A Culture of Divorce: Matthew 5:31-32
““31) It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; 32) but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Matthew‬ ‭5:31-32‬
In these two verses, Jesus tackles the subject of divorce and remarriage. He returned to this subject again in Matthew 19:3-12.
In that context, the Pharisees questioned Him about their practice of divorcing their wife for nearly any cause. Jesus rebuked them and shared that the root problem in their marriages came down to their own hard hearts. He stated that God’s original design for marriage was permanence because God joined them together. He was very candid that divorce and remarriage results in committing adultery.
Both in Matthew 19:9 and here in Matthew 5:32, Jesus gives what has become known as “the exception clause.” He seemed to be saying that divorce was permissible when immorality or adultery took place within the marriage. Let’s take a deeper look at what Jesus may have been saying.
The Greek word used for immorality in both cases was “porneia.” It is the same Greek word Paul used in 1 Corinthians 7:2 for sexual immorality. But we have a major difference in potential recourse between Jesus and Paul. Many scholars say Jesus was using sexual promiscuity within marriage as a just reason for divorce.
But Paul said the exact opposite. He said that those struggling with sexual sins should get married and fulfill sexual needs within marriage. (See the full context of 1 Corinthians 7:1-5) Was Jesus encouraging divorce where Paul was promoting marriage? Was Paul being more restrictive than Jesus or are we missing a few pieces in the puzzle?
Some scholars see a radically different meaning to what Jesus was saying with “the exception clause.” They believe Jesus was saying that divorce is only permissible if the marriage itself is an immoral or porneia marriage. They see Jesus as teaching that there are some marriages that God does not ordain, honor or join together. Therefore, they should be ended because the marriage itself is porneia or immoral.
Examples from Leviticus 18 would include relationships of incest, adultery, homosexuality and with animals. Moses concluded that these acts of immorality result in a curse on the land and were strictly off limits for Gods people.
This view of the exception clause results in the teaching of Jesus harmonizing exactly with the teaching of Paul on marriage and human sexuality as recorded in 1 Corinthians chapters 5-7. Notice, in 1 Corinthians 5:1-8 Paul was demanding the end of an incest marriage between a man and his fathers wife. In Matthew 14 John the Baptist lost his life because he rebuked Herod for having the wife of his brother Philip. He was saying; “It is not lawful for you to have her.”
Herein is a stunning insight, these are the only two recorded examples of singled out relationships that were to be ended in the New Testament and both of them were viewed as porneia relationships. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 also states that other porneia relationships were ended or set aside by the early Christians including, fornication, adultery and homosexual relationships.
This harmonizes with the conclusion of the Jerusalem Council for accepted morality within the Gentile church. (See Acts 15:19-20) This moral code of conduct lined up exactly with Leviticus 17-19. When the gospel went into Greek culture it changed the moral value system of those who became Christians. They turned away from their porneia relationships.
The modern phenomenon of rampant divorce and remarriage between Christians was totally absent in the New Testament church. I believe at the root of this practice is a misunderstanding of the teaching of Jesus regarding “the exception clause.”
Ironically, our modern interpretation puts Christianity right back in the seat and value system of the Pharisees who questioned Jesus; “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all.” (Matthew 19:3) The opposite side of the coin is also practiced today. A Christian wife can also now divorces her husband for nearly any cause at all.
Malachi 2:14-16 clearly states Gods aversion to divorce. Why? Because it wounds people, fractures children, destroys families and weakens nations. Divorce is Satan’s play ground.
When I embraced the truth that divorce was not an option for our marriage, I closed the escape hatch in my thinking and committed to seek God and His grace to build our marriage. I admit, I was looking for a way out!
This was one of the monumental hurdles I had to overcome to save our marriage and force much needed commitment, accountability, focus, growth and change within me. I discovered that a happy marriage is not as much about finding the right person as it is about becoming the right person. If you want your marriage to change, you must be willing to change!
I now fight for strong marriages. We cannot undo the past, but I can encourage people to fight for the marriage they now have. Marriage struggles are often the leverage God uses to help people see their own weakness and cry out for grace, mercy, wisdom, growth and change.
So are divorced and remarried people living in adultery? Keep in mind the Greek word is porneia. I believe the text is teaching that the practice of unchecked divorce and remarriage feeds a culture of sexual immorality, promiscuity, exploitation, fantasy, lusts and even pornography. It is paramount that every Christian commit to chastity within lasting marriages because this value restrains the social tide of human depravity.
This is why you need commit to and fight for your present marriage. Your moral values does have an influence on society. If you are separated or divorced, work toward the reconciliation of your present marriage while practicing total abstinence from all forms of porneia. Save all intimacy for within the bonds of marriage. God wants to pour out His grace and power within your present marriage. Make Him your focus. Avoid being sucked into the culture of porneia!
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global