Marriage and Divorce

Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.

3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”

4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”

8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

10 His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” – Matthew 19:1-10.

Jesus leaves Galilee and comes to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. Great crowds of mostly sick people follow Him. He heals them there.

The Pharisees come to Him with a trick question.

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” (v.3) — The Pharisees’ question may reflect the opinion of Hillel, a rabbi who allowed divorce for the slightest reasons on the basis of Deut. 24:1–4. He was opposed by another teacher, Shammai, who regarded only gross indecency as proper grounds. Jesus’ answer goes beyond this debate about Deuteronomy and returns to the order of creation by God. Jesus views divorce as a fundamental denial of God’s created order and the nature of marriage (vss.4-6). Marriage is God’s idea and it is to be monogamous (cf. Gen. 2:23-24) and permanent (cf. Matt. 19:6).

Hearing Jesus’ view of marriage, the Pharisees thought they could set Him against Moses. But Jesus shows that Moses in Deut. 24:1–4 was not giving a justification for divorce, but making provisions in the event of divorce. Deut. 24:1–4 consists of a long introductory conditional statement (“if then”), ending with the prohibition for a man to remarry a woman he had earlier divorced. A hardness of heart with respect to marriage and divorce is specifically restrained by this case law.

Jesus recognizes that marital infidelity potentially destroys the marital tie between spouses and is, therefore, ground for legal divorce. However, divorce is not mandatory and reconciliation (see 18:23–35) is preferable. God hates divorce (see Malachi 2:16).

“it is better not to marry” (v.10). The disciples’ reaction seems cynical. Jesus accepts their response and indicates that it may be better not to marry, but only for the sake of the kingdom, not because God has an unworkable view of marriage (cf. 1 Cor. 7:7–9).

Summary:

LARGE MULTITUDES (vss 1-2) — Many people follow Jesus from Galilee to Judea beyond the Jordan. Jesus heals there.

LASTING MARRIAGES (vss 3-12) — The main thrust of Jesus’ teaching, in answer to the trick question of the Pharisees, is to ask them if they have not read the Old Testament and to emphasize that marriage is intended to be between one man and one woman on earth for life. God has joined them together and man must not separate them. In answer to their false statement that Moses commanded divorce, Jesus teaches that divorce is permitted, though not commanded or obligatory, in the case of sexual immorality.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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