Last night Anthology had another wonderful night together studying the Good News of Jesus according to Mark (aka the Gospel of Mark). We spent some time in Mark 10, which is quite a long chapter to tackle in one sitting! But Pastor Steve did a great job giving a big-picture “fly over” of the contents of the chapter.
Since we did a fly over though, it didn’t give us much time to go over some questions that came up during the study. One of those tough sections was Mark 10:2-12, which is on marriage and divorce. Of course with all the legislation going through our country right now there is a lot of talk about marriage and what it is. Also, studies say that in the City of Los Angeles the divorce rate is just around 75%, making it 25% higher than the current rate of the rest of the country. So in our city 3 out of 4 marriages end in divorce. It would seem that if Jesus speaks on divorce it would be a very relevant topic for us.
So in light of that, I thought I’d offer a few more thoughts on what Mark 10:2-12 says, as well as what the rest of the Scriptures says about marriage & divorce.
In Mark 10:2-12
First, as Steve said last night, this statement by Jesus came up because the religious leaders were attempting to trap Jesus into saying something against the Jewish Law so they could arrest him and stop his ministry (Mark 10:2). Jesus answers their specific question about a fine point of the Law with a question about what the Mosaic Law actually says. The religious leaders tell Jesus that Moses allowed divorce to take place whenever a man wanted essentially.
Then Jesus says something they didn’t expect to hear him say: He says the Mosaic Law allowed divorce not because it was a part of God’s original intention, but because of people’s selfish hearts, and so that society didn’t unravel in the way it was set up. It’s too complicated to get into ancient Israel cultural dynamics, but Jesus turns their eyes away from these exceptions to say, "This is not what God intended marriage to be from the beginning." Here is what Jesus says:
"But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. ’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. ’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." - Mark 10:6-9
Jesus quotes Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 to show what God intended for marriage. He intended one man and one woman to come together, form a new family unit (“leave father and mother”), to “hold fast” (read: be committed only to one another), and the two would become one flesh (through sexual intimacy). Jesus affirms then that marriage is GOD joining these two people together when they get married, so therefore man shouldn’t separate (through divorce) what God has joined together in marriage.
At the very least, without considering complex situations like abuse and cheating and so on (which MUST be addressed and God cares deeply about those injustices) we can say Jesus is fiercely pro-marriage and anti-divorce. In answering the religious leaders here he is appealing to something the precedes Mosaic Law. He appeals to the first marriage ever between Adam & Eve, which God himself officiated. Taking out all the exceptions, we can conclude Jesus is affirming no-fault divorce is wrong. It is disobedience & sin for any follower of Jesus to get a no-fault divorce. We can confidently extend that out even to people who are not followers of Jesus, since Jesus roots marriage in the creation account, God see it as wrong for all people to get a no-fault divorce, whether you’re a Christian or not.
This is not an easy thing to say in our culture. We will potentially be telling 3 out of 4 people in LA who have been married that in God’s eyes they have done something wrong. But if we except and love the things Jesus says about loving our enemies, helping the poor and oppressed, forgiving again and again, we cannot simply reject him when he says something we may not like. But of course, if you’re not committed to following Jesus, then you probably don’t care much what he says about divorce anyway, so it may not matter personally if he says it’s wrong!
There are exceptions to this anti-divorce stance of Jesus, one of them from his own lips. In Matthew 5:32 Jesus says the same thing in Mark 10, but adds "except on the ground of sexual immorality", indicating that it is potentially morally fine in God’s eyes to divorces if there has been unfaithfulness in a marriage. The greek word for “sexual immorality” is “porneia" (which is where we get the word "pornography"), which covers all sorts of sexual activity outside of a marriage between one man and one woman. Some believe this exception can be extended to areas like abuse and other things because those are forms of "unfaithfulness". Anthology’s position would be that each case in a marriage needs to be considered individually in terms of what unfaithfulness looks like, but when there has been adultery there seem to be good grounds for a divorce.
Outside of Jesus’s own words, 1 Corinthians 7 has much to say about marriage. Make sure you go read Paul addressing several issues about the goodness of marriage and when you potentially should not get married, but 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 gives several clear thoughts on divorce. Paul affirms that no believing couple should ever seek divorce (again prohibiting no-fault divorce). But in 1 Corinthians 7:15 Paul says if a Christian spouse is married to someone who isn’t a follower of Jesus, and that non-Christian wants to get a divorce, that the believing spouse is not obligated to stay married. In that instance a divorce is morally permitted, and remarriage as well.
This is Complicated: We need each other
One thing these hard words and hard-to-determine exceptions around marriage and divorce teach us is that we really need each other to know how to live this out. We are meant to live in community with one another to help one another. Marriage is not easy. It is beautiful and wonderful, but anything but easy. Unfaithfulness in marriage is even worse and incredibly destructive to both spouses and children involved. This is why God puts us in communities called “churches” so we have help to work this all out. God gives leadership (like pastors) to be able to guide through the moral implications and what God would have us do in each instance.
If you have more questions on what Jesus and the Bible say about marriage, ask me or Pastor Steve any time. That’s what we’re hear for!
You can also post any thoughts in the comments.