Two Shall Become One: A Biblical Perspective on Husbands and Wives

Hope Lutheran Church, Fargo, ND - Pastor Mark Vitalis Hoffman - 4/96

"Is It Lawful for a Man to Divorce His Wife?"

A Study of Matthew 19.3-7

For Openers:

For Your Information:

As you work through the following texts, keep these guiding questions in mind:

Read Deuteronomy 22:28-29.

If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, 29 the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman's father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.
Read Matthew 1.18-19. Note that according to Deuteronomy 22.13-27, when Joseph found out that his fiancee Mary was pregnant, he not only had rightful grounds to break off the marriage, but Mary might even have been subject to the death penalty.

Read Deuteronomy 24.1-4.

Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house 2 and goes off to become another man's wife. 3 Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); 4 her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the LORD, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a possession.

Read Malachi 2.13-16.

And this you do as well: You cover the Lord's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand. 14 You ask, "Why does he not?" Because the LORD was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did not one God make her? Both flesh and spirit are his. And what does the one God desire? Godly offspring. So look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth. 16 For I hate divorce, says the LORD, the God of Israel, and covering one's garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.

Read Matthew 5.31-32, Mark 10.11-12, and Luke 16.18 (printed below)

Matthew 5:31-32 "It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.'"
Mark 10:11-12 He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."
Luke 16:18 "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery."

Read Matthew 19.3-11.

Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?" 4 He answered, "Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' 5 and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." 7 They said to him, "Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?" 8 He said to them, "It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery." 10 His disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry." 11 But he said to them, "Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given.

Read 1 Corinthians 7.10-17.

To the married I give this command--not I but the Lord--that the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. 12 To the rest I say--I and not the Lord--that if any believer has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 And if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. It is to peace that God has called you. 16 Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband. Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife. 17 However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches.

For Your Consideration:

  1. According to Deuteronomy 22.28-29, what was worse in ancient Israel: for a woman to be rendered unmarriageable (and hence at great economic and social disadvantage) or to be undivorceably married to the man who raped her? Note the statistics about living standards for men and women following a divorce. (sidebar, back page) What is worse in modern America: to be a divorced woman with a lower living standard or to be an unhappily married wife?
  2. It is clear that in ancient Israel there were double standards regarding the roles and privileges granted to men over against women in marriage and divorce. What double standards exist today, especially ones involving divorced people?
  3. According to the Old Testament, was divorce regarded to be a sin? How do Jesus and the New Testament regard it?
  4. How do you agree or disagree with the following statements in light of the Biblical texts studied?
  5. The Greek word most often used for "divorce" is apoluw. Depending on its form it means "let go, send away, dismiss, be freed." How are each of these terms appropriate or not for divorce?
  6. What do you think are the main reasons why couples get divorced? Are any of these legitimate reasons? Are any of the problems insurmountable?
  7. What is the purpose of marriage? In light of your answer to this question, what would be grounds for divorce?
  8. Read Matthew 19.10 again. Are the disciples right? Is it better not to marry at all?
  9. Who gets hurt when a divorce occurs? How is each party hurt? What can be done to lessen the pains of divorce?
  10. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? "The laws should be changed to make divorce more difficult." Explain your answer. (Or perhaps, instead of making divorces harder to come by, should the church be making it more difficult to get married in terms of required pre-marriage counseling, encouraging longer engagement periods, speaking out against people living together, etc.?)
  11. If a friend should come to you with marriage problems, what word of advice would you give in light of the Biblical perspective?
  12. If a friend should come to you who has been divorced and is struggling with guilt, a sense of failure, or depression, what encouraging word could you give in light of the Biblical perspective?

For further background:

(Keep in mind that quotations from other ancient authors do not necessarily reflect Christian or even orthodox Jewish positions.)

Josephus (1st century AD Jewish historian and apologist), Jewish Antiquities 4.253

He who desires to be divorced from the wife who is living with him for whatever cause-and with mortals many such causes may arise-must certify in writing that he will have no further intercourse with her...

Sirach (a Jewish apocryphal work from around Jesus' time) 7.26 If you have a wife who pleases you, do not cast her out; but do not trust yourself to one whom you detest.

Sirach 25.25-26 Allow no outlet to water, and no boldness of speech in an evil wife. If she does not go as you direct, separate her from yourself.

Living standards after divorce (from The Great Divide by Daniel Evan Weiss)

75% of divorced people remarry -- and 60% of them already have children. If current trends continue, step-families could outnumber traditional families by the year 2000.

For Later: