Summary: Divorce is a sensitive issue that has touched a majority of lives, either directly or indirectly. With so many people affected by this issue, we need to consider what the Bible has to say and look at if from a biblical perspective.
The Debate about Divorce (Part 1)
Mark 10: 1-12
Our text today deals with an issue that has caused debate, division, and devastation for centuries. It is a sensitive issue that has affected a large majority of people, either directly or indirectly. I am well aware of the hurt and devastation associated with divorce. I was raised in a broken home; my parents separated and eventually divorced when I was seven years old.
I approach this passage with care and compassion for those affected by divorce. It is not my desire, nor my intention to add to the hurt and despair of anyone. Unfortunately within the church, this issue has been dealt with very harshly for centuries. In many Baptist churches, those who have experienced divorce are often ridiculed, prevented from any form of service, and made to feel like second class citizens.
I am sure we all have our own opinions regarding divorce, but I am not interested in the opinions of men. I want to allow the Word of God speak for itself. Surely we all can benefit from a biblical perspective of this issue. As we examine the truths disclosed within the text, I want to consider: The Debate about Divorce.
I. A Tempting Word (2) – And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. Jesus and the disciples had departed from Capernaum, making their way into the area of Judea, on the other side of the Jordan River. As was usually the case, a crowd began to gather, and Jesus began to teach them. The Pharisees quickly showed up among the people. Notice:
A. Their Question (2) – And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? As Jesus began to teach those who had gathered, the Pharisees immediately questioned Him about the legality of divorce. We will discuss their motives in a moment, but in reality this was a question that many had likely considered. In Jesus’ day, divorce was more common than it is within our day. History reveals that many Romans would have as many as fifteen to twenty wives within their lifetime. The rate of divorce among the Jewish population was not that high, but it was quite common. All that was required for a divorce to be legal was a bill of divorcement. This is in reference to the stipulation in the Law for divorce, Deut.24:1-4. While a provision was made for divorce in the Law, this was never the will of God. He never encouraged divorce. (We will discuss this further in a moment.) Clearly the Pharisees had asked about an issue that all were familiar with, and many had experienced, much like modern society.
B. Their Motivation (2) – And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. As was typically the case, the Pharisees were not interested in hearing from the Lord or learning anything from Him. They came that day, as they had many times before, seeking to tempt the Lord. In fact, this was a loaded question. There were two basic lines of thought in that day regarding divorce, motivated by two different rabbis. "One of these rabbis was a man named Shammai. He taught that the only lawful reason a divorce could be granted was for adultery. The Law commanded that adulterers were to be put to death by stoning, Lev. 20:10. By the New Testament time period, however, stoning for that reason had been outlawed, and divorce became the remedy for adultery in the marriage. Only the man was allowed to seek a divorce; women could not divorce their husbands regardless of their reasons. The teachings of Shammai were followed by a small minority of the population and the religious leaders.
The other rabbi was a man named Hillel. Hillel held a very liberal view of divorce. He taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason at all. If she took down her hair in public; if she was seen talking to another man; if she ruined a meal by burning the food or by putting too much salt into it; if she spoke evil of her mother-in-law; if she was infertile; even if her husband saw a woman he thought was prettier, she could be divorced. As you might imagine, this was the most popular view of divorce among the male leaders of Israel. Most of the Pharisees followed the teachings of Hillel. This is clear in Matthew's account of this same encounter in Matthew 19:3, they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” ' (i)