Summary: In mark 10, we see five characteristics of the state of marriage in the culture, three ingredients of a successful marriage and four reasons why divorce is wrong.
What the Bible says about Marriage and Divorce
Anyone who says that the Bible is dull, boring or irrelevant hasn’t read Mark 10:1-11. Challenging, yes.Boring, never. The Pharisees, in verse 2, came and asked Jesus, “’Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’testing him.” There’s a question that could just as easily be asked in our own culture, without any need for cross-cultural translation. In that one question, we learn much about the state of marriage in the culture of the first century.
1. Divorce rates were skyrocketing.
That’s why they’re asking the question. Because divorce was a front burner issue of the day. Marriages were breaking down. Divorce was common even among spiritual leaders, especially among Pharisees. Divorce was kicking the teeth out of marriage.
2. Divorce was controversial.
Matthew, in 19:3, describing the same event, adds a bit more information to the question the Pharisees ask. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just anyreason?” One of the principles of interpretation is the need to understand the cultural context. That means sometimes you need to understand the cultural context, before you can understand, what is meant. For example, I heard a guy on the radio recently saying that his mother was learning how to text, and learning the meaning of all the abbreviations, such as LoLwhich means, of course, “Laugh Out Loud.” But she thought it meant “lots of love.” So she texts her friend who just lost her husband and says, “Sorry to hear about your husband. LOL.”
When you see the letters “LOL” you need to know the cultural context in order to understand what it means. So, in Matthew 19, why would they ask, “Can a guy get a divorce for just any reason?” What is the cultural context? There was a big debate in the culture about divorce, and the issue spilt into two camps. If you went into a barber shop in that culture, it would be guaranteed thateverybody in the shop would be split into one of these two camps. One camp would be really loose on divorce and would say that a guy can get a divorce for any reason. Then, there were the other camp which was tight on divorce and said you can only divorce for a select few reasons. .A fella by the name of Rabbi Hillel had died about twenty years before this and his liberal teaching on divorce was the popular notion. Rabbi Hillel said, “For any reason, unload that woman.” John MacArthur notes that, “under this view, you could divorce your wife for burning your dinner, for spinning around so that somebody saw her ankles.For letting her hair down, not metaphorically, but literally. For speaking to a man, for making a negative comment about your mother, or for finding someone else that you preferred. And you were obligated to divorce her if she was infertile.” That was the reigning view.
3. Divorce had infected the spiritual community.
Notice, the text says this is a test. It says that right at the end of their question. It’s a trap. At least the Pharisees think it’s a trap. They’re trying to trip Jesus into saying something that will turn the crowd against him. They don’t really care about the answer. They aren’t really interested in knowing whether divorce is right or wrong, lawful or unlawful, in God’s eyes. They don’t want truth here, they want a trap. Their minds were cemented on this file a long time ago. They just want to see which camp Jesus will line up with, because if they can do that, the one camp will love him and the other will hate him. They’re trying to split the vote. They don’t care about divorce because divorce is in the spiritual community, all the way up to the top of the spiritual ladder and the religious leaders are doing it along with the rest of the culture.
4. Scripture is being used to rationalize divorce.
Jesus answers them in verse 3, “What did Moses command you?” That’s an interesting response. He answers a question with a question. Now He’s setting them up. The hunted has become the hunter. He turns their attention back to Scripture. What a marvelous illustration for resolving a problem. Let’s get beyond what the culture says and let’s go back to what the Scripture says. So they said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and to dismiss her.”So there it is: Scriptural grounds for getting a divorce. Except that Jesus neutralizes their answer in verse 5. “Jesus answered and said to them, “because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.” They missed the point of Moses’ use of a certificate of divorce. Divorce is caused by a hardness of heart, and in Moses’ day, hearts were so hardened that divorce was running rampant and Moses instituted the certificate of divorce to suppress the volume of divorces that were taking place, not to encourage them. They were misinterpreting Scripture in order to justify divorce.