Jesus’ Teaching During His Personal Ministry

By Robert F. Turner

The recent Bassett-Holt debate on divorce and remarriage “except for fornication” placed the issue on whether or not the second marriage must be terminated. Holt said one must cease that error of which he repents – identified as the adulterous relation of the second marriage; while Bassett said the “adultery” of Matthew 19:9 (et al) was only the “adulteration” of the first covenant: divorce plus making a second covenant. He said the noun “marriage” was sexual in its nature, but the verb “marry” was not. Holt replied that the “whoso” of Matthew 19:9b (“whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery”) would be a previously unmarried man, hence no covenant breaker. He noted the immediate context (vv. 10-12) where “not to marry” (verb) was related to “made themselves eunuchs” by sexual self-containment. He also cited 1 Corinthians 7:9 “better to marry (verb) than to burn,” obviously with passion.

Bassett contended a married couple cannot commit adultery with one another; but Holt cited the basic principle of Romans 7:2-3 which says the second marriage is adulterous “so long as he (the first husband) liveth.” Bassett said this was only an “analogy,” but Holt replied each facet of the analogy is still true. Holt also used Mark 6:17-18 to say the marriage of Herod and Herodias was adulterous. When Bassett said it was only incest, Holt replied that incest involved uncovering “the nakedness of thy brother’s wife” (Lev. 18:16). He also used a chart which supplied Mark 6:17-18 names to Romans 7: “For the woman which hath an husband (Herodias) is bound by the law to her husband (Philip) so long as he liveth. . . So then if, while her husband (Philip) liveth, she (Herodias) be married to another man (Herod), she shall be called an adulteress.”

Bassett used 1 Corinthians 7:24 as though it was saying “abide” in whatever marriage relation one has when converted; but Holt showed the context limited this statement to things indifferent, as circumcision (v. 18) and slavery (v. 21; cf. vv. 10-11). Bassett said “loosed” (27b) meant “divorced,” and v. 28 said if such an one marry he has not sinned. Holt said the context (vv. 25-26) deals with never married people. (See “virgins” “so to be,” cf. Rev. 14:4, rft.) He also pointed out that to divorce and remarry are the two elements Bassett had said made the sin of adultery. The above is a sample of only one facet of the discussion – studying the contents of Matthew 19: et al, to see what Jesus taught during his personal ministry.

But there is an entirely different facet to this discussion. Here, as in other studies on the subject, there is a recurring difference in concepts regarding the application of Christ’s personal ministry teaching to today. Bassett seems to think since Jesus lived under Judaism, and used “the law and the prophets” in his teaching, that he taught nothing applicable to this dispensation – except “eternal moral principles.” There seems no fixed rule for identifying such “eternal moral principles.” What about “born again” (Jn. 3:3) or “tell it to the church” (Matt. 18:17)? He said morals never change -except polygamy (or something else?). He felt Jesus’ teaching must be viewed as Jews of his day would apply it. I would say “as Jesus applied it,” in his efforts to prepare them for the soon coming kingdom (Matt. 4:17).

Yes, Jesus began with “the law and prophets” but taught with authority, “not as the scribes” (Matt. 7:29). Revelation of God’s will was progressive, with its “starlight, moonlight” ages leading to the “sunlight” of perfection in Jesus Christ. Bassett and others like him seem to think if a teaching of Jesus “differs” with the law of Moses it violates inspired Scriptures, and is in conflict with Jesus’ statement: “I came not to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matt. 7:15). The “fulfill” of that verse refers to substance that Christ gave to O.T. shadows; the spiritual reality of what began in physical types; the filling out or expanding of things only prefigured in Moses’ law. Among many fine statements in Expositor’s Greek Testament (on Matt. 5:17) we read, “He fulfills by realizing in theory and practice an ideal to which O.T. institutions and revelations point, but which they do not adequately express.” No contradiction here.

When Pharisees came, tempting Jesus with a question about divorce, he cited “leave, cleave, one flesh” from Genesis, saying, “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder” (Matt. 19:3f). They counter by citing Deuteronomy 24: 1f where Moses regulated some legal aspects of divorce. But Jesus said, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. ” Compare Acts 14:16; 17:30; Romans 2:4; 9:22. The polygamy, idolatry, and yes, the divorce “suffered” in O.T. times (as a parent patiently seeks to train an erring child) is no standard for the sunlight age of Christianity. “From the beginning it was not so” does not say contradiction; it says God had higher and more noble things in mind even as he led his children through a training period. The “except for fornication” of Matthew 19:9 had not previously been enunciated, but it is inherent in the “cleave” and “one flesh” of Genesis 2:24.

Jesus taught the “sunlight” standards during his personal ministry. In John 14:26 he told the disciples the Holy Spirit would bring to their remembrance “whatsoever I have said unto, you.” Hebrews 1:2 says God “‘hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son” and that which was first spoken by the Lord “was confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (2:3). Long after the establishment of the church Luke wrote his “gospel” to declare the certainty of “those things which are most surely believed among us” (Lk. 1:1-4). They were things “that Jesus began both to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). We shall be judged in the last day by “the word that I (Jesus) have spoken” (Jn. 12:48). The teaching of Jesus reaches back to “the beginning” and to his rapport with the Father (vv. 49-50).

The message of God through Moses and other prophets are a sort of sketch over. which the Master painted in full glorious whole truth. If some should ask where did the apostles write what Jesus taught in Matthew 19 would suggest they look at Matthew 19, written after Pentecost, by the apostle Matthew, directed by the Holy Spirit.

One more quote from Expositor’s (on Matt. 5:17): “Therefore, in fulfilling he necessarily abrogates in effect, while repudiating the spirit of a destroyer. He brings in a law of the spirit which cancels the law of the letter, a kingdom which realizes prophetic ideals, while setting aside the crude details of their conception of the Messianic time.” The message of the moonlight age must be interpreted in the light of the message of the Son. It is a serious mistake – it could have eternal consequences to seek to escape the message of the Son by reading it in the light of the moon.

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 10, pp. 293-294
May 21, 1992