Today’s Scripture reading, Matthew 19 and Mark 10, begin with a question that has troubled many down through the ages, and continues to be misunderstood in our day: “Is it lawful for a man to put away [divorce] his wife for every cause?” (Matthew 19:3; Mark 10:2)
The issue of divorce was a matter of debate in Jesus’ day, and the Pharisees had approached Jesus, hoping to pull Him into the dispute (Matthew 19:1-12). They came, “tempting Him” (19:3), wanting to discredit Christ in the eyes of the public, and desiring to diminish His following. In an effort to place Jesus at odds with the Law, and their own liberal interpretation of the Law concerning divorce, the Pharisees asked, “Is it lawful for a man to put away [divorce] his wife for every [any] cause?”
The School of Hillel held a liberal interpretation of divorce, and it was adhered to by the Pharisees and a majority of 1st century Jews. Hillel taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason; however, a woman was not permitted to divorce her husband. The School of Shammai represented the conservative, unpopular view on divorce. Followers of Shammai argued that divorce was unlawful, except in the case of adultery.
Divorce had become a widespread practice among some Jewish people, and many Pharisees were guilty of multiple divorces, often for the most absurd reasons. Of course, such oligarchy would never permit a wife to divorce her husband for any cause! Jesus answered the Pharisees question on divorce, directing them to the authority of the Scriptures (19:4-6).
Divorce violates the Creator’s plan and design for man and woman. Citing the writings of Moses, Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Have ye not read, that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female?” (19:4; Genesis 1:27; 2:24)
Divorce is also a violation of God’s design for marriage which is “one flesh” (19:5). A man is commanded to leave his father and mother and “cleave to his wife” (19:5-6a). A man’s bond with his wife is to overshadow all human relationships, although two individuals, husband and wife are to be one, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Divorce violates the sanctity of marriage (19:6b). It was God’s plan, and His command, that what He had “joined (or yoked) together,” no man, court, or judge had the power or authority to “put asunder” (meaning to separate).
Disregarding Jesus’ appeal to consider the Scriptures as their authority in the question of divorce, the Pharisees asked: “Why did Moses then command [charge; order] to give a writing [certificate; bill; paper] of divorcement, and to put her away [dismiss; divorce]?” (19:7)
Those hypocritical religious leaders were not interested in God’s standard, design, or plan for marriage. They were looking to justify their sin, and disallow the sanctity of marriage. They suggested Moses as a defense of their distorted interpretation of divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).
Jesus answered their question, rebuking, and exposing their wickedness as a violation of God’s will and design for marriage (19:8). Leaving no ambiguity, Jesus spoke plainly:
Matthew 19:9 – 9And 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.
Divorce was never God’s plan, and the only grounds for divorce is “fornication,” meaning sexual conduct with anyone who is not one’s spouse (19:9a).
Jesus’ conclusion may come as a shock to some as it did to His disciples (19:10); but remember God’s purpose and design for marriage was companionship, for “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). God made one woman for one man, and Adam the first man was complete (Genesis 2:22). They were “one flesh,” and their union was designed to be inseparable (Genesis 2:24).
Warning: Divorce is a rejection of God’s plan and design for mankind, and He is witness of the covenant vows of marriage (Malachi 2:14b).
Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith