In the Fulness of Time/Part 119

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2009
Representatives of the Pharisees continue their verbal attacks of Jesus, ?testing him.? This time it had to do with the question of divorce, but they did not ask whether divorce is allowable; rather, when it is allowable. This specific way they phrased their question shows their ulterior motives.

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Christ’s Discussion Concerning Divorce. Matthew 19:1-12

The First Question: When is Divorce Legitimate? Matthew 19:1-6

Mt. 19:1-3 “And it came to pass that, when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and came into the borders of Judea beyond the Jordan. And great multitudes followed him, and he healed them there. The Pharisees also came to him, testing him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?”

When he left Galilee, Jesus took the route to the east of the Jordan River and came into Perea. Whether He purposely avoided the way through Samaria, or whether He deliberately went through Perea is not explained. What the text does tell us is that He had an extensive healing ministry to “great multitudes.” At any rate, representatives of the Pharisees managed to follow Him and continued their verbal attack “testing him.” This time it had to do with the question of divorce, but they did not ask whether divorce is allowable; rather, when it is allowable. This specific way they phrased their question shows their ulterior motives. It is rather common knowledge that the two major schools of rabbinical teaching were those of Shammai and Hillel. Shammai, the conservative, interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1 to mean that only some indecency found in the wife was cause for a bill of divorcement; Hillel, on the other hand, was the liberal, who included almost any cause. Carson has a most insightful presentation of these two groups:

Shammai… interpreted the expression to refer to gross indecency, though not necessarily adultery; Hillel extended the meaning beyond this sin to all kinds of real or imagined offenses, including an improperly cooked meal. On any understanding of what Jesus says in the following verses, he agrees with neither Shammai nor Hillel, for even though the school of Shammai was stricter than Hillel, it permitted remarriage when the divorce was not in accord with its own Halakah (rules of conduct)… and if Jesus restricts grounds for divorce to sexual indecency… then he differs fundamentally from Shammai. (Carson, Donald A. “Matthew.” Expositors’ Bible Commentary. Editor, Frank E. Gaebelein. Vol. 8, p. 411. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984, 12 Vols.)

Thus, the Pharisees must have been sure that they finally had pushed Jesus into a corner. Did He agree with Hillel? Then He was contradicting His own teaching of a righteousness which exceeded that of the scribes and the Pharisees. Did He espouse Shammai’s philosophy? Then He was discounting the Law of Moses which He said that He came to fulfill! It has been alluded to by several writers that the Pharisees had remembered the statement of Jesus from Matthew 5:32, that there was only one exception which permitted divorce, namely, “the cause of fornication” (porneia). How would Jesus respond? Indeed, how could He respond without being ensnared in their trap?

Mt. 19:4-6 “And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read that he who made them in the beginning, made them male and female; And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh? Wherefore, they are no more two, but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”

Instead of becoming entrapped, Jesus rose above all their human disputing, returning to the original account of marriage in the creation story of Genesis 1-2.

First, Jesus affirms that man and woman were created as male and female at the beginning; there is no evolution. The beginning was a time of creation, and no so-called “scientific” explanation has ever been forthcoming to solve this basic problem of how the sexes could have evolved, not only in humans, but in all the animals, birds and fish as well.

Second, God never intended for a male to be married to a male, nor a female to another female, or for such couples to have homosexual relations. This is enlarged upon in such chapters as Leviticus 18-20 in the Old Testament, and in Romans 1 in the New Testament. God’s only plan was for a man to leave father and mother and cleave to his wife.

Third, this marriage formed such a union that “they two shall be one flesh.” After quoting this in verse 5, Jesus immediately repeated it in verse 6: “Wherefore they are no more two, but one flesh.”

Fourth, this joining together was made by God and should not be “put asunder” by man. No law has been instituted, even including the Law of Moses, which supersedes this creation law, and Christ will affirm this in verse 8, in spite of the Mosaic “bill of divorcement” of Deuteronomy 24:1. Keep in mind, however, that the command of Christ, “What, therefore, God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” is just that, a command, but not impossible to break. Man has been breaking this command by putting asunder the marriage union through divorce. It is not possible to calculate how much heartache and ruin has come to families because of this failure to obey this command; but “in the fulness of time” it will all be made plain.

Read Part 120

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