One of the most neglected topics within the church is the topic of divorce and remarriage. Divorce has come to be such a common occurrence in our culture, making it a subject that needs to be addressed. Jesus taught quite a lot on this subject. There are 4 gospel accounts of Jesus ministry. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Matthew was written to the Jews, with an emphasis on prophecy fulfillment from the Old Testament, Mark and Luke were written with a gentile focus. John doesn’t say anything about Jesus teachings on this subject.
There were 2 primary ideologies in Jesus time regarding the subject of divorce and remarriage. One was that divorce was permitted in the event of adultery. The other was a more liberal view which said that divorce was permissible in the event of a long list of things, like the wife talking with men in the streets, cooking inadequate meals etc. Later came another view which taught that a person could divorce for any reason whatsoever. All of these theological positions had roots in what Moses said to Israel.
This was the context of the culture in which the religious leaders of the day approached Jesus to ask his opinion.
This is what happened – Mark 10;
Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
“What did Moses command you?” he replied.
They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘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.”
When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
When it comes to divorce, people often look to find the exception to the rule first, but Jesus emphasized the rule, not the exception. It is interesting to see that in both the gospel account of Mark, and Luke, Jesus mentioned no exception to the rule at all, Jesus preached a very strict view commanding man to never separate what God joined together – ruling out divorce entirely, and that remarriage was considered adultery in Gods sight. Which means that in Gods sight they are still married. This was entirely different to every prominent view of his time. It’s also a radical view for the culture that we live in today.
Matthew is the only gospel account that records an exception to the rule.
When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that 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.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
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.”
The exception to the rule given in the NIV is ‘sexual immorality’, but the Greek word is πορνεία or ‘porneia’. Other translations use formication. The word for adultery in Greek is μοιχεία or ‘moicheia’.
There are many instances in the New Testament where porneia and moicheia are listed side by side as separate sins.
E.g. Matthew 15:19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries (moicheia), fornications (porneia), thefts, false witness, blasphemies.
Another E.g. Galatians 5:19; “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery (moicheia), fornication (porneia), uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies”
Some people say that moicheia and porneia are synonyms, but that doesn’t make sense given that every sin in these lists are different from each other.
Fornication and adultery are clearly different sins. Porneia being the sin of an unmarried person, and moicheia being the sin of a married person.
So why did Jesus mention a sin that only relates to an unmarried person, in the context of divorce? In Jewish culture, it was considered divorce if an engagement was annulled, or canceled. So it makes sense that both in Mark and Luke, no exceptions were given to the rule that divorce was not permitted, and that remarriage was adultery. But to the Jews, if fornication took place (pre-marital unfaithfulness), the engagement could be annulled, and the only acceptable exception given by Jesus was permissible.
Gods clear position of divorce is that no one should ever get a divorce, no one should ever separate what God has joined together.
Gods clear position on remarriage is that if a person gets remarried after a divorce, they are committing adultery. Which means that in Gods sight they are still married.
The only exception was written to Jewish culture, which permitted the engagement to be annulled if the bride to be, or groom to be was unfaithful towards their future spouse.
Hosea is a great book about the way God feels about this subject. He never leaves nor forsakes his people, even through unfaithfulness – temporary separation may at times be necessary (and God did do that at times), but always with the intent of restoration and reconciliation. God is always faithful to keep his covenants. We, Gods people should have the same attitude towards the covenants we have made.
In this video, David Pawson shares more on this subject: