How important are marriage and family to God?
What was God’s original intent when he created us male and female?
We will examine Mark 10:2-16 as Jesus reinterprets God’s law as he intended it to be applied.
Mark 10:2 Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife?” 3 Jesus answered them with a question: “What did Moses say in the law about divorce?” 4 “Well, he permitted it,” they replied. “He said a man can give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away.” 5 But Jesus responded, “He wrote this commandment only as a concession to your hard hearts. 6 But ‘God made them male and female’ from the beginning of creation. 7 ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, 8 and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, 9 let no one split apart what God has joined together.” 10 Later, when he was alone with his disciples in the house, they brought up the subject again. 11 He told them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. 12 And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery.”
13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. 14 When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” 16 Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.1
A Loaded Divorce Question (vs. 2)
Like reporters with an agenda, the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with a hostile, loaded question. The question about divorce relates to Deuteronomy 24:1. The only difference between the Jews was what is meant by the grounds for divorce, “something wrong with her.” The more conservative camp focused mostly on the sin of adultery while the more liberal Jews allowed divorce for any kind of “annoyance or embarrassment.”1 As is often the case when one gender is used as an example, the intent of the law would have been to apply it equally to both sexes. John the Baptist had been beheaded over a similar question and perhaps the Pharisees were intending to find an accusation against Jesus. This was asked in Perea, where Herod still maintained governorship. The Pharisees and Herod maintained a relationship for political advantage.
What does the Bible say about divorce?
The beginning of the institution of marriage is in Genesis 2:24 where a man and woman are united as one. That was the ideal. Moses permitted divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1), Ezra encouraged divorce of pagan wives (Ezra 10:2-3, 44), Joseph contemplated divorcing Mary suspecting unfaithfulness (Matthew 1:19). Jesus discouraged separating two who had become one (Mark 10:2-16). Paul permitted limited divorce but encouraged people not to divorce an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:12-15). In an age where the exception has become the rule, perhaps finding ways to save marriages instead of easy divorce is the healthier option. What is marriage, a sexual union, legal union or an emotional commitment? Does sex with a prostitute make them one flesh, married (1 Corinthians 6:16)? Other passages seem to indicate that becoming one is a lifelong process.
What Did Moses Say? (vs. 3-5)
Jesus’ specifically asked what Moses commanded about divorce. The Pharisees answered that he permitted it. Jesus replies that he permitted it only as a concession to hard hearts, tolerated but not supported in a sinful society that disregarded the intent of marriage. Does this sound familiar? Jesus words give moral support to the original intent of marriage. Some of Jesus’ teachings lean to the left of accepted modern values. This is an example of where Jesus is more conservative on an issue than our society’s accepted morals. It is clear that Jesus holds the original created intent of a man and woman in marriage very highly indeed. Mark does not include the exception found in Matthew 5:32; 19:9 of sexual immorality on the part of a spouse, which puts Jesus in line with conservative Jews of the time.
What is the Purpose of Marriage? (vs. 6-8)
Lawyers in most countries ask, what was the original intent of the law? Jesus also uses this approach when speaking of marriage law. The creation narrative teaches us the importance of marriage as intended from the beginning. Any arguments over discrimination or gender bias are resolved in Jesus’ interpretation of God’s law, not in how the Pharisees misapplied it. Two become one flesh. Ideas that that are anti-women or anti-men become irrelevant when two grow together as one. In a society where the exception has become the rule, Jesus reminds us and them, that the exception is the exception, but the rule remains the rule. And what is the rule? The rule is a decisive no to divorce and a confirmation of the original intent of God creating us male and female in the first place, marital fidelity.
What is Adultery? (vs. 9)
Most of our adult body parts work without the help of another human being, except for the reproductive system. It is the only system in the adult human body that requires the cooperation of another human body. Whereas we often like to solve marital disputes based upon selfish convenience or prevailing human opinion, Jesus points us to a higher law. Marriage is holy because God made it so, not because we did. Adultery is a sin against the other marriage partner. Jesus brought a deeper understanding of adultery to us (Matthew 5:28), looking and lusting, which covers everything from pornography to wandering eyes. So, by that much higher standard, we have all committed adultery too many times to count. Are divorced and remarried couples in our midst worse sinners than others? No, we are all sinners saved by grace.
Yes, That Lustful Look
Jesus said that if we look and lust, we have already committed adultery in our hearts. That is adultery with the eyes and I guess we have all been guilty. It’s like lunch out with friends, you look around the table and say in your heart, I should have ordered that.
The Law Was to be Applied Equally (vs. 10-12)
When the law was written it gave the example of a man divorcing a woman. Did this mean that a woman could not divorce a man or did the law apply equally to both sexes? The best interpreter of Old Testament law is Jesus, not the Pharisees. Even the most conservative Jews allowed divorce, as do many conservative Christians today. Jesus makes a call to fidelity. In agreement with John the Baptist, Jesus also condemns adultery like that of Herodias betraying Philip and remarrying Herod. Jesus interpreted God’s law as God intended it to be understood. Adultery is an act that a husband like Herod could also commit against his wife. As moderns misinterpret the Bible so did many ancients. God’s law was intended to treat women equally and sometimes Gentiles like the Romans instinctively treated women better than Jews.
Do We Have a Huge Problem with Bible Interpretation?
Here is a huge problem. The Jews took Deuteronomy 24:1 which says, “Suppose a man marries a woman but she does not please him. Having discovered something wrong with her, he writes a document of divorce...”1 They interpreted it literally, in the letter as applying only to a man, instead of applying it in principle, in spirit equally to both sexes as intended. Then along came Jesus (God with us) the one who wrote the law in the first place. He tells them that a woman could divorce a man just as a man could divorce a woman. Then he states that divorce was not the intent from the beginning, except for our hard heartedness, which causes divorce. Do Jews and Christians alike misinterpret the Bible when they interpret literally, in the letter instead of in the spirit?
What about Jesus Blessing Children? (vs. 13-16)
God created a man and woman to produce children. If children must wait to be baptized, are we saying that the kingdom of God does not belong to them? When we treat the church as a time where children are to be seen and not heard, are we siding with the disciples, who wanted to turn the children aside, instead of with Jesus, who said not to forbid them? When popes or pastors take children up into their arms and bless them, this is a very powerful gesture, an exact copy of the acts of Jesus. In that world Gentile children could be discarded at birth. In our world children can be discarded before birth. Children are a picture of the kingdom of heaven. They readily accept the gift of God. Ought we receive God’s kingdom in the same way?
It is always important to consider God’s original intent. God intended a man and woman to be one, not two competing with each other. God intended this union for procreation in most cases, and always for us to receive children. We are all to become like children, gratefully receiving what God has freely given, his eternal kingdom.2
1 Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc.
2 William L. Lane. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. The Gospel of Mark. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1974. 353.