“And” or “In order to” Remarry

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In the whole of Luke’s gospel, there is just one context in which the verbs “divorce” and “marry” appear together. That passage—only one verse—ought to contribute to a correct understanding of Jesus’ attitude toward divorce and remarriage; however, there exists no scholarly consensus on the passage’s meaning.

 

Revised: 4-Sep-2012

In the whole of Luke’s gospel, there is just one context in which the verbs “divorce” and “marry” appear together. That passage—only one verse—ought to contribute to a correct understanding of Jesus’ attitude toward divorce and remarriage; however, there exists no scholarly consensus on the passage’s meaning.

Any man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and a man who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. (Luke 16:18)

In the first half of Luke 16:18, Jesus appears to teach that a man who has divorced his wife should not remarry.[1]  In the verse’s second half, Jesus seems to say that no man should marry a divorced woman. Does this simplistic interpretation of a difficult verse do justice to Jesus’ approach to Torah?

Luke 16:18 is very “Semitic,” that is, it is full of Semitic idioms, an indication that Jesus may have uttered the saying in Hebrew or Aramaic. Many scholars in Israel have learned that the most effective way to approach a passage from the synoptic gospels is, first, to put its Greek text into Hebrew, then, study the resultant Hebrew reconstruction in light of first-century Jewish exegesis.[2]

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Comment from Douglas Hadfield (Helmdon, Northamptonshire, England ) that was published in the “Readers’ Perspective” column of Jerusalem Perspective 52 (Jul.-Sept. 1997): 7.

I was very impressed by your article about divorce [David Bivin, “‘And’ or ‘In order to’ Remarry,” Jerusalem Perspective 50 (Jan.-Mar. 1996): 10-17, 35-38], and the various meanings of vav [and]. My Greek lexicon confirms that Greek καί [kai, and], unlike Hebrew vav [and], cannot be the “and of purpose or intention.”

On the other hand, the English word “and” can have more meanings than kai. In particular, it can be “introducing a consequence, actual or predicted” (The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1947). Of the two examples of this usage given by the dictionary, one is from Lk. 10:28: “This do, and thou shalt live,” which is clearly a quotation from one of the examples you give from the Hebrew Scriptures: “Do this and [i.e., so that] you may live” (Gen. 42:18).

The editor of the dictionary, knowing that the English “and” could introduce a consequence, evidently recognized the “and” of Lk. 10:28 as a good example of the usage. He may or may not have known that the English “and” was a straightforward translation from the Greek kai, which does not imply a consequence. He is unlikely to have recognized that the Greek word was an overly literal translation of vav, and that the Hebrew word implies not only a consequence, but even the intention of such a consequence.


  • [1] Thus, apparently, Jesus would not consider a man an adulterer if he divorced his wife but did not remarry.
  • [2] The conclusions presented in this article grew out of a study of the nuances of the Hebrew word -ו (vav, and) that I carried out in the mid-1980s. I found that many of these Hebraic nuances were displayed in the Gospels by καί (kai, and), vav‘s Greek equivalent. The results of this study were initially published in 1987 (David Bivin, “The Hebrew Connection: Vav,” Dispatch from Jerusalem [1st Quarter, 1987]: 7), then revised and republished in 1989 (idem, [“Hebrew Nuggets” series,] “Lesson 17: ‘Vav [Part 1],'” Jerusalem Perspective 17 [Feb. 1989]: 3; “Lesson 18: ‘Vav [Part 2],'” Jerusalem Perspective 18 [Mar. 1989]: 3).

Comments 2

  1. There remain many unanswered questions:
    1. If a husband is guilty of adultery, and the wife divorces him, (or vice versa) are they then both free to remarry? (If so, how convenient for the adulterer!!)
    2. What of the woman who divorces her husband because he abuses her (physically, psychologically, or otherwise). Is she not permitted to remarry?
    3. It seems unfair that if a man divorces his wife in order to marry another woman, that his divorced (first) wife would also be considered an adulteress if she were to remarry. How can this be, if she has done nothing wrong to merit the divorce?

  2. Pingback: Divorce and Remarriage in Historical Perspective | JerusalemPerspective.com Online

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