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Many people believe that 1 Corinthians 7:15 gives Christians grounds for remarriage if their unbelieving spouse leaves and persistently rejects the idea of reconciliation. This is how I've just naturally read the passage, yet I have a strong confirmation bias and am not trustworthy to myself to give a good answer. I have watched Mike Wingers video on this, listened to many others who agree/disagree with it, and my question is this (preferibly if you are FOR remarriage in 1 Cor. 7:15):

What is the difference between the innocent divorced person in Matthew 5:32/Luke 16:18, and the innocent divorced person in 1 Corinthians 7:15 if in 1 Cor 7, the believer is free to remarry?

In the gospels, Jesus tells us that anyone who marries the divorced person (implying someone who was wrongfully divorced) commits adultery. “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery." - Luke 16:18.

So for those who are pro-remarriage in 1 Corinthians 7:15, it seems that Paul would be contradicting what Jesus is saying here, if he was allowing remarriage. It would seem like Jesus is saying, "If you leave your wife and marry someone else, you're committing adultery. And whoever marries the woman that was wrongfully left by her husband commits adultery" (which applies to all of humanity whether they believe in Christ or not, because sin is sin), yet Paul would be contradicting this command by saying, "If your unbelieving spouse leaves you, the person who marries you is not committing adultery."

It seems like Jesus is giving a universal command, that whoever marries a divorced person is committing adultery, even if they were the unwilling victim of the divorce, yet Paul would be making an exception, saying that if your spouse leaves you, you are free to remarry. To me, it doesn't seem to make much of a difference whether they are a believer or not, given the fact that Jesus' commands apply to all of humanity, including non-believers.

I'm not making an argument, because I want the text to allow for remarriage, but I know my confirmation bias, and would like some help unpacking this, please. I'd prefer it if someone who believes remarriage is okay to respond to this, because I want to weigh the response against this seeming confliction, not because I wanr my ears tickled.

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  • The rule of marriage is different for males and females in the bible. Paul states that a woman is 'bound by the law to her husband as long as her husband liveth'. He does not say that of a man, but a man should not put away a woman. If a woman separates, he states she must remain unmarried. He does not state that for a man. (Because scripture does not prohibit - though it does not promote - a man having more than one wife). If this difference is not accepted, then no sense can be made of all the other statements about marriage and false conclusions will be reached. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 6:58

3 Answers 3

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Executive Summary

Jesus' teachings on divorce in Luke 16 (and the parallel passages in Matthew & Mark) are not a blanket prohibition on remarriage after divorce. A little bit of historical context goes a long way in unpacking what is taught in these verses.

Disclaimer

Weighty personal decisions are best made in discussion with your pastor or priest, rather than in discussion with strangers on the internet.



The text

"And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery." (Matt. 19:9)

So He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." (Mark 10:11-12)

"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery." (Luke 16:18)

I suggest that Jesus' teachings on divorce here cannot be understood if divorced from 4 critical pieces of context:

  1. The Old Testament

  2. The contemporary Jewish rabbinic debates on divorce

  3. The trap being laid by Jesus' enemies

  4. Jesus' prior teaching on divorce (see the Sermon on the Mount)



1. The Old Testament

There are 2 passages in the Torah and 1 in Malachi that provide the most directly relevant teachings on divorce:

Deuteronomy 24:1

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house (NIV)

This avenue for divorce was only available to men; a woman could not choose to divorce her husband on this basis. The man, initiating the divorce, would give his wife a certificate of divorce, freeing her to marry another man.

Exodus 21:10-11

10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights.

11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money. (NIV)

This instruction was given specifically in the context of a servant wife. The common Jewish understanding of this teaching, then, was that if a servant wife was entitled to these 3 things (food, clothing, love), a wife of any other standing would be as well.

As David Instone-Brewer has written here:

If either partner neglected to provide food, clothing or love, the other could take them to court and get a divorce. Cases of adultery or physical neglect (failure to provide food or clothing) were straightforward, and divorce was granted if the wronged partner wanted it.

In the Judaism of the time of Jesus, neglect was grounds for which a man or a woman could divorce a spouse. The New Testament never abrogates nor opposes that reality.

Malachi 2:14-16

14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

15 Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.

16 “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful. (NIV)

The Hebrew root translated here as "unfaithful" is בָּגד ("bagad"), which is regularly rendered as "to deal treacherously" (this is the wording used in many Bible translations and the definition in Strong's Concordance).

Malachi tells us in verses 10-11 what he means by "deal treacherously" when making an analogy between the marriage covenant and God's covenant with His people. People deal treacherously with God when they leave Him for another god. In this context, then, a man deals treacherously with his wife if he leaves her for another woman.

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2. The contemporary Jewish rabbinic debates on divorce

As documented in detail by Instone-Brewer here, there was in Jesus' time an ongoing rabbinic debate regarding the meaning of the aforementioned Deut. 24:1.

We now know that Jewish rabbis at the time of Jesus were debating a new and very popular form of divorce called the “Any Cause” divorce, which implies that their question to Jesus should be understood as “Is it lawful to use the Any Cause divorce?”

Hillelite Pharisees invented this new form of divorce by dividing up the scriptural phrase “a cause of indecency”...which is the ground for divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1. They said that this phrase included two grounds for divorce: “indecency” (i.e., adultery) and “a cause” (i.e., any cause). They emphasized their conclusion that “a cause” meant “any cause” by saying that you could divorce a wife even if she burned a single meal.

This was, unsurprisingly, considered controversial, and early rabbinic traditions record the debate that they had with their rivals, the Shammaite Pharisees. The Shammaites agreed that “indecency” meant “adultery” but argued that “a cause of indecency” should be regarded as a single phrase and should not be divided up to produce an extra ground for divorce. They said that the whole phrase meant “nothing except adultery.” (ibid)

We noted earlier that Exodus 21:10-11 was understood to be grounds by which a man or a woman could divorce a spouse; whereas Deut. 24:1 provided another avenue for divorce, available only to men.

Under the Hillel view, a man could divorce his wife for literally any reason. Under the Shammai view, Deut. 24:1 gave men one and only one additional justification (apart from that provided in Exodus for either gender) to divorce his wife: adultery.

This difference -- and the extremes to which it was taken -- is documented in Mishnah Gittin 9:10

Beit Shammai say: A man may not divorce his wife unless he finds out about her having engaged in a matter of forbidden sexual intercourse [devar erva], i.e., she committed adultery or is suspected of doing so, as it is stated: “Because he has found some unseemly matter [ervat davar] in her, and he writes her a scroll of severance” (Deuteronomy 24:1).

And Beit Hillel say: He may divorce her even due to a minor issue, e.g., because she burned or over-salted his dish, as it is stated: “Because he has found some unseemly matter in her,” meaning that he found any type of shortcoming in her.

Rabbi Akiva says: He may divorce her even if he found another woman who is better looking than her and wishes to marry her, as it is stated in that verse: “And it comes to pass, if she finds no favor in his eyes”

The sickening reality of this debate was that in one school of thought, if a man saw another woman he thought was more attractive than his own wife, he could divorce his wife to marry this other woman. This is the backdrop of the question that was asked of Jesus, and the condemnatory response He gave.

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3. The trap being laid by Jesus' enemies

As was typical of their inquiries, the Pharisees weren't asking Jesus this question because they were curious or sought greater understanding. They were laying a trap; they were trying to get Jesus to take sides on a controversial contemporary issue. Here's how it was supposed to work (in their eyes).

  • If Jesus supported the "any cause" divorce interpretation, He not only faced the backlash of half the intellectual community, but He could be "cancelled" for teaching contrary to Moses. But they knew full well He would not answer in this way (see Sermon on the Mount section below)
  • If Jesus opposed the "any cause" divorce interpretation, He not only faced the backlash of the other half of the intellectual community, but He could be sent to the same fate as His cousin, John the Baptist.

John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod Antipas because he (John) condemned Antipas for divorcing his wife in order to marry another woman (Herodias). John spoke in favor of the compassionate understanding of Deut. 24:1 and ultimately paid for it with his life. Herod Antipas was in the wrong, and he knew he was in the wrong, but he ultimately had John killed to protect his own (Antipas') lustful foolishness.

The Pharisees hoped to repeat this episode and send Jesus to His death in the same way, that is, by getting Jesus to offend Antipas.

Essential to understanding this teaching, then, is that the Pharisees are not asking Jesus about divorce in general (e.g. Exodus 21:10-11 was never in dispute here); they are asking for His interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1. In doing so they hope to trap Him in His words and get Him killed.

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4. Jesus' prior teaching on divorce

Jesus had taught on divorce at least once before, as recorded in the Sermon on the Mount:

27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

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

... (teaching through hyperbole on plucking out eyes & cutting off hands) ...

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

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. (Matthew 5:27-32)

What is easily lost here, if not compared to the prior verses, is that this isn't three separate teachings (adultery in heart, then an odd aside about cutting off hands, then divorce) -- this is one continuous thought. Jesus is following the same pattern He just used in the last 6 verses about anger:

  • You've heard it said X, but I'm raising the bar to Y, which is the real principle behind the commandment
  • Example
  • Consequences of disobedience

Jesus' teaching on divorce cannot be understood separately from His statement about adultery in the heart: they are part of the same message.

As with pericope after pericope in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is responding to the debates, dissensions, and deeds of His time. In the context of the Hillel-Shammai debate above -- and the illuminating statement by Akiva -- it is evident that Jesus is condemning men who do the following:

  • A married man sees another woman and entertains sexual fantasies about her (adultery in the heart)
  • He divorces his current wife so that he can marry the other and enact his sexual fantasies with her
  • He claims that under the provisions of Deut. 24:1 he has done nothing wrong at all

Jesus condemns this atrocious behavior as adultery!!! Men who engaged in such behavior may have been abiding by the letter of the law (as erroneously taught by some religious leaders of the time), but they had fully & completely violated the spirit of the law. Jesus taught that divorce on such grounds was invalid, and therefore the future sexual relations between the man & his new wife, and between the previous wife & her new husband were as adulterous as if the divorce had never happened.

(note that in the Hebrew text -- see p. 21 here -- it is clearly stated that the man who instigated this is committing adultery himself. Whether or not Hebrew is the original language of the Gospel of Matthew is another matter, but in any event, Hebrew is helpful in understanding Jesus' teachings, many/most of which wouldn't have been originally given in Greek)

The poor woman who was his previous wife, lacking economic security on her own (this is the first century Roman Empire we're talking about), if she does not have other family support must now find another man if she is to survive ... but because she was "divorced" by her previous husband on illegitimate grounds, she is no freer to marry another than her dirty ex-husband is. The point of the bill of divorcement discussed in Deuteronomy was to protect the woman by making it clearly stated and known that she was no longer married to her ex-husband, and thus able to remarry.

As noted by Instone-Brewer:

the words that are found in all Jewish divorce certificates and many Graeco-Roman ones: “You are now free to marry any man you wish.” This wording is found in rabbinic traditions (m. Git. 9:3) and on the Masada divorce certificate of A.D. 72, as well as being quoted in 1 Corinthians 7:39 where Paul extends these same rights to widows. (source)

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Bringing it All Together

First, let's address some important nuances relevant to both the divorce teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and in the discussion with the Pharisees.

Except in cases of adultery

In both discussions, "saving for the cause of fornication/adultery" is a direct appeal to Deut. 24:1 as originally intended -- it granted a man the right to divorce his wife for adultery, not for any cause. The separate legitimate grounds for divorce, cases of neglect as discussed in Exodus 21, are neither affirmed nor denied; they are not the focus here.

Jesus is not saying adultery by one's spouse is the only legitimate cause for divorce; He's responding to the misuse in His time of Deut. 24:1 and affirming that this passage speaks only of divorce for adultery.

But why does it say the woman commits adultery?

This is where the behavior of the lustful men in Jesus' day gets even nastier. The 10th commandment "thou shalt not covet" gives several examples, including "thy neighbor's wife". Have you ever stopped to wonder why the 8th commandment & the 10th commandment specifically call out adultery(as opposed to other sexual sins)?

  1. In many cases in Old Testament times, a married man would marry another, unmarried woman (Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David) -- this was polygamy, not adultery. Polygamy is another topic, that's not the focus of Jesus' teaching here

  2. Women were married very young -- they're not out on the "dating" scene for a long time. In fact, if they were betrothed, they may never be "available".

With this background in mind, we can understand what the lustful men in Jesus' day were doing. Man A is married to Woman A. Man A is lusting after another woman, woman B -- who in most cases would already be married to another man! So man A divorces woman A (under any cause provisions), sees to it that woman B he wants is divorced from her current husband (we'll call him man B, under any cause provisions, if he's tired of his wife and happy to let her go to another, he can do so for any pretext), so man A can "marry" woman B and live out his sexual fantasies. The principal focus of condemnation in Jesus' teaching is man A.

Let us consider the following annotations to Matthew 5:32

32 But I say unto you, That whosoever [man B, tired of his wife] shall put away his wife [woman B], saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her [woman B] to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her [man A] that is divorced committeth adultery.

Man A, who instigated this perverse scheme described so plainly by Rabbi Akiva (see above), is the number one focus of Jesus' condemnation the whole time, from verses 28 through 32.

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This brings us back to the incident with the Pharisees. They ask Jesus to take sides on the Deut. 24:1 debate, knowing He does not approve of "any cause" divorce, thus hoping they can get Him to say something that'll anger the murderous tetrarch Antipas.

Jesus, seeing right through their diabolical scheme, explains what Deut. 24:1 really means(i.e. that a man can divorce his wife if she cheats on him), and goes back to first principles. Jesus teaches the purpose and the God-ordained nature of marriage by referencing Adam & Eve in Genesis, and scathingly denounces the misuse of marriage by the contemporary adulterous wolves in sheep's clothing, who are instigating divorce in order to enact lustful desires with another man's wife, and all the while claiming they are acting consistently with what is found in scripture!



Conclusion

While acknowledging that in a perfect world divorce provisions would not be needed -- but we don't live in that world -- Jesus is turning a baited trap around on His enemies and condemning their own immorality. They can no longer publicize this exchange so as to get Antipas involved since their own guilt has been laid bare.

Jesus is not forbidding divorce and remarriage -- He's affirming the Torah which explicitly acknowledges the possibility of remarriage after a legitimate divorce (Paul acknowledges the same thing later on as well).

Jesus is condemning the practice of leaving one's wife for another woman (as in Malachi 2). Jesus is condemning the practice of divorcing one's wife in order to justify having sex with another woman, just as Antipas had done. This is not a legitimate divorce, and so the marriage that follows is not legitimate either. That pernicious practice is, therefore, adultery.

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  • Thank you for the very detailed response! This gives me a lot of thinking to do. One question that popped up in my mind as I was reading, was, why does Jesus tell the Pharisees that Moses permitted them to write a certificate of divorce because of their hard hearts, but from the beginning it was not so? My very untrained mind thinks, off the bat, that Jesus is referring to even the proper use of a divorce decree as only being peritted due to hardness of heart, therefore if anyone divorces and marries another, they commit adultery. Is He not referring to the proper use of divorce? Commented May 9, 2023 at 3:13
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    @Jesus_is_Lord777 The divorce certificate was for the woman's protection - it permitted her to remarry. Without that option, a woman in the 1st century Roman empire was an "abandoned woman" and had very limited economic prospects. Note that God performed Adam & Eve's marriage before the Fall (Genesis 2:22-25). In a family as instituted by God (the ideal), nobody is abandoned. In this messy, fallen world, the ideal is not what plays out in everyone's lives. Commented May 9, 2023 at 3:43
  • @Jesus_is_Lord777 The Law of Moses made provision for divorce in cases such as neglect or infidelity. In a perfect world neither neglect nor infidelity would exist...but we don't live in that world. Commented May 9, 2023 at 3:43
  • @Jesus_is_Lord777 given the context of the question, according to which men were allowed to divorce/remarry for any reason, Jesus explains the intent behind the law of Moses: not to divorce for any reason, but because couples are sexually unfaithful or resist reconciliation (aka break their marriage vows). In my understanding, divorcing for any reason would be hardness of heart, or a justified divorce is ultimately a provision of the hardness of heart of the person who has broken the marriage vow. Hence the hardness of heart is breaking the marriage, not necessarily the person divorcing. Commented May 9, 2023 at 17:26
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    +1. Very Good answer. Hower, I would add a fifth point to your very good list - The Roman law of marriage which permitted men to divorce wives at a whim which both Jesus and Paul condemned. Both Paul and Jesus permitted divorce and remarriage under very restricted circumstances as opposed to rather lax Roman law.
    – Dottard
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 23:04
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It should be noted that in Luke 16:18, Jesus was speaking to the Jews, the chosen people who judged by the law. There is a reason why marriage is sacred. God frequently refers His relation with the Israelite is a marriage.

God makes marriage sacred as its bonding never break. Though the Israelites were unfaithful to Him, He still loves them. The book of Hosea chapter 2 & 3 is worth to read for this understanding.

19 I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.

20 I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord. (Hosea 2:19-20 NIV)

The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” (Hosea 3:1 NIV)

One must honor the marriage of his choice as it is a covenant he had given. Breaking the marriage as if breaking the covenant will be evil in the sight of God, for God had set His own example to the Israelites.


In 1 Corinthians 7:15, Paul was speaking to married couples whom only one was Christian. Corinth as a gentile city, many were non-Christian when they married, but one of a couple later became a believer. Paul asked the believer not to take the initiative to divorce if another half was willing to maintain the marriage (1 Cor 7:13-14), unless the other half demanded for a divorce. (1 Cor 7:15).

We may see Paul's teaching did not deviate from God's sacred marriage as he demanded the believers not to break their marriage. This implied the believer must continue to love the other half, used all fruits of the Spirit to maintain their marriage, endured conflict that might exist in their diversion of religion.

Paul did not forbid divorce if it was demanded from the non-believer. But if the believer wanted to re-marry, Paul demanded them to marry a believer, that implied this couple would not divorce as they were now both belonged to the Lord.

A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. (1 Cor 7:39)


Jesus said: "Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." (Matt 19:6). Then the Pharisees challenged Jesus that Moses (the law) allowed for divorce (Deu 24:1-4). Jesus replied them

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. (Matt 19:8 NIV)

'your hearts were hard' implied the disobedience of Israelite.

But the people of Israel are not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate. (Ezekiel 3:7 NIV)

Indeed marriage was set at a very high standard, Jesus reiterated its original requirement, didn't answer at what circumstances divorce or remarriage was allowed. Pharisees was once looking for a loophole that they could escape from the judgement of the law. Christian of today would face the same challenge, but the judge is not the law, but Jesus himself.

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Paul doesn't contradict Jesus but exegetes that same traditional conservative view of marriage in a practical sense. If Paul believed that marriage was really indissoluble except adultery, he wouldn't have given his own advice and concessions such as in v12 (after the general rule v11) not to divorce an unbelieving wife. This entails it is not a command to stay with an unbelieving wife, but the ideal thing according to the law or commands (about the permanent nature of marriage) is to try to stay with her to the best of your ability.

[1Cor 7:6-15 NHEB21]

6But this I say by way of concession, not of commandment. 7Yet I wish that all people were like me. However each one has his own gift from God, one of this kind, and another of that kind. 8But I say to the unmarried and to widows, it is good for them if they remain even as I am. 9But if they do not have self-control, let them marry. For it's better to marry than to burn. 10But to the married I command—not I, but the Lord—that the wife not leave her husband 11(but if she departs, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband not leave his wife. 12But to the rest I—not the Lord—say, if any brother has an unbelieving wife, and she is content to live with him, let him not leave her. 13The woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he is content to live with her, let her not leave her husband. 14For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the brother. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. 15Yet if the unbeliever departs, let there be separation. The brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called you to peace.

He, too, talks about the ideal thing is to never marry as mentioned in [Matt 19:11-12]

11 But he said to them, "Not everyone can receive this saying, but those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He who is able to receive it, let him receive it."

The explanation about each having his own gifts or calling is the same in both passages. This means the command against divorce was applicable only for the ideal couple where both are believers and basically fine in all aspects. In the NT churches of Gentiles, there may be a rise of cases of divorces due to the great division of religion, thus a valid cause for divorce.

We can conclude that the conservative views against divorce as stated by Shammai in Mishnah (Gittin 90a), and Jesus, Paul is using the general statement in an absolute language of black and white which is meant to forbid frivolous reasons used for divorce which violate the ideal eternal nature of marriage. They don't really exclude various other causes for divorce such as difference of religion, non-sexual sins etc. Even though they allow the exceptional causes (only in the extreme case when there is no hope of reconciliation and love, they would talk about the general rule that divorce is only allowed under adultery; or it is said in a contextual sense such as the Jesus' teachings, which were particularly targetting the corrupt mainstream leaders. Adultery is the primary and fundamental cause for allowing divorce, it is not the only one. A righteous conservative man will think about divorce only in the case of adultery. If we start saying that you can divorce on any reasons imaginable, it will be indicative of that licentious doctrines taught by the opposite side of Jesus and Paul.

It is necessary to contextually interpret the Gospel text as those books are highly contextual and full of hyperboles, exaggerations and idiomatic hard sayings. Neither Jesus nor Paul forbid divorce and remarriage while teaching the command that marriage is eternal. Nobody thinks of divorce while marrying, as the covenant of marriage is meant until death. Adultery along with other possible reasons are to be considered the worst case scenario exceptions to possibility of divorce.

Brad Young writes in his book, Jesus The Jewish Theologian 1993:

Here attention will be focused upon Jesus’ teaching in Luke 16:18 where the words “divorce” and “adultery” are often misunderstood. Not infrequently Christian clergy and laypeople have thought that Jesus made divorce synonymous with adultery. Nothing could be further from the truth; it is clear that divorce and remarriage were permitted in Jewish law. Did he abolish the laws which refer to divorce and remarriage? Jesus did not come to destroy the law. He came to place it upon a firmer foundation by proper interpretation. Prohibiting divorce would abrogate the Torah passage in Deuteronomy 24:1–2. [...] In this Gospel passage did Jesus seek to prevent injustice and to set limits on the interpretation of the biblical law which might encourage divorce for the sake of remarriage? As is often the case, divorce can be employed as a convenience for a man to divorce the wife of his youth in order to remarry a younger, more attractive woman. While the Mishnah deals with the case of a married woman who commits adultery, Jesus addresses a somewhat similar case. What if a man divorces his wife in order to marry someone else? Actually Jesus seems to be addressing this specific case. Divorce used to marry another is the same as adultery.

In Luke both verbs “divorce” and “marry” are in the present tense. The parallel in Mark 10:11 puts them in the subjunctive mood. In Hebrew the force of the expression would have linked the two actions together in continuous motion: kol hasholeach et eshto venose acheret noef, “Every one who divorces and marries another commits adultery.” Perhaps in English one could better capture the meaning of the saying by translating it, “Every one who divorces his wife [in order] to marry another commits adultery.” This suggested new translation makes the saying of Jesus clear.

The second part of the verse must be understood in a similar fashion. In light of the Mishnah passage in Sotah, if a man marries a woman who obtained a divorce merely for the sake of her second marriage, then it is considered adultery. Divorce is not adultery. However, one can obtain a divorce for the sake of remarriage and thereby break the sacred trust of marriage fidelity.

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