Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Jesus on Divorce, Remarriage and Adultery

Jesus' teachings on Divorce

Generally speaking, much of the church has misunderstood Jesus’ statements on divorce, and the church has typically increased, rather than relieved, the suffering and scandal of Christians who have left abusive marriages. This is not right.

If we want to genuinely understand Jesus’ teachings on divorce, particularly his teaching in response to the question posed to him by the Pharisees, we need to have some understanding of the issues concerning divorce that the Jews of Jesus’ day were discussing.

Herod Antipas and Herodias

The Pharisees were testing Jesus with their question about divorce (Matt. 19:3; Mark 10:2). They may have been trying to trick Jesus into saying something scathing about Herod Antipas (ruler of Galilee) and his new wife Herodias. The couple had recently divorced their previous partners so that they could marry each other, and they were the ‘talk of town’.

John the Baptist was executed because of his vocal criticism about their divorces and subsequent marriage (Mark 6:17ff NIV cf. Luke 3:19-20). Were the Pharisees hoping Jesus could be got rid of in the same way?

The example of Herod Antipas and Herodias could well be the context for Jesus’ teaching on divorce which can be paraphrased as: you must not divorce your spouse so that you can marry someone else, as that is tantamount to adultery (cf. Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18; Matt. 5:31-32 NIV; 19:9).

Similarly, the immediate context of Malachi 2:16 NIV, in the Old Testament, “suggests that the divorce in view is that of one Jewish person by another in order to undertake subsequent marriages.”[1]

Shammai and Hillel

But there was more behind the Pharisees’ question. The Pharisees were currently engaged in a debate about the legitimate grounds for divorce in light of Deuteronomy 24:1.[2]

The Rabbinic document Mishnah Gittin gives us insight into the opposing views on divorce of the Shammaite Pharisees and Hillelite Pharisees in the first and early second centuries.[3] (Shammai (50 BCE–30 CE) and Hillel (110 BCE–7 CE) were highly influential Jewish scholars.)

The School of Shammai says: “A man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her”, for it is written, “Because he has found in her indecency in anything” (Deut. 24:1). The School of Hillel says: “Even if she spoiled a dish for him”, for it is written, “Because he has found in her indecency in anything”. Rabbi Akiva says: “Even if he found another fairer than she”, for it is written, “And it shall be if she find no favour in his eyes” (Deut. 24:1).
Mishnah Gittin 9.10 [4]

The School of  Shammai rightly focused on the word “indecency” in Deuteronomy 24:1. The school of Hillel unjustly focused on the word “anything”. Some wives were unfairly treated and seriously disadvantaged by divorce for any reason, one reason even being that a husband “found another fairer than she”.[5]

The Pharisees’ debate was unfairly focused on the husbands’ rights. The well-being of wives does not seem to have been a consideration. Yet, while the law was unfairly biased towards husbands, wives could seek a divorce. David Instone-Brewer summarises the situation in first-century CE Judaism:

Only a man could enact a divorce, but this did not mean that women could not initiate a divorce . . . The principles that divorce could be enacted only by a man was based on the law that said that a man should write out the get or “divorce certificate” (Deut. 24:1). This resulted in the principles that a man had to enter into divorce voluntarily, but a woman could be divorced against her will . . .[6]

The Pharisees may have wanted to get into a debate with Jesus on one of their pet topics, but Jesus succinctly answered their question and took the conversation in a different direction, all the way back to creation.

Jesus and Moses

A further possibility is that the Pharisees’ asked their question hoping that they would trick Jesus into speaking against the law of Moses, in particular Deuteronomy 24:1, and thus discredit him. If this was their hope, they would have been disappointed as Jesus immediately quotes from Genesis in his reply. (The book of Genesis is traditionally thought to have been written by Moses.)

In Matthew 19:4-6 Jesus tells the Pharisees,

Have you not read that the one 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 they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate (Matt. 19:4-6; cf. Gen 1:27; 2:24; 5:2).

In Genesis 2:18-25 we are given a glimpse at God’s ideal model for marriage: one man and one woman, perfectly suited to one another, joined in an intimate and exclusive, mutual and safe, life-long partnership. This is what husbands and wives should aspire to. Sadly, however, many marriages do not live up to this ideal.

When a bride and groom make their wedding vows, today, they make a covenant upheld by certain promises, such as, to love, honour, cherish, etc. But some people, even professing Christians, habitually break these promises. A few even do the opposite of love, honour, and cherish.

When a spouse consistently and repeatedly breaks the wedding vows he or she has made, the marriage covenant breaks and the one-flesh union fractures, and this may lead to divorce. It is important to note, however, that a legal divorce usually occurs long after the marriage covenant has already been broken.

Divorce and Adultery

In his comments on divorce given to the Pharisees, Jesus specifically addressed the Pharisees’ debate on divorce (Matt.19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12). His comments were not meant to be a comprehensive statement on divorce, or a comprehensive statement of all the permissible reasons for divorce. Rather, Jesus correctly interprets Deuteronomy 24:1, he reminds the Pharisees of the ideal in marriage, and he explains that divorcing one person in order to marry another person is immoral and adulterous.

Importantly, it is plausible, even probable, that all of Jesus’ statements about adultery, in respect to divorce and remarriage, were given in the context of someone divorcing one person with the express aim of marrying another particular person (Matt. 5:31-32 NIV; 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18).  If so, it means that someone who divorces their spouse because of betrayal or abuse, but later finds a new partner and marries, is NOT committing adultery.

Divorce and our Duty of Care

Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees had the potential to protect married women. Jesus would not have wanted wives to be divorced and dumped by their husbands for no real reason. As mentioned in my previous article, a divorced woman could be very vulnerable in Bible times.

The Bible expresses a clear mandate that we are to protect vulnerable people from injustice. A faulty understanding of Jesus’ teaching on divorce cannot be used to overturn this basic principle. We completely miss the point of Jesus’ remarks to the Pharisees, and elsewhere, if we insist a spouse remain with an abusive partner in a harmful marriage. Instead, we are to provide consolation, care and support.

More information about domestic abuse and divorce from an evangelical Christian perspective on A Cry for Justice.

Image: The Pharisees and the Sadducees Come to Tempt Jesus, by James Tissot (1886-1894) (Wikimedia Commons)


[1] Note 24 on Malachi 2 in the NET Bible here.

[2] Deuteronomy 24:1-4 “is directly concerned only with forbidding a divorced man from remarrying his former wife, and indirectly with checking hasty divorces, by demanding sufficient cause and certain legal formalities. Divorce itself is taken for granted and tolerated as an existing custom whose potential evils this law seeks to lessen . . . By New Testament times Jewish opinion differed concerning what was sufficient ground for divorce; cf. Matt 19:3.” Footnote on Deuteronomy 24, from The New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE) here.

[3] The Mishnah was written around 200 CE, but refers to some Jewish traditions before that time which were passed on orally.

[4] Hyam Maccoby, Early Rabbinic Writings, Book 3 of Cambridge Commentaries on Writing of the Jewish and Christian World 200BC to AD200 (Cambridge University Press, 1988, digital version 2008)
Mishnah Gittin 9:10 can be read online here.

[5] Rabbi Akiva (50-137) lived a little after Jesus’ time on earth, but his idea, that a husband could legitimately divorce his wife just to marry someone prettier, could be an echo of earlier rabbinic ideas.

[6] David Instone Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002) 85-86.
However, Jewish women who were Roman citizens could enact a divorce under Roman law. For example, Salome I (Herod the Great’s sister) and Herodias issued the writ of divorce and divorced their husbands. More on this here.

Related Articles

God on Divorce (Malachi 2:16)
Various articles on Genesis 2
Mutuality in Marriage (1 Corinthians chapter 7)
Submission and Respect from Wives – 1 Peter 3:1-6
Submission and Respect from Husbands – 1 Peter 3:7-8
God wants women to be happy in marriage
Power Struggles in Christian Marriage?

Posted May 24th, 2016 . Categories/Tags: Christian Living, Early Jewish History, Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Marriage, , , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

30 comments on “Jesus on Divorce, Remarriage and Adultery

  1. Bev Murrill says:

    Powerful explanation here, Marg, and one which echoes the heart of God. It is so tragic that very often the legalistic and ignorant reading of the English translation with no desire to study the original manuscripts, so often leads to the very opposite of God’s intention.

    God’s heart is to protect people, especially women who, as you have shown here, have been victims of society, being discarded at will by husbands who no longer care for them and prefer a newer model. If people would take the time to read beyond the English translation and into the heart of the society at the time of writing, they would get a wider view of God’s word. Mercy is a huge issue in the church, and one which so often goes by the board in favour of legalism and judgement.

  2. Just found out that Focus on the Family has re-aired an interview they did with John MacArthur in which he asserts “God hates divorce”.


    The interview was first aired by FOF in 2012 and one of our readers heard it re-aired within the last 24 hours or so, on her local radio station.

    We need a massive and unrelenting campaign to expunge this “God hates divorce” slogan from the Christian lexicon!

    • Marg says:

      Count me in any campaign. I’ll make an Instagram quote later tonight.
      Have you got any idea about wording?

      • Hi Marg, for some reason I’m not getting email notifications of comments to your posts, even thought I’ve ticked the ’email me if there are more comments’ box.

        I have had a fair bit of success with this tweet in the last few days:
        When people say”God hates divorce”, victims of domestic abuse hear: “God hates you for wanting to divorce your abuser, and so do we!”


        • Marg says:

          Hi Barb, I think you’ve mentioned that before. Do you click the box just before posting a reply?

        • Alson Taylor says:

          God also hates oath-breaking. Where is your advice that such women simply leave their husbands and live elsewhere? If there is violence, let the husband be jailed for it. We are all sinners and some sin with physical abuse and later repent of it. You are promoting lifestyle adultery in remarriage for these women and the men who “marry” them despite their continuing bond with their first husband.

          You want to turn “not enslaved to the unbeliever” into a highway for adulterous remarriage–only several lines after Paul told all wives to remain unmarried or to reconcile with their husbands if they should leave them. He would have needed to rewrite most of his sermon to give us your interpretation of his words.

          • Marg says:

            Alson, Why are you making this just about wives who leave, and not about husbands and wives who leave? There’s something askew with your comments here and below.

            (I have removed your judgemental remarks.)

      • Also, just to let you know, the wording of that tweet is adapted from what one of our ACFJ readers wrote on our FB page.

        So the honour for being pithy goes to her. 🙂

  3. Curtis says:

    My wife left me for a woman. Even so, I don’t feel it’s right for me to pursue other relationships. Just because my wife broke her vows, I don’t see how that gives me permission to break mine. If people must divorce, fine. But I just don’t see how you can make a Christian case for remarriage.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Curtis,

      I understand that you didn’t break your vows, but your wife did. In so doing, she broke the covenant. Any covenant between two, or more, parties cannot be sustained if one party doesn’t keep to the requirements of that covenant.

      Also, the basic requirements of marriage (i.e. leave your parents, cleave to your wife, and become one-flesh) are not operating when a couple no longer “cleave” but separate. I cannot see how you still have a marriage, and why you still feel obligated to fulfil your marriage vows

      But I fully appreciate that people must do what their faith allows. And I wish you the very best.

    • Brotherobin says:

      Hi Curtis,

      Your testimony is a witness to us all and I believe God will honour your faithfulness. What we bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven. In Ephesians 5:31,32, Paul likens the union of a man and a woman to the union of Christ and His church (body of believers). So if we sin (spiritual fornication) and do not repent (turn from our evil ways) God will cast us into outer darkness. But if we repent, pick up our “cross” and submit to Jesus Christ we will inherit eternal life.

      Some would say that if one party to a marriage does not honour the marriage covenant that that will break the one flesh relationship. But Mark recorded Jesus saying: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”

      From the Old Testament we know that those that divorce had hard hearts, and, from Eccl (4:9-11) we know that if one strand of a three-fold cord breaks that the other two will hold.

      1 Cor7: 1-6; Rom 7:1-3; 1 Cor7: 15,16 & 1 Cor7:39 are relevant New Testament Scriptures in the circumstances.

      Congratulations and keep up the “good witness”.

    • Curtis, I suggest you read these two posts. They explain why the Bible allows remarriage to a person in who has suffered domestic abuse from their spouse. You have not suffered abuse, but you have suffered marital mistreatment and unjuustified abandonment. So the principles apply to you just as much as they apply to the victim of abuse.



      • Ken Worrell says:

        We need to look correctly at the word of God by studying scripture accurately and not putting our thoughts in what the text does not say. This confusion of what people say about divorce and remarriage begin with the reformers. They were influenced by Erasmus, the father of humanism. Erasmus injected the exemption clause found in Matthew 19:9 one Greek word “el” Jesus Christ never said to divorce if you did and remarried. In the Greek, it says you are living in a constant of adultery. Yes, people have martial problems, the apostle Paul said, if you separate, not telling people to do but not to divorce four times. If you divorce, two options, either reconcile or stay single. God is very clear on this topic. To say you can divorce and remarry by twisting God word, is the worst sin of all.

        • Marg says:

          Ken, there are some dodgy statements and exaggerations in your comment.

          In Roman times the customs and laws of marriage were very different to the customs in modern western society. Typically, separating was synonymous with divorce. Many marriages weren’t even legal marriages as only marriages of a Roman citizen to another Roman citizen of comparable status was legal. Marriage “ceremonies”, whether legal or not, could be as simple as a couple privately agreeing to live as man and wife. No legal services or legal documents were required unless there was a dowry. Divorce was equally simple, and it was common among high-status Roman citizens.

          No doubt the local customs in Judea and Galilee differed in some ways to marriage customs in other parts of the Roman Empire, but there’s no reason to think they upheld laws and customs about marriage and divorce spoken about in the Old Testament. Judea and Galilee were Roman provinces and under Roman law. Antipas was a client king answerable to Rome.

          As for the Greek word “el”, I think you mean ει. This word is usually transliterated as ei, and is pronounced “ay” or “ee”. It is an extremely common word and simply means “if”. When it occurs with μη, however, as it does in a few manuscripts of Matthew 19:9 (i.e., ει μη) it usually means “except”. As you say (rather poorly) ει is absent in the better and the older Greek manuscripts.

          However, the older and better manuscripts still contain an exemption clause, even though they do not contain the word ει:

          μη επι πορνεια, in the SBL Greek New Testament
          ει μη επι πορνεια, in the Stephanus 1550 Greek New Testament

          As for looking at the word of God correctly, I assure you that Barb and I take the word of God very seriously, and neither of us are putting our own thoughts into what the biblical texts say. We might say the same thing about you; however, we will be kinder and acknowledge that people do interpret these verses differently without being disingenuous or committing “the worst sin of all.”

  4. Brotherobin says:

    Notwithstanding ‘the exception clause’ in 5:32 & 19:9 Matthew upholds the entire New Testament (and OT) truth that there is NO excuse for divorce. Forgive..70×7. IF we do separate, we are called to remain in covenant for life. That means remain single, unmarried, celibate, chaste, pure, and holy. The only alternative is to be reconciled by God’s leading: “..remain unmarried, or be reconciled” 1Cor 7:11. If it is inevitable that we are to remain single for life, He WILL supply the grace (ability) to do His will, only IF we consent to it. This is a ‘major Cross’. WE MUST NOT walk around the Cross. WE MUST pick it up; if Jesus is truly LORD of our life!

    The “case-study” of the law on divorce and re-‘marriage’ in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 has nothing to do with the discussion here on reconciliation, nor the debate by the Pharisees. But notice there, who divorces who and who might attempt to take who back. Also, why was this particular wife who was ‘hypothetically’ found unclean by the first and second husband, not stoned to death? What did they find unclean about her? Why was it an abomination to God only (read it) for the first husband to take her back? Well, this man first let her go by law, because he found, before attempting to consummate the marriage that his betrothed wife was pregnant – she was not a virgin (as Joseph found with Mary). She may have been previously innocently ‘taken by force’ and not have been stoned to death by law, in this scenario. Do read Deut 22:25-27. She was then, by law, able to remarry because she did not become a covenant wife to her first husband who did not consummate the marriage. Note also, he only found “no favour” with her because he did not defile himself through attempting consummation. Note, the second husband though, “detests” her because he defiles himself through attempting to consummate a marriage to a defiled woman evidenced by finding no blood on the bedsheets [Deut 22:17]. She also becomes defiled again through her second betrothed ‘husband’ who did not want her either for the same reason as the first husband! – she was not a virgin. Yet she was innocent of her lost virginity on both accounts (the ‘taking by force’ and the second husband), therefore she was NOT an adulteress. THAT IS WHY she was not stoned to death! But it appears, she did not admit to either ‘husband’ of her lost virginity. She was at fault here. Today this constitutes fraud and THAT IS WHY the two husbands could annul the betrothals [Matt 5:32 and 19:9 again!]. Even if this second husband died, she was now not pure on two accounts but innocent, so by law anyone else could marry her if they knew of and accepted her defilement. BUT for the first husband to take her back, this would be hypocritical when you consider WHY he apparently divorced her in the first place! God detests hypocrites. They are an abomination to Him. Read the passage again in this ‘light’. Remember this is Old Testament. Justice and law ruled. Not New Testament mercy, grace and love. Jesus Christ had yet to die at Calvary for that to function. So today we forgive 70×7!

    [Marg, I have a paper on this subject which deals with this important subject (viz, Eph 5:31,32) comprehensively. I can send it to you if you wish – Robin]

    • Marg says:

      Hi Brotherobin,

      I edited out your opening line. If you want to be taken seriously, don’t be condescending.

      If a couple have made the decision to permanently live apart, there is no longer a marriage as Jesus or Genesis 2:24 describe it.
      ~ There is no cleaving (joining). Rather, there is a separation.
      ~ There is no one-flesh union. There are just two individuals who once shared such a union.

      The decision to permanently live apart effectively breaks or nullifies the marriage covenant. (How can you love, honour and cherish someone you may rarely meet?)

      It’s over.

      Where does the Bible say anything like, “IF we do separate, we are called to remain in covenant for life”?

      It doesn’t.

      The explanation of Deuteronomy 24:1 in endnote 2 of the article makes much more sense to me than your suggestion.

      • Alson Taylor says:

        Please support your opinions with some scripture. A man and a woman may marry before God and spend the rest of their lives apart and still be married? Or do you not believe that a man, while in prison for life, may marry a woman he never sees? The covenant is the same whether of not the two have sex. Also, please tell us exactly how many days apart must pass before God somehow nullifies the marriage? I believe you are using soft logic to push women past lifelong separations from their covenant spouse into divorce. After all, if ten days or ten thousand days apart means there is no more marriage (and who knows how many days will cause that), then why not divorce and remarry?

        • Marg says:

          Alson, you are free to disagree with the article and with the comments. I am also free and under no obligation to explain myself to you.

          Oddly, you want me to support my ideas with “some scripture”, but you have not cited a single scripture to support your ideas.

          Furthermore, you are making this about women and about time (or days). These are not my specific concerns.

          Married couples may choose to live apart, or be forced to live apart, but if they still abide by their vows to exclusively “love, honour, and cherish from this day forward until death do us part” then the marriage remains in some way, just not in the way Jesus envisaged (Matt. 19:5-6).

          A marriage breaks down when a partner breaks their vows and violates their covenant by failing to love, honour and cherish until death. (This failure may be demonstrated in a variety of ways.)

  5. Brotherobin says:

    Hi Marg

    Can you quote some Scriptures to support your view on this important issue. I am in a somewhat similar (not identical but similar) position as Curtis finds himself and I fully agree with his attitude to his situation.

    Amazing what fish you pull out of the pond when you use a certain bait.

    As I mentioned before, I have a paper that addresses your blog subject comprehensively and is fully supported by relevant references from God’s Word. I would be pleased to send you a copy.

    • Brotherobin, I will reply to your request for scripture to back up Marg’s viewpoint.

      I challenge you to read my book Not Under Bondage.
      My book provides scriptural refutation of the arguments you present. You can find it on Amazon or at my site notunderbondage.com.

      And if you think my work is not worth checking out because I’m a woman, I urge you to read the reviews of the book at notunderbondage.com before you dismiss me. The book has been favourably reviewed by many theologians and pastors, including William Heth who co-authored “Jesus and Divorce” many years ago.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Brotherobin,

      I assume that you make your arguments with the best of intentions and with an open mind and heart. I would appreciate the same courtesy.

      In response to my previous post on divorce, I’ve had several people share with me a pdf of their papers. These people include David Instone-Brewer (Senior Research Fellow in Rabbinics and the New Testament at Tyndale House, Cambridge) and Hebrew scholar Martin Shields. (Both agree with the premise of my previous post.) You are welcome to submit a paper also (preferably via facebook).

  6. Brad Burman says:

    Thanks for this brief article. Very courageous of you Marg. Particularly applaud you for dealing with the abuse issues that are at pandemic levels in our country. I have been researching this topic for sometime and working towards my own paper, like too many others I also have been deeply touched by this issue in many ways.

    I am sure you are right about the context of Mathew 19. That said, I think the primary context (as you note above) is a response by Jesus to an attack by the pharisees regarding an internecine issue within first century Judaism. He responds using typical hyperbolic expressions. I suspect that maybe the content of this passage has far less to say directly to say to the post-resurrection audience about marriage than is often posited. In any case I think the teaching here has been pushed beyond its reasonable application due to its subject matter rather than its exegetical features. For example, many of the “church fathers” adapted the no remarriage idea it appears at first glance (without considering its context) but extended its meaning to fit there own ascetic views to include no remarriage after the death of a spouse (something most acknowledge that Scripture never taught).

    I suspect the issue some who are objecting to your position here are not prepared to limit or concede that marriage is a volitional commitment (covenant). Rather, I suspect they see marriage as an [mystical / spiritual] ontological union (and maybe also a covenant) formed by sexual union (argued from, for example, Gen 2:24 and 1 Cor 6:21-22). Such an approach becomes rather focused on the physical union part (sex) and I have heard taught in many different Christian circles.

    My current thoughts are that yes, marriage is a spiritual union but one formed by covenant and not intercourse. I would be interested your thoughts on this.

    By the way, I was also glad to see your making this clear point which speaks to our Australian context: “legal divorce usually occurs long after the marriage covenant has already been broken.”

    I could say a lot more, but maybe just one thing. May God bless you and strengthen you in His love and grace in this ministry He has given you.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Brad,

      I haven’t thought much about divorce, and my approach in the last two posts has been mostly philological, with a little bit of ethics and logic thrown in.

      I strongly suspect that Jesus’ words about divorce and marriage in Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18 form a hendiadys. That is to say, Jesus is speaking about divorce and marriage as two components of one course of action: divorcing one person in order to marry someone else. It is this scenario which is tantamount to adultery.

      The wording is a little different in Matthew’s gospel. Craig Keener suspects, like you, that hyperbole is being used in Matthew 5:31-32, as it is in preceding verses. (Most people recognise the hyperbole in Matthew 5:21-22 and 27-30, but not in 5:31-32.)

      I appreciate your thoughts about a volitional commitment versus a spiritual union. The way I see it is that a covenant no longer exists when one person breaks the covenant and walks away from the marriage. The spiritual (sexual) union also ceases to exist when one person chooses to have a sexual relationship with someone else, and no longer with their original spouse.

      It seems to me that some (too many?) Christians interpret Bible verses so narrowly and rigidly that they fail to use simple common sense when applying biblical principles. There’s a lot to be said for the simple virtues of common sense and kindness.

      I appreciate your blessing very much.

  7. Brad Burman says:

    Hendiadys – interesting idea – any evidence of references to support this supposition? I would agree that in Matthew, Hebraic idioms and thoughts are common.That said, I would appreciate some enlightenment here.

    I do not think it is just about common sense or rigidity. Traditions have influenced pulpits, bible translations and published materials. Especially as these ideas have, until very recent times, been mainstream in our society.

    I suspect (still working through this complex issue) that you are over simplifying the nature of the marriage covenant within the radical context that the NT frames it (namely. Central to this I would think would be the idea that love (grace/forgiveness) is a key component – as I understand it this was a counter-cultural idea in biblical times. Indeed, for example, Hosea illustrated such in his own life.

    While I do not disagree with your basic assertion, that if one walks away or breaches the marriage agreement. Such breaches I would consider would be:
    1. Genuine abandonment, as Curtis mentioned above as in his case, sadly this is usually accompanied by the adultery. Fine line here in that marriage is a serious covenant made before God. We don’t make many of these in life (or at least we shouldn’t). If you accept Jesus as your Lord, then his Lordship would have you do all you can to preserve and sometime reclaim your marriage. In my view this is between that person and God – not a matter of church ruling. I feel sorry for many like Curtis who, on the other hand, have concluded that God want them to remain single for the rest of their days (it is not good for a man to be alone) as punishment (ok – maybe this is a heavy term) for there partner sinning against them and God.
    2. Adultery. While the RCs would deny this as a grounds, early Protestants had no problem with this. In any case, as I suggest above, the offended party can forgive (given the other party does repent).
    3. Abuse – same caveat as 2. Trouble here is if you are dealing with a psychopath or pathological liar how can trust be re-established? Marriage is more than an agreement/contract/covenant. Mostly I have seen that domestic violence ends marriage even if the fiction continues. See Barbara Robert’s comments above – she is an expert in this area.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Brad,

      You’re quite right. I am approaching this simplistically. As I said before, my approach to the subject of divorce is philological . . . and accidental. I had no intention of writing about divorce. I came across the discrepancy between the Hebrew and traditional English translations of Malachi 2:16 without looking for it. And then I remembered reading Luke 16:18a a while ago, in the Greek, thinking it was a hendiadys. There are many hendiadyses in the Greek New Testament, and Luke 16:18a looks like a textbook example to me. (If you have a Facebook account, you should be able to view this.) These are the reasons I wrote about divorce.

      In using my simplistic approach, I mean no disrespect to the Christians who are agonizing and wrestling with the issue of divorce and remarriage for themselves.

  8. Donald Johnson says:

    There is so much false teaching about marriage and divorce and the result is believers are put in bondage. One question is how to reconcile the apparent contradictions in Mat 5 & 19, Mark 10, Luke 16, and 1 Cor 7. One challenge is that the second best way to try to understand the relevant passages as a coherent whole is very restrictive; however, seeing that it as not the best way takes some discussion and can also fly in the face of the ways some have been taught to understand Scripture. Another aspect is that the idea of covenant has been complexified and distorted. Another aspect is that Jesus is often seen as anti-Torah or at least free from Torah (being God), which actually he followed Torah as a 1st century Jew.

    A covenant between 2 people is a contract with emotional content. It is established by a vow or vows that are the stipulations of the covenant, if only one party makes vows, then it is called a promise, but most covenants have both parties making vows. A covenant is ended either by death of one of the parties or termination of the covenant. A covenant should not be terminated for any reason, but for violation of vows and even then it is optional, not required. All this is true for any covenant, not just a marriage covenant.

    A marriage covenant is intended to be for life, a temporary marriage is not according to Scripture, but is allowed in other religions, such as Islam. This is often reflected in words like “until death do us part” or similar.

    When one party violates a vow, this is called breaking the covenant. Of course there can be a goal of restoration so the covenant remains in effect in general, but if there is not, then the covenant can be terminated; for marriage, this is called a divorce. The main purpose of a divorce is to clarify that the former marriage vows are now terminated in full, this means the parties may marry another and the first spouse has no claim on them, this is in contrast to other ANE cultures.

    The Pharisees derived many rules in their so-called Oral Torah that extended the rules found in Torah. In Matt 19 Jesus corrected 7 of the misinterpretations of the Pharisees, including the one about Hillel’s “Any Matter” divorce.

  9. Alson Taylor says:

    Lots of very soft logic in this essay. For example, Jesus did not say “Whoever divorces his wife with the eye to marry a person he is currently dating or planning on dating the day after he divorces his current wife commits adultery.” In Mark and Luke, Jesus states that if one divorces one’s wife and remarries another–in a year or ten years or whenever as Jesus does not give a statute of limitations on the divorce—commits adultery. Also, why would Jesus assist anyone in committing the sin of adultery by joining such a couple in a God-bound marriage. God hates divorce and has put a hedge around first marriages. Paul, speaking for God, tells us that wives are not to leave their husbands, but if they do, they are to remain unmarried or reconcile with their husband. If they could marry without sin, that would contradict Jesus’s teachings as well as Paul. Paul also does not give an exception for abuse as he states that the believer is not enslaved to their spouse, not free to marry. Read a few lines above this statement for his command from God that wives are not to leave their husbands as I discussed. It does not say “believing wives are not to leave their believing husbands.”

    • Marg says:

      Hi Alson,

      I maintain it is likely that Jesus’ statements about divorce contain a hendiadys which connects the actions divorce and (re)marry. Morever, Jesus never says anything like, “If one divorces one’s wife and remarries another–in a year or ten years . . .” That is your supposition.

      You’ve singled out wives in Paul’s instructions, but his instructions apply in exactly the same way to Christian husbands.

      Whether it’s Jesus correcting the Pharisees, or Paul advising the Corinthians to effectively tone down their over-zealous, over realised eschatology, the context of their statements on divorce and remarriage is vital in understand their intent.

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