How did Jesus explain divorce with respect to Moses permitting it versus God's Law?
This issue of the apparent conflict between Jesus’ teaching on divorce versus the Law allowing divorce, was posed to Jesus on two separate occasions; Matthew 19:3-19 and Mark 10:2-12. However, the first thing we must understand about both of these events, is that Jesus never “directly” answered their questions. The reason was that the answer was obvious; the Law of Moses allowed divorce. Since Jesus did not come to change one jot or tittle of the law, He must have had some other motive for answering in the manner that He did.
The Pharisees believed that since the Law allowed divorce, those who divorced were without sin. Jesus demonstrated that the Pharisees could not hide behind the Law; ie, even though the Law allowed divorce they still sinned because God’s original intention was one man, one woman forever. So, just because the Law of Moses “allowed” divorce did not mean it was not sinful.
Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:31-32 ) were not intended to change the fact that the Law allowed divorce. His teaching on divorce was in the exact same vain as the rest of His teaching, eg, murder, adultery, etc. In each of these areas, His teaching pattern is the same, ie “you have heard it said….but I tell you”.
His intention here was to demonstrate that just because you think you keep the outward parts of the law, you do not keep the spirit of the Law; for it’s not about the actual murder, it’s being angry with your brother; it’s not about the actual adultery, it’s lusting in your mind, etc. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was putting righteousness by works out of reach of every human being. His teaching on divorce was in the exact same vein.
31It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced commits adultery.
Jesus was not reversing the “allowance” of the Law, He was demonstrating that sin went way beyond the outward aspects of the Law.
His answers to the Pharisees direct questioning in Matthew 19 and Mark 10, supports his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.
This is probably best seen in Mark 10:
2And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. 3And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? 4And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. 5And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. 6But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. 7For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; 8And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. 9What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 10And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. 11And he says unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, commits adultery against her. 12And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she commits adultery.
Clearly, Jesus did not dispute that the Law allowed divorce. He was just demonstrating to the Pharisees that just because the availed themselves of the allowance of God, did not mean they were without sin since they failed to meet the original intention of God.