… This is a continuation of a previous post. [Part 1] …
What Does Jesus Say About Divorce?
[From Noel] It is easy to forget that God invented marriage in the first place. It wasn’t invented by the church or by the government. It was designed by God to ultimately be a blessing to men and women and to illustrate the kind of relationship that God intends to have with humanity. (see Eph 5: 31 – 32) One day Jesus was asked a question about marriage:
3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:3-9)
A Pharisee’s Question
Here in Matthew’s gospel Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees (the law experts) who are seeking to test / trap him on the question of divorce. The question was, “is it lawful for any and every reason to get a divorce?” The Pharisees are not asking simply if it is O.K. to get a divorce. A grade school Jewish boy could tell you that it was. In the Old Testament Law (Deut. 24: 1 – 4 ) it clearly says so. Instead they wanted to drag Jesus into a contemporary moral debate on the appropriate grounds for divorce.
In Rabbinic circles there were two competing schools of thought on divorce. The Mishnah (an ancient book of religious teachings) said “A man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her, for it is written, ‘Because he hath found in her indecency in any thing’”. The Hebrew phrase for ‘indecency’ here means literally “the nakedness (shame) of a thing” and it was unclear how that sentence should be read. There were two basic approaches:
Those who followed the School of Rabbi Shammai read it to mean, “indecency in anything”, or sexual shame, in any way. The School of Rabbi Hillel read it to mean, “indecency in anything” meaning an inadequacy or shame in any way. Followers of Hillel were known to say that they were free to divorce their wives if they spoiled a meal, even if “they found another fairer than she.” The Pharisees were trying to get Jesus to weigh in on the debate on one side or the other. They were prepared no doubt to attack him on either stance.
The Teachings of Jesus
It is interesting that Jesus refuses to answer the question but instead goes back to a look at the initial intentions of God for marriage in Genesis 2:24. In Matt. 5: 31 – 32, and Luke 16: 18, just like here in Matt 19:9, Jesus’ teaching is summarized in miniature and here Jesus is doing one of two things: He is either stating new conditions for divorce, or he is calling us to a whole new mindset on marriage.
I don`t think Jesus is defining new conditions for divorce. As we already said Deut 24 says that divorce is legal in the Hebrew Law. Jesus says earlier in Matt 5 that he didn’t come to get rid of the Old Law but to fulfill it. These aren’t new laws on divorce but instead Jesus is describing the destructive results of divorce. Jesus is saying that this (divorce) is not the way this relationship was meant to be. If these are the new requirements of divorce law (no divorce until you can prove marital unfaithfulness), it is simply a matter of time before one becomes eligible for divorce; simply separate and await the other party`s indiscretion. Once your estranged spouse has engaged in an illicit partnership you are off the hook and can remarry. This seems petty, vindictive and trite and does not reflect the intentions of Jesus in this case.
Rather, Jesus is saying divorce is like a betrayal of the original promise of marriage. In effect, what Jesus is saying here is, “you’re asking the wrong question.” The Pharisees are asking, “when can we get a divorce?” and Jesus is saying, “you’re not supposed to want a divorce! You’re not supposed to be trying to find the angle to play in order to get out of the promises that you have made.” When you are seeking to end a marriage you are breaking the original promise of the marriage. Jesus is saying that divorce is destructive and should be avoided at all costs. Divorce itself is the adultery; the unfaithfulness to the original marriage agreement. The adultry Jesus is talking about in Matt. 5: 31 – 32, and Luke 16: 18 is not the second marriage, it is the divorce in the first place.
This comes as no surprise to those who have suffered through the effects of broken marriage vows. God grieves with those who grieve a failed marriage. God is not some marriage cop looking to zap those who make a break for it. Marriage is a place where God’s grace can be seen and broken marriage is a place where God’s light has gone out. It’s a sad thing, and in a fallen world it is part of the legacy that sin leaves.
Next time we’ll look at a little more at the context from where Jesus is coming from and then we’ll look at what the Bible says to those whose marriages have failed.