Matthew 5:31 is the thirty-first verse of the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament and is part of the Sermon on the Mount. This verse opens the brief, but much scrutinized, discussion of the issue of divorce.
In the King James Version of the Bible the text reads:
- It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his
- wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:
The World English Bible translates the passage as:
- "It was also said, 'Whoever shall put away his
- wife, let him give her a writing of divorce,'
For a collection of other versions see here: Matthew 5:31
This verse opens with a truncated version of the opening of Matthew 5:27, which is itself a shorter version of the start of Matthew 5:21. Scholars are divided as to whether this is a separate antithesis, or whether it is simply an addendum to the discussion of adultery found in the previous verses. Jesus is here referring to Deuteronomy 24:1 that specifically condones divorce and also makes mention of a certificate that the husband gives to the wife to enact the separation. Divorce was acceptable among the Jewish community of the time, however what was permissible grounds for divorce was debated. As is implied by this verse only a man could initiate a divorce, and there was no need to go to court he simply had to announce his intentions. Instone-Brewer notes that the written certificate was important because it was legal proof that the wife could remarry and escape the poverty of being a single woman.
Keener notes that in Mark's version of this verse at Mark 10:12 Jesus makes reference to the possibility of a woman divorcing her husband. A female initiated divorce was impossible under Jewish law, but was permissible and common under Roman law. Keener feels this difference reflects the separate audiences for the two gospels, Matthew writes for a Jewish audience while Mark writes for a Greco-Roman one.
- Instone-Brewer, David. Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002.
- Craig S. Keener. A commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999. pg. 189
- France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985.
- Gundry, Robert H. Matthew a Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982.
- Hill, David. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981
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