About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Jesus' Teaching On Divorce
 And Remarriage

To understand what Jesus taught about divorce and remarriage we must study it from a balanced hermeneutical (the art of Biblical interpretation) approach to Scripture.  This includes knowing some 1st century Jewish culture, some New Testament Greek grammar, and the historical facts rooted in Genesis that He based His teaching on.  


Genesis 2:24 says that a man will leave his parents and "cleave" (KJV) or "be united" (NIV) to his wife.  The words "cleave" and "be united" are translated from the Hebrew word "debaq" which means "to glue."  Before thinking about divorce, we must know that God's intention from creation is for a husband and wife to be glued to each other for life.


Malachi 2:16 (NIV - 1978) says that God hates divorce.  In context, He hates divorce because it demonstrates unfaithfulness, something that is foreign to whom He is.  It's better not to make a vow than to make one and then break it (Ecclesiastics 5:5).


Deuteronomy 24:1 - 4 is the civil law of divorce instituted by God in the Law of Moses.  It states that if a man is displeased with his wife because of any indecency (sexual indecency) on her part he is permitted to divorce her after giving her a divorce certificate.  The law does not permit a wife to divorce her husband.  


First century Jewish Culture was divided over how to interpret this law.  The theological School of Shammai majored on the word "indecent" in the law and concluded that sexual indecency was the only valid reason for a man to divorce his wife.  The theological School of Hillel majored on the word "displeased" in the law and concluded that anything that displeased a man about his wife was a valid reason to divorce her.  In the 1st century male dominated Jewish world in which Jesus lived the Hillel School of thought prevailed.  Jewish men, including Pharisees, routinely divorced their wives for any and every reason.  The wife, not the husband, was always blamed for the divorce which stigmatized her as an adulterous in the community even if she wasn't. 


Luke 16:18 says that anyone who divorces his wife and remarries commits adultery, and a man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.  To be hermeneutically accurate we need to know that Jesus spoke these words directly to the Pharisees who stood before Him at that very moment.  Based on their liberal interpretation of the divorce law I call them legalized wife swappers.  Therefore, the "anyone who divorces his wife," and, "the man who marries a divorced woman," is in reference to the Pharisees.  Jesus was rebuking them for divorcing their wives for the sole purpose of finding a new sex partner; violating the very law they were twisting to fulfill their lusts.  Jesus was denouncing the cultural practice of legalized adultery. 


Mark 10:1 - 12 is the account where the Pharisees asked Jesus if it was lawful for them to divorce their wives.  Jesus referred them to Deuteronomy 24 that they were misappropriating.  Both Jesus and the Pharisees agreed that the law permitted a man to divorce his wife, but as Jesus pointed out, that was not God's will at creation.  Jesus then repeated what He said in Luke 16:18 by saying that if anyone, as in, any one of you Pharisees, divorces his wife and remarries commits adultery.  Mark adds something that Luke omits.  The wife who divorces her husband for no valid Biblical reason commits adultery when she remarries.  The reason for this insertion is because Mark was writing to the Gentile world where a wife was legally permitted to divorce her husband.    


Matthew 19:1 - 13 is Matthew's version of  Mark 10:1 - 12, with a few additions.  The Pharisees asked Jesus if it was lawful for them to divorce their wives "for any and every reason," which they were doing based on their view of the word "displeases" in the divorce law.  Jesus reminded them of the law and then referred them back to God's original intention at creation for a man and his wife to be glued to one another for life.  He added that the divorce law was a concession on God's part due to man's corrupt hearts.  Jesus then said that if anyone, or, anyone of you Pharisees, divorces his wife, except on the ground of adultery, commits adultery when he remarries.  Jesus was speaking directly to the Pharisees and their culture of free and easy divorce.     


Matthew 5:31 and 32 is the crux of Jesus' teaching.  It reads.  "Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulterous and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery" (NIV).  Without knowing the cultural setting and grammatical construction of this verse, we will misunderstand what Jesus taught.   


In first century Koine Greek grammar a passive voice verb in a sentence is when the subject of the sentence is the recipient of an action, as in, "He was hit."  The subject "he" is the recipient of the action of being "hit."  The phrase "causes her to become" an adulterous in Matthew 5:32 is a passive voice verb.  This means the wife is the recipient of the unjust action of being divorced.  She is not doing the action of divorcing.  This, along with the Jewish culture that blamed the wife for the divorce, stigmatized her as being an adulterous in her community, even if she wasn't.  The same is true with the man who marries her, based on the passive voice verb "who marries her."  He is stigmatized as an adulterer in the community, even if he wasn't.  Both the divorced wife and the man who subsequently marries her have done nothing unlawful and therefore I believe are free to remarry.    


The verb tense in Luke 16:18 is obscure.  In Mark 10:11 it is either a middle or a passive voice verb.  Because of these uncertainties we cannot build a case based on uncertain verb tenses.  However, the verb tense in Matthew 19:9 and 5:32 is commonly understood to be a passive voice verb.  We, thus, can build the case that a divorced wife is a victim of an unjust divorce.  She is not a violator of the law, and is therefore free to remarry, and, the man who marries her is free to do so without violating the law.             


Adultery is the only Biblical reason for divorce.  The Bible does not address every question we ask, like, "What if my husband beats me up?"  We are left to our God given, Holy Spirit led, Biblically literate, common sense to do what seems best.  In the final analysis, those who have been unjustly divorced are free to remarry.  Unless God tells you otherwise, marriage has always been God's will.  Even if one divorces for no valid Biblical reason, genuine repentance nullifies the offense.  Remarriage is logically permissible because there is no record of the offense.              


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