Matthew 5:31-32 – “Now it was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away is to give her a certificate of divorce’; 32 but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (NASB)
At the time of Jesus’ teaching there was a Jewish debate between two major rabbis over biblical grounds for divorce. The rabbinic teaching of Shammai was that the only grounds for divorce was sexual immorality. The rabbinic teaching of Hillel was that a man could divorce his wife for any trivial offense such as spoiling a meal or finding someone else he preferred. Both rabbis were using Moses’ teachings to come to very different conclusions. Jesus wants to get back to God’s first principles for marriage, going beyond the rabbis’ interpretations of Moses whose teachings came from needing to make provisions for hardheartedness. “In the beginning, God made them male and female and the two will become one flesh; therefore, what God has joined together, no person is to separate (Matt. 19:5-6).”
In Jesus’ day, the men held all the power and therefore a woman could not divorce a man with the certificate Moses had prescribed. Women could not be educated and provide for themselves either. What Jesus is saying here is that if a man breaks apart what God has joined together to join himself to another woman, he’s essentially heaping up triple the guilt on himself before God. Not only is he committing adultery, he’s forcing her to commit adultery as well, because to survive she has to remarry. The man who remarries her is also committing adultery in doing so, because in God’s eyes the two had become one flesh for life. Where do we go from here?
In Jewish thought, and in Jesus’ thoughts, the concept of man and wife as a ‘one flesh’ union is so strong that a marriage having legal divorce due to adultery was not so much ‘divorce’ as a recognition of a new one flesh union having already dissolved the marriage. In this case, Jesus gives an exception for divorce, and though debated, the overwhelming scholarship supports remarriage is assumed. Another exception for divorce and remarriage we see from the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 where an unbeliever decides they don’t want to be with someone who has become a Christian and leaves the marriage. At that point, the Christian is free to remarry. In all cases, God holds people accountable according to their knowledge. Once a marriage has been dissolved and someone has remarried, one should not divorce and go back. We need to remain faithful in the place which we find ourselves when we give ourselves to the Lordship of Christ.
For two Christians, there is no divorce clause. God is using each of you to conform the other into the image and likeness of Christ and His grace is sufficient to keep your hearts in good times and bad, till death do you part. Where there is repentance that bears fruit, there remains two as one. In all circumstances of repentance, there is mercy.
Heavenly Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for the sanctifying gift of marriage that is sacred in your sight. Help us to fight with you for our marriage and families, keeping ourselves in your love, by your grace. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.