Marriage, Divorce and the Gospel

Jesus is interrogated by the religious ‘mob’ concerning his views on divorce. The mob are trying to get him to make a call on the Old Testament (Deut 24:1-4) provision for divorce and remarriage. The 1st Century rabbis did not agree in their own interpretations of this, so they pestered Jesus about it.

Their big question was; “What makes divorce OK?

True to form, Jesus’ response is, “You have missed the point and are asking the wrong question.

The better question to be asking is “How can we prevent divorce?” or perhaps, “How should we understand (& enjoy!) God’s idea of marriage?

In reading the Bible, you’ll soon see that divorce is never required or encouraged – it is only ever regulated. The OT passage provided a regulatory protection for the woman to make sure that she was not unfairly discriminated against or ostracised.

The passage in Deuteronomy suggests that there was at that time (circa 1400 B.C.E.) a practice in the Middle East that involved the exchange and trade of women in the guise of marriage, divorce and remarriage – this is what Moses is discouraging. (see Laney for more detail).

Any plans that a man might have concocted to profit by divorcing his wife, then having her marry another, get an inheritance or gift from him and then return to the first husband were outlawed by this clause in Moses’ teaching. This use of women as a type of trading chattel was an abominable practice that God’s people ought to have separated themselves from, thus the command in Deuteronomy.

In both that instance, and the instance where Jesus is being challenged, they had lost sight of the original design and purpose of marriage: God created it, & it shows us his unity.

At the time there were 2 main view points. The disciples of the rabbi Shammai held to a strict interpretation (divorce only for unfaithfulness) while the disciples of Hillel held to a lenient interpretation (divorce for almost any reason).

Instead of taking sides with either Shammai or Hillel, Jesus went back to Moses and the first marriage (Gen.1:27; 2:21–25). From the beginning, marriage meant one man and one woman becoming one flesh for one lifetime. Moses’ commandment in Deut. 24:1–4 was a concession to the Jews because of their hardness of heart. It does not represent God’s ideal for marriage.

The added subtly of the encounter goes beyond an interpretive debate though. The Pharisees are setting Jesus up against Herod (the Roman ruler – and the one who had John the Baptist murdered.) Herod had married his brother’s former wife. This is a high profile case of divorce and remarriage. If they can get Jesus to come out against Herod it will give them a chance to charge him with a capital offense and have him killed.

Instead, Jesus brings them back to the final authority and sufficiency of scripture – This is God’s intention for marriage: i.e. it’s a picture of the unity of God and his love for us and desire to be reconciled.

Ephesians 5:31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

In the gospel, we are re-joined with God as our Father through Jesus. When Adam and Eve sinned they separated themselves from God and we have followed in their footsteps. The gospel brings us back together with God. The gospel is all about reconciliation and forgiveness. In any marriage there is going to be many opportunities for you to receive and to experience both. Acknowledging you both are in need of the gospel is going to go a long way towards understanding (& enjoying!) God’s best for your marriage.

Recommended Reading:

God, Marriage and Family – Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation by Andreas J. Kostenberger with David W. Jones.

Advertisements