By Harold Hancock
One must search these verses carefully to obtain the right meaning, but a correct interpretation will not nullify Jesus’ earlier teaching on divorce and remarriage and permit an adulterer to remarry.
After Jesus taught the Pharisees that God joins man and woman together and that whosoever puts away his wife except for fornication and marries another commits adultery (Matt. 19:6,9), his disciples said unto him, “If the case of the man be so with the wife, it is not good to marry” (Matt. 19:10). Jesus answered his disciples, “All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given” (Matt. 19:11). Several ideas about this passage are plausible, but none give a person guilty of adultery the right of remarriage.
The question arises, what is “this saying” that all men cannot receive “save they to whom it is given”? Is it the saying of Jesus – his teachings about divorce and remarriage – or the saying of the disciples – “it is not good to marry”? Lenski comments, “‘This saying’ is Jesus’ own word spoken in vv. 4-9. The fact that ‘not all’ have room for it the Pharisees amply demonstrate. In v. 10 even the twelve show that they do not yet have room in their hearts to submit to this saying and to carry it out in their lives. But this had been their trouble before this time (15:16; 16:8,23; 17:17-20). That is why Jesus elucidates what he has said and admonishes the twelve (v. 12, last sentence) to make room for what he tells them. To men such as the Pharisees it was not given to know the things of the kingdom, but it certainly was given to the disciples (13:11); hence Jesus expects them to measure up to this gift” (St. Matthew’s Gospel, R.C.H. Lenski). Barnes writes, “This saying evidently means what the disciples had just said. . . ” (Barnes Notes, The Gospels, Albert Barnes). Pulpit Commentary also agrees that “This saying” refers to the words of the disciples and explains, “All men cannot receive this saying; i.e. their words, ‘It is not good to marry.’But he endorses these words in a different signification from theirs. Their objection to marriage arose from the impossibility of putting away a wife for any cause. Christ passes over these ignoble scruples, and enunciates the only principle which should lead a man to abstain from marriage. They to whom it is given. They to whom are given the call and the grace to abstain from marriage. These persons’ practice forms an exception of the marriage state. Verse 12 – Our Lord proceeds to note three classes of men to whom it is given to abstain from marriage . . . eunuchs, which were so born . . . which were made eunuchs of men . . . which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake “Clearly, different views are taken about “this saying.”
It seems to me that “this saying” must refer to the disciples’ words – “it is good not to marry.” The saying is something that “all men” cannot receive; only some, only those to whom it is given, can receive it. Jesus’ words about divorce and remarriage is for all. They were spoken to the Pharisees and given to the disciples. Jesus expects all to live by these teachings. However, not everyone has to marry. As Jesus said, some are born eunuchs, some are made eunuchs by men, and some deny themselves the privilege of marriage for the kingdom’s sake. Furthermore, as shown by Pulpit Commentary, the idea that “this saying” is the words of the disciples fits the context well.
To suggest that vv. 4-9 teach that a man commits adultery if he puts away his wife except for fornication and marries another, that v. 10 encourages that man not to marry, but that v. 11 gives him permission to remarry if he simply cannot remain celibate and that he will be all right if God feels this person cannot “stand” to be unmarried, is erroneous and absurd! Such an interpretation would render the words of Jesus (vv. 4-9) useless. It would contradict the instructions given by Paul that one should not depart and that if he departs he should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to his mate (1 Cor. 7:10,11). And how shall we know if God “feels” that we really cannot “stand” being unmarried? Shall one risk his soul by remarrying without a scriptural reason and wait patiently for the judgment to see how God feels about the matter? Shall we excuse other sins because people do not think they can live without their wickedness? God forbid such wresting of the Scriptures!
In Matthew 19:10, the disciples understood Jesus to teach that a man should not put away his wife except for fornication and marry another. They perceived this to be a hard saying and reasoned if that were true, then it was better for a man not to marry. Jesus said not all can receive celibacy (v. 11), only some can (v. 12). If we choose to marry, then we must receive Jesus’ teaching about marriage, divorce and remarriage -man cannot put away his wife except for fornication and marry another without being an adulterer (v. 9).
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 8, p. 243
April 16, 1992