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Friday, February 18, 2011

Comparison of Two Views of Deuteronomy 24:1-4

I am always thankful for those who question and challenge anything which I teach or have written. Michael, a brother in Christ from Australia, recently commented on this blog expressing appreciation for my former posts on Divorce and Remarriage. He forwarded the links to these to others and another brother wrote back with the following comments which Michael sent on to me…

“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."

Michael, thank you for sending on to me the comments above! Your friend and our brother in Christ has made a good observation re the expression “some uncleanness in her”. His point is well taken and, upon further consideration, I agree with him that defilement in a person may very well be something done by them. But in the context of Deuteronomy 24, this observation does not change what I believe is the situation described there. The defilement in view (an incestuous marriage entered into unknowingly) was certainly done by her but was not done deliberately or knowingly. It was a sin of ignorance.

But regarding our brother’s assumption that the defilement mentioned in verse 4 is defilement by the second marriage, our brother would have great difficulty explaining the textual ramifications which must of necessity be answered if that assumption is correct! I would encourage you both to read the following article which I wrote over 16 years ago. Although I have written publicly and corresponded openly with many on this subject, no one yet has answered any points in this article in all that time.

A. Definition of "uncleanness":
"Uncleanness" must be something less than sexual immorality because the penalty for such was death. It could be some indecent behaviour, or a physical blemish etc. But we do not know specifically what it was!

B. View of verse 1:
v.1 simply speaks of a permission for a man to put his wife away,
NOT a command requiring him to do so.

C. View of verse 2:
v.2 is a divine permission for a divorced woman to remarry in
order to protect her from destitution.

D. View of Reconciliation with the first husband verses 3&4:
verses 3&4 teach that if remarriage occurs after any divorce, no
of any first marriage is permitted. To reconcile
any first marriage after another marriage would be abominable and
defiling to the land because it would be equal to "wife swapping"!!!

E. The cause of defilement in verse 4:
The defilement here is viewed as being the result of the marriage
to the second husband. Thus it is considered to be the defilement
of adultery. According to this view, this is the lesser of two
evils when compared to leaving the woman "destitute".

II. UNPOPULAR VIEW: (The view which I personally hold)
A. Definition of "uncleanness":
"Uncleanness" in Deut.24 is an incestuous marriage entered into
unknowingly. This is the only sexual sin which could possibly be
committed ignorantly by both parties. And merciful provision
was made by God for such (Leviticus 4:21-35 and Numbers 15:27-30).

B. View of verse 1:
v.1 is a divine command to separate from a defiling relationship
when it is discovered.
This is not merely a permission to do so. (Other examples of the
word “let” which express a command are Ex.19:10,14; 19:22;
Lev.4:3; 24:14; Num.12:14; 16:38 and Deut.22:7 etc)

C. View of verse 2:
v.2 is a divine permission for such a woman to remarry. Since she
had been put away by divine command from a defiling marriage, she
has no husband. Thus she may remarry without being defiled or
guilty of adultery.

D. View of Reconciliation with the first husband, verses 3 & 4:
Verses 3 & 4 teach that an incestuous marriage that is ended by divorce should never be reconciled. To reconcile such a relationship would be to knowingly re-establish a defiled incestuous relationship. Under the law, this was punishable by death for it was such an abomination and would defile the land!

E. The cause of defilement in verse 4:
The defilement of verse 4 is defilement in connection with the first husband! It is the defilement of incest. That is why defilement is only mentioned in connection with the consideration of whether the first husband could take her again! Such is NOT the case when spouses of marriages joined by God are wrongfully divorced and then later seek reconciliation!


1. This view introduces an absolutely new meaning to the word “uncleanness” in Deut.24:1…(the Hebrew word ERVAH , Strong's # 6172). However in all 38 instances of its' use prior to Deuteronomy 24, it refers to exposure of something to the eyes of another which is improper because the relationship between the two makes it improper. In 32 of those 38 instances it refers to the exposure of one's nakedness to a near relative (incest). The Israelites who first read Deuteronomy 24 were well aware of the previous usage of that word and therefore would have immediately recognized that Moses was speaking of a relationship of incest which had been entered into in ignorance!

2. The Lord Jesus and the Pharisees acknowledged that Moses had stated a command regarding divorce. (Matt.19:7 and Mark 10:3) So if verse 1 is only a permission, we must find another statement by Moses which is, in fact, a command! As far as I can tell, every other statement he makes on the subject is a permission! (Exodus 21:1-11; Deuteronomy 21:10-14)

3. The major difficulty with this view is that it makes God to not only condone, but actually to be a party to wickedness as he expressly permits a woman to enter into an adulterous relationship and thus to be defiled by the latter husband! This view thus teaches that in a situation of such a permitted divorce, God is actually forced into a corner where he must choose the lesser of two evils!!!! Such is an absolute impossibility for James 1:14 clearly states, "God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man."

4. We are told that the permission to remarry was to protect the woman from destitution. But God had already made ample provision that no person in Israel was left destitute. Whether they were single, married, divorced, male, female, bond, free, Israelite or stranger- provision was made for their needs! See Ex.23:9; Lev.19:10,33,34; 23:22; 25:6,35-38; Deut.1:16,17; and 10:18-22. Thus remarriage was never a necessity in Israel to avoid destitution!

5. All commentators who accept the popular view say that "uncleanness" in v.1 could NOT be sexual immorality because the remedy for such was death, not divorce! But they fail to recognize that IF the woman is defiled by the latter husband, it can only be the defilement of adultery for which the law also required the death penalty!! They also fail to recognize that incest is a sexual sin that can be committed ignorantly by both parties and that God makes merciful provision for sins of ignorance. (Leviticus 4:21-35 and Numbers 15:27-30).

6. We who hold the "unpopular view" are often charged with being harsh, legalistic, unforgiving and of showing no compassion to those who have had a marriage failure. Actually, the very opposite is true! God's grace always leaves the door open for reconciliation to sinners who are willing to turn from their sin. God continually urges repentance and promises forgiveness and restoration. See Jeremiah 3! Only after such offers of grace are continually refused and God's judgment falls in death does the opportunity for reconciliation cease. But the popular view fosters a spirit of unforgiveness and hardheartedness which absolutely denies reconciliation when one has failed and remarried after a wrongful divorce!

I am willing to go on record to say that if anyone at any time can scripturally refute all 6 of the above objections to the "popular view", I will publicly renounce the "unpopular view" which I presently hold. I am fully aware that such would radically alter all that I have taught on this subject to date.

(signed) Bruce Woodford September 14th, 1994

I would gladly correspond with any who would like to discuss these matters and would like to email me at
Comments at the end of these blog posts are also always welcomed.

P.S. For those who would like to evaluate the meaning of “uncleanness” in Deuteronomy 24, and do so objectively, scripturally and independently of any interpretation or comments of any commentator (myself included), my next post will be a questionnaire and inductive study of that passage and a number of key words which are used in it.

1 comment:

Wise Reaction said...

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