Matthew 19:8 “Because of your hardness of hearts Moses permitted you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.”
Also read the more recent article titled, “Paul’s commentary on Matthew 19:8“.
Consider the illogical argumentation of the majority view: Moses, speaking on behalf of God, permitted divorce, which is incorrectly thought by many to be a sin in and of itself. And we are led to believe that God acted in this fashion because adulterers were insisting upon their adultery? Seriously, are we to believe that God gave hard-hearted, treacherous sinners his blessing? The religious leaders to whom Jesus was speaking were seeking release from their marriages so that they could have physical relations with women, other than their wives, without being guilty of adultery. Are we to think that Moses’ permission for divorce was for the same reason and that God acquiesced to such an evil request? Preposterous! God demands righteousness from His people…adultery in the Old Testament was grounds for stoning to death. If Israel insisted upon committing sin and refused repentance, then they could expect His wrath manifested through death, captivity or severe living conditions until they repented.
Nevertheless, many seem to believe that this is precisely what Moses did, and then they believe that Jesus is here undoing it and reverting back to the way God intended marriage from the beginning. Such a viewpoint, if it were correct, would make it difficult to take seriously the immutability of God among other major concerns.
Since this understanding of our Lord’s words cannot be correct, then what did Jesus mean with His use of the phrase: “Because of your hardness of heart”? The first test of Christ’s true meaning is that it must be consistent with the rest of Scripture. Since the fall of Adam men have had hard hearts. As the hard-hearted nature of mankind is born out in marriage, God has responded with a license for divorce. God through Moses did not provide this license to placate the wicked but to protect the innocent marriage partner. God’s permit for divorce was not for adultery as stoning was the O.T. punishment for adultery. God’s gracious protection is from continual, regular defilement from the wicked spouse. This includes many wicked behaviors all of which qualified one as a “treacherous” spouse. Secondly, it is also possible that forcing a godless, treacherous spouse to stay in a marriage they no longer want will push them toward much worse abuse and even often the murder of their innocent spouse (e.g. King Henry VIII).
Once a spouse’s hard-heartedness erupts into treachery against their marriage partner either party can petition for divorce because the divorce action is not that which breaks the covenant, but rather it protects the innocent marriage partner from further treacherous actions by the guilty spouse who has already broken the marriage covenant by failing to keep the conditions of the covenant (First, to love and to cherish and secondly, forsaking all others–fidelity).
In response to a question from hypocritical reprobates, which was designed to trick Jesus into a sinful response, Jesus was addressing a treacherous sin that men of means and position were regularly practicing. These scoundrels came up with a scheme that would allow them access to other women without getting the reputation of being adulterers. Their scheme attempted to make unlawful, unbiblical divorces lawful, which would then open the path for them to take a new woman as their wife. If the scheme worked, then they could repeat the cycle as often as they desired.
Jesus informed them that their scheme was transparent to God. Calling that which was unlawful lawful did not suddenly make their adultery virtuous. Quite simply, these men were committing adultery and using God’s legal provision of divorce as a diversion to hide their sin. Jesus realized that it was adultery for three reasons: First, their motive was adultery (they desired relations with women who were not their wives). Secondly, they did not have a treacherous spouse who had broken the conditions of the marriage covenant; hence they were living under an intact marriage covenant. Finally, Pharisees were lawyers and lawyers regularly find ways to manipulate the law to suit their needs; they use words as weapons against the truth creating gray from black and white in order to justify a client’s or their own behaviors.
Sadly, their wicked use of God’s gracious provision for divorce has caused lifetimes of unnecessary misery for untold numbers of people throughout the last twenty centuries. Their conversation with the Lord Jesus has played a big role in the misappropriation of the biblical teaching on divorce as most seemingly misunderstood Jesus’ message in its proper context.
Recognizing the Pharisees’ adulterous hearts Jesus pointed out that getting an illegitimate divorce paves the way for adultery and not a second marriage. Because these Jewish leaders were attempting to use that which was legal and righteous (legitimate divorce) as a cover for that which was forbidden and evil (adultery) many have interpreted Jesus’ remarks to be a comprehensive teaching against divorce. Sadly, this interpretation has created a prohibition where God made provision for legitimate divorces. And God gave this liberty of divorce for the innocent partners of treacherous spouses who have already broken the marriage covenant through the breaking of it’s conditions to love and to cherish and to remain faithful, forsaking all others.
So then, with devastating results much of the church has used Matthew 19:8 to abrogate Moses’ law that permits legitimate divorces. And they have done so in the light of Jesus saying, “…until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). Indeed it is wrong, as Jesus was pointing out, to call an unlawful divorce lawful, and it is equally wrong to call a lawful divorce unlawful (Deut. 24:1, 2 & Jeremiah 3:1). Having done so has resulted in untold multitudes of believers suffering needlessly under the tyrannical abuse of a covenant-breaking spouse. Brothers and sisters enduring lifetimes of unequally yoked relationships because of a man-made law that struck down the law of God given to permit divorce between a saint and a treacherous spouse.
Both scripture and logic have been turned upon their heads as the conditions and promises in the marriage covenant have been eviscerated. The conditions of covenants are divinely intended to protect the marriage partners so that marriage will be a blessing and not a curse, and the church cut them out making millions of marriages curses rather than blessings destroying not only the lives of untold numbers of saints but also the proper understanding of bilateral covenants. This illogical and unbiblical interpretation exposes the godly or innocent marriage partner to the very harm for which God’s Mosaic license intended to shield. And to add insult to injury, the treacherous spouses are protected by the church’s misinterpretation of our Lord’s words.
The covenant breaker maintains dignity as they cannot be put out of the marriage for having broken its conditions, they maintain financial protection, and they maintain access to their innocent partner, access to their children, access to all relations and friends. They use deception to ruin the good name of the innocent spouse; forget not that this evil is done from the innermost position of ‘spouse’ giving it credibility to those outside the marriage.
The hardhearted spouse shamelessly uses cruelty, manipulation, deception and slander to attack the innocent spouse and to hide their own sin. Their wicked behavior causes friends and family to view the problematic marriage as a ‘he said, she said’ private matter between the married couple thus leaving the innocent partner (saint) without any support. Most people will not know what or who to believe and they will cast aspersions upon both the innocent and guilty parties in the marriage. Everything about this interpretation is injurious to the innocent party, while the guilty party comes off looking better than had the truth been fully disclosed in open divorce proceedings. All of this intentional confusion and chaos plays into the hands of the wicked spouse who is the only beneficiary of the church’s misinterpretation of Jesus’ position on God’s permission for divorce. And frequently this position does not even benefit the wicked spouse who would be happier in this life if matched with a person of like mind. Therefore, not only is the glory of God’s name injured, God’s law not followed, but none benefit–all are injured by the continuation of a godless marriage.
The church’s shameful reversal of God’s provision for divorce forces unequally yoked believers to wrestle with pigs in the mud and expose themselves to bad company. It prevents them from following so many wisdom passages in Scripture such as:
“The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands” (Prov. 14:1).
“He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov. 13:20).
“Leave the presence of a fool, or you will not discern words of knowledge” (Prov. 14:7).
“Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord and so bring wrath on yourself from the Lord?” (2 Chron. 19:2)
“A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left” (Eccl. 10:2).
“He cuts off his own feet and drinks violence who sends a message by the hand of a fool.” “Like one who binds a stone in a sling, so is he who gives honor to a fool.” “Like an archer who wounds everyone, so is he who hires a fool or who hires those who pass by” (Prov. 26:6, 8 and 10).
“Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words” (Prov. 23:9).
“A foolish son is destruction to his father, and the contentions of a wife are a constant dripping” (Prov. 19:13).
“Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you, reprove a wise man and he will love you” (Prov. 9:8).
“Peter said, ‘Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.’ And He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife (yes, the marital relationship is included in the Holy Spirit’s separating saints from familial relationships) or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life’” parenthesis mine (Luke 18:28-30).
“For I (Jesus) came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household” parenthesis mine (Matthew 10:35-36).
Oh, dear members of the body of Christ, I pray that God will help each of you rediscover God’s provision for divorce to all believers who are unequally yoked to unbelievers in their marriages.
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14)