08.02 Marriage, Divorce, Oaths And Forgiveness

08.02 Marriage, Divorce, Oaths, And Forgiveness

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 07, 2016  -  Comments Off on 08.02 Marriage, Divorce, Oaths, And Forgiveness

Unit 08

Topical Issues


Chapter 02

Marriage, Divorce, Oaths, And Forgiveness


 08.02.00.A. JESUS TEACHES THE CROWDS by James Tossit 1885.

08.02.00.A. JESUS TEACHES THE CROWDS by James Tossit 1885. In the first two and a half years of His ministry, Jesus was focused primarily on revealing Himself to the nation of Israel.  However, in His last year He focused primarily on teaching His disciples.

08.02.01 Introduction

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08.02.01 Introduction

To live a righteous life within one’s own family can be most challenging. All people have shortcomings, and when righteousness fails repeatedly, relationships and marriages are stressed and sometimes end. It is as true today as it has been throughout history. Divorce and remarriage was debated as much in the first century as it is today, although divorces were not as prevalent then.  Jesus addressed the problem by stating that marriage was an institution ordained by God, yet He recognized the challenges men and women may face. While the reasons for a divorce are adultery,[1] leaving the faith (1 Cor. 7:15), and emotional and physical abuse,[2] for the purpose of this study only the issue of adultery as discussed by Jesus and the opinions common in His day are addressed here. But the entire matter must be seen within the context of Second Temple Judaism and God’s Divine Word.[3]

When a young man and woman planned to get married, by either family-arranged or by their own choosing, a marriage contract was prepared. That legal binding contract, a/k/a a katuvah,[4] described the obligations of the bride and bridegroom and, therefore, only a divorce or death could terminate it. There were of three kinds of marriage contracts:[5]


  1. A Katuvah based on a dowry (the price the bride’s family pays the future husband).


  1. A Katuvah based on the bride price (the price the bridegroom pays to his bride’s family).


  1. A Katuvah with both elements of the above but with an emphasis on the bride price.


The Jewish understanding of a home is where a husband, wife, and children lived and it served as a sanctuary.  The table served as the altar, where bread was eaten to nurture and sustain the body and where the family prayed and shared biblical stories to nurture and sustain the soul. The husband-father served as priest of the family.  It was his responsibility to insure the spiritual well-being of everyone under his care. The family was seen as being so sacred that it was seldom broken.  This family unit was such an incredibly strong societal building block that breaking it would cause irreparable harm, not only to the family members, but also to the synagogue and community.  Unfortunately, the growing influence of Hellenism and its pagan influences made for a growing divorce rate.  Therefore, it was more of an issue in the days of Jesus than it was during the time of Moses (Deut. 24:1-4). In fact, it had become of such great concern that one first century rabbi suggested daughters be educated in this area of law, so they would not be taken advantage of in the event of a divorce in later life.  The Mishnah records the following:


Ben Azzai says: A man ought to give his daughter knowledge of the Law so that if she must drink [the bitter water][6] she may know that the merit [that she has acquired] will hold her punishment in suspense.

Mishnah, Sotah 3.4[7]


In essence, Rabbi ben Azzai said that his daughter should have knowledge of the law so that, if she experiences a divorce, she will not become victimized. However, not all Jewish scholars were in agreement with Rabbi Ben Azzai as reflected in the following two statements.[8]


Rabbi Eleazer said, “Let the words of the Law be burned rather than committed to women.”


“He who instructs his daughter in the Law instructs her in folly.”


Mishnah, Sotah 3.4


The differences between these quotations reflect the various rabbinic theological opinions. Girls were educated in the Galilee area, but not in Jerusalem.

Jesus recognized that due to the sin nature of humanity, divorces would continue but the innocent spouse should not be subjected to condemnation.  He, therefore, did not prohibit the practice, but He did set limits on it.  He focused his comment on husbands who are supposed to serve as the priest of the home, although they were generally the ones who initiated the breakup. An outlandish case is the account of Herod Antipas and Herodias. However, before going deeper into the issues of marriage and divorce among the Jews, it is important to briefly examine the Greek view of the subject.  The primary reason is that when examining the opinions of two leading Jewish schools of theology, the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai, it becomes apparent that both of them may have been influenced by Hellenism.

The view of marriage held by the Greeks, which was adopted by the Romans, was an incredible paradox.  In a nutshell, the wife was to be a submissive home-keeper and be sexually pure while the husband had no sexual restrictions. A woman of high respect lived at home, in solitude with a highly limited social life, if any. She was not permitted to be on the street by herself. Her primary responsibility was to raise the children, be the ideal home-maker, and establish security in the home. On the other hand, the husband, had free license to have any relationship (prostitute) outside of marriage that he desired – and as many as he could afford.

The Greeks in Corinth built the temple of Aphrodite and employed a thousand priestesses who were called temple virgins, but in fact, were professional prostitutes and not housewives.  When the men of Athens discovered how much money these women generated, they established the temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Ironically, the entire structure was funded by revenue generated by prostitution. There was no question asked if a man decided to visit one of these two temples, or any other Greek temple.

Interestingly, in the course of time, a special class of women immerged known as the hetairai.[9] They were the mistresses of significant politicians, philosophers, and businessmen.  They established a high class of their own who functioned as a “second wife.”  Consequently, in the Greek culture, a social system of relationships outside of marriage was created and considered to be normal and natural. There was nothing a wife could do about her wandering husband, because if she complained, he could simply divorce her.  And a divorce did not require any legal action.  A husband simply had to acquire two witnesses and tell her that she was dismissed.  His only obligation was to return her dowry.  The practice of the Greeks concerning marriage and divorce was incredibly similar to the teachings promoted by the School of Hillel.  Therefore, it is apparent that Hillel (see below) adapted the Hellenistic model of marriage and wrapped it with Jewish theology and explanations.



Amazingly, centuries earlier, there was a time when Roman life was founded squarely on patria potestas, the father’s power.[10] He had absolute power and authority over all family issues.  Yet within this authoritative household, the wife had more freedom than did her Greek counterpart. In the early days of the Roman Republic, divorce was unheard of.  In fact, it is said that the first divorce was in 234 B.C. by a Spurius Carvilius, who divorced his wife because she was barren.[11] Prostitutes were held in contempt and the men who visited them were counted among the dishonorable.

Then came the Greeks and, as stated, the Romans adopted their values by the time of Christ.  The Roman culture had degenerated to that of the Greeks, and many men and women had serial marriages – one right after another. Note the comments by the following contemporary Roman writers of the time.[12]


  1. Lucius Annaeus Seneca, a/k/a Seneca the Younger or simply Seneca (ca. 4 B.C. – A.D. 65) was a Roman Philosopher and statesman. He said that some women were married to be divorced while others were divorced to be married.[13]


  1. Decimus Iuvenalis (ca. A.D. 55-127), more commonly known as Juvenal, writing in the end of the first century (A.D.), spoke of a woman who had eight husbands in five years. He authored sixteen satires in which he ruthlessly criticized the moral vices and corruption of Roman society to the point that his property was seized and he was banished to southern Egypt, possibly to the frontier town of Syene, now Aswan.[14]


  1. The Roman orator Metillus Numidicus said,


If Romans, it were possible to love without wives, we would be free of trouble; but since it is the law of nature that we can neither live pleasantly with them, nor at all without them, we must take thought for the continuance of the race rather than for our own brief pleasure.[15]


The influences of the Roman and Greek cultures upon the Jewish people and their leaders had a direct effect on issues of marriage and divorce. Into this social quagmire Jesus clearly and lovingly presented the intent of God without excuses or exceptions.  The fact that the Jews and Romans were incredibly lax about marriage covenant was directly due to the influence of the Greek culture.

[1]. Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Mk. 10:2-12.


[2]. Based upon numerous verses in light of the marriage covenant promise to care and protect one’s life-long spouse. This subject is discussed in the next section.


[3]. For further study, see David Instone-Brewer. Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002; and Larry R. Helyer. “The Necessity, Problems, and Promise of Second Temple Judaism for Discussions of New Testament Eschatology.” . Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47:4 (December 2004) 597-616.


[4]. For more details on the katuvah, see 04.03.03 and 04.03.08.


[5]. See also 04.03.03.A.

[6].  The term “bitter water” was a concoction of consecrated water flavored with dirt from an open area of the temple.  A woman suspected of adultery was given this bitter water to drink, and if she was guilty, her stomach would rupture and she would be killed. Parry, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Talmud. 82.


[7]. Bracketed clarification by Danby, ed. Mishnah.


[8]. The wide range of rabbinic opinions is evident in various Jewish writings. See 02.02.01.V for more information on this subject.


[9].  Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:153-55.


[10].  Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:156.


[11]. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:156.


[12].  For further study on the various opinions concerning the status and influence of women in the Second Temple Period, see the excellent work by Tal Ilan, Integrating Women into Second Temple History, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999. Take note of Chapter 3 on the discussions of two first century historians, Josephus and Nicholaus of Damascus, and their comments about women.


[13]. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:13.


[14]. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/308974/Juvenal Retrieved July 30, 2013.


[15]. Quoted by Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:156-57.



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08.02.02 Lk. 16:14-18                            




14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and scoffing at Him15 And He told them:

A            “You are the ones who justify yourselves

B                         in the sight of others,

C                                       but God knows your hearts.

B’                        For what is highly admired by people

A’           is revolting in God’s sight.


16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is strongly urged to enter it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter in the Law to drop out.

 18 Everyone who divorces his wife

and marries another woman

 commits adultery,


and everyone who marries a woman

 divorced from her husband

 commits adultery.


What both the Pharisees and Sadducees missed; what they did not learn from the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and the exile is that God cares more about obedience, steadfast love, justice, righteousness, and humility than for sacrifices, festivals, offerings, and assemblies.[1]


“Scoffing at Him.” The Hebrew term scoffing literally means turned their noses up at Him.[2] Such an act was highly insulting – some might say a criminal act, in a culture where honor was highly valued. Obviously the Pharisees understood the parable, or they would not have scoffed at Him. Jesus then referred to the permanence of the divine laws of God.  These laws will last forever; not change with the stroke of a pen as did the traditions of the religious aristocrats.

“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and everyone who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” The translation of this passage has, without question, been problematic for many readers. That is because it places a severe punitive restriction (no future marriage) on the innocent person whose mate originated the divorce and, that is uncharacteristic of Jesus for at least three reasons:


  1. This passage puts Jesus in conflict with the Torah, since God, through Moses, made a provision for divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1. While divorce is detestable to our Lord, where does God condemn the victim of divorce, the partner who was faithful, godly, and did not want a divorce? There is none.


  1. To interpret the passage as an unconditional indictment without considering the circumstances or motivation is Pharisaic legalism, something that Jesus totally opposed. His emphasis was to focus on the spirit of the Law rather than the letter of the Law.


  1. The typical translation of Luke 16:18 is in contradiction with Matthew 19:2 in which He made an exception for divorce.


The core issue of verse 18 lies in translation of the small word and, as found in the phrase, … and marries another … In Greek, the word for and is koi, (2532) but Jesus seldom spoke Greek. He spoke in Hebrew and its sister language, Aramaic. Therefore, Jesus would have used the Hebrew word vav that can be also translated into English as and, but vav also has a broader meaning that includes the phrase, in order to  or so that.[3] An Old Testament example is found in Exodus 5:1, 7:16, 8:1, 8, 20, 21, etc.


            “Let my people go so that they may serve Me in the wilderness.”

            “Let my people go and they may serve Me in the wilderness.”


The phrases in order to and so that both reflect intent or the purpose of a divorce, whereas the word and does not.


This verse 18 is also reflective of Herod Antipas and Herodias, where Herod divorced his wife so that he could marry another man’s wife. According to Jesus, that was certified adultery!  When Josephus wrote of this, he stated that the illicit romantic entanglement between Antipas and his half-brother’s wife, Herodias, led them to divorce their spouses in order to marry each other. John the Baptist clearly condemned this action, and Jesus did likewise.


Another significant point is that the divorce certificate was always written for the protection of the woman.  It was a legal document with terms and conditions that had to be honored, and permitted both parties to remarry.  Considering the “spirit” of the biblical commands in light of what Jesus said, there are three reasons for a biblical divorce.


  1. Jesus said that divorce was not permitted with the exception of adultery (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Mk. 10:2-12).


  1. However, the Apostle Paul said that the only reason for divorce was if the partner left the faith (1 Cor. 7:15). This is not in disagreement with what Jesus said because each conversation must be held within its context. But if one is legalistic about interpretation of what Jesus said, then obviously the conclusion is that the apostle was wrong – and that doesn’t make sense. Neither does legalistic interpretation!


  1. A third reason is that of physical or emotional abuse. This is based on a “biblical construct” foundation because the abusive spouse has broken promises to love, protect and honor their mate.[4]


In all of the above cases, there are valid grounds for the innocent partner to remarry.[5]  Nowhere in either Testament is there a punitive condition ever imposed on the innocent party.[6]  If the words of Jesus meant that divorce was never permitted, then the Apostle Paul would certainly have written 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 differently.[7] It should be noted however, that today, as in the time of Jesus, most divorces were caused by selfishness or unforgiveness, rather than for any of the three reasons listed above.


The Oral Law said that a woman who had an illicit lover was unclean because of the adulterous relationship and, being unclean, meant that she could not marry him.[8]  If she was married and if, during that marital relationship she developed another relationship outside of her marital covenant that was sin. Jesus essentially said the same message to the husband.  A careful reading of the original language translates as follows:


Everyone who divorces his wife [in order] to marry another.[9]


The writings of the Mishnah were still in oral form when Paul learned them as a child in the synagogue and later again from Rabbi Gamaliel, who some say was the grandson of Jerusalem’s famous Rabbi Hillel.  The apostle was well aware of the divorce laws when he penned Romans 7:1-6 that restated what Jesus said years earlier.  The meaning of adultery is restricted to the individual who desires a divorce in order to marry another. Such a new relationship is an adulterous one.  The second part of this verse is focused on another individual, one who desires to enter the second marriage, knowing that the first covenant was deliberately violated. Ancient divorce decrees permitted women to remarry, because a single woman had no means of support and would become a destitute beggar, unless a family within her clan provided for her.


It has been generally taught throughout church history that a divorce could be initiated only by the husband while the wife had no rights to obtain a divorce.[10] In Mark 10:12 Jesus clearly stated that some women divorced their husbands.  But the historical assumption remained strong and only recently has been seriously challenged. An example is due to the discovery of the early second century A.D. Papyrus Se’elim 13.  This divorce decree, written in Hebrew, was initiated by a wife against her husband and reads as follows:


I, Shelamzion, daughter of Joseph Qebshan of Ein Gedi, with you, Eleazar son of Hananiah who had been the husband before this time, that this is from me to you a bill of divorce[11]  and release.


Papyrus Se’elim 13, lines 4-7[12]


Whether the document was personally written by the wife or a scribe on her behalf is hardly important. Rather, this document is one of many that opens an entirely new insight and reveals Jewish women clearly had more legal rights than has traditionally been believed.

[1]. Jer. 7:21-23; Hos. 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Mic. 6:6-8.


[2]. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 284.


[3]. Vine renders koi as kai (2532) with three primary meanings, “and,” “also,” and “even.” See Vine, “Also.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:23.

[4]. Based upon numerous verses in light of the marriage covenant promise to care and protect one’s life-long spouse.


[5]. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 300.


[6]. For further study, see Heth, “Ánother Look at the Erasmian View of Divorce and Remarriage.” 263-72 and Herron Jr.“Mark’s Jesus on Divorce: Mark 10:1-12 Reconsidered.” 273-82.


[7]. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 301 n7.


[8]. Mishnah, Sotah 5:1.

[9]. Young, “Divorce and Adultery.” 4:3, 6, 7.

[10]. Charry, By the Renewing of Your Minds. 74.

[11]. For a typical bill of divorce format, see 08.02.03.A as well as Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 2:124-25.


[12]. Brewer, “Jewish Women Divorcing Their Husbands in Early Judaism: The Background to Papyrus Se’elim 13.” 349-50.


Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 07, 2016  -  Comments Off on 08.02.03 DIVORCE ISSUES DEBATED

08.02.03 Mt. 5:31-32 (See also Mt. 19:9; Mk. 10:12)




31 “It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a written notice of divorce (Deut. 24:1). 32 But I tell you, everyone who divorces his wife, except in a case of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.


The entire issue of divorce and remarriage was a hotly debated issue in the first century.  Some desired a strict adherence to the Mosaic Law (Deut. 24:1-5), while others believed that such strictness, at times was too harsh.  Into this religious environment entered the influences of Hellenistic culture resulting in a bottomless quagmire. The debates often centered on the meaning of the word “indecent” used by Moses (Deut. 24:1-5), as its definition, was thought to have changed in the fourteen centuries that had transpired since it was written.

The School of Hillel said that a man could consider a divorce “for any disgust, which he felt toward her.” This essentially was the first century equivalent of no-fault divorce.  Opposing this view was the School of Shammai, which stated that divorce could take place only in cases of obvious unfaithfulness. Stoning was not discussed. To make matters worse, according to Jewish writings (Sif. Num. 99) Moses, himself, was divorced.  He had married Zipporah (Ex. 2:21), but “sent her away,” (meaning a divorce) to her father (Ex. 18:2) and then married a Cushite (black African from Ethiopia) woman (Num. 12:1).  This second marriage quickly became the subject of bitter discussions between Miriam[1] and Aaron (Num. 12:1).[2] Those discussions concerning divorce continued to the time of Jesus.

Clearly, Jesus forbids divorce, not on the Mosaic regulations of divorce, but on the purpose of God instituting marriage. In doing so He eliminated all the arguments between the schools of Hillel and Shammai. The Jews had a proverb on the matter that said, “Hillel loosed what Shammai bound.”[3] In terms of moral and biblical interpretation, both rabbis and their schools had their faults. Neither one fully comprehended the ultimate plan of God for husband and wife.  However, in this case, Jesus accepted the divorce regulations of the School of Shammai but also demonstrated forgiveness that this school generally failed to demonstrate.

Even though Judaism esteemed women higher than in neighboring cultures, women were confronted with four major disadvantages.


  1. Often but clearly not always, they were looked upon as an object of possession rather than a person of worth. There are numerous writings that support both viewpoints on this subject.


  1. Obtaining an exit out of a brutal marriage was difficult, although not impossible.


  1. The acquisition of a divorce by a man was far too easy (see below). Such divorces were based on a very broad interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1.


  1. Once a woman was divorced, employment opportunities were almost non-existent. Single women, such as widows, often lived in poverty.


According to some rabbis, the reasons some rabbis gave men for a divorce included the following,


  1. “Spinning” in the streets, which meant speaking to men in public.[4]


  1. Being in public with her head uncovered, or allowing her hair to be visible. Only in a wedding procession could she have her head uncovered.[5] Women were expected to have their heads covered in such a manner that their hair was not seen. This is most likely the reason why the Apostle Paul said that women should have their heads covered (1 Cor. 11:5-6) when he wrote to the church in the morally corrupt city of Corinth.


The divorce decree protected the rights of the woman so that she could remarry and her children would not be considered illegitimate.[6]


All are required to write a bill of divorce, even a deaf mute, an imbecile, or a minor.  A woman may write her own bill of divorce and a man may write his own quittance, since the validity of the writ depends on them that sign it.  


Mishnah, Gittin 2.5               


No bill of divorce is valid that is not written expressly for the woman.


Mishnah, Gittin 3.1


The position held by Jesus is similar to that of the orthodox rabbinical School of Shammai, as recorded in the Mishnah.[7]  The following passage reflects the differences between the two major theological schools.


The School of Shammai says: A man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchasity in her, for it is written, “Because he has found in her indecency in anything.”

Mishnah, Gittin 9:10


The School of Shammai held that the phrase “because he found some uncleanness in her” from Deuteronomy 24:1, was a figure of speech meaning she was guilty of adultery.[8]  However, the School of Hillel said the phrase meant anything and everything that the husband did not like or approve of.


And the School of Hillel says, “[He may divorce her] even if she spoiled a dish for him, for it is written, “Because he has found in her indecency in anything.”

Mishnah, Gittin 9:10


In modern terms, it could be said that Rabbi Hillel instituted a form of no-fault divorce.


(If a man said) “Konam! If I marry the ugly woman such-a-one, though she was indeed beautiful; or the black woman such-a-one, though she was indeed white; or the short woman such-a-one, though she was indeed tall; she is (yet) permitted to him not because she was ugly and became beautiful, or black and became white, or short and became tall, but because it was a vow made in error.”

Mishnah, Nedarim 9.10     


Both Shammai and Hillel were Pharisees, and that is why the following incident occurred:


Some Pharisees approached Him to test Him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds?”

Matthew 19:3    





08.02.03.A. A FIRST CENTURY BILL OF DIVORCE. This bill or certificate of divorce,[9]  written in Aramaic on papyrus, was discovered in one of the caves in the Judean hills. This type of legal document was to protect the woman when the marriage ended (see translation below).


Divorce documents described any future payments that were due by the husband, although terms varied. The rabbis agreed that if a divorce document did not protect the wife, it was not a legal contract. The first century bill of divorce reads, in part, as follows,


Lines 1-11: On the first of [the month of ] Marheshvan, year six, at Masada.


I, Yehosef [Joseph] son of Naksan from [  ]h, living at Masada, of my own free will, do this day release and send you away, Miriam daughter of Yehonantan [Jonathan] from Nablata, living at Masada, who have, until now, been my wife, so that you are free on your part to become the wife of any Jewish man you may wish.  Here you have from me [literally, from my hand] a bill of divorce and a writ of release. Likewise, I give back [to you the whole dowry], and if there are any ruined or damaged goods or [  ]n, I will reimburse you fourfold, according to the current price. Furthermore, upon your request, [if lost], I will replace this document for you, as is appropriate.


Lines 12-25: [A repetition of the text is almost identical wording.]


Lines 26-29: {Signed} Yehosef son of Naksan, by his own hand


Eliezer, son of Malkah, witness

Yehosef, son of Malkah, witness

Eleazar, son of Hananah, witness


Divorce Decree (Courtesy of the Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum).[10]


Josephus not only confirmed the high frequency of divorces, but also that the divorce decree was for the protection of the wife, so she could remarry. He stated that,


He that desires to be divorced from his wife for any cause whatsoever (and many such cases happen among men), let him in writing give assurance that he will never use her as his wife anymore; for by this means she may be at liberty to marry another husband.

Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.23 (253)


It is evident that the right to remarry was understood and was not a matter of debate as it is in some Christian denominations today. Furthermore, neither Jesus nor the Apostle Paul prohibited remarriage even though they knew this practice was evident.

Except in a case of sexual immorality.”   Twice in his book, Matthew refers (5:32 and 19:9) to a reason for which divorce is permissible.  It is interesting to note that in Mark 10:2-12, the only person initiating the divorce and subsequently remarrying is charged by Jesus as committing adultery. While God condemns divorce, Jesus shows that the Law is a demonstration of God’s willingness to accommodate Himself to human frailty and failure.

Ironically, the rabbis of the School of Hillel were morally right, but exegetically wrong, while those of Shammai were morally wrong, but exegetically right.  Shammai actually recognized the “spirit” of the Mosaic Law, while Hillel was right only in that an opening for divorce was permitted.[11]  Since marriage is a covenant, there is little wonder then that Jesus went from the marriage issue directly to honesty without swearing or the taking of oaths. In the meantime, the Essenes believed divorce was considered illicit under all circumstances.[12]


08.02.03.Q1 Did polygamy exist in the first century?

Beginning during the time of the Judges, the practice of polygamy slowly decreased, although the three famous kings (Saul, David, and Solomon) were not the best examples of that trend. Wherever there were multiple wives there were multiple problems. By the Inter-Testamental period, the book of Tobias refers only to a husband-wife family, a pattern well established by the Old Testament prophets.[13] The prophet Ezekiel portrayed the husband-wife relationship as being similar to Israel-God in the allegory of Ezekiel 16.

By the first century, polygamy was rare, but not unheard of. Men, not women, had the approval of historic tradition to have more than one spouse at any given time.  Polygamy was rarely practiced throughout the Talmudic Period until it was officially banned in A.D. 1240.[14] (As will be later explained, it was practiced in the 17th century Yemen and was a topic of discussion in 1806 in France.) But evidently it was common enough that Josephus addressed it.


If anyone has two wives, and if he greatly respects and be kind to one of them, either out of his affection to her, or for her beauty, or for some other reason while the other is of less esteem with him, and if the son of her that is beloved be the younger by birth than another born of the other wife, but endeavors to obtain the right of primogeniture from his father’s kindness to his mother, and would thereby obtain a double portion of his father’s substance (inheritance), for that double portion is what I have allotted him in the laws.

Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.23 (249)


Obviously there were Jewish men with two or more wives, or the historian would never have written about the subject.  He then continues in section 4.8.23 with the complexities of marriage and divorce. As for him, his first wife was killed at the siege of Jotapata, his second wife deserted him, and after he retired in Rome to pursue a literary career, he married his third wife.[15] But some scholars believe he had four wives in serial marriages,[16] who gave him a total of five sons.[17]

Under Roman law bigamy and polygamy were strictly forbidden,[18] although adultery was not.  Nonetheless, the practice continued and in some Islamic countries, such as Yemen in the 17th century, persecution and death at the hands of Muslims was so severe that Jewish men had to take on multiple wives, (including widows) to keep the Jewish race alive and prevent Jewish women from becoming impoverished homeless outcasts. However, since the Second Temple Period the practice was discouraged, unless “the husband was capable of properly fulfilling his marital duties toward each of his wives.”  But local customs varied and many katuvah (marriage deeds) forbade a future second wife.[19] Yet examples of polygamy are as follows:


  1. Amazingly, the Mishnah records that a Jewish king could have a limit of 18 wives.[20] This is an interesting limitation since Israel did not have a king at the time the Mishnah was written, but was under the control of the Romans who forbade the practice. Without question, the codex of the Oral Law applied to Jews living outside of the Roman domain.


  1. Rabbinic writings do record one interesting incident of a rabbi, of all people, who had two wives. The Jerusalem Talmud has the account of a certain Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus who married his niece in his later years.[21] The Babylonian Talmud preserved the same account (Sanhedrin 68A) with additional details and identifies Rabbi Hyrcanus’ wife as Imma Shalom, the daughter of Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel, and she outlived her bigamist husband.[22] His second wife was also his niece. It is unclear if he was excommunicated for bigamy or being married to his niece.[23] However, his actions did not appear to conflict with the School of Shammai,[24] but the social discord this caused evidently discouraged others from the practice, as there is no further written evidence of Talmudic sages who engaged in this practice.[25]
  2. A well-known Jerusalemite by the name of Tobiad Joseph had two wives.[26]


  1. Alexander Jannaeus of the second century (B.C.) had several wives, one of whom was his “chief wife.”[27] Since he was the monarch of the Holy Land, maybe he is the reason the Mishnah later recorded that a king could have up to 18 wives.[28]


Those who believe that polygamy disappeared need to reconsider their position.[29] While the provisions of the typical katuvah are credited to the great reduction of polygamy, it did not eliminate it.[30] However, by the first century, the issue was not polygamy, but serial marriages – that is one wife after another. That is why divorce was a topic of heated debate. This subject continued into the Church Age.  The church fathers, Cyril of Jerusalem and Jerome, made these comments concerning second marriages:


And those who are once married – let them not hold in contempt those who have accommodated themselves to a second marriage.  Continence is a good and wonderful thing; but still, it is permissible to enter upon a second marriage, lest the weak might fall into fornication.

Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures[31]


What then?  Do we condemn second marriage?  Not at all; but we praise first marriages.  Do we expel bigamists from the Church? Far from it; but we urge the once-married to continence. 

Jerome, Letter to Pammachius[32]  


In the Apostle Paul’s letter to Timothy, he said that a pastor/elder should be the husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2). A number of evangelical denominations today interpret this to exclude anyone from a ministry position who is in a second marriage. The position is held because it is believed that the divorce is still a marriage; that God does not honor the divorce.  Furthermore, these evangelicals often believe that bigamy was outlawed in the first century Judaism.  However, the comment by Jerome, “Do we expel bigamists from the Church?” clearly reveals that the church accepted men with two wives, but Timothy said they were not qualified to serve in the church. Bigamy was technically legal but rarely practiced.

Josephus recorded the account of King Izates of Adiabene (reigned A.D. 35-60) who ruled the small semi-independent kingdom of Adiabene. He and many in his family had converted to Judaism as the result of Jewish merchants who told them about the God of the Jewish people and the Jewish religious traditions. As king, he even underwent the rite of circumcision.[33] When he felt his kingdom was threatened by the Parthians, he placed ashes on his forehead and told all his wives and children to call upon God for help.  The account reads as follows:

He (Izates) knew the king of Parthia’s power was much greater than his own; but that he knew also that God was much more powerful than all men.  And when he had returned him this answer, he betook himself to make supplication to God, and threw himself on the ground, and put ashes upon his head, in testimony of his confusion, and fasted together with his wives and children.[34] Then he called upon God.

Josephus, Antiquities 20.4.2 (89)


The Lord apparently heard and answered his prayer for help and mercy, because he remained undefeated and his kingdom prospered. When he died, he had 48 sons and daughters, but the number of wives is unknown.[35] A point of interest is that his mother, Queen Helena, after she converted to Judaism, built a palace in Jerusalem so she could worship God in the Jewish temple. When famine struck the Middle East in A.D. 45, the same famine of Acts 11:28-30, she provided funds to purchase food for the needy. Eventually, when she and her two sons, Izates and Monobasuz II died, their bones were buried in a tomb in the Hinnom Valley.[36]   Josephus and the Jewish writings praised them for their contributions in time of dire need.[37]

The irony of the acceptance of Queen Helena is that her husband, King Monobazus I, was also her brother.  Her two sons were essentially children of incest. Yet, in spite of all the laws of purity, once she and her family accepted Judaism, the Pharisees and Sadducees no longer had any issues with her – unlike Jesus with whom they had constant disagreements.



Finally, as previously stated, it is worth repeating that Hillel was clearly influenced by the Hellenistic trends of the time.  In the early days of the Roman Republic, marriage was considered sacred and divorce was unknown – an amazing tradition for a pagan culture.  However, with the advent of Hellenism and the lax attitudes of marriage by the Greeks, the Romans followed. Hillel accepted some Greek ideas of marriage and restructured these theologically to fit the Jewish mindset. Has something similar happened in Western culture today?

[1]. Miriam was so angry because Moses married a black woman, that God punished her by making her white with leprosy. Clearly God demonstrated His anger at racism. Eventually she was healed.


[2]. A few scholars do not agree with this interpretation and say that Zipporah and the Cushite woman was one and the same person.


[3]. Cited by Farrar, The Life of Christ. 349.


[4]. Mishnah, Ketuboth 7.6; Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 359-61; For further study, see Chapter 18 “The Social Position of Women” in Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus.


[5]. Mishnah, Ketuboth 2.1.


[6]. Mishnah, Gittim 9.4; Among the two major theological schools in Jerusalem, the School of Shammai was very strict while the School of Hillel was very relaxed (i.e. “no-fault” divorce permitted) concerning the issuance of a divorce decree.

[7]. Mishnah, Gittin 9:10. For further study, see Kister. “The Sayings of Jesus and the Midrash.” 39-50.


[8]. Wigoder, “Divorce;” See also Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.23.

[9]. For a typical bill of divorce format, see also Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 2:124-25.


[10]. Ward, Kaari, ed. Jesus and His Times. Reader’s Digest: New York, 1987, 76.; Translation by Biblical Archaeology Review  22:1 (Jan/Feb, 1996) 17. For a further study, see J.T. Milik in Discoveries in the Judean Desert.  P. Benoit, J. T. Milik and R. De Vaux, eds. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), 2:1-4-109, plates 30-31.

[11]. Farrar, Life of Christ. 306-07.

[12]. Dead Sea Scrolls: CD 4:21; 11Q Temple 57:17-19.

[13]. Trutza, “Marriage.” 4:92.


[14]. “Bigamy and Polygamy” Encyclopedia Judaica CD-ROM 1977.

[15]. Wilkins, “Peter’s Declaration concerning Jesus’ Identity in Caesarea Philippi.” 357; Farrar, The Life of Christ. 350.


[16]. Farrar, The Life of Christ. 348-49.


[17]. Grant, The Ancient Historians. 253.

[18]. http://www.ancient.eu/Cleopatra_VII/. Retrieved January 9, 2015.


[19]. Falk, Jesus the Pharisee. 88-89, 99, 106-07. The marital contract is further described in 04.03.03.A and 08.02.01.

[20]. Mishnah, Sanhedrin 2.4. However, the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 21a, gives a greater number, 24.  Clearly there was disagreement among the rabbis even though this was a hypothetical issue. See also Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 369.


[21]. Jerusalem Talmud, Yevamot 13:2; Avot D’Rabbi Nathan, Ch. 16.


[22]. This irony of this matter is that this Gamaliel is believed to have been the grandson of Hillel, the constant opponent of Shammai.


[23]. Babylonian Talmud, Bava Mezia 59B; Yet it is interesting that due to heavy persecution by Muslims, Jewish men in Yemen, as late as the19th century, had to take more than one wife because so many men were murdered. In this case, polygamy preserved the Jewish race.


[24]. Jerusalem Talmud, Betsah 1:4


[25]. Falk, Jesus the Pharisee. 53, 100-02.

[26]. Josephus, Antiquities 12.4.6 (186-90).


[27]. Josephus, Antiquities 13.14.2 (380); Wars 1.4.6 (97).


[28]. Mishnah, Sanhedrin 2.4. However, the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 21a, gives a greater number, 24.  Clearly there was disagreement among the rabbis even though this was a hypothetical issue. See also Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 369.


[29]. Johannes Leipoldt in Jesus und die Frauen, Leipzig: Quelle & Meyer, 1921 (reprint 2013), 44-49, gives many more examples in his notes.  See also Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 93.  


[30]. An interesting event occurred in the early nineteenth century, which challenges conventional Christian opinions that monogamy was the standard practice in the first century.  When Napoleon conquered Europe, the Jews were encouraged to re-establish their ancient court system, the Sanhedrin. Because of this decree, in 1806 Jews assembled to discuss a number of pressing problems. Of the many questions discussed, the first one was, “Is it lawful for Jews to marry more than one wife?” While the response was negative, it revealed that it was still an issue in various places. For example, in the 11th century Jews in Worms, Germany practiced bigamy. And in 17th century Yemen, the Muslims killed so many Jewish men that the surviving Jewish men who were married previously, then married the widows so these women would not become destitute.


[31]. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations: From 50 – 750 A.D. 175.

[32]. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations: From 50 – 750 A.D. 175.

[33]. Josephus, Antiquities 20.2.3-4.


[34]. Ashes placed on the forehead were cultural signs of deep grief and mourning, and in this case, sincere appeal to God. Vine, “Ashes.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:39.


[35]. Schalit, “Izates II.” Encyclopedia Judaica CD ROM; Notley and Garcia. “Queen Helena’s Jerusalem Palace,” 28-30.


[36]. This tomb was incorrectly identified as the “Tomb of the Kings.” See Notley and Garcia. “Queen Helena’s Jerusalem Palace,” 28-39 for historical and archaeological information.


[37]. Josephus, Antiquities 20.2.1-20.4.3; Mishnah, Yoma 3.10.


Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 07, 2016  -  Comments Off on 08.02.04 PHARISEES QUESTION DIVORCE

08.02.04 Mt. 19:1b-10 (See also Mk. 10:2-9) Judea across the Jordan




1b He departed from Galilee and went to the region of Judea across the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there. 3 Some Pharisees approached Him to test Him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds?”


4 “Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female,” 5 and He also said:

For this reason a man will leave
his father and mother and be joined to his wife,
and the two will become one flesh?

6 So they are no longer two,                                                                                                           Therefore, what God has joined together,                                                                                     man must not separate.”

7 “Why then,” they asked Him, “did Moses command us to give divorce papers and to send her away?”

8 He told them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts. But it was not like that from the beginning. 9 And I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

As was previously discussed, this theological debate was an ongoing issue between the two major Pharisaic schools of theology.  The School of Hillel permitted divorce for any reason (equal to modern no-fault divorce), which is why the question was asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds?” This was in sharp contrast to the School of Shammai that permitted divorce but only for the reason of adultery as written by Moses (Deut. 24:1-4).  Moses did not command divorce, but only allowed it. He recognized human frailty and he compromised.[1] But by the first century, as previously stated, the disregard for marriage vows evidently had a sufficient impact upon the culture that Josephus mentioned it.[2]

The Pharisees approached Jesus to ask which school was correct.  Rather than giving them their desired answer, Jesus referred to the original purpose of God at the time of Creation.  Divorce was granted only because of man’s evil heart.  In the Jewish law, adultery was always between an unmarried woman and a married man who was not her husband, but not so for a married man and any woman who was not his wife. In that case he would have committed adultery against her husband.  This was obviously an unjust system that Jesus opposed. Both schools of theology had lost sight of the fact that marriage is not a one- or two-way covenant, but a three-way covenant including God, man, and woman. Hence, while God hates divorce, it is permissible, but only on His terms.

As previously stated, there were four reasons in the Oral Law that permitted a man to divorce his wife.  The last of these stated that a husband could essentially put his wife away (divorce) for any reason whatsoever.  Jesus forbade divorce, not on the Mosaic regulations, but on the grounds that God instituted marriage.  In doing so, Jesus eliminated all the academic arguments and brought to their attention the purpose of God.  Evidently, this may have been a new concept for them.


The School of Hillel viewed marriage as a social institution, governed by the laws of men and for their convenience. Jesus and the School of Shammai recognized marriage as a divine institution and governed by God.  Unfortunately, in most biblical interpretation, the School of Shammai was just as legalistic as the Sadducees and Pharisees and did not agree with Jesus.  The irony of these laws was that during a couple’s betrothal period (about one year), the only reason for a divorce was immorality.  After marriage, however, a man could divorce his wife for any reason.


Finally, marriage is the most intimate of all human relationships.  It is spiritual, physical, emotional, and a union of deepest love and permanence.  It is also symbolic of the relationship God desires with every person.  For this reason, divorce and any kind of sexual union outside of marriage is of the highest abomination before God. Jesus defended both the indissoluble bond of marriage and the possibility of the celibate life without making a rule out of marriage or out of celibacy.

[1]. Smith, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew. 228.


[2]. Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.23.


08.02.05 More Divorce Issues

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 07, 2016  -  Comments Off on 08.02.05 More Divorce Issues

08.02.05 Mk. 10:10-12; Mt. 19:10-12




Mk. 10 Now in the house the disciples questioned Him again about this matter. 11 And He said to them,  


“Whoever divorces his wife

and marries another

commits adultery against her. 


12 Also, if she divorces her husband

and marries another,

she commits adul­tery.” 


Mt. 10 His disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of a man with his wife is like this, it’s better not to marry!”

11 But He told them, “Not everyone can accept this saying, but only those it has been given to. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb, there are eunuchs who were made by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves that way because of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”


“If she divorces her husband.”  This statement gives credence to the view that women had the right to divorce their husbands. This statement would never have been made if women were not permitted to obtain a divorce.


However, there were three occupations that were considered so dishonorable, that if a man decided to become employed in one of these, his wife could appeal to the court for a divorce and receive compensation for her loss.[1] Even if she knew that he was involved in one of these occupations before she married him, and she agreed that he could continue in that occupation, she could change her mind and file for a divorce. According to the traditions of the elders, these trades were,


  1. Dung collectors


  1. Leather tanners


  1. Copper smelters[2]


Amazingly, tax collectors, camel drivers, and shepherds are not listed in this group. If a wife did not have the right to divorce her husband, no comments about the subject would be either in the gospels or Mishnah.


“For some are eunuchs.”   The first two sections of this passage can easily be understood.  Some men were born eunuchs while others were castrated in infancy for their intended service to the royal court in later life as was the custom in the ancient Middle East.  However, that is not what is being said in this text.  It means that those who have the gift of celibacy should apply their energies for the Kingdom of God.  Paul also referred to celibacy as a gift (1 Cor. 7:2, 7). A similar idiom was spoken by Jesus when He said that if an eye or hand would offend the believer, it ought to be removed. He used a figure of speech.


The early Church father, Eusebius, reported that Origen understood this text was to be taken literally and castrated himself.   Later in life, Origen understood that this phrase was not to be taken literally and that wise counsel in his younger years would have been helpful in preventing his life-changing event.[3]  Clement of Alexandria, however, may have had the most accurate interpretation:


A true eunuch is not one who is unable, but one who is unwilling to indulge in pleasure.


Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor[4]

[1]. Mishnah, Ketuboth 7.10.


[2]. For further study on the despised trades, see Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. Chapter 14.


[3]. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History. 6.8.2.

[4]. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations: From 50 – 750 A.D. 267.


Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 07, 2016  -  Comments Off on 08.02.06 HONESTY WITHOUT SWEARING OR OATHS

08.02.06 Mt. 5:33-37



33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to our ancestors, You must not break your oath, but you must keep your oaths to the Lord. 34 But I tell you, don’t take an oath at all: either by heaven, because it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, because it is His footstool; or by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. 36 Neither should you swear by your head, because you cannot make a single hair white or black. 37 But let your word ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Anything more than this is from the evil one.


The words of Jesus are rather straight forward, which might make the modern student wonder why the matter was addressed in the first place. While there was solid biblical instruction on this matter,[1] by this time there were three kinds of swearing[2] – something that appears to be rather ridiculous today.


  1. There was the frivolous swearing, that is, taking an oath when none was needed.[3]


  1. There was an oath that included the name of God which was absolutely binding.
  2. There was the oath that did not include the name of God and, therefore, was not regarded as binding.


With three possible ways to affirm a commitment, little wonder that Jesus simply wanted to simplify the matter with the words, “Let your word ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes.’ ” Anyone who makes an oath (Gk. homologeo) makes a treaty with a deity, so that to lie under oath is to lie to one’s deity.[4] The honor of one’s word was common practice among righteous Jewish people.

Jesus was obviously not talking to everyone, but to those who were breaking the divine commandment.  Yet He most certainly was also aware that when His Passion Week would come, He would be on trial six times and, on at least one occasion, He would be under oath to declare whether He was the Christ, the Son of God (Mt. 26:63). Furthermore, anyone in a Roman court was under oath.[5] His primary concern was for the horizontal relationships between people.  Jesus raised the level of personal integrity and added clarity to the meaning of “righteousness” that it is a matter of the heart (cf. Mt. 5:6).[6]  It should be noted that Scripture clearly indicates that God swore by Himself.[7]

There were very few agreements between the Essenes and Jesus, yet on this issue, they were close. Josephus recorded their strict moral code regarding speaking only the truth:


They are eminent for fidelity, and are the ministers of peace; whatsoever they say also is firmer than an oath; but swearing is avoided by them and they esteem it worse than perjury.  For they say that he who cannot be believed without [swearing by] God is already condemned.


Josephus, Wars 2.8.6 (135)[8]


While Jesus supported the Mosaic Law, He did not refer to the law but to the principles of God.  Moses said that one should not swear falsely by the name of God because it would profane the Divine Name (Ex. 20:7; Deut. 5:11). But Jesus said that the “yes” or “no” of an honest man was far more credible than a sworn name by someone with questionable character. His followers were to have unquestionable character.

A righteous man has no need to swear because every word he utters is truthful, but the sinful man has no respect for any higher authority and, therefore, swearing to him is meaningless. Again, Jesus did not refer to the Mosaic Law, but to the principles of God.  There is a prohibition against perjury in Leviticus 19:12, which states that one should not swear by the name of God falsely, as this would profane the divine name (cf. Ex. 20:7; Deut. 5:11).  Jesus was against the swearing of oaths because oaths were used to conceal dishonest intentions.

It was believed that whoever needed to swear to the truth was afraid and whoever swore about a falsehood was a deceiver and traitor. The first believed that the power evoked could punish him and the other is an imposter who profited by the faith of others.  In both cases swearing is wrong. At the time of Jesus the Jewish people were under such heavy Roman economic bondage that swearing a falsehood to a tax collector was acceptable by the rabbis. Consequently, the Oral Law had many ways to break an oath. Yet in response, Jesus said that one’s word is to be bond. Truthfulness is essential to righteousness.


Taking an oath was problematic for two reasons:


  1. It was a failure of honesty, a characteristic concerning the image of God and,


  1. A major objection to the taking of oaths is related to the civil court system. Jews who were called to testify were required to swear upon a pagan god, an action that violated their law.[9] To foreigners it made little difference as to which god one would swear an oath, but to a righteous Jew or Christian, this was of paramount importance (cf. 1 Cor. 6:5-8).



The religious leaders had laws that permitted one to break a vow and disregard the commitment completely.  Below are four reasons.


Four kinds of vows the Sages have declared not to be binding: vows of incitement, vows of exaggeration, vows made in error, and vows (that cannot be fulfilled by reason) of restraint.

 Mishnah, Nedarim 3.1[10] 


Since a marriage covenant is held together by an oath, a man could divorce his wife for any reason whatsoever. In essence, this was no-fault divorce similar to what is found in most Western countries today.  Vows could be broken for the so-called right reasons.


Men  may  vow  to  murderers,  robbers,  or  tax collectors that  what  they have  is heave-offering even  though  it  is not  heave-offering;  or  that they belong  to the king’s household even  though  they  do not  belong to  the  king’s household.  The  School  of Shammai  say: “They may so vow in any  form  of  words except in  the  form  of  an oath.” In addition, the School of Hillel says: “Even in the form of an   oath.”

Mishnah, Nedarim 3.4


None  may  take change for money from the counter of excise men or from the  wallet of tax  collectors, or take any  alms from  them;  but  it  may be  taken from them  at their own house or in the market.


If  tax  collectors  took  a  man’s  donkey and gave him another, of if robbers  robbed  a man of his coat and gave him another, they became his own, since  the  owner cherishes no hope of  recovering them.

Mishnah, Baba Kamma 10.1b – 2a


If tax collectors entered a house (all that is within it) becomes unclean.  Even if  a  Gentile was with them they may be believed  if  they  say, “We did  not enter,”  but they may  not be believed  if  they say, “We entered but touched nothing.” If thieves  entered a house, only that part  is unclean  that was trodden by the feet of  the thieves.  What do they render unclean? Foodstuffs and liquids and open earthenware vessels; but couches and seats and earthenware vessels having a tightly stopped-up cover remain clean.  If a Gentile or a woman was with them all becomes unclean.

Mishnah, Tohoroth 7.6a


Clearly, this is a volume of rabbinic comments concerning the exceptions of honesty of character, while maintaining so-called righteousness, and is indicative of the extent that dishonesty had permeated Jewish society.  In contrast, Augustine made this comment about oaths:


Swear not at all; words, which were in my opinion spoken, not because it is a sin to swear a true oath, but because it is a heinous sin to foreswear ones’ self.

Augustine, To Publicola[11]


At this point there is some difficulty in understanding the first century Jewish mind-set concerning vows and oaths.  While the Mishnah is seen as encouraging the making of vows, the Babylonian Talmud advised great care in making solemn promises. The following example is in reference to a vow made for an offering:


For it was taught, “better it is that you do not vow, than that you vow and not pay” (Ec. 5:4).  Better than both is not to vow at all.

            Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 9a[12]


Concerning the differences, the following two explanations are suggested:


  1. The Mishnah was recorded in the second century, while the more exhaustive Talmud was completed around the year 500.


  1. Differences also exist because not all rabbis were in agreement on this matter.[13]


08.02.06.Q1 What were the differences between the vow, the oath, and a ban (Mt. 5:33-37)?

In Jewish thinking, an oath was absolute while the vow was conditional because it had conditional phrases attached such as “if I…” or “that if.”  Anything that was banned was restricted from common use and assigned to the temple priesthood.[14]  However, even these rules were broken.

[1]. Ex. 20:7; Lev. 19:12; Num. 30:2-3; Deut. 23:21-24; Ps. 49:14.


[2]. This had become such a complex matter in the Oral Law, that the entire tractate of the Mishnah, Shebouth, is dedicated to the subject of oaths.


[3]. Vine, “Oath.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:438.


[4]. Furst, “Confess.” 1:344; Link and Tuente. “Swear, Oath.” 3:737-43.


[5]. To place one under oath always meant a relationship with a deity of the one who administered the oath.


[6]. Brown, “Righteousness, Justification.” 3:352-54.


[7]. Gen. 22:16; Ps. 110:4; Isa. 45:23.


[8]. Insert by Whiston, ed.; See also Josephus, Antiquities 15.10.5 (371).


[9]. Link and Tuente. “Swear, Oath.” 3:737-43.


[10]. See Mishnah, Nedarim 9.10 in 08.02.04, as this highlights how permissive divorce laws were at the time of Jesus. However, not all rabbis were in agreement with these laws.

[11]. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations: From 50 – 750 A.D. 191.

[12]. See also Babylonian Talmud, Nedar 22a.


[13]. The wide range of rabbinic opinions is evident in various Jewish writings. See 02.02.01.V for more information on this subject.


[14]. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 487-88.

08.02.07 Retaliation Forbidden

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 07, 2016  -  Comments Off on 08.02.07 Retaliation Forbidden

08.02.07 Mt. 5:38-42; Lk. 6:31



Mt. 38 You have heard that it was said,


An Eye for an eye,

and a tooth for a tooth”(Ex. 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21).  

39 But I tell you, “Don’t resist an evildoer.” 


On the contrary, if someone slaps you on your right cheek,

turn the other to him also

40 As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt,

let him have your coat as well. 

41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile,

go with him two


42 Give to the one who asks you,

and don’t turn away from the one  

who wants to borrow from you.


Lk. 31 Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.


When Jesus told them not to retaliate, not to resist an evil person (a Roman), and walk a second mile when so demanded (an occasional request by Roman soldiers), they were greatly perplexed.

When Jesus said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” He used a figure of speech to say that the punishment must fit the crime, a law that predated the written Old Testament and had numerous counterparts in the Oral Law.  When given by Moses, it was for the courts to judge a case and render a legal verdict it was not for an individual response.[1]  It was known among the Romans as Lex Talionis[2] and had four important elements.


  1. The name Lex Talionis was the beginning of mercy for the Romans, an act to establish justice without vengeance although it had been even earlier among the Jews (Lev. 19:18).


  1. This law was never administered by an individual, but by a court (see. Deut. 19:18).


  1. Even in semi-civilized societies, this law was never carried out literally. Rather, compensation was required for the following:


  1. Injury


  1. Pain suffered


  1. Healing


  1. Lost time of wages lost


  1. For indignity suffered


  1. While this law does call for justice, it is not the embodiment of the Hebrew Bible. Other sections call for feeding one’s enemy (Prov. 25:21).


The ancient law that appears to have been so incredibly ruthless was, in fact, the forerunner of modern liability law.  Nonetheless, to make sure there would be no misunderstanding about it, Jesus removed the retaliation element of it. Neither Moses nor Jesus ever denied mercy, but the leading Pharisees and Sadducees were not as kind.

Critics have frequently discussed the issue of several laws of Moses that are nearly identical to those of Hammurabi written centuries earlier.  They challenge the inspiration of Scripture, implying that parts of the Hebrew Code are dependent upon the older Hammurabi’s Code.  To address this issue, an example of each lawgiver is presented as well as the comment by Jesus in Matthew 5:18.  Therefore, the question is,


08.02.07.Q1 Did Moses quote Hammurabi, and if he did, how does this affect the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:18? 

This topic is beyond the scope of this paper. However, a brief review is warranted since Jesus made reference to a Law of Moses that appears to have originated with Hammurabi. If one assumes that Jesus referred to the Mosaic Law and not to the Oral Law, then, critics say, He legitimized the Old Testament passages. On the other hand, if one assumes that the quotation by Jesus originated by Hammurabi, then the inspiration of Scripture is challenged. To explain this issue, it is important to briefly step into history.

An archaeological discovery that caused phenomenal controversies occurred at the close of 1901 and at the beginning of 1902. A French archaeological team, excavating at the acropolis of Susa (or “Shushan the palace” in the book of Esther), unearthed a seven-foot four-inch tall stele[3] with one of the longest cuneiform inscriptions ever discovered. It was the legal code of King Hammurabi (1792 -1750 B.C.), the sixth monarch of the first Babylonian dynasty. He expanded the Babylonian Empire that included numerous vassal states. To govern properly, he established a set of 282 laws that were uniform throughout the Empire and became known as the Code of Hammurabi, or Codex Hammurabi. These laws were inscribed on the black diorite stele, and scholars believe that copies were made and distributed. The Code became the standard of conduct and culture throughout the vast section of western Asia. However, some of these regulations existed prior to Hammurabi in the Codex or Code of Ur-Nammu.[4]  Hammurabi selected those laws he felt would serve his people best and provide uniformity to his court system on legal and social issues.

Abraham (c. 2000 B.C.), the father of the Jewish people, came from Ur, a city within the ancient country of Sumer (the biblical Shinar). While he predated Hammurabi, many laws of the Codex Hammurabi existed in Abraham’s time.  Five centuries later Abraham was followed by Moses who wrote the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. As stated previously, the major problem is that some laws written by Hammurabi are nearly identical to those given centuries later by Moses and Jesus. Note the following:


If a man has knocked out the tooth of a man who is his equal, they shall knock out his



Law No. 200, Code of Hammurabi 


22 “When men get in a fight and hit a pregnant woman so that her children are born prematurely but there is no injury, the one who hit her must be fined as the woman’s husband demands from him, and he must pay according to judicial assessment. 23 If there is an injury, then you must give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, bruise for bruise, wound for wound.

Exodus 21:22-24


You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.

Matthew 5:38


While the judicial codes of Ur-Nammu, Hammurabi, and Moses were for judicial conformity, these laws did not prevent or limit the extension of mercy on the part of the judges.[5]  Both the Hammurabi and Ur-Nammu (see footnote above) codes are arranged in casuistic form, meaning, the law begins with a statement similar to “If a man…” after which the punished is described.

There is one major difference between the codes of Hammurabi and Moses – and that is one of mercy. For many of the 282 laws of Hammurabi, the punishment for a violation was death, even in matters considered to be trivial today. It is unknown if Hammurabi’s judges enforced all laws to their maximum punishment. However, the Mosaic Code is overall far more merciful.  It restrained revenge, and essentially stated that punishment must fit the crime.

In spite of some similarities, there are other distinct differences as well. Among the Hebrews, all people had equal rights, even slaves. However, in the Babylonian culture were three distinct societal levels:


  1. The aristocrats, gentlemen, free citizens, professionals, officers, and tradesmen.


  1. The poor and freemen who previously were slaves.


  1. Slaves.[6]


Legislation varied for each level. Another distinct difference from the Mosaic Code is that the Codex Hammurabi deals with outward expressions and actions but avoids issues of religion and matters of the heart.[7]  Many Greek and Roman laws were similar. However, the Mosaic Law is thus far superior as it has both outward expressions as well as issues of the heart. The latter is illustrated as follows,


  1. “And you shall be holy men to me” (Ex. 22:31)


  1. “You shall be holy for I am holy” (Lev. 11:45)


  1. “You shall be holy, for I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:2)


These three examples are a keynote of the Mosaic Law; that men should be holy in deed and action before God, and this is the message that was reinforced by Jesus. Furthermore, when Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said,” He spoke to everyone – Jew and Gentile alike. He gave instructions that one should not retaliate with anger, but respond with love.  It is the opinion of this writer, that God ordained some parts of the Code to be copied into the Bible because, at that time, they were part of the universal code of conduct.



If an injury and death occurred, even if it was accidental, a member of an injured clan or tribe had the duty to bring justice to the guilty party. The Old Testament phrase specifically stated this to keep angered justice from becoming a vindictive blood feud.  All too often, the punishment far exceeded the crime and any sense of justice.

In the travels of this author throughout the Middle East, he discovered that this ancient tribal law is still being observed in many Muslim countries, especially in the rural areas. His friend, Imad, in Jordan had an experience as follows: Imad is an academic and by nature, is a very careful and observant individual.  One day while driving in Amman, a pedestrian darted out in front of his car.  This caused an unavoidable accident and Imad was clearly the innocent party.  Yet the police placed him in prison to protect his life, until the family of the injured pedestrian said that their demands were met.  Only then was he released from prison. Even though Imad was completely innocent, he had to pay for the damages to his car, the hospital bill of the injured person who caused the accident, and the lost wages of the injured.  Insurance did not cover accidents of this nature in Jordan in the late 20th century.

Hammurabi’s Law Code was not limited to ancient Babylon, because many surrounding people groups eventually adopted some form of it. [8]  In 2010 Israeli archaeologists digging at a site in Hazor discovered two fragments of a clay tablet written in Akkadian cuneiform that parallels portions of Hammurabi’s decrees. The fragments contained the “tooth for a tooth” provision that appears to be parallel to the Old Testament passage “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” [9] The word from Jesus is that it was time to lay aside the tribal laws and live with compassion and mercy.

Did Moses copy part of the Hammurabi’s Code?  Critics have assumed that he did.  However, it was because God ordained some parts of the Code to be copied into the Bible because, at that time, they were part of God’s universal code of conduct that long pre-existed Moses and Hammurabi. For example, when Noah built the ark, he acknowledged the differences between clean and unclean animals – centuries before Moses wrote about them.

“Don’t resist an evildoer.”  It hardly seems right that one should not resist evil. The word “resist” is a Hebraism that also reads, “Do not agree with an evil person,” or “do not fight an evil person.”[10] While the word is translated correctly, its meaning is more encompassing and includes Psalm 37:1, 8 and Proverbs 24:19.

“If someone slaps you on your right cheek.”  This phrase has nothing to do with physical violence, but has everything to do with insults.  Notice that the slap is on the right cheek, not left.  For one to slap another person on the right cheek, he would need to use his left hand.  For centuries the right hand was symbolic of authority and blessings while the left hand was for personal hygiene and cursing. In this phrase, the cursing hand was used to slap someone. Furthermore, to slap someone with the back of the hand was considered twice as insulting as if he was hit with the palm of the hand.

“Turn the other to him also.”  The reason Jesus said to turn the cheek was not to accept additional physical violence, but by doing so the victim disarms the individual who initiated the insult. Disarming the verbal assault with love is the preferred solution to returning insult with insult. The Apostle Paul essentially said the same thing – not to repay evil for evil – in Romans 12:17. Again, righteous Jews at the time already observed this command of love as preserved in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.


I will repay on one with evil; I shall pursue him with goodness, for with God is the Judgment of all living.

Dead Sea Scroll 1QS 10:18; CD 8:5-6[11]


The Dead Sea Scroll CD 8:5-6 and scroll fragment (1QS 10:18 demonstrate that this command was practiced by some Jewish people – namely the Essenes. But that may have been only to members of the Essene community because their Manuel of Discipline says to love all children of light (Essene members) but hate all children of darkness (non-members).[12] 

Other rabbinic writings indicate that it was observed among righteous Jews elsewhere as well.  However, the fact that it appears in the Didache, is evidence that the command was taught by the early church, and also for a first century authorship of the book of Matthew (an opinion that critics oppose).


Abstain from gratifying the carnal [and bodily] impulses.  When anyone gives you a blow on the right cheek, turn to him the other as well, and be perfect; when anyone forces you to go one mile with him, go two with him; when anyone takes your cloak away, give him your coat also; when anyone robs you of your property, demand no return.

Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) 1:4


“For the one who wants to sue you.”  The Jews had a village court where the magista served as a judge. However, if a case came before a higher court, the oath was imposed upon those who testified by one called a dawar.[13]  While there was a judicial system, the Talmud was highly critical of the Jew who took another Jew to court, especially in a heathen court where the oath was pronounced in honor of a pagan god.

“Shirt, let him have your coat as well.”  The coat, known as a cetoneth, was the ancient outer garment. Not wearing one was considered being “naked,”[14] as only the inner garment was then worn. If an outer garment was held for security or pledge for any reason, Mosaic Law (Ex. 22:26-27) required it to be returned by nightfall.  Poetic parallelism of Matthew 5:38-42 was used by Jesus to as a memory tool condemning vengeance and vindictiveness. This literary device is also found in the Inter-Testamental book of the Testament of Benjamin.[15]


See then, my children, what is the goal of the good man?  Be imitators of him in his goodness because of his compassion, in order that you may wear crowns of glory. 


For a good man does not have a blind eye,

but is merciful to all, even though they may be sinners.

And even if persons plot against him for evil ends,

by doing good this man conquers evil, being watched over by God.


He loves those who wrong him

as he loves his own life.

If anyone glorifies himself,

he holds no envy.

If anyone become rich,

he is not jealous.

If anyone is brave,

he praises him. 

He loves the moderate person;

he shows mercy to the impoverished;

To the ill he shows compassion;

he fears God. 

He loves the person who has the gift of a good spirit

as he loves his own life.

Testament of Benjamin 4:1-5[16]


“And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.”  The word forces is from the Greek term aggareuein, meaning to compel.[17]  The origin of the word is from a Persian custom when couriers were authorized to force anyone into service for them, if assistance was needed.  This practice was later adopted by the Romans.[18]  In the Roman world, a soldier could command any peasant into service immediately and he would have to carry whatever load was demanded of him. However, to protect the citizen from military abuse, the soldier could demand that the load be carried only one mile.[19] This is precisely what happened to Simon of Cyrene when a Roman soldier compelled him to carry the cross for Jesus to Calvary.  Jesus stated that the generosity of His followers should perform the task to a greater measure than that which was permitted or requested.  Therein would the gracious love and kindness of God flow through the faithful believer and be revealed to the lost sinner.


08.02.07.Q2 Who challenged Jesus in various public discussions?

Scholars believe moderate Pharisees were followers of the School of Hillel, but those who frequently challenged Jesus were:


  1. Wealthy leading Pharisee; the aristocratic elders of this sect,


  1. Spies for the Herodian families (Herodians) and


  1. Followers of the School of Shammai[20]


  1. The Sadducees


As has been previously stated, while the total number of Pharisees was only six thousand, they were quite influential in shaping the religious structure of the culture.[21] Modern students often condemn all of them for being hypocritical, but Jesus said this only of the leaders of the sect. The common Pharisees who ruled the local synagogues were kind and caring men who performed their duties as best as they could. However, many were manipulated by their leadership.

[1]. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 152.


[2]. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:163-65; Ryken, Wilhoit, and Longman, eds., “Eye, Sight.” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. 255-56.



[3]. See Appendix 26.


[4]. The oldest known code of law is a shorter legal codex known as the Code of Ur-Nammu of ancient Ur.  It is of the same geographical area, predates Hammurabi by three centuries (2100-2050 B.C.), and has only 32 laws written in the Sumerian the Law. Law number 22 reads, “If a man knocks out a tooth of another man, he shall pay two shekels of silver.”


[5]. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 152.


[6]. Clay, Light on the Old Testament. 207-08. Because the Jews experienced slavery and thankfulness was one (# 10) of their Eighteen Benedictions, for a Jew to call another Jews “a slave” could subject him to excommunication from the synagogue. See Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:304.


[7]. Adams, Ancient Records. 65.

[8]. Packer, Tenney, and White, eds., The Bible Almanac. 380-96.


[9]. Israel National News, July 26, 2010, reprinted in “Hammurabi-like Law Code Found at Hazor.” Artifax 25:4 (Autumn 2010). 8.


[10]. Freeman, The New Manners and Customs of the Bible. 412.


[11]. Cited by Smith, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew. 102.   


[12]. Dead Sea Scroll Manuel of Discipline 1QS 1:4-10; 9:21-22.


[13]. Babylonian Talmud, Baba Kamma 113B.

[14]. See 15.02.09.Q1


[15]. The reader is reminded that quotations from non-biblical sources are not to be understood as being of equal authority with the biblical narratives.  See 01.02.04.


[16]. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. 2:826.

[17]. Barclay, A New Testament Wordbook. 15.

[18]. Gilbrant, “Matthew.” 99; Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:168.

[19]. Freeman, The New Manners and Customs of the Bible. 412; Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 181.


[20]. New International Version Study Bible note on Leviticus 24:20.

[21]. Josephus, Antiquities 17.2.4.


Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 07, 2016  -  Comments Off on 08.02.08 LOVE FOR ENEMIES

08.02.08 Mt. 5:43-47; Lk. 6:34-36; Mt. 5:48




Mt. 43 “You have heard that it was said,

            “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”


44 But I tell you,

            love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,


                        45 so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.


For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good,

            and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.


46 For if you love those who love you,

what reward will you have? 

Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 


47 And if you greet only your brothers,

what are you doing out of the ordinary? 

Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?  


Lk. 34 And if you lend to those

from whom you expect to receive,

         what credit is that to you?


            Even sinners lend to sinners

            to be repaid in full.


                35 But love your enemies

do what is good,

and lend, expecting nothing in return. 


Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  36 Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.


Mt. 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.


“Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Jesus was referring to both the written and oral laws. The first part was recorded in Leviticus 19:18, while the other was in the Oral Law and reflected the popular thinking of the elite concerning non-Jews (cf. Lev. 19:33-34; Ex. 23:4-5).  Non-Jews were considered both as enemies and sinners.  These words of Jesus were not only directed to these elitists, but also to the Essene movement, which explicitly commanded its members to love each other and hate all outsiders, including other Jews.[1] Yet this concept was not a “new” idea, but was a common teaching in Jewish history and appeared in some pre-Christian writings.[2]


“Love your enemies.”  This command is distinctively different from many other commands in rabbinic writings.  The love espoused by Jesus is a hallmark of divine significance.  It was already understood that God desired His people to love their neighbors (Lev. 19:18).  The word “neighbors,” however, had a narrow definition.  The Jews desired an explanation to which Jesus responded with the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25ff).   According to Jesus, true love will cause the believer to pray for his enemy and persecutor and, thereby, reflect the loving character of God Himself.   Here Jesus breaks all boundaries of the traditional concept of who needed to be loved and who would be rejected. The early church fathers had an interesting parallel to this in the early second century:

Anything you do not want to happen to you, do not to another.


Didache 1:2[3]


It is unknown why they placed this teaching in a negative format, but some scholars believe it is because the Ten Commandments were also written negatively.


“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  This is the summary statement of the Sermon on the Mount!  Jesus requires perfection from His disciples, but that perfection is the attitude toward godly perfection that determines actions.  No one can achieve perfection by his own efforts. Only by the grace and forgiveness of God is perfection acquired.  It is a lifestyle of humility, knowing who we are before a perfect God, and a lifestyle of faith, knowing that a loving God desires to be an integral part of our lives.

[1]. See the Dead Sea Scrolls 1QS 1:4,10; 2:4-9; 1QM 4:1-2; 15:6; 1QH 5:4.

[2]. Two examples are found within three books of The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. They are The Testament of Dan 5:3; The Testament of Zebulon 5:1; and The Testament of Issachar 7:6.


[3]. The Didache is a book on church order that was written within a century of the life of Jesus. For more information, see 02.02.08.

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