Matthew 19:8 What does, “Because of your hardness of heart” really mean?

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.”

Note the logic involved: Speaking on behave of God, Moses permitted divorce, previously considered a sin, because unrepentant, adulterers insisted upon their adultery? Are we to believe that God gave license for one sin simply because men refused to repent of another sin? This is inconsistent with a holy and righteous God as portrayed through His word. When adulterers stubbornly refuse repentance would God respond with license or wrath? God demands righteousness from His people…adultery in the Old Testament was grounds for stoning to death. If God’s people insist on committing sin, and refuse to repent, then they are not His people for long. They can expect death, captivity or severe living conditions until they repent, but God, being holy and righteous, does not give license to their sin.

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 would make it difficult to take seriously the immutability of God.

If this understanding is incorrect, then what did Jesus mean with His use of this phrase? It is consistent with the rest of Scripture for the phrase “because of your hardness of hearts” to mean that because men sin as a result of the fall, Moses has permitted divorce to protect the innocent marriage partners. In other words, because there are godless, treacherous spouses, who break the conditions of the marriage covenant the innocent spouse is permitted to divorce the offending spouse who bears the guilt of breaking the marriage covenant. The divorce action does not break the covenant, but rather 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.

It does not appear that Jesus intended to teach on divorce, so it is inappropriate to make more of His statements than is actually warranted. In response to a question, Jesus was addressing a particular problem that men of means and position were regularly practicing. They were wanting to commit adultery while maintaining their standing in the community, so they were divorcing their wives so that they could take for themselves another woman. Jesus was informing them that their scheme was transparent to God. Calling unlawful divorces lawful did not suddenly make their adultery virtuous. Using divorce as a diversion, they were committing adultery. Jesus realized that it was adultery for two reasons: First, their motive was adultery (they desired relations with women who were not their wives). Secondly, these men were illegitimately using God’s provision of divorce as a cover to commit adultery. Remaining faithful to their husband the wives had not broken the marriage covenant. Thus the divorces were merely legal rouses intended to give the appearance of legitimate proceedings paving the way for a subsequent “legal” remarriage all of which was done so that these men could commit adultery while maintaining their status in Jewish society.

Jesus saw right through their rouse and in the process of disclosing their adultery Jesus pointed out that getting an illegitimate divorce regardless of one’s motive causes them to commit adultery. However, because these Jewish leaders were using that which was legal (legitimate divorce) as a cover for that which was not (adultery) many have interpreted Jesus’ remarks to be a teaching on divorce. Sadly this interpretation has prohibited legitimate divorces which God provided for the victims of broken marriage covenants.

With devastating results much of the church has used this passage to reverse Moses’ permit for legitimate divorces. It was wrong, as Jesus was pointing out, to call an unlawful divorce lawful, and it is equally wrong to call a lawful divorce unlawful. Having done so has resulted in untold tens of thousands of believers suffering needlessly under the tyrannical abuse of a covenant-breaking spouse. Both scripture and logic are turned upon their heads as the conditions or promises in the marriage covenant have been eradicated as a protection for the marriage partners. The godly marriage partner is required to serve their godless, covenant—breaking spouse regardless of the injustice and unrighteousness brought about by the offending spouse. At the same time, the offenders 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 partner and spouse giving it credibility to those outside the marriage. The covenant breaker will almost always slander their innocent spouse in order to cover their own sin and shame. They will turn all of their wickedness into a ‘he said, she said’ debate in order to create a fog of confusion. 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 is unfair to the innocent party, while the guilty party comes off looking better than had the truth be known. 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 this passage.

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 (Jesus) said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife 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)


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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