We need to review a critical point here. Many have contended that in the absence of fornication a couple cannot be divorced in the eyes of God. But note carefully the words of the Savior:
6 “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate. … 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
First, Jesus plainly teaches that it is wrong to separate a husband from a wife, but he doesn’t say that it is impossible. Now the usual argument is that because divorce is impossible, the second marriage is no marriage at all in God’s eyes, but adultery — meaning a sexual violation of the still-existing first marriage.
And yet Jesus says in verse 9 that the man who wrongly divorces his wife next “marries another woman.” Jesus didn’t say that he “wants to marry,” “tries to marry,” or “fictitiously marries” the second woman — our Savior said that the guilty man “marries” his second wife. And if Jesus says they are married, they are married. And if they are married, then it would be sin to separate them — even though the second marriage was entered into sinfully.
Some have argued that the apostles’ astonishment at Jesus’ statements proves that Jesus taught something much more difficult to accept than the interpretation I make. But the Scriptures don’t say the apostles were astonished, only that they thought it just might be better to remain single.
While my interpretation is much less harsh than the traditional interpretation, you have to compare it to what the rabbis taught to see why the apostles felt marriage to be a less attractive option because of what Jesus had said.
The rabbis taught that divorce was perfectly acceptable. Many taught that divorce could be had for any reason at all, even for burnt toast! All taught that there was no stigma associated with divorce or marrying a divorcee, unless she was divorced for adultery.
The rabbis also taught that a husband owed no sexual allegiance to his wife. A man could sleep around to his heart’s content and his wife would have no grounds to complain.
And the rabbis approved polygamy.
Jesus taught that marriage is supposed to be a lifetime commitment, and it’s a sin to put your wife away. Moreover, he especially criticized putting your wife away to marry another woman.
Jesus taught that adultery is a sin, even if committed by the man.
Jesus taught that the “two” become one, implicitly rejecting polygamy, which also means that men owe sexual fidelity to their wives.
The apostles grew up in a culture of disposable wives, with the freedom to look around for a second or third — imagine being allowed to date other women while married, and all of society condoning it! And if your wife grows a bit fat or sullen, you sign a document, toss her out the door, feel no remorse, and go looking for another. Or you keep her and add a second.
Obviously, any man who’d grown up in First Century Palestine would be less than pleased to learn that God meant for him to be bound to his marriage covenant for life, and to just one woman, and to be true to her and only her. Many of our members struggle to make this commitment even today. It’s no surprise the apostles struggled to accept the lesson 2,000 years ago.
Now, let’s turn to the two other Gospel passages.