The first thing I notice in these verses is "The Pharisees also came unto him tempting him." They wanted to trap Jesus. They were always looking for a way to turn the people against Him. If they can get Jesus to say that most of the remarried people of the day are living in sin they can turn the crowd against Him. Or if they could get Him to go against the law of Moses and say divorce was ok "for every cause" they could get Him that way also.
Notice the Pharisees asked "for every cause?" They knew there were a few exceptions and a few reasons that divorce was allowed. They wanted to get Jesus to come down on one extreme or the other. He takes them back to the beginning, back to the principle of first things. The first couple, the first marriage, the original design. He reminds them that a married couple is to be one flesh! God has joined them and let no man separate them.
Jesus states that it was for the hardness of their hearts that divorce was allowed. And so it is even today. If I am an unsaved person married to a Christian and I was insisting on leaving my spouse, it is the hardness and sinfulness of my heart that would force that marriage to end in a divorce. In the culture of their day, divorce was practiced for every cause. Historian's writings from that time inform us that a wife could be divorced for spinning in the streets so that her robe would fly above her ankles! Burning the food was a reason for divorce, as was talking about her husband's mother in a negative way. If she were to talk loud enough in her house to her husband that the neighbors could hear, he could divorce her. No wonder the Pharisees asked "for any cause?"
Deuteronomy states that divorce and remarriage could be for an indecency. Jesus here takes it the next level and specifies the specific indecency so as to not leave it open for the Pharisee's interpretation. Deuteronomy also states that when a man got a divorce and went and married another he could not come back to the former spouse if the second one did not work out. This was a great way to cut down on men jumping from woman to woman. Once you had closed the door behind you it was closed. It also guaranteed that if the woman they left was remarried, the husband could not come back and break up her new marriage.
Here in verse 9 we have the Biblical New Testament indecency described.
I would first like to address the idea that this is somehow talking about the engagement period. If you read this account in all three gospels, it is clear that Jesus is talking about marriage. Two people actually being married. If it was about an engagement period then why would Jesus say an engaged person could never marry again when they were never married and the marriage hadn't even been consummated? The text gives us no indication of this referring to an engagement period.
It is true that Joseph was going to divorce Mary and in the Jewish culture an engagement was as much of an obligation as a marriage. But Jesus is clearly talking about marriage here. The Pharisees trying to trap Him on this issue asked about divorce for any cause.
The use of the word fornication is one thing many use to say it was talking about an engagement period since fornication specifically references sexual realations before marriage. But the word here is "porneia" in the Greek. It means illicit sexual intercourse, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism or intercourse with animals.
It is used in the Bible for all of these things. So the idea that fornication in this case means unfaithfulness before marriage (during the engagement period) is totally not supported by the text. It rather means any sexual act and that that act breaks the marriage covenant. Clearly we are talking about two married people, not engaged people, else why would remarriage be forbidden, except for this cause?
If you take these verses as a unit you see simply that Jesus is stating that divorce and remarriage for any reason other than "porneia" is wrong and sin! Jesus does not give an obligation to divorce but an option to divorce and remarry. We notice also that Jesus assumes that divorce and remarriage go together. Notice how Jesus orders His words in the verse:
Whosoever shall put away his wife, except [it be] for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery:
See it? The phrase "and shall marry another" is a clear indication that Jesus assumes a person divorced for the right cause can and most likely will remarry. The second part of the verse says:
and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
This is simply stating that if you marry somebody who was not divorced for a Biblical cause (sexual immorality in this case) then you are living in adultery with her. For a Christian to divorce and remarry for any cause other than what Jesus and the Apostle Paul teaches, is to commit adultery on a daily level! If you instead draw your final conclusion from the last part of the verse only, by saying, "It doesn't matter, remarriage for any reason, no matter the cause, is wrong, then you have caused some major contradictions in this passage and 1 Corinthians 7. Scripture does not contradict Scripture.
This all became very clear to me as I was studying this and I realized the clear interpretation of scripture was the accurate one. The passages become cloudy and unclear when we try to work around these scriptures by inserting an engagement explanation ( based on the word fornication) which we do not see in the text anywhere . The burden of proof lies not with the people simply taking Jesus' words for what they say, but with the people who would read their own traditions into Jesus' words.
You see we have two issues. You will often find in an unrepentant, adulterous situation, that the unrepentant partner is not saved. This takes us to 1 Corinthians 7: 12-16 where we learned that if there is an unbelieving partner and they want to depart, let them depart and you are not bound!
Now if we take Jesus' words here and put them with Paul's words, we get a complete picture. In most cases, the only two Biblical exceptions for divorce and remarriage are both fulfilled. If you have an unrepentant adulterer, you also most likely have an unconverted person who wants to leave the marriage!
To try to separate Jesus' words from each other and say that He allowed divorce but not remarriage, is to do great harm to scripture and ignore Paul's words. The first part of verse 32 is connected to the last and the last to the first. "But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery."
"Saving for the cause of fornication" applies to which part of the verse? Just the putting away? Or to the putting away and the re-marrying? To be fair with the passage and in harmony with Paul's words it must apply to both.
As I already mentioned, the writing of a divorce was for the hardness of their hearts but God still allowed it and I believe Scripture teaches there are only two reasons it is still allowed today.
We should read the New Testament verses contextually (taking into account the time in which they were written and how the people then would have understood them). Instead, we often read these verses and impose our own culture and tradition upon them. However, if we are honest with what we really see in these verses we will see that any divorce and remarriage that would take place in the church today should only take place for the reasons we just studied. Ultimately it is the same reason today as in the Old Testament (the hardness and sinfulness of men's heart).
Menno Simmons said this on this matter:
"These two, one husband and one wife, are one flesh and cannot be separated from each other to marry again, otherwise than for adultery, as the Lord says, Matt. 5:19."
The Dutch Anabaptist also have in their confession a statement similar to this where they allowed divorce and remarriage for the two Biblical reasons I have outlined.
The Mennonites / Anabaptists used to teach and believe these verses just like I have explained them today. It is my opinion that over the years tradition has taken over. Many doctrines are now rooted, not in good Biblical exegesis, but with man's view interposed on scripture. The scripture, when not interpreted contextually, will lead you to many problems.
My prayer for each of you, is that of the apostle Paul:
For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 1st Corinthians 2:2
And on Judgment day may we all be found like this:
And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
Posted by Lyndon V Bechtel. Posted In : Christian Living