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God’s Word for You

Luke 16:17-18 one pen stroke

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, October 22, 2018

Jesus is continuing his instructions about the Law and the Prophets (Luke 16:16).

17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one pen stroke to fall from the Law.

A keraia (κεραία) is a stroke of a pen. Sometimes it’s a flourish, like the serifs we use at the tops and bottoms of our letters in certain fonts to make them easier to read and more pleasing to the eye. In Hebrew, a keraia might also describe the small strokes which in the alphabet of Jesus’ day meant the difference between several letters. A simple upright pen stroke might have keraia on top moving left to make the letter gimel, g, or the same left stroke slanting down (waw, u-w), or the same left stroke curved a little like a u (kaph, k), or a keraia coming up to the right from the bottom (lamed, l). It also might have no stroke at all, and be the letter yod (i, y). Jesus’ point: The Law is the Law; it is the word of God. It is not for man to change what it says, or what it means, but it was for the Son of Man to fulfill.

18 Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman is committing adultery, and a man who marries a woman divorced from her husband is committing adultery.

Verse 18 confuses many commentators, who struggle to see why it would be included here. But consider: All of Chapter 15 and all of Chapter 16 up to this point have explained the same thing, that God welcomes sinners who repent. The Pharisees constantly threw accusations against Jesus, that he violated the Sabbath day (Luke 13:14) and that he consorted with sinners (Luke 15:2). The easiest explanation of what this verse is doing is illustrating what he meant by the least stroke of a pen not departing from the Law. It’s not for man to change what God means in any of the commandments. For example, marriage is to be a union for life, and a couple that divorces is guilty of a sin. There is a lawful exception (Matthew 5:32, 19:9), but that doesn’t mean that a divorce can happen for just any and every reason.

The Pharisees and particularly the two dominant schools of the teachers of the law at the time, the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai, disputed about divorce at the time of Jesus. Shammai’s followers claimed that only sexual immorality could be the cause for a divorce, but Hillel’s followers maintained that a husband could divorce his wife for “any reason whatever” (see Matthew 19:3). The followers of Hillel prevailed in Jewish society. A divorce was simple, quick, and final in the culture. The husband had the “get” written (the declaration of divorce), it was read aloud as soon as it was written, the “get” (folded into a little packet) was thrown to the husband, who either threw it to the wife or, if she was not present, had it delivered to her, and the divorce had taken place. She left his home with her children. Jewish custom (which later became part of the oral tradition) said that she could not remarry a man she was suspected of committing adultery with or the messenger who brought her the “get” from her husband. She was also not permitted to remarry within three months of the divorce.

Jesus shows that this was all a violation of God’s will. The Sixth Commandment forbids divorce (see also Malachi 2:16), but more than that, it forbids anyone from damaging a marriage. This includes adultery and fornication, but also the “any and every reason” divorce espoused (pun intended) by the Jews. It also includes fostering an opinion of marriage that is ungodly or driving any wedge between a husband and wife. This is so misunderstood by mankind that God included another Commandment, the Tenth, to even forbid coveting, lusting after, or desiring another person’s spouse in any way. The will of God is that every man in the world should think of and treat every woman in the world as if she is his mother, sister, or daughter, unless she is his wife. Every woman in the world should think of and behave toward every man as if he is her father, brother, or son, unless he is her husband. As I teach my catechism classes, “If you’re not married to ‘em, don’t have sex with ‘em.”

The application of the exception—whether or not a divorced person can ever remarry, especially if there is no possibility of restoring the marriage—is a matter of conscience as well as repentance. Professor Lange covers this in an excellent section of his God So Loved the World book on Christian Doctrine (NPH, 2005), page 671. Perhaps most or all of the Pharisees with whom Jesus was speaking were all sinning according to the Sixth Commandment in this way, in thought and word if not also in action.

We remember God’s will for us with the explanation by Martin Luther:

“We should fear and love God that we lead a pure and decent life in words and actions, and that husband and wife love and honor each other.”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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