Part 2 of Jesus' Teaching on Divorce & Remarriage (18 mins) is the fourth installment in this series.

Click on the arrow to play the podcast, or you can use the "download" icon to download the podcast (if available). You can also right click here, in order to save the audio file and listen later.

  1. Introduction
  • As we have learned, in Matt 19 / Mark 10 Jesus is weighing in on the Shammai-Hillel debate. He rejects the any-cause divorce of Hillel.
  • Familiarity with this debate is crucial if we are to appreciate the interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees.
  • Yet Mark doesn’t mention the exceptions. In Mark 10 it sounds like all divorce is wrong. (Which it is—often—but many times it’s not the problem it’s the solution.)
  • Knowledge of the ancient world is essential for accurate translation of ancient languages, balanced and nuanced theology, and appreciation of the topography of scripture.
  • By 2nd C, the interpretation of the House of Hillel rules. “Any cause” divorce is now the only kind among the Jews. The condensed language of the remarriage passages was no longer intelligible. Critical facts relating to divorce and remarriage were forgotten.
  • But we’re in a great position to be better informed. Since 1850 every major commentary on Matt has covered the S/H disagreement. Sadly, many scholars don’t pass on this information to their church. Most predictably follow the party line of their denomination. Let’s not do that. You can study the ancient sources and become informed. If you want to do some historical study, I-B’s books are very helpful.
  • Let’s do our best to respect God’s Word, taking into account these ancient sources. (As for 2nd-4th century Church Fathers, we will address these in the final talk.) By “ancient sources” I mean essential background information yielded by rabbinic Judaism, Roman law, and numerous M&D documents.

2. Matt 5:31-32

  • Jesus overstates (hyperbole) to grab our attention. Immorality wasn’t the only ground for divorce in the Bible. Jesus is saying that divorce must be justified.
  • "Makes her commit adultery?" The woman becomes defiled, or adulterated—assuming she remarries; she isn't automatically an adulteress.
  • Matt 5:32 literally understood directly contradicts Deut 24:1-4, which permitted remarriage after divorce.

3. Hyperbole

  • Common in Semitic speech and throughout the Bible. Examples: Hate your father and mother; everything is possible for the one who believes; speaking in languages of angels; faith moving mountains.
  • This section of Matt 5: v.28 is full of hyperbole.
    • Examples: lust is adultery in the heart (v.28); pluck out an eye (v.29); lop off a hand (v.30); remarriage is adultery (v.32).
    • Elsewhere in Matthew, consider 6:3; 7:5; 19:24; and 23:24.
    • Thus interpreting this part of Matt 5 figuratively is well precedented and exemplified.
  • Non-literal interpretations don’t necessarily weaken the force of Scripture, or make it impossible to settle on a clear meaning. Jesus clearly (and shockingly) teaches:
    • Monogamy; divorce not compulsory in the case of adultery (“allowed,” not commanded”); marriage not compulsory for anybody; hence infertility is not a legitimate ground for divorce; divorce for "any matter" is invalid—and so remarriage after this divorce is adulterous; marriage to be lifelong—it’s against God's will to break up a marriage.

4. Jesus' position

  • He's not saying:
    • Divorce is always wrong—but there must be valid grounds.
    • Sexual immorality is the only ground for divorce—only that this is the topic of Deut 24.
    • Remarriage is wrong. Craig Keener: “If the exception [of Matt 5 and 19] permits divorce, the average first-century Jewish reader would ​assume that it permitted remarriage, unless explicitly informed otherwise; part of the very nature of the divorce document was to free the wife to remarry.”
    • Divorced persons are still mystically bound to their ex-spouse, unless that person has died.
    • Those remarried without proper grounds must return to the previous spouse.
      • He doesn’t tell the Samaritan woman to return to her first—or fifth—husband.
      • Two wrongs don’t make a right: breaking up remarriages based on any-cause divorce and requiring a return to one’s original spouse. (This is actually forbidden in Deut 24:4.)
    • We should disfellowship the divorcee, or glare at them disapprovingly.
  • He is saying:
    • Divorce for just "any cause" is invalid—and so remarriage after this divorce is adulterous.
    • We should respect God’s original plan: monogamy with fidelity.
    • Celibacy is also good.
    • Even if a divorce is justified, we should be slow to carry it out. Consider God's "divorce" of  Israel and Judah.
    • Marriage is meant to be lifelong—it’s against God's will to break up a marriage. Work at your marriage!

5. Conclusion

  • There are some things in the Bible that we don’t understand without some background information, or without the benefit of careful study.
  • The ancient dispute: Is any-cause divorce legitimate, or are grounds necessary, as stipulated in Torah?
  • Jesus’ teaching turned popular teaching on D&R on its head—not because he was forbidding D or R, but because most religious teachers had drifted so far from God’s holy standards.

Next: Paul’s on divorce and remarriage in 1 Cor 7. We depart from the Jewish world and enter the Greco-Roman world.