08.02.02 Lk. 16:14-18
PHARISEES SCOFF AT PARABLE; DIVORCE ISSUES
14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and scoffing at Him. 15 And He told them:
A “You are the ones who justify yourselves
B in the sight of others,
C but God knows your hearts.
B’ For what is highly admired by people
A’ is revolting in God’s sight.
16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is strongly urged to enter it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter in the Law to drop out.
18 “Everyone who divorces his wife
and marries another woman
and everyone who marries a woman
divorced from her husband
What both the Pharisees and Sadducees missed; what they did not learn from the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and the exile is that God cares more about obedience, steadfast love, justice, righteousness, and humility than for sacrifices, festivals, offerings, and assemblies.
“Scoffing at Him.” The Hebrew term scoffing literally means turned their noses up at Him. Such an act was highly insulting – some might say a criminal act, in a culture where honor was highly valued. Obviously the Pharisees understood the parable, or they would not have scoffed at Him. Jesus then referred to the permanence of the divine laws of God. These laws will last forever; not change with the stroke of a pen as did the traditions of the religious aristocrats.
“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and everyone who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” The translation of this passage has, without question, been problematic for many readers. That is because it places a severe punitive restriction (no future marriage) on the innocent person whose mate originated the divorce and, that is uncharacteristic of Jesus for at least three reasons:
- This passage puts Jesus in conflict with the Torah, since God, through Moses, made a provision for divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1. While divorce is detestable to our Lord, where does God condemn the victim of divorce, the partner who was faithful, godly, and did not want a divorce? There is none.
- To interpret the passage as an unconditional indictment without considering the circumstances or motivation is Pharisaic legalism, something that Jesus totally opposed. His emphasis was to focus on the spirit of the Law rather than the letter of the Law.
- The typical translation of Luke 16:18 is in contradiction with Matthew 19:2 in which He made an exception for divorce.
The core issue of verse 18 lies in translation of the small word and, as found in the phrase, … and marries another … In Greek, the word for and is koi, (2532) but Jesus seldom spoke Greek. He spoke in Hebrew and its sister language, Aramaic. Therefore, Jesus would have used the Hebrew word vav that can be also translated into English as and, but vav also has a broader meaning that includes the phrase, in order to or so that. An Old Testament example is found in Exodus 5:1, 7:16, 8:1, 8, 20, 21, etc.
“Let my people go so that they may serve Me in the wilderness.”
“Let my people go and they may serve Me in the wilderness.”
The phrases in order to and so that both reflect intent or the purpose of a divorce, whereas the word and does not.
This verse 18 is also reflective of Herod Antipas and Herodias, where Herod divorced his wife so that he could marry another man’s wife. According to Jesus, that was certified adultery! When Josephus wrote of this, he stated that the illicit romantic entanglement between Antipas and his half-brother’s wife, Herodias, led them to divorce their spouses in order to marry each other. John the Baptist clearly condemned this action, and Jesus did likewise.
Another significant point is that the divorce certificate was always written for the protection of the woman. It was a legal document with terms and conditions that had to be honored, and permitted both parties to remarry. Considering the “spirit” of the biblical commands in light of what Jesus said, there are three reasons for a biblical divorce.
- Jesus said that divorce was not permitted with the exception of adultery (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Mk. 10:2-12).
- However, the Apostle Paul said that the only reason for divorce was if the partner left the faith (1 Cor. 7:15). This is not in disagreement with what Jesus said because each conversation must be held within its context. But if one is legalistic about interpretation of what Jesus said, then obviously the conclusion is that the apostle was wrong – and that doesn’t make sense. Neither does legalistic interpretation!
- A third reason is that of physical or emotional abuse. This is based on a “biblical construct” foundation because the abusive spouse has broken promises to love, protect and honor their mate.
In all of the above cases, there are valid grounds for the innocent partner to remarry. Nowhere in either Testament is there a punitive condition ever imposed on the innocent party. If the words of Jesus meant that divorce was never permitted, then the Apostle Paul would certainly have written 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 differently. It should be noted however, that today, as in the time of Jesus, most divorces were caused by selfishness or unforgiveness, rather than for any of the three reasons listed above.
The Oral Law said that a woman who had an illicit lover was unclean because of the adulterous relationship and, being unclean, meant that she could not marry him. If she was married and if, during that marital relationship she developed another relationship outside of her marital covenant that was sin. Jesus essentially said the same message to the husband. A careful reading of the original language translates as follows:
Everyone who divorces his wife [in order] to marry another.
The writings of the Mishnah were still in oral form when Paul learned them as a child in the synagogue and later again from Rabbi Gamaliel, who some say was the grandson of Jerusalem’s famous Rabbi Hillel. The apostle was well aware of the divorce laws when he penned Romans 7:1-6 that restated what Jesus said years earlier. The meaning of adultery is restricted to the individual who desires a divorce in order to marry another. Such a new relationship is an adulterous one. The second part of this verse is focused on another individual, one who desires to enter the second marriage, knowing that the first covenant was deliberately violated. Ancient divorce decrees permitted women to remarry, because a single woman had no means of support and would become a destitute beggar, unless a family within her clan provided for her.
It has been generally taught throughout church history that a divorce could be initiated only by the husband while the wife had no rights to obtain a divorce. In Mark 10:12 Jesus clearly stated that some women divorced their husbands. But the historical assumption remained strong and only recently has been seriously challenged. An example is due to the discovery of the early second century A.D. Papyrus Se’elim 13. This divorce decree, written in Hebrew, was initiated by a wife against her husband and reads as follows:
I, Shelamzion, daughter of Joseph Qebshan of Ein Gedi, with you, Eleazar son of Hananiah who had been the husband before this time, that this is from me to you a bill of divorce and release.
Papyrus Se’elim 13, lines 4-7
Whether the document was personally written by the wife or a scribe on her behalf is hardly important. Rather, this document is one of many that opens an entirely new insight and reveals Jewish women clearly had more legal rights than has traditionally been believed.
. Jer. 7:21-23; Hos. 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Mic. 6:6-8.
. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 284.
. Vine renders koi as kai (2532) with three primary meanings, “and,” “also,” and “even.” See Vine, “Also.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:23.
. Based upon numerous verses in light of the marriage covenant promise to care and protect one’s life-long spouse.
. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 300.
. For further study, see Heth, “Ánother Look at the Erasmian View of Divorce and Remarriage.” 263-72 and Herron Jr.“Mark’s Jesus on Divorce: Mark 10:1-12 Reconsidered.” 273-82.
. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 301 n7.
. Mishnah, Sotah 5:1.
. Young, “Divorce and Adultery.” 4:3, 6, 7.
. Charry, By the Renewing of Your Minds. 74.
. For a typical bill of divorce format, see 08.02.03.A as well as Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 2:124-25.
. Brewer, “Jewish Women Divorcing Their Husbands in Early Judaism: The Background to Papyrus Se’elim 13.” 349-50.