Monday, September 15, 2008

Jesus on Divorce

I've had the opportunity recently to deal with a somewhat controversial issue. By means of finding some explanations myself, I wanted to discuss with my readers the possible meaning of a passage from Jesus' teachings. It appears in slightly varying ways in three Gospels:

"It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." (Matthew 5:31-32, ESV)

"Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery." (Luke 16:18)

"And he said to them, 'Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." (Mark 10:11-12)

Now, I have found that it works much better to explain a passage before applying it to our lives today. Seems logical, right?

Jesus is teaching Jews in general, or specifically Jewish leaders in the latter two examples. In other words, he is talking to those familiar with Jewish Law. In this system, the man always divorced the woman, not vice versa. Moreover, Moses' law seemed to indicate that man could get a divorce any time "he has found some indecency in her" (Deuteronomy 24:1) Jesus then proceeds to place some qualifications on this statement.
  • First, he indicates God's desire for a husband and wife to remain together whenever humanly possible (esp. in Mark 10).
  • Secondly, he states that the only acceptable reason for divorce is "sexual immorality."
  • Thirdly, in Matthew, he makes a logical statement that if a man divorces a woman for any reason besides sexual immorality, he is saying that she is as bad as an adulteress.
  • Fourthly, if the now divorced woman was indeed an adulteress, or thought to be as bad as one, she should not be remarrying, so you should not marry her.
Some of these statements seem quite offensive to us today, and we don't know quite how to take them. So, what can we apply from these passages?

  • God's first plan is for relationships to be restored and kept. That is why he sought to ultimately reconcile us with Himself. Likewise, we ought to be willing to sacrifice to keep our relationships intact.
  • Divorce should only be considered in cases of sexual immorality or (maybe) if the other's actions are as bad as cheating (e.g. I would include physical or severe emotional abuse).
  • When you divorce for any other reason, you are defaming the other person's character beyond an appropriate response. If we divorce because we "can't" get along, we are essentially saying that their behavior is as bad as outright adultery.
  • Finally, be careful when considering remarriage after divorce (a deceased spouse is a very different issue). If this kind of commitment failed once, should another be attempted? Only after deep prayer and counsel from godly people should this be attempted. I have known many a time that the second marriage was God-sent. However, I have also known many more that were worse than the first. Do not make a decision based on the "need" for a companion.
These are hard teachings, (even the Disciples thought so)! However, we cannot give up on God just because we don't like what He says. Instead, we should seek to follow Him because He teaches truth.

Blessings! Comments are welcome!

1 comment:

  1. Les McFall has an interested way to deal with the exception clause in Matthew 19:9. He has written a 43 page paper that reviews the changes in the Greek made by Erasmus that effect the way Matthew 19:9 has been translated. I reviewed McFall's paper at Except For Fornication Clause of Matthew 19:9. I would love to hear some feedback on this position.

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