Did Moses Permit Divorce? Modal Wĕqātạl As Key To New Testament Readings Of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 -- By: Andrew Warren

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 49:1 (NA 1998)
Article: Did Moses Permit Divorce? Modal Wĕqātạl As Key To New Testament Readings Of Deuteronomy 24:1-4
Author: Andrew Warren


Did Moses Permit Divorce?
Modal Wĕqātạl As Key To New Testament
Readings Of Deuteronomy 24:1-41

Andrew Warren

Summary

The New Testament discussions of divorce, both in Matthew 19 and elsewhere, are dominated by a distinction between Permission and Obligation. It is generally assumed that the debate arises from a ‘presupposition’ of divorce in Deuteronomy 24. An improved syntactic analysis of the Old Testament text shows Moses to have in fact issued a specific directive on divorce, but in such a way that it was open to the kind of misunderstanding that we see corrected by Jesus. This analysis is supported by all the New Testament texts. By applying the categories of linguistic modality to main-clause verbs, verbs of reporting, verbs of divorcing and conditional clauses, it is possible to shed more light on how Jesus and the Pharisees dealt with the Old Testament text, and to show just what was wrong with the Pharisees’ understanding of Hebrew grammar.

I. Modal Force: Permissive And Obligative

The study of modality conventionally2 distinguishes between the Epistemic (modality of knowledge, e.g. subjunctive) and the Deontic (modality of volition, e.g. imperative). Each of these systems includes weak (‘may’) and strong (‘must’) modal force. In Epistemic terms, these represent respectively Possibility and Necessity; in Deontic terms, Permission and Obligation.3 Hence the following schema:

 

EPISTEMIC
‘It is so’

DEONTIC
‘So be it!’

WEAK
‘I don’t know’

Possibility
‘It may be raining.’

Permission
‘You may come in.’

STRONG
‘I say so’

Necessity
‘It must be raining.’

Obligation
‘You must come in.’

The Deontic morphological m...

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