Mark 10:1-12 Jesus Teaching on Divorce (and Remarriage)
Jesus leaves Capernaum and heads south into Judea, and, as usual draws a crowd. And “as was his custom, he taught them” (v. 1).
Mark gives us no insight into what Jesus may have been teaching the crowds. Perhaps his teaching was interuppted by the Pharisees. As usual their motives for questioning Jesus are less than pure (v.2). Their question is about the law in regard to divorce. Jesus answers them in a way they can relate to: What did Moses say? (v. 3). The Pharisees had the Bible on their side! Deuteronomy is quite clear (Deut. 24:1-4): a man can write her a certificate of divorce (v. 4). I don’t see how one can take seriously the response of Jesus and yet deny the doctrine of accommodation.
“This law is a concession to hardness of hearts, preserving a minimum level of civility for the theocracy.” (ESV Study Bible Notes)
Which is pretty much what Jesus says in v. 5. And, truth be told, this law is not really a blanket endorsement permitting divorce (J. A Thompson, TNTC) at will (i.e. the husband’s will) anyway. The law actually is intended to protect the woman from further exploitation. The Pharisees have engaged in scripture twisting and dare I say it, a piss poor job of proof texting [it’s OK kids, I’m allowed to say “piss” – its in the Bible! (Is. 36:12 & 2 Kings 18:27, KJV)]. In correcting the Pharisees, Jesus draws us back to the very beginning of creation (v. 6), and God’s original plan and intention for marriage: a relationship in unity (note Jesus words in v. 8 – twice He says “one flesh.”)
“What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 10:9)
Later, the disciples get an opportunity to question Jesus about this privately (v. 10). The Master not only debunks the teaching of the Pharisees, but sets an even higher ethical standard for His followers:
Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery. (v. 11-12)
It’s interesting that Jesus holds both the man (v. 11) and the woman (v. 12) accountable in the case of divorce and remarriage.
“This sharp intensifying of the concept of adultery had the effect of elevating the status of the wife to the same dignity as her husband and placed the husband under an obligation of fidelity.” – William L. Lane (NICNT)
Wow, this almost makes it sound like Jesus is advocating equality between genders! I could begin to make an argument in favor of egalitarianism here, but I’ll resist for now. Suffice it to say that Jesus (and for that matter Paul) radically elevates the status of women relative to His surrounding culture (both Jewish and Roman).
The 12 have to be pretty blown away at this point! In fact, Matthew has them saying: well then “it is better not to marry” (Matt. 19:10). So what’s disciple to do? In general, realize that even within the (right and Biblical) concept of extravagant grace, Jesus here calls us to an ethical standard that exceeds that of even the hyper-law abiding Pharisees. We also cannot deny the seriousness of marital commitment and gravity with which Jesus views violating its sanctity. And finally, regardless of where we fall in the egalitarian / complementarian debate, Jesus wants us to view men and women as equals. So please, gentlemen, don’t bully your wives, be domineering toward them or insist on them unquestioningly (is that a word?) accepting your dictatorial, authoritarian leadership! [If you want to explore the Egalitarian question from a theological approach, Luke has a good place to start here.]
Until next time, follow Jesus if you dare. Because He just might make you a Fisher of men (1:17, ESV – emphasis mine) – or should I say “people” (NIV)!