NIV Deuteronomy 24:

1 If a man marries a woman, but she becomes displeasing to him because he finds some indecency in her, he may write her a certificate of divorce, hand it to her, and send her away from his house.

Moses required some minimal indecency found in the wife.

Matthew 19:

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

8 Jesus 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.”

On the other hand, Jesus insisted on the serious crime of sexual immorality.

Did Jesus set aside the easier Deuteronomy 24:1 and replace it with the heavier Matthew 19:9?

But then, 14 chapters earlier, Jesus warned everyone in

Matthew 5:

19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

I'm not asking whether Jesus contradicted Moses. I simply assume that he didn't. This question focus on this: Did Jesus set aside Deuteronomy 24:1 and replace it with Matthew 19:9?

Related questions:

How to reconcile Matthew 5:19 and Matthew 5:34 and Numbers 30:2 on the issue of swearing?
This one addresses the issue of swearing oaths.

What does the phrase "uncleanliness in her" refer to in Deuteronomy 24:1?
This one ask: "some indecency" = "sexual immorality"? I assume they are not equal.

  • 3
    Does this answer your question? What does the phrase "uncleanliness in her" refer to in Deuteronomy 24:1?
    – Michael16
    Commented Sep 9, 2021 at 16:02
  • 1
    see John Gill and Ellicott. -- also see chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2285/jewish/… Ellicott writes: "“Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives,” is the Divine comment upon this. It is a distinct concession to the weakness of Israel—not the ideal standard of the Law, but the highest which it was found practicable to enforce. (See Mat. 19:2 seq.) There are many other particular enactments in the Law of Moses of which the same thing may be said. The ideal standard of morality has never varied.
    – Michael16
    Commented Sep 9, 2021 at 16:20
  • Good points :) Did Jesus set aside the non-ideal and replace them with the ideal?
    – user35953
    Commented Sep 9, 2021 at 16:23
  • He didn't replace anything. The issue is about interpretation of the verse. That related Q on uncleanness gives the perfect answer to your Q. The verse talks about fornication. The interpretation of Shammai was wisdom like Jesus. Whereas Hillel, the father of Gamaliel (who taught Paul) was a legalist, focused on the "letter" and ignored the spirit and deeper meaning. They taught that you can divorce for frivolous reasons. The case of divorce is a very serious one and the passage itself forbids remarriage to the same woman, to prevent misuse of divorce. Jesus reminded them of the true sense.
    – Michael16
    Commented Sep 9, 2021 at 16:37
  • Good point. Collect your thoughts systematically, focus on the word "replace" and post an answer and I'll upvote it :)
    – user35953
    Commented Sep 9, 2021 at 16:41

6 Answers 6


The discussion started because Pharisees wanted to test Jesus.

The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?

In the times of Jesus there were two main schools within Pharisaic Judaism. They were Houses of Hillel and Shammai. The term עֶרְוַ֣ת דָּבָ֔ר (some indecency) was interpreted by them differently. Students of Hillel interpreted these two words separately. According to them one could divorce his wife in case of infidelity (ervat) or any other reason (davar). According to followers of Shammai one could divorce his wife only in case of infidelity.

In the Mishnaic period the theory of the law that the husband could divorce his wife at will was challenged by the school of Shammai. It interpreted the text of Deut. xxiv. 1 in such amanner as to reach the conclusion that the husband could not divorce his wife except for cause, and that the cause must be sexual immorality (Git. ix. 10; Yer. Soṭah i. 1, 16b). The school of Hillel, however, held that the husband need not assign any reason whatever; that any act on her part which displeased him entitled him to give her a bill of divorce (Giṭ. ib.). The opinion of the school of Hillel prevailed. Philo of Alexandria ("Of Special Laws Relating to Adultery," etc., ch. v.; English ed., ii. 310, 311) and Josephus ("Ant." iv. 8) held this opinion. Jesus seems to have held the view of the school of Shammai (Matt. Xix. 3-9). https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5238-divorce

So it seems that the discussion's goal is to find which school of thoughts Jesus follows. He agrees with Shammai's interpretation and narrows it down even further.

  • +1 Did Jesus set aside the Hillel interpretation and favor Shammai's?
    – user35953
    Commented Sep 9, 2021 at 17:37
  • 2
    I think Jesus gave them the right interpretation, which happened to be in line with Shammai's interpretation. Commented Sep 9, 2021 at 17:43

Did Jesus set aside Deuteronomy 24:1 and replace it with Matthew 19:9 on the issue of certificate of divorce?

Let's look at the sequence of events for this scene.

  • vs 3: The Pharisees ask about the legality of divorce. This is done not as a means of clarification but as the verse says 'to test him'.
  • vs 4-6: Jesus reminds the Pharisees of the Genesis account on marriage.
  • vs 7: Now the Pharisees are asking a "But why . . ." about the Mosiac Law's certificate of divorce.
  • vs 8: Jesus explains the reason for the certificate of divorce.

Jesus was not setting aside Deuteronomy 24:1 because the nation of Israel was still under the Mosaic Law. The New Covenant would not come into effect until after Jesus' death. If Jesus had even hinted at setting aside part of the Law the Pharisees would have yet another reason to kill Jesus.

Jesus was reiterating what Jehovah God had established in Genesis 2:24. In verses 4-6, Jesus tells them boldly that the certificate of divorce was a concession by Jehovah because of the stubbornness and hardheartedness of mankind.


There is a difference between obtaining a divorce and then going the next step in marrying someone else. Jesus does not say it is not permissible to divorce; he is saying that if one divorces and then marries someone else, he is committing adultery.

In other words, the Biblical usage for "divorce" is akin to our modern usage of "separation." However, if the separation (divorce) were caused by one's spouse having committed adultery, in that case the partner who had been faithful is legally free to remarry...and in that case only, from what Jesus says.

Notice Jesus' words carefully:

And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. (Matthew 19:9, KJV)

In that bolded phrase, Jesus provides the only justification for a divorce. Obviously, then, divorce and remarriage to someone else is still allowed given that this justification is present. And Jesus does not address the case of a divorce where remarriage has not occurred; he is addressing the divorce and remarriage.

Therefore, we conclude that Jesus has not set aside the Mosaic law, rather he has clarified it.


Jesus did not replace anything but rightly interpreted the law on this question, as Rabbi Shammai did against the mainstream legalistic tradition of Hillel and Akiva. Wisdom and Spirit, as opposed to legalism. An open-minded person of spirit sees beyond the letter- to God himself. See Mark 2:27 for example: Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

[Matt 19:3-9 ESV] 3And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” 4He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9​And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

The key to interpret a difficult passage is to do midrash or compare the value of this law with the overall. If we find a greater law than this: "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate" viz. the marriage is meant to be permanent. Then we can rightly interpret this particular verse, that it only gives strong conditional provision allowing for divorce. The legalistic who focus on the letter used it as an excuse to divorce and oppress women. They wanted to trap Jesus into accepting the corrupt legalistic interpretation of Hillel by asking the puzzling question. Note in the verse 7, they left out the clause of uncleanness or adultery, but said that Moses gave them right to divorce her.

To quote from Chabad:

When is it time to get a divorce? The Talmud cites three opinions:

  • The School of Shammai rules: A man should not divorce his wife unless he discovers in her an immoral matter...

  • The School of Hillel holds: [He may divorce her] even if she burnt his meal.

  • Rabbi Akiva says: Even if he found another more beautiful than she.

(All three opinions derive from the same verse in the Torah —Deuteronomy 24:1—in the section dealing with the laws of divorce, depending on how a key phrase in that verse is interpreted.)

The halachah (final legal ruling) follows the opinion of the sages of Hillel. But pious behavior (midat chassidut), which holds itself to a standard "beyond the letter of the law," is to accept the stricter criteria put forth by the disciples of Shammai.

In other words, a "divorce" is justified if there is actual damage to your well-being and deprivation of your needs. If you find yourself wed to a wife that nightly burns your supper, fouling or depriving you of your material nourishment or spiritual nurture, the Torah understands and condones your decision to sever that relationship and seek a better "marriage."

That is the "letter of the law." But a more altruistic approach states that unless your current situation in life spells a violation of your ethical, moral and religious values (in which case even the sages of Shammai permit, indeed obligate, a dissolution of the marriage) the place to be is the place where you are. Your Creator has placed you there; He has also given you the resources and fortitude to make it work. Sticking it out is not a cop-out—it is to rise to the greater challenge of uncovering those resources and redeeming the "sparks of G‑dliness" entrusted to your care.

The opinion of the House of Shammai, as quoted in the Mishnah (Gittin 90a):

Beit Shammai say: A man may not divorce his wife unless he finds out about her having engaged in a matter of forbidden sexual intercourse [devar erva], as it is stated: “Because he has found some unseemly matter [ervat davar] in her, and he writes her a scroll of severance” (Deuteronomy 24:1).

To quote from Elli Ward's answer from the related question on the meaning of uncleanness:

Deut. 24;1 appears to be an addendum to give the new husband a release from the "public example" situation in Deut. 22:13-21. These two cases actually were not commands, the husband could have accepted his new bride. The construction of the sentences, indicate how to handle the situations if they came up. (By the advise of the angel, Joseph received Mary).

Ellicott comments on Deut 24:1

Let him write her a bill of divorcement.—“Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives,” is the Divine comment upon this. It is a distinct concession to the weakness of Israel—not the ideal standard of the Law, but the highest which it was found practicable to enforce. (See Mat. 19:2 seq.) There are many other particular enactments in the Law of Moses of which the same thing may be said. The ideal standard of morality has never varied. There is no higher ideal than that of the Pentateuch. But the Law which was actually enforced, in many particulars fell short of that ideal.

John Gill writes,

because he hath found some uncleanness in her; something that he disliked, and was disagreeable to him, and which made their continuance together in the marriage state very uncomfortable; which led him on to be very ill-natured, severe, and cruel to her; so that her life was exposed to danger, or at least become very uneasy; in which case a divorce was permitted, both for the badness of the man's heart, and in favour of the woman, that she might be freed from such rigorous usage. This word "uncleanness" does not signify adultery, or any of the uncleannesses forbidden in Le 18:6; because that was punishable with death, when it could be proved; and where there was only a suspicion of it, the husband might make use of the bitter water: though the house of Shammai seem to take it in this sense; for they say a man might not divorce his wife unless he found her in some unclean thing, something dishonest and wicked, and which they ground upon these words; but the house of Hillell say, if she burnt his food, or spoiled it by over salting, or over roasting it; and Akiba says, even if he found another woman more beautiful than her or more agreeable to him. But neither his sense, nor that of the house of Shammai, are approved of by the Jews in general, but that of the house of Hillell {m}; and they suppose a man might divorce his wife for any ill qualities of mind in her, or for any ill or impudent behaviour of hers; as if her husband saw her go abroad with her head uncovered, and spinning in the streets, and so showing her naked arms to men; or having her garments slit on both sides; or washing in a bath with men, or where men use to wash, and talking with every man, and joking with young men; or her voice is sonorous and noisy; or any disease of body, as the leprosy, and the like; or any blemishes, as warts, are upon her; or any disagreeable smell that might arise from any parts of the body, from sweat, or a stinking breath {n}


Did Jesus set aside divorce (Deu. 24:1) and replace it (Matt. 19:9)?

Answer: Yes.

As partially answered elsewhere (the first link provided by the OP), there is a great distinction between the Old Law and that of Christ's new teaching.

The Mosaic order was reinstituted in another form upon the inauguration of the new priesthood (Heb. 7:11-12), one in which all saints partake as priests (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9). As pointed out in the OP, this is particularly significant based on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, in which He repeated many of the O/T laws beginning with "You have heard it said..." while replacing them with His new commands (paraphrased):

"You have heard it said":

1. "You shall not commit murder, but he who hates his brother has committed murdered in his heart" (Matt. 5:21-22).
2. "You shall not commit adultery, but he who lusts in his heart has committed adultery..." (Matt. 5:27-28).
3. "He who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery" (Matt. 5:31-32).
4. "You shall make no false vows... But I say make no oath at all" (Matt. 5:33-37).
5. "An eye for an eye... turn the other cheek" (Matt. 5:38-39).
6. "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy... love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:43-44).

We should never feel free to dismiss anything Christ said. Every commandment He spoke is paramount. The 613 laws and ordinances under the Mosaic regime have been superseded by a much stricter set of laws that comprise the Law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). Just as He tells us, and as stated in the OP:

Matthew 19:8-9: "Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery" (emphasis added).

Are we to accept ALL teaching by the Son of God?

Christ nailed the Law of Moses to the Cross (Col. 2:14), by reaffirming it through His Own commandments (only a few of which are listed above). The new laws are far more comprehensive than anything written in the Old Law.

Let us address the other point stated in the Gospel of Matthew by the OP:

Matthew 5:17-19: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law [of Moses] or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law [of Moses] until all is accomplished [Christ's death, burial, resurrection]. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments [His new teaching], and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (emphasis added).

Observe 3 points about verse 19 (as well as the bracketed notation):

I. Early in His ministry, Christ says that "not the slightest letter or stoke shall pass from the Law [of Moses] until all is accomplished." What exactly, was to be accomplished? Answer: His Own Sacrifice for humanity? YES, Christ came to "fulfill": it was the Law of Moses He would fulfill. Upon His resurrection, the new Law was instituted, the Law of Moses being nailed to the Cross (Col. 2:14). There is a distinction between fulfilling the Old Law and perfecting it in the New.

Christ took the Law of Moses out of the way. He did so not by violating it but by completing it. This was accomplished through

1. His absolute obedience to it,
2) His fulfillment of His role as the promised Messiah, and by
3) His elevating all the O/T laws to a higher, purer standard: The Law of Christ.

II. Christ tells us that those who violate one of His commandments, has violated them all. His "new commandments" would comprise the Gospel, that was subsequently written after His Resurrection and following Ascension to heaven.

III. Note that in verse 19 (Matthew 5), Christ tells us that anyone who: "[does and teaches]" the commandments of Christ, is he who "shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

Observe Coffman's commentary on Matthew 5:19:

In this verse, Christ plainly refers to [His] own commandments with the strong warning that men are under obligations to heed and observe the laws [He] gives. Today, there are some who speak of certain Scriptures as "mere command" But Christ made [His] commandments to be of overwhelming importance and set forth the principle that "the least" of his commandments was to be received and honored with [respect] and obedience. (Emphasis added.)

Christ Law has superseded the Law of Moses — in this case, specifically regarding the new Law on divorce.


It is convenient to forget that when the person who owns everything puts another aside with nothing - that the person put aside is given a death sentence. She might try turning tricks for crumbs, but she will be dead soon enough. Then he can marry without concern.

Even in 20th century America, a man could put a wife in a mental institution for no cause if he was tired of her or her body less attractive from bearing children. The most addicted in America (before women were able to access employment for financial independence) was a middle-aged, middle-class, anglo-American, Christian woman whose heart was crushed.

So Jesus declared this abomination was NOT OF GOD. Mt 19

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

Jesus declared that The Greatest Commandment was an intense love of God, but the second much like it was to love all others as yourself (i.e. "neighbor" being defined as that evil person you most dislike).

Striving to follow the Greatest Commandment, makes kindness to one's spouse at least a goal. And now that many women have financial independence, this goes both ways...

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