Matthew 19:3
The Pharisees also came to him, tempting him, and saying to him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?
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(3) Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?—See Note on Matthew 5:32. So far as the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount had become known, it gave a sufficiently clear answer to the inquiry of the Pharisees. It is, however, quite conceivable that it had not reached the ears of those who now put the question, or, that if it had, they wished to test His consistency, and to see whether on this point He still held with the stricter rule of Shammai, and not with the laxer rule of Hillel. If the narrative of the woman taken in adultery in John 8:1-11 be rightly placed (see Note on that passage). that might have given rise to doubts and rumours. Would He who dealt so pitifully with the adulteress have sanctioned divorce even in that case, or pronounced the marriage bond absolutely indissoluble? Or was His apparent tolerance of that offender indicative of a lower standard as to the obligations of marriage? In any case, they might hope to bring Him into conflict either with the stricter or the more popular school of casuists. An illustration of what has been stated in Matthew 5:32 may be found in the fact that the Jewish historian Josephus records how he had divorced two wives on grounds comparatively trivial (Life, c. 75, 76), and speaks incidentally in his history of “many causes of all kinds” as justifying separation (Ant. iv. 8, § 23). We do not know on what grounds Herod Antipas had divorced the daughter of Aretas, but it is probable enough that here, as afterwards, the Herodian party were working with the Pharisees. Here, in Peræa, they might count, either on the Teacher shrinking from expressing His convictions, or so uttering them as to provoke the tetrarch’s wrath, as the Baptist had done. In either case, a point would have been gained against Him.

Matthew 19:3. The Pharisees also — Who always had a watchful eye on his motions, and attended him with the most malignant designs, being now more especially irritated by the fame of his late miracles, which they had in vain endeavoured to suppress; came unto him, tempting him — With what they thought a very artful and insnaring question; and — That they might, if possible, find some reason to accuse him, or to discredit him, at least, among the people; they asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? — That is, for any thing which he dislikes in her. “The school of Hillel taught, that a man might put away his wife for any cause. The son of Sirach saith, ‘If she go not as thou wouldest have her, cut her off from thy flesh, give her a bill of divorce, and let her go.’ Sir 25:26. Josephus saith, The law runs thus: ‘He that would be disjoined from his wife, for any cause whatsoever, let him give her a bill of divorce.’ And he confesseth, that he himself put away his wife, after she had borne him three children, ‘because he was not pleased with her behaviour.’ But the school of Shammah determined, on the contrary that the wife was only to be put away for adultery.” — Whitby. (Christ, it must be observed, “had delivered his sentiments on this subject twice; once in Galilee, Matthew 5:31; and again in Perea, Luke 16:18. It is probable, therefore, that they knew his opinion, and solicited him to declare it, hoping it would incense the people, who reckoned the liberty which the law gave them of divorcing their wives, one of their chief privileges. Or if, standing in awe of the people, he should deliver a doctrine different from what he had taught on former occasions, they thought it would be a fit ground for accusing him of dissimulation. But they missed their aim entirely; for Jesus, always consistent with himself, boldly declared the third time against arbitrary divorces, not fearing the popular resentment in the least.” — Macknight.19:3-12 The Pharisees were desirous of drawing something from Jesus which they might represent as contrary to the law of Moses. Cases about marriage have been numerous, and sometimes perplexed; made so, not by the law of God, but by the lusts and follies of men; and often people fix what they will do, before they ask for advice. Jesus replied by asking whether they had not read the account of the creation, and the first example of marriage; thus pointing out that every departure therefrom was wrong. That condition is best for us, and to be chosen and kept to accordingly, which is best for our souls, and tends most to prepare us for, and preserve us to, the kingdom of heaven. When the gospel is really embraced, it makes men kind relatives and faithful friends; it teaches them to bear the burdens, and to bear with the infirmities of those with whom they are connected, to consider their peace and happiness more than their own. As to ungodly persons, it is proper that they should be restrained by laws, from breaking the peace of society. And we learn that the married state should be entered upon with great seriousness and earnest prayer.The Pharisees came - See the notes at Matthew 3:7.

Tempting him - This means, to get him, if possible, to express an opinion that should involve him in difficulty.

Is it lawful ... - There was the more art in the captious question which they proposed, as at that time the people were very much divided on the subject. A part, following the opinions of Hillel, said that a man might divorce his wife for any offence, or any dislike he might have of her. See the notes at Matthew 5:31. Others, of the school of Shammai, maintained that divorce was unlawful except in case of adultery. Whatever opinion, therefore, Christ expressed, they expected that he would involve himself in difficulty with one of their parties.

3. Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?—Two rival schools (as we saw on [1327]Mt 5:31) were divided on this question—a delicate one, as De Wette pertinently remarks, in the dominions of Herod Antipas. Our Saviour, though yet at some distance from Jerusalem, was come into that province where the Pharisees had the greatest power, and were in greater numbers: now they come to him,

tempting him; where the word tempting rather signifies, generally, making a trial of him, than strictly, soliciting him to sin; they came (as appeareth by their question) to make a trial whether they could entrap him, and get any determination from him of a point for which they might accuse him. The question they propound to him is,

Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? The word here translated cause, signifieth not cause, or occasion, but crime also. So it may be translated crime; but they did not only put away their wives for crimes, but upon any occasion, in abuse of that text, Deu 24:1, When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her; which the Pharisees had interpreted of any kind of deformity, or natural infirmity, not merely of moral uncleanness. Had our Saviour now answered Yes, he had contradicted what he had formerly delivered, Matthew 5:32; had he denied, they had trapped him as contradicting the law of Moses, Deu 24:1, according to their interpretation of it. So they had whereof to accuse him. The Pharisees also came unto him,.... Either from the places round about, or from Jerusalem: these came unto him, not for the sake of learning, or to be instructed by him; but as spies upon him, to observe what he said and did, and watch every opportunity to expose him to the contempt and hatred of the people;

tempting him with a question about divorces, in order to ensnare him:

and saying to him, is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? be it ever so trivial, as said the school of Hillell: for there was a difference between the school of Shammai and the school of Hillell about this matter; the former insisted that a man might not put away his wife but in case of uncleanness; but the latter allowed putting away for very trifling things; as if she spoiled her husband's food by over roasting, or over salting it; and, as one of the doctors say, if he found another woman that was more beautiful than her; see Gill on Matthew 5:32. This question being now agitated in the schools, they artfully put to Christ; not for information, but with a view to reproach him in some way or other; and that he might incur the resentment of one party or another, as he should answer. They might argue thus with themselves, and hope to succeed in this manner; should he be on the side of the school of Shammai, which was the weakest side, and less popular, as they had reason to believe he would, he would then expose himself to the resentment of the school of Hillell, and all on that side the question; should he take the part of Hillell, he would make the school of Shammai his enemies; should he forbid putting away of wives, which Moses allowed, they would then traduce him as contrary to Moses, and his law, which could not fail of setting the people against him; and should he consent to it, they would charge him with contradicting himself, or with inconstancy in his doctrine, since he had before asserted the unlawfulness of it, but in case of adultery; and should he abide by this, they might hope to irritate the men against him, who would think their liberty granted by Moses was entrenched on; as, on the other hand, should he, according to the question, admit of putting away for every cause, the women would be provoked at him, who would be left to the uncertain humour and caprice of their husbands; so that either way they hoped to get an advantage of him.

{1} The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to {b} put away his wife for every cause?

(1) The band of marriage ought not to be broken, unless it is because of fornication.

(b) To send her a bill of divorce; see Mt 1:19.

Matthew 19:3. Πειράζοντες] The question was of an ensnaring nature, owing to the rivalry that existed between the school of Hillel and that of the more rigorous Sammai. See note on Matthew 5:31. There is not the slightest foundation in the text for the idea that the questioners had in view the matrimonial relations of Antipas (Paulus, Kuinoel, de Wette, Ewald), as though they wanted to involve Jesus, while yet in Peraea, within that prince’s domains, in a fate similar to that of the Baptist. Moreover, the adoption of this view is altogether unnecessary, since the whole school of Sammai had already condemned that most unlawful state of matters just referred to, and therefore there was on this score nothing of a specially tempting character about the question. But they expected that Jesus in His reply would declare in favour of one of the rival schools (and that it would doubtless be that of Sammai; for with κ. πᾶσαν αἰτίαν they suggested the answer, No), so that they might be able to stir up party feeling against Him. Falling back, however, upon the divine idea on which the institution of marriage is founded, He took higher ground than either of the schools in question, inasmuch as from this divine idea He deduces that marriage is a union which no human authority has a right to dissolve; but as for Himself, He avoids prescribing any law of His own with reference to this matter; comp. Harless, Ehescheidungsfr. p. 34 ff.

εἰ] See note on Matthew 12:10.

τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ] Assuming ἀνθρώπῳ to be spurious, the αὐτοῦ can only refer to something in the context, and that doubtless to the logical subject, to the τίς implied in the ἔξεστι. For a similar classical usage, comp. Stallbaum, ad Plat. Rep. p. 503 D.

κατὰ πᾶσαν αἰτίαν] for every cause, which he has to allege against her,—the view maintained by the school of Hillel, and which was precisely that which gave to this question its tempting character, though it is not so represented in Mark. As given by the latter evangelist the question is not presented in its original form; as it now stands it would have been too general, and so not calculated to tempt, for it would certainly have been foolish to expect from Jesus any answer contrary to the law (in answer to Weiss, Keim); but, according to Matthew’s version, the persons who were tempting Jesus appear to have framed their question with a view to His splitting on the casuistical rock implied in κ. πᾶσαν αἰτίαν. After having laid down as a principle the indissoluble nature of the marriage tie, Jesus, in the course of the conversation, replies to this captious point in their query in the very decided terms of Matthew 19:9, where He says, μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ.Matthew 19:3-9. The marriage question (Mark 10:2-9).3. Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?] The words “for every cause” are omitted in Mark. In Matthew they contain the pith of the question: “Is the husband’s right to divorce his wife quite unlimited?” The school of Shammai allowed divorce in the case of adultery, the school of Hillel on any trivial pretext.

3–12. The Question of Marriage and Divorce

Mark 10:2-9Matthew 19:10-12 are peculiar to Matthew. St Mark mentions the part of the conversation contained in Matthew 19:9 as having taken place “in the house,” Matthew 19:10-12.Matthew 19:3.[854] Πᾶσαν, every) They wished to elicit from our Lord a universal negative, which they thought would be contrary to Moses.

[854] Πειράζοντες αὐτὸν, tempting Him) At the beginning of His career, His adversaries questioned the Saviour concerning several of the acts committed either by himself or His disciples. But when He had left nothing still remaining to be done for the defence of His own cause and that of His followers, they thenceforth refrained from objections and interrogatories of that kind, and the more for that very reason heaped upon Him general questions, unconnected with any immediate act of His, it being their purpose thereby to surprise Him when off His guard and unprepared.—Harm., p. 422.Verse 3. - We have now to listen to our Lord's teaching respecting divorce and marriage. The Pharisees. The article is better omitted. Our Lord was not long left in peace by these inveterate enemies, who, if they could not openly persecute him, might hope to extract something from his words and sentiments which might be used to his disadvantage. They were probably envoys sent from Jerusalem to entrap and annoy him. Tempting him. Trying to get him to give an answer which would in any case afford a handle for malicious misrepresentation. The question proposed concerned divorce. To put away his wife forevery cause; κατὰ πᾶσαν αἰτίαν: quacumque ex causa; for any cause whatever. This was a delicate question to raise in the domains of Herod Antipas (see Matthew 14:3, 4), and one greatly debated in the rabbinical schools. Our Lord had already twice pronounced upon the subject, once in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:32), and again when reasoning with the Pharisees on the due observance of the Law (Luke 16:18). Two opposite opinions were held by the followers of Hillel and Schammai, the heads of antagonistic schools. The school of Hillel contended that a man might divorce his wife for various causes quite unconnected with infringement of the marriage vow, e.g., because he had ceased to love her, or had seen some one whom he liked better, or even because she cooked his dinner badly. The school of Schammai was more strict, and permitted divorce only in case of fornication, adultery, or some offence against chastity. Between these contending parties the Pharisees desired to make our Lord give a decision, thinking that they had fixed him in a dilemma. If he took the popular lax view, they could deride his claims as a Teacher of superior morality; if he upheld the stricter side, he would rouse the enmity of the majority, and possibly, like John the Baptist, involve himself in trouble with the licentious tetrarch. There was a chance also that the high tone which he had already taken might prove to be at variance with Mosaic enactments. The easiness with which divorce was obtained may be seen in Josephus, Who thus writes: "He who for any reason whatsoever (and many such causes happen to men) wishes to be separated from a wife who lives with him, must give it to her in writing that he will cohabit with her no longer, and by this means she shall have liberty to marry another man; but before this is done it is not permitted her to do so" ('Ant.,' 4:08, 23). Josephus himself repudiated his own wife because he was not pleased with her behaviour ('Vita,' § 76). And Ben-Sira gives the curt injunction, "If she go not as thou wouldest have her (κατὰ χεῖρά σου), cut her off from thy flesh,... and let her go" (Ecclus. 25:26). Tempting

See on Matthew 6:13.

For every cause

The temptation turned upon the dispute dividing the two great Rabbinical schools, the one of which (that of Hillel) held that a man might divorce his wife for any reason which rendered her distasteful to him; and the other (that of Shammai) that divorce was allowable only in case of unchastity. The querists would be anxious to know which side Jesus espoused.

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