Scripture and Marriage – Part II – Dr. Dennis Sheppard

In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus does a marvelous side-step and turns their question on its head. Jesus is in effect saying that they are both wrong because they started the debate with the question of divorce rather than with Biblical understanding of what marriage is supposed to be. Jesus then quotes from Genesis 2:24, and added the prohibition that what God joins together human beings should not divide. Jesus is therefore indicating that marriage was both a physical and spiritual relationship. It is a lifetime covenant between a man and a woman and God and therefore is a sacred relationship and not just a human one. (In Mark’s version Jesus reacts in the style of a wisdom teacher and asks what Moses said about divorce in the law.)

In response to Jesus’ compelling words the Pharisees posed the obvious question, if marriage is so sacred why did Moses (the great Law Giver) permit divorce as long as a man gave his wife a “Writ of Divorce? Jesus explained that while it was not what God intended, Moses made a concession to the hard hearts of the people. You see the men were going to divorce their wives anyway and the “Writ” was the only protection the women had. Without that writ to prove they were divorced they could not marry again.

Jesus also made it clear that divorce should not happen where two people are one unless there is unfaithfulness. The word used here is the Greek word “porneia” which can mean any moral failure including fornication, unfaithfulness, incest, sodomy, and adultery. The main idea being that if one spouse has sexual relations (and that includes any sex act) with someone other than their own spouse and shatters the unity of the marriage then divorce may be an acceptable option. However, the Biblical teachings on marriage make it clear though that unfaithfulness does not end a marriage people end marriages. In other words, unless two people are willing work together toward healing and restoring the unity of the marriage covenant then the unity of the marriage is irreparably broken. One person cannot make a marriage work no matter how hard they may try.

Jesus was saying, that when a person divorces their spouse, just to be with someone else, then they commit unfaithfulness of the highest sort because they are going against God’s intent for marriage. He is not saying, that when a divorce person remarries it is automatically adultery, although it has wrongly interpreted this way. Jesus does not under any circumstances condemn divorce or remarriage. He rather seeks to correct the notion that divorce is an acceptable way to get rid of your spouse so you can live with someone else. Marriage is to be taken seriously and sacredly but God does not condemn us for failure; God forgives, God heals, and God restores.


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