Another Way to Commit Adultery

Jesus’ next example is very much related to the one that we just considered, which is probably why it is mentioned next. It should be considered a further elaboration rather than a new subject. The subject is, “Another thing Pharisees do that is equivalent to adultery.”

And 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 cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Matt. 5:31-32).

Here is another example of how the scribes and Pharisees kept the letter of the law while rejecting the spirit of it.

Let’s create an imaginary Pharisee in Jesus’ day. Across the street from him lives an attractive woman after whom he is lusting. He flirts with her when he sees her each day. She seems attracted to him, and his desire for her grows. He would love to see her unclothed, and imagines her regularly in his sexual fantasies. Oh, if he could only have her!

But he has a problem. He is married and so is she, and his religion forbids adultery. He doesn’t want to break the seventh commandment (even though he’s already broken it every time he’s lusted). What can he do?

There is a solution! If they both were divorced from their present spouses, he could marry the mistress of his mind! But is it lawful to get a divorce? A fellow Pharisee tells him Yes! There is a scripture for it! Deuteronomy 24:1 says something about giving your wife a divorce certificate when you divorce her. Divorce must be lawful under certain circumstances! But what are those circumstances? He reads closely what God said:

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 indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house… (Deut. 24:1).

Aha! He can divorce his wife if he finds some indecency in her! And he has! She’s not as attractive as the woman across the street![1]

So he lawfully divorces his wife by giving her the required certificate (you can pick one up in the lobby of the local office of the Pharisees’ Club), and quickly marries the woman of his fantasies, herself also just legally divorced. And all without incurring an ounce of guilt because God’s Law has been obeyed!

[1] This is not a far-fetched example. According to Rabbi Hillel, who had the most popular teaching regarding divorce in Jesus’ day, a man could lawfully divorce his wife if he found someone who was more attractive, because that made his current wife “indecent” in his eyes. Rabbi Hillel also taught a man could divorce his wife if she put too much salt on his food, or spoke to another man, or didn’t produce a son for him.