October 2, 2022 Marriage According to Jesus

Marriage According to Jesus

October 2, 2022



Read Matthew 19:1-12.


Our Lord now leaves Galilee, the region of his ministry for the last three years, and travels to Judea on his way to Jerusalem. In verse 2, Matthew again tells us that Jesus healed. We are reminded that Jesus cares about physical ills. His desire then, as now, is that people be healed. If someone petitions Christ for healing with a repentant heart and they are not healed, there is a good reason why. We will not often know the why. But our ignorance does not change God’s reasons. We must continue to trust the Lord for what he has not revealed as much as we trust him for what he has revealed. Christ is still healing today and we can rejoice when he does.


Starting at verse 3 Jesus is tested by the Pharisees, who thought they knew the Scriptures. Jesus will show them that they did not know the Scriptures very well. He will give the correct understanding of marriage, which the Pharisees did not possess. We have seen previously that many of the faults for which the Pharisees were either charged by Jesus, or which Matthew makes plain through their actions and words, are very similar to the same faults that modern Christians have. The Lord was displeased with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and he is displeased with hypocrisy today. In simply reading these verses it must be evident that modern Christians have, by and large, the same view of marriage that the Pharisees had and do not believe the words of the one they profess as Lord. This is the only conclusion one can come to when one considers the divorce rate among evangelicals.


The rate of divorce among Americans who claim not to have any religious affiliation (i.e., they claim to be neither Christian nor any other faith) is 20% according to a recent study. The rate of divorce among Evangelicals is 28%![1] Unbelievers adhere more closely to God’s law than so-called Christians! What a shame this is to the church! What a shame!


In verse 3, the Pharisees ask Jesus if it is lawful to divorce for any reason at all. Their question arises because of a dispute about a passage in Deuteronomy. We considered this verse and what Jesus taught about marriage in the Sermon on the Mount. But, since Matthew presents the teaching of Jesus twice on the subject of marriage, so ought we to revisit the background.


This is the passage that the Pharisees had in mind when they questioned Jesus:

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2 and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.” [2]


If the husband “has found some indecency in her” he writes a certificate of divorce. A controversy had arisen regarding what constituted “an indecency.”


One position, known as the Shammai position (named after the rabbi who expounded it), taught that “the indecency” was only fornication (sexual immorality in ESV). No other grounds were justified. The other position was known as the Hillel position. Hillel taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason that he deemed indecent. In practice, this proved to turn the word indecency into the phrase, anything I don’t like. Indeed, reasons like spoiling a meal and finding a better mate were used.[3]


Jesus does not directly address the passage they wish settled. Rather, he reaches back to God’s original intention for marriage. R.T. France’s comment here are particularly noteworthy:


“By setting Deut. 24:1-4, the Scriptural basis of all [then] current Jewish teaching on divorce, over against the account in Genesis 1-1 of God’s original intention for marriage, Jesus raises a fundamentally important hermeneutical issue. He finds within the Pentateuch two different levels of ethical instruction, in Deut. 24:1-4 a pragmatic provision for dealing with a problem that has arisen, but in Genesis 1-2 a positive statement of first principles which, if observed would have rendered the trouble-shooting legislation of Deut. 24:1-4 unnecessary. His argument is that the original principle must take precedence over the later concession to human weakness, and thus that current Jewish teaching which took Deut. 24:1-4 as the basis for its teaching on divorce was starting in the wrong place.”[4]


“Those who start from Deut. 24:1-4 will have as their basic presupposition that divorce is to be expected, the question being only how it is to be regulated. Those who start from Genesis 1-2 will see any separation of what God has joined together as always an evil; circumstances may prove it to be the lesser evil, but that can never make it less than an infringement of the primary purpose of God for marriage.”[5]


And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female,

    5      and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?

    6      “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”[6]


Two truths should not be missed in the teaching of our Lord. When a marriage takes place the man and his wife become “one flesh.” Matthew chooses a Greek word for “joined” (kollao) that literally means “glued” or “welded” together.[7] Even the Hebrew word in Genesis, from where Jesus quotes, has this meaning! “It would be hard to imagine a more powerful metaphor of permanent attachment.”[8]


The second matter is that Jesus gives the command not to separate. What can we conclude, other than for the exception Jesus gives in verse 9, that a great number of Christians disobey Jesus outright?


“To break up a marriage is to usurp the function of the God by whose creative order it was set up, and who has decreed that it shall be a permanent ‘one flesh’ union.”[9]


In verse 7, they ask him why Moses commands to give a certificate of divorce. Jesus answers:


He *said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.[10]


“It was the fact that divorce was taking place in defiance of God’s stated intention for marriage that made it necessary for Moses to make appropriate provision. But it should never have been so. The existence of divorce legislation is a pointer not to divine approval of divorce but to human sinfulness.”[11]




And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.[12]


The King James Version and New King James Version have a phrase that was not in the original manuscripts (“and whoso marrieth her…”). Therefore, modern translations do not include it. Yet, we know this phrase to be true because it is only a repetition of what Jesus said in Matthew 5:32.


And so, a modern translation that well communicates the message of Jesus:


“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman is guilty of adultery. The only reason for a man to divorce his wife is if his wife has sexual relations with another man.”[13]




“And I tell you this, that anyone who divorces his wife, except for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery.”[14]


We must take notice that our Lord uses the strongest language possible in his condemnation of the practice that had become prevalent in his day. He states that if a man marries another woman after his divorce he commits adultery. This not only went against the concept of his day but also goes against our modern notions.


“If all this seems very remote from our own society with its soaring divorce rate, divorce by mutual consent, and the widespread assumption that marriages cannot be expected to last for life, it is! But it was no less radical in the Jewish world of Jesus’ day…Jesus is laying down a challenge to accepted norms, and demanding a complete rethinking of marriage, on the basis not of human convenience but for the purpose of God for his creation.”[15]


Of course, France is correct. But even he seems to state the case of Jesus too lightly. “A challenge to accepted norms”? Yes, it is a challenge; but it is so much more! The one who remarries “commits adultery”! And we know that no adulterer will enter the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9).


What then ought a Christian to do if they have committed this sin? For any sin (not just adultery) that we commit we have been instructed what to do by either Christ or his apostles. First we confess it to the Lord (I John 1:9). We must own our sins.


Second, we repent. That is, we stop sinning.  For most sins, this is cut and dried. However, with respect for marital sins, it is more difficult. Often, children are involved and their welfare must be taken into consideration.


Also, whether the adulterous marriage was entered into before or after coming to faith in Christ is a very significant consideration. The rebirth that Jesus, Peter, and Paul all taught describes a change in a person’s life that is so radical that the life after faith is viewed as a whole new life, a truly new beginning.


From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.[16]


The change is so radical that Paul calls us “a new creation.” Thus, most conservative teachers have counseled those who have been divorced and remarried to begin life anew with their current spouse and not seek to repair the old relationships (other than to apologize for their sins against their former spouse(s)).[17]


But, for the Christian who seeks to live before the face of God righteously, to obey, what should they do if they find themselves in a marriage that Jesus classifies as adultery? As stated, they ought to confess and then seek to remove themselves from that adulterous marriage. If minor children are involved they may wish to wait until the children are no longer minors in order to provide them with a loving home environment that they need. Once sin is committed there are inevitably negative consequences. Our goal should be to ameliorate the negative consequences as we seek to get to a place where we are living in accordance with God’s will. This is why it may be best to remain in an unlawful marriage for a time (for the sake of the children, if any), but with the goal of getting out of the adulterous relationship. Every circumstance is somewhat different. Do not lose sight of the goal, though, for the sake of convenience. The goal is not living in adultery. Difficult decisions will have to be made, especially when there is deep emotional attachment to the unlawful spouse. The situations where the marriage is seemingly good and where there is mutual love and support are the most difficult of all to dissolve (because repenting means to extricate oneself out of an adulterous relationship). For, the Lord is asking one to give up that which is fulfilling for either a return to a less satisfying relationship or a life of celibacy.


This was an unpopular teaching when Jesus himself gave it. How much moreso now? It was so unpopular when Jesus gave it that his own disciples had this reaction:


The disciples *said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.”[18]


This is how unacceptable this teaching is to the natural man. The disciples would rather not marry than live with the truth of marriage. JESUS’ OWN DISCIPPLES WOULD RATHER NOT MARRY THAN LIVE WITH THE TRUTH OF MARRIAGE!


But Jesus answers them and says that this teaching must be accepted by all except eunuchs. By eunuchs he includes both physical eunuchs and voluntary eunuchs (those who abstain from marriage in order to serve God). All others must accept it.


Pressing into the kingdom means honoring marriage and receiving the Lord’s difficult teaching, even loving it!


“Only by the divine life can we fulfill the requirements of the kingdom. It is easy to fulfill these requirements when we have the grace to do so. By our human life it is impossible, but by the divine life with the divine grace it is easy.”[19]


What must we do, specifically?


First, we must honor marriage as our Lord did and as he taught his disciples to do. This means that we honor our own marriage if we are married. We honor it by not simply refusing to divorce. That is a given. We honor our marriage by:


  • loving our spouse,
  • We honor them by putting them first, before ourselves.
  • We honor them by supporting them in all their godly endeavors.
  • We honor them by communicating our love for them often.
  • We honor them by keeping our eyes upon them and them alone.
  • We honor them through continuing to do these things even when they fail to show us the same kind of love! (Because this is the way the Lord loves us!)
  • If we honor our husband or wife in these ways, we thereby honor marriage itself.


Second, if we are not married then we honor our future spouse by keeping ourselves pure before marriage. According to statistics, 75% of people do not marry their “first love”…their first boyfriend or girlfriend.[20] Thus, we must honor marriage by refusing to engage in fornication. Otherwise, we dishonor the marriage that we will one day enter into. There is still forgiveness for the sin of fornication, but there will also still be a dishonor to our future marriage. This dishonor is also forgivable. But let us not sin so that grace may abound! (Romans 6:1)


Third, if we have been guilty of disobeying our Lord in this matter, we must repent. This means to be reconciled to our former spouse if there was an unlawful divorce, as far as this is possible. It means to leave an adulterous marriage if we have entered into one. These are sometimes hard choices because our hearts are tied up into people and into children. Surrendering to the will of God is not always easy. Living for Christ rather than for self, or even for others, sometimes requires sacrifices. Emotional sacrifices. Financial sacrifices. There will be some!


But our Lord’s words were clear:


I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman is guilty of adultery.  The only reason for a man to divorce his wife is if his wife has sexual relations with another man.”[21]


About six or seven years ago a young woman who had been attending our church with her parents expressed a desire to marry her boyfriend and came to me, asking if I would conduct the ceremony. Her mother had told me that she had been married before. So, I counseled with her about her prospects for remarriage. She confirmed to me that she had been married. Upon further queries, she informed me that there had been no unfaithfulness in her first marriage. They were divorced because they did not “get along.” Rather than simply inform her that there were no grounds for either divorce or remarriage, I asked her of she would read a passage of Scripture for me and tell me what she thinks it means. I had her read our passage this morning. After she had read it, she stood up and started yelling at me, saying things that I cannot remember, but expressing her intense displeasure at what she had read. I had not even made a single comment about the words of our Lord! I had simply asked her to read them.


Sadly, people will follow Jesus only until he commands them something they do not like. Then they stop following him. This happened to our Lord when he was on the earth. It is still happening today.


Giving up any sin that has become a habit is never easy. But those sins that have to do with human relationships are particularly burdensome to renounce.  They seem to be. But not truly. “Not truly” because sin is more burdensome than the price we pay to give it up. That is a divine fact!


Christian! What will you do? Will you be like the Pharisees who refused to honor God’s laws on marriage? Or, will you be like our Lord, who supported the Father’s design for marriage? Will you actually follow the Lord Jesus? Or, will you follow your own will?


Choose this day whom you will follow: yourself or Jesus.


Choose this day whom you will follow: yourself or Jesus!


This challenge is for both the lost and the one who claims to already be a follower: Choose this day whom you will follow: yourself or Jesus.






[1] These statistics group divorced and separated together in one category and, therefore, are not completely representative of disobedience to God’s law. Because, some couples may be trying to save their marriage and are only separated as a temporary measure. (Yet, even separation is contrary to God’s will [I Cor. 7:5].) https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/marital-status/divorcedseparated/

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Dt 24:1–4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] France, 207.

[4] Ibid, 714.

[5] Ibid

[6] Legacy Standard Bible (2021). (Mt 19:4–6). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[7] France, 717.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid, 718.

[10] Legacy Standard Bible (2021). (Mt 19:8). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[11] France, 720.

[12] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Mt 19:9). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[13] New Century Version (Mt 19:9)

[14] The Living Bible (Mt. 19:9)

[15] France, 721.

[16] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 5:16–17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[17] Marriage and divorce, especially when more than one divorce has occuured, can result in complicated situations. One must also take into consideration the conscience of the one who becomes a Christian. If it is still possible to remarry one’s former spouse then this is an option for the new Christian; and it goes without saying that this will cause heartache in the adulterous marriage because all relationships outside of God’s will cause heartache.

[18] Legacy Standard Bible. (2021). (Mt 19:10). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[19] Lee, Message 53.

[20] Mensdivorce.com (“Examining High School Sweethearts and their Likelihood of Divorce”).

[21] The Everyday Bible: New Century Version. (2005). (Mt 19:9). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.