We’re going to continue talking about divorce and remarriage, particularly the idea that those who have been divorced and remarried need to divorce again because, allegedly, “in God’s eyes,” they’re married to the original spouse because the marriage covenant is unbreakable.
We left off in our previous Little Lesson considering the basis of the Pharisees’ question of Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?” That was the occasion of Jesus then responding with, “If you divorce and remarry, you’re committing adultery.”
The Context of Jesus’ Statement About Divorce and Remarriage
What was the evil that Jesus was trying to address when he made that statement? Well, from the context of the story we’re talking about, found in Matthew 19 and Mark 10, the evil that Jesus was addressing was the idea that it was lawful to divorce your wife for any cause. That was a very popular doctrine back in Jesus’s day amongst the Pharisees. It’s what they taught and lived.
Divorce and remarriage was rampant because you could divorce your wife for any cause lawfully. Of course, anyone who just thinks about that for a minute or two realizes that this is not any different than adultery. If you can get out of your marriage for any reason and just go marry somebody else, how does that make marriage a covenant? It’s no different than just sleeping around!
That’s the evil that Jesus was addressing. Not the “evil” of Christians who have been married for a decade or more but, unfortunately, prior to salvation were married and divorced (and to remedy their “adulterous marriage” must get a divorce themselves and break up their family!)
What Jesus Was Actually Warning Against
Jesus immediately stood against the question that the Pharisees asked. He went back to Genesis 2 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. – Matthew 19:4-6
Then the Pharisees said, “But wait a second. Why then did Moses allow for divorce?” Jesus said,
Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. – v. 8
That is, God never, ever intended for anyone to be divorced! But, He knew that because of the hardness of people’s hearts, there would be divorce. So He made some regulations concerning divorce, not because He wanted anyone to get divorced, but because He was trying to mitigate some of the evil that results from divorce.
The Certificate of Divorce
The basis of the Pharisees’ question, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?” is found in Deuteronomy 24.
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, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife, and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance. – vv. 1-4
The big debate in Jesus’s day amongst the Pharisees was what constituted an indecency. The Pharisees had decided ‘anything’! Even if you saw a woman who was more attractive than your wife, that was an indecency. That made your wife indecent and you could divorce her for that cause.
But in this passage, the Lord is only addressing the twice divorced woman or the once divorced, once widowed woman. In both cases, she’s not allowed to go back to her first husband. Why did God make that law? I can only think that He’s trying to mitigate some of the evil of divorce. He’s trying to do something to prevent divorce by causing husbands to think, “Before I divorce my wife, I better think about this because I’m not going to get her back. Once she’s remarried, God says that’s forbidden.”
In this regulation, God is trying to squelch divorce. He knew that people have hard hearts and that we’re not going to be able to prevent adultery entirely. But at least we can try to slow it down.
Of course, the Pharisees were trying to speed it up. They were making divorce the easiest thing; divorce for any cause! Christ totally contradicts their doctrine and ends by saying,
…whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. – Matthew 19:9
Harmonizing Jesus and Moses
This didn’t just become true the day Jesus said it. It was an obvious truth for anyone who ever thought about it for hundreds and thousands of years prior to when Christ taught it. He’s not modifying the law of Moses. He’s not altering the law. He’s endorsing the law of Moses.
The indecency of which Moses wrote about was grievous sexual sin. Again, Jesus said, “It was never my intention for anyone to get divorced. In fact, I allowed it because of the hardness of people’s hearts.”
But a softhearted husband who catches his wife in an affair doesn’t just rush to divorce her. He’s heartbroken that this woman that he loved and has a covenant with has broken the covenant. He’s going to certainly confront her. He certainly might be angry and feel betrayed, but he confronts her and he hopes he can bring her to repentance. If she repents, he gives her a second chance. That’s what Jesus taught about confrontation and forgiveness and reconciliation (see Matthew 18:15-17).
This wasn’t just true when Jesus said it. It was true from the time that God said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
What the Apostles Believed
In the next Little Lesson, I’m going to show that Paul did not believe that Christian couples should divorce if one of them has been married and divorced in the past. That’s certainly not how the apostles interpreted what Jesus said at all.
This doctrine is not found in the New Testament outside of those four proof texts that divine divorce advocates use, and it’s their interpretation. It’s not the apostles’ interpretation. Thanks for joining me. See you next time!