Perhaps these 2 little verses have caused the most angst, heartache, controversy, drama and more since the day Jesus spoke them.
“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, ‘except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery” (Mt 5:31-32).
I’m sure Jesus knew the can of worms he was opening. On so many levels.
The first part is fine, “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.‘”
This comes from Deut 24:1 – “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house…”
Now comes the issues of, “What is indecent?”
Just before Jesus arrived on the scene there were two schools of thought being hotly debated. One was lead by a man called Hillel that even burnt toast was justifiable reason for divorce. No stress there, women. The other was from Shammai and he believed that only sexual infidelity was grounds for divorce. And then there’s the school of thought for today. If you’re not happy you should divorce because you’re not helping anyone.
And then Jesus has to throw in this thing about it causes someone to be adulteress?
I don’t pretend to understand at all. But here are some thoughts:
- This is a hard teaching. In Mt 19 we see the Pharisees of all the issues that he preached on the Sermon on the Mount bring this one up again. Jesus’ own disciples then said to Jesus “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry” (Mt 19:10). Jesus’ response is something akin to saying, ‘yes, that’s about right.’ It’s not that Jesus was against marriage. He wasn’t at all. He was against those trying to disrupt a union.
- Is Remarriage Adultery? It’s easy to interpret this as nah, Jesus was just holding up an ideal. Just like the other beatitudes. But in Luke 16:18 we see this Scripture reiterated. There is a form of divorce and remarriage that is akin to adultery.
- So is remarriage a perpetual sin if it’s based on an unbiblical divorce? I would say no. There is grace here. Also Deut 24:1-5 makes clear that after someone has remarried it has permanently severed the original relationship and there should never be reunion with the original married person.
- Doesn’t it seem like the woman gets the short end of the stick? It is thought that word “porneia” used here (I need to study this more) is based on a woman’s infidelity where “moichea” was used for male infidelity. I don’t know that for sure. But interesting it almost seems like the man is the problem as he is the one that “causes her to become an adulteress.”‘ I don’t know though.
- What about physical abuse, sexual impropriety and an emotional tyrant? For me I think God allows for divorce in these situations if a woman’s life and the well-being of her children are threatened. The problem with emotional tyranny is that everyone claims the other is the perpetrator.
- Jesus’ in Mt 19 clearly upheld that marriage is a union and that is the goal. It’s not about looking for a way out as much as looking for a way through.
- Where’s the grace? For some reason this Scripture is so often used as a proof text. “It says it right here and it is very plain and clear.” It’s held over people’s heads as a form of judgment. But I want to say to them, “Yes, it is plain. Just as it is plain you should cut off your hand and gouge out your eye if given to lust. Have you lusted before?” Jesus in this sermon is holding up an ideal. More than that an extraordinary standard. Of course there is grace or we’d all be in hell from being angry with our brother, entertaining fantasy and more. But Jesus does not give us the low bar to jump over, but the impossible one.
- God divorced his people (Jer 3:8). There comes a time to say “Enough!” And yet God was waiting all the time for reconciliation. He didn’t move on to another people. He waited.
There is much I don’t understand about this Scripture. Except that remarriage is defined in a much bigger way in Scripture than we do today. And we would be wise not to be so quick to escape marriages just because we’re not happy. Marriage is something that goes much far beyond our own selves.