Jesus on Divorce & Remarriage

Author: Dwight A. Pryor
A FEW DAYS AGO I was approached by a dear Christian man, a widower, with a
painu! story" #e recent!y met a $racious Christian !ady his a$e, a!so widowed, and their
buddin$ riendship seemed b!essed by the %ord" &nti! , that is, he !earned that she had
been di'orced rom an abusi'e husband in an ear!ier marria$e" As a person who a!ways
tries to wa!( in the obedience o aith, this ri$hteous man e!t he cou!d no !on$er in $ood
conscience pursue the re!ationship with an eye toward marria$e )) because o *esus+
warnin$ that, ,""" a man who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits
adultery, -%( ./:.01"
I am reminded o a simi!ar situation many years a$o, when my now thirty)i'e year o!d
son was a mere todd!er" Once a wee( a retired schoo!teacher, ,2rs" 3,, came to our
house to baby sit 4en so my wie and I cou!d ha'e an e'enin$ out" She was a de'out and
e5ceptiona! woman who had ne'er remarried ater her husband di'orced her to run away
with another woman more than ity years beore" ,I ne'er considered remarryin$,, she
to!d me once, ,!est I be $ui!ty o adu!tery", She 6uoted %u(e ./:.0 to me"
W#A7 A8E WE 7O 2A9E o this perp!e5in$ and prob!ematic passa$e: "Everyone
who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a
woman divorced from her husband commits adultery" -%( ./:.0 ES;1" It seems
uncharacteristic o *esus or at !east three reasons"
First it puts *esus at odds with the 7orah, in eect underminin$ or ,abo!ishin$, the
7orah+s pro'ision or di'orce in Deuteronomy <=:." 7hou$h ne'er the idea!, di'orce and
subse6uent remarria$e are permitted in certain cases accordin$ to bib!ica! !aw and *ewish
Second, such an unconditiona! indictment, without re$ard or circumstance or moti'ation,
seems a!ien to Yeshua+s typica! approach to ha!a(hic issues, which emphasi>es the
,spirit, rather than the ,!etter, o the !aw" Indeed %u(e ./:.0 appears to contradict
2atthew .?:?, in which he ma(es an e5ception or di'orce -and thereby remarria$e1"
And ina!!y, this odd sayin$ seems to come ,out o the b!ue,, with no ob'ious conte5t" It
is sp!iced between a mention o *ohn the 4aptist and a parab!e about a rich man"
Interpreters !on$ ha'e wrest!ed with this te5t, but the most satisyin$ and coherent
e5p!anation has been su$$ested by Da'id 4i'in+s e5amination o the !in$uistic and
#ebraic bac($rounds to %u(e ./:.0, and Ste'en @ot!ey+s insi$hts into it+s historica! and
conte5tua! settin$" -See their research at *erusa!em)3erspecti'e"com"1
First, consider the phrase ,and marries another", 7he conAunction ,and, is kai, in Gree(B
but !i(e!y behind the Gree( !ies the 2ishnaic #ebrew o Yeshua+s day" 7he #ebrew vav
-and1 has a wider ran$e o meanin$s than the Gree( kai, inc!udin$ the ,vav o purpose or
intention, )) an idiomatic usa$e that means ,in order to, or ,so that," #ere is a typica!
e5amp!e: ,%et my peop!e $o that C!itera! #ebrew: andD they may ser'e me in the
wi!derness, -E5 E:./ ES;1
7he e'idence su$$ests that *esus was sayin$, ,7he man who di'orces his wie in order to
marry another commits adu!tery", In other words, the two actions are re!ated by intent"
4ut what mi$ht occasion such a comment:
A c!ue may be ound in *osephus+ history o #erod Antipas and the Gospe! account o
*ohn the 4aptist" One o 9in$ #erod+s sons, #erod Antipas was the ru!er o the Ga!i!ee at
the time o *esus and *ohn" An i!!icit romantic entan$!ement between himse! and his
ha!)brother+s wie, #erodias, e'entuated in them both di'orcin$ their spouses in order to
marry each other"
7he intrepid prophet, *ohn, ca!!ed out Antipas or this inide!ity: "It is not lawful [i.e.,
permitted by the Torah] for you to have her" -2t .=:=1" As a resu!t, *ohn was arrested by
the tetrarch and !ater, at #erodias+ insistence, beheaded -.=:?)..1"
7his appears to be the bac(story behind *esus otherwise perp!e5in$ comment" #e is not
arbitrari!y issuin$ a b!an(et condemnation o di'orce and remarria$e, but sound!y
interpretin$ the 7orah to mean that di'orcin$ one+s spouse with the intent or purpose o
marryin$ someone e!se, whom you !ust ater, is e6ui'a!ent to adu!tery and thus
prohibited" #e is a!!udin$ to #erod Antipas and #erodias, and reairmin$ *ohn+s
ri$hteous condemnation o their e6ua!!y adu!terous actions"
F <G.= 7he Center or *udaic)Christian Studies"
A!! ri$hts reser'ed"

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