Matthew 19:1-12Theme: An unbreakable covenant.This week’s lessons teach us about the permanence of marriage. LessonJesus did not answer the Pharisees’ question directly at first. Later he did (in verse 9). But here, instead of allowing the matter to be debated on their level – they were asking about the minimal grounds for divorce – Jesus raised the discussion to the level of God’s original intention in marriage, directing his questioners to the first and second chapters of the Bible where the institution of the marriage relationship is found.
The first text Jesus cited was Genesis 1:27. “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator made them ‘male and female’?” (v. 5). The implication is that God instituted marriage by the creation of man in two genders, male and female, and that the woman was created for the man just as, in a corresponding way, the man was given to the women.
The second text was Genesis 2:24. This is part of a longer passage that reads: “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’… So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
“The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman,” for she was taken out of man.’
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:18, 21-25).
These words indicate that marriage was instituted by God for man’s well being and that the union that makes a man and a woman one flesh is to be permanent throughout both their lives – “‘til death us do part,” as one form of the marriage service states it. Therefore, Jesus was standing against the common, lax divorce practices of his day and for Scripture when he taught that marriage was to be a permanent institution.
As I read Matthew’s account, I suspect that the Pharisees anticipated an answer like this because they were ready at once with a follow-up question. “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” (v. 7). They were talking about Deuteronomy 24:1-4, of course, and what they were suggesting is that Jesus must be wrong in his interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, since later in the law, in Deuteronomy, Moses “commanded” divorce.
They were not reading their proof text correctly. They were reading it like this: “If a man marries a wife and she displeases him (for some reason), he shall write her a bill of divorce and send her away.” But that is not what Moses said. Moses did not command divorce; he only recognized that it was happening and tried to regulate it. As Jesus says, he permitted divorce because of the hardness of the people’s hearts. What the text actually says is something like this: “If a man marries a wife and she does not find favor in his eyes… and he writes her a bill of divorce and sends her away… and she marries another man… and her second husband also writes her a bill of divorce and sends her away, then the first husband must not marry her again.” The text says nothing about a divorce being allowed, only about the sin of remarriage after the woman has been joined to another man.
So far so good. But there is more to be discussed.
What are the implications of the Old Testament text Jesus used?
How did the Pharisees inaccurately interpret Deuteronomy 24:1-4?
Exciting changes are coming to Think and Act Biblically! James Boice’s ministry continues today in multiple media formats, and the Think and Act Biblically devotional is only one. Starting Monday, July 7th, we will be syncing the radio broadcast The Bible Study Hour with this devotional. That means that the message you can listen to on Sunday will be expanded and further exegeted throughout the following week. Keep your eyes open for that change, and listen to The Bible Study Hour!