Doctrine of Divorce
Mark 10:2-12
And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him.…

I. EVENTS IN THE INTERVAL. There is a gap in the narrative of St. Mark between the events of the preceding and present chapter. We need not do more than intimate them, and that for the continuity of the history. They are the following: -

1. His journey to Jerusalem on the occasion of the Feast of Tabernacles.

2. Occurrences by the way:

(1) Inhospitality of certain Samaritan villages;

(2) rebuke of the "Sons of Thunder" by the Savior;

(3) journey continued through Samaria rather than Peraea;

(4) cleansing of the ten lepers as he passed through Samaria.

3. The sending out of the seventy, and its similarity to the previous mission of the twelve.

4. Presence and preaching at the Feast of Tabernacles.

5. Various discourses during that feast, as recorded in the eighth chapter of St. John's Gospel, and escape from a murderous assault.

6. Ministrations in Judaea, recorded in part by St. Luke (10-13.) and partly by St. John (9-11.), including the following: -

(1) Instruction of a lawyer, explanation of "neighborhood," and parable of the good Samaritan;

(2) hospitality of the family of Bethany, disciples taught to pray, and return of the seventy;

(3) cure of a man bern blind, our Lord's comparison of himself to the Good Shepherd, celebration of the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem, retirement to Bethabara beyond Jordan, and subsequent raising of Lazarus at Bethany; also his retirement to Ephraim.

7. His tour through Peroea, referred to in Matthew 19:1, 2, and Mark 10:1; his teaching during that tour, recorded by St. Luke (Luke 13:22-18:10), including, among other things,

(1) the multitudes from all quarters in the kingdom of God, the great feast and generous invitation, also true discipleship;

(2) parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and prodigal son;

(3) parables of the unjust steward, Dives and Lazarus, importunate widow, the Pharisee and publican.

II. A NEW DEPARTURE. The Pharisees now Change their tactics, and adopt a new mode of opposition. They, in fact, make new departure. The old hostility remains bitter as ever, or perhaps is increasing in intensity, but the manner of its manifestation is new. Up till this period their method of attack consisted in fault-finding - objecting to the conduct of our Lord and his apostles, or taxing them with violations of the Law; henceforth it consists in questioning - captious questioning - for the purpose of eliciting his opinion on doubtful or debatable matters in order to entangle him. The subjects on which his views were sought were those keenly discussed by the Jews of that day, and an answer could scarcely fail to give offense to some party or expose him to peril on some side. The present question was eminently one of this class. It was likely to entrap him into the charge of lax morality on the one hand, or of want of respect for the authority of Moses on the other; perhaps to embroil him with the tetrarch Herod Antipas, in whose dominions he now was.

III. THE ORIGINAL MARRIAGE LAW. In the days of our Lord one of the burning questions was the law of divorce. The school of Shammai limited the law of divorce, and allowed it only in the case of adultery; that of Hillel affirmed its legitimacy in case of dislike, or disobedience, or incompatibility in general, thus granting an arbitrary or discretionary power in the matter. The ground of the controversy is found in a difficult or obscure expression in Deuteronomy 24:1, 2, where we read, "When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife." The difficulty or obscurity of this passage arises from the original words ervath davar, rendered "some uncleanness" in the text of our version, and in the margin, "matter of nakedness," or more exactly still, "nakedness of word or matter." The important point to be determined, and that which produced such diversity of opinion in its determination, was whether the expression referred to meant lewdness or merely something disagreeable.

IV. NATURE OF THE BILL OF DIVORCEMENT. The bill of divorcement was called "a writing of cutting off" (sepher kerithuth). This bill or writing of divorcement implied, not only a mere separation from bed and board, as some restrict it, but a complete severance of the marriage tie. It was a certificate of repudiation, and either stated or omitted the cause of such repudiation. If the cause was adultery or a suspicion of adultery, the husband might prove himself (δίκαιος) just (vide Matthew 1:19), that is, a strict observer of the Law in dismissing the guilty wife with a bill of divorcement; and yet, not wishing to expose her, he might send her away privately. If, however, the guilty person or the suspected person were brought openly to justice, and the crime proved, certain death was the penalty, as is distinctly stated in Leviticus 20:10, "The man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death." Most commonly, therefore, when a bill of divorcement was resorted to in accordance with the Mosaic permission, it was for some less cause or minor offense than conjugal infidelity; and in such cases it served the wife as a certificate of character.

V. REASON OF THIS WRITING. Our Lord, in his reply, proceeds to the original marriage law; first, however, accounting for the Mosaic regulation referred to. That regulation is regarded by many as a relaxation of the Law; but it can scarcely be viewed in that light, because it would thus appear to be a lowering of the standard in favor of wrong-doing. It was rather a remedy for harsh treatment of wives, resulting from violations of the Law; it was rather a relief bill for wives who suffered from the unkindness of cruel husbands acting in defiance of the Law. It was a remedial measure to check the bad effects of their hardness of heart; it was to (πρὸς) this the lawgiver had respect. It was, in fact, to minimize the evil results that proceeded from their transgression of the Law rather than any relaxation of the Law itself. Of two evils it was the less, and even the less owed its existence to their hardness of heart. Besides, it was not an express command, as the Pharisees appear to make it from the word ἐνετείλατο in Matthew, but a permissory injunction (ἐπέτρεψε), as subsequently acknowledged by the Pharisees themselves.

VI. ORIGINAL MARRIAGE LAW. The Savior argues the indissoluble nature of the marriage law from the original unity of male and female, from the extreme closeness of the marriage bond taking precedence of every other union even parental and filial; above all, from its Divine origin. Marriage was thus an ordinance of God; it was instituted in Paradise in those bright and sunny bowers before sin had marred the freshness and the loveliness of the new-created world. Even then God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, and accordingly he gave him a help meet for him - one that was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto [literally, be glued unto] his wife: and they shall be one flesh." It was an ordinance of God himself, an ordinance nearly coeval with the creation, an ordinance made for man even in his unfallen state of innocence, an ordinance which our blessed Redeemer himself, when in sinless humanity he trod our earth and tabernacled among our race, honored with his presence, and at the celebration of which he was graciously pleased to work his first miracle. In Cana of Galilee, at the marriage at which Jesus and his disciples and his mother were present, Jesus made the beginning of his miracles by turning water into wine, manifesting forth his glory, "and his disciples believed on him."

"Living, he own'd no nuptial vow,
No bower to Fancy dear:
Love's very self - for him no need
To nurse, on earth, the heavenly seed:
Yet comfort in his eye we read
For bridal joy and fear." The conclusion at which he arrives is in keeping with all this - that an institution created by God at first, coeval with our race, and confirmed by so many sanctions, can neither be nullified nor modified by any human enactment, nor set aside by any authority other than his who created it. "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."

VII. ONE EXCEPTION TAKEN FOR GRANTED. Conjugal infidelity, as it is a violation of the marriage vow, is a virtual dissolution of the marriage relation. This is implied or taken for granted in the passage before us, though it is expressly stated, in the parallel passage of St. Matthew, where it is written, "Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery." With respect to marriage with the divorced wife, there is a great and important diversity of sentiment. This diversity is in a certain way and to some extent connected with the right rendering of the word ἀπολελυμένην in Matthew 19:9.

1. Some translate it as if it were preceded by τὴν, and so equivalent to "her which is put away," or "the divorced woman." Thus it stands in the common English Version, and reference to the woman lawfully divorced, that is, for fornication, is presumed.

2. Others, more accurately, render it "her when she is put away," as it is translated in the Revised Version, the reference being thus to her who is unlawfully divorced, that is, divorced not on the ground of adultery. This view is maintained by Stier and Meyer, the latter confirming it by the fact that "under the Law the punishment of death was attached to adultery,... and consequently, under the Law, the marrying of a woman divorced for adultery could never happen."

3. There is, however, another rendering, namely, "a divorced woman," that is, any divorced woman. This is the rendering advocated by Wordsworth, who says, "In no case does our Lord permit a person to marry a woman who has been divorced." This is the view of the matter taken by the Latin Church, which declares marriage with a divorced woman under any circumstances unlawful. The Oriental and most Reformed Churches, on the contrary, hold that, in the excepted case, both husband and wife may contract a fresh marriage. These are the two extreme views; but what of the ease of unlawful divorce, that is to say, where the wife has been divorced for some other and less offense than that of adultery, or πορνεία, which is of widest extent, comprehending ante-nuptial as well as post-nuptial unchastity (μοιχεία)? This is the case to which the guilt of subsequent marriage attaches, for it is that in which the marriage bond has not been really ruptured. The delay connected with getting a divorce or after its being granted might give time for better counsels to prevail; second thoughts might be found preferable; angry passion might in the mean time cool down, and reconciliation and reunion be effected. - J.J.G.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him.

WEB: Pharisees came to him testing him, and asked him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

A Cure for Divorces
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