By Johnny Stringer
Marriage is an arrangement devised by our Creator. After the account of God’s creating woman to be a companion for man, the Scriptures set forth the divine decree: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).
Jesus stressed that when God first instituted marriage, He intended it to be permanent. One of the greatest evils in our society today is that so many marriages end in divorce. Marriage is not properly esteemed, but is regarded as something so frivolous that it can be ended at will. Jesus taught that the marriage relationship is a far more serious one than many realize; it is not to be severed. His most extensive teaching on the subject is found in Matthew 19:3-12, the passage on which this article will be based.
Divorce Forbidden (vv. 3-6)
The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” (v. 3). This question reflected a controversy among the Jews. Some thought it was permissible under Moses’ law for a man to divorce his wife for any reason, no matter how trivial, while others thought adultery was the only thing making divorce permissible.
In His response, Jesus did not enter into their controversy over what Moses’ law allowed. Rather, He went back beyond Moses’ law, and pointed them to the scriptural account of God’s instituting the marriage relationship (vv. 4-5), showing that God joins the husband and wife so as to make them one. Then He stated the obvious conclusion: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (v. 6). No one but God has the right to sever the marriage relationship. Divorce is contrary to the principle; therefore, Jesus prohibits divorce! This truth is corroborated by other passages which teach that marriage binds the husband and -wife to each other for as long as they both live (Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Cor. 7:39).
Deviations From Original Plan No Longer Tolerated (vv. 7-8)
Jesus’ answer naturally provoked a second question: “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?” (v. 7). If divorce was wrong, why was it a part of the Law of Moses?
Jesus’ answer is found in verse 8: “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. ” Jesus thus went back to the beginning, pointing out that from the beginning, when God first instituted the marriage relationship, He intended it to be permanent. The Law’s instructions regarding divorce in Deuteronomy 24 were not given because God desired divorce, for He did not. It was contrary to His original intentions for marriage. God permitted it because of the hardness of their hearts. He, for some reason, saw fit to yield to man’s stubbornness and tolerate divorce. His instructions in Deuteronomy 24 were designed to regulate -divorce so as to make the best of a bad thing.
Jesus’ law, however, went back to God’s original intentions regarding marriage. God’s original plan was: one man for one woman for life. He allowed some deviation from that plan, tolerating divorce under Moses’ law. Another deviation from that plan that He put up with was polygamy. Jesus, however, made it clear that under His law, no deviations from God’s original intent would be tolerated.
If it be so that man has no right to sever the relationship of marriage, if it be so that those who marry are bound to each other for as long as they both live (Rom. 7:2-3), then it naturally follows that if one marries a second mate while the first mate still lives, his relationship with the second mate is adulterous. If he is bound to one mate he certainly has no right to live with a second mate.
This is the conclusion to which we are forced, and Jesus plainly stated that it is the case. Going back to God’s original intentions that marriage is to be permanent and there is to be no divorce, Jesus condemns all marriages entered into by divorced persons as sinful (with one exception). His words are clear: “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” (v. 9).
The General Rule and the Exception
The general rule set forth by Jesus, in keeping with God’s original intention for marriage, is that marriage is permanent; there is to be no divorce; one is bound to his spouse for as long as they both live, so that if he marries a second mate while his first mate is still alive, he is guilty of adultery.
Jesus made one exception to that rule: If one puts away his spouse for the cause of fornication, he bears no guilt for the divorce, is released from his contractual obligation to the first spouse, and is free to marry another. More will be said about the exception in a future article.
Disciples Impressed With Seriousness of Marriage (v. 10)
Jesus’ teaching regarding the permanence of marriage shows that the marriage relationship is a serious thing. The disciples recognized this to the extent that their first reaction was to say that a man would be. better off not marrying than getting involved in a relationship so serious that he could never get out of it (v. 10).
If people were properly impressed with the seriousness of the marriage relationship, they would not enter into it lightly. They would be exceedingly careful in selecting a mate and they would have the determination to make the marriage work. They would be most diligent to resolve any difficulties that arose in the marriage, and it would never cross their minds to end the marriage because of the problems encountered. Divorce lawyers would have to find another way to make a living.
The permanency of marriage, which the disciples found so startling, is the very thing that makes it the glorious relationship it is. When two people are committed to be true to each other for as long as they live, they have a sense of security; they know they can depend on each other. You know that if you get sick, your mate will be there; if you become disabled, your mate will be there; if you become physically disfigured, your mate will be there; if you get into trouble, your mate will be there; whether times are good or bad, your mate will go through them with you. This is the beauty and the glory of marriage. How men degrade that noble, divinely established institution when they make it a casual relationship which can be ended at any time!
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 24, pp. 738, 740
December 20, 1984