What Did the Scribes and Pharisees Believe About Divorce and Remarriage?

A Daily Little Lesson

Read the transcript of this video below.

So, what did the Scribes and Pharisees believe about divorce and remarriage? Stay tuned.

Picture of wedding rings and judge's gavel - symbolic of divorce

Welcome to today’s Little Lesson, one more special Cuba edition. We’re looking at the sixth of Jesus’s six “You have heard but I say to you” statements found in the Gospel of Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount. We’ve covered five already. In every case Jesus was clearly not changing moral standards; He was reiterating what could easily be found in the Old Testament, the Law of Moses, which, I’ve said all this over and over again, so I’m not going to say it again.

When we read Jesus’s statement here about “You have heard but I say to you” regarding divorce and remarriage, it helps to realize that there’s a very good chance he’s not going to be raising the standard here, as so many people seem to think that he did, like under the New Covenant, everything changed. Can I ask you a question? When did the New Covenant start? Well most people believe that the New Covenant was not inaugurated until Jesus’s death, and burial, and resurrection, because all that had to take place, right? To finish out the Old Covenant, to get the New Covenant started, there had to be a sacrifice for sins that fulfilled al the sacrifices of the Old Testament, and so on and so forth.

Jesus, at the Last Supper, said, “This is the New Covenant in my blood,” and so it’s obviously … It wasn’t starting at the Sermon on the Mount. So let me ask you the next logical question: If, as some people say, this is now the New Covenant law, how come it’s being introduced years prior to the inauguration of the New Covenant? Is he expecting Old Covenant people now to start living under the New Covenant law before the New Covenant has even been inaugurated? There’s a lot of questions like that that this kind of teaching raises, and so I just believe that God is consistent when it comes to basic morality. Because God doesn’t change and his fundamental moral commandments emanate from his character. Okay?

God divorced Israel, right? Actually he’s planning on taking them back again, okay? That shows us something about his character and his nature. Obviously there are times when divorce is legitimate. Even Jesus said … You know? He gave one reason where divorce is legitimate in Matthew 5:22. He never divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity. If she breaks her marriage vow, and is unfaithful, and has sex with another man, that is a lawful reason to divorce her.

Now I actually would even go a step further than that and add that there’s other scriptures that come into play here. If his wife will listen to him, and he confront her, and she will confess and ask for forgiveness, then I would think he’d be obligated not to divorce her but to give her another chance. I think that’s contained in the teaching of Jesus, and I think that’s contained in the teaching of the Law of Moses as well. You know? Because we’re supposed to be merciful. God’s been teaching everybody that. Ever since the sun started rising on the good and the evil, and the rain started falling on the righteous and unrighteous, God has been teaching people to be merciful, to give them a second chance, to be patient with them, sure, and to be forgiving, because God’s so forgiving and he expects us to be. This is not new stuff. This old, old, old stuff.

All right. So rather than just taking one verse and saying, “Oh, Jesus changed everything …” You know? Another question this raises: If Jesus changed everything, there were people who at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount were innocent before God on some levels who, as they were standing there listening to him, as he, allegedly, “changed morality, and changed the law, and changed the expectations that God has for everybody now,” there are people who were innocent and suddenly became guilty. We have people who actually believe that actually occurred. They believe that Jesus expected everyone in his audience who had been remarried to get another divorce. Hard to find that in the New Testament, isn’t it? Very hard, in fact, impossible to find that.

But when your whole focus is on this one verse, and you have the false premise that morality was changing and the standard is going up, well you could come to those kind of crazy conclusions. You’re telling Christian couples with children, who are teenagers, who are serving the Lord, you’re telling them to get a divorce because they’re supposedly in an adulterous marriage.

Oh my goodness. Your wonder if these people know anything at all about God’s goodness, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. It is … I mean, legalists, they don’t get it. They don’t get the love and the mercy of God. Anyway, none of them are listening to this right now, so I don’t have to worry about them getting mad because they’ve already turned me off.

All right. So the standard hasn’t changed; Jesus is just reiterating what was always true. Now let’s get a little more context here. Who was he speaking to? Speaking to his followers, but what kind of teaching have his followers been listening to all their lives? They’re Jews. They’re living in Israel. They’re in Galilee. They’ve been going to the synagogues all their lives. Scribes and Pharisees have been up there teaching. All their perversion, all their lives, these people have been sitting under false hell bound teachers all of their lives. And Jesus has said”

“Now you’ve become my followers, I want you to know what I expect, what I’ve always expected, what God has always expected. And it’s not what the scribes and Pharisees have been telling you, that it’s okay to divorce your wife for any cause at all. Oh, no, no, no. I said love your neighbor as yourself. Treat others like you want to be treated.”

And so there’s the overriding moral law that comes into play in the whole question of marriage, and divorce, and remarriage. So here’s some context. We just jump ahead in Matthew to Matthew 19:3:

“Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing him and asking ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all'”

And the historical records show us, from the teaching of that day, that there were two schools of thought regarding the lawfulness of divorce, and what constituted a lawful reason to divorce one’s wife; and there were the conservatives and there were the liberals.

The conservatives, naturally, held a very high standard. Essentially you could only lawfully divorce your wife if she left you for another man, or was unrepentant in her unchastity, her unfaithfulness to you. That was it.

The other school believed that you could divorce your wife for any reason at all. That’s the question they ask: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”

That’s very similar to a question that’s asked today about abortion: Is abortion wrong? You think, “Why are we even asking that question? Why is there even a debate about this? It’s so obvious.” This is in the same category. “Is it lawful to divorce your wife for any cause?” These people don’t get it. They are amoral, without morals.

Okay, we’re out of time. We’ll pick up right here in our next little lesson. God bless you.