Deuteronomy 24:1–4 discusses the Mosaic Law related to divorce in ancient Israel. Several observations on this passage follow:
First, in order for a divorce to be granted, there had to be a problem related to “indecency.” Verse 1 reads, “If then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her . . .” (ESV). The Hebrew phrase used here was generally a reference to sexual indecency such as adultery (Leviticus 18:6–18) or indecent exposure (Deuteronomy 23:14). Jewish leaders would long debate what was considered “indecent,” but the original wording clearly referred to indecent sexual behavior.
Second, a formal divorce certificate was required: “He writes her a certificate of divorce [and] gives it to her” (verse 1). A husband could not simply express his desire to be divorced and move on with his life. He was required to provide a written legal certificate, which would have required witnesses to the event.
Third, the divorced couple was no longer to live together: the husband “sends her from his house” (verse 1). Living together as an unmarried couple was not acceptable, and a divorced couple was considered unmarried.
Fourth, the divorced woman could remarry another man: “After she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man” (verse 2). The text does not explicitly teach the woman must remarry, but neither does it prohibit a divorced woman from doing so. In that society, a single woman would have had few other options than to seek another husband or to return to her father’s household.
Fifth, the divorced spouse could not later remarry the first partner, if that partner had remarried: “Her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again” (verse 4).
The New Testament teachings regarding divorce offer additional insight into this topic. Jesus reminded the religious leaders that God never intended divorce: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning” (Matthew 19:8). The “beginning” refers to Adam and Eve as one man and one woman in lifelong marriage—God’s original design.
Jesus also taught that sexual immorality was one legitimate reason for divorce: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery” (Matthew 5:31). The apostle Paul added, “A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:10–11). Another instruction is also provided for Christians with an unbelieving spouse: “If the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances” (1 Corinthians 7:15).
Though divorce was not part of God’s original plan for marriage, sinful humanity demanded it, and the Mosaic Law addressed occasions when it was permissible. Jesus and the New Testament teachings affirm the original intent of marriage as being a lifelong relationship between a man and woman while specifying limited occasions when divorce is acceptable.