Summary: "Jesus' Answer to the Question of Divorce" is an exposition of Matthew 19:3-10, where Jesus responds to questions about divorce and remarriage. It explains the Lord Jesus' explanation of the proper grounds of divorce.
Matthew 19:3 states the occasion of the text: And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” The Pharisees were the moral examples, religious leaders, and theological scholars of the day. With few exceptions, they despised Jesus and sought to halt his growing influence. They did not want to hear the truth from Jesus. Verse 3 says tested him. They tried to get Jesus to take a position on the wrong side of the controversial topic of divorce. It was all the more controversial after John the Baptist was beheaded when he condemned King Herod for taking his brother’s wife.
They asked, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” There were two schools of thought related to this question. The more liberal HILLEL school held that a man could divorce his wife for virtually any cause, including burning his dinner. The more conservative SHAMMAI school held that a man could divorce his wife only for infidelity. They wanted to know where Jesus stood on this issue. What camp was Jesus in? How did Jesus read the scriptures? What was Jesus’ position on the controversial topic of divorce? More than 2,000 years later divorce remains a controversial subject. Statistics report that half of all marriages end in divorce. And the state of Christian marriages is no difference than their unbelieving counterparts. One in four adults will go through at least one divorce. It is fair to call divorce an epidemic in our society.
Why do so many couples divorce? I submit that the problem is at the beginning and at the end. Many couples enter marriage unadvisedly. One of the questions I ask in premarital counseling is: What makes you think your relationship has matured to the point that you are now ready for the commitment of marriage? By asking this question I am making a statement. Marriage is for grown-up people who have developed a grown-up relationship and are ready for a grown-up commitment. You should absolutely not get married if you are not ready for a lifelong commitment, with all of its ups-and-downs. At the same time, while many couples marry prematurely, many also divorce prematurely. Civil law makes no-fault divorces relatively simple. Citing irreconcilable differences, marriages break up for all kinds of reasons. As a result, there is not a person here who has not had divorce touch someone you love. It may be you. You may have been the guilty party whose behavior caused the divorce. You may be the innocent party whose marriage was broken by your spouse’s sinful choices. Or you may have been a child who became the collateral damage of your parent’s inability to hold their marriage together. Children tear up a house. Adults break up a home.
What does Jesus think about all of this? What does he have to say about the question of divorce? Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause? The answer Jesus gives in verses 4-9 makes it clear that it is not the will of God for a marriage to end in divorce. And the person or couple that wants to be in the will of God must determine that divorce is not an option.
I. JESUS AFFIRM THE SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE
In verse 3, the Pharisees tested Jesus with a question about divorce. Verse 4-6 record Jesus’ initial response. It was not a direct answer. The Pharisees focused on the controversy surrounding the proper interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1. Jesus’ response focused on two passages from Genesis 1 and 2.
In verse 4, Jesus answered their question with a question: “Have you not read…” This is sarcasm. The Pharisees were scholars of the Law of Moses. Of course they had read it. Jesus asked this rhetorical question to expose their sinister motives. Yet there is a practical lesson here. To properly understand marriage, divorce, and remarriage, you must read the Bible for yourself. As a Christian, the word of God is to be your final authority, not human opinion. But you cannot trust and obey the word if you don’t know it. I would also advise you to read the Bible for yourself, even if you are not a Christian. You may not believe the Bible to be true, God-breathed, infallible, sufficient, and divinely authoritative. But you would at least agree that the Bible is the most influential book in history. And the cultural debates about marriage and divorce either support or reject what the Bible says. It would only be fair to read a source before taking a position against it. So read the Bible for yourself. And don’t do what the Pharisees did. Don’t just pick out verses that support your predetermined position. Study the relevant passages on the subject. Let scripture interpret scripture. Then draw your conclusions. Jesus models proper Bible study here as he references Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24.