Matthew 5:31-32 (ESV)
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
Matthew 5:31-32 is a continuation of Jesus’ teaching on adultery with a specific focus on divorce. As we’ve seen, the scribes and Pharisees relaxed God’s Law and lowered its demands with superficial interpretations while adding thousands of rules and regulations. Instead of God’s laws humbling them in poverty of spirit, causing them to mourn over their sinfulness and crying out to God for mercy, they followed their own flawed interpretations of God’s Law. This gave them a false sense of superiority over others and in their minds, proved their worth before God.
Before we look at some of the implications of Jesus’ teaching on divorce, let’s consider our own views on marriage.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of marriage? Is it love? Companionship? Friendship? Affection? Romance? Children? Home? What about individual fulfillment? Personal growth? Does ball and chain come to mind? Fighting? Violence? Regret? Divorce?
Not too long ago, divorce was rare in America. While it did happen, it was a big deal when it did. It made the local newspapers and unfortunately was the topic of gossip. Back then, you couldn’t just “get divorced.” There had to be a reason and it had to be a good one.
Fast forward to today and not only is divorce no longer a “dirty word,” it’s completely socially acceptable. Because premarital sex and promiscuity are also socially acceptable lifestyles, why tie yourself down to only one person for life in marriage? If you can get your physical needs met outside of marriage, why go through all the fuss of marriage if so few last? It’s “just a piece of paper” anyway, right?
Commitment? What does that word even mean?
This view of marriage and divorce has a catastrophic impact on an entire generation of kids. Children often do not grow up in a home with both biological parents staying married throughout their childhood. For those who do, most marriages are dysfunctional and do not model marriage they way God intended it to be. How can anyone teach the values of commitment, communication and problem solving to their children if “irreconcilable differences” is the reason they got a divorce? Children are learning a lot from how adults interact with each other and most will carry on the legacy of dysfunction to their own marriages without ever knowing there is another way to live and love.
Maybe those old black & white family photos where no one ever smiled left more of an imprint on our view of marriage than we thought?
But when we approach Scripture, we have to get beyond our views on a subject and look at the culture and context of each passage. While our experiences come into play as we study, they should not guide or color what we’re reading or studying. As it’s unpacked, the text should reveal what the true interpretation is, which will impact how we view our own experiences and understanding.
Scripture must interpret Scripture, not our own thoughts and ideas regarding it. But our thoughts and ideas must be shaped by Scripture.
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
As we consider today’s text in context, Jesus had just given a summary on the true definition of adultery (Matthew 5:27-30). He showed that while the scribes and Pharisees “relaxed” the commandment “You shall not commit adultery” to only the physical act, they completely ignored the tenth commandment which is directly related to adultery.
The tenth commandment is in Exodus 20:17 and says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
In Matthew 5:31-32, Jesus continues to teach on adultery, but now in the context of divorce saying, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
Jesus is not correcting a misinterpretation of one of the Ten Commandments as He previously did regarding murder and adultery, because divorce is not one of the Ten Commandments. But what Jesus is referring to is the law regarding divorce from Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which says, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then 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 of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2 and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and the latter man hates 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 man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.”
Because Scripture must interpret Scripture, our understanding of this text in context is critical to prevent us from becoming like the scribes and Pharisees, misinterpreting its meaning, walking away misunderstanding it, and sharing our misunderstanding with others (Matthew 5:27-30).
Back in the Old Testament, men considered themselves far superior to women. In the context of marriage, wives were the property of their husbands who had no rights other than what the husband granted. Women were forced to rely on their husbands for all of their needs and suffered terribly under their husband’s control. No wonder so many women have issues with men today!
Tragically, this mindset of superiority and ownership is still rampant around the world but even worse, many professing Christian men twist God’s Word to reinforce these views and justify all kinds of ungodly behavior toward those we are called to love “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
Before the law was established in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, if a husband woke up one day and decided he was tired of his wife and had enough of her, he could just throw her out of the house. He could just make up some lame excuse and her and the children were left to fend for themselves while her replacement was welcomed in with open arms.
This Mosaic legislation was an attempt to help women and children who were suffering due to rampant divorce without cause. Divorce was limited to very specific, verifiable “indecency” which had to be proven by two witnesses. If a divorce was granted, the husband had to give his wife a “certificate of divorcement.” This protected her against the charge of unfaithfulness which could result in her being stoned to death. This certificate also allowed her to legally remarry another man, but prohibited her first husband from remarrying her in the future.
Like all things in Scripture, if we look at a passage or verse casually, it’s easy to misunderstand what it really means.
So why does Jesus say in Matthew 5:32, “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery”?
Mark 10:2-8 sheds some light on this. “And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ 3 He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ 4 They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.’ 5 And 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 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.’”
Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees that marriage goes way beyond a binding contract between two people that can be easily torn up. It was established by God in the beginning that two would become one flesh. Marriage is not two individuals remaining independent of one another, but two becoming one for life. He even tells them that the provision for divorce in the law from Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was given because of the hardness of their hearts, and while Moses allowed them to divorce, it wasn’t God’s plan from the beginning. What a profound statement!
As we consider marriage in our culture today, the brokenness we see is a direct result of the fallen state of mankind. The idea that after marriage there are no longer two individuals but only one goes against everything people value. Who wants to lose themselves in the process of marriage? People want to maintain their individuality and independence.
Sadly, people also want to maintain individuality and independence in their relationship with God!
But marriage is way more than just a relationship of two becoming one. Children, hobbies, money, competing interests, resentment, and personalities can pull apart what was “one” and separate them into two again – sometimes to the point where they become adversaries or enemies of one another.
What makes a godly marriage so different? It’s two individuals, each one separately committed to the Lord Jesus Christ, with Him reigning in their hearts individually, coming together in marriage and becoming one with “The One” binding them together for life.
“What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9).
Father, thank you for restoring my marriage when I was young and living as an individual instead of one with you and Michelle. Thank you that you used our marriage to draw us closer to you and each other. I pray that you continue to protect us from anything that would come between us. Surround us with your love and if it’s in your will, let us be the oldest living couple alive someday. Thank you for providing me such a wonderful, godly companion to spend my life with. I praise you in the name of Jesus, Amen!
Thank you for reading my Daily Bible Journal!
Reading, reflecting and writing from the Bible has so radically impacted my life in Christ, it’s as if I’ve been on auto-pilot when reading the Bible in the past. There’s something about “sitting with the text” and through prayerful reflection, sharing what comes to mind. Because I’m posting online for others to read, I consider my words carefully and try to be clear and accurate.
This daily process enhances my understanding of God’s Word and embeds it into my conscience. It literally gets “hidden in my heart!”
I hope this encourages others to be in God’s Word every day.
For God’s Glory,