to be his wife.

This law of Moses has the appearance of a restraint upon previous usage. There is no earlier statute on the subject on record; but, apparently, it was the usage for a man to “put away “his wife at his own pleasure, and without ceremony, if he durst risk a quarrel with her relatives. This law compelled him to wait till he could write a bill of divorcement, or rather, in most cases, as few could write, till he could get some learned man to write one for him. This gave time for consideration, and gave the writer an opportunity to interpose his good offices for the reconciliation of the parties. It also made the fact of divorce a matter of record, and placed the record in the hand of the person most interested in its preservation.

Still, under this law, with all its restrictive force, the husband had it in his power to do much that was wrong, and to do it without redress. But, considering the hardness of Hebrew hearts, it was deemed best to leave him in possession of that power, responsible only to God for his use of it. Probably, among such a people, a more stringent law would not have been so well enforced, and would have been less effective in restraining the evil, or perhaps would have led to other and greater evils.

With us divorce, in this sense of the word, is impossible. The husband cannot dissolve the bond of marriage by his own act. It can be dissolved only by a decree of a court of competent jurisdiction, for facts specified by statute, and after proof o...

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