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Did Jesus Really Mean What He Said About Divorce?

In fact, many rabbis in Jesus’ day taught that a man could divorce his wife:

  • If she gave him a bad reputation
  • If she burned his toast
  • If she didn’t give him children
  • If she let his food spoil
  • If she “let herself go” physically
  • If she went in public with unkept hair
  • If she spoke to another man in the street
  • If she spoke disrespectfully about his parents in front of him
  • If she spoke loudly at home and the neighbors heard her

Jesus on Divorce: The Pharisees’ Questions

This loose perspective interpretation prevailed during Jesus’ day.

Consequently, when Jesus walked the streets he rubbed shoulders with women who were divorced, kicked out of their homes and often times forced into prostitution to support themselves and their children, all because of their husbands’ whims and power plays.

This “loose” interpretation seemingly allowed husbands to discard their wives at will.

It was in this cultural context that Jesus was approached by a group of Pharisees to see where he stood on the issue. Matthew 19:3-9 records the incident.

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

Basically, they were asking, “Do you adopt this ‘loose’ interpretation of God’s word?”

This was like standing on the podium of the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting and being asked, “Do you believe Americans have the right to carry concealed weapons?”

His reply was telling,

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Well, the Pharisees fired back,

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus angrily responded,

“Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”