Marriage and Divorce: Gospel Analysis
The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.
Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 215.
Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount about marriage and divorce needs to be examined as we study the gospel lesson for Pentecost 18B, Mark 10:1-16, on marriage and divorce.
#56 On Adultery And Divorce
Matthew 5:27-32 (Sermon on the Mount)
-"You have heard that it was said, "You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. “You shall not commit adultery.” Highlight. Adultery was punishable by death according to the Old Testament law.
We find Matthew comparing Moses and Jesus again. Jesus said, “You have heard it said in the Old Testament law that you shall not commit adultery, BUT I say to you.” Then Jesus, the New Moses, the New Moral Teacher, on the New Mountain, gives a new morality for his disciples.
“Whoever looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus sharpens the law, and no one can obey. No one can say, “I can do what Jesus taught.” His teachings are one octave too high for us. Once again, it seems that this teaching is another form of Aramaic hyperbole/overstatement that is not to be taken literally, but is to be taken fundamentally. What is the fundamental truth that we are to learn from Jesus’ teaching about lust?
Sexual lust is common to all human beings and is enormously deadly. Adultery is a sin of behavior but lust is a common sin of the heart. We disciples who follow the Way need to know that lust is a deeper sin for us than adultery. Lust can lead to dissatisfaction in one’s marriage and eventually to adultery. Sins of the heart become sins of behavior. Lust can become a deep-seated mental addiction that rules a person’s secret life. Lust can rule people and lead to unhealthy decisions, behaviors and life styles.
A question is asked: How many of you are guilty of adultery? No one at church ever admits it publicly. A second question, how many of you men are guilty of lust? How many of you remember President Jimmy Carter’s admission to lust to Playboy magazine? In other words, all men (I can’t speak for women) experience lust but not all married men have had affairs, not by a long shot. In other words, Jesus, in his new moral code, does not focus on the sins of a few (adultery) but focuses on the sins of all (lust).
How are we as Christians going to deal with the sexual lust that lives deep within us?
-If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. “If you eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” Highlight. Here again is another example of exaggeration or hyperbole in order to make a point. We Christians know that our hearts can look lustfully at a person of the opposite sex (and greedily at someone else’s possessions.) Jesus is interested in healing our inner hearts so that we are not dominated by unhealthy sexual desires or covetous desires.
Circle the word, “hell.” Most Christians know to interpret the concept of “tearing your eye out and throwing it away” as Aramaic hyperbole. Perhaps we should also interpret the concept of “hell” as Aramaic hyperbole. It is easy to take the concept of “hell” literally and at the same time to take the concept of “cutting out your eye and throwing it away” symbolically. It seems that there is an inconsistency to take the concept of “hell” literally and “cutting our eyes out” symbolically. It seems this whole section of Scripture is filled with Aramaic hyperbole, including both “hell” and “tearing your eye out.”
-And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” Highlight. Here again is another example of Aramaic exaggeration or hyperbole in order to make a statement. Our hands can get us into trouble sexually, stealing, hitting, pointing, insulting. Our human behaviors become addictive and need to be reformed.
The problem is with both the heart and hands. The sins of the heart and hands can become addictive and repetitive. Even so, the origin of the sin is not in the hands but in the heart and head. Jesus was dealing with human hearts and human hands, the inner attitude and outer action.
Notice that the same theme and word-picture is also in Matthew 18:8-9 and adds the image of a foot causing a person to sin. Again, feet don’t cause sin, but the human heart causes feet to go in sinful directions.
Circle the word, “hell.” We know to interpret the concept of cutting off your right hand and throwing it away as Aramaic hyperbole. Perhaps we should also interpret the concept of “hell” as Aramaic hyperbole. It is easy to take the concept of “hell” literally and at the same time to take the concept of “cutting off your right hand and throwing it away” symbolically.
In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, we have seen several examples of Jesus’ teaching by use of Aramaic hyperbole. His listeners knew better than to take his words literally. They took his words fundamentally, seriously, and knew the meaning behind the words.
-"It was also said, "Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Here again, Jesus begins with the same parallel teaching. “You have heard it said in the Old Testament law that whoever divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce, BUT I say to you.” Then Jesus, the New Moses, gives a new moral law for his disciples.
“Divorce.” Highlight. Verse 31. The Old Testament allows divorce.
“But whomever divorces his wife makes her an adulteress, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Mark and Luke. Again, as with the other previous passages, this appears to be another example of Aramaic hyperbole and exaggeration in order to make a point. What is the point? Divorce is strongly discouraged among Jesus’ disciples. Divorce was common in the Jewish world. Women were regarded as nothing more than property in Jesus’ day. Jesus’ teaching was enormously radical for his disciple to hear.
“Except on the ground of unchastity.” Only Matthew. Highlight. This is called the “Matthew exception.” The rule of Jesus about divorce is so strict and harsh for his disciples and his Jewish community, that the rule was softened by Jesus through Matthew. Compare this teaching with Mark and Luke and you see a blank space in each of their columns. Mark and Luke retain the total exactitude regarding divorce and there are no exceptions or grounds for divorce.
Turn to page 215 and examine Matthew 19:9, Mark 2:2-12 and Luke 16:18. Here again, on page 215, Mark and Luke give no exceptions to the rule of the kingdom: no divorce. A person can take this teaching literally, or, as with the previous teachings, a person can try to discern the inner meaning of this hyperbolic language. What is its meaning? Divorce is strongly discouraged in the New Testament community of Christians. A husband and wife are to try to solve their problems between themselves other than through divorce.
Closely examine page 215, Matthew 19:10-12. Verse 11, “Not all people can receive this saying but only those to whom it is given.” Verse 12, “A person who is able to receive this, let him/her receive it.” In other words, we are to attempt to find what we believe is the inner message and meaning of this teaching for our own lives. These verses are a clear indication that the harshness and literalism of Mark and Luke were softened in Matthew’s gospel.
These verses, Matthew 19:10-12, need to be carefully read when we are interpreting Jesus’ teachings about marriage and divorce in the Sermon on the Mount or in Mark 10:2-12.
There are no Lucan parallels concerning lust and Luke has a shorter parallel concerning marriage.
We need to remember that Jesus’ teaching about divorce is in this section of the Sermon on the Mount contains numerous Aramaic hyperbole. So often, well-meaning Christians interpret Jesus’ words about divorce (and hell) literally but interpret Jesus’ other teachings about being angry and going to hell, cutting out eyes, off arms, off feet symbolically. Such well-meaning Christians take Jesus’ teachings about divorce literally and the neighboring teachings about anger and lust symbolically.
It is a thesis of this course that whenever a Christian interprets these teachings in the Sermon on the Mount literally, he/she misunderstands Jesus’ teachings.
How do you interpret and apply Jesus' teachings about divorce to your life and the lives of your friends?
The gospel text for Pentecost 18B, Mark 10:2-16, begins here:
#252. On Divorce and Celibacy
Matthew 19:3-12, Mark 10:2-12, Luke 16:18
-Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" It’s the Pharisee again. As has been stated repeatedly in this course, that from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, they were out to “get Jesus” and have him killed. The Pharisees tested Jesus on many occasions e.g. in Mark 8:11; 10:2; 12:15. The Pharisees were constantly trying to test and trap Jesus in a theological mistake. The Pharisees were consistent. They were always trying to trap Jesus in an intellectual argument about how to interpret the Old Testament.
The issue of divorce was a “hot button” in Jewish society at that time. There were two schools of rabbis that had different opinions on marriage and divorce. The school of Shammi taught that the only basis of divorce was adultery; the school of Hillel was much more lenient in its interpretation of Jewish law. Husbands could use almost any excuse to get rid of a wife, including burning toast.
Like many cultures throughout the centuries, the issue of marriage and divorce was a relevant and “hot topic.”
-He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" Jesus was smart. Rather than answering the question, Jesus asked the Pharisees to first respond to the issue at hand.
They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her." Plain and simple. The Pharisees knew their Bible (the Old Testament) and they knew that Moses was supportive of divorce, and that divorce was common among Old Testament people.Yes, divorce was permissible in the Old Testament. Yes, the Pharisees knew the Old Testament law. Yes, the Pharisees knew how to “put away a woman.”
Deuteronomy 24:1-4, “Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house 2 and goes off to become another man's wife. 3 Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); 4 her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession.”
-But Circle the word, “but.” As in Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, we first hear of Moses’ position and then we hear Jesus’ position on a given matter. As in the Sermon on the Mount, we are going to hear Jesus’ new word, his new moral guidelines, his new law for the new covenant people.
Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. Circle the words, “your” and “you.” Because of YOUR hardness of heart, Moses wrote this commandment FOR YOU. Constantly in his confrontations with the Pharisees, Jesus gets into their faces and is very conflictive towards them. As we later listen to Jesus’ teachings about the Pharisees in Matthew 23 and the seven “woes against the Pharisees,” he will constantly be using the pronoun, YOU!!! Jesus did not back away from the intellectual, spiritual and theological battle with the self righteous and phony Pharisees.
We have previously studied the whole concept of “hardness of heart.” The Pharisees were certainly personifications of people whose hearts had become hardened to God and God’s ways. The Pharisees symbolized the hardness of heart that happens in so many people today.
Today, during the decay and dissolution of marriages, hearts can become very hard. A pastor works very closely with couples who are going through divorces, and it is amazing how hard hearts can become in some people who are experiencing the trauma of divorce. Hearts can become so hardened during some divorces that reason and rationality often fly out the window.
-But from the beginning of creation, "God made them male and female.' Jesus went to the time in history BEFORE Moses, to the creation, to the time in history before the Mosiac Law was given. The Apostle Paul used the same reasoning when he compared the faith of Abraham to the law/legalism of Moses. The faith of Father Abraham existed before the Law of Moses and the legalisms of the Old Testament. Abraham takes precedence over Moses. Faith over legalistic obedience. Genesis before Exodus. Here in this moment, Jesus went to the dawn of creation to substantiate his argument.
-"For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a precise quotation of Genesis 2:24.
Leave father and mother. At the heart of all good marriages from the dawn of time has been the awareness of “leaving a father and mother.” To establish a good and new home, there needs to be a break with one’s past home, the patterns of the home, the rituals of the home.
Be joined. The man and the woman, the husband and the wife, are to be joined, brought together, intricately connected, united, and attached to one another. There is never a great marriage without this bond, this joining, this union.
Two become one. The two shall become one, one flesh, one body, one sexually, in the intimacy of sexual and physical union. There is never a great marriage without this physical bonding and oneness.
These three themes (leaving father/mother, being joined, becoming one) were essential in all great marriages at the dawn of time and are still essential in today modern world many centuries later.
This was and is the original grand vision for marriage in the Garden of Eden. A man and a woman were to become one person emotionally, physically, spiritually. This vision of oneness is expressed three times in the Bible: in Genesis, in the teachings of Jesus and in the teachings of the Apostle Paul. Jesus shocked his world with his vision of oneness for a man and a woman. It still shocks the world today that such fine, God-pleasing miracles of love between a man and a woman, can and do occur in today’s fast paced society.
It is indeed a beautiful miracle when you witness a man and a woman becoming one in marriage. A man and a woman can become unified in spirit, in friendship, in decision making, in living life, in parenting. That does not mean that a man and a woman always agree with each other, nor does it mean that they have no conflicts about important and unimportant issues. But underneath the conflicts and tensions, a man and woman can findthe oneness and harmony that God designed for them. Even in today’s world.
-' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Jesus adds to the creation story by repeating the theme of “they are no longer two but one flesh.” At the heart of all great marriages, there is a oneness that occurs between a man and a woman. The Apostle Paul called this oneness a mystery.
Jesus stated this idea twice. It must have been important to him.
-Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." Jesus then added this significant sentence to Genesis 2:24.
It is God who has facilitated and made this union. It is more than a man and a woman simply deciding that they have sufficient compatibility or that their parents facilitated the union by means of a matchmaker. In this text, Jesus adds and emphasizes that it was and still is God who has joined this couple together.
Jesus then adds another crucial component: “What God has joined together, LET NO ONE SEPARATE.”
These last words were shocking to the disciples. Jesus again went beyond the Old Testament teachings and was giving a new moral law, a new moral code for his followers: that they were not to separate from their wives.
-Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. It is as if the disciples wanted to ask Jesus privately what he meant. The disciples were confused and amazed by what Jesus had said. His teaching about marriage was so contradictory to the Old Testament and what they had learned from their rabbis about the easy availability of divorce. They were confused by what Jesus had taught with his vision of oneness for a marriage, and so they asked him privately what he meant by his teaching
-He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; “Ouch,” thought the disciples. Jesus was strongly against divorce. It appears that the disciples took Jesus’ words literally because of their immediate reaction: “If that is so, then it is not wise (for us disciples) to marry.” These words were shocking, outrageous, scandalous. These words were entirely new thoughts for the disciples and anyone else who lived by the moral code of the Old Testament.
-and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." If a woman divorces her husband and marries another, he also commits adultery.
In other words, there was to be no divorce.
The Gospel of Mathew softens Jesus’ strict teaching with his “Matthean exception” in Matthew 19:9, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery." Matthew’s later insertion to the Gospel of Mark, “except for unchastity,” moderates Jesus’ stringent teaching.
The Gospel of Matthew also tempers Jesus’ teaching with the following insertion: “10 His disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry." 11 But he said to them, "Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. … Let anyone accept this who can."
There are three sermons on marriage that are part of Pentecost 18B. It would be beneficial to read all of them.
How do you interpret this teaching of Jesus about anyone marrying a divorced person commits adultery?
It seems that the following verses about children fit more naturally in a sermon for Pentecost 16B and Mark 9:30-37 about “receiving a child receives me.”
Pentecost 16 Gospel Analysis
Jesus Loves All The Little Children of the World, Mark 9:30-37
Jesus Loves All The Little Children of the World , Mark 9:30-37
-People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.
-But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.
-Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it."
-And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
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