What God Has Joined Together – Jesus on MarriageLecture given at Florida College (February 8, 2001).
(Matthew 5:31-32; 19:1-12)
Donnie V. Rader
Matthew’s record of Jesus’ teaching gives two of the three occasions that He taught on divorce and remarriage. The first is from the mountain sermon in Galilee recorded in Matthew 5-7. In it our Lord said,
It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery (5:31-32).
The second, not mentioned in Matthew, follows the parable of the unjust steward (Lk. 16:1-13). When the Pharisees "derided him" (vs. 14), He spoke of their disrespect for God and His law (vs. 15). Then, He contrasted the duration of the law and prophets to the gospel of the kingdom (vs. 16) stating His law on divorce and remarriage (vs. 18). Only Luke gives this record.
The third is from his Perean ministry when He was questioned by the Pharisees as recorded in Matthew 19:1-12 and Mark 10:1-12. Here the Lord said,
Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder…Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so…And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery (Mt. 19:4-9).
The two references in Matthew bear the burden of the study of divorce and remarriage. Not only do both texts (Mt. 5; 19) include the exception phrase, these are the only texts that do. John Murray said that Matthew 19:9 is "the most pivotal passage in the New Testament on divorce" (33).
Our problems on this subject are not because these and other verses are difficult to grasp. Neither text is hard to understand. H. E. Phillips said it well,
The marriage, divorce and remarriage issue will probably never be resolved for all. It is not because the Word of God is not clear on the matter, nor does the real issue hang upon the definition of some words used in the Bible. The issue is difficult to resolve because of human involvement and situations with emotional overtones that cry out for some favorable answer from the Word of God to justify that human element. Many doctrines reign from that same "background" (I).
David Lipscomb said,
The language of Jesus on the subject of adultery and divorce is plain. I see nothing difficult to understand in it; I cannot write a plainer sentence than the one that says, "That everyone that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery." Every man and every woman that has separated from a husband or wife save for the cause of fornication, and is living with another, is living in adultery. The law is positive and clear; and no reasoning of man, whether preacher or not, can change it. I do not see what more can be said on that point (143).
Martin Luther reportedly said, "Matthew 19:9 is a blunt, clear, plain text." To that I say, "Amen!" Let’s consider four questions about Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage. To whom does it apply? Can it be understood? What does it teach? What do we do with it?
To Whom Does It Apply?
There are at least two contentions that seek to remove the force of Jesus’ teaching from people today. One says that Jesus is explaining Old Testament law. Thus, it doesn’t apply today. The other says that it is New Testament law, but only applies to Christians. Therefore, aliens are not amenable to Christ’s teaching on marriage and divorce.
1. Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce is New Testament law . It is interesting to me that one contends that Matthew 5 and 19 are explanations of Moses’ law and then concludes that today there is no cause for divorce and remarriage (since these passage are the only ones that mention the exception). (See George T. Jones, If I Have A Living Mate May I Remarry? .) Yet, another makes the same argument (that these texts are O.T. law), but concludes that the put away fornicator can remarry (Jerry F. Bassett, Rethinking Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage ). Same argument, but opposite conclusions. To make it even more interesting consider this: One says these passages are explanations of Moses’ teaching and thus we are not under it at all. Another says the same thing but concludes that we are still under it in that there is just one covenant .
It seems to me that those who tell us that Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 are explanations of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and conclude that gives liberty for the guilty party to remarry are really not telling us what they believe. They think that the passage in Deuteronomy says that a woman put away for fornication can remarry. So, to them it is not that Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 explain Deuteronomy 24. It is that Deuteronomy 24 explains Matthew 5 and 19!
Both passages contrast what Jesus says to the law given through Moses . In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is preaching the gospel of the kingdom (Mt. 4:23). Six times in chapter five Jesus presents what the law given through Moses said and then says, "But I say to you…." (vss. 21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39 and 43-44). In each of the six cases there is a definite reference to what the law of Moses said.
In verses 31-32, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 24 and then teaches what "I say unto you." What Jesus said could not be an explanation of the Old Testament reference for under the law the fornicator was to be stoned to death (Deut 22:22; Lev. 20:10).
Those who heard the sermon understood that Jesus was teaching His law for they "were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Mt. 7:28-29).
The same point can be made with reference to Matthew 19. When Jesus pointed back to Genesis 2 in answer to a question about divorce (vss. 4-6), the Pharisees raised a question about why Moses wrote what he did in Deuteronomy (vs. 7). These Jews saw a contrast in what Jesus had taught and what Moses said. Jesus said,
Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so (vs. 8).
Then Jesus said, "But (a contrast – DVR) I say (His teaching – DVR) unto you" (vs. 9). The reaction of the disciples in verses 10-12 shows what Jesus taught was more rigid than what Moses tolerated. Thus, they are not the same. Furthermore, since what Jesus taught reaffirmed God’s original marriage law, His teaching cannot be a part of the old covenant. Also, Jesus’ teaching (vs. 12) includes a reference to one being a eunuch for the kingdom’s sake. That doesn’t sound like an explanation of the law.
Jesus’ law applies now . A law can be stated before it comes into effect (e.g. Mk. 16:16). This point is clearly seen in Luke 16. Jesus said,
The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it (Lk. 16:16).
In what sense were the law and prophets until John? It is not that the law was abolished when John came. That was done by the death of Christ (Eph. 2:15; Col. 2:14). The last sentence in this verse explains the first. "Since that time (John came -DVR) the kingdom of God has been preached." The NASB translates this, "The law and the prophets were proclaimed until John". After John, the emphasis was no longer on the law but on the kingdom of God. Just two verses after this, Jesus teaches His law on divorce and remarriage (vs. 18).
Surely those who argue that our texts are Old Testament teaching and then conclude that they still apply today do not want to be under Old Testament law. Do they still want to observe the Sabbath? Do they want to stone fornicators to death? Do they want to offer the sacrifices under the Levitical priesthood?
2. Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce applies to all men. The contention is that what Jesus taught in our texts applies only to two Christians who are married. Thus, two non-Christians or those in a mixed marriage (a Christian married to a non-Christian) are not subject to Christ’s law.(See: Homer Hailey, The Divorced and Remarried Who Would Come To God ; James D. Bales, Not Under Bondage ; Jerry F. Bassett, Rethinking Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage .)
All men are under the law of Christ . Since Jesus has all authority (Mt. 28:18) and the New Testament is addressed to all men (Mt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-16), we must conclude that all men are under the law of Christ. In fact, the alien is required to obey the law of Christ in order to become a Christian (Rom. 8:2).
If the non-Christian is not amenable to the law of Christ: (1) He cannot obey the law of Christ, (2) He doesn’t sin when he enters a denomination, (3) He doesn’t sin when he uses instrumental music. If he is not under the law, how does he become a sinner in the first place? If Matthew 19:9 does not apply to a non-Christian, what passage could we use to show that he can divorce his mate for fornication?
Some argue that the alien is under some "law in the heart" arguing from Romans 2 (James D. Bales, Not Under Bondage ; Bales, The Law in the Heart ; Homer Hailey, The Divorced and Remarried Who Would Come to God ). For a thorough study of that argument and passage see my work The Gentiles and the Law In The Heart .
Jesus applied His law to "Whosoever" (Mt. 5:32; 19:9) which includes all men. That term is used to include all in Romans 10:13, Acts 2:21 and Revelation 22:17. In fact, our texts were not addressed to Christians when they were spoken. In both texts (Mt. 5; 19) Jesus spoke to multitudes that didn’t contain a single Christian. While there were disciples, there were many present on both occasions that were not. In fact, what Jesus taught in Matthew 19 was directed to the pharisees in answer to their question (vs. 3).
It is interesting to me that some of those who argue that Jesus’ teaching doesn’t apply to the alien are the same ones who argue that baptism washes away their sin of adultery. How could there be adultery if they are not subject to the law of Christ on divorce and remarriage?
Those who argue that the alien sinner is subject to Christ’s teaching on repentance and baptism, but not His teaching on marriage, are making the same mistake made by those who argue a gospel / doctrine distinction.
Can We Understand It?
1. Some of our own brethren think not . In the current controversy over fellowship and divorce and remarriage we are hearing about the ambiguity of Matthew 19:9. We are told that the Biblical teaching on this subject lacks clarity (See: Ed Harrell, Divorce and Fellowship , FC Forum manuscript, 1991; Bob Owen, Taped sermon Sept. 2, 1993, Temple Terrace, FL, Taped sermon, February 19, 1995, Concord, NC). Thus, we can’t be sure. This is said to tell us that we ought not the draw lines of fellowship over what someone teaches on divorce and remarriage. If we can’t understand what Jesus taught or, to say the least, we can’t be sure, then we certainly couldn’t bind what we may conclude on others.
However, if we can understand these texts and be sure of what they say, then we have the responsibility to teach it, practice it and apply it regardless of the consequences.
2. The word of God can be understood . To say otherwise is to reflect on God himself. Paul claimed that what he wrote could be understood when read (Eph. 3:3-5). In fact, we are commanded to "understand what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:17).
3. Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 are simple and clear . What part of these texts is hard? What part of these verses cannot be understood? What portion of the teaching of Jesus causes you to be unsure?
The context of Matthew 19 implies that those who heard understood what Jesus said. The fact that the disciples responded by saying, "If such is the case of the man and his wife, it is better not to marry" (vs. 10) shows they understood what He said. If they could, why can’t we?
The more I study divorce and remarriage the more I am convinced that Matthew 19:9 is just as simple as Acts 2:38. Neither text is hard – only what people say about them. With both, quibbles are made that make the issues that surround them seem difficult. But, when we go back to what the text says, it is simple and understandable.
What Does It Teach?
The texts in our study inform us of God’s law on divorce and His law on remarriage. Is divorce lawful? If so, for what cause? When there is a divorce, does anyone have the right to remarry? If so, who? These questions are answered in Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:1-12.
1. On divorce . Jesus’ taught that marriage is to be permanent. While both passages make this point, we will focus more on Matthew 19.
Not for just any cause . The Pharisees asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?"(vs. 3). Jesus answered by pointing to God’s law at the beginning (vss. 4-6). By pointing to the beginning, Jesus gives four reasons one can’t put away his mate for every cause.
(1) God created one man for one woman (Gen. 1:27). Jesus said, "He who made them at the beginning made them male and female" (vs. 4). God did not create one man and two women or one woman and two men. If it is one man for one woman, therefore a man cannot put away his mate for just any cause.
(2) Mates must cleave to each other (Gen. 2:24). Jesus said, "For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined (cleave -KJV) to his wife…"(vs. 5). Cleave means "to join fast together, to glue, cement" (Vine, I 196). A man cannot "cleave" and at the same time put away his wife for just any cause.
(3) A man and his wife are one flesh (Gen. 2:24). Jesus said, "…the two shall become one flesh? So then, they are no longer two, but one flesh" (vss. 5-6). One is the only number that can’t be divided (at least as it refers to people). They are one in mind, spirit, goals, emotions, directions, feeling and will. Matthew Henry said, "A man’s children are pieces of himself, but his wife is himself" (5 214). Since the two are now one, they cannot divorce for just any cause.
(4) God has joined man and woman together in marriage . Jesus said, "Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate" (vs. 6). The word translated "joined" (used only here and in Mark 10:9) means "to fasten in one yoke, yoke together" (Thayer 594). Since God has joined the two together, man has no right to end it for just any cause.
Those who argue that divorce for just any cause is scriptural as long as one does not remarry ignore what Jesus said. Notice that the question Jesus answered was not about divorce and remarriage, but about divorce (vs. 3). His answer was that a man cannot divorce his wife for just any cause.
Matthew 5 focuses on the unjust treatment a man gives his wife in putting her away without a scriptural cause. The emphasis is on a man causing his wife to commit adultery by unjustly putting her away. Heth and Wenham observe:
First, the statement that divorce will cause the woman to become an adulteress is simply another way of condemning the second union she will most probably be obliged to contract in her situation (14).
William Hendriksen’s comments make the same point. He said,
Far better, it would seem to me, is therefore the translation, "Whoever divorces his wife except on the basis of infidelity exposes her to adultery,"… (306).
One exception : Fornication. Jesus gave one exception (and only one) to the rule he just stated. While there are many reasons one might divorce (personal dislike, incompatibility, or irreconcilable differences), Jesus allowed only one. He said, "except it be for fornication" (vs. 9). God’s law approves of one divorcing his/her mate for the cause of fornication.
2. On remarriage . Consider carefully what the text says:
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery (Mt. 19:9).
Jesus makes a distinction in one who puts away his mate and the one who is put away . While some argue that it makes no difference who puts who away. Jesus made a distinction. Notice again the text:
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery (Mt. 19:9, emphasis mine – DVR).
The first clause deals with the one who puts away his mate. The second clause deals with the one who is put away .
The one who puts away his mate: Jesus said that a man who puts away his wife (for a cause other than fornication) and remarries commits adultery. Where do we learn that? From the first clause of Matthew 19:9. Jesus also said that a man who puts away his wife (for the cause of fornication) does not commit adultery when he remarries. Where do we learn that? From the first clause of Matthew 19:9.
The one who is put away: Matthew 19:9 contains two complete clauses joined by and . The second of those clauses addresses the one who is put away . Jesus said that the one who is put away commits adultery when he remarries. Where do we learn that? From the second clause of Matthew 19:9. In this clause there is no exception phrase. The exception phrase (of the first clause) will not fit into the second clause in any way: textually, grammatically or logically. The one who is put away (whether for fornication or some other cause) does not have a right to remarry.
Determining who has a right to remarry is not as difficult as some may think. A couple of simple questions give us the needed information. "Who put who away?" And, "What was the cause of the divorce?" If the person in question is the one who put away his mate, he fits into the first clause of Matthew 19:9. If it was for fornication, he can remarry. If it was not for fornication, he cannot remarry. If the person in question is the one who was put away , he fits into the second clause of Matthew 19:9. He cannot remarry. Now, that’s simple!
The only one that is given the right to remarry (in the case of a divorce) is the one who puts his mate away for the cause of fornication. All others commit adultery when they remarry.
A clear understanding of the distinction between the marriage and the bond will answer many questions and clarify much of the confusion that exists over divorce and remarriage. A more detailed study of the marriage and the bond is found in my book, Divorce & Remarriage – What Does The Text Say? (42-49).
What Do We Do With It?
It is not enough to just know the teaching of Jesus on marriage and divorce or any other subject. So, what are we to do with what He taught in Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:1-12?
1. Live it. First we must live our lives in harmony with it. We must be doers of the word and not hearers only (Jas. 1:22-25). In fact, Jesus concluded His Sermon on the Mount by saying,
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it (Mt. 7:21-27).
If we are disciples of the Lord, we must mold our lives to harmonize with His teaching. That is a far cry from molding His teaching to fit the mess we already have our lives in.
2. Preach it. God’s people have the responsibility to preach the word (2 Tim. 4:2). The great commission demands that we preach the gospel to every creature (Mk. 16:15). The teaching of Jesus on divorce and remarriage is found within that word or gospel that must be preached. We, like Paul, must not shun to declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).
When a preacher agrees not to preach his views on divorce and remarriage (because some take a different view), neither he nor the brethren who tolerate his agreement are fit for the kingdom. While he may not be preaching error (due to his agreed silence), neither is he preaching the truth. How can we have respect for a man who agrees to keep silent on a matter as vital as marriage, divorce and remarriage?
3. Apply it. No part of God’s word is helpful unless it is applied. If the teaching of Jesus on divorce and remarriage will do any good, we must apply it to those who live in violation of it. We must have the boldness and courage that John the Baptist had when he applied God’s law to Herod and Herodias when he said, "It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife" (Mk. 6:18).
4. Respect and uphold it. To be tolerant toward those whose teaching doesn’t fit Matthew 5 or 19 is to disregard these texts themselves. Thus, if we respect and uphold the teaching of Jesus on divorce and remarriage, we must oppose those who teach otherwise. Let us understand that when there are opposing views on divorce and remarriage, someone is wrong!
When a man teaches that one who has no right to remarry can remarry, his teaching leads his hearer to commit adultery. Most agree that we can’t fellowship the man who is in adultery. However, we are told we can fellowship the man who teaches him that it is scriptural (See: Ed Harrell, "Homer Hailey: False Teacher?", Christianity Magazine , November 1988, 6 "The Bounds of Christian Unity", Christianity Magazine , February 1989, 6, March 1989, 6, April 1989, 6, May 1989, 6, June 1989, 6, July 1989, 6, August 1989, 6, September 1989, 6, October 1989, November 1989, 6, December 1989, 6, January 1990, 6, February 1990, 6, March 1990, 6, April 1990, 6, May 1990, 6; Bob Owen, Taped sermons, September 2, 1993, Temple Terrace, FL, February 19, 1995, Concord, NC; Samuel G. Dawson, Fellowship on Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage ; Earl Kimbrough, How Shall We Treat Brethren With Whom We Disagree? .)
In fact, there has been a shift in attitude toward those who defend the truth and those who teach error on divorce and remarriage. The men who call us back to the pattern of Matthew 5 and 19 are the "bad guys" who trouble Israel while those whose teaching we agree does not fit the Lord’s instructions are the "good guys" who are to be used and honored!
Great harm is being done by this loose concept of fellowship. It poses a greater danger than some of the concepts we are dealing with on divorce and remarriage, since we can’t see yet how far it will go.
Consider who is condemned in 2 John 9-11.
Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.
(1) The one who practices sin or error (vs. 9). Since the adulterer is not abiding within the doctrine of Christ, he is not in fellowship with God. Therefore, we cannot have fellowship with him (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1-13; Eph. 5:11; 2 Cor. 6:14).
(2) The one who teaches error (vs. 10). We are told not to receive one who does not bring the doctrine of Christ. In fact, those who cause divisions contrary to the doctrine are to be marked and avoided (Rom. 16:17-18; see also Titus 3:10; 2 Tim. 2:17-18, and Rev. 2:18-21). Those whose teaching causes others to enter into or continue in an adulterous marriage are not guiltless. There is just as much harm done by those who teach their error privately. This can happen when a man goes to a place for a Gospel Meeting. He may say nothing about his position in the pulpit, but as he goes from house to house eating and visiting with the brethren, they may ask him questions that provide the opportunity to advance his error.
(3) The one who receives a false teacher (vs. 11). Not only is the one in sin condemned and the one who teaches the error that leads to sin, but those who receive the teacher of error. When he is received, that one becomes a partaker in his sin.
What Jesus taught in Matthew 5 and 19 about marriage, divorce and remarriage is New Testament teaching that applies to all men. It is simple and easily understood. It says that marriage is permanent. The only scriptural cause for divorce is when one’s mate is guilty of fornication. The only one who has the right to remarry is one who puts his mate away for the cause of fornication. We must mold our lives to fit that teaching. We must preach it, apply it and uphold it in our dealings with others.
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