Sermon on the Mount - Divorce

(Matthew 5:31-32)

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Biblical Teachings, Sermon on the Mount, Sermon on the Mount (Bible Study)

  • The next command involves divorce.
  • Jesus says, “Anyone who divorces his wife causes her to commit adultery and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
  • For the Jewish people there was such a thing as the Mosaic bill of divorce (See Deut. 24:1-4). It requires that the man who wants the divorce has to give his wife a document that allows her to remarry.
  • Its purpose is to prevent men from just walking away from their wives, who are then damaged goods, who have no place in society, no stability, no security, no anything.
  • This document allows the wife to remarry, to get into a new family, to have a place. It also prevents the first husband from exerting any further claims upon her, from having any influence upon that second marriage.
  • Oftentimes, it was abused.
  • During the time of Jesus, there were basically two schools of thought on the subject of divorce. Their differences hinged upon the phrase, “some indecency” found in Deut. 24.
  • The school of Hillel focused on the word “some,” claiming that any reason would suffice.
  • The school of Shammai, however, was much more conservative and focused on the word “indecency.” The only acceptable reason for divorce is sexual infidelity.
  • Jesus follows the more conservative position.
  • Moreover, in antiquity, the husband usually commits adultery against another husband. A woman commits adultery against her husband. Men didn’t commit adultery against women.
  • Jesus’ words reverse that societal standard by declaring that the husband is committing adultery against her, against the woman. It declares that she is a person of full dignity, that she is not property, something to be disposed of at will. Hence, she can be the victim of adultery.
  • Jesus does make an exception here for sexual infidelity. In a sense, the divorce has already happened; the marriage has already been destroyed. The couple is now just making it legal.
  • So what happens when people divorce and want to remarry? There is nothing like a failed marriage to drive us right over to those first two “need” beatitudes.
  • When we stand before God poor in spirit, spiritually bankrupt, and in mourning, we have to remember the promises.
  • The poor in spirit inherit the earth; the mourners get comforted.
  • True repentance and amendment of life finds forgiveness and blessings.
  • That forgiveness has to be complete—with deep, deep anguish and repentance for sins.
  • But with such an attitude, there is forgiveness of sins and acceptance, and an opportunity of a good life, and even a new marriage.
  • Such a concession made to human weakness, however, does not represent the original or unconditional divine intent.

Bible Characters