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proposition: The Bible teaches that all divorce is null and void in the eyes of God.

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Definition of 'Divorce' Article Page

(How would Moses or Jesus define 'divorce'?)

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The Definition of 'Divorce'

(How would Moses or Jesus define 'divorce'?)

by Bob Crawford


 I.    Divorce, as its used today:


    Today, when someone says, "John and Judy are 'divorced', they mean 'their marriage is permanently terminated'.

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, 10th edition, published in 1998, defines 'divorce' thus:


From the 1998 edition of Webster’s Dictionary:


 Main Entry:





Middle English divorse, from Anglo-French, from Latin divortium, from divertere, divortere to divert, to leave one's husband


14th century

1 : the action or an instance of legally dissolving a marriage 2 : separation, severance <divorce of the secular and the spiritual>


from: []

 Quick definitions (divorce)


·  noun:   the legal dissolution of a marriage

·  verb:   get a divorce; formally terminate a marriage (Example: "The couple divorced after only 6 months")

·  verb:   part; cease or break association with




II.    The Historical Definitions of the Word Divorce:



    Word usage and definitions change over time. Lets continue to use Webster's Dictionaries, but look at the definitions of Divorce in the past:


From the 1828 edition of Webster’s Dictionary:


            DIVORCE, n. [L. See Divert.]

1. A legal dissolution of the bonds of matrimony, or the separation of husband and wife by a judicial sentence. This is properly called a divorce, and called technically, divorce a vinculo matrimonii.

2. The separation of a married woman from the bed and board of her husband, a mensa et thoro.

3. Separation; disunion of things closely united.

4. The sentence or writing by which marriage is dissolved.

5. The cause of any penal separation.

The long divorce of steel falls on me.



1. To dissolve the marriage contract, and thus to separate husband and wife.

2. To separate, as a married woman from the bed and board of her husband.

3. To separate or disunite things closely connected; to force asunder.

4. To take away; to put away.


    So we can see that in 1828, separation was a major theme in the definition of divorce of people, whereas today, the  idea of 'divorce as separation' is not usually applied to people at all. Note: under the 1998 edition, the etymology [history] of the word divorce, explains that the main theme was separation. The idea of a permanent termination of marriage is not even mentioned.

    The following two sources explore this dual nature of divorce.




Bouvier's Law Dictionary
1856 Edition



2. Divorces are of two kinds; 1. a vinculo matrimonii, (q. v.) which dissolves and totally severs the marriage tie; and, 2. a mensa et thoro, (q. v.) which merely separates the parties.


11. - 2. Divorces a mensa et thoro, are a mere separation of the parties for a time for causes arising since the marriage; they are pronounced by tribunals of competent jurisdiction. The effects of the sentence continue for the time it was pronounced, or until the parties are reconciled.





1377, from O.Fr. divorce, from L. divortium "separation, dissolution of marriage," from divertere "to separate, leave one's husband, turn aside" (see divert). Not distinguished in Eng. from legal separation until mid-19c. Divorcee, from Fr., first recorded 1813. It can be either m. or f.



    This last source explicitly states that divorce included the idea a mere 'separation' and the split between 'divorce as separation' and 'divorce as permanent termination of marriage' did not occur until the middle 1800s.


"When a wife divorces her husband, she 'repudiates' him. Although we may not be aware of this, that is what repudiate means, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, which defines repudiate as

1545, "to cast off by divorce," from adj. meaning "divorced, rejected, condemned" (1464), from L. repudiatus, pp. of repudiare "to divorce or reject," from repudium "divorce, rejection," from re- "back, away" + pudium, probably related to pes-/ped- "foot.""

--author unknown


    Note that this last source does not even mention the idea of  permanent termination of a marriage. To reject or condemn does not necessarily mean to permanently terminate the marriage.


    In summary:

    The word 'divorce' has two meanings: 1. 'the permanent termination of a marriage', and 2. separation.

    Today, when a person says they are 'divorced', they exclusively mean that their marriage has been 'permanently  terminated'. Before the 1850s, 'divorce' was not distinguished from 'legal separation' and it was much more common for people use the word 'divorce' when they meant 'legal separation'. The Etymology (i.e. history) of the word 'divorce' shows that 'separation' was a major theme. Clearly, the definition and usage of the word 'divorce' has changed over time, with words, in general, becoming more restricted and specific in their definitions and usage. Yet, even today, there are some examples of the word 'divorce' exclusively meaning 'separation'. For example, there are several categories of 'divorce' according to the Legal dictionary. One: 'divorce a mensa et thoro' means 'separation' and not 'termination of a marriage'.

    Those who claim that the word 'divorce' in the Bible means 'permanent termination of marriage' and nothing else offer no proof for such an assumption. How do I know it to be true? How do I know that Jesus and Moses used 'divorce' to mean 'permanent termination of marriage' and not mere 'separation'?

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This site was last updated 07/25/08


Bob Crawford