Christ’s Teachings on Divorce


Jesus professes on the topic of divorce twice in the gospels, once in Matthew 5:31-32 and once in Mark 10:1-12. In either instance, he makes his position clear, saying in Matthew “…whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery,” and in Mark, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.” It would appear that Christ’s teaching is perfectly unambiguous on this topic: divorce is tantamount to adultery. But if we look closer at the passage in Mark, we find that there is some nuance in what Jesus said about divorce, when he said it, and with whom he spoke about it. In Mark 10:10, we are told that Jesus made this pronouncement to the disciples, though no context is given nor any indication as to how the discussion might of went, other than that the disciples had asked him about divorce. In a separate discussion with the Pharisees, Jesus says the following: “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Mark 10:6-9) Using language from Genesis, Christ associates the marriage bond to being physically attached to another person as “one flesh.” It is curious then that in Mark this anecdote should follow immediately after the famous ‘if thy hand offend thee” illustration: “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter in life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched.” (Mark 9:43) Is it possible to draw an analogy between the offending hand and the problematic marital bond? Yes, you and your spouse may be one flesh, but if being joined to a husband or wife should cause you to jeopardize your own salvation, shouldn’t you amputate that part of you just as you would the hand that causes you to offend? It is a similar argument to that which John Milton makes in Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, about which I wrote several weeks ago. It’s difficult to say whether this interpretation can be given any credence. Once could point out, just as Milton’s contemporaries did, the concluding verse spoken to the Pharisees: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Mark 10:9) There is no license being given here that would allow men and women to determine their own separation. But is it permissible to think that while man cannot put asunder the marriage bond, God can? And if so, what would that look like? Can marriages end without anyone ever deciding to end them? Perhaps, independent of any legal petitions or church sanctions, a marriage can just dissolve on its own. Maybe, just as two people are destined to be together, they are also destined to separate.

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