08.02.04 Mt. 19:1b-10 (See also Mk. 10:2-9) Judea across the Jordan
PHARISEES QUESTION DIVORCE
1b He departed from Galilee and went to the region of Judea across the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there. 3 Some Pharisees approached Him to test Him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds?”
4 “Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female,” 5 and He also said:
“For this reason a man will leave
his father and mother and be joined to his wife,
and the two will become one flesh?
6 So they are no longer two, Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”
7 “Why then,” they asked Him, “did Moses command us to give divorce papers and to send her away?”
8 He told them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts. But it was not like that from the beginning. 9 And I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
As was previously discussed, this theological debate was an ongoing issue between the two major Pharisaic schools of theology. The School of Hillel permitted divorce for any reason (equal to modern no-fault divorce), which is why the question was asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds?” This was in sharp contrast to the School of Shammai that permitted divorce but only for the reason of adultery as written by Moses (Deut. 24:1-4). Moses did not command divorce, but only allowed it. He recognized human frailty and he compromised. But by the first century, as previously stated, the disregard for marriage vows evidently had a sufficient impact upon the culture that Josephus mentioned it.
The Pharisees approached Jesus to ask which school was correct. Rather than giving them their desired answer, Jesus referred to the original purpose of God at the time of Creation. Divorce was granted only because of man’s evil heart. In the Jewish law, adultery was always between an unmarried woman and a married man who was not her husband, but not so for a married man and any woman who was not his wife. In that case he would have committed adultery against her husband. This was obviously an unjust system that Jesus opposed. Both schools of theology had lost sight of the fact that marriage is not a one- or two-way covenant, but a three-way covenant including God, man, and woman. Hence, while God hates divorce, it is permissible, but only on His terms.
As previously stated, there were four reasons in the Oral Law that permitted a man to divorce his wife. The last of these stated that a husband could essentially put his wife away (divorce) for any reason whatsoever. Jesus forbade divorce, not on the Mosaic regulations, but on the grounds that God instituted marriage. In doing so, Jesus eliminated all the academic arguments and brought to their attention the purpose of God. Evidently, this may have been a new concept for them.
The School of Hillel viewed marriage as a social institution, governed by the laws of men and for their convenience. Jesus and the School of Shammai recognized marriage as a divine institution and governed by God. Unfortunately, in most biblical interpretation, the School of Shammai was just as legalistic as the Sadducees and Pharisees and did not agree with Jesus. The irony of these laws was that during a couple’s betrothal period (about one year), the only reason for a divorce was immorality. After marriage, however, a man could divorce his wife for any reason.
Finally, marriage is the most intimate of all human relationships. It is spiritual, physical, emotional, and a union of deepest love and permanence. It is also symbolic of the relationship God desires with every person. For this reason, divorce and any kind of sexual union outside of marriage is of the highest abomination before God. Jesus defended both the indissoluble bond of marriage and the possibility of the celibate life without making a rule out of marriage or out of celibacy.
. Smith, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew. 228.
. Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.23.