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Liberty University

Jesus' view on Divorce according to the Synoptic Gospels

A paper submitted to Dr. McDonald

In partial fulfillment of the Requirements for

the course NBST 521

Liberty Theological seminary

By

Christopher W. Myers

                                                                                   

Lynchburg, Virginia

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Table of Contents

Introduction- 3

Abbreviation- 5

Matthew 5 and Luke 16- 6

The Debate- 8

Text of Matthew 19- 9

"For Any Cause" 10

Jesus' Answer- 11

The Hardness of Your Hearts- 13

Porneia in the Exception Clause- 15

Porneia interpreted Incest- 15

Porneia and Betrothal- 16

Porneia interpreted Adultery- 18

Porneia and עֶרְוַת דָּבָר (’ervat davar) 18

The Disciple's Reaction- 19

Jesus' View on Divorce: A Conclusion- 20

Bibliography- 23

Introduction

       One of the most hotly debated topics within the church today is the issue of divorce and remarriage.  The Bible speaks of this issue in only a few passages, in the Old Testament to the people of Israel by the Law of Moses and in the prophets of Isaiah, Ezra, and Malachi regarding mainly the relationship of God to His people.  In the New Testament, we have four passages describing the words of Jesus and an instance of Paul instructing the Corinthian Church in this matter of divorce and remarriage.  Among the debate today is not only the morality of divorce and remarriage and how the Bible stands on the issue, but also whether or not a divorced man can lead a local church body.  The issue of divorce and church leadership is debated within the context of the qualifications of elders and deacons within Paul's pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus, unfortunately this will be beyond the scope of this paper.  Instead we will examine Jesus' views on divorce according to the Synoptic Gospels where Jesus' sayings on this matter are revealed.

     The study of Jesus' view on divorce presents us with two instances of teaching and both have their parallels.  The passage in the Sermon on the Mount has its parallel in Luke, while the passage of the testing of Jesus by the Pharisees in Matthew 19 has its parallel in Mark 10.  This presents us with a problem that has been an issue for debate for centuries; it is called the Synoptic Problem[1].  Parallel passages found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke are often very similar; sometimes even the wording is exact.  Other times with the comparison of the evangelist's sayings or narratives there will be much different details or a different organization or an including or excluding of different details.  The truth is that the difficulty is not the differences in the gospel accounts because this can be attributed as editorial differences or different perspectives and vantage points within a true account and biography.  The difficulty arises with the striking similarities and the exact wording of certain accounts and even the same ordering of events.  This tells us that the evangelists had similar sources of information or that they were interdependent on one another.  Many theories exist today, but the one that is popular among scholars today is Markan priority.  This argument believes that Mark was written first and Matthew and Luke borrowed from Mark and some other sources, one of these sources is termed, "Q." Q is said to be a document of Jesus' saying and explains how Matthew and Luke can have so many similarities of Jesus' sayings.  Tradition and the Roman Catholic Church argue that Matthew was written first.  They believe that Matthew was written first in a Semitic language and then later translated into Greek.  The statements of Papias as recorded by Eusebius support this.  However, many other things discount Papias and argue against Matthew's Greek as translation Greek.[2]

       To avoid this issue altogether in the study of Jesus' view on divorce would almost be impossible.  But we can minimize the effects of the problem by holding to these assumptions:

1. Scripture interprets scripture, therefore if two different accounts of the same event are recorded, then all of the details are true and a harmony should be hypothesized.  Let one not think of these different accounts as contradictions or as one evangelist being right over another.  It is beneficial to think of who may be more original or what is the audience of the evangelist and therefore, hypothesizing why certain things may be added or excluded in order to accommodate for one's audience to whom he writes.

2.  The Evangelists abbreviate their accounts in order to make concise accounts and to stress the views by which they are trying to communicate to their audience.  This is significant and will be one of the tools used to formulate Jesus' view on divorce.  This process of abbreviation will be further explained below.[3]

Abbreviation 

       Abbreviating speech is something people do everyday, but subconsciously.  Abbreviating is excluding details because within a culture or people the information excluded is a universally understood fact that is associated with the topic being discussed.  The listener usually adds the fact mentally. This will be explained by examples in Scripture where abbreviation is obvious. 

       First, observe Matthew 5:28 where Jesus says, "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."[4]  Jesus is not talking about all women here because it is not a sin to lust or desire your own wife.  So mentally and perhaps subconsciously one would add, "except for my wife" when hearing this statement.  Furthermore, if the evangelist heard Jesus say this and knew he was writing to a polygamous society, the evangelist would have added, "except for your one and only wife."  Although Jesus might not have said it, it needed to be added for clarification.  But there would be no need to add this in a culture that already understood polygamy to be sinful.   

       Secondly, observe Matthew 5:22 where Jesus says, " But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell."[5]  Jesus could not have meant every instance of anger or saying "fool" because Jesus was angry in Mark 3:5 and Jesus called the Pharisees "fools" in Matthew 23:17, 19.  So this is why some manuscripts[6] have the variation, "without cause" at the end of the verse, this was probably an addition by a scribe to clarify this abbreviation.

Matthew 5 and Luke 16

       Finally, back to Jesus and divorce, and in Luke 16:18 Jesus says, “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery."[7]  Jesus cannot mean that every divorce causes adultery because the purpose for divorces in the ancient near East was to protect the woman and allow her to remarry.  Matthew provides the exception that Luke excluded by abbreviation.  Jesus says in Matthew 5:32, " But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."[8] So now we can see that Jesus is saying that everyone who divorces his wife invalidly makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman, who was invalidly divorced, commits adultery.

        When the gospels of Mark and Luke make an absolute statement, it is not uncommon for Matthew to make an exception. In Mark 8:12 Jesus said to the Pharisees who were seeking a sign, “Why does this generation look for a sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to this generation.”[9] But in Matthew 12:39-40 the exception is given, Jesus says, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights."[10].   

       Another point to be made about Matthew 5:32 is that scholars have pointed out the similarity of Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5 to the horrid acts of Herod Antipas.  Herod Antipas divorced his wife in order to marry his brother's wife Herodias, who divorced Herod's brother Phillip to marry Herod.  Herod Antipas was the Herodian ruler (tetrarch) of Judea during the time of Jesus' earthly ministry.  Jesus was tried before him before His crucifixion.  John the Baptist preached against Herod's atrocities and eventually John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod's decree.[11] Look at the similarity of Herod's actions to Jesus' hyperbolic teachings on the law in the Sermon on the Mount.[12]  The heart of the teachings are summarized below:[13]

1.  Matthew 5:21-26: You think that you are innocent of murder because you have not slain with your own hand, but I say to you that you are guilty of murder if you even conceive it in your heart.  

2.  Matthew 5:27-30: You think that you are innocent of adultery because you only lusted in your heart, but I say to you that lust in the heart is adultery!

3. Matthew 5:31-32:  You think that you are innocent of adultery because you have a bill of divorcement, but I say to you that you are guilty of adultery.

    Hidden within Matthew's text is Jesus' view on divorce as seen in the exception clause of Matthew 5:32 " except for immorality."  The exception clause is also found in Matthew 19.  The proper rendering of the exception clause is a hotly debated topic.  The exception clause will be evaluated thoroughly in the discussion of the Matthew 19 passage below. An examination of Matthew 19 and Mark 10 will be necessary to further uncover Jesus' view on divorce.

The Debate

       Mark 10 and Matthew 19 record the same event when the Pharisees attempted to test Jesus' view on divorce because in Jesus' time that was a hotly debated issue.  There were two Jewish schools of thought during Jesus' time; these were the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai.  The school of Hillel taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason and the school of Shammai taught that a man could only divorce his wife on grounds of adultery.  Knowledge on these schools of thought is thoroughly recorded in the Jewish Mishnah and Sifre.  Consider the debate of the day:

The School of Shammai say: A man may not divorce his wife unless he found unchastity in her, for it is written, Because he hath found in her indecency in anything [Deut. 24:1].  And the School of Hillel say: [He may divorce her] even if she spoiled a dish for him, as it is written, Because he hath found in her indecency in anything. R. Akiba says: Even if he found another fairer than she, for it is written, And it shall be if she find no favour in his eyes....[14]

In this connection did the House of Shammai say, "A man should divorce his wife only on grounds of adultery, as it is said, 'because he finds something obnoxious about her.'"  And the House of Hillel say, "Even if she burned his soup, as it is said, '...[any] matter...'" Said the House of Hillel to the House of Shammai, "If the word 'any matter' is stated, then why is the word 'obnoxious' added..."[15]

       The Hillel position is the same position that American law holds today.  Basically it is a no-fault divorce, people may divorce for any reason.  While the School of Shammai held a much stricter view of the Old Testament law regarding divorce and believed that only infidelity within a marriage covenant could break a marriage to allow divorce. 

       The Rabbis centered this debate around Deuteronomy 24:1 where it says:

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house,[16]

Notice the phrase "something indecent" from the translation above and look at the variety of translations of this phrase among English translations: "something offensive" (NET), "some uncleanness" (KJV), "something improper" (HCSB), and "some indecency" (NASB).  The Hebrew words for this phrase is עֶרְוַת דָּבָר (’ervat davar) and is literally translated "nakedness of a thing."[17]  The term is widely used for sexual indecency such as incest,[18] homosexuality,[19] prostitution,[20] and adultery.[21]  How the Rabbis translated this phrase affected their view on divorce.

       With the knowledge of the first century Jewish thought on divorce this helps to unpack Jesus' view on divorce by how he answered the Pharisees.  But first, it must be noted that not all scholars agree to the extent that these texts should be interpreted in lieu of the Schools of Hillel and the School of Shammai.[22] This would be understandable if one rejected Matthew's text and only read Mark 10, but it seems that Matthew's text lends unequivocal evidence that this debate was in view when the Pharisees tested Jesus.

Text of Matthew 19

       Again, the assumption is made here that Mark 10 and Matthew 19 are both inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore, they are both correct in content.  With this in mind, one can see two major differences between the texts: first, Matthew 19 adds information to Mark 10 and secondly, Mark and Matthew appear to have a different order of events.  Every apparent detail of difference does not have to be extrapolated and explained here because there is no information that Mark has, that Matthew does not include.  Matthew has all of Mark's content on this event and he adds more detail to the story.  Scholars have been trying to explain this and this would lead us into the discussion of the Synoptic Problem.[23]  But this is not necessary here; instead one should concentrate on how Matthew 19 leads to three observations: first, that the question of the Pharisees had in view the debate between the schools of Hillel and Shammai, secondly, that Jesus' view of marriage is defined alongside of His view on divorce and affects His view on divorce, and thirdly, that the exception clause defines Jesus' view on the correct interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1.  Jesus view on the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 and His view on marriage collectively explain His view on divorce.

"For Any Cause"

        The Pharisee's question as recorded in Matthew 19:3 is the evidence that shows that the Pharisee had the debate of Hillel and Shammai in view.  The Pharisees say, “Is it lawful to divorce a wife for any cause?”[24] This question uses legal terminology that would have been recognized automatically in the first century by Jews.  The use of the legal term "for any cause" is likened to today's legal terms such as "irreconcilable differences" or "joint custody."[25]  This legal term "for any cause" is found in the writings of Philo and Josephus.[26]  Consider Philo's writings on special Jewish laws:

Another commandment is that if a woman after parting from her husband for any cause whatever...[27]

One may see the unequivocal evidence to the Pharisee's question and the debate between Hillel and Shammai in Matthew 19, but why is it not found in Mark 10?  The easiest answer is abbreviation.  The first century Jews would have inserted the legal phrase in any debate of divorce since that was the universal debate of the day.  It is likened to the question that could be asked of today of women's rights, "Should women have equality?"  It would not be necessary to add "in education and employment," but if this question were asked in the 1800's, then any good historian would add, "in voting rights."  This would be necessary for the people of today to understand the abbreviation of a question asked in a different time or culture.[28]  Likewise if Mark was writing to a people of a different background and culture than Matthew, then he would not have to add the legal term because it would naturally have been added by his readers in the first century.  Contemporary scholarship tends to believe that Matthew added the phrase for clarification, instead of believing that Mark omitted it in abbreviation.  This is believed solely because of the contemporary bias towards Markan priority for the solution to the Synoptic problem.[29]  In truth it can be seen and argued either way.

Jesus' Answer

       Notice that after the Pharisee's direct question to Jesus about how to interpret the valid grounds for divorce according to Deuteronomy 24:1, Jesus does not answer them directly, but instead he proclaims his view on the sanctity of marriage.  Jesus uses Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24 as His proof texts.  Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24 he blends together into one,

“Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”[30] 

Jesus showed the following by using these texts:

1. These texts do show the importance of marriage between a man and a woman and that this is how marriage was divinely designed, but this is not a point Jesus was trying to make.  Homosexuality was universally rejected in first century Judaism.

2. Jesus' use of the LXX[31] "the two will become one flesh"[32] shows that marriage should be monogamous and not polygamous.  This was contrary to many Jewish minds.[33]

3. Jesus' conclusion from these texts is, "what God has joined together, let no one separate."  This shows how Jesus viewed marriage as lifelong.  God ordained marriage to be so in the beginning. 

       The Greek word translated 'let no man separate' is χωριζετω (chorizeto).  The word is in the third person singular imperative mood and is the same word used by Paul in I Corinthians 7:15 when he says, "If the unbeliever departs, let him depart."  This is significant because the imperative mood is one used for command.[34]  Therefore, Jesus is commanding no man to divorce when God has cleaved together.  Is this in accordance with the exception clause?  This is where one of the major contentions of the argument originates.  Scholars such as J. Carl Laney[35] who believe Jesus' views are no divorce and no remarriage on any grounds grasp on to this statement of "let no man separate what God has joined together", while scholars that believe Jesus permitted divorce on some grounds grasp onto the exception clause.  Accepting this statement "let no man separate what God has joined together" as proof that Jesus does not allow divorce becomes difficult when one seeks to define when and how and what marriages does God join together?  Surely, he does not join together "unequally yoked" marriages as proved by Ezra's account of mass divorcing of pagan wives.  If we accept that Jesus advocates no divorce, then we are forced to define what God sees as a valid marriage and an invalid marriage.  If we accept this as Jesus advocating divorce on valid grounds, then we are forced to define what God sees as a valid divorce and an invalid divorce.  Therefore, either way one is forced to allow divorce!  Because if God does not recognize a certain marriage, then the invalid marriage becomes fornication and the couple must either divorce or somehow make the marriage valid.  Jesus' statement is made clear through the writings of Paul in I Corinthians 7 and Jesus' interpretation of Deuteronomy 24.  Jesus was commanding no man to separate what God has cleaved together and this is how it was ordained from the beginning because in the beginning there was no sin.

The Hardness of Your Hearts    

       The Pharisees obviously thought that Jesus advocated no divorce on any grounds, so they counter by asking Jesus why does Moses "command" divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1.  Jesus corrects them and states that Moses did not "command" divorce, but "allowed" it.  Jesus says,

“Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of your hard hearts, but from the beginning it was not this way. "[36]

The Pharisees were obsessed with legalism and incorrectly assumed that Moses commanded divorce.  Jesus obliterated this view by calling them to a higher standard, the creation order that was ordained by God in Genesis 1:27 and 2:24.  Therefore, the Pharisees had nowhere to stand and would have lost by the standards of rabbinic debate.

       Jesus says that Moses allowed divorce because of the "hardness of your hearts."  This statement brought to mind the many Old Testament verses that write of the hardness of Israel's heart.  Psalm 95:8 tells of the hardness of Israel's heart while wandering in the wilderness.  Ezekiel 3:7 tell of all of Israel's hard heart.  One can see Jesus alluding to God's divorcement of Israel in Jeremiah 3 and Isaiah 50[37].  Consider Isaiah 50:1:

This is what the Lord says: “Where is your mother’s divorce certificate by which I divorced her? Or to which of my creditors did I sell you? Look, you were sold because of your sins; because of your rebellious acts I divorced your mother. [38]

Notice that God divorced Israel for her sins, for her rebellious acts.  What specific sins and rebellious acts were these?  This is explained in Jeremiah 3:1 where Deuteronomy 24:1-2 is referred to in the text:

“If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and becomes another man’s wife, he may not take her back again.  Doing that would utterly defile the land.  But you, Israel, have given yourself as a prostitute to many gods.  So what makes you think you can return to me?" says the Lord.

The sin was spiritual adultery by serving other gods (idolatry).  Israel rebelled against her spiritual husband, Yahweh.  This seems then to advocate natural divorce on the same grounds if God is allowed to spiritually divorce Israel for playing the harlot!

Porneia in the Exception Clause

       After Jesus corrected the Pharisees and let them know that Moses did not command, but he allowed divorce, then he answered their question of how to understand Deuteronomy 24:1.  His answer in Matthew 19:9 says, "Now I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”[39] The Greek word translated "immorality" in the NET Bible translation of Matthew 19:9 is porneia (πορνεια); it is also commonly translated "sexual immorality" (NKJV), "fornication" (KJV), "marital unfaithfulness" (NIV), and "unchastity" (NASB).  By seeing the variation within translations, one can see why the extent of this word is debated so often, because Jesus' view on divorce hinges upon it. 

       The argument regarding the interpretation of porneia centers on its use elsewhere in the New Testament, its lexical and syntax extent, the social and literary context[40], and the Greek interpretation of ’ervat davar in Deuteronomy 24 in the LXX.  First, one notices that the scholar who advocates no divorce on any grounds interprets porneia as "incestuous marriage"[41] or as pertaining to the betrothal period of Jewish marriages[42]. 

Porneia interpreted Incest

       Porneia is used in I Corinthians 5:1 to refer to incest, but may not refer to an incestuous marriage.[43]  Acts 15:20, 29 use the word porneia, but it by no means is restricted to incest.  An attempt to connect Acts 15 to Leviticus 18 cannot be directly inferred.[44]  The weakness of this interpretation is in I Corinthians 5:1 where Paul uses porneia to describe incest and the context directly demands it because it says:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality [porneia] among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife.[45]

Notice that Paul restrains the meaning of porneia by saying it is "a kind" of porneia where a man has his Father's wife (i.e. incest).  There is no such constraints in the context of porneia in Matthew 19:9 and therefore this argument is weak.

Porneia and Betrothal

       Other scholars[46] who hold to Jesus teaching no divorce on any grounds say that the exception clause is referring to betrothals and not marriage.  Joseph and Mary were considered betrothed, but husband and wife.  When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he intended to divorce Mary privately.  It is written in Matthew 1:19 that Joseph was a righteous man for intending to do this.  This automatically tells us that divorce is acceptable in matters of sexual immorality during betrothal.

       The difficulty with this view is the context.  Jesus and the Pharisees were discussing marriage, not betrothal.  It also seems that these scholars do not consider marriage and divorce in its Jewish social and literary context.  God allowed divorce because women needed financial security to survive back in the days of the Old Testament.  A bill of divorcement was for the woman and not the man.  The very content of the bill of divorcement was words of affirmation that the woman may remarry and that the marriage covenant has been dissolved by the sin of breaking certain marriage vows.[47]  

       All of the scholars who hold to no divorce at all do this because they see marriage as an indissoluble bond where God commits a man and a woman permanently as one flesh.  Again, if one holds to this view then he must define what is a marriage that God joins together because he will not join together marriages forbidden by his holy law (such as incest, a man receiving a divorced spouse after she has remarried, and an adulteress marrying the man she fornicated with).  The hypothesis of marriage indissolubility is taken from the Hebrew of Genesis 2:24 where it says, " a man will leave his father and mother and be united [cleave (KJV)] to his wife, and they will become one flesh."[48]  The "be united" and "one flesh" is said to prove the inseparability of marriage in the nuance of the Hebrew as originally intended.

       The scholars against the indissolubility of marriage argue that one should note that these terms do not have to agree with a permanence of marriage because the Hebrew simply denotes sexual intercourse with the term "one flesh."  This is seen in Paul's use of this concept to prostitution when he quotes directly from Genesis 2:24:

Or do you not know that anyone who is united with a prostitute is one body with her? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”[49]

            

They say that this "one flesh" union is not permanent in the case with a prostitute.  Furthermore, the verb translated "be united" or "to cleave" has the basic idea of “stick with/to.” It is used of Ruth when she clung to her mother-in-law in Ruth 1:14.[50]  These scholars do confirm that marriage was originally intended to be permanent, but they argue that then sin entered the world and so divorce was allowed because of sin.[51]

Porneia interpreted Adultery

       Other scholars limit the interpretation of porneia to adultery.  This hypothesis is weak because of the lexical extent of porneia.  Furthermore, Greek has a specific word for adultery. It is μοιχεία (moicheia).  Porneia, on the other hand, has a much broader lexical extent.  It is used in the New Testament to describe incest, adultery, and fornication in general.  This is why the lexical definition is "Porneia meaning harlotry (including adultery and incest); figurative idolatry: ---fornication...from the verb porneuo (G4203, which means literally to indulge in unlawful lust of either sex)."[52]  The hypothesis is dismantled further when one sees that Matthew 15:19 uses moicheia and porneia side by side when describing things that defile a person.[53]  Therefore, if Matthew intended to communicate specifically about adultery, he would have used moicheia in Matthew19: 9 instead of porneia.

Porneia and עֶרְוַת דָּבָר (’ervat davar)

       Lastly, some scholars hypothesize that porneia is Jesus' translation of ’ervat davar in Deuteronomy 24:1.  The strength of this argument lies in the connection of the Pharisees question to the debate of the day between Hillel and Shammai and that the Pharisee's question directly dealt with Deuteronomy 24:1.  When Jesus shows the creation order for marriage and the Pharisees counter with Deuteronomy 24:1, then Jesus corrects the Pharisees assumption that Deuteronomy 24 commanded divorce and he states that Deuteronomy 24:1 allowed divorce because of sin.  Then Jesus states the correct interpretation for the allowance of divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1 where it is written, "Now I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”[54]

       The common objection to this view is that the Septuagint (LXX)[55] does not translate ’ervat davar as porneia, but with the Greek word ἀσχημον πραγμα (aschemon pragma),[56] which means literally "a thing unbecoming."[57]  The LXX actually translates the Hebrew word זנוּת (zenut) as porneia.  The Hebrew word zenut is used for adultery and other immorality such as incestuous marriages and other illegitimate forms of marriage.[58]  Although this hypothesis that makes porneia equal to ’ervat davar is desirous because of its utilization of the social and literary context[59] of the texts at hand, it is by no means makes an end to the argument.

The Disciple's Reaction

       Jesus' discourse on eunuchs in Matthew 19:12 is not really a major issue in the debate of Jesus' view on divorce, although some arguments can be studied from different schools of thought.[60]  Rather the reaction of Jesus' disciples is important to note here.  Matthew 19:10 stands unique in recording the disciple's reaction to Jesus' teaching on divorce.  The Mark 10 parallel does not record the reaction of the disciples, but just records that the disciples asked Jesus again on the same matter of divorce where Jesus seems to just restate his position he presented before the Pharisees.  However, in Matthew 19:10 the disciples reaction to Jesus' teaching is with grave surprise.  It is written:

The disciples said to him, "If this is the case of a husband with a wife, it is better not to marry!"

       One view is that the disciples are reacting so surprised because Jesus prohibits divorce and remarriage altogether.  And therefore, Jesus goes on to say that not all can receive his instruction because of sin.  A stronger view is that Jesus teaches them that just as divorce is not a command, neither is marriage.  This was contrary to contemporary first-century Jewish thought.  Jews believed that marriage and bearing offspring were one of the commands given by God in the Genesis account where it is written, "be fruitful and multiply."[61]

Jesus' View on Divorce: A Conclusion

       Jesus' view on divorce is affected by one's view on marriage, the exception clause, and the social context.  Marriage is listed first because one's view on marriage as either unconditionally permanent or conditionally permanent will bias one's views on the exception clause and the extent that the social context is considered. 

       The belief in an unconditionally permanent marriage is to say that once God has joined a couple together that no sin could tear a couple apart, only death, which is by the hand of God.  This view would also disallow remarriage because of the unconditional permanence of marriage.  A belief in a conditional permanent marriage is to say that God originally intended for marriage to be permanent and it should be, but sin within a marriage is one thing that can end a marriage union.  Sin is believed to end a marriage covenant in the same way that the sins of many covenant-breakers in the Old Testament ended their covenant relationship with God.  They were given over to their own lustful desires.  If God can let unrepentant Israel depart to their own lustful desires, then cannot a spouse do the same to an unrepentant spouse?  This view would allow remarriage because the marriage covenant is no longer holding the spouse bound.

       If you believe in an unconditional permanent marriage, then divorce has no grounds so the exception clause must be explained in a way for it not to allow grounds for divorce, so it may be interpreted as pertaining to marriages that were invalid in the first place or to betrothals, which are not officially unions of "one flesh."  If you believe in a conditional permanent marriage, then divorce has valid grounds and invalid grounds and porneia must be accurately defined.  This view may believe in valid grounds and invalid grounds for divorce differently depending on the amount of influence they allow for the social context of divorce in the Ancient Near East.

       One's view of the way that the Synoptic Gospels are to be harmonized directly affects one's view of the social context by which Jesus' words are recorded.  If a student rejects that Mark and Luke left out the exception clause because its original hearers understood it and mentally added it, then abbreviation is not a possible solution and they must revert to explaining the exception clause as Matthew's addition to allow for Joseph to divorce his betrothed Mary "righteously" or to reaffirm that incestuous marriages are not valid marriages in God's eyes.  If a student affirms that Mark and Luke abbreviated the account and Matthew adds more details than the other evangelists, then it is easy to accept abbreviation as a possible solution.  And then one may use the social context to evaluate why Matthew's detail was needed for clarification and why Mark and Luke did not need the detail in the construction of their accounts.

       Now, the conclusion below envisions what the most likely views of Jesus on divorce are, but it is clearly recognized that this is an area that will be debated and written on for many centuries to come.      

Jesus' view on divorce as best can be determined by the considerations of this paper:

1.  Jesus condemned divorce without valid grounds and even on valid grounds divorce is never commanded, but is allowable because of sin.

2.  Jesus affirmed the Old Testament grounds for divorce in the correct interpretation of ’ervat davar to be porneia in Deuteronomy 24.  Porneia is sexual immorality in general.[62]

3.  Jesus condemns remarriage after an invalid divorce, but not after a valid divorce because porneia is a sin that is allowed to dissolve a marriage covenant.

4.  Jesus condemns the school of Hillel's position on "for any cause" divorces and expands on the position of the school of Shammai.

This paper also formulated many solid views that Jesus held on marriage:

1.  Jesus demands that marriage should be monogamous.

2.  Jesus demands that marriage should be life-long and appeals to the order of creation as proof.

3.  Marriage and child-bearing is optional and is not a command to every human being because God ordains some eunuchs for the kingdom of God, others are born that way, and others are made eunuchs by men.

 

 

Bibliography

 

 Bockmuehl, Markus.  Jewish Law in Gentile Churches: Halakhah and the Beginning of

Christian Public Ethics.  Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000.

Carson, D.A and Moo, Douglas J.  An Introduction to the New Testament.  2nd ed.  Grand

Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Collins, Raymond F.  Divorce in the New Testament.  Collegville: The Liturgical Press, 1992.

Hamer, Colin.  Divorce and the Bible: A systematic exegesis to challenge the traditional views. 

Bloomington: Author House, 2006.

House, H Wayne.  Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views.  Downer's Grove:

InterVarsity Press, 1990.

Instone-Brewer, David.  Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context. 

Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002.

Janzen, David.  The Meaning of Porneia in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9: An Approach from the Study

of Ancient Near Eastern Culture.  Journal for the Study of the New Testament.  Vol. 23 Issue 80, December 2000, 66-80.

Josephus, Flavius.  William Whiston trans.  The New Works of Josephus: Revised and

            Expanded Edition.  Grand Rapids: Kregel Publication, 1999.

Keener, Craig S.  ...And Marries Another: Divorce and Remarriage in the Teaching of the New

Testament.  Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991.

Luck, William F.  Divorce and Remarriage: Recovering the Biblical View.  San Francisco:

Harper and Row, 1987.

Murray, John.  Divorce. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishering, 1961. 

NET Bible. 1st ed.  A New Approach to Translation, Thoroughly Documented with 60,932  

Notes By The Translators and Editors.  Biblical Studies Press, www.bible.org, 2007.

Philo Judaeus of Alexandria.  C.D. Yonge trans.  The Works of Philo: New Updated Edition. 

Complete and Unabridged in One Volume.  Hendrickson Publishers, 1993.    

Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English, The.  Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton English trans. 

Hendrickson Publishers: eleventh printing, 2005.

Strong, James LL.D., S.T.D.  Strong's Complete Word Study Concordance: Expanded Edition

edited by Warren Baker.  Chatanooga: AMG Publishers, 2004.

Wallace, Daniel B.  Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New

Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996

Wenham, Gordan and Heth, William.  Jesus and Divorce. London: Paternoster Publishing, 1984.


----

[1] See C Carson, D.A and Moo, Douglas J.  An Introduction to the New Testament.  2nd ed.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. pp 85-103 for an excellent overview of the problem and some historic and modern solutions.

[2] An Introduction to the New Testament. See the discourse on the gospel of Matthew and its authorship pp.140-150.

[3] I am much indebted to the work of Dr. Instone -Brewer in explaining abbreviation. Instone-Brewer, David.  Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002.

[4] The NET Bible. 1st ed.  A New Approach to Translation, Thoroughly Documented with 60,932 Notes By The Translators and Editors.  Biblical Studies Press, www.bible.org, 2007.

[5] NET Bible translation, New English Translation (NET)

[6] א2, D, L, W, Θ and others.  See Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, 153.

[7] NET Bible translation

[8] Ibid. emphasis mine

[9] NET Bible translation

[10] Ibid. emphasis mine

[11] See Matthew 14

[12] For an in-depth study of this argument see Luck, William F.  Divorce and Remarriage: Recovering the Biblical View.  San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987.  Pages 88-100; 111-129.

[13] Dr. Instone Brewer summarizes them in a similar way. See Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, 160.

[14] From Mishnah Git. 9:10 as quoted in Keener, Craig S.  ...And Marries Another: Divorce and Remarriage in the Teaching of the New Testament.  Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991, see pg. 39.  Keener cited this English translation by Herbert Danby found in his The Mishnah. London: Oxford University Press, 1933.  See Keener's notes on the quotation on pg. 159.

[15] From Sifre Deut. 269.1.1 quoted in...And Marries Another: Divorce and Remarriage in the Teaching of the New Testament, pg. 39.  Translated into English by the work of Jacob Neusner in his Sifre to Deuteronomy: An Analytical Translation.  Brown Judaic Studies 98 and 101.  Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1981.

[16] From the NIV translation

[17] See NET Bible 1st edition on Deuteronomy 24:1 and note 1 and also see note 22 on "indecent" in Deuteronomy 23:14.

[18] Leviticus 18:6-18; 20:11, 17, 20-21; Ezekiel 22:10

[19] Leviticus 20:13

[20] Ezekiel 23:29

[21] Hosea 2:10

[22] Keener ...And Marries Another: Divorce and Remarriage in the Teaching of the New Testament, 39. See also note 10 for some scholars advocating this view.

[23] For an overview of the differences of Matthew 19 and Mark 10 and possible solutions see Collins, Raymond F.  Divorce in the New Testament.  Collegville: The Liturgical Press, 1992.

[24] NET Bible translation

[25] Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, 134-135.

[26] Josephus, Ant 4.253

[27] Philo, Spec. Leg. 3.30 (2.304), emphasis mine

[28] Also see Dr. Instone-Brewer's analogy of the Second Coming in Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, 135.

[29] Collins seems to be a more liberal scholar, but he has an entire chapter devoted to arguing that Mark was written first and therefore Matthew was adding to Mark's text.  He saw this through the lenses of redaction criticism as more an addition by Matthew because of the problems within his "church" to which he was writing, than for clarification to his audience.  See Divorce in the New Testament, chapters 3-4.

[30] NET Bible translation, emphasis theirs.

[31] Dr. Instone-Brewer argues that Matthew may have had Jesus use the LXX in order to abbreviate Jesus' proof text of Genesis 7:9, "There went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the female, as God had commanded Noah."  Because Jesus' would have used this text from the story of Noah and the ark in order to prove the 'two' found in the LXX of Genesis 2:24.  See Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, 137-141.  However, the earliest Hebrew texts may have followed the LXX of Genesis 2:24, but there is no proof of that that we know of today.

[32] The Masoretic text omits 'two' in Genesis 2:24, see KJV, "4Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh."

[33] Although scholars agree many rabbis were shunning the practice of polygamy by the first century.  See Murray, John.  Divorce. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishering, 1961 and Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, chapter 4.

[34] Wallace, Daniel B.  Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.  Wallace states that although the imperative is usually a command, sometimes it may be used other than a command.  However, Matthew 19:6 is not ambiguous, it is a command.

[35] To read his arguments see House, H Wayne.  Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views.  Downer's Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990. Pages 15-54.

[36] Matthew 19:8 NET Bible translation

[37] Dr. Instone-Brewer does not seem to emphasis or acknowledge Isaiah 50 in connection with Jeremiah 3, instead he prefers to follow the LXX of Jeremiah 4:4 in accordance with Jeremiah 3 and circumcision of the heart to reach similar conclusions of which this paper is attesting to.  See Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, 145.

[38] NET Bible translation

[39] NET Bible translation

[40] In the study of the social context of divorce there is a debate as to whether or not divorce was mandatory under certain circumstances.  For a brief essay on the argument where a scholar uses the Qumran texts to hypothesize that divorce was mandatory under certain circumstances by some Jews, see Bockmuehl, Markus.  Jewish Law in Gentile Churches: Halakhah and the Beginning of Christian Public Ethics.  Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000. Pages 17-21. 

[41] Such as Laney's argument in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views. 

[42] John Piper hold this view as depicted on his website DesiringGod.org

[43] See Note 1 to I Corinthians 5:1 in the NET Bible translation

[44] As Heth points out in his argument in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views.

[45] NIV translation of I Corinthians 5:1 emphasis mine

[46] See Wenham, Gordan and William Heth.  Jesus and Divorce. London: Paternoster Publishing, 1984. 

[47] For an excellent in-depth scholarly discourse to the background and development of marriage and divorce leading up to the New Testament see Dr. Instone-Brewer's Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, chapter 1-5.

[48] See NET Bible translation notes for Genesis 2:24, used NIV translation to show 'one flesh'

[49] I Corinthians 6:16 NET Bible

[50] See NET Bible translation notes for Ruth 1:14

[51] See Edgar's response to Heth in Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views.

[52] See Strong, James LL.D., S.T.D.  Strong's Complete Word Study Concordance: Expanded Edition.  edited by Warren Baker.  Chatanooga: AMG Publishers, 2004.

[53] The same thing is seen in Hebrew 13:4

[54] NET Bible translation, emphasis mine

[55] Modern Deuteronomy 24:1=LXX Deuteronomy 24:3

[56] Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English, The.  Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton English trans. 

Hendrickson Publishers: eleventh printing, 2005.

[57] Dr. Instone Brewer admits that this is the best word for word translation, but it is not the best translation given the context.  He says that Jesus' translation is the best translation for ’ervat davar.  See Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, 156-159.

[58] Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, 157.

[59] This strength is clearly seen in the paper Janzen, David.  The Meaning of Porneia in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9: An Approach from the Study of Ancient Near Eastern Culture.  Journal for the Study of the New Testament.  Vol. 23 Issue 80, December 2000, 66-80.

[60] Scholars debate as to whether there are two types of disciples, those given the gift of singleness as Paul and those who are not given the gift, or whether Jesus is saying that true disciples will be able to understand and follow his teachings on marriage and divorce.

[61] See Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, 168.

[62] Some scholars also argue that Jesus affirms neglect and abuse for grounds of divorce as according to Exodus 21, from an argument of silence.  The Pharisees universally held this to be true, but Jesus never disputed them for it.

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