Dear Brother Hamilton,
Based on my research, there appear to be almost as many interpretations among biblical scholars of what "defiled" means in Deut. 24:4 as there are interpretations of the exception clause in Matt. 19:9. However, I don't see why it should be an issue because it was in the Old Testament, which we are not supposed to be living under as New Testament Christians.
What I seem to be wrestling with though on this issue is that there are many things in the Old Law that were considered sins and are still considered sins. The apostle Paul said that in Romans 7:7 that the Law makes us know what sin is. We are no longer bound to the ceremonial laws such as animal sacrifices for sins. Circumcision is no longer required. But moral law would seem to still apply. So when Moses said something was an abomination before the Lord, I suppose there is a part of me that wants to say "Is it still an abomination (sin) today". However, my understanding is Jesus abrogated or overturned Moses' concession for divorce and remarriage and took us back to Genesis' original intent of one man, one woman for life. To use an Old Testament concession in Deut. 24:1-3 for divorce and remarriage which Jesus abrogated, but hold onto verse 4 and say that is still binding when it says it is an abomination to return to an original spouse, seems somewhat haphazard, especially considering how Paul was constantly having to reprimand the Jews for trying to enforce Old Testament law, which he declared was no longer binding to New Testament Christians.
I'm asking about this matter because many denominational preachers use Deuteronomy 24:4 to say that a person in an unscriptural remarriage should not divorce their current spouse to return to their original spouse.
What are your thoughts on what the "defilement" means in Deuteronomy 24:4 and how would you justify a spouse divorcing out of an unscriptural remarriage to return to their scriptural first spouse, which seems to be in conflict with this verse.
"For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law" (James 2:10-11).
"For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them"" (Galatians 3:10).
"You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:4).
The Old Testament law cannot be subdivided. It is united package. When people artificially attempt to divide the law into moral and ceremonial parts, they end up making arbitrary divisions based on their personal beliefs.
Things like adultery, lying, coveting are sins under both laws because they called sins under both laws. "For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:9-10).
There are times the New Testament mentions something in brief that causes us to return to the Old Law to find a detailed explanation. For instance, "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). How do you train your children? We can go back to Deuteronomy 6:7 and many passages in Proverbs to find instructions on how to raise children. We can look at the examples of Jacob, Eli, Samuel, and David to see how not to raise children. We didn't start with the Old Law but with the New Law. We only seek out the Old Law for explanation. "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Romans 15:4).
In Matthew 19, Jesus quotes Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24 to prove his point about God's intentions for marriage. The Pharisees then asked Jesus about Deuteronomy 24:1. Jesus then explained why they misunderstood the Law and then presented a law concerning marriage. Jesus' teaching clarified what was meant by "uncleanness" in Moses' Law, but he also shows the ramification of God's view on marriage that doesn't appear in the Old Testament, though it is compatible with what was stated. Thus, Jesus brings that law into his Law with some slight alterations.
Jesus clearly states that a divorce for anything other than fornication and remarriage is adultery. "So He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery"" (Mark 10:11-12). Anyone in adultery cannot enter heaven (I Corinthians 6:9-10). Paul also states, "Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife" (I Corinthians 7:10-11). Therefore, remarriage after a divorce is not only allowed, but encouraged.
However you slice it, you cannot justify remaining in a second marriage if the marriage did not end because of fornication. Citing Deuteronomy 24:1-4 does not allow remaining in an adulterous marriage.
The only question that remains is whether someone who improperly married a second time can return to her first husband or to his first wife. I've seen arguments both ways. However, since Deuteronomy 24:2-4 is not mentioned in the New Testament, I am reluctant to apply it, though I can understand why some think it would apply.