There is a question, to Jesus, whether a man can divorce his wife for any reason.

Shammai and Hillel are the pharisees school of thought at that time.

Hillel the liberal jew says that you can divorce your wife for any reason.

Shammai, the conservative nationalist jew, says that you cannot divorce your wife unless she commits adultery.

Jesus clearly side with Shammai here.

I think there is a bit of controversy there. As is the case Matthew 5:32 - (NASB) Cause Her to Commit Adultery vs. Makes Her a Victim (NIV)

Some gospel says a husband that divorce his wife commits adultery. Another gospel says that a husband that divorce his wife makes her wife commits adultery. It seems that the latter makes more sense given for those who think that adultery means having sex with someone else's wife. So if a guy divorce her wife, the divorce is "nulled" in the eyes of God. When his wife have sex with another guy she commits adultery. I wonder if that interpretation is even correct.

Jesus' followers quickly asks, in Matthew 19:10

10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

Why did the disciples ask that?

Is it because the disciples think that marriage is not necessary and hence why bother getting married?

It would be like asking, "Why not just cohabits? Why bother marrying?"

I found this to be strange. Unlike today, ancient marriage serves an important function, namely to give inheritance. Also just having sex outside marriage means STD.

Another interpretation is, "Why bother having sex." Jesus answer after that seems to address this issue. Jesus talks about eunuchs and stuffs. However, it also have problem. The disciples do not ask "Why f*ck?" The disciples ask, "Why get married?" Perhaps the word marriage and the word copulate is the same word in hebrew or something.

Jesus and his disciples are "essenes". I've heard those people abhor pleasure like sex. So that may explain why they effectively, "Why f*uck?"

Could this be true?

Okay what's the story? What's the background?

Actually I would like to know the background of Shammai's reasoning.

5 Answers 5


Jesus is not siding with a 'school of thought,' He is giving the authoritative understanding from God about His Law. Jesus does not allow divorce in any case.

This is shown from three lines of evidence.

The first is that Matthew's is the only Gospel that needs to include the clause 'except for adultery' because only Matthew's Gospel is a) written to a Jewish audience where this is relevant, and b) the only Gospel that mentions Joseph's considering 'divorcing' Mary when he finds that she is pregnant by the Holy Ghost—making this helpful as a vindication of Joseph who when mentioning that he was considering putting her away calls him a 'just man' (Mt 1:19).

Jewish marriage consisted of two stages, the betrothal, and the consummation-marriage. The betrothal was for all intents and purposes, on paper, marriage, except until the marriage was consummated, it was not absolutely sealed, as it were: it is this period that Jesus speaks of when he says 'except for adultery you can not put away your wife,' (thus this Gospel called Joseph 'just' for considering putting Mary away during this period where they had not consummated the marriage), and this period that the disciples speak of when they say (not ask) 'if this is the case between a husband and a wife, it is better not to marry.' It's better not to consummate a marriage at all if your husband or wife has been unfaithful.

The second is that none of the other Gospels add this clause ('except it be for adultery/sexual infidelity') in, and they can't be said to have omitted it as in left out an important qualification to Jesus' words, because at least Mark is said to precede Matthew in order of when they were written according to most; and their omission but inclusion of the rest of the forbidding of divorce would mislead rather than teach anyone. No, as stand alone Gospels, Jesus must mean that there is to be no more divorce, without qualifcation, since He not said to have given any in Mark and Luke—Gospels for Gentiles.

The third is that Jesus explicitly abrogates the permission to have divorce laid down by Moses, and says putting away your wife was not always allowed from the beginning, but was granted as a concession to the hardness of the hearts of the people at the time of Moses.

Matthew 19:1-8 (DRB)

1 And it came to pass when Jesus had ended these words, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judea, beyond Jordan. 2 And great multitudes followed him: and he healed them there. 3 And there came to him the Pharisees tempting him, and saying: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? 4 Who answering, said to them: Have ye not read, that he who made man from the beginning, Made them male and female? And he said: 5 For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. 6 Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. 7 They say to him: Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorce, and to put away? 8 He saith to them: Because Moses by reason of the hardness of your heart permitted you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

Moreover, there is the related, and often-overlooked, continuation to this section of the Gospel about 'eunuchs' whose clear meaning is celibacy:

Matthew 10:12 His disciples say unto him: If the case of a man with his wife be so, it is not expedient to marry. 11 Who said to them: All men take not this word, but they to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs, who were born so from their mother's womb: and there are eunuchs, who were made so by men: and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. He that can take, let him take it.


Allow me to dispel some myths, not all of which are inherent in the question.

  • The Bible is certainly not anti-sex. Quite the contrary. Paul encourages sex in marriage (1 Cor 7:1-9) and a whole book of the Bible celebrates sex in marriage (the Song of Solomon)
  • Jesus and His disciples were almost certainly not Essenes because they mixed and ate so freely with general society
  • In Roman society and Law (which the western world has largely inherited) marriage and sex were independent ideas. A man married a woman and as a legal contract but was fairly free to have other liaisons especially with younger youth etc. Roman marriage law was strictly monogamous. By contrast, Jewish law allowed polygamy but the primary definition of marriage was sex. Thus, one could have no sex without marriage and no marriage without sex.

Now to the disciple's question about divorce in Matt 19. Under Mosaic law divorce was permitted and was always the initiative of the husband and a simple matter of simply sending the wife out of the house (hence the literal Greek in Matt 19). Further, the husband could do this on a whim without any real justification. The point of Jesus' comments in Matt 19 is found by following the conversation.

The Pharisees ask Jesus, "Is it permissible for a man [in Mosaic law] to release [=divorce] his wife for any and every reason? Jesus reminds them that the first marriage was performed by God and that those married should not be separated. So the Pharisees then ask why Moses allowed divorce. Jesus replies that Moses permitted divorce because your hearts were hard. I will resist the temptation to sermonise on this point except to say that it was a practical necessity to accommodate the realities of sinful human nature. That is, the ideal is no divorce but in this sinful world sometimes it is unavoidable and its is better regulated if it must be.

Jesus then drops the bombshell. Divorce is permitted only for "porneia" and those doing so and subsequently remarrying (ie having sex with another person)commit adultery. [Paul provides another ground for diverce in 1 Cor 7:12, 13.] The implication here is simple. Unless "porneia" is the cause of divorce, then separated couples must not remarry. Therefore, the issue here is, "What is "porneia"?

According to most Greek dictionaries, eg, ANLEX, "generally, of every kind of extramarital, unlawful, or unnatural intercourse, fornication, sexual immorality, prostitution (1 Cor 5:1)". Thus, "Porneia" could include extramarital sex, bestiality, paedophilia, incest, homosexuality, etc, etc.

However, the most "interesting" part of Jesus' reply is what comes next, after the disciples say it is better not to marry and make a commitment and be bound to just one (or two) wives. Jesus says, "not everyone can accept this but only those to whom it is given. Some are eunuchs by birth, some are made eunuchs and others are eunuch by choice for the sake of the kingdom of God. Those who can accept this should accept this." [Note the admission that eunuchs are sometimes born and that different sexual orientations are recognised.]

That is, Jesus presents an ideal about marriage and chastity but does not foist it on everyone except his most devoted disciples and followers.

  • You made a typo: 'Marriage is permitted only for "porneia"' But as for 1 Cor 7:10 & 11: 'not I but the Lord commandeth, that the wife depart not from her husband; and if she depart, that she remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband' does not concede that a real divorce has occurred as you'll notice it still implies the marriage still exists in God's eyes (the meaning of 'what God has joined') as they can be reconciled, and may not continue as though the marriage was non-existent ('remain unmarried'). It's also not at all evident that 'born eunuchs' = born with different sexuality. Jul 19, 2018 at 21:58
  • @Sola Gratia - Thanks for pointing out the unfortunate typo. There was another typo as well - the reference in 1 Cor was also corrected.
    – user25930
    Jul 20, 2018 at 7:50

The Bible teaches forgiveness and reconciliation if a spouse is unfaithful. But if a spouse sins with impunity and refuses to repent, but continues on in Pornea, then the marriage bond is defined, a man has cause to put away his wife. Fornication in this context refers to sexual sins: Adultery, homosexuality, playing the harlot.

  • agreed. Good comment but this also applies to the husband.
    – user25930
    Jul 21, 2018 at 23:05

A Betrothed woman was a married woman with or without consummation, a woman betrothed to a man if she was with another man and didn't scream for help ( Deut 22 I believe ) she and that man were stoned to death , the man for sleeping with another man's wife. So a betrothed woman is a wife , not a fiancee like here in western culture and she was stoned for adultery.

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    Oct 2, 2023 at 16:26

In this particular context the Lord reminds the disciples about the mystical significance of marriage, that this is not any light thing, but two become one (Matthew 19:6) with a bond that far exceeds a bond of a parent and a child (Gen. 2:24), and exactly such a close and intimate bond as marriage is apt to be used as a metaphor of Christ's love to His Church (Eph. 5:25).

However, this mystical significance with no allowance for men to divorce (save the case when wife already essentially has divorced her husband through sleeping with another man), is not easy to bear, for it requires continuous love and continuous, life-long struggle of forbearance and mutual forgiveness, to the effect that if a husband simply loses the initial infatuation with the wife and is so pissed off with her caprices and unseemly habits to the extent that even sexual pleasures with her does not at all counterbalance the bad sediment left in soul due to an annoying life with her, he still cannot divorce. If such a great is there a husband's responsibility to wife, then perhaps it is even better to avoid taking such a responsibility?

Yet, unless through the specially intense grace of Christ nobody can be happy without a loving spouse, with all the gamut of love relationship with her, including intellectual conversations about poetry, continuous forgiving each other's wrongdoings, as well as sex. With Christ giving this special intense grace to those who can gladly bear it (cf. Matthew 19:11), the latter can be happy even without a married life, even without any sex at all, as hundreds of thousand happy Christian celibates have been proving throughout centuries.

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