In the Gospel of Mark, Pharisees come to Jesus and ask him: “Can a man divorce a woman?” (Mark 10:1-12) In summing up his answer, Jesus states: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:12) This seems to be a statement that completely denies any legitimacy to divorce and remarriage altogether. But the Gospel of Matthew clarifies that this was not exactly the question asked.

Literally, no Israelite at the time of Jesus thought it possible that the Word of God given through Moses was completely wrong in permitting divorce at all (and they were right!). In fact, no one was debating if divorce was allowed, but rather how liberally (or not) it could be practiced. The Gospel of Mathew provides a fuller version of this question and therefore sets Jesus’ answer in its proper context. According to Mathew’s gospel, some Pharisees tested Jesus by asking him: “Can a man divorce a woman for any reason?” (Mathew 19:3-9)

The conservative Jewish approach understood “unfaithfulness”, “abuse”, or “abandonment” as the only valid grounds for divorce (Deut. 24:1-4; Exod. 21:10-11). This view was represented by the Pharisaic rabbi Shammai, while various more progressive Jewish interpreters argued that a man had the right to divorce his wife for any reason at all (Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 90a). The later view was represented by another Pharisaic rabbi named Hillel.

In other words, there were many illegitimate divorces granted in the Jewish community in the time of Jesus that were not consistent with God’s instructions in the Torah. It is in this divorce-for-any-reason environment Jesus is quoted as saying, “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.” (Luke 16:18, Mark 10:12)

If read in 21st century Christian context, it would seem that Jesus forbade all remarriage. If it is read in a first-century Jewish context, Jesus’ statement cannot be interpreted as a blanket statement condemning all remarriage, but only when illegitimate divorce was involved. When Jesus was faced with this question he rejected the idea taught by Pharisees of the house of Hillel (that divorce was permissible for any reason) and sided with both the Pharisees from the house of Shammai and the Essenes who taught the opposite.

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510 COMMENTS

  1. So Paul was not (as some have accused) contradicting Jesus when he said, "...are you bound to a wife? Seek not to be loosed, are you loosed from a wife, seek not a wife..." and "...but and if you marry, you have not sinned..."
    • Chuck, thanks. This is a slightly more difficult because Paul was in some way misinformed (I know how terrible this sounds, but go with me a little more here; remember noone knows the day or the hour). He honestly thought that Jesus was about to come back. So a lot of his comments had to do with his anticipation of very very very near return of Christ. In felt that this was the case in view of unprecedented developments in redemptive history - Gentiles being becoming co-heirs with the Jews WITHOUT proselyte (full) conversion to Judaism.

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    • I always advise people "read it in context!" Read 1 Cor 7:25-29 and you'll see Paul clearly says he had no answer from God, but was just stating his opinion. This would lend credence to Dr EL's idea that Paul could be misinformed here. He had no revelation nor even spiritual unction on this topic; only an opinion. And Paul was despite all his education still human; he could be wrong, except where he was instructed by God. Here he was not, on his own word.

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    • There are many examples in Bible where great people did wrong but Lord saw their clear mind for acceptance of their sins.So It is up to our Lord how to deal with human.Let us praise him.
    • I don't think the writings of Paul are misinformed. Even the Apostle Peter is in agreement with the letters of Paul (2Pet. 3:15-18). The Scripture is cleared on this issue, "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate (Mat19:6)."

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  2. Thank you for this article, Eli. It's on a subject that needs to be brought out and discussed in the religious community. It's good to read that obviously Hashem does not want us to be miserable throughout life either being bound in an unhappy marriage or condemned in the event that divorce does occur. And Paul, who apparently never married, did not really understand the stresses of married life, in the same way that it is impossible really to comprehend what someone else is going through if one has not gone through it oneself.
    • It is unclear if Paul never married. Actually he seems to understand the stress of married life in telling others not to get married :-). Also "Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas?" (1 Cor.9:5) may point us in another direction. But we can't be sure if he is talking about himself or just collectively about his team.

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    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with Exodus and The New Testament or The Story of Our Hebrew Fathers: Abraham and Isaac. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!
    • I have the understanding that one of the requirements to be a Pharisee was being married. At this time, I think Shaul/Paul was a married man.

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  3. The ideal, of course, is that marriage should be between one man and one woman, and that upon marriage they should cling only to each other, leaving parents and their former lives as singles emotionally as well as physically. But we know this often is not the case. Jesus did point out that if a man leaves his wife (presumably for a frivolous reason) he is guilty of her subsequent adultery if she remarries. And I think you're correct when you say that Paul and other first century Christians anticipated the imminent return of Christ.
  4. Human failure - even those born-again humans - is a guarantee. Jesus is about taking us where we are and what we are and making us better. Condemning those with failed marriages does not have a lot of merit with a loving Savior Who came to save us from all our sin. It certainly is not preferable to divorce but not at all unpardonable. I am enjoying your messages of grace and mercy from a loving God. There are no excuses for sin but certainly there is forgiveness.
  5. But Yeshua said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment! But from the beginning of creation, God ‘made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate!” Mark 10:5-9, also in Matthew. I think we need to be careful in our interpretation. We should be striving for God’s intent, not desires of our hardened hearts.
    • Shalom, Mary. Of course he did. But do you realize that Jesus is appealing to the Torah in doing so also? So how is it possible for him to cancel out Torah's law above divorce by appealing to Torah? That is not at all that is He is doing. He is criticizing the practice of divorce for any reason here (DO NOT IGNORE THE TEXT!). Jesus is not asked here? Can a man divorce a woman. But Can a man divorce a woman for ANY REASON. He is arguing for STRICTER interpretation and for keeping to BIBLICAL laws about divorce

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  6. If by chance Paul WAS married before conversion... Would his wife have had the option of divorcing him because of his conversion to"the way"... Could she have "considered him dead" because of conversion and as a widow been allowed to remarry?? Do you consider Paul a possible member of Sanhedrin or in essence an apostle of the Sanhedrin going to Damascus??
    • Member of Sanhedrin? Never heard that argued before. What are the facts?

      Paul's conversion and his wife considering him dead? Probably not (but divorcing him or dying? Maybe). Remember Paul did not convert to Christianity :-). Mid first century there was no Christianity to convert to. If anything he became even more radicalized and certainly more marginally Jewish.

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  7. Dr Eli you said, ...."Paul was in some way misinformed ...: "So a lot of his comments had to do with his anticipation of very very very near return of Christ" Are you suggesting that Paul was speaking of his own will in this instance? Paul's conversion was by God"s direct intervention. If all that he said and did was through the Spirit of God, how could he be misinformed? I may be misunderstamding what your saying?
    • Paul mentions that sometimes he speaks not from the Lord but from himself. Nothing wrong here. Are you saying that Paul was right that Jesus was coming back in his generation? :-) Last time I checked we are still awaiting this blessed event to take place!

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    • Its not nice that you are forcing your standards upon the standards of God's Word. Not good. (Saying this with respect. Nothing personal).

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    • So, Sha, my husband left me to live a gay lifestyle. I did not seek divorce. He initiated a divorce last summer so that he could marry another man. We were married for 12 years, separated for 14. Should I have refused the divorce? I don't even think the law in my country would allow me to refuse, considering we had been separated so long. I have wondered about this passage, but came across Jer 3:8 where God gave Israel a certificate of divorce. God hates divorce, but there are clearly circumstances in which it is valid.

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  8. Thank u Dr. Eli for your wisdom! I'm a pastor's kid (now full time evangelist) and have dealt with the confusion and judgement from my parents' divorce. This answers questions I have had for over 30 years! I now know how to answer the critics with His truth. The body of Christ has to rediscover the Jewish roots/context of what was written and why Jesus said what He said. So many followers of Christ base their lives and opinions upon faulty thinking and misconceptions from the Word. I will be sharing this wisdom with many in the days ahead.
  9. Am I looking at 1st century apologetics? I see different teachings (liberal & progressive). This seems to fall under binding and loosing (the right to legislate). Did Rabbi Shammai & Rabbi Hillel have the right to legislate (Matthew 16:17-19)? The 1st century debate seems to be about authority. Many of our modern apologetics have to do with language or doctrine definitions (predestination, speaking in tongues, creation). A lot to think about!
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