A Treatment of Apoluo ("put away")


     Word definition is vital in any study and regarding any issue. Scriptural divorcement is no exception. There seems to be a lot of attention presently focused on the term "put away," as found in the King James Translation. There appears to be two schools of thought emerging: One says scriptural divorcement is totally removed from any and all civil considerations and involvement and the other view is saying "biblical putting away is synonymous with the civil procedure." I view both of these views as patently false.

     "Put away" is derived from the Greek apoluo. Apoluo is translated "put away" in Matthew 5: 32 (cause A) and "divorced" in clause B. Apoluo means to "let go or let loose" and Thayer says apoluo involves repudiation in the case of divorcement (Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words and Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 66). Apoluo appears about 69 times in the Greek New Testament, always with the same basic action of letting go. Thus, apoluo is rendered "send away," "loosed," and "forgive" (Matt. 14: 15; 18: 27; Luke 6: 37). In every instance, there is an implied authority, someone who is empowered to release. In the case of divorcement, a mate can put away, either with scriptural cause, for fornication, or without scriptural cause (to do so without the cause of fornication is sinful, Matt. 5: 32, I Cor. 7: 1-12).

     Out of the 69 occurrences of apoluo, the idea of releasement is often official, involving civil procedure (Heb. 13: 23, Timothy was "set at liberty"). However, apoluo is sometimes used without civil procedure involvement (Matt. 15: 32, Jesus said regarding the multitude, "I will not send them away, apoluo, dm, fasting…."). Hence, it cannot be argued that apoluo, the word viewed alone and based on general usage, necessarily always implies or involves civil matters, officially considered. Therefore, one cannot absolutely say that "put away" in such verses as Matthew 5: 32 is synonymous with civil procedure in application today (see also addendum).

     When Jesus articulated teachings such as Matthew 5: 32, he lived in a theocratic state condition (the Romans continued to allow the Jews to civilly function in many areas in Jesus' time). In other words, the "church and state" were combined. Hence, divorcement was a "spiritual/civil" matter. Following the cessation of the Mosaic order, however, this changed (cp. Rom. 13: 1-7). Does this mean, then, that divorcement (apoluo) has no relevance, order, or connection with the prevailing civil structure? Some answer in the affirmative. "The civil divorce decree is a worthless paper that has no bearing regarding the Christian." "You can privately divorce in your heart and be pleasing to God," others are saying.

     While one can not prove that scriptural divorcement or putting away is synonymous with the prevailing civil procedure today, just think of the utter chaos that would be experienced in the absence of any civil structure or compliance in the case of putting away. "Jane put away Bill," it is said. "We do not know when or in what circumstances Jane put away Bill, she did it without any civil act," some explain when asked about how and when Jane put away Bill. Some who are insisting that apoluo simply means to send away in the case of divorcement, have Jane putting away Bill because she gets mad at Bill and locks the door, telling Bill, "I am mad at you, go away." Others say more is involved. According to them, Jane has to say, "I do not want to be married to you any longer." At this point (statement), Jane has automatically and immediately put away Bill.

     I have found it strange and inconsistent that most of these who argue Bill is biblically put away in the immediately preceding example will say that there is more to marriage (the counter-part of divorce) than a single or even dual statements expressing desire. "The couple must comply with all state laws regulating marriage," these people correctly say. Just think of the utter resulting pandemonium if marriage and/or divorce are viewed as occurring simply as the result of a statement. States recognize that for the sake of order and the avoidance of social collapse, there must be clear understanding and record in the establishment of marriage and the dissolution of marriage, divorce.

     Moreover, Christians are to , "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man" (I Pet. 2: 13). Civil procedure regarding both marriage and divorcement is in place to make clear, protect, and offer tangible proof as to the actual state, respectively considered. While apoluo does not inherently imply civil involvement in the case of divorcement, there is the understood application inclusion of the state in all cultures of which I am aware. As seen, Christians are to comply with all laws of the land, unless there is a conflict with God's direct laws, the Bible (Acts 5: 29). Does this mean, then, that the one who petitions the court for the dissolution of the marriage (no fault divorce cases) is automatically and absolutely the putting away mate? It can if the innocent mate is passive and does not express their desire to put away their adulterous mate (Matt. 5: 32, 19: 9). Some who contend that biblical putting away and civil procedure are synonymous maintain that in the true race to the court house, when the guilty mate first petitions the court, the innocent mate must enter a counter-suit and win in order to be the putting away mate. These brethren are placing too much civil meaning on apoluo. The common no fault divorce offered by most states today is just that - no fault. In these cases, the courts are not interested in the plaintiff/defendant circumstance or guilt or innocence, I understand. The court is just granting the petition to dissolve the marriage. However, I again stress that the innocent to whom Jesus gave the right to be able to put away and marry another, must be active and make their intentions known BEFORE the marriage is dissolved, which I understand to be at the point of the civil dissolution.

     In closing, the scriptures do not define or bind a specific civil procedure in the case of apoluo as the word is used regarding the dissolution of marriage. The cultural and civil procedures have varied from time and place. However, by application and implication, I maintain apoluo in the case of putting away does involve civil compliance, just as marriage, that which divorce undoes, requires applicable civil conformity. One is not put away simply at the point of, "I will not live with you any longer as husband/wife." Also, while the right of the innocent mate to put away and marry another is in place, there is a time limit understood. The innocent must act before the whole matter becomes history (Matt. 5: 32, 19: 9). It is not congruous to think of the multitude whom Jesus sent away (apoluo) returning and saying, “You did not send us away, we are sending you away” (general use of apoluo, Matt. 14: 22, 23) and Barabbas returning to the governor after he had been released (apoluo) and saying, “I am releasing you” (civil use of apolou, Matt. 27: 15).  In the New Testament occurrence of apoluo, the act of apoluo is always recognized (not always approved of, though) and the consequences of apoluo were actual, including apoluo as used pertaining to the end of the marriage (Matt. 5: 32, 19: 9).  The considered state must still be in place in order for an apoluo to happen, in all the circumstances of apoluo.

     May we have the clarity of mind to avoid the extremes that are becoming more common, extremes regarding apoluo, putting away. As I am observing the increasing incidence of the "putting away is removed from any civil compliance" position, I am also observing more preachers and Christians maintaining, "marriage is removed from any civil compliance." What Christians used to call shacking up, two people simply living together outside of marriage, is now being called biblical marriage by some (I am not talking about the common law state recognized marriage argument. It is contended that the two people must considered themselves committed). Apoluo is an interesting and key word in the case of divorcement. Let us avoid placing more meaning than the Holy Spirit meant to assign to apoluo and also stripping the word of obvious intended association by application (for a detailed study of some of the contexts in which apoluo is used pertaining to the dissolution of marriage, click on, "Matthew 5: 32 and Matthew 19: 9, a Study").  You might also be interested in, "Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, Questions and Answers")

     Addendum 1:  It is evident that the Pharisees used apoluo in association with the civil procedure (Matt. 19: 3-9). However, it must be kept in mind that the Pharisee's reference was in the climate of a theocracy. Jesus appears to also use apoluo in the civil setting in his responsive remarks (Ibid.). Even in this circumstance, some see the language, "give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away" (dounai biblion apostasiou kai apolusai) as meaning that they distinguished between the "writing of divorcement" and the "putting away" or sending away. If this is the case, then, the writing of divorcement and the repudiation (apoluo) could be viewed as the components or constituents of the dissolution of the marriage under the theocratic Law of Moses, at least.

     Addendum 2:  As a result of the publication of, "A Treatment of Apoluo" questions where submitted to an Internet list consisting of many preachers.  I thought the questions/answers might be of some worth in supplimenting the article:

Don Martin to the list:

One published to the list four questions as a response to my material titled, "A Treatment of Apoluo." I shall briefly address each question.


1. Since Jesus used both the words apoluo and apostasion and ONE was in reference to "divorce" it logically follows that the OTHER word was used to mean something else. What was that something else?


I have never affirmed that apoluo as used in the Greek New Testament inherently alludes to and denotes civil dissolution or decree. In fact, in my material "A Treatment of Apoluo," I deny this.


2. If both Moses and Jesus had intended to use a word that communicated the idea that one was simply putting away a spouse WITHOUT divorcement what word would they have used? Would it have been apoluo, apostasion or some other word?


In the addendum to "A Treatment of Apoluo," I make the following comment:   "Addendum: It is evident that the Pharisees used apoluo in association with the civil procedure (Matt. 19: 3-9). However, it must be kept in mind that the Pharisee's reference was in the climate of a theocracy. Jesus appears to also use apoluo in the civil setting in his responsive remarks (Ibid.). Even in this circumstance, some see the language, "give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away" (dounai biblion apostasiou kai apolusai) as meaning that they distinguished between the "writing of divorcement" and the "putting away" or sending away. If this is the case, then, the writing of divorcement and the repudiation (apoluo) could be viewed as the components or constituents of the dissolution of the marriage under the theocratic Law of Moses, at least."

With this admission, it must be kept in mind that Jesus obviously used apoluo in its full sense, including the initial repudiation and sending away and civil conformity. I say this because in regards to apoluo, Jesus speaks of the woman being married to another man (Matt. 19: 9). Regarding Jewish protocol and even Roman, I understand, there had to be civil compliance before one could be married to another.


3. Is it not true that "Putting away" (no hint or evidence of a "bill of divorce) is something that usually happens BEFORE or AFTER a divorce? Yes or No.


In the outset circumstance of the dialogue of Matthew 19, one might say that it appears that apoluo is used for initial repudiation or sending away (see above addendum). If this is the case, then apoluo, could be simply the sending away. Even in this case, it must be observed that the mate is not heretofore sent away, they are both together as husband/wife; hence, no justification for the "second putting away." When the full context of Matthew 19: 7-9 is considered, however, the act of repudiation would have to be viewed as a component to the entire act, including what we call civil divorcement (cp. Deut. 24: 3). Again, I say this because the woman who is put away is presented as marrying another (Matt. 19: 9). Even In this sharp circumstance of contradistinction, notwithstanding, apoluo can be referred to as "divorcement" (an act including civil compliance and issuance), fully viewed (I believe this is why the King James correctly translates apoluo as "divorced" in Matthew 5: 32, clause B).

If "yes" then how can you say "putting away" is divorce?

Again, I say that apoluo is divorcement (as the word is being used) when fully viewed (Matt. 19: 7-9, cp. Matt. 5: 32). The act of repudiation (apoluo) that leads to accepted or unaccepted marriage to another involves, to be complete, final and legal repudiation (the dissolution of the marriage). Every culture of which I am aware has some civil appointment regarding the fact of marriage and the converse fact and act of divorce. Christians are to comply to civil law (Rom. 13: 1-7, I Pet. 2: 13; Acts 5: 29).


4. Is it not true that one can "put away with no intention of divorcing? Yes or No.

Such was evidently what prompted Moses to give the command found in Deuteronomy 24: 1-4 and was the point of the discussion the Pharisees had with Jesus.


I am not sure exactly what was the protocol anterior to Deuteronomy 24: 3. However, in our culture (America), I do not see how one would normally use the word apoluo and not include "divorcement" (civil dissolution), unless one were attempting to minutely break down the possible components of the act. Again, one thing we know for sure, Jesus included civil conformity in apoluo in Matthew 19: 7-9 and 5: 32. To take the position that Jesus' presenting the woman as marrying another is not proof of this is to strain at a gnat and ignore the full act of apoluo that resulted in the woman marrying another.

In closing, involved in any word study is the matter of semantics. There is seldom a static use of a word; hence, most words have various nuances and shades of meaning. However, it is not acceptable to find a possible nuance in a given case and isolate it to the exclusion of the whole. In my treatment of apoluo, I mention the 69 occurrences of apoluo in the Greek New Testament and illustrate the spectrum, including Jesus' use of apoluo in such texts as Matthew 5: 32 and 19: 9. I think it is safe to say that normally in most vernacular applications, apoluo would and should be viewed as the whole act, initial verbal repudiation, physical sending away, and final civil dissolution of the marriage. Any who would attempt to isolate apoluo in application today, I would view as suspect, to say the least. However, this is precisely what the advocates of the put away putting away must do. They cannot have the put away actually and fully putting away because both the scriptures and civil law have no provision for such. Hence, when they use "put away," they must of necessity mean only the act of verbal repudiation. I say this because their mate has already repudiated them and sent them away and has also complied with civil protocol. The whole doctrine of the put away putting away, then, rests on an isolated use and concept of apoluo. Besides, Jesus said that the put away, whether innocently or justifiably, is in sin when they marry another, even after the putting away mate commits adultery by subsequently marrying another (Matt. 19: 9).