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Matthew 19:1-15 – Family Values


When we read Matthew 19:1-12 we are apt to think only of the divorce issue. There is much more in the first part of this chapter than divorce and remarriage.

When Pharisees asked Jesus about causes for divorce, Jesus talked about marriage. Only after a follow-up question did Jesus even mentioned divorce. Even then, He went back to marriage and God’s plan for it.

The Question

The Pharisees asked as a “test” for Jesus. They wanted Him to enter the tangle of Rabbinic debate over Deuteronomy 24:1-4. There was another Mosaic provision that the Rabbis all accepted as grounds for the equivalent of divorce in Exodus 21:7-11. There, if a man did not provide his wife with food, clothing, and marital rights, she was free to leave him. This applied directly to a woman “sold” by her father, but then treated as a “wife.” The rabbis extended this to all wives, so it was not a part of their debate or the question they asked Jesus.

The rabbis agreed on Exodus 21; it was Deuteronomy 24:1-4 where they disagreed. Debate centered on two phrases: something indecent in her (v1) and dislikes her (v 3), both from the NIV. One school of thought said that these meant gross sexual sin; other rabbis said it meant anything the husband found displeasing.

Jesus said it was not that way in the beginning.

In the Beginning

Some Pharisees came to Him to test Him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be untited to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” – Matthew 19:3-6

This is the foundation for God’s plan for marriage:

  • Marriage is heterosexual. He made them male and female.
  • Marriage is monogamous. He made them one.
  • Marriage is permanent. A man is to cleave to his wife.
  • Marriage begins a new home. A man is to leave his father and mother.

When you go to Genesis for the complete context from which Jesus quoted, you can also add these things:

  • The wife is to be a “suitable helper” for her husband. This is not an inferior position. The English word carries a hint of inferiority; not so with the Hebrew. That word’s most frequent use is of God as a helper to Israel in trials (e.g. Deuteronomy 33:29). This is not a position of inferiority!
  • One purpose of marriage is reproduction, for God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28).

This was marriage in the Garden of Eden as God created it to be. If it is not that today, it is by the Curse from sin.

Why Did Moses…?

The Pharisees did not want to talk about marriage as it should be. They sought  justification for something else:

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 19:7-9

Jesus denied that Moses commanded divorce. It was (and still is) a concession by God because of the hardness of man’s heart. That is, divorce is a result of sin in the heart of mankind. God hates it; Jesus had steered the conversation to what God desires, away from possible excuses for breaking covenant.

He let the Pharisees know divorce could not be manipulated to avoid adultery. When a man put his wife away without good cause, he sinned. Note that this would be equally true of the “causes” for separation in Exodus 21:7-11. If a man denies his wife food and clothing, he is guilty of abuse and neglect; if he denies her “marital rights” he is guilty of violating the principle in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5.

Jesus was saying you cannot get away from the fact that divorce is sinful and no divorce ever occurs without sin. That is why God says, “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16).

The Disciples Enter the Debate

When the disciples realized that Jesus meant marriage was to be to one woman for life, they said:

If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” – Matthew 19:10

They actually entered the conversation “when they were in the house” (Mark 10:10 in the parallel account). Thus, like good students, they did not argue with their teacher in front of His opponents.

Their reaction, however, is one other followers of Jesus have made. The Corinthians had several questions for Paul. One of them had to do with marriage, as some contended, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (1 Corinthians 7:1). In reply, Paul responded  this would be good “because of the present crisis” (1 Corinthians 7:26), but it could not be a general rule for God’s people because men and women are not wired that way: “Since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). That is, each should be married unless they could control themselves and live as Paul himself lived (1 Corinthians 7:7, 9. et al). See also 1 Timothy 4:1-3 for another Biblical example of forbidding marriage. Illustrations of this abound in church history: forbidding digamy, enjoining clerical celibacy, and numerous sects or cults that forbid marriage. (Would another example be limiting eligibility for marriage on the basis of a previous divorce?)

Jesus said much the same thing Paul said when He replied to the disciples:

Not everyone can accept this word [i.e., not to marry], but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” – Matthew 19:11-12

The Final Blow to Family Values

The Pharisees wanted to make a mockery of marriage by divorcing for any and every cause.

The disciples wanted to avoid it all together.

As this conversation was continuing,

…little children were brought to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. – Matthew 19:13

Some one visualized this as the people of the house bringing their children to Jesus for His blessing before the kiddies went off to bed. But the disciples were too engrossed in their deep discussion of marriage in God’s plan.

The children simply were in the way of this important discussion – so they got short shift. Jesus, of course, intervened:

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” – Matthew 19:14

Too many times, in our concern for “family values,” the last thing we think of is the children. By not thinking of them and their needs, we make family values about the desires of the adults – and the children get hurt.

Questions to Consider

  1. How did the Pharisee’s question put Jesus on trial? Have you ever been put on trial by a similar question?
  2. Read Exodus 21:7-11 & Deuteronomy 24:1-4. How do these passages say marriages may be broken? What was the main point in Deuteronomy 24:1-4? Which of these was the focus of the Pharisee’s question to Jesus? Is it fair to say Matthew 19:1-9 is the sum of Jesus’ teaching on divorce?
  3. Why did Jesus go back to Genesis to answer the Pharisees? What does Genesis 1 – 2 teach us about marriage?
  4. Some say man cannot separate what God joins. What did Jesus say?
  5. The Pharisees still wanted to talk about divorce. Why do you suppose that was? Why do many of us today talk more about divorce than about marriage?
  6. Why did Moses permit divorce? Does that reason still prevail today?
  7. Can a divorce take place without sin on the part of one or both spouses?
  8. Why did the disciples say it would be better not to marry? Why did Jesus say this would not be a good rule for all to follow? Why should we be careful when we forbid marriage?
  9. How do you visualize the scene in Matthew 19:13?
  10. How are children often hurt when our discussion of family values centers on what the adults want or need?

NEXT: THE FIRST WHO ARE LAST – Matthew 19:16 – 20:34

PREVIOUS: SEEKING THE LOST – Matthew 18:10-35

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