Friday, July 03, 2009

Matthew 5:31–32

Matthew 5:31–32 (ESV): Divorce


In this passage, Jesus is continuing with his sermon, by instructing his listeners on divorce. He tells them that even though the law permits them to divorce, they should not do so. That a man divorcing his wife for any grounds other than sexual immorality is causing her to commit adultery, and that any man who marries a divorced woman is committing adultery.


Although the passage is worded in a gendered way—it talks about a man divorcing a woman, not a woman divorcing a man, and it talks about it being adultery if a man marries a divorced woman, but it doesn’t mention it being adultery if a woman marries a divorced man—I think that’s because of the culture/society at the time, and not because it’s intrinsically different standards between men and women. A woman wouldn’t divorce a man, at that time, but nowadays, either a woman or a man can initiate a divorce. I’m willing to be corrected, but I don’t think things are different between the genders, when it comes to divorce.

I don’t know if this would have been a harder teaching from Jesus than some of the other things he’d been saying. Divorce in his day (according to the ESV Study Bible) was pretty common, and, as far as the Jews knew, was acceptable. But Jesus tells them that it is not; that with one exception—sexual immorality—divorce is wrong. And if a man wrongly divorced a woman, and she remarried, which would be considered adultery, notice that Jesus is blaming the original husband for that divorce—he is “causing” the adultery.

I should also point out that even though Jesus gives “sexual immorality”—in this case meaning adultery, although it can also refer to prostitution, incest, or fornication—as the only valid reason for a divorce, he doesn’t say that you have to divorce someone if they cheat on you. The main point that Jesus is making is that marriage is instituted by God, and that it should not be torn apart, except in absolute dire circumstances. I think it’s safe to say that He would prefer that a husband and wife work things out, in the case of adultery, rather than get divorced, if they can. However, adultery is a very powerful betrayal, and not everyone can get past something like that. Which is probably part of the reason why God keeps using adultery as a metaphor when His people betray Him.

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