Sermon: Divorce and Remarriage
Scripture: Matthew 5:31-32
In this week’s lessons, we look at the subjects of divorce and remarriage, and learn what the biblical standards are for those who are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Theme: Deuteronomy 24
Yesterday, we concluded with the first reason why the exception clause of fornication in both Matthew 19 and Matthew 5 does not refer to adultery.
The second reason why this must be the meaning of the passages in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 is that each is in essence an explanation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, which teaches precisely what we have already been saying.
The passage in Deuteronomy is the only statute of divorce to be found in the Old Testament, and it was the one upon which the Pharisees based their far more liberal standards. It says in part, “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her; then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife” (vv. 1-2). In characteristic fashion the people of Christ’s day had become most punctilious about the “bill of divorcement” but had become entirely liberal in their interpretation of the crucial word “uncleanness.” Thus, there were scribes who taught that the reference could be to so trivial a thing as spoiling the dinner, being troublesome or quarrelsome, or speaking disrespectfully of the man’s parents (Hillel). This Christ clearly rejected.
Actually, this is not the meaning of the passage at all. The meaning is clear from the immediate context. In the first place, the word uncleanness is actually the word for nakedness or nudity; and a host of passages show that nakedness was always associated with sex or, in this case, with its impurity. Moreover, it is evident that there is no reference here to adultery, for adultery was punishable by death if it was proven. In that case, there would quite obviously be no need for a divorce. What is uncleanness then? Well, if it is a sexual sin in the woman and if it is not adultery (which would be a sexual sin after marriage), clearly it must be a sexual sin before marriage—in other words, fornication. Thus, Jesus was obviously reinforcing this Old Testament teaching.
Now someone who knows the Bible well may object, “But isn’t it true that fornicators were also punished by death in Israel?” The answer is that although this was the punishment for some types of fornication, it was not the punishment for all. Consequently, there would be some girls in Israel who were not virgins at the time of their marriage. If there had been uncleanness during the engagement, the penalty was death just as it would have been for the married woman, for the engagement was considered nearly as binding as the marriage. However, if the girl had been attacked or had been unchaste before there had been an engagement, then she was not executed and, although there were penalties, she was free to marry.
It is worth noting that Joseph took advantage of the legal distinction when he determined to put Mary away privately after he discovered she was pregnant, rather than have her stoned as an adulteress.
Against this background, it is evident that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 only refers to a case in which a bride or her family has deceived the husband, and it grants divorce in this case and in this case only. In all other cases (and in this one also, according to Jesus, if the man acts as God would want him to act), the standard of marriage is total fidelity and this regardless of the actions of the other partner. In other words, the standard for God’s people is to be the love of God for Israel, which is a love in spite of infidelity, or the love of Christ for His Church, which is the love of one who loves us in spite of our unfaithfulness or our running away.
How had Jewish teachers gone on to expand the meaning of “uncleanness” from Deuteronomy 24?
From the lesson, how is this passage explained?
What is the standard to be for how Christians handle this difficult subject?
Application: Are you or someone very close to you going through a difficult time in your marriage? What does the Bible teach about how you are to act in this situation? How does knowing of God’s love in Christ for sinners determine how you regard and treat someone who has sinned against you in a serious way?