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Then the Pharisees came to Him, testing

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Him and saying, “Is it lawful for a man to dismiss

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his wife for every reason?”  (See comments below.)


Then some self-righteous religious leaders came near Jesus in order to find fault in Him, and asked this question, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?”  (See comments below.)



The word used here can mean “to test, to tempt, to prove.” It can be used in either positive or negative ways. The context here points obviously to a negative intent.


[1] In Greek this is a compound word, coming from “away from” and “loose.” Therefore it means “to send away, to dismiss, discharge, divorce, get rid of, let go of.”

What Was Behind Their Question?

The Pharisees were asking about Dt 24:1; you can go there to see my translation, paraphrase and full comments of it and of the three verses that follow it. Below you will find my summary of Dt 24:1.

Dt 24:1 refers to shameful exposure of parts of her body which only the husband should see. It refers to a woman who, after marriage, begins to exhibit indecent, immodest behavior. It had not yet lead to adultery, but it likely would for what other reason did a woman have to abandon the modesty that was common in that culture?

Thus, in my opinion, the permission for divorce does not grant a man the freedom to dismiss his wife if she burned breakfast, or any other trivial matter. It seems to be pointing to evidence of inappropriate conduct on her part that would lead to adultery if it continued. This statement made divorce/separation under the Law a very rare thing because the permission granted was for a narrowly defined situation.


For a long time, a debate had been going on over the interpretation of a passage in Deuteronomy that we refer to as Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Some interpreted Deuteronomy 24 as saying that a man could divorce his wife for any reason, while others interpreted Deuteronomy to say that divorce was only allowed in cases of sexual immorality. Ever since at least the time of the prophet Malachi (and probably earlier), it was common for men to divorce their wives for frivolous causes; only a few held to a stricter interpretation of Deuteronomy.

This debate seems to have been reignited or intensified by Rabbi Hillel (110 BC – 10 AD) and Rabbi Shammai (50 BC – 30 AD). Rabbi Hillel promoted a “wide open” interpretation of Deuteronomy 24, while Rabbi Shammai held to the interpretation of “only for sexual immorality.” You can see from the years shown above that they both had at least some degree of overlap with the life of Jesus. Even though Rabbi Hillel was no longer alive, this was still a hot topic when Jesus was involved in public ministry.

What Were the Pharisees Trying to Achieve?

They wanted to find inconsistencies in what Jesus might say here and what He had taught or done earlier, or they wanted to make the general public unhappy with Him. If Jesus sided with the more lenient Hillel, it would be a contradiction with what He had already taught in Mt 5:32 and Lk 16:18 and they could discredit him for contradicting Himself. If He were consistent with His earlier teaching and sided with the stricter Shammai, this would highlight the strictness of Jesus and cause those among the Jewish population who had already divorced their wives for frivolous causes to dislike Jesus. They could also point out apparent contradictions between His words and how he treated with kindness people like the adulterous woman of John 8 and the Samaritan woman at the well (if they heard about the latter). Of the various possible reasons they had for asking this question, this last possibility, that Jesus said one thing and yet treated people in a way that looked contradictory, seems to have the strongest support.