A Study of Matthew 19:3-9

In this study we are going to look at Matthew chapter 19 and it is a very controversial matter in these United States.

It is the matter of marriage and divorce.

What is God declaring about marriage and divorce?

What does the Bible say?

Remarkably, the Pharisees immediately addressed the subject of divorce.

We read in Matthew 19:1-9,



Can We Put Away Our Wives for Every Cause? (Matthew 19:1-9)

Matthew 19:1
And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan;

Matthew 19:2
And great multitudes followed him; and he healed them there.

Matthew 19:3
The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?

Matthew 19:4
And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

Matthew 19:5
And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

Matthew 19:6
Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Matthew 19:7
They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?

Matthew 19:8
He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

Matthew 19:9
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

About 6 months have passed between the end of chapter 18 and the beginning of chapter 19. The Lord Jesus was getting Himself prepared to go to the cross. The last week of Christ’s ministry was fast approaching. That is why we read that Jesus had departed from Galilee and was now getting close to Judaea. And as soon as Jesus was near Judaea, even when He was still beyond the Jordan River, the hounds of the Pharisees had spotted Him and again they began to plot how they might trap Him in His speech. So now they are going to pitch Him against Moses. And so, they were going to question Him about marriage and divorce, but primarily about divorce.

Here is their question: “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?”

In other words, they asked if they could divorce their wives at any time that they pleased. This is the context! They claimed that the Law of Moses allowed them to divorce their wives for just about any reason they could come up with. They did not care if in divorcing their wife they would hurt her deep in her soul. They did not care that they treated their wives as second class citizens. They did not care that they owned their wives like they owned donkeys and sheep. But this is not what Moses taught them. This is not what we read in the Old Testament. The Hebrews copied this attitude toward women from the heathen whom they replaced in the land of Canaan. But the Bible does not degrade women this way.

Is it not remarkable that in all the teachings of Jesus women are treated as human beings like the men?

And so He did again here in this chapter. The Lord Jesus did not answer them directly, but He reminded them of the writings of Moses. The Lord reminded them of Genesis 2:23.



They Shall Be One Flesh (Genesis 2:2, Genesis 2:23-24, Matthew 19:5-6)

In Genesis 2 God has caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and God took one of Adam’s ribs and made it into a woman, and He brought her to Adam. Herein we can begin to understand the difference between creation and providence. When we read in Genesis 2:2, “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made”.

God ended His work of creating everything out of nothing, or creating life out of dead material, and God rested from that work of creation. But in Genesis 2:21-22 God made a living being out of Adam’s rib. The hands of God made something living out of living material He had taken out of Adam. God formed a woman out of Adam, like He formed trees out of the seeds of living trees. Living things come out of living things, for God has ceased creating living things out of dead material. The theory of evolution is a hoax to get people’s mind away from God. Like begets like, which is not creation but the providence of God, or the hands of God. Please drop down to verse 23. God brought the woman to Adam. And then we read in Genesis 2:23-24,

Genesis 2:23-24
And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

God dictated these words to Moses, and Moses wrote them down. This was the beginning of the organism that is called mankind. The woman became one flesh with Adam. Their children were one flesh with Adam and Eve. Their grandchildren became one flesh with Adam and Eve, and so on. And thus Adam is the federal head of the human race, consisting of one flesh, created in the image of God, and created for the purpose of glorifying God. But look here in verse 24, “They shall be one flesh”.

The Lord Jesus repeated these words in Matthew 19:5, which the Pharisees also knew. This is what God said through the pen of Moses. We read in Matthew 19:5,

Matthew 19:5-6
And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Remarkable are these words, “What therefore God has joined together”. They reflect the sovereign providence of God in all of human history. We see these words literally applied when God brought the woman to Adam, for it was then that God brought the two together. But wherever in human history a boy meets a girl, and when they decide to get married, or whenever their parents decide that these two should get married, it was not they who made the decision, but the Bible declares that it was God who worked out His plan, even through the sins of mankind. It was God who joined the two of you together.

Therefore, since this was the outworking of the perfect plan of God, and since it was God who gave us to each other as a gift that we needed, who are we to reject this gift from God?

He decided that this was the perfect mate that we need. This is the basis of marriage between a man and a woman. God caused the marriage to occur and now they are no longer two, but one flesh. And this is the reason why God said, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder”.

The Lord Jesus countered the question of the Pharisees about divorce by stating what the principle of marriage is. And thus God’s design of marriage implies that “It is not lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause”. But let us now also see what God said in Genesis 2:24, and what the Lord Jesus repeated in Matthew 19:5,



Leave and Cleave (Matthew 19:5)

Matthew 19:5
And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

The practical aspect of getting married is that a man must leave the comfort of his parent’s home and cleave to his new found wife.

Can they move in with her parents?

Actually the Greek text does not say “a man”, but it says, “Anthropos”, which means “mankind”. In other words, this command to leave the comfort of our parent’s home is a command to both the man and the woman. God’s command is a very practical one. Even if it means instant poverty, it is the best for a healthy relationship between the two newlyweds, as well as for the parents of both the man and the woman that the in-laws become out-laws. There should be no meddling of the parents into the affairs of these newlyweds. They must resolve their own problems without the possibility of being bailed out by their parents. They must leave and cleave to one another, and they must so cleave that they will be totally dependant on one another.

I am sure everyone remembers their marriage vows?

“I, John Doe, take you, Mary Potter, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge myself truly with all my heart”.

And thus, no sickness and no poverty shall separate us. Wheel-chair, or insanity, or losing our job, or losing our home by a tornado should not be a reason to separate us. God ordained this to our comfort. It is to our comfort to know that we, in our old age and in a wheel-chair, will be cared for by our spouse. But God’s ordinances are not only good and practical. More than that, God’s institution of marriage bears the image of the relationship of Christ and the church. This is to be expected, since we have been created in the image of God, therefore the image of Christ and the church is also in our midst. We now move to Ephesians chapter 5.



The Mystery of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-24, Ephesians 5:27, Ephesians 5:30-32, Matthew 13:11)

In this chapter of Ephesians God gave us a clear picture of the relationship between husband and wife, and God gave the reasons for setting up this chain of command within the marriage relationship. The chain of command is analogous to the chain of command between Christ and the church. We read in:

Ephesians 5:22-24
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

In other words, the husband is the head of the household, because the marriage relationship must bear the image of Christ and the church. That is why the Bible speaks of this bond as “The Mystery of Christ and the Church”.

A mystery in the Bible is not something mysterious that remains unknown, but a mystery in the Bible is a secret about God’s eternal plan of salvation that is revealed to the saints, but it is not revealed to those who remain unsaved. The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 13:11, “He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given”.

And thus, our marriage is patterned after the mystery of Christ and the church.

Which church does God have in mind when He writes in Ephesians 5 about Christ and the church?

God says in Ephesians 5:27, “That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish”.

The church that is without spot or wrinkle is the eternal church, the church that consists of only the elect of God, or the Bride of Christ. The relationship Christ and His eternal church is a pattern for the marriage relationship here on earth. On earth the husband and wife are not perfect, but their marriage is an image of Christ and His Bride. That is why the wife must submit herself to her husband, as unto the Lord, for this is her obedience to the pattern that God has laid upon her. It is not because she is a second class citizen, but because the pattern of Christ and the church must be followed. Please drop down to verse 30 of this chapter. And there we read about the amazing glory that we have already now:

Ephesians 5:30
For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

Ephesians 5:31
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.

Ephesians 5:32
This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

And so we see that this entire passage, all the way from Ephesians 5 verse 22 down to verse 32 was not just practical advice to those who are married, but it was actually a description of Christ and His eternal church, Christ and His Bride.

Is it not amazing that already now the Lord calls us His body, His flesh and His bones?

We cannot be separated from Him by our sins, for Christ has already atoned for all our future sins. This has not always been the case. In the Old Testament God speaks of the nation of Israel as the wife of Jehovah. But because Israel followed after other gods, which was spiritual adultery, God divorced Himself from this adulterous wife. The divorce became final at the cross, for after the cross Christ became the head of the church, and thus He must be honored and glorified for His atoning work on the cross. But the nation of Israel refused to submit herself to Christ. Instead, they continued to adhere to the Law of Moses and to the Ceremonial Law, and thereby they showed that they were worshipping another god. Let us now return to Jesus and the Pharisees.



The Subject Matter Is Divorce (Matthew 19:7-9, Deuteronomy 24:1-4)

We should keep in mind that Matthew 19:3-9 is not speaking about divorce and remarriage. The subject matter is divorce. The Pharisees wanted to know if they can divorce their wife for every cause. Jesus’ answer was, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They are no longer two, but one flesh. No, you cannot cut off your flesh for every cause you have invented”. Although surprised by this answer, the Pharisees were not yet defeated. For now Jesus has apparently contradicted the great Old Testament prophet and lawgiver Moses, who in Deuteronomy 24 commanded to give the woman a writing of divorcement and to put her away. Let us read about this here in Matthew 19:7-9,

Matthew 19:7
They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?

Matthew 19:8
He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

Matthew 19:9
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

We read here that Moses merely “suffered” or permitted divorce. To suffer something is absolutely different from approving it. One does not suffer that which is right and good. One suffers that which is not right and not good, which is a deviation from the Law. Moses did this because the nation of Israel had hard hearts, and would not obey God’s law on divorce. But Jesus insisted on the original doctrine of marriage and divorce, so that He sets aside even Moses’ sufferance, for He says in verse 8, “but from the beginning it was not so”.

Now we must investigate why Moses commanded to give the wives a bill of divorcement, as the Pharisees claimed in verse 7.

The Pharisees referred to the passage of Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

Through Moses God gave a law which prescribed what a man had to do if he intended to divorce his wife. He had to give his wife an official bill of divorce. Moses did not command the Israelites to divorce their wives, not even when there was uncleanness in them. But His command was: If you are going to divorce your wife, you must give her an official bill of divorce. The purpose of this requirement was for the welfare of the woman; it was for her benefit, and it served to put the brakes on men who were too eager to divorce. Let us rd. Deut 24

Deuteronomy 24:1
When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.

Deuteronomy 24:2
And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.

Deuteronomy 24:3
And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife;

Deuteronomy 24:4
Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.

And so, the only ground for divorce that was suffered by Moses was “some uncleanness”. It had to do with some kind of sexual pollution or shamefulness in the woman. It was not adultery, for adultery was punishable by death. But the Old Testament rigorously restricted divorce to those instances which involved impurity in the matter of sex. But the Lord Jesus indicated that Moses’ regulation was unsatisfactory, for Moses tolerated the practice of divorce on a ground other than adultery, and Moses was tolerating remarriage. Let us read that again in Matthew 19:8.

Matthew 19:8
He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

Note well that Jesus does not blame Moses. Rather He blames Israel for their hardness of hearts. This may present a problem.

How can the Old Testament occasionally suffer or tolerate the wrong, whereas the New Testament does not suffer it?

For example, polygamy was tolerated in the Old Testament whereas the New Testament does not permit it.

One thing is sure: The New Testament Christians may never appeal to Deuteronomy 24 in order to apply that to their daily lives. If they do, they are showing by their actions that they are hard-hearted, just as was Old Testament Israel for whom this rule was made. Let us read Jesus’ response in Matthew 19:9,

Matthew 19:9
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

And so, here the Lord Jesus indicates that there is one exception for which divorce is permitted.



Only One Exception for Divorce (Matthew 19:9, Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 5:28)

When we read these words of Matthew 19:9 we are inescapably drawn to the same words spoken by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 5:32.

In Matthew 5:31 The Lord Jesus clearly indicates here that the ordinance that Moses gave concerning divorce was unsatisfactory. We read in Matthew 5:31,

Matthew 5:31
It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:

Matthew 5:32
But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

Between us and Deuteronomy 24 stands the Word of Jesus Christ. With the words, “But I say unto you” the Lord clearly tells us that this Old Testament rule is no longer satisfactory in the New Testament age. The only exception where divorce is permitted is given in verse 32, which is for fornication, which the Bible defines as illicit sexual intercourse. Moreover, the Lord indicates in verse 32 that the woman who is cut loose from her husband is likely going to be involved in some sexual affair with another man, which means that she is going to commit adultery.

That should not be!

In the eyes of the Lord she is still one flesh with her first husband, even though she is divorced from him. Therefore, if she leaves her husband and she wants to be faithful to the Lord, she should remain single. She may not remarry. This is in complete harmony with the remainder of verse 32, for we read, “Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery”.

We can also see here in Matthew 5 that the physical act of fornication is not equivalent to looking at a woman lustfully.

“But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart”.

But this act of looking at a woman lustfully is not admitted as a reason for divorce. And so, there is a great deal of difference between just looking and the actual act of committing adultery. Now we also see that Matthew 5:32 says exactly the same thing as Matthew 19:9.

In Matthew 19:9 the Lord again answered the question of the Pharisees:

When may I divorce my wife?

Jesus’ answer sounds just like Matthew 5:32.

Matthew 19:9
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

In other words, if the wife has committed fornication, the husband does not sin when he divorces his wife. And the reason why it only concerns the wife who commits this sin is because the marriage is to be patterned after Christ and the church. People can commit sin, but Christ cannot sin, for He is the spotless Lamb of God. The husband does not have to divorce his wife. He may be magnanimous, and forgive his wife her trespass, and work it out so that the two will be reconciled. But He does not sin if he divorces his wife because she has committed fornication. Clearly this chapter focuses on divorce, not on remarriage after divorce. Given the nature of the marriage bond, there should be no remarriage. The separated individuals should stay single until one of them dies. The Lord clearly states this in Matthew 19:9, where He says, “and shall marry another, committeth adultery”.

And again He states in Matthew 19:9, “whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery”. There is only one Biblical ground for divorce, but there is no Biblical ground for remarriage after divorce.



Bound as Long as He or She Liveth (Romans 7:2-3, 1 Corinthians 7:39, 1 Corinthians 10-16)

The fact that a man and a woman who are married are one flesh is stated in many places in the Bible and they all agree: The wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives, and the husband is bound to his wife as long as she lives. This bond is not dissolved after the two are separated. We read in Romans 7

Romans 7:2
For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.

Romans 7:3
So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.

God stated it here in Romans 7 to apply it to our spiritual bondage to the Law of God. We all come into the world bound to the Law, and the Law is a very cruel husband to us, for the Law accuses us before God that we are sinners who deserve to be cast into Hell. But when Christ atoned for our sins about 2000 years ago, and when God the Holy Spirit made us “born from above” just a few years ago, we died to the Law and God changed us into new creatures; He changed us from sinners into saints, and He changed us from being slaves of Satan to being sons of God. And thus we have been loosed from our bondage to the Law, and instead we have become new creatures serving Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 7:39 God repeated the law of the two becoming one flesh, and thus there should be no remarriage after a divorce. Even the innocent party may not remarry, for after the divorce the two are still one flesh.

1 Corinthians 7:39
The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.

Someone may object to this rule, claiming that he or she is married to an unbeliever, and so how can God be glorified if my mate is an unbeliever. Well, God addresses this situation earlier in this chapter.

1 Corinthians 7:10
And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:

1 Corinthians 7:11
But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.

1 Corinthians 7:12
But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.

1 Corinthians 7:13
And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.

1 Corinthians 7:14
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.

1 Corinthians 7:15
But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.

1 Corinthians 7:16
For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

When we read in verse 10, “I command, yet not I, but the Lord”, and in verse 12, “to the rest speak I, not the Lord”, we might be inclined to think that only a portion of this letter to the Corinthians contains the Word of God. But that is not so. What follows in verses 10 and 11 has been said already by the Lord Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel accounts. And what follows in verses 12-16 has not been said by the Lord Jesus in the Gospel accounts, but is considered new information. And thus all the words in the Bible come from God. Again in verse 11 the Lord states that those who have separated must remain unmarried, or be reconciled to one another. But in verses 12 and 13 God declares that the believing spouse should not divorce the unbelieving mate, “if she be pleased to dwell with him”, or “if he be pleased to dwell with her”.

The reason for this is given in verse 16, “For how would you know if your unbelieving spouse would not become saved through your witness?”

Now, the condition for staying together is “if she be pleased to dwell with him”, or “if he be pleased to dwell with her”.

It could very well be that the unbelieving spouse makes life very difficult for the believer, which is an indication that he or she is not pleased to dwell with the believer. In that case “if the unbelieving depart, let him depart”.

God has called us to peace.

Can the believer then remarry?

No!

When we read in verse 15, “A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases” it does not mean that we can remarry.

Do not confuse “being under bondage” with “being bound”.

These are two different words in the Greek text.

If these two words mean the same, then all married men are not only bound to their wives, but are also in bondage to their wives. Being under bondage means it is the condition of spiritual slavery. Someone is in this miserable condition if he lives in sin, meaning he is under the bondage of sin and Satan. When we read “A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases”, it means that we do not sin if we let the unbeliever depart, for God has called us to peace.



The Disciples Are Astonished (Matthew 19:10-12)

The Lord Jesus explained to the Pharisees that they cannot put away their wives for any reason they have invented, but that the only exception for a legitimate divorce is when the wife has committed fornication. And when divorce has taken place both parties should stay single, or be reconciled. This new teaching of Jesus caused great consternation among His disciples.

Matthew 19:10
His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.

Matthew 19:11
But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.

Matthew 19:12
For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

In other words, someone may have to suffer lifelong loneliness. A man’s wife may leave him for another man, and he must remain unmarried as long as she lives. Or a woman may have to leave her husband and remain single all the rest of her life. The Lord speaks about this in verse 12. This is the cost of discipleship. This is the cost we pay when we unwisely fall in love and get married.

On the other hand, we should be delighted that we have been privileged with a high calling. The Lord has made it clear to us what salvation is, and what it means to be a servant of Christ. The Lord has made it clear to us that the mystery of Christ and the church lives on in our marriage. Our marriages are beautiful images of Christ and His Bride. And just like Christ is not going to divorce us as His Bride and get another Bride, so we should follow in His steps and we should remain faithful to our spouse who is one flesh with us, until death do us part. This holy matrimony, this holy assignment we have taken on when we shared our wedding vows, and we did that in the sight of God, who takes full responsibility for joining us together. He, the Almighty Sovereign God decided that this was the wife that I need. His wisdom is far greater than mine. Therefore I should not complain. I should be delighted to serve Him in whatever state I am, and therewith to be content, and I should look forward to that day when I can join the other saints when the Lamb an His wife shall be married. AMEN.

By Alfred Chompff

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