I am sure it is just me, but I have failed to understand the complexity and controversy surrounding the divorce law stated in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. I understand that historically the Jews had a great amount of controversy in interpreting the text. But this does not mean that the command was not straightforward. Many of the laws given in Deuteronomy were given as instructions in case a particular situation arose. By legislating the activity many suppose that God was authorizing the action. Therefore, many read Deuteronomy 24 and declare that the divorces and the remarriages were acceptable to God and approved by God. But I would like to quickly prove that the construction of the text does not offer any approval by God. Rather, these are simply laws for if the scenario arose. Consider a similarly worded law:
Deuteronomy 22:28-29 reads: “If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.” (NIV)
Was God approving of rape as long as the man paid the fine, married the victim, and never divorced her? Was God saying rape was acceptable as long as these laws were followed? Absolutely NOT! Everyone understands that this is contingency law. The key is the “if” at the beginning of the text. If this situation arose, here is what the man was supposed to do. Rape was a sin, but laws were given to govern the people as to what to do if someone did commit the sin. We see this same kind of language in the New Testament. The apostle John taught, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9; NIV). Was God teaching that it was okay to sin as long as we confess our sins after committing them. Absolutely NOT!
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is the same contingency law. The first three verses describe the possible situation. A man divorces his wife for some sort of indecency. She marries another man. That man also divorces her. What were the people to do? God was not approving of any of these scenarios. God was not approving of the divorce or the remarriage. God simply explained that if this situation arose, she was not to return to the first husband because she has been defiled from the second marriage.
Finally, let’s apply this to 1 Corinthians 7:10-11:
“To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.” (NIV)
Notice that this text also has an “if” statement. The married are not to divorce. But if a person does divorce, she must remain unmarried or be reconciled. The apostle Paul did not give approval for divorce. In fact, he just commanded that “a wife must not separate from her husband.” The rest of the text is contingency law. If divorce did happen (but it was not supposed to), then these were the laws to govern that person. No approval is granted by God.