Jesus on Divorce and the Worth of Women

By Dan King

The current climate in our nation regarding divorce and the breakup of the traditional home is not only appalling to good men and women everywhere, but is abhorrent to the God of heaven. The same general circumstance which led the Lord to say, “I hate divorce” (Mal. 2:16), surely makes him view this spiritual mess with disgust! The old prophet spoke of the altar of the Lord being covered with tears (v. 13), undoubtedly the tears of women left in the lurch, having been forsaken by their husbands once their youthfulness and beauty had dimmed. “I gave that man the best years of my life, and this is what I have to show for it,” says a woman with a divorce decree in her hand. Her story is repeated thousands of times over in this nation every year. God said of Israel’s sorry state: “The Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant” (v. 14).

Admittedly, these days it can happen the other way around. Women also leave their husbands for a variety of reasons. But one will be aware, from simple observation, that most of the time it is the women who get the “short end of the stick” in these situations. They are left with children to feed and to raise, on a limited income, and are forced to live in relative poverty. Statistics show that a large segment of our population living below the “poverty line” are single mothers, many of whom are divorced and raising children alone. The children are left without fathers, or have them only on weekends, and the result here is also catastrophic. Malachi explained God’s ultimate end in the preservation of the family: “That he might seek a godly seed” (v. 15). Again, statistics prove (not surprisingly), that a majority of youthful lawbreakers come from broken homes. Our nation is on a downward slide in terms of the number of criminals and the violence of the crimes they commit, because a majority of these people have grown up in frustration and privation – the results of divorce and the hostilities that led to it.

For those of us who still care, the words of Christ in the New Testament give little consolation to the person contemplating taking this road out of marriage. In Mark 10 and Luke 16, there are parallels to those teachings about which we so often quarrel when we talk about divorce (namely Matt. 5:32; and 19:9). Here, however, there is no talk of “exceptions”; rather, the rule is stated: “Everyone that putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth one that is put away from a husband committeth adultery” (Lk. 16:18; cf. Mk. 10:11-12). Those people who first read these gospel accounts were not aware that there were any exceptions. They were only made aware of the rule: one man and one woman for life! I am not here denying the validity of the “exception” for adultery, as stated in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9; but I am denying that the exception is the rule! The decree of Jesus is that there is to be no divorce. We would be much better off were we to get that into our heads and our hearts. Homes would be much more stable, problems would get worked out, and children would grow up in a more nurturing environment. The result would be an improvement for the entire nation.

The Jewish scholar C.G. Montefiore commented on Matthew 5:32: “In these verses the originality of Jesus is made manifest. So far, in the Sermon on the Mount, we have found nothing which goes beyond Rabbinic religion and Rabbinic morality, or which greatly differs from them. Here we do. The attitude of Jesus towards women is very striking. He breaks through oriental limitations in more directions than one. For (1) he associates with, and is much looked after by, women in a manner which was unusual; (2) he is more strict about divorce; (3) he is also more merciful and compassionate. He is great champion of womanhood. And in this combination of freedom and pity, as well as in his strict attitude toward divorce, he makes a new departure of enormous significance and importance. If he had done no more than this, he might justly be regarded as one of the great teachers of the world” (Rabbinic Literature and Gospel Teaching, 46-47).

Montiefiore recognized from his study of Matthew 5:32 and its parallels what many people do not. Most of modern society and much of sectarian “Christianity” has forgotten just how “strict” Jesus really was on divorce. Let us not number among them. Let us marry and live with his rule in view: One man and one woman till death parts!

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 18, p. 551
September 19, 1991