“Is it biblical to divorce for any reason?” Part 1
The answer to this question is clearly found in Matthew 19:3-9. I have divided this passage into five parts: (1) The question (2) The Initial Reply (3) The Follow Up Question (4) The Second Reply and (5) The controversy
(1) The question
The Pharisees asked Jesus if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?
As a background to this question. In Jesus’s day, women were not allowed to divorce. That is why the question is related to if a man is allowed to divorce his wife for any reason.
There were also two schools of thought in those days: The school of Shammai, who believed that divorce is only allowed if a woman was unfaithful. In other words, sexually immoral. The school of Hillel, believed that a man can divorce his wife for any reason. This is where the words “for any reason comes from in the question”.
As for the word lawful, this refers to the Old Testament in general. In other words, they are asking Jesus to show them from the Old Testament, whether it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason. In other words, they recognized the Bible, which then, only contained the Old Testament, as the ultimate authority. Now we have the complete bible with the New Testament as well.
Now we can see what the basis of their question is.
(2) The Initial Reply
Since they asked Jesus to show from the Bible if it is lawful to divorce your wife for any reason, in answering them, Jesus did exactly that and even better, He went to Genesis. Jesus says, let’s go back to the creation. When God created people, He created them male and female (Genesis 1:27). Once He created them, He said a man shall leave his parents and be super-glued to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).
Therefore, based on this, and here comes the answer to the question, based on this that I just quoted, the two-married people are no longer two but one flesh. They have been joined together by God, and what God has joined together, let no man separate. Man, here does not refer to a male, but to a human being in general. What God has joined together, let no one separate. This includes even the married couple. They also are not allowed to separate what God has joined.
Therefore, is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason? The answer from Jesus is NO! divorce is not lawful for any reason. Being not satisfied with Jesus’s answer, the Pharisees has a follow up question, and for that, in the next message.
” Is it biblical to divorce for any reason?” Part 2
In the previous message we saw the Pharisees asking Jesus, if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason. We saw Jesus replying by saying that, Divorce is not allowed for any reason.
(3) The Follow Up Question
The Pharisees were clearly not satisfied with Jesus’s answer, and decided to take Him on. They asked Jesus why, if divorce is not allowed for any reason, did Moses command them to give a wife a certificate of divorce, and then send her away, if they wanted to divorce her. By this question, they were actually quoting Deuteronomy 24:1-4, where according to them, Moses commanded them, to give a certificate of divorce to the wife, if they wanted to divorce her. This was their interpretation of these verses.
(4) The Second Reply
Jesus’s reply in verse 8 shows that He did not agree with their interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Jesus, instead of agreeing with them that Moses commanded them, He told them that Moses actually allowed them, not commanded them. He says, Moses allowed them, because of the hardness of their hearts, which were in rebellion to God’s law. Jesus went on to say, although Moses allowed you, it was never like that from the beginning, meaning that, it was never part of God’s intention when He created marriage, for there to be a divorce.
Therefore, although Moses allowed you, and not commanded you, the answer is still No, divorce is not lawful for any reason. Simply because Moses allowed you, it doesn’t mean divorce is lawful. It simply means that you are disobedient to God’s law, so much that Moses allowed you to divorce. If you were not disobedient to God’s law, Moses would never have allowed you to divorce.
If you go and read Deuteronomy 24:1-4 now, you will not see anywhere, where Moses commands them to give a certificate of divorce to the wife, if they want to divorce. The only command that Moses gave, was for a husband not to remarry a woman whom he has divorced, and then the woman gets married to another man, and either that man divorces her or dies. The man cannot marry that women again.
Up to this point, Jesus is still saying that divorce is not lawful. It is not biblical. And now for the controversy in the next message.
” Is it biblical to divorce for any reason?” Part 3
We saw in the two previous messages, the Pharisees asking Jesus if divorce was lawful for any reason. We saw Jesus replying them by saying divorce is not lawful for any reason. Being not satisfied, the Pharisees asked Jesus, why then did Moses command them to divorce, by giving a certificate of divorce. Jesus replied by saying that Moses did not command them to divorce but rather he allowed them. Jesus then, again said to them that, even though Moses allowed them, it was never like that from the beginning.
Now, in verse 9, that is where we see what is called “the exception clause”. It is called the exception clause because others see it as the one exception, that Jesus gave for divorce to can be lawful. According to these, Jesus says that divorce is not allowed except if the other partner has committed an act of sexual immorality. Bear in mind that because they call it the exception clause, this means that they agree with me that, from verse 3 all the way to verse 8, the answer is that divorce is unlawful, but they say in verse 9, Jesus gives an exception. Is this truly an exception?
Now, I don’t agree that this is an exception for the following reason: let us look at the context. The question is asked in verse 3, is divorce lawful for any reason, and Jesus answers it by saying No, in verses 4-6. They asked a question, they got an answer, full stop. Is divorce lawful, Jesus says No.
Now, in verse 7, they ask another question, of why did Moses command them to divorce. Although it is a follow up question, it is still another question. Jesus then replies to this question of verse 7, in verses 8-9.
In verse 8, Jesus shows them that, they misinterpreted Moses. Moses did not command them, but allowed them to divorce. In verse 9, Jesus starts this verse with the word “and”, showing that, what He is about to say, is still in reply to the question in verse 7. So, whatever Jesus says here in verse 9, it is still in relation to the question in verse 7 and not verse 3.
If you take verse 9, to be the answer to verse 3, then you will see Jesus giving an exception. Why? Because the answer to the question in verse 3 is No, and if verse 9 is also the answer to verse 3, then Jesus is saying that divorce is not lawful except, if the wife or husband commits sexual immorality.
But if you take verse 9 to be the answer to verse 7, then Jesus’s answer to verse 3 is still No, divorce is unlawful, full stop and verse 9 doesn’t change that.
My view is that verse 7 is another question, and verse 9 is Jesus’s reply to the question in verse 7 only and not verse 3. If that is the case, then Jesus’s reply to verse 7 is that, Moses did not command you but allowed you, and, I am limiting that allowance only to sexual immorality. So, even though Moses allowed you, within that allowance, you can only divorce if the wife or husband commits sexual immorality. In that way, verse 9 is not an exception clause but rather a limiting clause, limiting the allowance in verse 7 and by extension Deuteronomy 24:1-4. This applies to Matthews 5:31-32 as well where the same limitation is made by Jesus. This view makes more sense, and it is in line with what Jesus said that divorce was never God’s intention.
Therefore, I don’t see verse 9, as an exception clause but, rather as a limiting clause. Limiting verse 7 and not verse 3. What does this mean? This means Jesus is still saying that divorce is unlawful for any reason and there is no exception. With regards to what Moses allowed for the Jews, Jesus limited it to sexual immorality.
Secondly, I want us to look at the Greek word “πορνεια” in verse 9, translated as “sexual immorality”. What does this word mean? For that in the next message.
” Is it biblical to divorce for any reason??” Part 4
This is going to be a long and technical message, please bear with me. If I break it, it will not make sense. My apologies.
We have previously shown that Jesus has said that divorce is unlawful for any reason, meaning that, in the eyes of God, nothing can justify divorce. The Pharisees tried to counter this but, Jesus still kept to what He said, and further put a limit to the permission that Moses gave them to divorce, to only sexual immorality ( Porneia or πορνεια in the Greek). Some people have taken this limitation as an exception clause, meaning that Jesus allows for divorce if the other partner in a marriage, commits sexual immorality or porneia. I have already shown that, this limitation only applies to Moses’s permission but not to divorce in general. This permission by Moses, as you will see, only applies to the Jews, and the limitation that Jesus put on it, also only applies to The Jews.
Matthew 19:9 (ESV Strong’s)
9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality(porneia), and marries another, commits adultery(moichao).”
Now, I want to show that porneia in the above verse, cannot mean adultery. If Jesus in the above verse, is talking about a married couple as we understand marriage, any extramarital sex, by any of the two-married people, can only be called adultery. A married person cannot commit fornication since, fornication is sex between unmarried people. So, within the context of marriage, we can only talk about adultery. So, is Jesus in verse 9, talking about fornication or adultery?
Paul says in 1 Cor 7:1-2, that it is better to be single but, if you cannot resist the temptation to commit porneia or sexual immorality, then you must get married. This use of porneia shows that Paul understands porneia to mean fornication. However, it can be argued that Paul uses porneia in 1 Cor 5:1 to mean adultery. Although it depends on wether you put the emphasis on the man as committing this sin or on the wife committing the sin. Whatever your conclusion is, the question is, in Matthew 19:9, is Matthew using porneia to mean adultery or fornication.
In Matthew 19:9, Matthew uses both porneia which means fornication, and moichao which means adultery, in the same verse. It is not as if Matthew doesn’t know the word for adultery. So, why did he use porneia instead of moichao if he meant adultery?
Secondly, in Matthew 15:19, Moses again uses porneia and moichao in the same verse. The same way he has used them in Matthew 19:9.
Matthew 15:19 (ESV Strong’s)
19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.
Clearly, this means that Matthew doesn’t think that porneia is the same as moichao. From this type of usage, we can already conclude that according to Matthew, porneia doesn’t include adultery.
In John 8:39-44, The Jews claim to be the children of Abraham and Jesus says they are not Abraham’s children but, their father is the devil. The Jews reply by insulting Jesus and saying that, unlike him, they are not born of sexual immorality or porneia. They were aware that Jesus was not Joseph’s son and hence they made this statement. Why am I saying this? Well, we know in Matthew 1:18-25, that Mary was betrothed to Joseph, when Mary became pregnant. We also know that in verse 19, that Matthew refers to Joseph as Mary’s husband. We also know from the same verse that Joseph, whom Matthew say was a just or righteous man, wanted to divorce Mary, why? because the pregnancy was not because of him. We know in verse 20 that an angel came to Joseph in a dream, and told him not to fear to take Mary as his wife, and Joseph, when he woke up, took Mary as his wife (verse 24). Now, Matthew called Joseph, Mary’s husband before they were married but while they were betrothed. This is because in Jewish culture betrothal, which is an engagement to be married, was taken so serious that you had to divorce to break the engagement. But since betrothal is not marriage and no sex is allowed, any sex with another person, or the person you are engaged to, cannot be called adultery, but it is called fornication. Therefore, Joseph would have seen what Mary did as porneia and not moichao, that is, as fornication and not adultery. This is why the Jews insulted Jesus by saying that they were not born of porneia like Jesus was. Since they know that Jospeh was not married to Mary, the Jews could not have used porneia to mean adultery but, they used it to mean fornication. Of course, Mary didn’t commit fornication because we know that Mary was made pregnant by the Holy Spirit.
What do we know so far, we know that Matthew doesn’t see porneia as meaning adultery, since he knows what the word for adultery is, and he has used the word for adultery “moichao” twice, in the same verse, separate from porneia. We know that Paul and John also see porneia to mean fornication and not adultery. Therefore, we can conclude that in Matthew 19:9, Matthew uses porneia not as meaning adultery but as meaning fornication. He is referring to sex while you are betrothed and not while married.
Matthew 19:9 (ESV Strong’s)
9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
Therefore, the King James Translation is correct in translating the verse this way:
Matthew 19:9 (CWSB)
9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery…..
Jesus was therefore saying, divorce is not allowed for any reason, if you divorce and marry a different person, you are committing adultery, but, if you are engaged in the Jewish culture, and your partner commits fornication, then you can divorce and marry someone else.
Guess what, it is only Matthew that tells us about this story of Joseph and Mary being pregnant and Joseph wanting to divorce her. You know why? Because Matthew is writing to the Jews and this story, would only make sense to the Jews. That is why he is the only one telling us this story and also the only one that has the so called “exception clause”. The Jews would have understood that Matthew is referring to betrothal and not marriage.
What about 1 Cor 7:15? Can I remarry when my unbelieving husband or wife divorces me?
” Is it biblical to divorce for any reason?” Part 5
This is what Jesus said in Matthews 5:
Matthew 5:20 (ESV Strong’s)
20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus said that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, we will not enter heaven. This means that, whatever righteousness they had, we must exceed it. Whatever the standard they upheld, we must do better.
Now when it comes to divorce, as I said previously, there were two schools of thought among the Pharisees, when it came to divorce. The school of Shammai argued that divorce is only allowed if the spouse committed adultery, and the school of Hillel, argued that you can divorce for any reason. Both of these were Pharisees, and the above was their standard of righteousness, when it came to divorce. According to Jesus, If we are to enter heaven, we must exceed both these standards.
Now, if we argue that Jesus in Matthew 19:9, gives us the right to divorce if the spouse commits adultery, then all that Jesus did, was agree with the standard of righteousness set by the school of Shammai, when it came to divorce, and we are to follow that. This means Jesus is saying, although we are to exceed the standard of righteousness of the Pharisees if we are to enter heaven, when it comes to divorce, we don’t have to exceed it. Jesus would be contradicting Himself which, we know He cannot do. Therefore, again this proves that in Matthew 19:9, Jesus is not giving us the right to divorce when our spouse has committed adultery.
Look at the reaction of the disciples in verse 10 after Jesus spoke:
Matthew 19:10 (ESV Strong’s)
10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”
Now, if all Jesus did was agree with the school of Shammai, why were disciples so shocked that they felt it was better not to marry? The disciples obviously knew about the standard of the school of Shammai. If Jesus just confirmed it, they would not have been so shocked. They were shocked because Jesus had just said in verse 9 that marriage is for life and there are no grounds at all for divorce. Once married always married. This is what shocked them.
Jesus replies in verse 11-12 that not everyone can accept this, unless it has been given to him. Jesus then said, there are those that are single because of some birth defect, other who were forced by others not to marry, and those that choose to remain single for the kingdom of God. These people can accept this teaching. So, if you cannot accept this teaching then, it has not been given to you to accept. Therefore, get married and never divorce.
Again, the reaction of the disciples proves that Jesus was saying something of a higher and more stricter standard, than that of the Pharisees. That is, no divorce for any reason, period! Amen.
We will do 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 in the next message
” Is it biblical to divorce for any reason?” Part 6
1 Corinthians 7:10-16
In verses 10-11, Paul says when two Christians are married, and for whatever reason, one of them divorces, both Christians must stay single or reconcile. There is no debate on this one, everyone agrees that this is what Paul is saying.
In verses 12-14, Paul says if a Christian is married to a non-Christian, and the non-Christian wants to stay with the Christian, the Christian must not divorce. You cannot divorce a person simply because he is a not a Christian. Again, there is no debate on this one, everyone agrees that this is what Paul is saying.
In verse 15-16, Paul says if a Christian is married to a non-Christian, and the non-Christian wants to divorce, then the Christian, after all the efforts to prevent the divorce, must allow the non-Christian to divorce, and not try and stop them. Up to this point, everyone agrees that this is what Paul is saying.
Paul continues and says, in such a case where a non-Christian wants to divorce, a Christian is not enslaved, God has called us to peace. This statement a Christian is not enslaved, is where the debate rests. Here is verse 15:
1 Corinthians 7:15 (ESV Strong’s)
15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.
The question: is Paul giving permission for a Christian to allow for the divorce, and stay single, or to allow for the divorce and marry someone else if they want to? My view is that, Paul is only permitting the Christian, to allow for the divorce but must stay single. Paul is not giving permission for a Christian to marry someone else. They can allow for the divorce but must still stay single. Why?
(1) We have already seen that Jesus prohibits divorce and remarriage. Jesus said, No divorce, and if you divorce and marry someone else, you commit adultery. Paul cannot contradict Jesus. Therefore, whatever Paul is saying here, cannot mean that a Christian can marry, after the non-Christian has divorced them.
(2) Paul has already said in verses 10-11 that, if a Christian is divorced, they must stay single or be reconciled. Why would he contradict himself here?
(3) Paul in Romans 7:2 and 1 Cor 7:39, says that as long as your married partner is alive, you are bound to them. If a non-Christian divorce, he doesn’t die, therefore, the divorced Christian is still bound to him.
(4) In 1 Cor 7:1;8;26 Paul shows that he doesn’t see anything wrong with being single. Why would he say being single is being enslaved? Clearly not.
(5) There are many verses in scripture including those by Jesus and Paul, that clearly shows that divorce and remarriage to someone else is not allowed. Why would anyone take verse 15, which is not clear, to conclude that you can be divorced and marry someone else, and ignore all other clear verses that contradict that.
For these reasons, I don’t believe that Paul is giving permission for a divorced Christian to marry someone else.
Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Matthew 19:9, 5:31-32, and 1 Corinthians 7:15, are the only verses that people use to justify divorce and remarriage. I have shown that none of these verses support divorce and remarriage. Therefore, from a biblical worldview, divorce is not allowed period, and if for whatever reason, you end up divorcing or being divorced, then you must stay single or be reconciled. This is how God feels about divorce and if I were you, I would take note of this before I think of divorcing:
Malachi 2:16 (NASB)
16 For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the Lord of hosts. “So, take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”
This concludes our series on divorce.