The question about Jesus’ stand on divorce came up already in Matthew 5:31-32 –
31 “You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ 32 But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.”
At that the time a question was raised concerned the fairness of a divorced and remarried woman being considered an adulteress. I answered the question in a reply to the questioner. As I referred to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19, one of the Journey reading passages for this week, I think it is appropriate to “republish” that reply here for others to read.
This is a challenging passage about which entire books have been written. It is difficult to try and give a “simple” answer, but I will make an attempt at it. In order to understand Jesus’ teaching here, I think you need to understand it in the context of God’s attitude about marriage as well as Jesus’ purposes in this passage.
The world cannot grasp the concept of God loving us unconditionally and eternally (Jeremiah 31:3). To illustrate it, he gave us the marriage relationship as a visible illustration of this covenant relationship. Our marriage vows to each other reflect His promises to His people. Our marriage relationship, then, becomes the lens through which the world sees and understands God: it either magnifies, minimizes or distorts. God hates divorce because it does not properly reflect to the world God’s attitude and actions toward his people.
In Matt. 5:32, Jesus was simply reasserting God’s standard. He gives a more detailed explanation in Matthew 19 – “And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (19:4-6).
Jesus goes on to explain that the law of divorce was permitted because of the people’s refusal to obey God’s original intent and was necessary in order to protect the unprotected women who could have been sent away with no legal covering. “He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.“ And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (19:8,9)
Why is remarriage considered adultery? Because God considers the marriage covenant binding until death, though we are legally permitted to divorce, God still recognizes the original marriage promise. God does not change his standard because we change our ours. He doesn’t soften his stance in order to make us feel less uncomfortable. God still hates divorce (Malachi 2:16).
That being said, neither divorce or remarriage are unpardonable sins. As with any other sin, God is gracious and completely forgives the repentant. We don’t have to live in shame or perpetual guilt. I John 1:9 says, “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”
I pray that this answers some of your questions.
Any thoughts? Does this feel uncomfortable or condemnatory? Is it a satisfying explanation or does it just raise more questions?