Wedged in between Jesus’ teaching on adultery/lust and oaths, are 2 verses on divorce.

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32)

Remember who was present during Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount? The disciples and the crowds, and part of the crowds were the religious elite, the Pharisees. According to one of my commentaries, at this point in Jesus ministry John had been put in prison and killed, at least in part for his public opinions on marriage and divorce, so the Pharisees had hoped to trap Jesus, too. They were trying to trick Jesus by having him choose sides in a theological issue.

In a time when women had little to no rights, men were divorcing their wives for just about any reason. And the Pharisees were no different. If the law was giving an inch, they were taking a mile. In Moses’ day and Jesus’ day, marriage was falling short of what God intended.

One man, one woman, in covenant together, for life.

While there was grace even within the law of divorce, it was being abused. There were times divorce was permissible, but much like in our current society, marriage was being entered into without a reverence for God’s design. Men in biblical times were breaking marriage vows with ease, rather than upholding their covenant with their wives.

And this not only belittled God’s design for marriage, it belittled God’s design for how women were to be treated.

Jesus was doing two things here:

  1. Protecting the marriage covenant.
  2. Protecting the wives who had little to no say in their own marriage.

Jesus was standing up for God’s original design, and he was standing up for women who would be tossed aside like someone’s property when divorced.

These 2 short verses on divorce are a rebuke to the men of that day who were flippant with God’s laws and marriage vows.

Divorce is devastating. For women in biblical times, and for some even today, the way society would’ve treated a divorced woman would have been worse than the way they treated a widow, for they would’ve been vulnerable and possibly shamed. Jesus was defending the outcast by proclaiming God’s word.

Marriage is complicated, divorce is messy, and I love the way Jesus, in just 2 short verses, can speak to the heart of the issue and come in defense of the weak.

  1. Read Matthew 19:1-9. List some of the things Jesus says about divorce.
  1. Read Deuteronomy 24:1-4. How do these verses relate to Jesus teaching on divorce?
  1. Have you personally, or do you know someone who’s been affected by divorce? If so, stop and pray for them now.


For more on marriage, divorce, and remarriage, visit The Well’s position paper on these issues.

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