Matthew 19:1-12 (ESV)

19 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” 10 The 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 receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

Jesus was met again by both the large crowds and the skeptical Pharisees. The Pharisees were troubled by one of the debated questions of the day: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” The accepted practice within Judaism was that a husband could divorce his wife, but a wife was not allowed to divorce her husband. So the Pharisees were actually asking under what circumstances a husband could divorce his wife. They wanted to see how Jesus would respond and hoped to put him right in the middle of a heated argument. Jesus affirms what the Scripture says. In marriage, a man and a woman are joined in an inseparable union that is to take priority over all relationships, even over parent and child (v. 5). Because of God’s original design, Jesus says, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” In other words, there should be no divorce. This wasn’t what the Pharisees wanted to hear, and they reacted to Jesus’ statement by recalling Moses’s provision for divorce in the Old Testament. Jesus responded by saying that Moses allowed this because the people’s hearts were hard. In the days of Moses, a man could throw his wife out of the home, but because she was still married to him, she couldn’t seek a new relationship. Moses allowed for the certificate of divorce to protect a wife from being both rejected and claimed by her husband. The certificate declared her freedom to remarry.

Jesus teaches strongly in verse 9 that a husband divorcing his wife and seeking another commits the equivalent of adultery. Those who heard Jesus realized that he is totally opposed to divorce, so much so that the disciples thought, “Wow. We may be better off not to marry at all!” (v. 10). In the case of adultery, divorce was allowed, but even then the marriage could still be saved. According to Jesus, divorce should only be permitted when there is literally no other option and all means of saving the marriage have been exhausted. If you are married today, thank God for your one-flesh union and do whatever you can to make it or keep it your priority relationship. If you are not yet married, be careful to choose a husband who will be faithful to you, who loves Jesus with all his heart, mind, and soul, and will love you as Christ loves his church.