So what did Jesus teach about divorce?
“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you than anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32, NIV)
“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:11-12)
“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Luke 16:18)
Perhaps it can be said that, according to Jesus, divorce isn’t the problem. Remarriage after divorce is the problem, unless the divorce is caused by adultery. But remarriage doesn’t enter the picture until divorce occurs. In Mark 10:6-9, Jesus goes back to God’s intent from the beginning. A man and a woman are joined in marriage as “one flesh,” never to be separated.
Some of Jesus’s strongest teachings are about divorce and remarriage. These days, they seem to have lost some of their clout.
But there are several teachings of Jesus that aren’t taken seriously. We get angry with others. We don’t turn the other cheek. We don’t love our enemies. We don’t fast. We worry. We judge others. We don’t love God with all our hearts. We don’t love our neighbors as ourselves. We try to follow Jesus’s teachings about these things, but we are far from perfect.
So what about divorce? It’s clear what God intended, yet God cut Israel some slack by allowing certificates of divorce to be granted (but only a man could give a certificate of divorce to his wife, not the other way around). It’s clear what Jesus said, but he didn’t cut any slack, just as he didn’t cut any slack with the other teachings mentioned above. Divorce is more clearcut, we might say. You’re either divorced, or you’re not. We can’t be sure about whether others are angry, forgiving, loving, worried. Really?
And then there’s the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 19:2-12 about when it’s better not to marry. (See also what Paul said in I Corinthians 7:8-9.)
All of the teachings of Jesus should be taken seriously, of course. But should one spouse stay married when the other spouse is abusive? And is that spouse barred from remarriage if the abusive spouse didn’t commit adultery? There are a lot of “what if” questions we can ask about divorce and remarriage. In I Corinthians 7:12-16, even Paul (who makes it clear that he is speaking for himself, “not the Lord”) asked what if a believer marries an unbeliever and then wants a divorce.
Before we spend a lot of time studying divorce and asking questions, perhaps we should spend that time studying marriage and asking questions. Or maybe we just wait until the great resurrection when there will be no marriage and, thus, no divorce. (Matthew 22:30; Luke 20:34-36)