Jesus On Divorce


marriage Relationships

Jesus On Divorce

19 October 2016 Hits:5139

On many occasions during Jesus’ ministry years the religious leaders asked him questions to test, trap and trip Him up.  They failed every time of course!  One such instance was written down by Jesus’ disciple Matthew (Matt 19:1-15 NIV) when they asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

This question is basically asking Jesus which one of the two rabbinical schools of the day He personally agreed with: The school of Shammai taught divorce was only allowed if one’s spouse was unfaithful, and the school of Hillel inferred a man could divorce his wife if she burnt the toast or as another Rabbi added, “if you find someone more attractive.”  Even though people publicly supported the Shammai school of thought, the Hillel school was closer to what was general practice in society – much as it is today!

Jesus answered by appealing to God’s original purpose in marriage:

“At the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matt 19:4-6 NIV).

The religious leaders responded by quoting Scripture back at Jesus:

“Why then … did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” (Matt 19:7 NIV)

They were quoting from Deuteronomy 24:1-4, “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 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled …” (NIV).

We read this sort of thing in the Bible today and are horrified by the implications, but three thousand plus years ago women were considered little more than goods and chattels.  Society was extremely patriarchal (as it still is in some countries and cultures today).  This poor woman, written about in Deuteronomy 24, is simply dismissed by her husband with a certificate of divorce and expelled from the family home.  If she has no other family to live with, she’d be homeless.  There were no social security benefits and many of these women would be forced into prostitution or begging in order to survive.  If she got lucky and another man took her for his wife then she’d be looked after, but if “her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled …” – that could only have been written by a bloke!

It’s this patriarchal boys club that Jesus challenges head-on in Matthew 19:8, ‘Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”’

Notice how Jesus’ statements are directed at the men and are aimed at protecting the rights of women.  When Moses wrote Deuteronomy he was writing in context of his culture, but Jesus contests that culture and in so doing he advances and protects the rights of women.

Author Ken Wilson writes about Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19 this way: “It’s God’s original intention, in general, for people who marry to stay married for life. But that doesn’t mean that people who are trapped in deeply harmful marriages must either remain married, or remain single after divorce. I’ve determined, by my pastoral practice, that it is legitimate to regard the text as descriptive, as generally normative, not prescriptive – that is, not prescribing what must happen in every case.”

It should also be noted that Jesus is probably using hyperbole here; that is, exaggerating a point in order to get across a powerful truth.  In this case, the truth is that neither marriage nor divorce should ever be entered into lightly or unadvisedly, but prayerfully and with the counsel of wise people.

That being said, since the Second World War the divorce rate has increased dramatically.  The church has wrestled with the issues of separation, divorce, single-again and remarriage for decades – and has not always dealt with them well.  Many people have been hurt and excluded by the church when it has upheld a wrong understanding of Scripture, grace, forgiveness and second chances.  I’m glad that, by and large, we have reconciled these issues and more importantly, we no longer exclude those who for whatever reason, find themselves separated, divorced and/or remarried.  As for Bayside Church, if this describes you I want you to know that you are more than welcome in our community.  Jesus loves and accepts you and so do we.

For more on this subject read my blog “Divorce and Remarriage.”

For more on this topic check out I recently spoke at Bayside Church, “Excluded From God’s Kingdom.”

Rob Buckingham

Senior Minister

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2 replies on “Jesus On Divorce”


Got so far then realised you actually understood nothing of Jewish culture or the Law.
Unlike any other people group on the planet at the time, women could own property and had a legal status beyond their family/husband. Unfortunately under Greek law that was not the case and unrighteous men (and women) took advantage of that.
Jesus repeatedly refers to or quotes, verbatim, Leviticus, which is interesting, because this is almost entirely referring to Levites and it is only in later translations that the English is the same. Again this is predominantly to do with vocabulary, as ALL early languages do not have the “nuances” of modern languages.
Jesus’ statements are aimed at protecting God’s intentions for the Law and the expectations within God’s kingdom.

Rob Buckinghamsays:

Simon, in answer to your comments…

Hillel was an any-cause divorce teacher
Shammai was an “unfaithfulness” teacher…. “Unfaithfulness” here being defined as not simply adultery but the unrepentant breaking of one’s original agreement through three witnesses.

Jesus in this case is siding with Shammai while keeping the idea from Deut. 24 that you should not marry the same woman twice after she has been remarried.
Deut. 24 was progressive for the time because it forbids the simple action of putting away one’s wife. Moses commands a certificate of divorce (called a Get in ancient Jewish law). This allows the woman to remarry and have rights.

The Mosaic Law was very progressive at the time in the sense of how far ahead it was compared to Greek, Persian and Egyptian law about women and slaves. Although barbaric to us (and it should be) in the day it was a step in the right direction. Ancient Jews did have the best laws for women’s rights compared to the rest of the world (like the kinsman redeemer law. Moab did not have anything like that thus the dilemma of Ruth).

All that being said, the tone of your comments is unpleasant and closed. The assumption that I know nothing of the culture and times is arrogant and childish. I think the church would do well to prioritize fulfilling scripture by “doing to others as you would have them do to you” instead of being “right” about the Bible. Otherwise we could be straining out gnats and swallowing camels.

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