Jesus on Divorce in Matthew 19

By way of reminder, this blog is not so much about divorce as it is about divorce for the believer who is unequally yoked with an unbeliever.

When discussing the topic of divorce certainly the words of our Lord Jesus should be of great interest to everybody.  One text in particular is used by those who hold to the Permanence View (no divorce for any reason).  In Matthew 19:3-9 Jesus is asked (tested) by the Pharisees whether or not it is lawful for a man “to send away (divorce) his wife for any reason at all”.  In short, Jesus’ answer was that marriage takes one man and one woman and the two become “one flesh…What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”  Then they wanted to know why Moses allowed for a certificate of divorce, and Jesus said it was because of man’s hardness of heart, “but from the beginning it has not been this way.”

With such stark words it is not difficult to see why those who believe that divorce is always a sin hold such a view.  But Jesus is not finished speaking, (Vs. 9) “And I say to you, ‘whoever sends away his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery, and he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery'”.  Now we can see how important it is that people making the decision to get married take it very seriously as the marital relationship is indeed intended to be until the death of one of the two parties.  Nevertheless, our Lord provides two very significant exceptions to this overarching rule.  The second exception is pretty obvious to most people although (and this is unfortunate) many who hold to the permanence view even reject the immorality exception.

We Shall Begin With the Second Exception–Porneia

Jesus made it pretty clear that porneia (Gk) or immorality was a justified cause for divorce and thus an exception to the overarching rule on the permanence of marriage.  The reason for such an exception is that the very act of sexually joining oneself to a third party fractures the marital bond.  The marriage relationship has been so tragically altered that the marriage has actually been ruined/destroyed/broken by the immoral act(s).  The two individuals that had become one flesh have had their union fractured or destroyed by the introduction of a third person.

The marriage covenant is built upon a promise to one another to remain faithful and uphold the conditions of the marriage covenant  until death ends the marriage.  When immorality is committed at least one (forsaking all others) of the two (to love and cherish one another) most significant conditions has been broken .  Jesus is telling us that in this event the marriage covenant has been broken, and the innocent party is no longer bound by the marital covenant.

The Bottom Line: Treachery

Here is the bottom line when it comes to God sanctioned marital divorce.  When a marital spouse commits treachery thus being a traitor to their own spouse the innocent party to the marriage is not only allowed but obligated to divorce their treacherous spouse.

How does a married person commit the kind of treachery that demands a marital divorce?

  1. By demonstrating oneself to be outside of the family of faith (unequally yoked)
  2. By having sexual relations outside the marital relationship (adultery)
  3. By habitually denying the privileges of the marital bed
  4. By abandonment
  5. By endangerment (attempted murder and real physical harm at minimum)

Now For the First and Greatest Exception That Interrupts the Blessing of a Life-Long Marriage

Now we can consider the first exception which interrupts the blessing of lifelong marital bliss. It is in my opinion a far superior, but a less obvious (to our utter shame) exception to God’s intentions that marriage was intended to be a life-long covenant of love between a husband and his wife.   It is also seen in Jesus’ teaching in the 19th chapter of Matthew.

This exception is so ubiquitous in scripture that it is even the first command in the scriptures found in Genesis 1:4 “God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.”  In this instance, God’s command is an implied command for man to follow after God’s example and keep separate light from darkness, but it is often repeated as a direct command.  Leviticus 20:26 says, “Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.”

This sin of marrying unbelievers is also called “the matter of Peor” in Numbers 31:16 referring back to Numbers 25 where we read about the Israelites joining themselves with the daughters of Moab, which caused the Israelites to bow down to their gods and they joined themselves to Baal-peor making God fiercely angry with them.  Phinehas in his anger and jealousy for the Lord’s holiness took a spear and drove it through and Israelite and his Midianite woman (wife), and God was pleased with Phinehas.  Then God said, “Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them; for they have been hostile to you with their tricks, with which they have deceived you in the affair of Peor…”

God frequently commands His children to refrain from marrying foreigners.  By foreigners God does not mean people from other lands, but rather He is referring to people who worship anything other than God.  God’s people are not to be bound together with unbelievers in marriage (2 Corinthians 6:14).

Today being unequally yoked to unbelievers is almost viewed as an inconsequential condition.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The greatest treachery a spouse could commit is being unrepentant and unfaithful to God.  God does not want His children to be bound together or unequally yoked to unbelievers because bad company corrupts good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33).  In fact, such relationships to unbelievers always leads to idolatry, which is spiritual adultery.

It was upon this foundation from the Old Testament that marriage was a family of faith institution that Jesus teaches about marriage and divorce. When Jesus says that marriage makes the two become one flesh it is assumed that God’s children would not enter into marriage by breaking God’s command to marry only within the family of faith.  So then, whenever a believer comes to the realization that they are joined in marriage to an unbeliever, then at that time they are to separate the light from the darkness, which means in the context of marriage they must get a divorce.

Not only are these many Old Testament passages the context in which Jesus is teaching, not only is this the assumption that God’s word always has when teaching on marriage and divorce, but Jesus teaches the principle of this exception in Matthew 19:29, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.” Most modern translations of God’s word have removed the word “wife” from this text demonstrating the bias of the interpreters.

I discovered the inclusion of “wife” in this text when I was reading Jonathan Edwards’ lectures compiled into the book titled Charity and Its Fruits, which you should all read as it is among the very best books ever written. Edwards quotes this verse in lecture XII, and the translation he used still contained the word “wife”. You will also find a note in the column of the NASB Side-Column Reference Edition Copyright 1996 by The Lockman Foundation referring to wife being in at least one early manuscript.

In conclusion, verse 29 indicates that to leave a family member in order to follow and serve Christ Jesus would be worthy of praise and not condemnation…that such would inherit eternal life–not on the basis of works, but because they clearly demonstrate a love for Christ. The spousal relationship was included in the ancient text, so we understand that God means it when He says, Do not intermarry with foreigners (OT) and Do not be unequally yoked to unbelievers (NT).

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About Joe Porter

By the abundant lovingkindness and grace of God I have been in Christ for nearly 40 years. I live to love and serve God in whatever capacity He has in mind. And can do no other but to follow my conscience as scripture and reason guide me threw the shadow lands. I raised 5 children one of whom now sees clearly as he walks on streets of gold. God has blessed me after all these years with a godly, prudent wife. I cannot imagine a greater gift on the earth. I have a Masters of Divinity from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. I own a business in Nebraska, but I live to serve God. I have preached in three different churches for a period of 10 years. I love preaching God's word. Because of my divorce I am not currently serving in any official capacity, but I know that the Lord has a ministry for me. My goal is to write a book on the topic of divorce when unequally yoked, and this blog is a step in that direction. No brother or sister in Christ should divorce their spouse solely upon the advice they find here or anywhere else for that matter. Immerse yourself in God's word, and go before the Lord--wait upon Him and He will make it clear when the time comes that you are called to repent of your unequally yoked marriage. Christ's continued blessings, Joe View all posts by Joe Porter

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