Wednesday, February 21, 2018

What I've Preached on Deuteronomy 24

Years ago I preached through the entire book of Deuteronomy, which included Deuteronomy 24 in its context.  I've come back in a few sermons on divorce and remarriage through the years to deal with it in depth.  I went back and looked at some notes of one sermon.  I noticed that I had used some of a blog post I had written on the subject over at Jackhammer back in the day.  I'm putting those notes into the paragraph form of a blog post, but with little editing. Here goes.

Jesus says, “Have ye not read…” in Matthew 19.  When He uses this phrase, He goes to the Scripture to debunk a wrong understanding of the Old Testament held by the religious leaders.  That's what is happening when Jesus uses that language.

In the first century A.D., the schools of Hillel and Shammai differed as to what, in view of Deuteronomy 24:1, constituted legitimate reasons for divorce.  Shammai thought that divorce could be granted only for marital unfaithfulness. Hillel, on the other hand, asserted that even such a minor irritation as scorching the food was adequate grounds of divorce.

In Gittin 10, which is from the Talmud, the Hillel view is based upon a loose interpretation of the phrase, some indecency (ervath dabar) in Deuteronomy 24:1, and R. Akiba even inferred from, if then she finds no favor in his eyes, that a man might even divorce his wife if he found a more attractive woman. Whatever one's understanding of Deuteronomy 24:1, it happened that Hillel's interpretation became the rabbinic norm.

The question, then, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" was actually a question as to whether Hillel's interpretation was correct. Obviously, if by eliciting from Jesus a statement as to which side he took in this rabbinic dispute over Deuteronomy 24:1 and the Pharisees could involve him in a controversy, they would be well on their way toward nullifying his influence on the multitudes.  In the end, like all other controversies, Jesus doesn't come down on the side of either Pharisaical interpretation, but on God's original intention.  What about Deuteronomy 24:1 though?

Deuteronomy 24:1–4 does not institute or allow for divorce with approval, but merely treats divorce as a practice already existing and known.

Grammatically the passage is an example of biblical case law in which certain conditions are stated for which a particular command applies.

The protasis in verses 1–3 specifies the conditions that must apply before the command in the apodosis in verse 4 is followed.  In other words 24:1–4 describes a simple “if…then” situation.

The legislation specified in 24:1–4 actually deals with a particular case of remarriage.  Grammatically the intent of this law is not to give legal sanction to divorce or to regulate the divorce procedure.  The intent of the passage is to prohibit the remarriage of a man to his divorced wife in cases of an intervening marriage by the wife.

The first three verses of Deuteronomy 24 describe the situation of a woman who is twice divorced by different men or once divorced and then widowed. Divorce is neither commanded nor commended. The circumstances leading to divorce are simply described as a part of the case under consideration. The verses do not indicate that divorce is necessarily sanctioned under such circumstances.

In the comment section of the recent post by Thomas Ross on Deuteronomy 24, for the first time I heard a view espoused, which said the exact opposite of the teaching of Deuteronomy 24.  Someone (Larry) brought up the valid point of Jesus speaking to the woman at the well in John 4, reminding her of her having had five husbands.  Each of them were still called a "husband," and this is helpful in debunking the position of those commenting.  I had never heard their position, so I had never thought about the particular point made about the woman's five husbands.  If we take Jesus at His Word, which we should, a second marriage is a marriage.  Even when we argue against those who believe in remarriage, it is called remarriage.

In this particular case the wife lost favor with her husband because of “some uncleanness in her” (literally, “nakedness of a thing” or “a naked matter”).  The precise meaning of the phrase is uncertain. Consequently it became the subject of heated rabbinic debates on divorce.  The Septuagint’s translation, (“some unbecoming thing”), is equally obscure. The phrase may refer to some physical deficiency—such as the inability to bear children.  The expression appears only once elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, where it serves as a euphemism for excrement (Deut 23:14). This suggests that the “uncleanness” in Deuteronomy 24:1 may refer to some shameful or repulsive act.  In the first century conservative Rabbi Shammai interpreted the phrase as referring to marital unchastity, while Rabbi Hillel interpreted it more broadly to refer to anything unpleasant.  Jesus, of course, was teaching a no divorce position, again going back to original intention, and the point of the Deuteronomy passage was not to teach divorce or remarriage, but to look at one particular case for case law.  It shouldn't be used to justify divorce or remarriage, even as Jesus taught.

Understanding case law and the case law format is important.  Deuteronomy 12–26 contains 31 examples of case law. In 19 of these examples the protasis contains a situation that is either immoral or has some negative connotation. The other 12 present situations that appear morally neutral.

Deuteronomy 25:11–12  is an example of case law in which the protasis contains a situation that is immoral or has negative connotations. A woman who seizes the genitals of a male opponent to help her husband in a struggle shall have her hand cut off. No one would dare suggest that the case being described is presented with approval. Many other similar examples could be cited.

The main point of this example of biblical case law in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 appears in the apodosis (the “then” clause) of v. 4 . Here it is clear that the law relates not to the matter of divorce as such, but to a particular case of remarriage. Moses declared that a man may not remarry his former wife if she has in the meantime been married to another man. Even though her second husband should divorce her or die, she must not return to her first husband. The prohibition is supported by an explanation, a reason, and a command.  In the Hebrew, verse 4 is the only regulative statement in this passage.

These verses should be read as one continuous sentence, of which the protasis is in vv. 1-3 and the apodosis in v. 4, like the following: "If a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she doth not find favour in his eyes, because of some uncleanness in her, and he hath written her a bill of divorcement, and given it in her hand, and sent her out of his house; and if she hath departed out of his house, and hath gone and become another man's; and if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house; or if the latter husband who took her to be his wife, die: her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife."  The actual ruling on the case is that "her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife."

While divorce is taken for granted in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, the woman who is divorced becomes "defiled" by her remarriage (v. 4), so it may well be that when the Pharisees asked Jesus if divorce was legitimate, He based his negative answer not only on God's intention expressed in Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, but also on the implication of Deuteronomy 24:4 that remarriage after divorce defiles a person.  There are sufficient clues in the Mosaic law that the divorce concession was on the basis of the hardness of man's heart and really did not make divorce and remarriage legitimate.  The prohibition of a wife returning to her first husband even after her second husband dies (because it is an abomination) says that no second marriage should be broken up in order to restore a first one.


James Bronsveld said...

I followed the original post and comment thread with a great deal of interest. I appreciated Bro. Ross's exegetical interaction with the Deuteronomy passage. That said, I was puzzled by the references to the "other position" as "extreme" and the continued implications that it is a novel and unheard of position. Having studied this issue on and off for a couple of years now and still having unanswered questions from both positions, I do want to interject, for the sake of historical accuracy, that assigning the label of "extreme", or implying novelty to the position that a marriage constituting adultery remains adultery (which is *not necessarily* the same thing as advocating a return to the first marriage) serves only to inflame the discussion and does not accurately represent the history of the doctrine.

Interestingly, this issue seems to have begun to agitate towards the end of the nineteenth century, resulting in the publication in 1866 of a small book called The Scriptural Law of Divorce, which took the position that the adultery resulting from the remarriage of a Scripturally unauthorized divorce remained ongoing for the duration of that 2nd covenant, or until the death of the first spouse. The book is not a lengthy read, but is thought-provoking, especially with the scattered comments it contains indicating the newness of the issue of remarriage in America at the time. I find theological writings at such cultural turning-points instructive because they often expose what later develops into settled interpretations of Scripture, coloured by the cultural context (think, women's roles in the church or gender-distinct clothing as other examples).

The book in question? It was authored in 1866 by an extremist (Sorry, Bro. Ross, I couldn't resist!) named Alvah Hovey, then a professor at Newton Theological Institution. He wrote the book on behalf of a council of Baptist churches which included George Barton Ide and several other pastors. His booklet is referenced favourably regarding this subject at least twice by John Broadus in his commentaries on Matthew and Mark.

In his commentary on the gospel of Mark, Broadus also references a work I only recently came across, titled Divorce and Divorce Legislation: Especially in the United States (1869, 1882). Although I have not read the entire work, Theodore Woolsey, the author, makes note of the fact that in Massachusetts, the law regarding divorce regarded any remarriage "void, and such party shall be guilty of polygamy." Historically, it appears that unlawful divorces that were followed by remarriage were considered ecclesiastically and civilly to constitute ongoing adultery or polygamy.

A rather lengthy comment to correct what may seem to be a trivial detail, but I think the historical existence of a doctrine that viewed the wrongful remarriage as ongoing adultery bears consideration, especially in light of the plain reading of Matthew 5 and 19, and Mark 10.

I would also note that I don't see Jesus' reference to the woman's 5 "husbands" as necessarily debunking the "remarriage is ongoing adultery" position. I don't think anyone is arguing that under Mosaic law, divorce and remarriage (due to the hardness of their hearts) were not recognized. Since the ministry of Christ prior to the cross occurred under the Law, and since He came in fulfillment of it, his dealing with the Samaritan woman according to the terms of the Law and in that context (of legal divorce and remarriage) would seem understandable.

Just some thoughts from someone still studying this out with a lot of questions.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Thanks for your comment. I had not heard of the other position. I had read several books on the subject years back and never read it in those books. This was at the period when I was sorting through to understand my position, while in graduate school, 1984-1987. When I got into pastoring was the first time I thought of the idea of someone remarrying someone being in continuous adultery. A couple had made a profession of faith, and the woman had been married once and the man the first time, so he wondered upon reading Matthew whether he was in continuous adultery. That is the first time it had occurred to me. I told him he wasn't. I didn't see the present tense as meaning in continuous sin. I also knew Deuteronomy 24 though, so I took the present tense to be a different type of present.

I went back to my comments on the first post, and I think I said that I had never heard of it. I don't think I called it a new position, as I did a search on the word "new." I know that isn't evidence, but it wasn't as though it was something I rejected for something convenient, since I had never heard of it, which was my point.

Even reading your comment here, I'm not sure that I'm reading the same position. I think you know better, that is, that someone is to go back to his original spouse after remarriage, required to do that by scripture. People took that position? Is that in the one of the books you referenced? Because I think that's what we're talking about here, isn't it?

As I understood it, the reason to go back was because it was not a legitimate marriage, unless I'm getting something wrong. Since there is no divorce, then the person continued to be married, whether they called it a marriage or not. I'm saying that Jesus didn't treat it as such, so we shouldn't. You're saying there is no point there. I thought there was in dealing with what I thought I was reading.

I have no problem with a state outlawing remarriage. It would seem like someone couldn't have it both ways. Either someone is not married, because the first marriage could not be dissolved, since it is permanent before God, or someone is a polygamist. If he is a polygamist, the second marriage is another marriage. Those are two different positions, it seems.

James Bronsveld said...

Bro. Brandenburg,

You did not at any point, to my knowledge, say that the "returning to one's spouse" position was new. I said that novelty was implied, because the general tenor of the posts and comments seemed to suggest that this was unknown to many. I did not intend to suggest that you take your position out of convenience. I don’t question that and am aware that it's easier to critique a position than to stake one out myself (as I said, this question has weighed on me fairly heavily for a few years now). My comment was an observation about the development of mainstream Scripture interpretation following major shifts in societally accepted norms. I try to examine the writings of men who were had to confront those shifts for the first time in their day, since much of what is written after the shift conforms to the new norm.

Hovey, Ide, and the American Baptist churches represented in that council did take the position that a marriage following an unlawful divorce was illegitimate and void. The laws of Massachusetts confirm that. Whether society tried having it both ways by labeling it "polygamy," they still deemed the first marriage in full force.

Regarding the woman at the well, my point remains that Jesus addressed a woman living under Moses' law within the framework of the Law. Under Moses' law, such divorces and remarriages were lawful. But Jesus, later in His ministry, points to the world's first marriage covenant as superceding what Moses permitted. In John 4, Jesus recognized something that existed within the Mosaic framework, without giving Divine sanction to it beyond the permission granted under Moses. Paul, in Romans 7, simultaneously calls a married woman whose first husband is alive "married to another" and "an adulteress." Recognizing that she remarried clearly did not include recognition of the validity of that marriage any more than Paul's recognition of the fact of the 12's baptism in Acts 19 did not include his validation of it. I'm not saying there are not arguments to be made for the position you have explained; I'm saying I don't think you get it from the woman at the well.

Perhaps I'm misreading the posts/comments, but it seems that the position advanced also appears to try to have it both ways: that the divorce is simultaneously wrong and valid in the sight of God. I don't want to misread it, so I'm wondering if you can clarify about an unscriptural divorce: does that unauthorized divorce end the marriage in the sight of God or not?

If it does end that marriage in the sight of God, then the words of Jesus about the subsequent remarriage seem nonsensical. How can a dissolved marriage that is followed by remarriage be adultery? If, though, the alternative is true, then when does that first marriage end in the sight of God?

I think there are several issues at play here and I thought that the initial comment thread did a lot of jumping back and forth between them, never really nailing any of them down. As I see it, before one even considers the application of Deut. 24, the questions are:

1) Is the divorce authorized by Scripture?
2) If the divorce is not authorized by Scripture, is it recognized as valid by God? Consequently, if remarriage takes place, is the second covenant merely "wrong" or is it "invalid"?
3) Correlative to the above, does God recognize all marriages as valid and binding in His sight?

Please don't misunderstand me. I am convinced that Deuteronomy 24 applies and I’m trying to get at something here. But in trying to break down the questions I have while reading these two posts and trying to understand where Hovey and others were coming from, I'm wondering whether some of what has been said may be built on an assumption about something that must actually be proved (petitio principii). For me, the clarification would be helpful to better examine the case that has been put forward.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I went back and reread what I commented and I don't think I was making a point with an implication that his position was new. He was saying that I was supporting his position before and I said I had never heard of it, so I couldn't be supporting it. It wouldn't surprise me on this particular issue, if I had not heard of a position.

Generally, among those I know, I take a conservative position. Three men, with whom I've been close, think divorce is acceptable in the case of adultery. This position, which I had not seen, is the first time I've noticed someone to the right of me on this. I don't believe in divorce and when someone divorces, I don't believe in remarriage. It seems that this position says that the only way to truly be against divorce and remarriage is to tell folks in a second marriage to go back to the first one, or leave the second one, despite Dt 24.

If we're talking about whether a second marriage is a marriage, which the only point I see being made here, it seems that the woman at the well story and Romans 7 are both saying that. I agree that someone who remarries while her husband lives is an adulteress, but does that mean she is in a continuous state of adultery? I haven't believed that.

I don't believe that divorce or remarriage were lawful under Moses. Where do you get that? I believe that Moses believed like Jesus. Her permitted divorces and remarriages, which is to say they were wrong. Jesus was saying to the Pharisees, you got Moses wrong. Moses also wrote Genesis 2. This is something Jesus established too in Matthew 5 in the Sermon on the Mount, which would be correcting the wrong thoughts about the law as well.

The apodosis doesn't justify the protasis in these case laws. That's not having it both ways. The divorce was wrong. The remarriage was wrong. Divorcing the second spouse was also wrong. Remarrying again would be wrong.

A person commits adultery when he remarries as long as the first wife lives. However, he is married to the second person, just like the woman at the well. Because of Dt 24, we should assume he's no longer married to the first person, when he marries the second. That answers that question. God makes up the rules. Someone commits adultery if he lusts after a woman in his heart. It's adultery when someone remarries. This discourages remarriage and encourages reconciliation. However, once a person is remarried, as long as it is permitted, which it shouldn't be, that ends the first marriage. Adultery is what God says it is, not what our reasoning perceives it is.

1) No. Moses in Genesis and Jesus in the gospels.
2) Dt 24, as said above, answers these.
3) Marriage has to have certain aspects to make it valid, but Dt 24 makes remarriage valid.

Go ahead and make your point.

I think when you put all the passages together, it all makes sense. It does to me. The hardest part IMO is understanding the present tense for committing adultery. You've got to take it as something other than continuous action, and those present tense usages exist. They also make sense to me to be used for something that will not be ongoing adultery.

An unrepentant person who commits adultery is an adulterer or an adulteress. Even if they remarry, they're an adulterer or an adulteress until they repent of it. Repenting of it would not mean leaving the second spouse, but it would mean acknowledging it as sin.

KJB1611 said...

Dear James,

Thanks for the comment. You have done a better job presenting the case for the position that I argued against in my post than any of the other people who have done so, despite using far more ink than you did (and you aren’t even agreeing with it).

I do not own the book you mention by Hovey, but I found a PDF of it and may have time to look it over in the future. I can’t comment on that book at this point, but I do own a copy (and one can find this on Google books) of the Baptist American Commentary set, which was edited by Hovey. In the volume on Mark, commenting on chapter 10, the commentary says: “by sexual unfaithfulness can the [marriage] unity, once established, be broken. . . . Sexual unfaithfulness forfeits the bond, but nothing else does.” At least in this commentary set edited by Hovey, the extremist position (if one does not like that term, I could call it the abominable position, since that is what Deut 24 says it is) was not advocated, nor even the Biblical no-divorce no-remarriage position, but the position that one can divorce and remarry if a spouse has committed adultery. Of course, the fact that Dr. Hovey edited this commentary set does not mean that he necessarily agreed with everything in each volume of it, but one would think that he would not allow something in there that advocated what he thought was adultery.

The best argument for the position that one must divorce a second spouse and go back to the first one is the present tense of the verb “adultery.” However, this is clearly insufficient as an argument. That particular verb does not appear in the present tense very often in the NT so there is an insufficient sample size to draw any conclusions. However, in the LXX the present tense and aorist tense are used for the same thing in Leviticus 20:10; a present participle, “the committing adultery one,” is employed for someone in a law requiring the death penalty for even a single act of adultery.

Another Koine example is in the Apostolic patristics, Pap 4:4, where a “woman has been caught in the act of adultery,” obviously a single act, but the present participle is used for the single act.

Note also that in the same Sermon on the Mount where Christ uses the present tense for “adultery” in Matthew 5:32, He also employs the present tense for the point actions of lighting a candle/lamp, for putting the candle/lamp under a bushel (Mt 5:15), for bringing a gift to the altar (Mt 5:23), for going one’s way to a specific person to seek reconciliation (5:24), for coming back after this specific single act to offer that particular gift (5:24), for the single act of going two miles when asked to go one (5:41), etc. The present tense certainly can, and does, signify continuous action at times, but one cannot read that usage into all Greek present tenses, and, in light of Deut 24 that specifically states that going back to a former spouse is an abomination to Jehovah, consistency in Scripture requires that the present tense of “adultery” does not represent continual action in Mt 5:32 and its parallel passages.

I agree with Pastor Brandenburg's comment above, with the sole exception that I do not see why saying one should divorce a second spouse and remarry a first one is more conservative/to the right of the no-divorce no-remarriage position we share. Why is requiring some people to divorce and engage in what Jehovah calls an abomination to Himself that defiles the land more conservative, rather than simply being rebellious? Of course, the question is what is right, not what we call it, but I do not see why requiring some divorce and remarriages should be considered more conservative.

Kent Brandenburg said...


You're right, if God says it is an abomination, it isn't better. However, things going that direction could turn into something past what God says, and scripture says it's wrong to add to scripture. If I preached that men are never to look at women or that they should burn their fingertips off so that they won't enjoy touching women, that's not scriptural either, but it is very conservative in the sense I'm saying. It's far right winged. But I enjoy returning to conservatism in your eyes, so I'm taking it as you say it.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

Sure, I agree.

James Bronsveld said...

Bro. Ross,

Thanks for joining in the discussion. It will likely be Sunday after our services before I will have the time to make and flesh out the point I'm getting at, but in the interim, I wanted to note that I've read the American Commentary edited by Hovey several times, not only in Mark, but also the pertinent passages in Matthew 5 and 19. I don't have the commentary in front of me right now, but I believe John Broadus wrote both volumes. I'm familiar with the citation you referenced, and it harmonizes with Hovey's position in the book I mentioned. In fact, the citation is a good example of the point I'm getting at about the underlying assumption here.

Bro. Brandenburg, thanks for clarifying the validity of the divorce. To ensure I'm understanding right, can you clarify for me further the application to several case studies:

1. A man leaves his wife for another man and marries that man according to the permission of civil law. He gets saved and repents. Is he forbidden from returning to his wife and is it wrong for him to remain in that legal marriage to a man?

2. A man commits adultery with a woman but does not leave the marriage and ultimately repents. Is he to return to his wife or does Deuteronomy 24 apply?

3. An unsaved couple separates over irreconcilable differences. No adultery is involved, they just don't get along. Ten years later, one or both of them remarry. Is the divorce binding in God's sight? If so, how have they committed adultery in remarrying?

Kent Brandenburg said...


1. I'm assuming you are just finding where this goes. Someone could also divorce his wife and "marry" himself or his dog, and scripturally these would be the same as "marrying" another man. Marriage in the Bible is only between a man and a woman and Deuteronomy 24 deals with one situation, which is between a man and a woman. There is a civil component to marriage, I believe, strongly implied in passages about marriage, but it doesn't veto or overturn God. Authority is hierarchical, and ultimate authority for marriage is God and where government violates that, we obey God. That includes this one narrow situation in Dt 24:1-4, which was given by God to Moses to Israel and us.

2. A man committed adultery with a woman not his wife, but adultery with a woman does not constitute marriage to her. I'm again assuming that you are showing something or proving something here and using induction to do it. Marriage is more than physical consummation, which relates to number one in that sense

3. Remarrying is committing adultery according to a lot of passages. Based on Dt 24, one or both shouldn't go back to original spouse. That it is adultery is why they shouldn't remarry, Dt 24:1-4 why they shouldn't go back to original spouse.

Why does God rule on this? I should write on this perhaps, but I believe Dt 24 is on a section not on adultery, but on property. It related mainly to the treatment of women. It was taking a situation that was wrong and not making it worse. It seems the other position in this debate, as I see it, says, yes, make it worse, which is also said to be an abomination. It brings to mind the credo, two wrongs don't make a right.

David Warner said...

I think Romans 7:2, 3 might provide some help to this discussion. I know the issue of marriage wasn't Paul's point in the passage, but he was stating it as an axiomatic law, assumed to be known.

James Bronsveld said...

Bro. Brandenburg,

I anticipated your answers to the three case studies, which hopefully means I’ve grasped where you're coming from. You've mentioned necessary elements of marriage. One of those elements would be the eligibility of both parties to enter into the covenant. If either of those parties are ineligible to marry, the union is not valid marriage. The two men entering into a marriage covenant do not truly marry because they are ineligible to marry. Thus, the forsaking of that unholy and abominable union would not violate Deut 24.

This brings me to observe that at least a minor premise in the argument that’s been advanced here contains a fairly significant assumption. The assumption seems to be that, though all divorce is wrong, yet God validates all divorces, thus validating all resultant remarriages involving man and a woman. I conclude this because I’ve not seen any criteria for considering any divorce/remarriage (involving a male and female) to be invalid and thus not subject to the application of Deut 24.

As a further consideration of your observation (with which I agree) that authority is hierarchical and that civil law cannot supercede Divine authority, I would say that such an observation need not be limited to the ineligibility of men to marry men, but that it can also apply to one made ineligible for marriage due to already being married. At any rate, the position advanced in the both posts properly exegetes Deut 24, but does so on the basis of an assumption: that all divorces/remarriages are validated by God, thus constituting a violation of Deut 24 if they are disannulled and the offender returns to their first spouse. That assumption—that all remarriages are valid in the sight of God—must be proven from Scripture and should find historic support. Positing that no historic confessions or writings from sound theological men exhort or command Christians to violate Deut 24 by returning to their former spouses relies on the assumption that the same men considered all divorces to be valid in the sight of God. I am finding, in my studies of this, that such an assumption may be difficult to support.

Bro. Ross, this is why I think your citation of Hovey's Commentary on Mark (written by W. Clarke, not Broadus) fits so well in understanding a significant historical position on the whole issue of remarriage invalidated by God. Notice that Clarke states that "Sexual unfaithfulness forfeits the bond, but nothing else does." The point Clarke actually makes is that the marriage bond is not invalidated by just any divorce. While I disagree with his interaction with the usage of porneia, he does make the point that the bond is really not broken in any other case. Thus, no violation of Deut 24 occurs when an ineligible/invalid marriage is dissolved. The whole lead-up to your citation makes exactly that point about Mark 10:10-12: "The statement in both Gospels is that a man is charged with adultery when he enters into a new sexual union while the first is still unbroken--i.e. when he breaks the exclusive unity of flesh with his wide by an act of union with another." (Emphasis mine) Hovey, Clarke, Ide, Broadus, and others saw no violation of Deut 24 because they did not see the first marriage as having been ended. An early Mennonite Confession (The Waterlander Confession, I believe) stated: "This marriage [between each man and ‘his own only wife’] cannot be dissolved except for the cause of adultery." I've not yet found a written historic position among Baptists (or most Protestants) that separated the validity of a divorce from its lawfulness.

My initial challenge is this: prove the validity of all divorces (I think proper consideration ought to be given to Romans 7:2-3, and I'm curious to hear the direction Bro. Warner was going with that) before making application of Deut 24 to every instance of remarriage between a man and a woman.

Kent Brandenburg said...


You are making mainly a historical point.

I read only Gill (1697-1771) on Deut 24:4, the operative verse here, and what I read agrees with our position, and Gill knew historical theology, even as he references.

Everyone can read Laney on Deut 24:1-4:

I may have quoted him. Pardon me, if I did in my sermon notes, which were not thoroughly vetted. Didn't know I was doing it.

Statement by Pulpit Commentary:

The woman was held to be defiled by her second marriage, and thus by implication, the marrying of a woman who had been divorced was pronounced immoral, as is by our Lord explicitly asserted (Matthew 5:32). The prohibition of a return of the wife to her first husband, as well as the necessity of a formal bill of divorcement being given to the woman before she could be sent away, could not fail to be checks on the license of divorce, as doubtless they were intended to be.

James Bronsveld said...

Bro. Brandenburg,

It seems my entire point was missed. Gill saying that Deut 24 means a divorced woman cannot return to her spouse is not the same as Gill saying that all remarriages are valid. That is The Big Assumption that is being projected onto Gill's position.

Look at Gill on Mat. 5:32 - "causeth her to commit adultery; that is, as much as in him lies: should she commit it, he is the cause of it, by exposing her, through a rejection of her, to the sinful embraces of others; and, indeed, should she marry another man, whilst he is alive, which her divorce allows her to do, she must be guilty of adultery; since she is his proper wife, the bond of marriage not being dissolved by such a divorce, and: whosoever shall marry her that is divorced, committeth adultery; because the divorced woman he marries, and takes to his bed; is legally the wife of another man;"

Kent Brandenburg said...


I do think a point was missed, if not the point. Thomas and I, if I could speak for Thomas (he and I never talked about our position on Dt 24 ever before he wrote his post, yet we agree), would agree with Gill. I thought you were looking for a historical example, something that would say this position was historical, that someone is not supposed to go back to his first spouse. Gill takes that position.

I didn't think it was a matter of whether remarrying was adultery. I thought we made that very clear that we believed she committed adultery. It's only the matter of whether it was ongoing adultery, hence requiring her to go back, because God would not advocate for ongoing adultery. That would be a contradiction. Nothing Gill says in the quote would have me think he believes this, that she is in ongoing adultery if she stays married in the second marriage.

Dt 24 is prohibiting divorce. God hates divorce in the second marriage. He hated it in the first.

I don't know what point you think I missed though.

James Bronsveld said...

Bro. Brandenburg,

Beyond highlighting Gill's quote again, where he twice states that the first marriage bond is not dissolved by any divorce on the grounds of adultery, I'm not sure what else I can say here, although I will attempt to be more clear. You and I agree with Gill's position on the abomination of returning to one's former spouse, but Gill (and most theologians prior to the late 1800s) does not share your position on what the Lord considers to be the dissolution of that first marriage or the validity of the second marriage. That affects the application of Deuteronomy 24.

Gill does not see the second marriage as a valid marriage, the same way you deny the validity of sodomite marriage. He says the first marriage is not dissolved by her divorce, divorce papers notwithstanding. He says it twice, and very plainly. She's ineligible to marry because she remains married to the first husband, despite the unlawful divorce. The marriage covenant into which she enters is an adulterous covenant. The whole of that covenant is adulterous because her first marriage has not, despite her divorce, been invalidated or truly ended. This is Gill, this is Clarke, this is Hovey, this is Broadus, this is historic.

Your position, if I understand it right, is different, for in your first two comments you indicate that, having been divorced for any cause, this person is now unmarried in the sight of God. Gill is saying the opposite of that.

Theodore Woolsey noted in his study of the history of divorce in 1868 that the recognition of divorces for reasons other than adultery tends to reduce the marriage covenant to the level of a civil contract, in which God recognizes the validity of a marriage through a legal proceeding that unites or dissolves the marriage bond. That does not harmonize with the depiction of the marriage bond in Genesis 2, nor Jesus' use of Genesis 2 as adversative to the permission granted for divorce under Moses' law.

Woolsey also noted that, "To claim for an adulterer and an adulteress the protection of law in a Christian state, so that, when free through their crime from former obligations, they may legally perpetuate a union begun in sin, is truly to put a premium on adultery. A Herod on that plan, after sinning with his brother's wife, would need only to wait for legal separation to convert incest into legitimate wedlock."

I return to my original question: does God recognize (whether on prohibited grounds or not) every divorce granted by the state? Your position, as I understand it, is that He does, which is why you apply Deut 24 to every man and woman who has divorced and since remarried.

James Bronsveld said...

I need to correct the first sentence in my previous comment, in which I omitted a key word. It should read, " any divorce except on the grounds of adultery..."

Kent Brandenburg said...


I know it must seem like I'm dense right now, but I really didn't think that Gill and I didn't agree. I thought we agreed. I didn't notice your italics. I was looking at the bold print as if that was being emphasized, but that's just scripture in bold.

Maybe there is a nuance of difference between Gill and me, but if so, he's still got a problem, and I say, if so and maybe.

If we're the same, and I thought we were, then he believes that someone is not justified in remarrying, because it is adultery. The first marriage is not dissolved in the sight of God, so it is adultery with the other person, even as it is adultery for the non-married person, if he or she is never married. I agree with that. Every no divorce, no remarriage person believes that. You are saying that I am disagreeing with that, I think.

Gill has a problem for himself if he believes like you say he does, which is unclear or inconclusive in the writing. You'd be making that point on a historical basis, which would take more reading for me to agree or disagree, because I don't think that point is clear in Gill.

If Gill believes it is ongoing adultery, OR that the first marriage is still not dissolved, still not, and yet the second marriage should not end in divorce, because it is a marriage, then he would be justifying a continuous state of adultery and polygamy as well as saying that God was fine with that. Unless I had more proof, I'm not going to believe he is saying that or believing that.

I believe the only valid position, based on what Dt 24:1-4 say, is that the second marriage ends the first marriage. If not, then it would seem to justify polygamy. If it's ongoing adultery, it would also justify that. Scripture (God) doesn't do that. I don't think we should assume it. You're saying there is writing that says that it is ongoing adultery/polygamy. It would seem that it couldn't be both. I read someone recently that said that Dt. 24:1-4 rejected palingamy here. I thought that was interesting term, thinking it was a typo, never heard it. Palingamy, I'm assuming means marry back again or once more.

I'm saying that I thought Gill was saying, and it was very natural for me to think this, which is why I completely missed your point, is that Dt 24 is saying that it is adultery because the first marriage had not been dissolved, but now that they are married and that adultery has been committed, the first marriage is dissolved.

Kent Brandenburg said...


One more thing to be clear. The marriage is dissolved by the second marriage, which is also adultery. Does adultery dissolve marriage? No. All things included dissolve the first marriage: civil aspect, consummation. Gill thinks it's a marriage. He calls it one. It's not just adultery, which seems to be what you are saying he is saying. I don't think so, which is why it wasn't so patently obvious. So maybe you're missing my point, and have been missing it. I thought I was clear.

James Bronsveld said...

I fear we could go round and round in circles here, so this will likely be my last interaction on this subject, but essentially, your interpretation is that the second marriage both causes and ends the adultery, since the entering into marriage ends the first marriage. You see the adultery as punctiliar.

This does raise some further questions about application such as whether Herod's repentance as commanded by John the Baptist would have required ending his marriage to Herodius, or whether men in polygamous marriages would be counseled not to end their polygamous marriages in order to seek membership in the church. I do see more questions here than answers, and to that end, I will endeavour to examine this further in my studies.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I don't see the end far off. Is Gill saying leave the second marriage? If not, is he saying, stay in polygamy?

God is against adultery, divorce, and remarriage.

This is very practical right now in our church and most churches. Most churches have someone in the second marriage to another person in the first. Would you tell the second marriage person to go back (palingamy) to the first spouse? What is the abomination of Dt 24:1-4? Churches can't and shouldn't do nothing.

A lot of church work is taking people where they are and instructing them what to do. Someone is saved while the daughter is a teenager. She doesn't want it. How do you parent that daughter? We have that right now too.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Bro Bronsveld,

I have not gone through the entire PDF of the book you referenced, but could you make it clear where he even addresses the position of no divorce/remarriage even for adultery and that one must leave a 2nd spouse and go back to the first? I don't even see that position addressed, at all, in the book The Scriptural Law of Divorce, but perhaps I missed it. Also, could you make it clear where he states that in a second marriage adultery is continual every time the act of marriage takes place until one divorces the 2nd spouse and goes back to the first one? Where does he even say that explicitly and clearly? It seems like the thrust of the book is to refute the idea that desertion is grounds for divorce.

Even if he did, that booklet is wrong on what divorce and remarriage are--adultery does not free the innocent party to remarry--and what matters is what Scripture says.

Could you also explain how a position that one must go back to a first spouse in any situation is compatible with Deut 24? The divorce was sin in Deut 24--God hates divorce (Mal 3; Gen 2). The remarriage in Deut 24 was sin--the woman who remarried was defiled, Deut 24:4. God was displeased with both actions, but He still says it is an abomination to go back to the first spouse. If there are allegedly some divorces and remarriages between adult, consenting men and women that God does not recognize, how were the Israelites to know when Deut 24 applied and when it did not? It is very hard to believe that Deut 24 does not apply to a second marriage when the 1st spouse is alive--that is almost surely the most common situation addressed simply because more people get into a 2nd marriage than, say, a 17th marriage, and nothing at all in Deut 24 states or implies that it does not apply to such a situation.

Also, do you agree that the present tense in Christ's statements in the Gospels is insufficient as an argument for continual adultery based on the exegetical evidence I supplied?


James Bronsveld said...


(Part 1 of 2)

This truly will be my last interaction about this subject here for the time being. I've raised my questions. I didn't come into this with an agenda and I don't have skin in this game as yet. I've said what my default position is because the application is weighty, no matter which way one goes with this. But as I've asked questions and tried nailing this down, I'm finding myself frustrated with what appears to me at times to be semantics and wordplay. I will attribute that to an inability on my part to effectively communicate, and thus step back from this with a couple final thoughts. I'm becoming inclined to think that weighty matters are better discussed in person, rather than in comment threads.

Bro. Ross, a number of things from your last comment makes me wonder if you actually read carefully what I've written thus far. Furthermore, surely you don't mean to say that all remarriages between consenting adults and females are validated as marriage by God! Should the incestuous affair and marriage (Lev. 20:21) of Herod to his sister-in-law while her husband was alive continue as long as they regretted their marriage in the first place? I hardly think you believe that, but perhaps I'm wrong. Yet your statement about "allegedly some divorces and remarriages...that God does not recognize" suggest to me that your position does not permit you to take incestuous unions into consideration, so long as they are consenting. Perhaps you actually would treat each remarriage case carefully to ensure that the abomination of the incestuous remarriage does not continue. That, though, is not apparent in any of the writing thus far. Only blanket statements that the ending of all marriages between consenting men and women are valid before God, even if wrong.

James Bronsveld said...

(Part 2 of 2)

Some of my frustration comes from what seems to be highly nuanced interpretations of common language, almost to a torturing of sense. For example, the word "marriage" must always be taken to mean that God recognized whatever was called marriage to be just that and validly so. But when I raise historic language used in interpreting these passages, the common understanding of phrases such as "is legally the wife," "the first [marriage] is still unbroken," or "When [divorce] rests on any other ground, it is without effect; the parties remain husband and wife as before" (Hovey's booklet, 15, 66) must be set aside as not referring to a state of being, but only to a position at a particular point in time. Or perhaps I'm not understanding.

I would note as an aside, to correct any misunderstandings about Hovey's book, that the question of the book is clearly stated in the preface, and that it did not relate to whether one was allowed to remarry after desertion, but rather whether any grounds except for adultery would dissolve the marriage. In answer to your further question about the book, Bro. Ross, I would direct you specifically to pp.66-67 (dealing with the qualifications for the pastorate) and to pp.75-76 (relating to the invalidity of second marriages while the first spouse is living). I will add that the mischaracterization both of Hovey's commentary in an earlier comment and now the book by Hovey, add to my frustration in discussing this subject.

Finally, I do not agree with your statement/question regarding the present tense in Mat. 19, etc., because I don't find the question to be framed properly, and because as I look at the Lord's treatment of divorce by contrasting Gen 2 to Deut 24, and as I consider Rom 7:2-3, I'm left with questions regarding their harmonization with the position you're presenting. I say the question is not framed properly, because it's not just about "the acts of marriage" as "continual adultery." The question relates to, as I've already raised, the whole of the marriage covenant--the very nature of that covenant--that has been entered.

I've done the best I can with the limited time I have, to raise the questions that nag at me, so that I can harmonize Scripture to lead my family and to instruct the flock entrusted to my care in the application of Scripture. Perhaps, to flesh out the position you have laid out here, you can explain the Scriptural application of marriage/remarriage as it relates repentance for the 2nd and 3rd marriages in polygamy, or marriages of incest, and other abominations that are or will be called marriage in the permissive society in which we live. Churches here no longer have the protection of Judeo-Christian legal system to keep them from having to deal with such things.

This, however, will be my last interaction on this for the present.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I'm fine with the discussion being over for the time being, although I don't see it as a waste or wrong to go about it.

I think I'm a decent reader. I read a lot and usually comprehend what I'm reading, but I read your comments more than once, and I still am not catching the problem. I also don't know how language is being tortured, etc. In person talking of some kind would be better.

I understand what you say that the problem is. It's likely Reuben's problem too, even though I didn't read all of his comments, and Steve's (from the first thread). I don't know. I didn't read either of their comments, just some from both. I lost interest somewhat because of the charge that Thomas believed in divorce and remarriage, and I knew he didn't. It seemed to be a red herring to me, and it felt like walking through finding jewels or valuable commodities among the trash to read the arguments.

I've been different with yours. I'm reading them. I grant you that it is tough dealing with situations where sin has been involved, picking up the pieces and moving forward. As a result, it makes it seem perhaps that someone does support divorce and remarriage, or there is not a great reason to stay married if you want a divorce. So you hold yourself to scripture.

When David Warner came in and said perhaps Rom 7:2-3 would help, he didn't saw how it would help. I read it a number of times in conjunction with our discussion. I've taught through it a few times in my life. I find myself asking if I'm "torturing" or attempting to use nuance to play word games. While I'm doing what you may think is that, I think I'm actually looking at verbiage in light of everything else the Bible says, because scripture can't contradict. This is using scripture to interpret scripture. It has to mean something that fits with everything else. I do this everywhere. I do this before I get to history. I don't get to history before I've read the Bible and think I know what it means.

Because of Dt 24, I can't think that the present tense requires ongoing adultery. OK, how does Romans 7:2-3 come into that. She is bound by the law to her husband as long he lives. How is she bound by the law? Nobody stopped her when she married another. How she is bound is she is called an adulteress. Proverbs says that reproach can't be wiped away, so it continues to be what she is called. That carries with it further penalties that are bad in addition to not pleasing God.

She is called an adulteress. That doesn't mean she is an ongoing adultery, because that isn't a way to communicate ongoing adultery. It also says she is married to another man. Being bound doesn't mean she couldn't marry another man. She married another man. It seems like torture to me to call that polygamy. Where does scripture itself call it polygamy? Torture to me seems like bringing in incest and homosexuality, etc., that are not in there. "Another" by the way means "different." It's heteros. She's not married to the same man now. She's married to a different man. That doesn't mean that God approves of it. He doesn't. She is bound by his law.

Once her husband dies, she won't be an adulteress. She won't have that reproach on her.

What is repentance in these situations? It's confessing for one. Two, sorrow. There are other ways to know someone is repentant, besides leaving the marriage, which Dt. 24 is against.

Anyway, I'm fine being done, fine letting you have a last word. I don't think badly of anything you've said. They are legitimate questions. I don't feel imposed upon or treated disrespectfully one bit by you.