JESUS ON DIVORCE

Mark 10:1-12

 

It is difficult these days to find anyone who has not had some member of a family who has gone through a divorce. Iíve seen it in my own extended family and Iíve seen the hurtful effects that it has on people.

Divorce statistics have reached the point where one out of every two marriages are now said to end in divorce. To be fair, there are a number of people who inflate those statistics by multiple divorces.

Sadly, the statistics do not seem to be all that different for those who are members in the Christian church.

 

A. JESUS COMES TO JUDEA.

Getting up, He went from there to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan; crowds gathered around Him again, and, according to His custom, He once more began to teach them. (Mark 10:1).

Throughout this chapter, we are going to see Jesus coming closer and closer to Jerusalem. He now comes to the regions of Judea and "beyond the Jordan." The Greek word "beyond" is . It had become known as the region of Perea. This was the official designation of the lands on the east bank of the Jordan.

    • In verse 32 they will be "on the road to Jerusalem."
    • In verse 46 they will come to Jericho.
    • And in chapter 11 we shall see Jesus arriving in Jerusalem itself.

Jesus is following the traditional route from Galilee to Jerusalem, this time taking the normal detour around Samaria (though not for the same reasons).

In this chapter, Jesus will be facing a rising opposition. It will be an opposition from both within and from without.

Opposition from the Pharisees - spiritually blind (10:1-12).

Opposition from the Disciples (10:13-16).

Man & Disciples: Entrance into Eternal Life (10:17-30).

Prophecy of Death & Resurrection (10:31-34).

James & John & Disciples: Seat in Kingdom (10:35-40).

Opposition from the Disciples (10:41-45).

Healing of a blind man (10:46-52).

 

B. A DECEPTIVE QUESTION.

Some Pharisees came up to Jesus, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife. (Mark 10:2).

Notice the motive of the Pharisees. They were "testing" Jesus. Their purpose was not in learning answers to their questions, but to trap Him.

When they ask whether a certain action was "lawful," the real question was whether it was "permitted" by Jesus. They were not concerned with right or wrong.

Divorce had reached epic proportions among the Jews of this day. Josephus casually comments on how his wife displeased him and he therefore divorced her. Divorcing normally required a skilled Rabbi or expert in the law to write up a legal bill of divorce. It would be witnessed by a court of three rabbis and a copy lodged with the Sanhedrin.

There were two main schools of thought among the Jews regarding divorce. Both of these schools of thought looked at things only from the husbandís point of view.

1. The School of Shammai.

Shammai was a well-known rabbi who lived a generation before Jesus. He stated that a man could divorce his wife if she was found to have been unfaithful.

2. The School of Hillel.

Hillel had died 20 years earlier. He stated that a man could divorce his wife for any type of indecency. Such indecencies might include any of the following:

    • Infertility
    • Overeating
    • Spinning around in the street so that someone saw her knees
    • Speaking to men
    • Taking her hair down
    • Putting too much salt on the food
    • Burning his dinner
    • Saying something unkind about her mother-in-law
    • Being a brawling woman (this was defined as a woman whose voice was heard in the next house - and this was in the days prior to air-conditioning).

Rabbi Akiba went so far as to say that a woman might become undesirable in the eyes of her husband because he had found someone else who was prettier or more desirable.

Josephus tells us that Salome, the sister of Herod the Great, sent her husband a bill of divorce. He goes on to add, "This was not according to Jewish laws; for with us it is lawful for a husband to do so; but a wife, if she departs from her husband cannot of herself be married unless her former husband put her away." (Antiquities 15:7:10).

By the way, a woman did not have the same rights. Under Jewish law, she could not normally divorce her husband. At best, she could only request that he divorce her. The exceptions were if her husband...

    • Became a leper
    • Engaged in an unclean trade, such as that of a tanner
    • Raped a virgin
    • Falsely accused her of pre-nuptial sin.

The interpretation of Hillel tended to be the more popular, especially among those who wished to divorce their wives.

The Pharisees ask this question, apparently hoping that Jesus will take a hard line against divorce and thereby alienate all among the Jews who are divorced.

Remember, John the Baptist had lost his head over this issue. John had been arrested by Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of both Galilee and Perea. Johnís crime had been in speaking out against the divorce and remarriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias. Furthermore, Herod had already gone on record with his belief that Jesus was a reincarnation of John. It is possible that the Pharisees are hoping that Jesus will make a similar statement and that He will also be arrested and put to death.

Jesus bypasses both schools of thought. Instead, He directs their attention to Moses.

 

C. A SCRIPTURAL ANSWER.

And He answered and said to them, "What did Moses command you?"

They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away." (Mark 10:3-4).

Jesus asks them to give the command of Moses. Notice their reply. They do not tell what Moses commanded. They tell only what Moses permitted.

Jesus

"What did Moses COMMAND?"

Pharisees

"This is what Moses PERMITTED."

Do you see it? They were more concerned with what they could get away with than what the Scriptures actually commanded. They were looking for the "thou shalt not" and were ignoring the positive injunctions of Scripture. They were more concerned with what they could NOT do than with what they ought to have been doing.

There is a principle here. Christianity is not defined in what you do not do. If spirituality were defined in what you did not do, then our cat would be the most spiritual one in our household.

The reference to Moses permitting divorce is found in the book of Deuteronomy. This permission is seen in the context of a divorce that had already taken place.

"When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, 2 and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another manís wife, 3 and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, 4 then the former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance." (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

This passage does not give permission for divorce. Rather, it regulates remarriage. It assumes that, because of sinful circumstances, divorces sometimes take place. And it goes on the regulate remarriage in the case of divorce.

 

D. A LEGITIMATE EXPLANATION.

5 But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.

6 "But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.

7 "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, 8 and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.

9 "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." (Mark 10:5-9).

Moses permitted divorce because of the existence of sin. There are times when divorce might be the lesser of two evils. But it is still an evil. It is contrary to the divine design. Jesus points this out by quoting from Genesis.

If there had been divorce in the Garden of Eden, the Bible would have ended with Genesis 2. After all, there was no one else to marry.

God brought Adam and Eve together. Marriage was designed by God.

It was designed for a male and a female (the same-sex "marriages" being advocated by some today are an abomination). Marriage is two people coming together to be merged into a single unity. This joining is of Godís design. And if God has joined two people, then they ought not to be separated.

Some people try to use this as an escape route. They quote Mark 10:9 - "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate," and they say, "Our marriage was a mistake. God didnít put us together and we shouldnít be together."

Abortion is to childbirth what divorce is to marriage. It kills the creation of God.

But this isnít talking about how you view one another. It is talking about how God views marriage. God says, "I make marriages and you shouldnít be taking them apart."

 

E. A BINDING COVENANT.

In the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again.

And He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; 12 and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery." (Mark 10:10-12).

Once they are alone, the disciples come to Jesus and ask Him to clarify His teaching concerning marriage and divorce. He does so. His teaching is that marriage is meant to be permanent. And when a marriage ends in divorce, it is always the result of SIN on someoneís behalf.

There are some interesting differences in the words of Jesus recorded here in Markís account when compared with the parallel in Matthew.

Matthew 19:3-9

Mark 10:1-12

Includes the exception "except for immorality" (19:9).

Does not include this exception.

Speaks only to the case of the husband divorcing his wife.

Speaks to the case of both the husband as well as the wife being the instigator of the divorce.

To the first difference, we should not that the essence of the teaching of Jesus is the same - that marriage is to be permanent and the dissolution of marriage in order to remarry another always involves a situation of adultery.

The reason that both the husband as well as the wife are mentioned here in verses 11-12 is that Mark is writing to a Gentile audience and it was more commonplace among the Gentiles of either husbands or wives to be the ones who might initiate a divorce.

In closing, I want to make the following observations:

      1. Jesus spoke in much simpler and plainer terms when He answered His disciples. The principle is that God only gives truth to those who want truth.
      2. Marriage is designed to be permanent - anything less is a result of sin on the part of at least one of the marriage partners.
      3. Godís grace allows for manís weaknesses. The Mosaic law regulated divorce under certain circumstances, even though it was contrary to Godís principle of the permanence of marriage. That same grace is available to you.