Harmony of the Gospels

 Samaria, Galilee
(32) Doctrine on Divorce
(Genesis 2:23-25, Deut 24:1-4) Matthew 19:1-12, Mark 10:1-12

 

Let’s begin with a definition of divorce; “A legal dissolution of the marriage relation.”

The biblical law regarding divorce is found Deuteronomy 24:1-4,

“When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife; Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: …”.

The custom of giving letters of divorce was probably adopted by the Israelites from the Egyptians because they had a practice of writing out contracts in relationship to every area of life.

Jesus stated in Matthew 19:8 that Moses did not abolish the tradition “because of the hardness of [the people’s] hearts.” 

The basis for a divorce occurred when a man’s wife did not find favor in his sight because he found some uncleanness in her.

In Hebrew, the word uncleanness means “shame” or “disgrace.”

The Mosaic Law called for severe penalties for certain types of “uncleanness.”

Adultery carried the death penalty by stoning for the woman.

If a man believed that his wife was not a virgin when he married her, he could have her judged by the elders of the city.

If they found her guilty, she could be put to death (Deut. 22:13–21).

Because it was unclear what is meant by “uncleanness”, the Pharisees tempted Jesus by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” (Mt 19:3).

It is thought that the meaning was attached to nakedness, disgrace, or some other action having to do with sexual uncleanness which would bring shame upon the family, but was short of adultery.

If a woman was divorced and married another man, she could not return and marry her first husband.

There are two reasons: first, a reunion would lower the dignity of the woman, inasmuch as she would appear to be like property, to be disposed of and reclaimed.

Second, the physical union of marriage made man and wife “one flesh” (Gen 2:24).

When that union was broken adultery was committed.

Jesus supports this interpretation when He says, “whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Mt 5:32).

The primary purpose of this law was to prevent the man from taking her again after she had married another man—it’s “an abomination before the LORD,” according to Deuteronomy 24:4.

This law was intended to discourage, rather than encourage, divorce.

They had God’s law concerning divorce, but the grounds for divorce are a point on which the Jewish Bible scholars, who lived during the early New Testament times, differed widely.

One school of thought limited it to moral wrongdoing by the woman, while another allowed divorce over trivial matters, such as, if the wife burnt the food she was cooking for her husband.

The Lord’s divine ideal for marriage is clearly a lifelong bond that unites husband and wife in a “one flesh” relationship, according to Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:5.

The marriage union is a holy condition founded by God and is not to be dissolved at the will of human beings according to Matthew 19:6.

When the marriage bond is broken it displeases God and it poses a serious threat to society.

In the second chapter of Malachi it says, “And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garments with violence” (Mal. 2:15–16).

Although a man was allowed to divorce his wife, the wife was not allowed to divorce her husband for any reason.

Legally the wife was bound to her husband as long as they both lived or until he divorced her (1 Cor. 7:39).

In Jesus’ day, there was a lot of confusion about the grounds for divorce.

Even the rabbis could not agree on what constituted the “uncleanness” spoken of in Deuteronomy 24:1.

Some felt that adultery was the only grounds for divorce, while others accepted many reasons, including such things as poor cooking.

The gospels record four statements by Jesus concerning divorce.

In two of these He allowed divorce in the case of adultery.

In Matthew 5:32, Jesus commented on the situation of both the woman and her husband.

He said, “Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.”

In another statement, Jesus described the position of the man who divorced his wife.

He said, “Whoever divorces his wife except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9).

While these two statements seem to allow divorce because of unfaithfulness, two other statements of Jesus appear to make no provision for divorce.

That’s found in Mark 10:11–12; Luke 16:18.

Mark 10:11–12    And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.  And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.

Luke 16:18  Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.

Are Jesus’ statements allowing divorce for infidelity in conflict with biblical statements that seem to forbid it entirely?

Jesus’ main point in these statements was that divorce is contrary to God’s plan for marriage and should never be taken lightly.

Even though Moses allowed divorce, this was an exception granted under the law because of their “hardness” of heart (Mark 10:5).

Jesus desired to put “teeth” into the Law by declaring that, even if the divorced couple had not been sexually unfaithful to each other, they would commit adultery in God’s sight if they now married other partners.

In allowing divorce for the single reason of “immorality,” or illicit sexual intercourse, Jesus’ thought is clearly that a person dissolves his marriage by creating a sexual union with someone other than the marriage partner.

Such union violates the sacred “oneness” intended by God when he united Adam and Eve in the first marriage relationship (Gen. 2:18–25).

In the case of sexual unfaithfulness, the decree of divorce simply reflects the fact that the marriage has already been broken.

A man divorcing his wife for this cause does not “make her an adulteress,” for she already is one.

Thus, divorce on the grounds of adultery usually frees the innocent partner to remarry without incurring the guilt of adultery (Matt. 19:9).

However, this is sometimes questioned.

Although Jesus allowed divorce for adultery, He did not require it.

On the contrary, He insisted that divorce disrupts God’s plan for marriage and left the way open for repentance and forgiveness.

Paul was essentially in agreement with Jesus’ teachings on marriage and divorce.

However, the apostle dealt with new situations involving marriage conflict between believers and between a believer and an unbeliever.

In the case of two Christians, Paul admonished them to follow the Lord’s teachings and be reconciled.

In any event, neither is to marry another (1 Cor. 7:10–11).

In 1 Corinthians 7:15, Paul says that a Christian whose mate has abandoned the marriage should be free to formalize the divorce.

His exact words are, “If the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases.”

Many Bible scholars believe that the phrase “not under bondage” means that a deserted Christian spouse may lawfully go from divorce to remarriage.

But other scholars disagree with this interpretation.

In any event, Paul encourages the believer to keep the marriage together in hopes that the unbelieving partner might be saved (1 Cor. 7:16).

God rejects divorce for these reasons:
1. Marriage is a divine institution the Lord used to teach His children about their relationship to Him (Gen. 1:27; Matt. 19:4).
2. Marriage was God’s original plan for man and woman before sin entered the human family.  Divorce was not in God’s original plan.
3. Marriage brings two people together as one flesh, testifying to the permanence God planned for this most intimate union (Matt. 19:6).
4. Jesus points to the example of the first couple (Matt. 19:8). He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
5. Evil consequences are inevitable when separation comes (Matt. 19:9).

Divorce is never God’s choice.

Indeed, God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16).

However, whenever divorce occurs for whatever reason, God desires to work redemptively when the person who has experienced this tragedy, is repentant, and desires reconciliation to God.

Now, we are going to look verse-by-verse at Matthew 19:1-12 to see what Jesus had to say on the subject.

Verse1: and it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan;

Jesus left Galilee, where He had been brought up and spent most of His life. 

He had preached most of His sermons and done most of His miracles there, but now, he departed from Galilee, and it was his final farewell; since he never came to Galilee again until after his resurrection.

He went to the coasts of Judea that lie beyond the Jordan River where many gentiles lived, for while he kept within the confines of the Jewish nation, he had his eye upon the Gentiles, and his gospel would eventually come to them.

Verse 2: And great multitudes followed him; and he healed them there.

This shows what they followed him for. 

They wanted to have their sick healed; and He as able and ready to do it; for, The Bible tells us that “wherever this Sun of righteousness arose, it was with healing under his wings.”

Now, Jesus is confronted with the issue of divorce.

Verse 3: The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?

The Pharisees came tempting him with a difficult question.

They wanted to test His wisdom with one of the most controversial questions of their day and Jesus proved far superior to their expectations. 

They wanted to get Him to make a statement that was in opposition to the Mosaic system.

They brought Him a problem which is just as difficult today as it was then; “Is it lawful for a man to put away (divorce) his wife for every cause?

That question is still a topic among Christians in our day.

Verse 4:  And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

Some time ago, while He was in Galilee, He made it clear what He thought about this matter. 

This is what He said in Matthew 5:31-32: “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”

Divorce was common practice then, but if he replied now as He did then, declaring that He was against divorce, they would use that to prejudice the people against Him.

But Jesus answered them by taking them back to the very beginning, back to God’s ideal for marriage.

God’s original plan was one man for one woman for all of life (Gen. 2:18–25), but He made a concession for Israel and permitted divorce (Deut. 24:1–4) under certain circumstances.

Divorce is not given as the solution to the problems people face in marriage.

It takes a change of heart for two people to make a new beginning, and only Jesus can change hearts.

Before you run away from marriage, run to God and seek His help.

Verses 5-6: And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

The fundamental law of marriage is that a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife,

The relation between husband and wife is closer than that between parents and children.

The nature of the marriage contract is a union of persons; They twain shall be one flesh, so they are no more twain, but one flesh.

A man’s children are pieces of himself, but his wife is himself.

In the same way that the marriage union is closer than that between parents and children, so is the connection between one member and another in the human body.

This is the reason why husbands should love their wives, and should not divorce their wives, for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, or cut it off, but nourishes and cherishes it, and does all he can to preserve it.

God himself instituted the relation between husband and wife in the state of innocence, when He joined together Adam and Eve.

Since husband and wife are joined together by the decree of God, they are not to be put asunder by any ordinance of man; not by any man; not the husband himself; not even a judge, because God never gave them authority to do it.

God said in Malachi, 2:16, “For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away:” 

It is a general rule that man must not put asunder what God hath joined together.

Verse 7: They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?

They revealed by their question that they didn’t understand what Moses had recorded in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. 

They called it a command, but it was not a command at all, it was only an allowance, designed to restrain those considering divorce, rather than to encourage it.

Verse 8: He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. (Matthew 19:8)

Jesus tells them there was a reason why God tolerates divorce. 

Moses said, “It was because of the hardness of your hearts, that you were permitted to put away your wives.”  

The Jews were known to be violent to their wives when for some reason they were displeased with them.

Therefore, if they had not been allowed to put away their wives, they would have treated them cruelly; they would have beaten and abused them, and perhaps even murdered them.

There is not a greater case of hard-heartedness in the world, than for a man to be abusive with his own wife.

The Law of Moses considered the hardness of men’s hearts, but the gospel of Christ cures it; and his grace takes away the heart of stone, and gives a heart of flesh.

Verse 9:  And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. (Matthew19:9)

Adultery breaks the marriage relationship and provides the one ground for divorce. 

Someone says to me, “Yes, but here is this poor Christian woman married to a drunkard.” 

“Or a fine Christian man is married to a godless woman.” 

“What about that?” 

Well, believers may separate on other grounds, which seems to be the whole point of 1 Corinthians 7, but divorce is permitted only on one basis, adultery.

Divorce was permitted for the purpose of permitting the innocent party to remarry. 

This rule can be applied only to believers; God is not regulating the lives of unbelievers but is holding them to the message of the cross first. 

God wants the unbeliever to come to Christ. 

He is lost whether he is married, divorced, or single. 

It makes no difference until he accepts Christ. 

The important thing to remember is that for believers He puts down one ground for divorce: adultery. 

Actually, the word Matthew used was the Greek word “porneia” which refers to fornication that includes all types of sexual sins including adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, etc.

Now suppose there was a believer whose wife got a divorce on another ground? 

What about the innocent party? 

Well, if there has been adultery there, and in most cases there has been, then the innocent party is permitted to remarry.

The Law of Moses allowing divorce for the hardness of men’s hearts, and the law of Christ forbidding it, suggests that Christians being under a dispensation of love and liberty should have tender hearts. 

We are not to be hard-hearted like the Jews for God has called us to peace.

There will be no occasion for divorces, if we are patient with one another, and forgive one another, in love.

There will be no need of divorce, if husbands love their wives, and wives are obedient to their husbands, and they live together in the grace of God.

Verse 10: His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.

The disciples are saying, “Well, in that case it would be better to stay single. 

Well, you would avoid a lot of trouble-no doubt about that. 

Perhaps the disciples were in favor of the divorce decree; their question kind of makes you think they may have felt that way.

But if the yoke of marriage may not be thrown off at the pleasure of the husband, it does not follow that we must not marry.

But when we marry, we must be determined to make it work, by love, and meekness, and patience, and that will make divorce the most unnecessary, undesirable thing that can be.

Verse 11: But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.

Jesus’ reply, “All men cannot receive this saying”, indicates that some are called to be married and remain married; others (who cannot receive this) are called to be single (never to marry).

If God calls you to be married, He will enable you to remain married.

On the other hand, some are called to be single and never marry for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.

Verse 12: For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

Jesus is not talking about physical castration, but about God-directed, self-imposed celibacy (see 1 Cor. 7).

A eunuch was a person who never married and often served as a royal official.

Some were born that way, due to physical or mental deficiency; some were made eunuchs by men, either by choice or by force; some had deliberately chosen to be single for the purpose of serving God without being tied to regular family responsibilities.

Unfortunately the early church began to take this statement to mean that it was more spiritual to be single than to be married, and eventually celibacy became law within the Roman Catholic Church.

Somebody says, “Do you think the preacher ought to get married?  Or do you think the priest should be married?” 

I believe this is a place where God puts down a principle. 

He says it is up to the individual. 

We have to make that decision for ourselves. 

The single life is not to be forced on anyone, but those who are called to it are able to accept it gladly.

I don’t understand why some people and some churches treat divorce as the unpardonable sin. 

I have experienced that attitude personally. 

When Sierra and I first got married we began working in a Baptist church in Olathe, Kansas. 

My best friend was the young pastor; I think because we worked side-by-side for several years. 

And we carpooled together on a 2 hour trip to work and back. 

We were doing the bus ministry, teaching Sunday school, and doing visitation work. 

One evening my pastor friend knocked on my door and informed me that Sierra could continue to attend church, but she couldn’t do any work in the church because it had come to their knowledge that she had been divorced. 

It broke my heart.

Friends, God forgives that sin the same way He forgives all other sins. 

He will not hold it against us, and we should never put anyone down who has gone through a divorce. 

 

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