Why did Mark and Luke (along with Matthew 5:32) omit the “except for sexual immorality” clause found in Matthew 19:9?
Some critics theorize that Jesus did not say “except for sexual immorality” in His original statement, but that Matthew (or somebody who copied his gospel) inserted these words to make Christ’s teaching more acceptable to the public. But they can produce no evidence for this conjecture.
This exceptive clause was omitted in the other gospels simply because it wasn’t needed. All firstcentury readers—Jewish, Greek, and Roman— agreed that sexual infidelity was legitimate grounds for divorce.
Commands that have well-known or obvious exceptions are often stated without a repetition of the exceptions. For example, Paul in Romans 13:1-7 told us to obey governing authorities and states no exceptions. Peter in his first epistle (2:13-16) told us to submit to “every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake” and gave us no exceptions. But both knew full well the principle expressed by Peter and recorded in Acts 5:29, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” They assumed their readers did too.
Why repeat the obvious and well-known? We normally don’t. Peter and Paul didn’t when they commanded obedience to civil authorities. Why should it be deemed strange that Mark and Luke didn’t?
Isn’t it unfair to suggest that Christians who divorce on grounds other than infidelity or desertion should remain unmarried? Didn’t Jesus say that some people can’t live the single life?
No, it’s not unfair. God has a right to call for celibacy. Moreover, He gives grace to those who look to Him for strength to obey Him. Jesus was not discussing a celibate life for divorcees when He said, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given” (Mt. 19:11). He was responding to the disciples’ objection that if sexual immorality is the only grounds for divorce and remarriage, it is best to stay single. Moreover, though Paul declared that one practical reason for marriage is to avoid sexual immorality (1 Cor. 7:2), he wasn’t giving improperly divorced people an excuse for marrying a new mate. The fact is that later in this chapter he suggested that remaining unmarried was a good option (7:27,39-40).
What about the teaching that a sexual relationship makes two people married and that sexual infidelity automatically breaks a marriage?
I believe that’s wrong! When Paul declared that a man who has sex with a prostitute becomes “one body with her” (1 Cor. 6:16), he was making the point that there’s no such thing as casual sex. It’s always significant. Marriage and divorce have always required some kind of legal commitment or action.
Some pastors accept divorced and remarried people as church members but have a policy of never performing a marriage if one or both parties have had a divorce in their past. Do you think they are acting consistently?
Yes, they believe that remarriage after all divorces is wrong, but at the same time they hold that people who have repented after remarrying should be received back into the fellowship of the church.
However, pastors who take the position set forth in this booklet but don’t perform weddings for any divorcees because they wish to avoid criticism are not being fair to those who have a biblical right to remarry. The spiritual welfare of a believer is so important that pastors should be willing to take the time necessary to determine the rightness or wrongness of remarriage in each specific case.
I have heard it said that Jesus was thinking only about sexual immorality during the Jewish betrothal period when He used the term porneia (fornication) instead of moicheia (adultery) in Matthew 19:9. The proponent of this view referred to Joseph’s intention to divorce Mary when he learned that she was pregnant. What about this idea?
This theory doesn’t take into consideration the fact that betrothal among the Jews was far more significant than a presentday engagement. The betrothed woman already belonged to her man. If she committed sexual sin during this time, she was executed just as if she were married (Dt. 22:22-24). She was considered guilty of adultery—of infidelity to her betrothal vow. Therefore, the technical word would be moicheia, not porneia.
Why do we find it harder to forgive and restore people who remarry after an unbiblical divorce than those who committed adultery but were able to preserve their marriage?
Perhaps it’s because it just seems wrong to us that people who have an unbiblical divorce can have a happy marriage while their former mates are brokenhearted. I’ve felt this myself. It has troubled me that they can repent and be restored to fellowship as if nothing ever happened.
However, we should realize that the second marriage is no more blissful than the first. After a short time, they settle down to the same kind of married life as everyone else. I have met men who confessed that they were actually more happy with their first mate. In fact, the percentage of failure is greater with second marriages than the first. People in second marriages need our love and fellowship.
In Romans 7:1-6, Paul declared that a woman who leaves her husband and marries another man is called an adulteress as long as her first husband is alive. Doesn’t this indicate that the apostle didn’t consider remarriage after divorce a valid option?
No, it doesn’t. First of all, in Romans 7:1-6 the apostle was not dealing with the subject of divorce and remarriage. He was simply illustrating the truth that we have been freed from the law system. In that we have died to all that we were before we were saved, we are now set free.
Second, Paul didn’t mention the wife obtaining a divorce. A Jewish woman at that time would have had to go to the Roman civil authorities to do so. Such a divorce was not recognized as valid by the Jewish religious leadership.
Another possibility is that the apostle was thinking of a woman who ignored or bypassed the Jewish divorce laws. It appears that this was done among the elite Jews like the Herods. A man and woman simply left their mates and started living together as husband and wife.
Whether Paul was thinking about a woman who obtained a divorce through Roman law or changed partners without legal action is not clear. It really doesn’t matter. It is not relevant to the truth he was illustrating.