Searching for a particular person or topic?

Check the "Labels" list in the lower right hand corner. Recently the most often visited pages have been the ones on Divorce and Remarriage and the next has been the one on Income Tax. Two other pages which people are accessing frequently with specific searches are the pages on Albert Mc Shane and The Tabernacle. I hope whatever you read is helpful! You may also be interested to access my other blog and web sites by clicking on these links:

Monday, January 26, 2009

Marriage, Divorce and remarriage (4) Deuteronomy 24:1-4

Today, in this continuing series, we'll consider a passage of scripture which, in my opinion, is the most misunderstood passage of scripture in the Bible on the subject of divorce. It was also this passage (grossly misunderstood as it is) which was the basis for another commonly accepted idea which I had inherited from my parents and my grandfather who was a preacher….namely that “If anyone is divorced, Deut.24 forbids them to remarry the spouse from whom they were divorced.” People who hold to this view, as I myself did for many years, do NOT understand that scripture not only speaks of two kinds of marriages (marriages which God joins and marriages which He judges) but they do not understand that scripture also speaks of two kinds of divorces (divorces which God forbids and condemns and divorces which He commands and blesses)!

I have read scores of commentators on Deut.24:1-4 and I have not found one yet who knew what it was talking about. Not one of these published commentators had any idea as to the meaning of “uncleanness” in verse 1! Most of them acknowledge that it could not have been adultery for such would have required the death penalty and NOT a bill of divorcement and a divine permission to remarry! But beyond this, I have not yet found any commentator who is able to identify exactly what “uncleanness” Moses was referring to!!

However, if anyone with a good concordance simply does a word study on this word “uncleanness”, the Hebrew word ERVAH, and observes how it is commonly used 39 times prior to Deut.24, they will discover for themselves what it means and will quickly realize that the Israelites who first heard or read Deut.24 would have known what Moses was talking about! They would have known how he had used the word previously!

The word ERVAH is translated “nakedness” 3 times in Gen.9:22,23; 23 times in Lev.18 and 6 times in Lev.20. In all 32 instances it refers to immoral sexual relations between people of near kinship (i.e. incest)!

In 7 other instances, prior to Deut.24, the word is used as follows:
-It is translated “nakedness” 2 times in Gen.42:9,12 of Joseph’s feigned accusation to his brothers that they have comes as spies to see “the nakedness of the land of Egypt”.
-In Ex.20:26 Israelites were forbidden to have steps up to their altar to the Lord so that “their nakedness would not be discovered thereon.”
-In Ex.28:42 the priests were to wear “breeches” to cover their “nakedness”.
-In Lev.18:19 and 20:18 “nakedness” refers to sexual relations with a woman during her menstrual period, and
-In Deut.23:14 the word is used once translated “unclean thing” or “nakedness of a thing”. Here the Israelites were instructed to cover the excretions of bodily wastes outside their camp so the Lord would not see any “unclean thing” in them.

So the word “uncleanness” in Deut.24 must be understood in light of its usage previous to this chapter (as is noted above).

Then the meaning of the word must meet three conditions mentioned in Deut.24:1:
-It must be something discovered after the marriage has taken place.
-It must be something which prevents the woman from having favor in her husband’s eyes any longer, and
-It must be something in her, and not something which she has done.

Further, a right understanding of this “uncleanness” must explain..
- how and why the woman is defiled,
-why she is defiled in relation to the first husband but NOT in relation to a possible second husband,
-how this “uncleanness” is an abomination to the Lord, and
-how “the land is caused to sin” by it.

The only possible usage of the word which fits all of the above requirements is the following case:
After the two have married, he discovers that they are actually near relatives. i.e. They have unwittingly become involved in an incestuous marriage! Had they done this knowingly, they both would have faced the death penalty without mercy. (Lev.20:10-14) But Deut.24 is the merciful provision of God to deal with such a sin which is done in ignorance.

Thus it is easy to understand why the woman could marry another man and not be defiled with him as she would be with a near relative, and thus why she is expressly forbidden to remarry the first husband….it would be deliberate incest in such a case!

So rather than forbidding the reconciliation of couples joined by God who divorced unscripturally, this passage is simply forbidding the remarriage of couples who have entered into marriages which God judged and who were scripturally divorced from such defiling relationships!

A very interesting case of a situation of this very nature came to light in the UK just a little over a year ago:
Separated twins marry, forced to break up in UK
Sat Jan 12, 2008 2:45am IST

LONDON (Reuters) - Twins who were separated at birth and raised by different families met later and married but were forced to break up when they discovered their true identities, a British legislator said on Friday.
"It's a tragedy for the couple who are involved, a terrible tragedy. Everyone's hearts will go out to people caught up quite unwittingly in a case of incest of this kind," David Alton, a member of Britain's upper House of Lords, told BBC radio.
Alton first raised the case during debate on a proposed new law on in vitro fertilisation (IVF). He says it highlights the need for children to know who their parents are.
He fears that under the new law, the biological identity of one parent of a child born as a result of IVF could be removed from the birth certificate, creating the potential for similar tragic mistakes to occur.
Alton told parliament last month he had heard about the twins from a High Court judge who had dealt with the case.
"It involved the normal birth of twins who were separated at birth and adopted by separate parents," said Alton, who has no party affiliation. "They were never told that they were twins."
"They met later in life and felt an inevitable attraction" and they got married, he said.
"When they did come to know their true identities it led to their having to separate and also to a lot of heartbreak," Alton said on Friday. News reports said their marriage was annulled.
No further information was available about the twins or where they were from.
"This isn't a regular occurrence but it could become one with large numbers of people now being born by IVF and not knowing their true identities," Alton said.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, now working its way through the British parliament, recognises same-sex couples as legal parents of children conceived through the use of donated sperm, eggs or embryos.
"The government ... have not accepted the argument that you should have the right to know who your biological father is on the birth certificate," Alton said.
"It would be a terrible act of deception, with the state colluding in that deception, to remove the biological identity of your father from the birth certificate," he added.
Pam Hodgkins, head of a group that helps adults affected by adoption, said the story of the twins was very tragic.
"It is a lesson that we need to learn and apply to the situation of donor-conceived children," she told Sky News.
"Whilst ... nowadays it would be most unusual for siblings to be separated ... the risk of secrecy affecting the lives of people born as a result of egg and sperm donation is exactly the same as the risks that have affected adopted people in the past," she said.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft)
© Reuters2008All rights reserved
Site where this article is found:

I trust that this modern day application of the principles of Deut.24 clearly illustrates the scriptural reasons, provisions and requirements for terminating a marriage which is judged by God. (To be continued….)


preacherdawg said...

One must really "work the numbers" to obtain the numbers that we read in Revelation and Daniel. There is even a presupposition involved with the number 666. I wonder what your take is on being "caught up" with the Lord. These are just some off handed thoughts, I enjoyed the blog P Dawg

Wise Reaction said...

Great article well written has similar conclusion to Prof. Guenther, and has been my answer to people over the past few years... INCEST IS THE ISSUE IN... Deut 24:1-4

Will add your article to


Wise Reaction said...

Link at

Interpreting the Silences (Duet.24:1-4)

Dr. Allen R. Guenther, Professor of Old Testament (USA)

Bruce Woodford said...

Thanks Michael,
Am checking out your web site and it looks like you have a lot of excellent resources!


Wise Reaction said...

As I try to gain some clarity as to Deut 24:1-4 a friend, a brother in Christ had this to say about your article...

As you know, Michael, we both support the author's conviction that any valid marriage is to be honoured until death, and we believe in reconciliation of such marriages.

But I do find the authors interpretation of Deut 24:1-4 to be in error.

When the author says `erwat dabar must be...
"something in her, and not something which she has done..."
I find this to be a false dichotomy. If one has sinned, "sin is found in them." It is not true that if it is 'in her' it isn't something done by her.

Also, in verse 4, 'she has defiled herself' is a literal translation, not that she is defiled in anyway by the first marriage, or only in relation to the first marriage, but that she has been defiled by the second marriage.

Until the second marriage, there is no mention of her being defiled or of it being forbidden for the man to take her back.

Indeed, if Deut 24:1-4 were intended merely to prevent a man from remaining married to a wife who was a close relative, there is no need to make mention of any second marriage, and there is no reason to include the conditions laid down in verse 2-3, is there?

Thanks for the new and interesting perspective, but for the above reasons I cannot confirm what this author boldly asserts to be the rare and true understanding of Deut 24:1-4.

Bruce Woodford said...

Hi Michael, MY time is very short right now online so I'll respond to our brother's comments hopefully tomorrow. I believe the text clearly answers his objections and demonstrates thatb the defilement must be in view of the first marriage.

Till later,

Bruce Woodford said...

Hi Michael and all,

As my response to your friend's comments above take far more space than a brief comment, I've have made a separate post today (February 18, 2011)entitled "Comparison of Two Views of Deuteronomy 24".

Would welcome further comments or discussions by email at Have also made another post today for any wishing to discover scripturally the meaning of "uncleanness" in Deut.24.

Stand(ing) Firm said...

Not sure why God has allowed the marriage/divorce/remarriage issue to be one of the only areas where this is SO much disagreement, different interpretations, etc. I believe He will let us know someday.... But in that vein, I'm curious to hear/read your thoughts on covenant marriage versus non-covenant marriage. I'm part of a a couple of "marriage restoration" sites/groups. Unfortunately, there's always some finger pointing amongst covenant vs non-convenant marriage folks, those who believe in remarriage, those who believe that if you stand for your marriage (covenant or non, depending on the person) & your spouse marries the "other man/woman" then divorces them to remarry the standing spouse it's allowed or not allowed (based on Deut 24:1-4). Some of us come from churches who back covenant marriage, while others come from churches who back divorce/remarriage (& not only when there's been infidelity or abuse). Just wondered what yours or your commentors' takes were on this. Thank you.

Bruce Woodford said...

Hi Standing Firm,

Thanks for your comment...but please pardon my ignorance...I believe marriage is a covenant (in that promises are made by those who enter a marriage) but am not sure how you would define or distinguish "a covenant marriage" from a "non-covenant marriage".

Would you care to defdine what you mean by these terms? YOPu copuld also email me at