Commentary on Matthew 19:1-12

by Dr. Knox Chamblin



19:1a marks the close of Jesus' fourth great discourse. This statement is identical to 7:28a, at the close of the discourse which Mt 18 most closely resembles. Jesus now departs from Galilee (v. 1b) to begin his final journey to Judea and Jerusalem, a journey which climaxes with his Triumphal Entry (21:1-11) and culminates in his death and resurrection - as he again prophesies en route (20:17-19). For the time being, Jesus enters "the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan," i.e. into Peraea, a district of Transjordan. Given the foregoing discourse, 19:2 reminds us (1) that Jesus' ministry includes healing as well as teaching (cf. 4:23-25; 9:35; and chs. 5-7 vis-a-vis chs. 8-9), and (2) that despite Jesus' present concentration on the disciples (to whom the preceding discourse is exclusively addressed), he still has compassion on the needy multitudes.


A. The Pharisees' First Question. 19:3.

As previously, the Pharisees' intent is hostile (cf. 16:1, where peiraz© is again used). Their question serve two purposes.

1. The theological purpose. The Pharisees' hostility towards Jesus and their case against him, have been building for some time. Within Mt, they first express their displeasure towards Jesus when they see him dining with tax collectors and sinners (9:10-13). When on a certain Sabbath they see him both tolerating and doing what they consider unlawful, displeasure escalates into a murderous plot (12:1-14). Then ensue the controversies over Beelzeboul (12:22-37), the sign from heaven (12:38-42, and law and tradition (15:1-9). Given that background, the Pharisees' present question may be viewed as a clever means of helping the "large crowds" (19:2) to see what they themselves have long known - that Jesus is a dangerous enemy of Moses, and therefore of God. Furthermore, they seek to force Jesus to become entangled in current controversy over the proper interpretation of Mosaic Law. Behind their question, with its phrase "for any and every reason" (kata pasan aitian), is the debate between the stricter Shammaites and the more lenient Hillelites over the meaning of Deut 24:1 (cf. comments on 5:31-32); see the question of 19:7.

2. The political purpose. Jesus' answer might also expose him as the enemy of Herod Antipas. (Later the Pharisees join forces with the Herodians against Jesus, 22:15-16.) Peraea (Jesus' current locale) lay within the tetrarchy of Herod - the Herod who divorced his first wife (the daughter of the Nabataean king Aretas IV) in order to marry Herodias, the wife of his half-brother Herod Philip (cf. 14:3-4; and F. F. Bruce, New Testament History, 28-29). The Pharisees may well be hoping (i) that Jesus' answer will underscore John's own preaching on the subject of divorce (14:4), (ii) that Herod will learn of this, be confirmed in his belief that Jesus is John redivivus (14:1), and proceed to treat Jesus as he had treated John, and (iii) that they (the Pharisees) will thus be rid of an increasingly dangerous adversary.

B. Jesus' Initial Response. 19:4-6.

1. Jesus appeals to the Torah. Jesus appeals to his antagonists' supreme written authority. The Pharisees draw attention to Deuteronomy (v. 7), Jesus to Genesis. The term Torah might refer either to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (the "Pentateuch"), or to the Mosaic Law which they contain. For instances of nomos ("law") in the former sense, see e.g. Mt 5:17; 7:12; in the latter sense, 12:5; 15:6.

2. Jesus appeals to the Creation Narrative. He speaks of God as "the Creator" (v. 4; for reasons favoring ktisas, "created," over poissas, "made," see Metzger, TC, 47). His words "from the beginning" (ap' archss, 19:4, 8) recall Gen 1:1, "In the beginning" (LXX, En archs). He then quotes both Gen 1:27 ("made them male and female") and 2:24 ("For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh"). Thus Jesus (1) focuses on God's intent for his creatures before the Fall (Gen 3); (2) founds 2:24 upon 1:27 (as Jesus quotes 2:24 directly after 1:27, the words "for this reason," v. 24a, call attention to 1:27 rather than to 2:23 - which latter v., however, is also founded on 1:27; cf. Carson, 412); (3) underscores the unity of husband and wife (1:27 teaches that "man" consists of "male and female" - for which reason the husband leaves his parents and cleaves to his wife, 2:24); and (4) draws from the chapter which speaks of the metaphysical equality of the man and the woman (Gen 1) as well as from the one which speaks of the woman's functional subordination (Gen 2).

3. Jesus declares all divorce unlawful. The Pharisees asked whether divorce was lawful "for any and every reason" (v. 3). Jesus, rather than taking sides in the debate between Shammai and Hillel, states categorically: "Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate" (v. 6). Jesus' unqualified statement shows the Pharisees' question to be irrelevant. It is not a matter of distinguishing between right and wrong reasons for divorce; judged by the standard of Gen 2:24, there is no valid reason for divorce. Such an action is always unlawful, for by its very nature it severs the marital bond which God has established. The Pharisees' next question shows they understand Jesus' meaning.

C. The Pharisees' Further Question.

19:7. "'Why then,' they asked, 'did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?'" (a reference to Deut 24:1). The Torah seems to teach that divorce is both unlawful (Gen 2:24) and lawful (Deut 24:1).

D. The Meaning of Deuteronomy 24:1.

1. The structure of the passage. Deut 24:1 is but an introduction to a one-sentence paragraph, which runs through v. 4. RSV (but not NIV) correctly represents vv. 1-4 as a single sentence. It is, moreover, a conditional sentence: vv. 1-3 are the protasis, and v. 4 the apodosis. The opening "if" (ki) of v. 1 governs all the clauses of vv. 1-3 (which are linked together by conjunctive waws), in preparation for the main clause, v. 4, which begins "then her first not allowed to marry her again." For support of this reading of the structure, see John Murray, Divorce, 3-7; P.C. Craigie, Deuteronomy, 304.

2. The 'ervat davar, v. 1. This Hebrew expression is rendered "something indecent" in NIV (similarly RSV), "something shameful" in NEB, and "some uncleanness" in KJV.

a. Terminology. The noun 'ervah means basically "nakedness, pudenda" (BDB, s.v.). (The Latin pudenda is the plural of pudendus, "shameful," and here denotes the genital organs.) The verb 'arah correspondingly means "to be naked, bare." The noun davar means "word, thing"; so 'ervat [construct of 'ervah] davar is literally "the nakedness of a thing" (BDB, ibid.).

b. Usage outside Deut 24:1. (1) 'Ervah. In most cases, the noun denotes the uncovering of the sexual organs (literally or metaphorically), for the purpose of sexual activity (Gen 9:22-23?; Lev 18:6-19; 20:11, 17-21; Ezek 16:36; 22:10; 23:18), or as a judgment upon sexual activity (Ezek 16:37; 23:10 [cf. v. 9], 29; cf. Hos 2:9b, with v. 10a), or as an act or a mark of shame (Gen 9:22-23?; Ex 20:26; Isa 20:4; 47:3; Lam 1:8). Otherwise 'ervah occurs only in Gen 42:9,12 (a land is naked, i.e. vulnerable); 1 Sam 20:30 (Saul denounces Jonathan's "shameful" betrayal of his family); Ezek 16:8 (Yahweh covers Jerusalem's nakedness); and Deut 23:14 (see below). (2) 'Arah. The verb speaks of "laying bare" or "pouring out" (i.e. laying bare by emptying) various things (see BDB, s.v. for references).

In view of the usage of 'ervah, the most noteworthy instances of the verb are found in Lev 20:18-19 (of sexual activity) and Lam 4:21 (of the shame of nakedness resulting from drunkenness). (3) 'Ervat davar. Besides Deut 24:1, this expression occurs in the OT only in Deut 23:14, at the conclusion of a paragraph (vv. 12-14) directing that toilet facilities be restricted to an area outside the camp. It would be most unseemly to place such facilities within the camp, and most indecent to leave human excrement unburied (even outside the camp); for the pure eyes of the holy God who "moves about" in the camp, must not behold among his people "anything indecent." While this regulation is obviously not concerned with sexual offenses, the present usage of 'ervah has a fundamental kinship with the dominant usage, as noted under (1). Both human excrement and the sexual organs ought to be covered over and hidden away. Both leaving excrement open to view and bringing the sexual organs into view (except within the prescribed bounds of marriage; cf. Gen 2:24, Song of Sol passim), are shameful and indecent; both violate God's laws of purity.

c. Usage in Deut 24:1. Precisely what the words 'ervat davar would have denoted to Moses and the original readers of Deut, we cannot determine. The rabbinic debate over the term, testifies to the difficulty of recovering its exact meaning and the limits of its application. (It may even be that the exact limits of its application were unclear to the original recipients of Deut.

Nonetheless the present usage was designed to exert some control over divorce proceedings: cf. 4. below.) In light of the above survey (b.) as well as the present context, I conclude that the words 'ervat davar, as used here, refer principally but not exclusively to sexual offenses (apud Murray, 12; James B. Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective, 98-99). It is therefore appropriate to translate "something shameful or indecent" - terms which embrace offenses besides the sexual. I refrain from speculating about which particular non-sexual offenses might be comprehended by the term. However, concerning the relation of 'ervat davar to sexual offenses, further comment is necessary. The term does not embrace adultery, whether proven or suspected; for the former was punishable by death (Deut 22:22), and the latter was subject to the rite of bitter waters (Num 5:5-31), neither of which left room for divorce. Nor can the phrase embrace the sexually- related acts dealt with in Deut 22:13-29 (see Murray, 11).

Thus, insofar as sexual offenses are in view, the 'ervat davar might denote one or both of two things: (1) sexual misconduct, irregularity, or lewdness which fell short of intercourse (Carson, 413; Murray, 12); (2) the inability to bear children (Craigie, 305) - which, while not sexually immoral, might nonetheless cause offense to the husband (we recall that the Shah of Iran divorced his first wife when she failed to produce a male heir).

3. The purpose of the passage. Deut 24:1-4 does not command divorce (see 4.) The principal purpose (as indicated by the structure, 1.) is to prohibit a husband's remarriage to a woman whom he earlier divorced and who thereafter was married to and divorced by (or separated by death from) another man. The first husband is "not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled [Hebrew hutama'ah, hotpaal of tama']" (v. 4a); his doing so "would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD" (v. 4b). The woman's marriage to the second man is similar to adultery (cf. the use of tama' in Lev 18:20) but not equated with adultery (the woman and the second man are not stoned to death); hence the text speaks of "defilement" rather than "adultery." Especially significant is that the law does not prohibit the woman's marrying a third man, only her return to her first husband. This is a striking witness to the irreparability of the marital bond once divorce and remarriage to another have occurred. (The woman's "divorce and remarriage" must be considered together. A divorce without her subsequent remarriage to another person, leaves the way open for her return to her first husband; cf. 1 Cor 7:10-11.) Once the sacred inviolability of the first bond has been violated by divorce and remarriage, the bond can never be made inviolable again. The first marriage is like a priceless vase which, once shattered, can never be restored (cf. Murray, 14). Cf. Yahweh's words to Israel, Jer 3:1, "If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and marries another man, should he return to her again? Would not the land be completely defiled? But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers - would you now return to me?"

4. Supportive regulations. All are agreed that divorce itself is not commanded in Deut 24:1-4, and that the principal purpose of the passage is to prohibit remarriage, v. 4. Yet there is more to be said concerning vv. 1-3.

a. How extensive is the legislation? Craigie comments: "In precise terms, there is only one piece of legislation in this passage, that contained in v. 4a.... The protasis contains incidental information about marriage and divorce, but does not specifically legislate on those matters. The verses do not institute divorce, but treat it as a practice already known, which may be either a matter of custom or of other legislation no longer known" (Deuteronomy, 304-5). In my judgment, this is rather misleading. To be sure, divorce itself is presupposed as an existing practice. However, the issuing of the "certificate of divorce" is not merely a presupposed custom but an integral part of the Mosaic regulation. In other words, legislation is to be found throughout the paragraph, in vv. 1-3 no less than in v. 4: that of vv. 1-3 is implicit, that of v. 4 explicit. The former is no less pertinent for being implicit. Moreover, it is not necessary for us to know the source of the legislation of vv. 1-3; its incorporation into the present passage makes it authoritative for Israel.

b. How do vv. 1-3 relate to v. 4? From one standpoint the issuing of the "certificate of divorce" (24:1b, 3a) is but a preliminary to the main point at issue in the passage (namely, the woman's remarriage to her first husband). At the same time the certificate is an essential ingredient in the process. The husband is certainly not being commanded to divorce his wife; indeed he may choose not to divorce her even in the presence of the 'ervat davar (in this event divorce is permitted but not required). Yet once he has determined to divorce her, his "writing her a certificate of divorce" is not optional but obligatory. The fact that the legislation of vv. 1-3 is stated indirectly, in preparation for the direct legislation of v. 4a, does not in the least diminish its regulatory function. Craigie himself says that "the first three verses...specify exactly the conditions that must apply for the execution of the legislation in v. 4" (p. 304, emphasis mine). A little later he writes: "The intent of the legislation seems to be to apply certain restrictions on the already existing practice of divorce. If divorce became too easy, then it could be abused and it would become a 'legal' form of committing adultery" (p. 305). I wish to insist with Craigie that the "certain restrictions" are set forth not only in v. 4 but in vv. 1-3 as well.

c. Why is the regulation of vv. 1-3 important? (1) Its principal purpose was to protect the wife. "This rule [v. 1] does not create, but places a double limit upon, the ancient right of a husband to divorce his wife; for some substantial grievance must be urged [namely the 'ervat davar], and a formal document must be issued" (G. T. Manley, New Bible Commentary, 1st ed., 216).

"The feeling prompting a husband to divorce his wife must rest upon a definite and substantial ground [which is no less definite for our being unable to define it].... The husband's determination to divorce his wife must be attested by a properly formulated legal document" (S. R. Driver, Deuteronomy, 270-71). Concerning the words "dislikes her" in v. 3, Driver writes: "The expression, which includes no reference to a positive offence on the woman's part, might be taken to show that a husband could divorce his wife upon slight and arbitrary grounds; but as a second husband would hardly enjoy greater liberty of divorce than a first, it is only reasonable to interpret it in the light of v. 1, as implying some impropriety [namely, of the kind denoted by 'ervat davar] as its occasion" (pp. 271-72). The certificate of divorce, says Murray, "was a legal document and therefore...would serve to restrain [the husband from] frivolous, thoughtless and rash dismissal. It would also be a testimonial to the woman of her freedom from marital obligation to the husband who sent her away. And it would be a protective instrument in the matter of the woman's reputation and well-being, particularly in the event that she married another man" (Divorce, 9). (2) The regulation of 24:1-3 served as a safeguard for the husband too: Murray's last two sentences apply (mutatis mutandis) to the man as well as the woman.

E. Jesus' Further Response. 19:8-9.

Having considered Deut 24, we can better understand Jesus' response to the question of Mt 19:7.

1. The point of departure: Deut 24:1. Jesus first comments (v. 8a) on the verse to which the Pharisees have pointed.

a. Areas of agreement. (1) The source of the ruling. Both Jesus and the Pharisees expressly attribute this regulation to Moses, and thus (by implication) to the God who gave his Law to Israel through Moses. (2) The interpretation of the ruling. On this too Jesus and the Pharisees agree. The change in verbs - from the Pharisees' "command" (eneteilato, from entellomai) to Jesus' "permitted" (epetrepsen, from epitrep©) - points not to a difference of interpretation but to a difference of focus. As the Pharisees speak of the husband's both giving his wife a certificate of divorce and sending her away (and not merely of the latter), they quite correctly use the verb "command." The husband was not commanded to divorce his wife. But once he determined to do so, he was required to provide the certificate (D. 4.); with this Jesus agrees, Mt 5:31. But here in ch. 19 Jesus makes no reference to the certificate but speaks only of the husband's divorcing his wife (behind both the Pharisees' "send her away," v. 7b, and Jesus' "divorce," v. 8a, is the aorist infinitive apolysai). So he uses the verb "permit"; for the husband was not commanded - only permitted - to divorce his wife. Thus it is incorrect to say that Matthew "contrasts the wrong interpretation of Moses as commanding divorce with the correct interpretation of Moses as permitting divorce" (Gundry, 380).

b. A difference of perspective. Despite those agreements, Jesus' perspective is very different from that of the Pharisees. (1) The Pharisees are concerned at best with applying the ruling of Deut 24:1. (I say "at best," because their commitment to oral tradition surpasses their devotion to the divine command [15:1-9], and because their deepest desire on this occasion is to entrap Jesus.)

This is evident already in the question of v. 3. It is further evident from the fact that, in their next question, v. 7, they focus not upon divorce itself but upon the procedure for legitimizing it. (2) Jesus, on the other hand, is singularly occupied with explaining the ruling of Deut 24:1. Thus he speaks not of the certificate but of the divorce itself; not of the procedure but of the permission which underlies it; not of husbands' rights (on whatever occasions) to divorce their wives but of the Israelites' "hardness of heart" which accounts for Moses' permitting divorce.

(These matters will receive further attention when we come to v. 9.) So there is, after all, a significant difference between v. 7 and v. 8: it lies not in the change of verbs (from "command" to "permit") per se, but in the shift of attention away from divorce proceedings to divorce itself.

2. The Markan parallel. Before we come to the remainder of Jesus' response according to Mt, it will be helpful to examine Mk 10:2-5 in light of the conclusions reached under 1. Luke does not record this episode.

a. The Pharisees' hostility. Their opening question according to Mk 10:2 is an abbreviated form of Mt 19:3b. As the Pharisees are again said to be "testing" Jesus, we may interpret Mk's question as we did Mt's. Cf. D. E. Nineham, Mark, 264; Lane, Mark, 353-54.

b. The change of language. Here, in contrast to the Matthean parallel, it is Jesus who asks, "What did Moses command [eneteilato] you?" (Mk 10:3), and the Pharisees who say, "Moses permitted [epetrepsen] a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away" (10:4).

c. The intent of Jesus' question. Jesus' fundamental purpose, in putting the question of 10:3, is to direct the Pharisees away from oral tradition (and its running rabbinical debate over the grounds for divorce) back to the written tradition - away from the "traditions of men" and back to God's Torah (Mk 7:1-13, par. Mt 15:1-9). But to which portion(s) of the Torah? It is possible that Jesus' question intends to direct the Pharisees' attention to Gen 1-2 instead of Deut 24 (cf. Lane, Mark, 354, for this suggestion), or to Gen 1-2 as well as Deut 24 (thus Murray, 44), if not the Mosaic revelation generally (ibid.). The inclusion of Gen 1-2 would indeed accord with Jesus' major emphasis on this occasion (as recorded in both Mt and Mk). Yet it is more likely that Jesus, when putting the question of Mk 10:3, has in mind the very passage which the Pharisees proceed to quote in v. 4. The reasons for thinking so: (1) Deut 24:1-4 is the one passage in the Torah which directly and expressly addresses the question raised by the Pharisees in v. 2. (2) The expression "Moses commanded you" more naturally refers to a stipulation of God's Sinaitic covenant, than to a principle laid down in the creation narrative (this of course says nothing about the authorship of Gen 1-2). (3) Those two points gain support from Mk 10:5, where Jesus responds to the Pharisees' quotation of Deut 24:1 by saying, "[Moses] wrote you [hymin, as in v. 3] this commandment [entols, the nominal counterpart to the verb entellomai]" (RSV). Yet we must be careful not to draw the wrong inference from this conclusion. To argue that the question of Mk 10:3 has Deut 24 in view, is emphatically not the same as saying that according to Jesus the Mosaic Law commanded divorce. In keeping with the emphasis at the beginning of this paragraph, the intent of Jesus' question is simply, "What was the Mosaic legislation on this matter?" (see Murray, 44-45).

d. Areas of agreement. Here the situation is the same as in Mt. (1) Jesus and the Pharisees are agreed on the source of the ruling of Deut 24:1. Note the explicit references to Moses (vv. 3-4) and the words "he wrote," egrapsen (v. 5) - perhaps a swipe at an illegitimate oral tradition (cf. Mk 7:8-13). (2) They are also agreed on the interpretation of Deut 24:1. Jesus does not take exception to the Pharisees' answer in v. 4; instead he expresses his assent (v. 5) to their rendering of the Mosaic regulation. Here, no more than in Mt 19, does the change of verb per se witness to a difference of viewpoint. The Pharisees' words in v. 4 may be paraphrased: "Moses permitted a man to divorce his wife so long as he produced the proper certificate of divorce." With this, Jesus agrees.

e. A difference of perspective. Mk witnesses to the same difference in perspective that we found in Mt. (1) The Pharisees are concerned with applying the ruling of Deut 24:1. In response to Jesus' general question (v. 3), they focus immediately and exclusively upon the Deuteronomic procedure for legitimizing divorce (v. 4). (2) Jesus again focuses instead on the underlying explanation for the ruling: "It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law" (v. 5). The rest of Jesus' reply to the Pharisees (10:6-9) makes it clear that he directs their attention to Deut 24 as a gateway into the Torah, and as a stepping-stone to the more foundational teaching of Gen 1-2. We now return to Matthew's account.

3. Creation and New Creation.

a. The real point of departure. Taking account of the whole Matthean passage, we find that Jesus' own chosen point of departure is not Deut 24 but Gen 1-2. He first directs attention to this passage (19:4-6), and speaks about Deut 24 only after the Pharisees have introduced it into the discussion (vv. 7-8). Then, having commented upon Deut 24, he again calls attention to Gen ("But it was not this way from the beginning," v. 8b) and his own commentary upon it. Jesus' remaining words (v. 9, with vv. 11-12) are based firmly upon his exposition of Gen 1-2 in 19:4-6.

b. "Your hardness of heart." (1) The meaning of the phrase. The noun sklsrokardia (sklsros, "hard," and kardia, "heart"), fundamentally denotes an attitude towards God. It is "the persistent unreceptivity of a man to the declaration of God's saving will, which must be accepted by the heart of man as the centre of his personal life" (J. Behm, TDNT 3: 614). (2) Jesus' present application. In v. 8 Jesus answered the Pharisees, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard." In that he addresses Pharisees, uses the pronoun "you," and speaks expressly of divorcing wives, Jesus focuses on the sinfulness of Hebrew males and husbands (cf. Richard J. Foster, Money, Sex & Power, 142), and underscores one of the main purposes of Deut 24:1-4 (noted under D.). By saying "Moses permitted you," Jesus ssociates his listeners with the original recipients of the Law. Indeed the nation's history since the original ruling, testifies to growing hardness of heart among Israel's males.

For while the more stringent view of the Shammaites was closer to the actual intention of Deut 24:1, "the lax Hillelite view determined actual practice" in Jesus' own day (Jeremias, NT Theology, 1: 225; cf. my comments on 5:31-32). (3) The broader reference. Jesus' use of the phrase "hardness of heart" cannot be confined to his present listeners (and the Jewish males they represent); the words are more comprehensive in their application. As noted, "hardness of heart" fundamentally describes an attitude towards God, not towards one's fellow-Jews. To be sure, a husband might show his resistance to God by abusing his wife; but by the same token, a wife might show her resistance to God by being unfaithful to her husband. Jesus is speaking of all Israelites of all generations from the time of Moses to his own day. "Hardness of heart" is exemplified by certain husbands, but it is certainly not confined to them. "Hardness of heart" characterized both Jewish males and Jewish females. Accordingly, as stated earlier, Deut 24:1-4 was intended both to safeguard the wife from exploitation by her husband and to provide legitimate grounds for a divorce. The presence of the 'ervat davar — as defined earlier - would testify to the wife's sinfulness, i.e. to her resistance to God's Word, i.e. to her "hardness of heart." (4) The reason for Israelites' hardness of heart. The explanation is to be found in the Fall of Man, Gen 3.

Adam and Eve harden their hearts against God, rebel against his command, and thus experience separation from him. In consequence of their separation from God, Adam and Eve become alienated from each other. This helps to explain why Jesus goes all the way back to the Creation Narrative - to the time before the Fall.

It is not that Gen 1-2 possess greater authority than Deut 24; it is rather that they describe God's intention for marriage before Sin began to exert its destructive powers (Rom 5:12). When Jesus says, "But it was not this way from the beginning" (19:8b), he means that divorce lies outside God's intention for marriage. He also means that prior to the Fall, there was no "hardness of heart" and therefore no divorce and therefore no need for the kind of ruling later set forth in Deut 24:1-4. "Jesus...confronted the Pharisees with first principles and brought them face to face with the sinful conditions under which alone the question of divorce could arise" (Murray, Divorce, 29, on Mt 19:4-6).

c. The basic principle. "Anyone who divorces his wife ...and marries another woman commits adultery" (v. 9). For the moment we consider Jesus' pronouncement without the "except clause." The effect of the husband's decision upon his first wife is not addressed in this saying. For that, see 5:32, "causes her to commit adultery"; and Murray, 23-24. According to the present saying, it is divorce together with remarriage that causes the husband to commit adultery. Divorce without remarriage leaves room for reconciliation to the wife (cf. D.). Without remarriage, divorce is a "leaving" without a second "cleaving"; but once the husband "cleaves" to a second woman, he commits adultery against his first wife.

d. The "except clause." The full statement reads: "Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness [porneia], and marries another woman commits adultery." (1) The meaning of porneia. The fundamental meaning of the term is "prostitution," in keeping with its nominal counterpart porn , "prostitute, harlot." Yet it also denotes "fornication" and indeed can be used to comprehend "every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse" (BAGD, s.v.). Thus the term is more comprehensive than moicheia, "adultery."

"According to Jesus only illicit sexual relations (porneia: adultery, homosexuality, bestiality) provide reason to terminate a marriage" (Hurley, Man and Woman, 103); so too Carson, 417-18. (2) Porneia and divorce. Jesus roots his teaching in the Creation Narrative and thus - in accord with that narrative - declares that divorce, conceived as the severing of the marital bond, is always unlawful (vv. 4-6; cf. B. 3.). It is now to be emphasized that Jesus' "except clause" in v. 9 does not represent a reversal or even an exception to the principle enunciated in vv. 4-6. For where porneia has occurred, the marital union is already severed. In this case a divorce does not cause the rift but witnesses to a rift that has already occurred. Jesus legitimizes "a kind of divorce that consists solely in the formalization of a break that has already occurred through sexual infidelity" (Gundry, 381). (3) Porneia, divorce and remarriage. The "except clause" must be related to both the divorce and the remarriage (Murray, 35-43). It would make no sense to say, "Whoever divorces his wife, except for porneia, commits adultery." The latter occurs only by the husband's union with another woman: cf. Carson's paraphrase, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery - though the principle does not hold in the case of porneia" (p. 416). (4) The difference between Mt and Mk. On the authenticity of the "except clause," and the reasons for its inclusion in Mt and its absence from Mk 10:11 (and Lk 16:18), see Carson, 414-18; Hurley, 103-4; and Murray, 45-54.

e. The new reality. The present section is entitled "Creation and New Creation." (1) Jesus' teaching on divorce and remarriage, like all his teaching, is presented in light of the dawn of the Kingdom of God (4:17, 23). (2) Jesus here speaks with the authority of the New Moses and with the authority of Yahweh incarnate ("God with us"). The opening words in Mt 19:9, "I tell you that [leg© de hymin hoti]," set as they are over against the reference to the Law of Moses (v. 8), call to mind his pronouncements in 5:21-48 ("You have heard that it was said to the people long ago.... But I tell you [eg© de leg© hymin hoti]"). (3) Jesus affirms continuity with the Law of Moses. He has come not to destroy the Law (including the ruling of Deut 24:1), but to bring it to completion by ushering in the New Age to which it pointed (5:17-20). As people's hearts are just as hard now as they were then, they still need the Law's restraining power and they are still called to steadfast obedience to the Law as expounded by Jesus (5:18-20). (4) As a sign of the Day of Grace which he has come to inaugurate, Jesus' teaching is more merciful than Moses' Law. That God is now acting with unprecedented grace (Mt 11, e.g.), is reflected in Jesus' exposition of the Law. The three kinds of porneia of which Jesus speaks in v. 9, were all punishable by death under the Old Covenant (Lev 20:10-16 commands that persons guilty of adultery, homosexuality and bestiality, be put to death). Now, says Jesus, they are legitimate grounds for divorce - which by implication excludes the death penalty (cf. Jn 8:1-11). At the same time, the provision of divorce in lieu of the death penalty, also leaves room for the offended party to relinquish his right to divorce his guilty wife, or to be reconciled to his wife following the divorce (in the event neither has remarried).

In case of porneia, there has indeed been a rupture in the marital bond. But Jesus' ruling provides for the healing of that rupture by virtue of the grace and the power he has come to bestow as the Inaugurator of the Kingdom. (5) As a sign of the Day of Grace which he has come to inaugurate, Jesus' teaching is more demanding than Moses' Law. The permissible grounds for divorce according to Deut 24:1, Jesus totally excludes. It is true that the 'ervat davar, as defined above, was primarily sexual in nature; but it is clearly to be distinguished from porneia according to Jesus in Mt 19:9. According to Jesus, porneia is the only legitimate ground for divorce and remarriage; and the only reason divorce and remarriage are permitted on this ground, is that porneia has already broken the marital bond. Thus, as in 5:21-48, Jesus the New Moses summons would-be citizens of the Kingdom to radical obedience. (6) The dawn of the Kingdom marks the beginning of Paradise Regained. The Kingdom of God "will restore the world to its condition at the beginning" (J. C. Fenton, Matthew, 308). With the coming of Jesus, new creation has begun (2 Cor 5:17) and will surely be realized (Rev 21-22). Now that Jesus has unleashed the powers of the Kingdom, the time is ripe for a restoration of those conditions present in the Garden of Eden - and in the marriage of Adam and Eve - before the Fall. Jesus' appeal to the Creation Narrative, together with his call to radical obedience, makes it clear that he is summoning his followers to bear witness in their lives to the unity and the inviolability of the marital bond. The Urzustand ("primitive state") of creation knows no destroying or severing of the marriage bond; Jesus demands obedience according to the pure Schöpferwillen Gottes ("God's will for creation"), now that the new creation has begun (J. Jeremias, Jesus als Weltvollender, 67). The graces and the powers of the Kingdom are of such magnitude as to encourage and sustain them in this undertaking.


A. The Disciples' Reaction. 19:10.

1. Are they being chauvinistic? The disciples' words express "a thoroughly male point of view," writes F. F. Bruce (Matthew, 62). Jesus' ruling, v. 9, has provided the wife with yet more protection than she had under the Mosaic Law - which is not at all surprising, since the present Lawgiver has ushered in the Day of Grace and the Year of Liberation (Lk 4:16-21). Given the dominance of the Hillelite view in Jesus' day, and thus the relative ease with which a Jewish man could obtain a divorce, Jesus' ruling might well have offended these particular Jewish males. Jesus has gone beyond the Shammaite interpretation; and he has not merely called for a new allegiance to the Mosaic ruling - he has gone beyond it too, and summoned Israelite men to a level of obedience unprecedented in the nation's history! Did the disciples conclude that Jesus was being unfair to them as men and husbands? Note: The (unparalleled) saying of Mk 10:12 ("And if she divorces her husband and marries another man...") further undermines male power by envisaging a situation in which the wife may lawfully divorce her husband (though her remarriage is prohibited) - a right excluded by the Jewish law of Jesus' day. On the authenticity of this Markan saying, see Murray, 52-54; on its special relevance to Mark's readers, see Lane, 358.

2. They are being realistic. In my judgment it is difficult to read male chauvinism out of the text of v. 10. (Given the Zeitgeist of our day, one could easily read this into the text.) Thus it is this second point I wish to emphasize. On the one hand, the disciples are being realistic about Jesus' teaching. They have rightly understood his exposition in 19:4-6 and 8-9 (by this stage of Mt, their understanding has advanced considerably); they perceive that Jesus speaks of marriage as permanent and binding (F. V. Filson, Matthew, 207). On the other hand, they are being realistic about themselves. They know their fallenness, their limitations and their sinfulness (or their "hardness of heart"). The disciples conclude that Jesus' words place impossible demands upon husbands and wives and the marriage itself. Note that they say simply, "It is better not to marry." Better that no one should marry - whether man or woman - given the sort of demand that Jesus is making. Better not to marry at all, than to enter into a union where the responsibilities are far too demanding and the risks of disobedience far too high.

B. Jesus' Response. 19:11-12.

1. "This word [logos]," v. 11a. "Not everyone can accept [ch©rousin] this word," says Jesus. The verb ch©re© here means "to be ready to receive, keep in mind, and practice" (Thayer, s.v.). Jesus reiterates the point in v. 12b, "The one who can accept this should accept it [ch©rein ch©reit©]." I take the "word" to be not the disciples' conclusion ("It is better not to marry"), but Jesus' teaching — as set forth in 19:4-9, not just v. 9. The reasons:

a. The verb "receive" (ch©re©) more naturally refers to pronouncements of Jesus than to an utterance of disciples (which, far from being a pronouncement, is simply a reaction to Jesus' teaching) - particularly as Jesus is the speaker. b. V. 11b, "but only [for alla, the strong adversative] those to whom it has been given [hois dedotai]," strongly supports the above conclusion; for "giving," like "receiving," much more fittingly refers - especially on Jesus' lips — to the imparting of divine truth than to the offering of human opinion. (The passive dedotai identifies God as the source of the teaching; cf. 12:39; 16:4.) Moreover, the present statement is reminiscent of Jesus' words in Mt 13:11, "To you [the disciples] it has been given [dedotai] to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them [the crowd] it has not been given [ou dedotai]" (RSV). Significantly, Jesus here (19:11) is again addressing the disciples.

c. The logos of v. 11 answers to the authoritative leg© de hymin of v. 9a.

d. Despite the link between v. 11a and v. 9a (as just noted), it is incorrect to restrict the logos of v. 11a to the pronouncement of v. 9 (as Gundry does, 383: "'this saying' refers to Jesus' teaching against divorce with remarriage"). For Jesus' words in v. 9 are based upon, and inextricably joined to, the closing words of v. 8 ("But it was not this way from the beginning"), which in turn join vv. 8-9 to the exposition of vv. 4-6. Jesus' ruling in v. 9 only makes sense when it is closely joined to his exposition of Gen. 1-2.

e. Carson (arguing that the logos of v. 11a refers to the words of v. 10b) comments: "It helps little [to support the case I am making] to say...that those to whom the teaching is given are Christians who must follow Jesus' moral standards but that others cannot accept what he says, for Jesus' appeal has been to the creation ordinance, not to kingdom morality" (p. 419). But this is to miss the central point of Jesus' teaching - namely, that kingdom morality calls precisely for a return to and a revival of the creation ordinance! This brings us to the next point.

2. "Those to whom it has been given," v. 11b. Given the above interpretation of v. 11a, to whom does Jesus refer in v. 11b? My view (as already anticipated) is that Jesus speaks here of citizens of the Kingdom of God (i.e. of true disciples), more specifically of those called to marriage on the terms of Gen 1-2, and thus those willing and able to accept the stricture of v. 9. He who purposes to live, and who is enabled to live, according to Gen 2:24, will not forever be trying to circumvent or water down the ruling of v. 9; he may (perhaps) not even insist on a divorce in the event of porneia. Says Jesus in effect: "Given human fallenness and sinfulness, the radical demands of the Kingdom (as set forth in vv. 4-6, 8-9) indeed seem impossible. But the demands of the Kingdom do not stand alone; they are based upon the grace and power of the Kingdom. This grace and this power God has given to you; they will enable you to live according to the creation ordinance." Cf. Hurley, 105-6.

3. Another way of obedience, v. 12. V. 11b speaks of God's and of Jesus' appointed way of obedience (together with the needed grace) for citizens of the Kingdom of God - but only for certain citizens, not for all. It is consistent with the thrust of 19:4-9 to say that Jesus regards marriage as the norm. But in affirming this, we also affirm that Jesus recognizes an alternative path of obedience for disciples. This is the subject of v. 12. (On this showing, v. 12 presents not examples of the calling of v. 11, but alternatives to that calling.) It is not given to all disciples to express their allegiance to Jesus by entering into, and remaining faithful in, marriage. Others express their obedience by refraining from marriage - and the obedience of such people is no less genuine and no less laudable than that of those who marry. (V. 12b more naturally refers to those who abstain from marriage, than to those who have been divorced but refrain from remarriage: with Carson, 418-19, against Gundry, 382-83.) By this avenue too one may "seek first the Kingdom of God" (6:33): "Others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven" (19:12b). "The one who can accept this [the teaching of vv. 4-6, 8-9] should accept it" (v. 12c). But for those disciples whom God does not call into marriage, and who therefore "cannot accept it," loyalty to Christ and obedience to God lies along the path of abstinence from marriage. As yet another sign of the Day of Grace, whereas the Law of Moses excluded eunuchs from the assembly of Israel (Deut 23:1), Jesus the New Moses now welcomes eunuchs (eunouchoi, v. 12) into the community of the New Age. "One cannot forget the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) who, though he would have been excluded from the assembly of Yahweh, was joyfully welcomed to the assembly of Messiah" (Carson, 419).

4. Jesus and Paul. Mt 19:1-12 anticipates the teaching of Paul, or (to put it more accurately) Paul's later teaching rests upon principles enunciated by Jesus. We conclude our study by looking briefly at Paul's teaching on the same subject in 1 Cor 7.

a. Marriage and singleness. In considering the question of marriage and singleness, Paul's fundamental principle is that each person accept the gift which God has for him or her, whether it is marriage or singleness (7:7b). 1 Cor 7:7a ("I wish that all men were as I am") may well mean, not that Paul wishes all Christians were unmarried, but that he wants all to be obedient to God's particular call, whether that call be marriage or the single state (thus C. K. Barrett, 1 Corinthians, 158). This accords with Mt 19:4-12, where Jesus, while presenting marriage as the norm, regards celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom as just as noble a calling.

b. Divorce and remarriage. In addressing this question, 1 Cor 7:10-16, Paul makes fewer concessions in cases where both partners are Christians than in cases of mixed marriages. Just as Jesus calls disciples to radical obedience in the awareness that they (unlike others) can appropriate the powers of the kingdom, so Paul knows that the husband and wife who share life in the Body of Christ, can invoke spiritual powers to which others have no access.