Jesus on Divorce and Remarriage

Matthew 19:1-12

Jerry A Collins




v     Is it a sin to get or be divorced?

v     How does God view a marriage?

v     Is remarriage without sin ever a possibility?


When it comes to this topic, a Bible student has no chapter in the Bible that completely spells out the subject. Rather, we have individual discussions of parts of this topic that come up in certain settings. So we must correlate the material from other passages to harmonize the full teaching. This passage is one of those passages to be included in the teaching of the Bible on this subject. In this passage Jesus sets forth several points of truth that encompass God’s view of marriage, divorce, remarriage, & singleness. That makes this passage fundamental to our understanding this teaching. Matthew lays out the discussion through three responses of Jesus, each made in answer to two questions by the Pharisees and one conclusion drawn by His disciples vs 3, 7, & 10. The motivation for the discussion is to test Jesus vs 3. They already tried this concerning His deity in 16:1 and will do it again concerning the greatest of the laws of Moses in 22:35. The question of the Pharisees was anything but sincere—they were asking it to test him; it was sinister. Jesus was now in the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas (i.e., Judea and beyond the Jordan) vs 1 and it is likely that the Pharisees were hoping he might answer the question of divorce in a way similar to John the Baptist and so suffer the same fate as John, i.e., death at the hands of Herod (cf. Mat_14:1-12). The ideas of Jesus and his enemies are poles apart with no hope of reconciliation between them. The tension is mounting with Jesus and the religious leaders on a collision course-they wanting to get rid of Jesus and Jesus knowing He came to die at their hands. Jesus answer will not be on the basis of rabbinic custom and the debate over Deu_24:1, but rather from the account of creation and God's original design (NET Bible).  


The Pharisees question Jesus 3 Is it

lawful to divorce for any and every reason? These are devout religious leaders seeking to guide the people to obey the Law of Moses. These are shrewd of course and capable of bringing what seems an innocent enquiry to Jesus. It is a general question of the legality of divorce but also worded to reflect current debate for any cause at all? In rabbinical teaching in the Talmud a rabbi says ‘a bad wife is like leprosy to her husband. What is the remedy? Let him divorce her and be cured of the leprosy.’ Another says ‘If a man has a bad wife it is a religious duty to divorce her.’ Apparently there were teachers who promoted divorce for almost any reason since Deut 24:1 said when finding some indecent thing in her, which they interpreted as whatever displeased the husband about her. It could not be adultery though, since the penalty for that was death Deut 22:22.

Jesus says divorce is out of harmony with God’s will 4-6

Jesus takes them back to creation to explain why divorce is not in God’s plan. He says at least three things here:

(1) Marriage is grounded in creation making God its originator vs 4. This is obviously the divine intent.

(2) God ordained the unity of the man and woman as one flesh vs 5 Gen 1:17. So God’s plan is to unite them together.

(3) Since marriage is  God’s  doing the divine intent to bring & keep them together must not be violated vs 6. A marriage can be dissolved but if it is it violates the will of God. We must recognize divorce for what it is—either rebellion against or a failure to do God’s will. Marriage is not just a violation of an agreement two people made. All of this answers their question with a ‘No’.


They ask why then was divorce permitted by Moses 7 Now they pit Jesus against Moses the great Law-giver. This follow-up question is really asking ‘if divorce is a violation of the will of the creator, then why did Moses permit it?’ They are referring to Deut 24:1-4 where Moses did not command nor condone divorce but allowed it for some ‘indecent thing’. Actually he rules that if a man married and the woman did not find favor in his site and he divorced her and her second husband did the same thing then she could not remarry her first husband. This is called ‘damage control’. The husbands were already violating the divine standard so what did they expect him to do?

Jesus says divorce was permitted because of hard hearts 8-9 By the way, this discussion affirms the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy. They had lost their spiritual perception. The whole idea of Moses permitting divorce was to control the damage violating the divine standard was causing vs 8. Malachi was clear on God’s thinking about divorce when God said ‘I hate divorce’ 2:13-16. In addition, Jesus says whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery vs 9. The problem with divorce is that it most likely leads to remarriage. There may be some lesser-evil reason for a divorce-someone’s life is in danger or abandonment. The fact that a person got married in the first place shows he/she are not celibate, so divorce will probably lead to remarriage. But remarriage after being divorced is committing adultery. Except in one case—except for immorality vs 9 also stated similarly in 5:31-32. This is porneia fornication but not adultery. There is a different word for adultery and you must be married to do that. So what is this porneia? Interestingly neither Luke 16:18 or Mark 10:1-12 give this exception. They only state clearly that anytime anyone divorces and remarries it is sin and the sin is adultery. If Matthew is giving an exception to that, then this would contradict what they said. We have to conclude that the three do not disagree. We cannot say that they assumed this exception because anyone reading only Mark and Luke would never have concluded that. A possible answer is that porneia is fornication, referring to a single unmarried person whose sexually active. Applying this to Matthew’s audience which is Jewish, a Jewish marriage included a betrothal period of about 1 year (Deut 22:25-27). During this time the couple is legally married though not yet physically consummated and it would take a bill of divorce to break. The best example is in Matt 1. Joseph and Mary were betrothed and she became pregnant via the HS. He was called her husband during this period and after discovering her pregnancy sought to divorce her—dissolve the legal contract since they had not consummated the marriage yet. When fornication was discovered in this context a partner would be free to divorce and remarry another. Mark and Luke did not include this since their audience was not Jewish.  


The disciples observe it would be better not to marry v 10 They thought marriage would be more appealing if it were easier to dissolve than this.

Jesus says celibacy is not for everyone 11-12 Not everyone can accept their statement—the idea that it is better not to marry—except those to whom it has been given. Not everyone can abstain from marriage but some do. It is those 1. Born that way from mothers womb possibly with gential deformities; 2. Those castrated; 3. Those who voluntarily renounced marriage for the higher purpose of God’s kingdom. So there is such a thing as voluntary celibacy and being born with a less active sex drive. Use it to not get married and to serve God. Don’t mistake it for homosexuality.

Genesis 2:24Describes the nature of marriage as a leaving, cleaving, one-flesh relationship. This is Gods idea of marriage. Most people who are asking the question, Is it okay to …” are asking how far can they get from Gods ideal without stepping over the line. Instead, ask how close we can get to Gods ideal.

Malachi 2:14, 16Describes marriage as a permanent covenant between the spouses and God. Thats why God says He hates divorce. Marriage is a covenant. Its a vow. When you get divorced, you break a vow you made before God.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4Describes the reality of divorce but does not give permission for divorce. Moses is not declaring that divorce is okay. He is simply describing the reality of it.

Luke 16:18Describes divorce and remarriage as adultery.

Mark 10:11-12Describes divorce and remarriage as adultery.

Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:1-2Describes divorce and remarriage as adultery but not for a non-consummated marriage which is ended for fornication during the betrothal.

1 Corinthians 7:10-11Describes a separation or divorce where the options are to remain single or be reconciled to your spouse.

1 Corinthians 7:26-27Tells us to remain as we aresingle, married, divorced, remarried.

Philippians 3:13Press on toward maturity in Christ (whatever your marital status is).