Jesus has some things He wants me to know. They are somewhat essential as they deal with our basic human relations of marriage. When I marry, I marry as a man. God made me a male, not a female. When I marry it should be for life. All the rules and laws around divorce are not the way God intends for marriage to work.
Pretty basic but there seems to be a lot of confusion about that these days.
He set out from there and went to the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Then crowds converged on him again, and as was his custom he taught them again.
Some Pharisees came to test him, asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
He replied to them, “What did Moses command you?”
They said, “Moses permitted us to write divorce papers and send her away.”
But Jesus told them, “He wrote this command for you because of the hardness of your hearts. But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
When they were in the house again, the disciples questioned him about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. Also, if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” | Mark 10:1-12 (Christian Standard Bible)
Jesus completed His ministry in Galilee, left Capernaum, and came to the Trans-Jordan area, still on His way to the city of Jerusalem. This district was ruled by Herod Antipas, which may explain why the Pharisees tried to trap Him by asking a question about divorce. After all, John the Baptist had been slain because he preached against Herod’s adulterous marriage.
But there was more than politics involved in their trick question, because divorce was a very controversial subject among the Jewish rabbis. No matter what answer Jesus gave, He would be sure to displease somebody, and this might give opportunity to arrest Him. The verbs indicate that the Pharisees “kept asking Him,” as though they hoped to provoke Him to say something incriminating.
In that day there were two conflicting views on divorce, and which view you espoused depended on how you interpreted the phrase some uncleanness in Deuteronomy 24:1–4. The followers of Rabbi Hillel were quite lenient in their interpretation and permitted a man to divorce his wife for any reason, even the burning of his food. But the school of Rabbi Shimmai was much more strict and taught that the critical words some uncleanness referred only to premarital sin. If a newly married husband discovered that his wife was not a virgin, then he could put her away.
As He usually did, Jesus ignored the current debates and focused attention on the Word of God, in this case, the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1–4. As we study this passage, it is important to note two facts. First, it was the man who divorced the wife, not the wife who divorced the husband; for women did not have this right in Israel. Roman women did have the right of divorce. Second, the official “bill of divorcement” was given to the wife to declare her status and to assure any prospective husband that she was indeed free to remarry.
Apart from the giving of this document, the only other requirement was that the woman not return to her first husband if her second husband divorced her. Among the Jews, the question was not, “May a divorced woman marry again?” because remarriage was permitted and even expected. The big question was, “What are the legal grounds for a man to divorce his wife?”
The Law of Moses did not give adultery as grounds for divorce; for, in Israel, the adulterer and adulteress were stoned to death. Whatever Moses meant by “some uncleanness” in Deuteronomy 24:1, it could not have been adultery.
Jesus explained that Moses gave the divorce law because of the sinfulness of the human heart. This is stunning! This explains a lot about certain passages in the old testament books. The law protected the wife by restraining the husband from impulsively divorcing her and abusing her like an unwanted piece of furniture, instead of treating her like a human being. Without a bill of divorcement, a woman could easily become a social outcast and be treated like a harlot. No man would want to marry her, and she would be left defenseless and destitute.
By giving this commandment to Israel, God was not putting His approval on divorce or even encouraging it. Rather, He was seeking to restrain it and make it more difficult for men to dismiss their wives. He put sufficient regulations around divorce so that the wives would not become victims of their husbands’ whims.
The Master Jesus then took them back beyond Moses to the record of the original Creation. After all, in the beginning, it was God who established marriage; and He has the right to make the rules. According to Scripture, marriage is between a man and a woman, not two men or two women; and the relationship is sacred and permanent. It is the most intimate union in the human race, for the two become one flesh. This is not true of a father and son or a mother and daughter, but it is true of a man and wife.
While the spiritual element is vitally important in marriage, the emphasis here is that marriage is a physical union: the two become one flesh, not one spirit. Since marriage is a physical union, only a physical cause can break it—either death or fornication. Mark did not include the “exception clause” found in Matthew, but neither did he say that death breaks the marriage union.
Privately, Jesus further explained the matter to His questioning disciples, who by now were convinced that it was a dangerous thing to get married. To remarry after divorce, other than one granted on the grounds of fornication, would make the person guilty of committing adultery, and this is a serious thing. Note that Jesus included the women in His warning, which certainly elevated their status in society and gave them equality of responsibility with the men. The rabbis would not have gone this far.
Jesus warns us that man cannot separate those who have been united in marriage, but God can. Since He established marriage, He has the right to lay down the rules. A divorce may be legal according to our laws and yet not be right in the eyes of God. He expects married people to practice commitment to each other and to remain true to each other. Too many people view divorce as “an easy way out,” and do not take seriously their vows of commitment to each other and to the Lord.
- Christian Standard Bible. (2017). (Mk 10:1–52). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
- Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 144–145). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.