Matthew 5:31 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

Matthew 5:31, NIV: It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.'

Matthew 5:31, ESV: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’

Matthew 5:31, KJV: It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:


Matthew 5:31, NLT: 'You have heard the law that says, 'A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.'

Matthew 5:31, CSB: "It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a written notice of divorce.

What does Matthew 5:31 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

The standard for divorce in the ancient world was low. Practically speaking, a husband could divorce a wife for almost any reason at any time. The hardest part might be coming up with a legal technicality to use as an excuse. In that era, culture was completely dominated by male authority. Women were generally held in lower regard. Worse, it was extremely difficult for unmarried women to conduct business or own property. Being divorced, for women of Jesus' era, included losing one's finances and future.

God seems to allow the practice of divorce for Israel in Deuteronomy 24:1–4 if a man decided he found something "indecent" about his wife. Jesus will say later in Matthew that God only allowed this (through Moses) because Israel's men were stubborn: "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so." (Matthew 19:8). Culturally, a certificate of divorce provided protection for a woman. It gave her legal standing to remarry, if she could. The man's legal standing to remarry was simply assumed.

It's likely Israel's religious leaders permitted the practice of men giving their wives certificates of divorce for little or no reason. Jesus cites the teaching of these leaders, which falls far short of the Old Testament law. In the following verse, He will reveal God's true intent for marriage and divorce. As He has with other statements, Jesus will continue by giving a deeper, more faithful explanation of God's will.