Jesus on Divorce

ancient-jewish-wedding-customsFrom Matthew 19

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

The authentically Christian view of marriage and divorce is despised as much by those who claim to follow Christ as those who do not. Consistent Biblical mandates about the headship of the husband are transformed into the husband submitting to the whims of his wife. Consistent Biblical mandates about the submission of wives to their husbands is seen as oppressive even in Christian circles. Even when the concept is accepted, there is a substitution for the extra-Biblical construct of “mutual submission”. If mutual submission, why not mutual leadership? The two are the same, and both are clunky ways of saying “Democracy”. Is that really how Jesus relates to His church?

As badly as Christians misrepresent Christian teaching about marriage, the Christian teaching and treatment of divorce is even worse. Jesus declares that divorce is never right, and remarriage after divorce except for sexual immorality is adultery. Somehow, modern Christians have got it into their heads that divorce is right in myriad circumstances. Emotional abuse and unhappiness are frequently used as excuses for divorce, despite the fact that both of those entirely subjective measures are not mentioned once in all of Scripture as a cause for divorce.

Modern Christians often have no problem with divorce and are blind to the overwhelming moral qualities of it. The rest might have a problem with something, but it isn’t divorce itself. Often, and despite not being treated as leaders in their home, husbands are blamed for the negative behavior of their wives – including divorce if it occurs. Instead of blaming the person who initiates a divorce (which is usually the wife), Christian leaders blame the husband for not doing enough. This contradicts Christ, who gives no circumstance that ever justifies divorce, and Paul, who always describes the roles of husband and wife as unconditional.

If Christians want to learn to follow God’s Will, they could certainly do worse than following his clear moral teaching on marriage and divorce. As it stands, it’s a bit of an embarrassment to be surrounded by Christian leniency toward divorce when one of the chief complaints that non-Christians have about Christianity is the hypocrisy of it’s adherents.

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6 thoughts on “Jesus on Divorce

  1. Jamie Carter

    In Jesus’ day and age, the vast majority of divorces were initiated by the men. Remember how they asked Jesus the question? “Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”” A more accurate translation would be ‘put away’ and one of the rabbi’s back in the day said that it was lawful for a man to ‘put away’ his wife if she was a bad cook, or ‘for any and every reason’ it was his interpretation of Deut. 24:1-4. His name was Hillel. Another Rabbi, Shammai didn’t agree with his interpretation. What God hated was the putting away (divorce) of a faithful spouse for some slight as an over-cooked meal. Jesus wasn’t saying anything about headship and submission – he was just saying that a marriage isn’t a contract that you can keep one day and tear up the next. That you start one day and stop the next. Headship and submission come from Paul’s letters. If you want to try to divorce the cultural context from the Bible and marry it to a modern interpretation, that’s going to to cause the same problems as trying to put a square peg in a round hole – you have to cut corners to make it fit. Tell me, if there was absolute proof of physical abuse (a video tape, broken bones, bruises, etc.), would you allow a Christian wife to divorce her Christian husband? Jesus hates divorce, but I’m pretty sure he hates watching a wife living in terror of her husband and what we might do to her or the possibility that he will kill her even more.

    Reply
  2. illuvitus Post author

    “What God hated was the putting away (divorce) of a faithful spouse for some slight as an over-cooked meal.”

    According to Malachi 3:16, God simply hates divorce. Why? Because, as Jesus later says “What God has joined together, let no man separate.” He hates divorce because it is an artificial separation of something permanent.

    “Headship and submission come from Paul’s letters.”

    What does this matter? Headship and submission are just as binding on Christians as Jesus’ words.

    “If you want to try to divorce the cultural context from the Bible and marry it to a modern interpretation, that’s going to to cause the same problems as trying to put a square peg in a round hole – you have to cut corners to make it fit.”

    I’m trying to avoid the modern interpretation entirely, because the modern interpretation of marriage is a farce. The Biblical version of marriage is true marriage. The modern insult to that institution (which includes no-fault divorce, abortion, abortificients, and now a gender-less, sex-less, child-less, husband-less, wife-less nature) needs to be dismissed for the nonsense it is.

    If the modern view of marriage contradicts the view given in Scripture, the view in Scripture wins. What else would a Christian expect?

    “Tell me, if there was absolute proof of physical abuse (a video tape, broken bones, bruises, etc.), would you allow a Christian wife to divorce her Christian husband?”

    First of all, I find it interesting that you point to a woman as being the abused party. Women often physically abuse their husbands, too (http://winteryknight.com/2009/06/25/women-are-becoming-more-violent-towards-their-partners/). Not only that, women often withhold sex and respect as though both were continuously earned privileges instead of her inherent responsibilities. However, despite her not living up to her commitments in any of those cases, a husband would be wrong to divorce.

    I’m not sure what position of authority I would need to be in to limit any divorce whatsoever. All I know is that Jesus never gave a single reason for divorce, and He said that – except for infidelity – remarriage after divorce is adultery. You can cite rabbi’s if you wish, but I’m limiting myself to what Scripture itself teaches on the topic.

    Plenty of men and women have lived in abusive relationships to one degree or another. One of the prophets was even called to marry a harlot. Christian happiness and security is nothing compared to Christian obedience. If a person is being abused in a marriage, that might be a cause to have legal penalties against the abuser, but it is not – Biblically speaking – a just cause for divorce.

    If the abuser is a Christian, there ought to be serious church discipline. If the abuser is not a Christian then, as Paul says, “If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband.”

    Jesus hates divorce, but I’m pretty sure he hates watching a wife living in terror of her husband and what we might do to her or the possibility that he will kill her even more.

    He may hate it more. But why, in a culture where divorce is most often done because one party is simply not happy, do you focus on the most extreme possible circumstance? This is not unlike a person supporting abortion “because sometimes a woman’s life is in danger!” Even though a woman’s life is virtually never in danger in such a way that an abortion would make things better, and even though 100% of all abortions are not done out of medical necessity, this refrain is repeated.

    I say that until this civilization abolishes divorce except in extreme circumstances, mentioning extreme circumstances is a distraction. Jesus gave no reason for divorce, and most divorces – even by so-called Christians – are done because one spouse (usually the wife) isn’t feeling like being married anymore.

    Reply
    1. Jamie Carter

      When Jesus said whatever was written in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, everything written in the rest of the New Testament had not yet existed. So tying into Jesus’ word’s about his response to Hillel’s teaching to headship and submission is the equivalent of handing the Wright brothers the schematics of a jet engine – you would have to take it out of it’s proper context and put it into an improper one.

      The Bible’s words on marriage seem to be confusing at best – I just saw a Christian who spent five blog entries explaining why polygamy was biblical and acceptable. Another Christian pointed out that the acceptance of concubines was never something that was condemned. The patriarchs and the kings had multiple wives simultaneously. Jesus and Paul never married, though some of the disciples were, their families aren’t really discussed at length. Why would we want to base marriage off of the example of a culture thousands of years old that’s not even our own?

      http://www.thehotline.org/resources/statistics/ and http://www.ncadv.org/learn/statistics – statistically, more women than men are the victims of domestic violence, which means that more men than women are the perpetrators of domestic violence. While it does happen, I think the best examples are the more common ones. When people say “The sky is blue.” It doesn’t help to correct them with “except on cloudy days.” (In which case the sky would still be blue because of the scattering of the light even if we can’t see it because of the grey clouds.) There’s a reason why domestic violence shelters usually have more women in them than men, perhaps it’s because the women will reach out for help for the sake of her children whereas some men are too embarrassed to ask for help.

      But I don’t care who is the one prone to being violent – there ought to be a separation and time for both parties to get the help they need before one of them (usually the man) kills the other (usually the woman). No one ought to live in fear for their safety, for their children’s safety, with somebody who will hurt them. But given the statistics that 94% of all victims of murder-suicides are female, it’s not an extreme case to say that Christians in America have domestic violence problems. It’s impossible for the 30% of Americans who do not identify as Christians to be 100% for those statistics – if every single one of them were guilty, it wouldn’t account for even a quarter of them. So there’s definitely overlap where Christians are being abusers, where the abusers are usually Christian men, and it’s not isolated but normal. It’s just normal for women to be told to ‘shut up’ to ‘submit more’ and to ‘have more sex’ ‘as much as he wants it’ ‘even if it hurts’ ‘as often as he wants it’.

      Reply
  3. illuvitus Post author

    When Jesus said whatever was written in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, everything written in the rest of the New Testament had not yet existed. So tying into Jesus’ word’s about his response to Hillel’s teaching to headship and submission is the equivalent of handing the Wright brothers the schematics of a jet engine – you would have to take it out of it’s proper context and put it into an improper one.

    It’s rather more like comparing theology spoken at one time with theology spoken at another. Both describe the same God and the same created beings.

    The Bible’s words on marriage seem to be confusing at best – I just saw a Christian who spent five blog entries explaining why polygamy was biblical and acceptable. Another Christian pointed out that the acceptance of concubines was never something that was condemned. The patriarchs and the kings had multiple wives simultaneously. Jesus and Paul never married, though some of the disciples were, their families aren’t really discussed at length. Why would we want to base marriage off of the example of a culture thousands of years old that’s not even our own?

    Actually, Biblical teaching on marriage is rather straightforward. Polygamy was not deemed as sinful as – say – homosexual acts, but it was still not approved. It is only ever spoken of negatively. Just because important people engaged in it did not sanctify it.

    As for Jesus never marrying, I suspect the motivations to be singularly unique in that He was God incarnate. Paul didn’t marry because, as he said, his focus was on ministry and not domestic living. Few single Christians can claim such a thing today.

    And we want to base marriage on the teaching of Jesus and Paul because Jesus is God and Paul was one of his most prolific apostles. Couple that with the fact that human nature is static and truth remains constant, and you have a great reason to replace modern romantic marriage with true marriage. If Jesus is not God and Paul was not his apostle, then we have more fundamental things to discuss than how the Bible defines marriage.

    statistically, more women than men are the victims of domestic violence, which means that more men than women are the perpetrators of domestic violence. While it does happen, I think the best examples are the more common ones. When people say “The sky is blue.” It doesn’t help to correct them with “except on cloudy days.” (In which case the sky would still be blue because of the scattering of the light even if we can’t see it because of the grey clouds.) There’s a reason why domestic violence shelters usually have more women in them than men, perhaps it’s because the women will reach out for help for the sake of her children whereas some men are too embarrassed to ask for help.

    Perhaps not, but then that was a minor aside, not my main point.

    But I don’t care who is the one prone to being violent – there ought to be a separation and time for both parties to get the help they need before one of them (usually the man) kills the other (usually the woman). No one ought to live in fear for their safety, for their children’s safety, with somebody who will hurt them. But given the statistics that 94% of all victims of murder-suicides are female, it’s not an extreme case to say that Christians in America have domestic violence problems.

    It would be quite extreme, and quite unwarranted. Your statistics don’t take into account the religious beliefs of the people involved. They also don’t take into account whether the two people are married. They don’t figure in that most successful suicides are committed by men.

    While 94% is a high number, 100% of murder-suicides are wrong. The real question is how many such things happen, and whether they are disproportionately high. There is no national tracking of these numbers, but it’s estimated that there are 1000-1500 a year (http://www.vpc.org/studies/amroul2006.pdf). Out of 318,000,000, that’s not exactly a sign that “Christians in America have domestic violence problems”. Not at all.

    It’s impossible for the 30% of Americans who do not identify as Christians to be 100% for those statistics – if every single one of them were guilty, it wouldn’t account for even a quarter of them. So there’s definitely overlap where Christians are being abusers, where the abusers are usually Christian men, and it’s not isolated but normal. It’s just normal for women to be told to ‘shut up’ to ‘submit more’ and to ‘have more sex’ ‘as much as he wants it’ ‘even if it hurts’ ‘as often as he wants it’.

    This is just reading into the statistics something that isn’t there. And again, you are talking about a type of situation that occurs only a few times more often than people being struck by lightning.

    Women are not told to “shut up” or “submit more” or “have more sex” in our civilization. Where have you been for the past fifty years? Women are told in film, television, music, the business world, books, politics, and even religion to be and do the exact opposite. Feminism, especially the later waves, taught women to be as aggressive as the most aggressive men in doing what they want, when the want, and how they want. It’s influenced every area of life, to the point that schools, counseling, and businesses are oriented towards women and their interests, with men continually more marginalized.

    Suffice it to say, I think you have most of these problems exactly backwards.

    Reply
    1. Jamie Carter

      I’ve been in church – where I’ve heard elders tell frightened women those things as they sent them back to their husbands. I saw a documentary where a woman told her story where the elders of her church made her apologize to the congregation for having fled her abusive husband. I didn’t hear it in civilization, but from the elders at church who spoke on behalf of God using the teachings that you’re referencing as justification. It seems to me that in a church where leadership is almost exclusively male, where elders protect the husbands and don’t hold them accountable for the abuses they perpetrate, it doesn’t look like men are being increasingly marginalized.

      Reply
      1. illuvitus Post author

        I’ve been in church – where I’ve heard elders tell frightened women those things as they sent them back to their husbands.

        I’m not unwarranted in having great skepticism about both the scenario you describe itself and your completeness and fairness in describing it.

        I saw a documentary where a woman told her story where the elders of her church made her apologize to the congregation for having fled her abusive husband. I didn’t hear it in civilization, but from the elders at church who spoke on behalf of God using the teachings that you’re referencing as justification.

        I would recommend not getting one’s information from documentaries.

        It seems to me that in a church where leadership is almost exclusively male, where elders protect the husbands and don’t hold them accountable for the abuses they perpetrate, it doesn’t look like men are being increasingly marginalized.

        On the contrary, church leadership is under the philosophical influence of modern feminism. It does more than hold men accountable for their actions: it holds men accountable for everything their wives do wrong, too. It holds men accountable for divorcing their wives, and it holds men accountable if their wives choose – typically because they are merely unhappy – to divorce their husbands.

        The marginalization of men is evidenced by the rapidly declining and already small rates of male attendance to church.

        We didn’t just experience a misogynist revolution, but a feminist revolution. That’s the approach of the church these days in the West. If what you describe is true of anything, it is true of the exception to the rule in the other direction. I’d rather not dwell on exceptions.

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