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Matthew 19:3-9

In this passage Jesus is asked if divorce is lawful. He explains that if a man divorces his wife for reasons other than sexual immorality* and marries another woman, he commits adultery. He states that although divorce was allowed in the past, the god of the Bible did not intend it to be that way. He further explains that Moses only allowed divorce because human’s hearts were hardened. (There is an endnote that states some biblical manuscripts say that it is the woman who commits adultery in the above scenario and other manuscripts that add whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.)

To me, this seems to be a very problematic passage. Below, I have delineated the five main problems that I see with this passage. I would love to have a discussion about these issues.

(1) Differences in Manuscripts

The version of the Bible I read states that a divorced man who marries anther woman would be guilty of adultery (assuming his first wife was sexually moral). However, according to the endnote some manuscripts state that if a divorced man marries another woman, he causes his second wife to commit adultery. (And other manuscripts add “he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”)

So, some manuscripts state that when a man divorces his first wife and marries another, it is the man who is committing adultery. While others state that when a man divorces his first wife and marries another, it is the woman who is committing adultery. And, others include the second husband of a divorced woman is committing adultery (presumably the sexual morality of her first husband is not a factor.)

Adultery is defined in the Bible as a sin; it’s even one of the Ten Commandments. Since the consequence of sin is supposed to be Hell according to the New Testament, it would seem to be important to get this detail correct. Of course, it might be all parties who are sinning, but if so, it seems like a fact that should be stated?

My question for Christians:
When biblical manuscripts do not match up, how do you determine which text is correct and which ones are incorrect?
Small Bible

(2) Ongoing Sin

According to the passage, if a man divorces a woman and marries another woman (assuming the first wife was sexually moral) he is committing adultery. Therefore, as long as he is married to his second wife, would not his adultery be ongoing?

It would seem to me that if a man is commenting ongoing adultery, he could never be right with the god of the Bible. Ongoing adultery is not like other sins where you could ask for forgiveness and try really hard not to commit the sin again. This is one where the man is intending to keep committing simply by being in the marriage.

Considering the the seriousness of intentionally committing an ongoing sin, I would think that all Christian churches would working very hard to make sure that couples knew how serious of a sin divorce and remarriage is. Of course, there are churches that do this. However, there also seem to be many that do not. I have even heard some ministers that do not consider second marriages a sin. Some ministers are even willing to perform the ceremony for second marriages. And, I know of Christian couples that are on their second marriage. I can’t imagine all of those divorces were due to sexual immorality.

My question for Christians:Do you consider second marriages (for reasons other than sexual immorality) a sin? If not, how do you interpret this passage?

(3.) The exception

In the passage, Jesus explains that if a man’s wife is sexually immoral, he may divorce her and marry another woman without committing adultery. If a man’s wife has cheated on him, I can understand why he may want to divorce her. However, I can think of other justifications for divorce, such as abuse. To me, abuse seems an even better reason for divorce than adultery. Yet, Jesus does not make an exception for abuse, only sexual immorality. Presumably, a man who divorced his wife because she was abusive (but who was sexually moral) and married another woman would be committing adultery.

My question for Christians: Do you think that an abuse-victim should be allowed to divorce the abusing spouse and remarry? If so, how would you reconcile your justifications with this passage?

(4.) Marrying Multiple Women is Fine; Divorce is adultery?

In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) women were often treated as property and men often married multiple women. The god of the Bible never seemed to have a problem with men marrying hundreds of women and having hundreds of concubines. This was never considered adultery. Why would divorcing one and marrying another be a be adultery? Would it really be better for a man to just remain married to his first wife when taking a second wife?

My question for Christians: Why was it all right for men to marry multiple women and have concubines, but if a man divorces a woman (for reasons other than sexual immorality) and marries another woman he commits the sin of adultery? Would polygamy be preferable

(5.) If your heart is hard, it’s not a sin?

In the passage, Jesus explained that in the past, Moses allowed men to divorce women as long as they gave her a certificate of divorce but only because their hearts were hard. Jesus states that was never what god had intended.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, there is no hint of the fact that divorce and remarriage was a sin. Therefore, even if divorce was not what the god of the bible intended, he seemed to have accepted that people would divorce and remarry. He never condemned them for it. He never told Moses to change the rule. What changed the god of the Bible’s mind? Was it because the people described in the New Testament were less hard hearted than the people described in the Hebrew Scriptures? Why would hard-heartedness make a difference in the determination of a sin?

My question for Christians: Is the sinfulness of a behavior affected by the hardness of people’s heart? If enough people insist on behaving in a way that the god of the Bible considers a sin, will he change his mind about the sinfulness of the behavior, at least for a time? Will that behavior no longer be something that could land a person in Hell?

Matthew 19:3 Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” 8 He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife , except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.” [ 140 ]

Harper Bibles (2011-11-22). NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha(Kindle Locations 66871-66878). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[ 140 ] Other ancient authorities read except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; others add at the end of the verse and he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery
Harper Bibles (2011-11-22). NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (Kindle Locations 67559-67560). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

*Sexual immorality – The version of the Bible I read use the term “unchastey.” I have read other versions that translated the Greek word as “sexual immorality.” I am not clear if this sexual immorality is referring to a woman who is not a virgin on her wedding night, infidelity within the marriage, or both. My assumption is that the text is referring to both.

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