The 500th Anniversary of the New Testament in the Language of the People 1522 – 2022
The Bible in 3-D
Jesus Teaches about Divorce
What does the Bible say about marriage and divorce?
Matthew 19: 1-12 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
3 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?”
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 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’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
Christ with the Woman Taken in Adultery by Guercino (1621)
Jesus was in the temple teaching when a group of scribes and Pharisees interrupted his session in an attempt to entrap him as a lawbreaker. They presented to Him a woman, accusing her of committing adultery, claiming she was caught in the very act. They ask Jesus whether the punishment for someone like her should be stoning, as stated in Mosaic Law. But when the woman’s accusers continue their challenge, he states that the one who is without sin is the one who should cast the first stone. Jesus asks the woman if anyone has condemned her. She answers that no one has condemned her. Jesus says that he, too, does not condemn her, and tells her to go and sin no more.
Martin Luther said, “Matthew 19:9 is a blunt, clear, plain text.” The purpose of this blog is to engage the reader in thinking and discussion. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
People and religious institutions have diverse views on marriage, divorce and sexual behavior. Martin Luther regarded marriage and divorce as civil matters but recognized the importance of the blessing of the church and the power of forgiveness and faith within the home.
Most of the church teachers including Augustine, Tertullian, Ambrose, Aquinas, and Gregory the Great considered sexual expression with any passion to be a “sin” and not much different from adultery, while virginity and celibacy were highly honored. The culture before the Reformation understood marriage for the procreation of children.
A contribution of Martin Luther and the Reformation is the emphasis placed on the family, the enjoyment of sexual relations and love, the importance of public engagements and stating the marriage vows before God at the altar. Adultery and fornication were reasons for a divorce. Below are excerpts from Martin Luther’s writing in 1522 on marriage.
“Those who want to be Christians are not to be divorced, but each to retain his or her spouse, and bear and experience good and evil with the same, although he or she may be strange, peculiar and faulty; or, if there be a divorce, that the parties remain unmarried; and that it will not do to make a free thing out of marriage, as if it were in our power to do with it, changing and exchanging, as we please; but it is just as Jesus says: ” What God has joined together let not man put asunder.”
“Is there then no reason for which there may be separation and divorce between man and wife? Answer: Christ states here (Matthew 19:31-32) and in Matthew 19: 9, only this one, which is called adultery, and he quotes it from the law of Moses, which punishes adultery with death. Since now death alone dissolves marriages and releases from the obligation, an adulterer is already divorced not by man but by God himself, and not only cut loose from his spouse, but from this life. For by adultery he has divorced himself from his wife, and has dissolved the marriage, which he has no right to do; and he has thereby made himself worthy of death, in such a way that he is already dead before God, although the judge does not take his life.”
“Because now God here divorces, the other party is fully released, so that he or she is not bound to keep the spouse that has proved unfaithful, however much he or she may desire it.”
“For we do not order or forbid this divorcing, but we ask the government to act in this matter, and we submit to what the secular authorities ordain in regard to it. Yet, our advice would be to such as claim to be Christians, that it would be much better to exhort and urge both parties to remain together, and that the innocent party should become reconciled to the guilty (if humbled and reformed) and exercise forgiveness in Christian love; unless no improvement could be hoped for, or the guilty person who had been pardoned and restored to favor persisted in abusing this kindness, and still continued in leading a public, loose life, and took it for granted that one must continue to spare and forgive him. . . .”
“Here you should be guided by the words of St. Paul, I Corinthians 7 [:4-5], “The husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does; likewise the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does. Do not deprive each other, except by agreement,” etc. Notice that St. Paul forbids either party to deprive the other, for by the marriage vow each submits his body to the other in conjugal duty. When one resists the other and refuses the conjugal duty she is robbing the other of the body she had bestowed upon him. This is really contrary to marriage, and dissolves the marriage….”
Excerpts from ‘The Estate of Marriage,’ written in 1522 in ‘Luther’s Works,’ Vol. 45, edited by Walter I. Brandt pg. 38-46