July’s weekly posts present a biblical view of marriage. The first post considered the Hebrew Scriptures. This second addresses what Jesus has said about marriage as recorded in the Gospels. The third draws on some of the writings of the Apostle Paul. The fourth looks at marriage as a metaphor in the final book of the Holy Bible, the Revelation to John. Of necessity each post draws on only a small selection of biblical material; the reader is invited to read more deeply in order to perceive what God requires of his people in respect of the institution of marriage in society today.
Gospel of Matthew 19: 3-9 (NIV)
3 Some Pharisees came to (Jesus) to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
It is evident that the devout Hebrew’s views regarding marriage had changed little between the return from exile (fifth century BC) and the time of Christ. The sin of adultery and constraints as to who could marry whom were proclaimed by John the Baptiser to his cost (Mark 6: 17-18 relates
“For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’”)
Presumably the Pharisees who came to test Jesus had a good working knowledge of the Law. Jesus knew Hebrew Scripture better than they; he also knew his Father’s purposes in delivering a legal and a social system that would, despite human weakness, bring blessing to the nation including through the preservation of marriage. Jesus proclaimed the sacred character of marriage more strongly than it had ever been stated before* in attributing the union of a man and a woman to the will of God.
Yet Jesus received sinners and, as they repented, he forgave. The Gospel of John (8: 3-11) recounts further testing of Jesus when teachers of the law and Pharisees brought to him a woman caught in adultery. Avoiding their trap, Jesus then addressed the woman (8: 10, 11).
“Woman, where are they? Has no-one condemned you?”
“No-one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Forgiveness for the worst of disobedience towards God is freely available to all who would humbly repent and put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their fathers and the warnings he had given them. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the LORD had ordered them, “Do not do as they do,” and they did the things the LORD had forbidden them to do.
16 They forsook all the commands of the LORD their God … (2 Kings 17: 15b-16a)
*Henri Daniel-Rops, Daily Life in Palestine at the Time of Christ, (Patrick O’Brian trans.), Phoenix Press, London, 2002, page 137.