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Mark 10:1-8 Jesus and divorce

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, March 22, 2021

For those who just spent more than three years studying Luke and Acts with me, I thought we would take a short break before beginning the next exciting book of the Bible coming later in April. For the remainder of Lent we will follow Jesus leading up to a prophecy of his crucifixion in Mark 10. After that I plan to complete my devotional series on the Book of Proverbs.

MARK 10:1-8
10 Jesus then left that place and went along the borders of Judea and across the Jordan. Once again, crowds came to him, and as was his custom, he was teaching them.

This begins a new part of Jesus’ ministry as he crosses the Jordan River and moves into what was known as Ammon in the Old Testament. Jesus was moving his ministry from one part of Herod’s tetrarchy (not quite a kingdom) to another. Herod’s domain included Galilee and also the strip of land along the eastern bank of the Jordan River from the Kerith Ravine (1 Kings 17:3) to the point midway down the far shore of the Dead Sea at the mouth of the Arnon Gorge and the old boundary between Ammon and Moab (Numbers 21:13). This area was known as Perea, and we refer to this part of the Lord’s life as the Perean Ministry. Crowds of people were following Jesus, and Mark tells us that Jesus did what he customarily did: he was teaching, teaching, teaching, all the while.

2 Some Pharisees came and asked “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” But they were tempting him.

For whatever reason, it was at this moment that some Pharisees decided to test Jesus with a question. It was a trap, and Mark rightly says that they were tempting him (πειράζω, cp. Mark 1:13 “he was in the desert forty days, being tempted”). The trap had three sides:

1, The Pharisee teacher Shammai (50 BC–30 AD) had judged that according to Deuteronomy 24:1, “A man is not to release (divorce) his wife unless he has found something indecent in her.”

2, The Pharisee teacher Hillel (110 BC–10 AD) had judged that a wife could be divorced for burning her husband’s food or even if he found a better-looking woman. This is why in Matthew’s account of this question it says, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” (Matthew 19:3).

3, They may have suspected that Jesus would declare himself to oppose both Shammai and Hillel by being against divorce altogether, in which case they could accuse him of contradicting Moses, who allowed for divorce in some way (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

3 “What did Moses command you?” he said.  4 They replied, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and to release her.” 5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus said to them. 6 “But from the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”

The Pharisees thought that they had Jesus trapped because they pinned everything they believed about divorce on a single passage. This is never wise. Jesus, the Apostles and the Prophets all teach us that we need to search out the Scriptures and put together all of what God has to say about a subject. In fact, when we are considering any given doctrine or teaching of the Bible, it is never correct or appropriate to say, “What is your interpretation of this or that passage?” but rather, “What does this passage say?” The basic rules of interpretation and understanding of the Bible are the same for everyone, whether you are a veteran Bible scholar or a beginning Bible student:

1, The text has a single simple sense. If the passage is historical, like the books of Moses or the Gospels, we take it at face value as history. If it is a Psalm or Proverb, or a prophecy, or a vision, we take the form of the document into consideration. But each and every passage truly has one simple sense. When we hear that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35), that means that Jesus, the Son of God, cried at the grave of his friend Lazarus.

2, The Scriptures interpret the Scriptures. In some cases a passage appears to have a deeper meaning, such as when Jesus says, “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). In that case, we don’t need to look far for an explanation, since Jesus explains what he means just four verses later. When Jesus introduces the Lord’s Supper, he does not leave it to our imaginations to grasp for some spiritual or representative meaning. He tells us outright: “This is my body…, this is my blood…, for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28). Paul confirms this simply and clearly: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Ephesians 1:7).

3, Where possible, difficult passages should be explained in the light of easier passages. When a passage seems troublesome, other passages can help to clarify. What does John mean when he calls Jesus the Lamb of God (John 1:29)? Jesus was the lamb who would provide the sacrifice by which God would overlook the sins of the world, as he did with the Passover lamb in Egypt (Exodus 12:21-23; 1 Peter 1:19). But “of God” also means from God, that is, that Jesus is the Son of God, that is, God himself, as Jesus clarifies before Caiaphas (Matthew 26:63-64) and John asserts in his Gospel (John 20:31) and in his Epistle (1 John 4:3, 5:9, 5:12).

4, The Analogy of Faith. In order to find a doctrine in the Bible, we do not rely on just one passage, but we examine all the passages that speak about the thing, compare them in the light of one another, and then as a sum of them state a doctrinal proposition. This must always agree with the most fundamental of all doctrines: Salvation by Christ alone. We must always keep before us that “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8).

As we consider these four points, we see why Jesus was easily able to answer the Pharisees. They weren’t considering everything that God had said about marriage, which is more important than the mere doctrine (if it can be called that) of divorce. The point of marriage is to make a union of a man and a woman, to bring them together as one flesh. This must not be dissolved by divorce lightly, and in most cases it should not be dissolved at all. A man should behave in such a loving way that his wife will not ever consider doing anything that would break their vow. And a wife should behave in such a way that her husband would never think about doing anything that would break their vow. They are one flesh. Would I tear off my leg because I saw a better one somewhere? Should I tear out my lungs because I think that there is a better set someplace? I should cherish my spouse the way I cherish every part of my own flesh, because she is “flesh of my flesh,” the best of my flesh. That’s what the analogy of faith teaches me about marriage. As for divorce, we learn a little more in the verses that follow.

The same is true with our relationship with God. Before anyone thinks about severing that bond with God for themselves and their children and the generations that follow, they need to consider what that bond really is, and what they are sentencing their family to. The rich man cried out from hell to Abraham, “I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them so that they will not also come to this place of torment” (Luke 16:27-28), but he had already forgotten the way God rescues people and forgives sins. He doesn’t save them through risen believers, but through the crucified and risen Christ. We can’t bypass God’s path to heaven, which is Christ alone. We stay connected to Jesus forever through faith, by God’s grace.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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