Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Jesus' Teaching re: Divorce


31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 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.” (Matt 5:31-32 NIV)

3 Some Pharisees came to [Jesus] to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 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’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matt 19:3-9 NIV)


Both of the above passages were apparently addressed to people who believed God approves of divorce. Jesus teaches in both passages that divorce is not permitted, except in cases of marital unfaithfulness. (“Marital unfaithfulness” is translated from the Greek porneias, which clearly refers to sexual immorality.)

In Matt 5, the consequences for a man divorcing his wife apart from marital unfaithfulness are: first, his wife becomes an adulteress (it is assumed, apparently, that she will not be able to support herself, and her child[ren], without remarriage); second, the man marrying the divorced woman commits adultery. Notice that Jesus begins speaking about these consequences by saying that the person divorcing his wife CAUSES her to become an adulteress; the way Jesus presents the aforementioned consequences is not meant to shame the divorced woman or her future husband, but to place responsibility for the unjust situation resulting from divorce upon the husband. (It seems that in the culture Jesus was addressing, the idea of a woman initiating divorce would have been virtually non-existent, but the principle that the person who files for divorce in cases other than marital unfaithfulness bears the responsibility for the resulting unjust situation may be applied to wives as well.) Jesus’ words in Matt 5 assume that the man considering divorce will have enough personal sense of accountability under God to refrain from making his wife an adulteress.

In Matt 19, the consequence for a man divorcing his wife apart from marital unfaithfulness is more direct; the man is said to commit adultery.

These words from Matt 5 and Matt 19 concerning the divorced couple being liable to the charge of adultery only make sense if one understands Jesus to indicate that a divorce for reasons other than marital unfaithfulness is an illegitimate divorce. A person may get a “certificate of divorce”– he may get a court to say he is divorced– but in God’s sight he and his wife are still married, and thus they are not free to pursue other marital relations without the charge of adultery being properly applied.

According to Jesus’ teaching, the consequences for divorce are grounded in an understanding of the biblical account concerning the state of the first human couple as they were created, before their fall into sin. The Man and Woman were created as complementary. Their union, which Scripture declares to set forth a pattern for all marriages, brings forth a unique “one flesh” relationship.

Notice the high view of God’s providence that Jesus exemplifies in the passage from Matt 19. Looking back at the first couple, and applying their situation to other couples, Jesus declares that God has joined them together. We may think that a marriage comes about primarily due to the choices of a man and woman as they decide that they are “in love.” In other cultures, people may think that marriages come about primarily due to the choices of parents arranging for their children to take a certain spouse. Jesus teaches that a marriage comes about primarily due to an action of God. When a person initiates a divorce for reasons other than marital unfaithfulness, according to Jesus, he is acting in rebellion against the sovereignty of God.


Again, according to the teaching of Jesus, divorce is forbidden in cases except for marital unfaithfulness (porneia). (Of course “marital unfaithfulness” is also proscribed by Jesus; in Matt 15:19-20 Jesus speaks of porneia– sexual immorality– as being on the same footing with evil thoughts, murders, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies, and moicheiai– a term more specifically referring to “adultery” than porneia– as things that defile a person.) Jesus presents divorce, for reasons other than sexual immorality, as a sin.

As we see in Matthew’s account, Jesus took the strictest view against sin. In Matt 5:29-30 and again in Matt 18:8-9 Jesus says that if a bodily member causes you to sin, it is better to cut off or gouge out that part of the body and throw it away rather than the alternative: namely, to be thrown into the fires of Hell (the Lord directly implies that sinning earns one a place in Hell). In Matt 18:6 Jesus says that a person should prefer to have a millstone hung around his neck and be thrown into the sea rather than to be a party to causing a believing child to sin. In Matt 18:7 Jesus pronounces a woe upon anyone who brings things into the world that cause people to sin. And in Matt 13:41-42 Jesus teaches that “at the end of the age” He will send His angels to “weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil,” to throw them into the fire.

When the above passages regarding the consequences of sin are considered in light of Jesus’ words about illicit divorce (that the person who engages in such a divorce makes a him responsible for causing his spouse to become an adulteress and also makes him guilty of adultery), the person considering divorce for reasons other than sexual immorality should see his desperate need for repentance.

A couple that has gone through a divorce in contradiction to the words of Jesus (a divorce that is invalid in the sight of God), if neither spouse has re-married, may also repent of their sin and seek reconciliation. (Of course, once another marriage has taken place, a spouse may not divorce his or her new spouse in order to re-marry his or her original spouse; a person may not commit a sin in order to repent of a previous sin.)

As shown above, Jesus taught that divorce for reasons other than sexual immorality is a sin, that such divorce causes others to sin, and that sinning and (especially) causing others to sin earns a person an expectation of Hell-fire.

The good news of the Christian faith is that Jesus gave His life “as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28). Jesus died on the Cross, taking the Hell that sinners deserve, crying out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt 27:46). Jesus was buried, and He rose again on the third day, showing that He is the champion over sin, death, and Hell. Jesus now is in heaven, at the right hand of the Father, and He offers forgiveness and eternal life to all who forsake their sin and turn to Him in faith.



Blogger Luke said...

Excellent commentary, Andrew. Clear exposition of a difficult issue and helpful, gospel-oriented application.

8:16 AM  
Blogger ajlin said...

Thank you for the encouragement!

3:39 PM  

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