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Mark 10:1-12 – What does Jesus think about divorce?

When I was in college, there were certain topics that could instantly start a debate that got everyone fired up. If you talked about what version of the Bible was best, everyone had an opinion. If you talked about Calvinism and Arminianism, you could have an argument that lasted for hours. Other topics were what type of music was acceptable to use in church, what your church government should look like, and there were many others. But there was one that most of us agreed about at first. That was what the Bible says about marriage and divorce.

When you look at what the Bible says about marriage and divorce, it is clear what God thinks about both. God wants marriages to last a lifetime and He hates divorce. We can read what the Bible says about these things, but what happens when your own marriage is falling apart? What happens when a friend or relative goes through a divorce? How do you apply what God says about divorce today when “according to the American Psychological Association, approximately 40-50% of first marriages end in divorce. The divorce rate for second marriages is even higher, with approximately 60-67% of second marriages ending in divorce.”6

What we talk about today may bring up bad memories of the past or even current difficulties you are facing. But in either case, let’s remember that God has our best in mind. He wants marriages to do well. But it will take some work and perseverance. So let’s keep that in mind as we consider what Jesus says in this chapter.

  1. A tricky question about divorce and remarriage (Mark 10:1-9)

    What does it say?

    Jesus left Capernaum for Judea on the other side of the Jordan River. While there, many people gathered to hear His teaching. The Pharisees asked Jesus a question to test His response. The question was whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Jesus responded by asking them what Moses had commanded in the Law. They replied that Moses permitted a man to dismiss his wife with a certificate of divorce. Jesus’ response to this was that Moses wrote this command because their hearts were hardened. From the beginning, God created male and female. Marriage happens when a man leaves his parents and is joined to his wife. The two people then become one flesh—no longer two people but one. Because of that no person should separate what God has joined together.

    You may notice that Jesus did not directly answer the Pharisees’ question. He made them look back to what the Bible said for the answer. That is important for any question. And then when they provided the answer, He told them three things. First, the commandment permitting divorce was a result of them being hard-hearted. Second, the true purpose for marriage was for a man and woman to become one. Third, the seriousness of divorce is that it is dividing something that God has created.

    What does it mean?

    What God allows is not always the best solution (Mark 10:5).

    This statement sounds wrong. How could anything that God allows be considered less than best. The answer to that objection involves comparing what God desires to what He allows. In this case, God desires for people to stay married. But He also made provision for divorce due to the hardness of people’s hearts.

    The passage referred to by the Pharisees is Deuteronomy 24:1-4. There Moses addressed what happens when a man divorces his wife and then she gets remarried. The process mentioned by Moses had three steps: (1) the man became displeased with his wife, (2) he gave her a certificate of divorce, and (3) she was sent out of his house.

    The Pharisees were testing Jesus with their question. I doubt that their motive was good. Instead, “they wanted Him to give a self-incriminating answer that would arouse opposition against Him. Perhaps He would contradict Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (cf. Mark 10:4). All Pharisees agreed that this Old Testament passage permitted divorce, that only the husband could initiate it, and that divorce implied the right to remarry. But they disagreed on the grounds of divorce. The strict view of Rabbi Shammai allowed divorce only if a wife were guilty of immorality; the lenient view of Rabbi Hillel allowed a husband to divorce his wife for almost any reason (cf. Mishnah Gittin 9. 10).”1

    The mention of the Mishnah made me want to look up what it says. The Mishnah is not the inspired Word of God like the Bible, but it does contain what these Pharisees had read before. So, let’s take a look at what it says. “Beit Shammai say: A man may not divorce his wife unless he finds out about her having engaged in a matter of forbidden sexual intercourse [devar erva], i.e., she committed adultery or is suspected of doing so, as it is stated: ‘Because he has found some unseemly matter [ervat davar] in her, and he writes her a scroll of severance’ (Deuteronomy 24:1). And Beit Hillel say: He may divorce her even due to a minor issue, e.g., because she burned or over-salted his dish, as it is stated: ‘Because he has found some unseemly matter in her,’ meaning that he found any type of shortcoming in her. Rabbi Akiva says: He may divorce her even if he found another woman who is better looking than her and wishes to marry her, as it is stated in that verse: ‘And it comes to pass, if she finds no favor in his eyes’ (Deuteronomy 24:1).”2 After reading this, you may better understand why the Pharisees were asking this question. There was such a wide variety of opinions about what the Mosaic Law said.

    It seems to me that, in Deuteronomy 24, God was allowing the Israelites to divorce but was not prescribing it. Grassmick writes that “Moses acknowledged the presence of divorce in Israel but did not institute or authorize it.”3 You might see the same thing in what the Bible says about slavery. It is not something that is promoted in the Bible but it is addressed. So in this case, what God allowed was the certificate of divorce but it was not what He intended to be the norm.

    What God intended has been clear since Creation (Mark 10:6-8).

    God’s intention for marriage is clear from what He caused to happen at Creation. When God created everything, He made a man and then a woman. His design was for the two of them to become one. They were to become one not only in the bedroom but also in other parts of their relationship. They were to become a closely-knit couple. This was God’s intention as seen in what He did for Adam and Eve.

    What God has done should be taken seriously (Mark 10:9).

    God’s initial design for marriage is clearly seen in what He did for Adam and Eve. The two of them were joined together by God. We see in that, that marriage between a man and woman is the result of God’s action. Because of that, it should be considered more than just a choice made by people. Marriage is something God invented and has a part in today. It should be taken seriously. With God’s part in mind, anyone who wants to separate a married couple should realize that divorce is something God is against.

    How does it apply?

    The fact that God allows us to make certain choices should not be misconstrued as what He desires for us to do.

    After looking over what Jesus says in this passage, do you get the idea that He liked divorce and was a proponent of it. Absolutely not. Jesus is for marriage and is against divorce. But divorce still happens. You may be someone who has been divorced and remarried. Or you may know someone who has been. It happens too often today. I certainly don’t want any of us to think that divorce is good, necessary or promoted by the Bible. It happens but it is not God’s plan or desire.

    The fact that divorce is so prevalent today should not change the way we think about marriage.

    As one commentator says, “Marriage is not a contract of temporary convenience which can be readily broken; it is a covenant of mutual fidelity to a lifelong union made before God (cf. Prov. 2:16-17; Mal. 2:13-16).”4 Because of this, we should encourage a young couple to think carefully before getting married. Are you on the same page spiritually? Are you both wanting to serve the Lord? Do you have the same purpose in life? Do you have similar beliefs and convictions? If these questions were asked before marriage, it would go a long way toward removing potential problems before things get difficult. But once you are married, it is permanent. So make good choices at the beginning.

    The fact that homosexual marriages happen today should not change our minds about what God created.

    “Marriage is to be a monogamous, heterosexual, permanent one-flesh relationship.”5 This is made clear by what Jesus said. God made them male and female period. Marriage was designed by God for one man and one woman. The fact that different kinds of relationship are being promoted today should have no bearing on what we view as God’s will. He is the One who created marriage and nobody else can change it.

    The fact that Jesus made an exception for immorality should not keep us from seeking reconciliation.

    In Matthew 5:31-32, Jesus gave only one accepted reason for divorce—sexual immorality. If unfaithfulness did happen, divorce was allowed but not required. It would be very difficult to handle something like that. But if it did happen, would divorce be the best solution? Or would it better to try love, patience, counseling, and reconciliation. If you look at God’s relationship to Israel over the years, He was patient and loving toward them when they went astray from Him. Read the prophecy of Hosea and look at how God talked to unfaithful Israel. We should try to follow His example.

    On one hand, I recognize that this is very easy to talk about. It is all academic until you have to apply it yourself. People who go through such things go through a range of emotions that are very difficult. But on the other hand, it is important to listen to what God says before it happens. Instead of rushing immediately into divorce and remarriage, consider what Jesus says here. God has designed marriage to be between one man and one woman for life. And if we follow His design, we will seek to keep our marriages together no matter what comes our way.

    I don’t get the idea that the Pharisees were really interested in Jesus’ answer. At worst, they were probably just testing Him with the intent of getting Him in trouble. At best, they were wanting someone to side with their particular view on the subject. But what Jesus gave them was more than they were asking for. He pointed them to God’s ultimate design for marriage—a one-flesh relationship between one man and one woman that should be protected at all costs.

  2. An honest question about divorce and remarriage (Mark 10:10-12)

    What does it say?

    At a later time when Jesus and the disciples were inside their house, the disciples asked Jesus about the same thing. Jesus told them that someone who divorces his wife and marries another woman is committing adultery against his first wife. He also said that a woman who divorced her husband and marries another man is committed adultery against her first husband.

    What do you notice in these verses? The disciples had heard everything Jesus said to the Pharisees, but they still had questions about marriage, divorce and remarriage. What Jesus taught them is an amplification of what He said earlier. Not only is divorce and remarriage a sin against God’s intended plan, it is also a sin against the other people involved.

    What does it mean?

    Divorce and remarriage is a difficult issue (Mark 10:10).

    Why is it that the disciples still had questions after Jesus had answered the Pharisees’ question? The problem is that we often have “what if” questions come to mind when we hear God’s straight-forward statements about difficult issues. The disciples probably knew of people who had been unhappily married and wondered if it was better for them to be divorced. Or maybe they knew of circumstances like adultery which complicated the particular circumstances. Whatever the case may have been, the topic of divorce was something that they were unsure about even after hearing what Jesus had said earlier.

    Divorce and remarriage is a serious issue (Mark 10:11-12).

    Jesus’ teaching about divorce, remarriage and adultery may be difficult to take. But what He says is very clear. Divorce from one person and remarriage to another (except for one exception mentioned elsewhere) results in the sin of adultery. What this means is that divorce and remarriage are not an option for a Christian man or woman who want to do what is pleasing to the Lord. What Jesus says here should not be taken lightly.

    How does it apply?

    We should do everything possible to keep a marriage together.

    Many years ago, when a friend was considering divorce, I was unsure what to say. His wife had treated him very badly and was not a pleasant person. But I still told him God’s view of divorce. God hates it (Mal. 2:16). While I was searching for the right words to say, a neighbor said something that I have not yet forgotten. He told my friend that there was something that brought them together initially and that he should to try to get back to that. I thought that was good advice at the time.

    Marriage can be difficult and divorce has been the way out for many. Sadly, divorce brings with it its own difficulties. Anger, bitterness, loneliness, sadness, and broken family relationships are some of the problems that come with divorce. Wouldn’t it be better to fight for your marriage instead of giving up? When a man and woman get married, this is good in God’s eyes. He wants marriages to last. So, please, if you are having trouble with your marriage, seek help. Do what you can to keep things together. Consider your own part of the problem and seek to save what God has given you.

    We should be careful how we apply this after divorce and remarriage have taken place.

    I want to be very clear that what the Lord has said here is God’s design for marriage. He wants a married couple to stay together and to seek to be reconciled when there are problems. But we must be careful after divorce and remarriage have already taken place. If you have been divorced and are currently unmarried, seek to be reconciled with your spouse. But there does come a time where it is too late to reconcile. When the other person has remarried, it is too late to reconcile. Sin often has its consequences and it often complicates the situation. So be careful as you seek to apply what we have learned today.

Conclusion

Some of us have gone through some difficult relationships. Some have been hurt, sinned against, and perhaps even divorced. These things happened because of sin. But they don’t have to be an end to your relationship with the Lord or your usefulness to Him. Do you remember David’s adultery with Bathsheba? God forgave David and brought him to repentance. Do you remember Esther? She married a divorced man who was an unbeliever. And yet God used her even though she made these choices.

Today, I would like you to consider what Jesus has said about marriage, divorce and remarriage. What Jesus said may be difficult to handle. But remember that God’s ways are always best. He has designed marriage to be a life-long commitment between one man and one woman. If you have that right now, praise God for it. If you have gone through divorce and now realize God’s perspective of it, what can you do? Take your situation to the Lord, repent of any sin on your part, and then seek to live according to God’s will from this day forward.

Footnotes

1 Grassmick 148.
2 https://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Gittin.9.10?lang=bi
3 Grassmick 149.
4 Grassmick 149.
5 Grassmick 149.
6 https://www.petrellilaw.com/divorce-statistics-for-2022/#:~:text=What%20Percent%20of%20Marriages%20End,second%20marriages%20ending%20in%20divorce.

Bibliography

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: BJU Press, 1994.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.