Matt 5:32: "everyone who divorces his wife, ... causes her to be led into adultery."

Someone emailed:
I have been reading your book on Divorce and Remarriage (Eerdmans). It is an outstanding work. Any future work on the subject must either agree with your points or endeavor to show why your arguments are not correct.

I have a question. You contend that Jesus believed that remarriage-after-divorce constitutes adultery for--but only for--invalid "for any matter" divorces. I have difficulty harmonizing this interpretation with Matt 5:32: "everyone who divorces his wife, except for a matter of sexual immorality, causes her to be led into adultery." To me, the implicit argument here is:
General principle: A man who divorces his wife causes her to become an adulteress because she almost certainly must remarry and remarriage is adultery.

Exception: The one exception is if the wife is divorced because she has committed adultery.
Implied reason for the exception: The husband cannot make her an adulteress because she has already made herself an adulteress through the very act of adultery that precipitated the divorce.

Inference/Conclusion: The issue is not so much whether the divorce is invalid or valid but whether the woman has already made herself an adulteress or she is first made one by her husband's act of divorce and her inevitable remarriage. In effect, Jesus says that by divorcing one's wife a man turns a woman who was not previously guilty of adultery into an adulteress through remarriage. Therefore, a woman who is divorced by her husband for burning his toast, or for losing her sexual attractiveness, or for nagging, or for gross or minor failure to provide material and/or emotional support, or for any other grounds outside adultery is turned into an adulteress when she remarries.

Have I missed in your book where you deal with this problem? I'd be interested in knowing how you deal with it. I understand that only Matt 5:32a makes this statement (it's not in Luke's parallel or in Mark 10 or in 1 Cor 7) so one could argue that it does not trace back to Jesus and that Matthew misinterpreted Jesus. But even if this were the case, it would have repercussions for your interpretation of Matthew's argument in ch. 19, on which you place considerable weight.

Reply: I did deal with Mt.5.32 on p.159ff, but probably not sufficiently, and I didn't deal with your specific question. I have a couple of problems with the idea that Mt.5.32 makes every divorced woman into an adulteress.

1) There is no compulsion or necessity for a woman to remarry, unless they were divorced for adultery or neglect (so they did not get their ketuvah and might also be rejected by their family).

2) This implies that Jesus is using the word 'adultery' in a totally unique way - ie to mean something like generalised sexual moral failure. If he had said that 'remarriage is equivalent to porneia', this might have been a valid way of reading the Greek.

My solution is that Mt.5.32 & Lk.16.18 are abbreviations of Jesus' teaching in one verse. What can you say in one verse? Given the assumption that virtually all divorces in Jesus' time were based on 'Any Cause' (which Philo and Josephus appear to believe, and we have no evidence to the contrary), it would be correct to generalise that Jesus was declaring ALL divorces at that time to be invalid, so that anyone who divorced his wife would (if she remarried, as was common) make her an adulteress.

We have to allow some generality and inaccuracy in such summaries. After all, when Jesus went into the Temple and looked "at all things" (Mk.11.11), did he look in the Holy of Holies? And did "all" of Judea and "all" the city come out in Mk.1.5, 33? We do this kind of inaccurate generalising "all" the time, but people understand it.

See more at "Abbreviating the Answer" in Divorce & Remarriage in the Bible.

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