Jesus’ Shocking Teachings: Divorce (Part 1)

We all live under different forms of authority: parents, government, teachers, supervisors, God, and even ourselves. The Scriptures teach there is spiritual value in self-control. What you do in life is under the authority of your mind–your decisions–and your decisions are shaped by your knowledge, your feelings, your current situations, and your experiences.

What is the hierarchy of authority in your life? Isn’t that the key question? The answer to this question will dictate how you respond to other authorities. When two authorities conflict with each other in your life, which one will you follow? Obviously, the one that is higher on the list.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenges His disciples to get their priorities (their authorities) straight. Is God number one? Will you subject yourself to your own thoughts and feelings or to the One who has your eternal best interests in mind?

It was said, “Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her A certificate of divorce”; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:31-32

The other five sayings Jesus addresses begin something like, “You have heard…” (vv. 21, 27, 33, 38, 43). However, when we get to this subject, Jesus simply says, “It was said…” Why does He not mention that they had heard about this? Was it that case that people were not teaching on the importance of marriage and the seriousness of divorce? Was it the case that, in the first century, there was no need to teach on God’s plan for marriage from the beginning? Whatever the case may have been, Jesus knew that this subject had to be addressed.

If you think Jesus teaches somewhat strictly on this subject, you’re not alone. On a future occasion when Jesus speaks on this subject, Jesus’ disciples are shocked.

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 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’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her A certificate of divorce and send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.

The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it. Matthew 19:3-12.

The disciples are so affected by Jesus’ teaching that they conclude it would be better to not marry. Jesus does not agree with their sweeping statement, but He does give credit to them that, for some people, it is better not to marry.

When Jesus brings up the ideal circumstance and His new covenant teaching on divorce and remarriage, don’t fall into the temptation to wish for Jesus to be like Moses. Some might want to bring back the permissions of the Law of Moses to be able to divorce a spouse for other reasons other than sexual immorality. However, are they willing to be consistent? Would they also want Moses’ punishment for one found committing sexual immorality, which was stoning to death? Let us accept both Christ’s law and His grace.

“For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the Lord of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.” Malachi 2:16.

If God hates divorce, we should too.

The word translated in Matthew 5:32 as unchastity in the NASB is πορνεία (porneia). Of course, this is where we get our English word, pornography. It means “sexual immorality, fornication, illicit sexual acts.” In the context of the marriage, if one of the partners commits unchastity/fornication, it is called adultery, because fornication includes adultery. As we saw in the previous study, the English definition of fornication is “voluntary sexual intercourse between persons not married to each other.”

So, what does Jesus say? He says that when you say, “I do,” you are committing to that person for life. He also says that the only reason you are permitted to divorce the person you have committed to for life is if he or she breaks the marriage covenant through illicit sexual activity with another person. That’s it. If you divorce anyway, and you remarry, you are committing adultery, because you had no biblical right to put your spouse away in the first place.

It does not matter what human law permits, Jesus’ word on this subject will continue to be binding on all. In order to enforce this point, Jesus appeals to God’s plan from the beginning (Matt. 19:4). God’s plan supersedes culture. Jesus came to restore God’s plan from the beginning. We should share this goal with Christ.

Consider this: If divorce were permitted for any reason at all, as many societies say it should be, then where is the sanctity and value of marriage? Why is it that most of us would value a glass chalice over a paper cup? One is made with disposal in mind. If you enter marriage thinking that you can always throw it away later, you devalue it.

Also, where would the seriousness of adultery be?

When any society sinks to such a level that complete freedom of divorce for any excuse permits as many husbands or wives in quick succession as desire may crave, any command not to commit adultery becomes a farce. Harold Fowler (Matthew Vol. 1. 1968.)

It was said, “Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her A certificate of divorce”; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:31-32

There have been hundreds of questions thrown at these verses. In Part 2, I will endeavor to answer seven of them. But let us remember that no question we ask can detract away from what Jesus said, which was said quite clearly.


One thought on “Jesus’ Shocking Teachings: Divorce (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Jesus’ Shocking Teachings: Divorce (Part 2) – The Christian Exile

Comments are closed.