Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast 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 not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
Jesus had been teaching in Galilee. Now He crosses over the Jordan. Again crowds gathered. Jesus taught and healed them. Pharisees came to test Him. Usually when the Gospels say Pharisees came to test Jesus. They come to trap him in a conundrum. They want a reason to condemn him. This instance appears different. It appears their question was genuine. They wanted to know Jesus’ teaching in this matter.
Let me hasten to say most commentators would disagree with me on that point. They hold the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus. Both Wesley and Calvin hold that opinion. Let me explain my thinking. At that time there were two schools of thought on divorce. Both based on Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Hillel taught God allowed divorce for the smallest transgression. Shammai taught God allowed divorce only on the grounds of gross indecency. My thinking is, that they wanted Jesus to weigh in on the topic.
It is also possible it was a trap. No matter which side Jesus took they could say He abolished the law of Moses.
But Jesus disappointed them. Jesus opposed unlawful divorce. At the same time, He was not inconsistent with the Law. Jesus did not appeal to Moses. Jesus went back to creation. The husband should maintain conjugal fidelity. God did permit divorce under Moses. He did so because Moses was dealing with a rebellious nation.
Jesus backed up to Genesis 1:27 and 5:2 God created males and females. He did not create the 72 different genders we try to define today. God joined the male to the female. He did not join male to male nor female to female. This union made a whole person. So divorce rips apart a whole person.
The bond of marriage is more sacred than the bond that binds a child to his parents. But piety binds a child to its parents. (2 Timothy 5:8, Epheisains 6:2, Exodus 20:12, Leviticus 19:3 Deuteronomy 5:16, 27:16). Nonetheless a man leaves his father and mother. Marriage is an unbreakable link. Man cannot break the bond God has created.
God did not command men to abandon fathers and mothers when he married. If so God would contradict Himself. But the wife comes first. He is to prefer his wife over his father and mother. Marriage does not allow a man to abandon his father and mother. And at the same time, he is not at liberty to dissolve a marriage.
Jesus turned the Pharisee’s understanding of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 on its head. Moses did not give justification for divorce. Instead, he established behavior in the event of divorce. The passage starts with “If then.” And it ends with a prohibition of remarrying a woman a man had divorced.
When a man and woman marry the two become one flesh. This condemns polygamy as strongly as it condemns unrestrained divorce. The Lord consecrated the union of two persons. Lord does not allow the mixture of three or four persons.
A husband and wife are to live together in a way that each will cherish the other. They are to cherish the other as if they were the other half of themselves. The husband is the head, not the tyrant, of his wife. (1 Corinthians 11:3, Ephesians 5:23, 5:28, 5:33) And the woman is to yield to him ( 1 Corinthians 7:3-4, Ephesians 5;33). That concept is unpopular today. In fact, our society condemns it. Both inside and outside the church.
Jesus allowed for one reason for divorce, sexual immorality.
The disciples’ reaction seems cynical. Jesus accepts their response. And He indicates that it may be better not to marry. But to not marry only for the sake of the kingdom, not because God has an unworkable view of marriage.
Some claim Jesus’s response means we must remain celibate to deserve eternal life. As if celibacy contained some meritorious service. Rome imagines it is some angelical state. Celibacy is not a virtue. God created women as a helper for men. Why would anyone refuse help from God? Women are a gift from God. They are not property. But they are a gift. A woman completes a man. They make him whole. The man completed the woman. Together they become a whole person.