What Jesus Said Concerning Marriage And Divorce

It is interesting that a person’s individual opinion of marriage and divorce, depends upon their situation. We humans tend to believe and keep laws and rules depending upon how they affect us at any given time. The laws of God are not like this, they depend upon timeless, never changing standards that God established before anything else existed.

In Matthew chapter 19 the Pharisees come to Jesus to test Him, and hopefully trap Him, and destroy His credibility. This text in Matthew’s Gospel and the discussion that Jesus has with these men, becomes for us, an incredible proof for His authority and true identity as the Messiah. As the Pharisees present Jesus with a quandary concerning marriage, they do so based upon their well known standards that came from the teaching of respected Rabbis.

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

And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at 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 then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

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

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. 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.” ~Matthew 19:3-9 (NKJV)

The Pharisees are not asking this question of Jesus because they are interested in His teaching; they want Him to state His opinion concerning the law so that they can discredit Him and end His teaching and ministry.

At the time that Jesus and the Pharisees find themselves discussing this situation concerning marriage and divorce, the Pharisees were relying upon two esteemed schools of thought, Rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel.[1,2]

Rabbi Shammai interpreted the text from Deuteronomy 24:1 as “The man is not to release his wife unless he has found something indecent in her.” Rabbi Shammai arrived at this conclusion by reversing two Hebrew nouns, dabar erwath (some uncleanness), to ‘erwath dabar. This change in the text, altered the interpretation, requiring Rabbi Shammai to define what the text means.

This change in the order of the Hebrew verbs by Shammai, modifies the entire meaning of the text. In essence, a man could divorce his wife for any reason he chooses.

Deuteronomy 24:1 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house.”

Note: The Septuagint Version, (LXX), translates the Hebrew into the Greek: ὅτι εὕρηκεν ἐν αὐψῇ ἄσχημον πράγμα.

Rabbi Hillel added a qualifier to the change Shammai made, the fact that when a wife was cooking her husbands dinner and she burnt his food; the husband could release his wife from the marriage, ie, divorce her, not just for any reason.

Rabbi Akiva, later added a clarification here that said: “that she find no favor in his eyes,” meaning even if the husband found a better-looking woman, he could divorce his wife.[3]

In these two views by Shammai, and Hillel, held by the Pharisees at the time when they are questioning Jesus, Rabbi Shammai was more strict, Rabbi Hillel completely lax in his conclusion, allowing a man to divorce his wife, “for any reason.”

Jewish historian, Josephus commented on these two views in Antiquities 4,8,23:

He that desires to be divorced from his wife for any cause whatsoever-and many such causes happen among men-let him in writing give assurance that he never will use her as his wife any more, for by these means she may be at liberty to marry another husband, although before this bill of deliverance be given she is not to be permitted to do so.

The Pharisees presented Hillel’s teaching before Jesus with the phrase “for any reason…”

These men reasoned that it is easier to be permissive, than strict; easier to go downhill than uphill.

In their attempt to trap Jesus into saying something that they could condemn Him for, and thereby discredit His teaching before the people, the Pharisees wanted Jesus to tell them which of these two esteemed Rabbis, Shammai or Hillel, Jesus agreed with. The Pharisees knew that Deuteronomy 24:1 was the law and by asking Jesus what His opinion was, they could make Him compromise the law, as the two Rabbis had done in their interpretations.

If Jesus agreed with Hillel, the permissive and well accepted view of the Pharisees and most Jews at that time, the Pharisees could side with Shammai and charge Jesus with being morally permissive.

If Jesus took the position of Shammai who wrote that only actual shameful conduct could be a cause for divorce, Jesus could be rebuked by the Pharisees for being too friendly to sinners.

Either choice Jesus made, would give the Pharisees reason to condemn Him and discredit His teaching before the people. This would likely have caused Jesus’ ministry and all that He said from that point to come into question. The answer Jesus gave the Pharisees at this time was of critical importance.

If Jesus chose to reject both Hillel and Shammai and declare His own opinion as superior against all divorce, the Pharisees could charge him with contradicting even the law as it is stated in Deuteronomy 24:1.

At this point the Pharisees were quite certain that they had Jesus between a rock and a hard place, and He could not answer them without damaging His credibility as a teacher.

Instead, as Jesus always does, He outsmarted the wisest men in Israel, and has done the same for all time. Jesus went back to the origin of the law and quoted God’s statement regarding marriage in Genesis 1:27:

And Jesus answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at 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 then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

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

Jesus 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. 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.” ~Matthew 19:4-9

The Pharisees and the ancient Rabbis had added and subtracted from God’s law. They took the simple and easy to understand, and made the law difficult and hard to understand. When people tell you that you cannot understand the Bible unless they explain it to you, they are doing what these men were doing. God did not intend that we would need a scholar or expert to teach us the Bible. Sometimes commentaries are helpful, particularly when we can look at the original languages and learn what a particular Hebrew or Greek word means, but this is not required to understand the straightforward manner in which God determined that any person could learn what He has said.

The best way to learn and understand the Bible is by studying the entire Bible, comparing scriptures with scripture. All that you need to understand the Bible is lots of time and study in the entire texts.

In this case where the Pharisees are trying to discredit Jesus, they are using the opinions of men, rather than what God said as the basis of all their knowledge. It is very easy for Jesus at this point, to disprove and discredit the Pharisees. All He must do is go back to the scriptures and state what God had said from the beginning.

We can tell what the motives of the Pharisees were at this time, by the way they ask Jesus this question: “Is it lawful (ἔξεστιν)?” This interrogation by the Pharisees reveals that they considered the marriage of a man and woman as merely a matter of legislation.

If this was the intent of God in writing laws for marriage, then society might seek to later alter or change the law to fit the needs or opinions of people at any given time. This was not God’s intent. Marriage is tied to the creation of men and women, by God, and it represents a unity and oneness of their being that is already a part of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God ultimately wants people who He made in His image, to be perfectly like Him in every way. The foundation of God’s Being is His Unity of mind, purpose, will, words, and actions. The Father, Son, and Spirit have possessed these as their Nature for eternity.

Jesus rebukes these men who should be teachers of God’s word, and not the traditions and opinions of men. Jesus asks them a question that they should already have known and stated: “Have you not read that He who made them at 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 then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Eve was created after Adam, but she was never intended by God as being the property of a man. A woman is equal to a man in every regard, in the eyes of God. Women have the same rights, worth, and honor before God in their lives and, in marriage, as a man. Once a man and a woman commit themselves to each other in marriage, it is for life, and they become one person, from the perspective of God.

Jesus reminds us all that God only created two sexes, male and female. Society might add different classifications for gender, but the truth of our creation is that God only made two. If we add additional genders, we are doing what the Pharisees had done, adding to God’s word, adding human opinion to the perfect law of God which needs no alteration or change.

What God said at the beginning, is true and it will never change. This is why Jesus went back to the beginning of what God said when He first created man and woman, and gave this answer to the Pharisees. We should do the same when people try to redefine marriage, gender, or any other part of human life. God is the authority; He knows what is best; we should trust Him because He loves us.

From God’s perspective, when a man and a woman become husband and wife, they also experience a spiritual oneness that is only possible by a man and woman. Two men or two women cannot achieve this spiritual oneness, though they might achieve a united physical oneness for a time. The reason that same-sex marriage or relationship are wrong, from God’s perspective, is that this union does not achieve the original goal of marriage, to make two people one person in complete unity, as Father, Son, and Spirit have always been.

Jesus clarified this truth by saying: “So then, they are no longer two but one flesh.”

A husband and wife, male and female, united in marriage, by their sexual union after the commitment of marriage, they become one flesh. They are no longer two people, but one person. They are no longer like father and son, mother and daughter, they are a single physical union.

The consummation of marriage between one man and one woman, makes a permanent fusing of two people into one being. When this union is broken by divorce, a physical tearing takes place. This is why God hates divorce because it physically tears one person in-two, and the pain of this tearing is often unbearable and lasts for the rest of their lives.

Because Jesus went back to what God said originally concerning marriage, there was no answer or rebuke the Pharisees could present to Jesus. He had defeated them scripturally and intellectually, and demonstrated that He is God, knowing all things.

The Pharisees do not try to contradict Jesus, but simply say: “Why then did Moses permit divorce?

Jesus reveals that from the beginning, God did not permit divorce, it was Moses who allowed the hard hearted people of Israel to divorce as a concession. If we want the best in life, we follow what God said concerning marriage and every other law He gave us to live our lives. These laws are not for God, they are for us. If we obey what God said, we are the beneficiaries and it is us who achieve a wonderful, rich and satisfying life, full of good things.

In perspective of the law, we are not saved by keeping the law, but salvation is only by grace, through faith. We prove our faith by our eagerness to obey the law, but obedience to the law does not allow us to gain favor with God. In the same way, since we understand how much Jesus has done for us to secure our salvation, we don’t want to go back to our former life of sin, because of our love for the Lord.

When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners. ~Romans 4:4-5 (NLT)

Some people, when they read what God requires, knowing what God said, it does not soften their hearts to obey, but causes a hardening of their heart that moves them away from God. If God was not patient and allowed us room to fail, no one would ever be saved. Sometimes when we go our own way when God has told us the right way, we find out later we were wrong. If we came back to God and discovered that He was so strict that He would not give us a second chance, very few people would ever make it to heaven.

Because of God’s kindness, patience, love and immense Grace; The Lord gives us all room to fail and fall. When we come to our senses and realize we were wrong and God was right, He will take us back and forgive all of our sins—through Christ—because of His great love.

This was the reason that Jesus came to our world; to show us the love and patience of God. The reason the whole world is still suffering and evil is still present in the world is because after Jesus died and rose from the dead, He returned to heaven to give the world time to change its mind. God has been delaying the righteous kingdom of Jesus for nearly 2,000 years so that people have time to turn from their sins and believe in Jesus and be saved. The negative side of this waiting is that the world remains as it has, under sin, evil, suffering and death.

When Jesus returns, after this present time of Grace when God waits for people to change their minds and receive Christ, He will bring with Him, a righteous kingdom that will never end. There will be no evil, sin, sickness, suffering or death when Jesus comes again to earth again and establishes His righteous kingdom.

For now, we all have the opportunity to hear about Jesus, turn from our sins, and trust Him for our salvation. We would all be wise if we just did what God said in His word.


NOTES:

[1] Rabbi Shammai was a Jewish scholar of who lived from 50 B.C, to 30 A.D. Shammai was a preeminent teacher and scholar in Judaism’s foundational work of rabbinic literature, the Mishnah. Shammai was the most distinguuished contemporary of Hillel. His teachings agree with Hillel, except regarding three issues.
[2] Rabbi Hillel was born in 110 B.C, in Babylon, he died in 10 A.D., at Jerusalem. Hillel is the grandfather of Gamaliel, the teacher of Paul in the New Testament. Hillel was a Jewish religious leader, sage and scholar associated with the development of the Mishnah and the Talmud and the founder of the House of Hillel school of tannaim. He is popularly known as the author of two sayings: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And being only for myself, what am ‘I’?
[3] Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef, also known as Rabbi Akiva, was born in 50 A.D., in Cesarea, and died in the same city in 135 A.D.Akiva was a chief Jewish scholar, sage, a tanna, from the latter part of the first century and the beginning of the second century. Akiva was a primary contributor for the Mishnah and the Midrash halakha.



Categories: Christians Endorsing Gay Marriage, Following Jesus, Gay Marriage and Same-Sex, Gender Identity, God is perfect, Jesus Church, Marriage and Divorce, One Body One Purpose, Robert Clifton Robinson, Sexual Immorality

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