February 2019, Vol. 38, No. 2

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Observations From Perhaps The Most Difficult Passage In The New Testament

posted on January 29, 2019


[348 words]

What is perhaps the most difficult statement in the Bible is not grammatically complex or difficult to comprehend from an intellectual standpoint. But what elder, preacher, or other member has not agonized over it many times. Asked point blank for His teaching on the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, Jesus says, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Mat. 19:8-9). There are quite a few observations that can be made from this reading.

  • Jesus makes a timeless statement (“from the beginning”).
  • Jesus makes a universal statement (This applies to “whoever”).
  • Jesus makes an authoritative statement (“I say to you”)–Matthew often reveals Jesus’ contrasting His teaching with the inferior Law of Moses.
  • Jesus does not mandate (necessitate) that divorce occur in the case of fornication.
  • Jesus identifies the exception to the rule (“whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery”)–It is fornication (BDAG–“Unlawful sexual intercourse”).
  • Jesus’ teaching here cannot be negated by other Scripture (cf. 1 Cor. 7; 2 Cor. 5:17).
  • Jesus teaches that another marriage (excepting for one’s spouse’s fornication) is adulterous.
  • Jesus does not free the guilty to remarry.
  • The duration of adultery in the second marriage considered by Jesus persists as long as that subsequent marriage persists.
  • The teaching has been difficult from this inception (see Mat. 19:10-12).

This passage must be taught patiently, lovingly, wisely, compassionately, and prayerfully! Yet, on what grounds can we decide not to teach it? Treating it with the reverence it deserves, why would we seek to dismantle or discredit it? Of course, we would not. By teaching it, we risk losing good will and favor with many but by teaching it as Jesus taught it we show respect and fidelity to His supreme authority. May God grant us “a spirit…of power and love and discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7) on this eternally important passage. 

Neal Pollard
Bear Valley church of Christ
Denver, CO

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