Pharisees said that Moses commanded divorce and implied for any reason. Were they misrepresenting Deuteronomy 24:1 (which says “if,” not “do”) or are there one or more other passages where Moses commands divorce for any reason?

Jesus apparently refers to that passage or a similar one in stating that it was allowed and even then that the only reason is adultery.

I’m sure the Pharisees knew the Hebrew text as well as the writer of the answer I linked.

The tags I wanted to use don’t exist. If there is a better one, feel free to add it. Or to create tags “divorce” and “argument.”

2 Answers 2


I agree that Matt 19:8 is alluding to Deut 24:1-5. The verb Jesus uses in Matt 19:8 is ἐπιτρέπω (epitrepó) whose meaning from BDAG is listed below:

to allow someone to do something, allow, permit, eg, Matt 8:21, 19:8, Mark 5:13, 10:4, Luke 8:32, 9:59, 61, John 19:38, Acts 21:39, 40, 26:1, 28:16, 1 Cor 14:34, 16:7, 1 tim 2:12, Heb 6:3.

Thus, Jesus says that Moses "permitted" divorce; I could find no record of Moses "ordering" divorce. Thus, almost all modern versions correctly have either "permit" or "allow" or very similar.

By contrast the Pharisees said that Moses "ordered" or "commanded" as per V7. The verb here is ἐντέλλομαι which is the verb "to command" or "give orders that ..." The Pharisees were not entirely distorting Scripture although they chose their words to leave the wrong impression.

Here is the whole of Matt 19:7 -

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses order a man to give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Note that the Pharisees correctly say that Moses commanded men to write a certificate of divorce. That is, Moses is not commanding divorce but commanding a proper legal process involving a certificate of divorce in the (hopefully) unlikely event of a divorce.

That is, to suggest that Moses is commanding divorce is misleading - Moses only requires that due legal process and proper documentation is followed when divorce is required. This is precisely the requirement in Deut 24:1.

  • And, if I agree that they were referring to that passage, then their "for any reason" was also either ignorant or dishonest. But I don't see that the IF in that passage must be interpreted as a command. But the question was whether another passage could be used as a defense of their words, and you have answered that.
    – WGroleau
    Jun 12, 2021 at 5:58

Matthew 19:

3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

4“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ a 5and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ b ? 6So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

7“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

8Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Jesus did not say that the Pharisees misread Moses' command. They might or might not have.

Matthew 23

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

On another occasion in Matthew 22:

23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24“Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27Finally, the woman died. 28Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

Jesus did not hesitate to point out their mistakes:

29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

Were the Pharisees misrepresenting Deuteronomy 24:1 concerning divorce?

They might or might not have. In any case, fundamentally, Jesus pointed out the deeper problem was the hardheartedness of the Israelites.

  • Jesus said permitted; the Pharisees said commanded. Jesus said “only for adultery”; the Pharisees said “any reason.” Deut. 24 does say “if” not “shall” and does give a reason. And I asked whether they misrepresented it, not whether Jesus said they did.
    – WGroleau
    Jun 11, 2021 at 17:19
  • Jesus did not say they represented it. Nor that they didn’t but that wasn’t the question. Unless they were referring to a different passage, they were being dishonest.
    – WGroleau
    Jun 11, 2021 at 17:22
  • If the Pharisees had misrepresented Moses in the matter of divorce, would Jesus not have pointed that out to them?
    – Tony Chan
    Jun 11, 2021 at 17:30
  • Well, He sort of did, by mentioning the two errors. BUT, if another passage says what they said, then they weren't misquoting. Again, the question is whether there is another passage.
    – WGroleau
    Jun 11, 2021 at 19:26
  • Good point. I softened my position.
    – Tony Chan
    Jun 11, 2021 at 20:38

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