In this lesson, based on Mark 10:1-12, you will learn about the causes of divorce, God’s gracious allowances for divorce, and how to make your current or future marriage stronger and healthier.
Your commitment to Jesus will be tested. Your commitment to God’s Word will be tested. Throughout Mark 8-9 Jesus has been teaching His disciples about what it means to follow Him. He has talked about dying to yourself and taking up your cross. He has talked about seriously dealing with the sin in your life. Then in Mark 10, Mark gives us an encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees who asked Jesus a question about marriage and divorce. I’m convinced, one of the testing grounds for some followers of Jesus will be in the arena of marriage.[i]
I will be turning on the biblical “fire hose” this morning. I’m going to give you a lot. Some of this you may have heard, some of it you may not. Whether you are married or not you need to hear this. This will give you a biblical foundation for marriage and divorce.
I’m about to read something from Mark 10 that will sound harsh and condemning to some. However, as we unpack it and understand what Jesus is actually saying you will discover freedom, hope, and grace.
Jesus is about to be asked a question regarding marriage and divorce.
- Some of you have gone through a divorce. Some of you may have questions about your divorce: Did I disobey God when I got a divorce? Am I a failure because my marriage failed? Am I living in sin because I remarried? If it wasn’t right for me to divorce was it right for me to remarry? These are tough questions, but Jesus answers all these.
- Most, if not all of you, know someone who is divorced. As a Christian, you and them may struggle with some of the same questions. We are going to answer most of them today.
- Some of you are in marriages that you want out of. You have thought about it. Life would be easier. You don’t feel loved by them and you may not be sure if your marriage is worth the fight. When you are in a difficult marriage what do you do? As a Christian, you may be thinking is divorce acceptable in the eyes of God?
These are real life questions and I’m not going to mess around today. I’m going to show you, the best I can and with the help of the Holy Spirit, what God’s Word says about this sensitive subject. Many of you will be surprised. Some of will discover a heavy burden has been lifted from you today because of God’s grace and love for you.
Then Jesus left Capernaum and went down to the region of Judea and into the area east of the Jordan River. Once again crowds gathered around him, and as usual he was teaching them. 2 Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife?” 3 Jesus answered them with a question: “What did Moses say in the law about divorce?” 4 “Well, he permitted it,” they replied. “He said a man can give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away.” 5 But Jesus responded, “He wrote this commandment only as a concession to your hard hearts. 6 But ‘God made them male and female’ from the beginning of creation. 7 ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, 8 and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, 9 let no one split apart what God has joined together.” 10 Later, when he was alone with his disciples in the house, they brought up the subject again. 11 He told them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. 12 And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery.” (NLT)
That sounds cold and harsh. The reason it sounds rough is because we often filter the Bible’s meaning through our lens, our culture, and our experiences. If this is new to you let me say upfront, what you think it says is not what it says. Let me show some truth that will set you.
Let’s start with the context. Mark tells us in verse 1, Then Jesus left Capernaum and went down to the region of Judea and into the area east of the Jordan River. Once again crowds gathered around him, and as usual he was teaching them. That doesn’t seem important, but it is. Why would Mark tell us that Jesus went down to the region of Judea and into the area east of the Jordan River? There are two reasons. First, this reminds us that Jesus is headed to the cross. If you look at a map of Jesus’ day you see that He is headed closer and closer to Jerusalem where He will be crucified. He is still on mission. He is still moving forward. He still has a plan and He is working that plan to perfection. Hard questions or the cross ahead of Him is not deterring Jesus. Secondly, it sets the context for the question the Pharisees are about to ask Jesus.
According to verse 2, when Jesus got into the region of Judea some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife?” How is this question a trap for Jesus? By the way, as you follow Jesus there are going to be people in your life who are going to try to trap you. They are going to try to trap you with your beliefs that seem to contradict one another. They are going to try to trap you with some inconsistency in your character. They are going to try to set you up for failure. The kingdom of darkness would love to see you brought down and defeated.
Back to Jesus, how is the question, “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife?” a trap? Mark and Matthew both comment about this encounter. Matthew adds something very significant to the question. Matthew says the Pharisees asked, “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?” (Matt. 19:3, NLT). Jesus knows what they are referring too and this is why in verse 3, Jesus answered them with a question: “What did Moses say in the law about divorce?” The law Jesus is referring to is in Deuteronomy 24:1 which says, “Suppose a man marries a woman but she does not please him. Having discovered something wrong with her, he writes a document of divorce, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house” (NLT). What the Pharisees are referring to is this little phrase “something wrong with her.” Some translations word this as “found some indecency in her” (NASB, ESV, CSB).[ii] There were two schools of thought about this phrase that were predominant then and are still predominant today.
Some interpreted the phrase “something wrong with her” to mean anything. This meant that a man could divorce his wife for any reason. This meant that a man could divorce his wife if she burnt his dinner or didn’t like the quality of her cooking. He could divorce her if she wore her hair down in public or allowed someone to see her ankles in the market place. He could divorce her if he found her annoying or made a negative comment about her mother-in-law. He could also divorce his wife if he found someone more attractive.[iii]
This view of easy divorce for any and every reason was the most popular and accepted view in that day. This is why the Pharisees asked Jesus if a man could divorce his wife for “any reason.” It was an easy divorce society. All you needed to do was write your wife a certificate of divorce letting her know that you divorced her and why you divorced her, then you could send her away. You didn’t need a lawyer. There were no legal fees. There was no waiting period. You didn’t even need to have it notarized. Thankfully, not everyone held to this view.
Some interpreted the phrase “something wrong with her” to mean something severe. It had to be something detrimental to the marriage. Let me be clear, both views allowed for divorce before adultery ever occurred. Because in that day, you had the option of having your spouse executed for adultery. Leviticus 20:10 says, “If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the man and the woman who have committed adultery must be put to death” (NLT). According to the Mosaic Law, adulterers were not to be divorced. They were to face death. You didn’t need to worry about divorcing your adulterous spouse because he or she would be the dead adulterous spouse.
You have two major views: one is very liberal and the other is very conservative. One is unlimited and the other is limited. The Pharisees knew Jesus didn’t hold the liberal view. They knew Jesus haled an extremely conservative view on divorce. Jesus has already taught his conservative view in public back in Matthew 5:39. The Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus by getting him to state his conservative view on divorce in what was an ultra liberal part of the world. Remember, we are answering the question how this question about divorce is a trap.
The Pharisees hoped that one or both of the following would happen with Jesus by asking Him this question about divorce.
- For one, they hoped that the people would begin to turn from Jesus. In a region where easy divorce is common. Men are leaving their wives for any reason and constantly upgrading to the newest wife then Jesus’ position would be very unpopular. This is a sensitive issue and people will often argue over this or feel guilty over this or get mad over this. They were hoping that is theologically conservative view on marriage and divorce would thin the crowd down and decrease His popularity. Most people in that day thought of their marital contracts the way we think of a rental agreement. You are only in it as long as it benefitted you. Once you don’t’ need it, you let it go.
- But I think they were really after something more. This takes us back to verse 1 where Mark tells us Jesus left Capernaum and went down to the region of Judea and into the area east of the Jordan River. This was the territory controlled by Herod Antipas and his wife, Herodias. Herod divorced his first wife for no cause other than he found someone he liked more named Herodias. At the time, Herodias was married to Herod’s brother. Herod divorced his wife and Herodias left her husband and they got married. John the Baptist shows up and make a public statement that it was against God’s law for Herod and Herodias to be married (Mark 6:18). Herod and Herodias eventually had John the Baptist arrested because of his statement and placed in prison. Eventually they had him beheaded.
I believe the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus with this question about divorce in order for Him to say something publicly about Herod’s marriage in the hopes that what happened to John the Baptist would happen to Jesus.
Observations about Marriage
This brings us to the Lord’s response to the Pharisees question about divorce. From His response we see several truths we need to consider. Jesus knows this is a trap question, but He is seizing the opportunity to teach some things about commitment to God’s Word, the faithfulness of God’s grace, and the value God places on marriage. When I say marriage I am referring to one man being married to one woman. What does Jesus say about all this?
Marriage should be based on God’s word
First, marriage should be based on God’s Word. When Jesus was asked about divorce He responded with a question in verse 3. Jesus asked them, “What did Moses say in the law about divorce?” This is the Old Testament way of saying, “What does God’s word say about it?” Jesus was committed to upholding the authority of Scripture.[iv] He believed and demonstrated that God’s Word is true and right about everything it addresses. We should always give God’s Word authority over every aspect of our lives. This means we submit our beliefs, our feelings, and our behaviors to the authority of God’s Word.
- 1 Thessalonians 2:13, “We constantly thank God, because when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you welcomed it not as a human message, but as it truly is, the word of God, which also works effectively in you who believe” (CSB).
- Psalm 19:7, “The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul. The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.8 The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight for living. 9 Reverence for the Lord is pure, lasting forever. The laws of the Lord are true; each one is fair. 10 They are more desirable than gold, even the finest gold” (vs. 7-10, NLT).
This is where we ask, “How do I have a strong marriage?” What does God’s Word say? “How do I raise and parent my children?” What does God’s word say? “How do I manage my money well?” What does God’s Word say? “What if my spouse is not a believer?” What does God’s Word say? “What if I want to divorce my spouse?” What does God’s Word say? “What if my spouse wants to leave me?” What does God’s Word say? Always start with what God says first and work from there. Jesus is demonstrating the authority of Scripture on this subject.
Marriage is not free from problems
Number two, marriage is not free from problems. Jesus answered the Pharisees question with a question. The Pharisees answered Jesus by saying in verse 4, “Well, he permitted it,” they replied. “He said a man can give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away.” Remember, they are referring to Deuteronomy 24 where Moses says that a “document of divorce” can be written and that would end the marriage.[v] This was never meant to be a way for easy and quick divorces. This document of divorce was for severe issues. Whether you were married back then or today, all marriages have problems some more severe than others, but all marriages are difficult at some point.
In case this is new to you, let me give to you the three Biblical reasons for divorce that God’s Word mentions.
- God allows divorce for major issues. Let’s go back to Deuteronomy 24:1 which says, “Suppose a man marries a woman but she does not please him. Having discovered something wrong with her, he writes a document of divorce, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house.” When you look at the whole counsel of God on marriage and divorce this is NOT about a spouse burning food, home repair, or simply being annoying. This refers to a major breach in the marriage covenant. Since God did not get specific with the details of this, we are allowed to use our own wisdom and common sense to determine a major breach. For example, I believe a major breach in the marriage covenant would include one spouse abusing the other.
- God allows divorce for adultery. Jesus says, “You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’32 But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery” (Matt. 5:31-32, NLT). When Jesus refers to the “written notice of divorce” in Matthew, He is talking about those who write a notice of divorce for any small and insignificant reason. That was the prominent view of the day, even though it was wrong. Jesus is saying, “Don’t divorce your spouse for something small, make sure it’s a major breach in the marriage covenant such as unfaithfulness.”
- God allows divorce for abandonment. When the Bible talks about mixed-marriages it is NOT about the skin color. It is always about faith. Throughout Scripture God would command His people to not marry non-believers. A mixed-marriage in the Bible is a Christian married to a non-Christian, a believer married to a non-believer. However, there would be times when two non-believers would get married and over time one of them would become a believer. For that situation God’s Word says, “If the husband or wife who isn’t a believer insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases the believing husband or wife is no longer bound to the other, for God has called you to live in peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15, NLT).
These allowances for divorce remind us that marriages will have problems, but all of these allowances should be a last resort not the first option, nor the second, nor the third. Do everything you can to make the marriage succeed before looking at the option of divorce. God knows that marriages are going to have some severe issues and because of His grace He allows for divorce and remarriage when a major breach in the marriage covenant has occurred, when unfaithfulness has occurred, and when an unbelieving spouse wants out.
Marriages disintegrate due to hard hearts
Number three, marriages disintegrate due to hard hearts. Jesus gives us insight into why God allows for divorce when He said in verse 5, He wrote this commandment only as a concession to your hard hearts.[vi] When a marriage breaks down it is an indication that someone had a hard heart. A hard heart is a heart that has become unyielding over time and has become calloused and insensitive toward their spouse and God’s will for their marriage.[vii] A hard heart refuses to accept God’s teaching and training on how to be faithful toward their spouse and how to love their spouse. A hard heart in marriage knows very little of the meaning of love.
When a spouse becomes hard hearted toward God and their spouse they become a prime candidate to either breach their marriage covenant in some way, have an affair, or if they are not a believer simply walk away from the marriage.
God knows that when people get married, Christian or not, they struggle with sin and sometimes that sin and selfishness destroys a marriage. Because of this, God permits people to get divorced and remarried.
Marriage is to be monogamous
Number four, marriage is to be monogamous. Marriage is to be one-to-one. Jesus said in verse 6, But ‘God made them male and female’ from the beginning of creation.[viii] To help us understand marriage Jesus takes us all the way back to creation in Genesis.[ix] There we are told God made one male and one female. There was no one else. There was no one else to compare your spouse to. There was no one to cheat with. There was no one else to leave your spouse for. Adam had one option and it was Eve. Eve had one option and it was Adam. By creating one man and one woman and letting that be the first couple, God is demonstrating what marriage should look like, one male and one female.
Marriage is a primary commitment
Number five, marriage is a primary commitment. Jesus then says in verse 7, This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife.[x] When a couple gets married they are to leave their parents. They are no longer under their authority. The new couple is a new family unit. Their primary commitment is now to each other, not their parents. They are creating a new family and that new family is a primary commitment.
Marriage is intimate unity
Number six, marriage is intimate unity. Well, at least it is designed to be. At the end of verse 8 Jesus says, and the two are united into one. Oneness in marriage refers to two whole lives uniting together as one emotionally, sexually, intellectually, financially, spiritually, and in every other way. The two are united into one in purpose.[xi] They are so close that they function like one person, balancing each other’s strengths and weaknesses so that together they can fulfill their God-given calling as a couple. The two people also become dependent on each other and responsible for one another. You will need to work at this oneness.
Marriage is to be permanent
Number seven, marriage is to be permanent. Jesus said in verse 8, Since they are no longer two but one, 9 let no one split apart what God has joined together.
- When a man and a woman get married it is God that has joined them together. The idea of marriage did not come from people, it came from God. God created marriage. He designed it. Marriage originated from Him.[xii]
- The phrase let no one split apart what God has joined together refers to divorce. However, what God has joined together is designed to be permanent but it can be torn apart.[xiii] This can happen with a breach in the marriage covenant, adultery, or a non-believer wanting out of the marriage. God’s desire is that your marriage last to the end of one of your lives. This will take love, understanding, and forgiveness. However, God is very aware that all marriages will not make it, but that is not the end of your life when that occurs and God does not abandoned you because you have gone through a divorce. He still loves you, He still cares, He still hears your prayers and He still will give you wisdom throughout your life.
All marriages are created equal, but not all divorces
Finally, number eight: all marriage are created equal, but not all divorces. Now we come to verses 10-12 and read that, Later, when he was alone with his disciples in the house, they brought up the subject again. 11 He told them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. 12 And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery.”[xiv] Listen carefully, Jesus’ comment to the disciples is in the context of the Pharisees’ question and the written notice of divorce mentioned in Deuteronomy 24 being used for any small reason whatsoever. Jesus is telling the disciples and us that if a person divorces their spouse because they burnt the food, don’t pick up after themselves, doesn’t mow the yard, or doesn’t take care of themselves physically they are committing adultery if they get married to someone else. Where God is concerned their original marriage is still intact, it has not been ripped apart by a breach in the marriage covenant, adultery, or abandonment.[xv] God’s Word makes it very clear that all marriages are created equal, but not all divorces.
For more information and for further study I have provided several articles on the TruthAppliedjs.com website regarding marriage. Click on the category “Family” and some of the articles include…
- Biblical purposes of marriage
- How to love your wife
- How to love your husband
- Family finances
Let’s summarize today’s lesson.
- God created marriage to be between one man and one woman.
- God desires your marriage to be permanent, however, because of the hardness of heart God has allows for divorce and remarriage.
- God takes your marriage and divorce very seriously, so should you.
- God wants you to make your marriage a primary commitment in your life.
- Divorce does not mean you are a failure. Your divorce does not define who you are, God defines who you are.
- If you have been through a divorce, let me encourage you to use that for God’s kingdom. Pass on the lessons you learned from God through it and comfort and encourage those who are going through a divorce or have been through one.
[i] This passage shows us that marriage is a way of discipleship. It’s important to say this, because sometimes in Christian history the church has implied that celibacy, especially in monks and nuns, is a higher way of following Jesus. This section of Mark’s Gospel shows us Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, teaching his disciples about denying themselves, taking up their cross and following him. Marriage requires enormous quantities of this self-denial: we have to die to our own preferences and desires, learn to serve our spouses, and so become more like Jesus. Marriage is not just to make us happy but to make us holy.
[ii] What should a husband do when he finds something in his wife that he does not like? According to 1 Peter 3:7, husbands are told, “Treat your wife with understanding as you live together” (NLT). The husband is to try to understand why his wife is the way she is and understand how to love her the way she is. The husband is to cherish, love, protect, and be devoted to his wife.
[iii] This view was made popular by Rabbi Hillel who listed several examples including the ones I have mentioned.
[iv] Notice that Jesus did not simply answer these Pharisees immediately out of his own authority. He sent them back to Moses first. In other words, he upheld the authority of the Scriptures. He always referred to the Old Testament as a book that has the answers, as a book that is an authority on life. He frequently quoted, “it is written…” and sent them back to Moses and the law. Even in the Sermon on the Mount he said that he came not to destroy the Law but to fulfill it, and warned against anyone who attempted to destroy the Law or change what it said.
[v] Even though Deuteronomy 24 is written from the male perspective, this certificate of divorce was a blessing for some women. Marriages were getting worse and worse. Women were being downgraded and mistreated, treated with contempt and cruelty and harshness. So, in order to make it all clear and visible, Moses granted permission for divorce. It released the women from what may have become almost a hell on earth for them.
[vi] This statement about the hardness of heart does a couple of things. First, it is pointing out very clearly that divorce could occur and was allowed. It also reveals the reason why divorce is allowed. Divorce reveals a hard heart (in at least one of the individuals in the marriage) publicly. Divorce is the public evidence of a hard heart that was hidden in private.
[vii] What is the opposite of a hard heart? A heart that is softened, mellowed, gentle, and open. When a person is determined that they are going to handle something themselves, and not pay any attention to what God reveals about it, they are hardening their heart.
[viii] There are many great implications from the statement, “God made them male and female.” This was God original design for marriage, one man and one woman. God did not make them “male and females” or “males and female” or male and male” or “female and female” but “male and female.” This means that, from a biblical perspective, the only true marriage is between one man and one woman. Just became mankind decides to call two men married or two women married does not make it a true marriage. They may be married in the eyes of the state, but not in the eyes of God. Another implication is God makes you who you are. You do not get to choose whether you are a male or female. You are either a he or she, God decides. Embrace your gender. Embrace who you are. If you are a female then be a woman of God. If you are a male then be a man of God.
[ix] The statement “from the beginning of creation” tells us that marriage is not based on what other people say it is or what the cultural determines, but what God decides it to be. God created humans and He created marriage to work a certain way. It was God’s idea.
[x] The idea behind this statement about leaving and cleaving tell us the high priority that God wants us to place on the marriage relationship. Your relationship with your spouse takes priority over all other relationships, including your relationship with your children. People are to become husbands and wives before they become mother and father. The husband should be closer to his wife and the wife closer to her husband than he or she would ever be with their children. This doesn’t mean parents will not have a close relationship with their children, it means the primary relationship should always be with their spouse. To be clear, this also means that the husband or wife should have no friendships that are more important than their friendship with their spouse.
[xi] There are several biblical purposes for marriage; one of them is intimate unity. Intimate unity happens between two people who are disparate, distinct and different individuals with different personalities, different gifts blending their lives so together that through the process of the years they become one. It is not something that happens instantaneously when you get married. The wedding service does not make you one. The first act of sex after marriage does not make you one. It begins the process, but it does not finish it. It takes the whole marriage to accomplish this. Marriage is the process of two people becoming one.
[xii] Since God originated marriage the Biblical principles for marriage holds true despite the faith (or lack of) of the couple. When two atheists marry, they have been joined together by God, whether they recognize it or not. If God has joined them together, then no human being has the right to break that union.
[xiii] I believe the phrase “what God has joined together” refers to more than the wedding service. It includes it, but it also refers to everything God has done to bring them together and everything He is doing to make them one. God has been blending two people (sometimes against their wishes and sometimes with great pain and trouble), but He has been putting their living together. He has been blending their lives together. He has been doing it. All the trials, conflicts, successes, good times and bad times in their lives God has been using to help make them one. He has been using all those things and more to break down their resistance, stubbornness, selfishness, and immaturity to reveal the places where their heart is hard. Whether they are aware of it or not, God has been working on them and their marriage by giving them opportunities to learn something about themselves and their spouse. Every couple, when they move into their first apartment or their first home, ought to put up a sign: “Caution! God at work!” Every construction zone is messy, there is no difference in the construction of a marriage.
[xiv] Notice that Jesus lifts the whole matter far beyond the prevailing Jewish view of marriage. The Jewish view, as reflected in the Law, was that the initiative was always with the husband. It was only the husband who could divorce his wife. But in our Lord’s words here, they are on an equal basis. The man can commit adultery against the wife, and the woman can commit adultery against the husband.
[xv] What about those who are on their second or third marriages, and who came to them by way of divorce? I think it is important for us to remember the Gospel, which tells us that God starts with us where we are. So your call is to strive to make what Jesus says about marriage here a reality in your lives: to live that committed, lifelong, one flesh union with your spouse as a way of faithful Christian discipleship. Regardless of what marriage you are on, begin now to honor God in that marriage. Start where you are, not where you were.