5. The Spirit of Marriage. Jesus' Teaching on Divorce (Matthew 5:27-32 with 19:1-12)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (39:19)

Raphael, detail of Marriage of the Virgin (1504), after Perugino, Oil on panel. Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.
Raphael, detail of "Marriage of the Virgin" (1504), after Perugino, Oil on panel. Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.
Larger image.
It is difficult to teach on divorce because it seems to bring to the surface all the pain that people of our generation carry. And when there is pain there is sensitivity, extreme sensitivity to anything that might be construed as judgmental. If Jesus were to speak publicly today about divorce he would be lambasted as being politically incorrect, judgmental, harsh, and unbending. He would be silenced because his words would be too painful to a generation that has suffered so much hurt from divorce.

But perhaps Jesus' teaching carries with it the seeds of truth that we need to heal us. Perhaps if we embrace Jesus' teaching in spite of our pain, and pass his words on to the next generation, they will do better than we. Let's examine his teaching.

In this section we're looking at Jesus' brief words on divorce in the Sermon on the Mount.

"It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery." (5:31-32)

It is difficult to deal with so complex a subject with these two verses alone. Why does Jesus say this? What is behind it? Jesus offers a more extended teaching on divorce in Matthew 19:3-12, so this chapter will consider carefully what he teaches there. As we study, we'll begin to understand what Jesus intended in the spirit of marriage.

3 "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?'
4 'Haven't you read,' he replied, 'that at the beginning the Creator "made them male and female," 5 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"? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.'
7 'Why then,' they asked, 'did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?'
8 Jesus replied, 'Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.'" (Matthew 19:3-9)

Various Interpretations

We must recognize at the onset that there have been several interpretations of Jesus' teaching by various branches the Christian Church. The major positions are:

  1. Divorce, but not remarriage, is permitted in the case of unchastity. This is the view of the majority of the early church fathers, Roman Catholics, and many evangelicals.
  2. Divorce is not permitted in any case; unchastity is not an exception. A few evangelicals.
  3. Both divorce and remarriage are permitted in cases of unchastity and desertion. This is the view of most of the Protestant Reformers and many evangelicals.
  4. Divorce in the case of unlawful marriages is permitted. This position is widely accepted and provides the basis for the Roman Catholic practice of annulment.

No matter what way I interpret this passage, there will be a sizeable number of readers who will disagree with me. This is kind of like treading a theological minefield, and there is no way that I can fully treat the subject or support fully my own understanding in the space I have. My goal, however, is to help us to understand what Jesus taught and what is the spirit of marriage that lies behind Jesus' teaching.

Challenge from the Pharisees (19:3)

Now let's examine Jesus' teaching in Matthew 19 in some detail.

"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?'" (19:3)

In the Middle East in ancient times divorce was common and taken for granted. This already widespread practice was regulated and therefore limited by Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The key verse reads:

"If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house...." (Deuteronomy 24:1)

The Mosaic Law provided that a husband could not just send his wife away casually. There was the requirement that the husband must write out a legal document called a "certificate of divorce" and give it to his wife (and then forfeit his wife's dowry, which made divorce too expensive for most husbands).1

The allowable cause for the divorce, "because he finds something indecent about her" (NIV, verse 1) was hotly debated -- in Jesus' day and in ours. Literally, the word means "nakedness of a thing" and may be a technical term. We just aren't sure of its exact meaning.2

In Matthew 19:1-12, the Pharisees are asking their question about divorce "to test him," trying to put Jesus on the spot, to force him to take a controversial stand that would alienate people. The Pharisees themselves didn't even agree on the answer. The more lenient rabbinical school of Hillel interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1 as allowing divorce for any reason, even a wife spoiling her husband's dinner. As a result of this interpretation, divorce was widespread in Jesus' day.3 But this was still an issue of debate, since the stricter school of Shammai believed that the term in Deuteronomy referred only to unchastity.4

In the Beginning (19:4-6)

Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve (1504), Engraving.
Albrecht D
ürer, "Adam and Eve" (1504), Engraving.

In answering the Pharisees, Jesus goes back to God's original intention for marriage as found in two passages in Genesis:

"So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:27)
"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." (Genesis 2:24)

Then Jesus goes on to interpret these verses (19:6):

"So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

In other words, God has made the man and woman one. God has joined them and it isn't for man to sever the union.

Q1. (Matthew 5:27-32; 19:1-12) With whom did Jesus side: Rabbi Hillel or Rabbi Shammai? What exception does Jesus give to his prohibition of divorce? How does this exception relate to Deuteronomy 24:1-4?




What God Has Joined (19:6)

One question I am commonly asked is framed something like this: "My first wife and I weren't married in a church, so we were never married in the eyes of God, were we?" My answer goes back to the beginning, too. God instituted marriage and made a man and his wife one flesh. It had nothing especially to do with church or religion. It had to do with God's institution of marriage, a kind of "natural law" based on God's intention for marriage and the way he made human beings.

The Apostle Paul draws on this natural law when he says, "Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, 'The two will become one flesh'" (1 Corinthians 6:16). Even an illicit union involves this essential unity or "one flesh" relationship between a man and a woman.

Men and women can be "just friends," but when they have sex the relationship changes significantly. They view each other differently. They have shared something that unites them. Pulling that bond apart is wrenching, damaging. No wonder that the casual sex so acceptable in our generation can weaken subsequent marriages.


Jesus doesn't discuss homosexuality in Matthew 19, but his teaching on God joining a man and a woman in marriage is germane. Homosexuality is a perversion of God's intention for the one flesh relationship between a man and a woman. Women can have strong and deep friendships with other women. Men can have strong and deep friendships with other men. That is good and healthy. But these should not be confused with sexual relationships. Sexual relationships are something else entirely and involve spiritual and social relationships that cannot be perverted without serious consequences to the individual, the family, and the society. (See Excursus 4, "Homosexual Lust," in chapter 5 above.)

So in his teaching, Jesus doesn't appeal to one rabbi or another. He goes back to God's original intention for marriage "in the beginning." And he concludes that God's intention for marriage is that the man and woman be joined in an indissoluble union, "one flesh."

Q2. (Matthew 19:4-6 quoting Genesis 2:24) Do people need to be Christians to be joined as one flesh? Is this making into "one flesh" accomplished by a religious ceremony or by natural law? Of those who have entered into a first marriage, what percentage do you think have been "joined together" by God, according to Jesus' statement in Matthew 19:6?




Certificate of Divorce (19:7)

The Pharisees aren't happy with this answer, however, since their purpose is to hold Jesus' feet over the fire of controversy. What are the allowable causes for divorce? they want to know. So they ask another question.

7 "'Why then,' they asked, 'did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?'
8 Jesus replied, 'Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.'" (19:7-9)

Notice the spin the Pharisees put on the question. "Why did Moses command...?" Moses didn't command divorce. What he did command is that if a man wanted to divorce his wife, he couldn't just turn her out of her house. It had to be a formal and legal severing of the marriage, with financial implications as well as the ability to remarry. Without a certificate of divorce, the wife would not be able to remarry.

This, of course, is one of the big questions we ask. Can a divorced person remarry? In the society of Jesus' day the answer was Yes. Divorce and the right to remarry went hand in hand with each other. Divorce was usually performed by saying, "You are free to marry any man."5

Because of Your Hardness of Heart (19:8)

But Jesus does not accept the Pharisees' objection that Moses permitted divorce. Jesus asserts:

"Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not that way from the beginning" (19:8).

In other words, Jesus says that divorce is an accommodation to the sinfulness of man's heart -- not part of God's original plan.

What kind of hardness of heart does he have in mind? Selfishness, self-centeredness, I presume. Look at marriages today. Where does the trouble arise? Often it comes from the self-centeredness of the husband -- or the self-absorption of the wife -- and their subsequent lack of communicating with each other.

In March 1999, Barbara Walters interviewed Monica Lewinski who admitted to a sexual relationship with then U.S. President Bill Clinton. During the previous year she had gone through an extremely difficult time, but now she wanted to resurrect her image and tell her story to the world. Miss Walters led her through events step by step, and Monica replied in her own words. As I watched, I was struck by how she related everything about her relationship with the President to how it affected her -- and her alone. In many ways she was likeable, personable, and attractive, but extremely self-absorbed. One of the network commentators described it as narcissism, a word derived from the story of the beautiful youth in Greek mythology who pines away for love of his own reflection and is then turned into a narcissus flower. Unfortunately self-centeredness is all too common in marriages.

How can you have a marriage in which one spouse is self-absorbed, selfish? The other spouse has to do all the giving while the self-absorbed one does all the receiving. That's bad enough. What do you do when both spouses are self-absorbed? This is the opposite of love. It is the hardness of heart that Jesus was describing.

Q3. (Matthew 19:7-8) According to Jesus, does the Mosaic law command divorce? Does it allow or regulate it? Why does it allow divorce at all? What was God's original intention ("from the beginning") for marriage and divorce, according to Jesus?




Love is the Fulfilling of the Law

How can you fulfill God's intention for marriage? Love, self-giving love. Love is the fulfilling of the Law, Jesus said (Matthew 22:37-40). And love is the only way a marriage can work for a lifetime. Love is the only way to fulfill the law. Jesus said it, and when you think about it, it is self-evident.

The Apostle Paul told husbands, "Love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her..." (Ephesians 5:25). He went on to expound on the one flesh relationship that Jesus also saw as the root of the marriage relationship. "Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies," Paul teaches. "He who loves his wife loves himself...." Paul goes on to quote Genesis 2:24.

God made marriage to run on the basis of love. Not erotic, romantic love only, but self-giving, self-sacrificing love. Paul compares the agape love of Christ who gave himself up for us to the love that should exist in a marriage. God made law and society and relationships to run on love, too. Yes, there must be a provision for the case of sin -- murder, stealing, hardness of heart. But the essence, the root principle, is love and lifelong unity.

But I Tell You .... (19:9)

Jesus contrasts what the religious leaders were saying about Moses and a certificate of divorce with his own pronouncement:

"I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery" (19:9).

What Jesus said to the Pharisees was radical indeed. They were arguing about how big the escape hatch was. But Jesus was saying, in essence, that there is no escape hatch from God's intention of lifelong marriage. And to divorce and remarry was to commit adultery.

Wow! Just like each of the elements of the Sermon on the Mount, he contrasts, "You have heard it said ..." with "but I say to you." The legalism is contrasted with the spirit of the law.

There are a lot of adulterers out there. Oh, not guilty of the act of adultery, perhaps. It takes the shape of looking on a woman with adulterous intent, or divorcing one woman and marrying another. But Jesus says that the heart of the problem is desiring someone who does not belong to you. God's intent is treating people with love not lust, and with faithfulness not selfishness. The fulfillment of the Law is love.

The Apostle Paul echoes this understanding of Jesus' words:

"To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife." (1 Corinthians 7:10-11)

For Jesus and Paul, the spirit of marriage and its one-flesh unity forbid divorce. But even in Paul's command, there is room for man's hardness of heart. "A wife must not separate from her husband," he says. "But if she does ...." Sometimes separation is necessary -- for safety of a spouse and children, for example. The "separation" in verse 10 apparently refers to divorce, since Paul speaks of remaining unmarried. But it is divorce without the freedom to remarry, since that would preclude reconciliation, which is at the heart of God's intention for husband and wife.

Better Not to Marry (19:10-11)

Jesus' disciples got the point loud and clear.

"The disciples said to him, 'If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry'" (19:10).

They were saying, "If there's no escape hatch allowed at all, then we'd better not marry at all."

Jesus' reply is interesting. He says,

"Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given." (19:11)

The key issue for interpreting this verse is whether "this word" refers to what precedes it about divorce, or what comes after it, about being a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven. Which is the teaching that everyone can't accept? The no divorce part or the eunuch part? In fact, people have trouble accepting either. I expect, however, that Jesus was referring to marriage in general -- that many couldn't accept Jesus' teaching about God's intention for marriage.

Q4. (Matthew 19:10) Why do you think Jesus' disciples reacted so negatively to his teaching on marriage and divorce? Did they misunderstand it?




Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven (19:12)

"For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it." (19:12)

Jesus concludes this teaching on marriage by noting that some people give up marriage entirely in order to better serve the Kingdom of Heaven. This, too, was radical. The Judaism of Jesus' day saw marriage as the only way to fulfill the command to "be fruitful and multiply," and those who did not marry were looked down upon.

So Jesus introduces the concept that some people forgo marriage to carry out God plan for their lives. Not all, but some. Jesus, surely, was one of those people. Nothing is wrong with marriage, but it would have hindered him in his ministry. The Apostle Paul instructed disciples about the mutual responsibilities of the conjugal relationship, but then says,

"I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that." (1 Corinthians 7:6-7)

At this point in time, at least, Paul wasn't married. What wife would have put up with a husband who was gone for years at a time and was willing to live at a poverty level when necessary to advance the Gospel? Not many.

Protestants tend to be suspect of those who embrace voluntary celibacy. But there has been a strong movement towards religious celibacy of Christian workers in the Roman Catholic movement since the Third or Fourth Century. I disagree with my Catholic friends that priests must be unmarried (see 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6), and that female Christian workers must take vows of celibacy (though see 1 Timothy 5:11-12, 14), but I admire and respect those who have taken this vow due to God's calling.

John Wesley (1703-1791) was one of those who should have taken a vow of celibacy. He was active in an itinerant ministry across England for many years. But when he was past 50, he decided to marry a widow. She tried to follow him on his incessant travels for the first couple of years, but broke down under it. After that she made his life utterly miserable. John Wesley was a gift to Christianity, but never should have married. It was a mistake.

An example of a celibate Christian worker who has changed the world's perception of Christian good works is Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997). Having no husband probably benefited her ability to carry out her ministry effectively. Her calling to the dying of Calcutta wasn't compatible with marriage and raising a family. She "became a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven" and was used marvelously by God.

Except for Marital Unfaithfulness ... (19:9)

Even in Jesus' sayings in Matthew's gospel we see an exception, "except for marital unfaithfulness," both in the Sermon on the Mount (5:32) and in his more extended teaching in 19:9. The word translated "fornication" (KJV) or "marital unfaithfulness" (NIV) is Greek pornia, which refers to "unlawful sexual intercourse, prostitution, unchastity, fornication."6 We get our word "pornography" from this root. It is a broad word, covering all kinds of sexual misbehavior.

Some people deny that it could include adultery, since one was subject to the death penalty for that. But in Jesus' day, punishment by stoning for adultery was probably rare. A righteous person would divorce a spouse who was guilty of adultery (see, for example, Joseph, in Matthew 1:19).7

Others claim that the exception clause, "except for marital unfaithfulness," was not part of Jesus' original words. They argue that neither Mark 10:11-12, presumed to be the earliest gospel, nor Luke 16:18 include the exception. They suggest that it was added by early Christian scribes concerned that the words were too harsh by themselves. However, there is no manuscript evidence for this theory.

I don't want to second guess Matthew's Gospel. Jesus wasn't overturning the law that permitted divorce in cases of unchastity. That would be assumed by readers in first century Palestine, but Matthew includes the clause so there is no doubt of Jesus' intention. I don't want to put myself in a position to pick and choose among Jesus' words looking for the earliest as authentic. I accept Matthew's Gospel as authentically representing the teaching of Jesus.

I understand, then, that Jesus taught that "any cause divorce" that the school of Hillel allowed was not permissible, except in the case of infidelity of one's spouse. But would the "innocent" spouse then be free to remarry? No, say some interpreters. I believe, however, that the "innocent" spouse would be free to remarry. If the divorce was permissible, along with it in first century Palestine was the permission to remarry. Jesus does not contradict this in Matthew.

Of course, we're now getting into the kind of legalistic hairsplitting that Jesus so abhorred. The Pharisees and the Judaism they represented had turned the faith into a complex system of case law. Jesus, on the other hand, wanted to teach his followers the heart and spirit of the Law -- love.

Marital unfaithfulness can break the essential oneness that is to exist between husband and wife. When one of the partners becomes "one flesh" with someone not their spouse, something about their union with their spouse is broken and defiled. I am thankful that some marriages are able to survive adultery, but many are not able to. It is possible for love to overcome even this sin; I have seen marriages weather this blow, but it is all too rare. Jesus, I believe, allows the exception of marital unfaithfulness, since by its very nature it severs that "one flesh" bond that Jesus sees at the root of marriage.

An Exception for Desertion?

In his teaching to the Christian church at Corinth, Paul seems to introduce another exception. First, he affirms what Jesus taught. When Paul says, "To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord)..." (1 Corinthians 7:10), he means believers. That was the situation Jesus addressed; Jesus was called to the Jews, believers in God.

But then Paul addresses another common situation in Corinth: Christians married to non-Christians. This is a different situation. Only one is under obedience to the Lord's teaching, not both. Paul begins by saying, "To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord)..." (1 Corinthians 7:12), meaning, "To the rest of the believers in Corinth I say on my own authority as an apostle, not by the direct words of Jesus...."

Paul teaches them:

"To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.... But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?" (1 Corinthians 7:12-16)

Paul seems to allow divorce when a non-believing spouse leaves or deserts a believing spouse. Moreover, he also seems to allow remarriage, since he says, "A believing man or woman is not bound (douloō) in such circumstances." I take Paul's teaching on divorce of a non-believing spouse from a believing spouse that the believer is now free from the marriage and can remarry.

Such a view has been reinforced in recent years by David Instone-Brewer, a New Testament scholar who has carefully researched Jewish marriage and divorce practices in Jesus' day. He concludes that Jesus' prohibition on divorce "for any cause" dealt with his interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 only, not the provision of Exodus 21:10-11, generally accepted in Jesus' day, which allowed for divorce in cases where a spouse was deprived of food, clothing, and marital rights.8

Application of the Principle

We've spent a good deal of time examining what the Scripture teaches. How are we to apply it then as we live in the midst of "an adulterous and sinful generation"? Carefully and lovingly.

We need to clearly understand that God's intention is that marriage be enduring. When we enter into marriage, we do so without any escape clause. We do so with faith in God and a firm commitment to love our spouse as our own body. It is a joyous relationship often, but also a self-sacrificing and demanding one. We must teach our children and our brothers and sisters in our churches what God says about marriage.

However, while we honor marriage with all that is in us, we must also recognize man's hardness of heart. We will have in our fellowship people whose marriages have been broken by adultery, by desertion, by selfishness, by unfaithfulness. And we must love them. "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8). Sometimes I struggle as a pastor to try both

  1. To uphold the standard and sanctity of marriage, and
  2. To love and heal the hurt and fallen.

Jesus faced the same struggle that we do -- and his interpretation of the Law certainly didn't please everyone. Among the legalistic Pharisees he was considered too soft, too merciful. But to his disciples he inspired awe and holiness, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord."

Practical Considerations

Does a person who has remarried after a divorce that wasn't caused by marital unfaithfulness, live in a perpetual state of adultery? Should that person divorce or separate in order to get back into God's will, or is getting back into God's will no longer possible? There are some things that can shatter the marriage bond irretrievably. One of those, I believe, is marital unfaithfulness.

So what about the person who divorces and remarries and so commits adultery? Is that adultery perpetual? No, I don't believe so. Yes, there is adultery, but that adultery breaks whatever may have remained of the marriage bond of the first marriage. There is sin. Grievous sin. But when that marriage bond is once broken and there is no repairing the first marriage, the adultery is past, too. I don't counsel Christians who find themselves in a wrong second marriage to leave their current spouses and go back to the first spouses
-- even if that were possible. (That was prohibited, apparently, by Deuteronomy 24:3-4.)

Instead, repent from the heart, ask forgiveness from God and those you have wronged, and live out your life in Christ in the present marriage. I've seen God bless some second marriages that certainly began in gross sin. God is gracious, though we are responsible for our actions and sins. I've also seen some disastrous second marriages. More of the latter than of the former.

Let's say a Christian husband separates from his Christian wife and divorces her. She is not free to marry, nor is he, according to 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 and Matthew 19:9. But if he moves in with a girlfriend, whether or not he marries her, the situation seems to change. He is now guilty of unfaithfulness to the marriage bond between him and his first wife, and he is committing adultery. His action shatters the marriage bond. His first wife, I believe, is now free to marry if God so guides her.

Sadly, even supposed Christians are so quick to begin dating as soon as they are separated, that many forestall by their adultery the reconciliation that God desires for them.

Warning. Believing Christians disagree on some aspects of divorce and remarriage. In addition, many have been hurt in bad marriages and divorces. Be gentle, sensitive, and loving with one another -- even if you disagree!

Q5. (Matthew 19:9) Does a person who has remarried after a divorce that wasn't caused by marital unfaithfulness, live in a perpetual state of adultery? Should that person divorce or separate in order to get back into God's will? How can he or she get back into God's will, or is that no longer possible?




Sermon on the Mount: The Jesus Manifesto, by Ralph F. Wilson
Sermon on the Mount: The Jesus Manifesto
is available in paperback and ebook formats
My dear brothers and sisters, Jesus has shared his heart with us his disciples. God's intention, long prior to the giving of the Law, was for us to live with our spouse as "one flesh" for "as long as we both shall live." Self-giving love is not just a Christian add-on to the Law. It is the heart and soul of the Law. This one-flesh principal also becomes the basis of Paul's teaching of the "marriage" of Christ and his Church, won by sacrificial agape love (Ephesians 5:21-33). Humans are quick to find an escape hatch that will allow them to wriggle free of marriage. That is the opposite of God's intent. The spirit of marriage that God has for you and me is love.

No matter what the adulterous and sinful world around us says is acceptable, our calling is a higher one. We seek to fulfill in our lives, so far we ourselves are able, the perfect will of God for our marriages. Even when we are having trouble in our marriages -- especially at those times -- we should be emboldened to pray, "Father, work out your perfect will in my life and that of my spouse. For Jesus' sake! Amen."


Father, we humans have so often messed up your original plan for marriage and for our lives. Some are still grieving the ruins of a once-hopeful marriage. Others are children of divorce and have paid dearly for the divorces of their parents. Help us all in our brokenness. Heal our lives -- and our marriages -- we pray, with your powerful love. We confess our sins. Forgive and heal. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

Extra Credit

Q6. The Church has always been supportive of those who are hurting or scarred. In Christ, we help people make the best of what is sometimes a difficult situation. What can you do to extend Christ's healing love to someone who is struggling in his or her marriage? What can you do to bring healing to someone who is or was divorced?





  1. J.A. Thompson, Deuteronomy (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries; InterVarsity Press, 1974), p. 244.
  2. Thompson, Deuteronomy, pp. 243-245. Peter C. Craigie, Deuteronomy (New International Commentary on the Old Testament; Eerdmans, 1976), pp. 304-306.
  3. David Instone-Brewer, "What God Has Joined," Christianity Today, October 2007, pp. 26-29.
  4. Leon Morris, Matthew (Eerdmans, 1992), pp. 479-480. George Foot Moore, Judaism (Hendrickson, 1927, reprinted 1997), volume 2, pp. 119ff.
  5. Gittin 9.3; quoted in Robert H. Stein, "Divorce," DJG, p. 193.
  6. Porneia, BDAG 854.
  7. Raymond E. Brown (The Gospel According to John I-XII (Doubleday, 1966), vol. 29A, p. 333) cites Blinzer as conclusive that stoning was still in practice in Jesus' time (J. Blinzler, "Die Strafe für Ehebruch in Bibel und Halacha zur Auslegung von Joh. viii 5," NTS 4 (1957-58), 32-47). On the other hand, Leon Morris (The Gospel According to John (New International Commentary on the New Testament; Eerdmans, 1971), p. 887, fn. 19) sites several sources that indicate divorce as a much more common result of adultery than stoning, citing Israel Abrahams, Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels (First Series; Cambridge, 1917), pp. 73-74; and Sotah 5:1 in the Mishnah. See also Morris, Matthew, p. 121, fn. 122.
  8. David Instone-Brewer, "What God Has Joined," Christianity Today, October 2007, pp. 26-29. Instone-Brewer, a research fellow in rabinnics and the New Testament at Tyndale House, Cambridge, has published several books on the subject, including Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities (InterVarsity Press, 2006, ISBN 0830833749) and Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context (Eerdmans, 2002; ISBN 0802849431)

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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