We’ve been walking with Jesus through the Gospel According to Mark.
- We’ve seen him heal every sickness and disease among the people.
- We’ve seen him restore hearing to the deaf and open the eyes of the blind.
- We’ve witnessed his authority over demonic spirits as he set people free.
- We’ve seen him feed the multitudes and command the winds and the waves.
- We entered the room with him and Peter and James and John to witness his power over death as he raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead.
- We’ve heard him teach with authority as no man ever had.
- We have also accompanied the disciples as Jesus taught them what it means to be a disciple — what it means to be a Christian — denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following him.
Now as we come to Mark 10, we are confronted with the question of how being a disciple impacts our interpersonal relationships, specifically, relationships between husband and wife, and God’s will for marriage.
The Christian life is not simply about believing in God or believing that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. Even the demons believe that (James 2:19). The Christian life is all of that, but it is also a life of obedience to the commands of Christ. That means that the Christian is a person who has been so changed by the power of Christ, that he delights to do the will of God. He not only says that Jesus is Lord; he demonstrates that Jesus is his Lord by the way that he lives. This is of utmost importance because over and over again, the Word of God tells us that we are to obey his commands and pursue holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
In Mark 10, Jesus declares the will of God concerning marriage. What he says is astounding in its impact. What he teaches in this passage cuts right across cultural norms and expectations. What Jesus taught about marriage and divorce is as astonishing to us today as it was to the Jews. So I invite your careful consideration of this most important passage.
1. The Question: Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? (10:1-2)
Mark 10:1-2 ESV And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. 2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
1.1. The Question (10:2)
That is a question that we might never ask. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
In Jewish culture, as in much of the world today, it was assumed that a man had the right to divorce his wife. The only question was upon what basis a man could divorce his wife. What were the legitimate grounds for putting away one’s wife?
This was a debate in Jewish society. Some argued that adultery alone was sufficient grounds for divorce. If a wife committed adultery, the man had every right to send her away. Others argued that adultery was not necessary: a man could divorce his wife for any and every reason. This is how the question is put in Matthew:
Matthew 19:3 NIVO 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?”
There is a famous passage in the Mishnah which explains many of the Jewish beliefs. It speaks of two schools of interpretation, the School of Shammai, and the School of Hillel:
The School of Shammai say: A man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her, for it is written, “Because he hath found in her indecency in anything.” And the School of Hillel say: [He may divorce her] even if she spoiled a dish for him, for it is written, “Because he hath found in her indecency in anything.” R. Akiba says: Even if he found another fairer than she, for it is written, “And it shall be if she find no favour in his eyes” (m. Git. 9: 10)
The Jews and Jewish law agreed that divorce was allowed. It was only a question of what allowed a man to divorce his wife. There were different opinions based on one phrase in the Hebrew Bible, the phrase “because he has found some indecency in her” (Deuteronomy 24:1). One school defined indecency as unchastity, some sexual impurity. Another school of interpretation said that it referred to anything that the husband might consider indecent. And then there was another rabbi who picked up on the phrase “if then she finds no favor in his eyes” to allow a man to divorce his wife because he found someone prettier! Three reasons for divorce: sexual impurity, a spoiled dinner, or a prettier woman in the neighborhood!
1.2. The Context (10:1)
Both Mark and Matthew tell us that the Pharisees asked Jesus this question about divorce “in order to test him.” They did not ask Jesus if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife because they seriously wanted to know the will of God concerning the matter. No, they already had their minds made up and were not interested in seriously considering the issue. They knew what they wanted to believe and simply wanted to trap Jesus with the question.
It is interesting that Mark tells us that this question took place in “the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan” (Mark 10:1). This is the region ruled by Herod Antipas. Herod had seduced his brother’s wife and convinced her to divorce her husband Philip. John the Baptist had denounced this marriage between Herod and Herodias, declaring that it was not lawful for Herod to have his brother’s wife (Mark 6:18). John had lost his head over this question. You could get your head chopped off for answering this question the wrong way!
What would Jesus say? Perhaps the Pharisees thought that the question concerning divorce would take care of the Jesus problem once and for all.
In any case, it is certain that the Pharisees suspected Jesus of holding a position on marriage that was different from their own. The Pharisees held to a man’s right to divorce his wife, whether for adultery or other reasons, and they believed that their position had basis in the Law of Moses. Their purpose was to trap Jesus, to put him into a position where he would compromise the authority of the Torah, the Law of Moses. They intended to “maintain a permissive divorce polity — and the more permissive the better.”
Schürer summarizes the Jewish position on divorce thus: “divorce was relatively easy in those days and the Pharisees and rabbis intended to keep it so.”
For the Pharisees, marriage was “a disposable contractual arrangement.” It was a temporary arrangement so long as it was convenient for the man.
The attitude of the Pharisees…
reminds us of a person who has just been granted a bank loan and then asks under what conditions he might be absolved from repaying it.
Wives had little rights in Jewish society. Marriage was not for the mutual benefit of both the husband and the wife. Marriage was for the man, providing him the woman that he needed to have children and maintain the family line.
Jesus overturns the male-dominated view of marriage, showing the importance of the marital union, harmony, and love as part of the new creation in the kingdom of God.
1.3. Answer a Question with a Question (10:3-5)
The Pharisees have laid a trap for Jesus, so they think, and Jesus does what he frequently does when confronted by his enemies. He turns the tables on them. They asked him a question, so he answered by asking them a question. They asked Jesus if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife.
Mark 10:3 ESV He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”
They came to put Jesus on the spot. Now they are on the spot. Jesus asks them a simply Bible question. They are the Pharisees. Surely they should know the answer. But no. They do not answer the right question. Jesus asked them what Moses commanded them. They answer not what Moses had commanded, but what Moses allowed:
Mark 10:4 ESV They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”
Wrong answer! Jesus will give the right answer in the following verses, but first he responds to their incorrect answer.
Notice the hardness of their heart that is expressed in their very answer: “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”
They are making reference to Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Deuteronomy 24 was all about damage control. It was about limiting the sin and making a man think twice before dismissing his wife.
- A husband had to give a reason for divorcing his wife, and that was the debate among the Jews, whether any reason was sufficient or “unchastity” was the only valid reason for divorce.
- The husband had to give his wife a certificate of divorce showing that she was free from her husband.
- However, the woman was “defiled” if she remarried.
- The first husband could never under any circumstances take back his first wife after having married another.
Deuteronomy 24:4 clearly states,
Deuteronomy 24:4 ESV then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.
The original intention of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was not to encourage divorce, but to limit the damage done by hard unforgiving hearts. But the Jews had flipped the intention of the passage and were using it as a pretext for divorce: “If a man finds some indecency in her…”
Jesus confronts the Pharisees with their sin:
Mark 10:5 ESV And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.
“The divine intention for marriage cannot be determined from a text about divorce.”
“The divine intention for marriage cannot be determined from a text about divorce.” Divorce is the result of cardiosclerosis, the hardening of the heart. God is a God of forgiveness and he calls us to forgive one another. Not only does he call us to forgive; he requires it. At the conclusion of what we call the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, we read,
Matthew 6:14-15 ESV For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
We are not to be hardhearted and unforgiving:
Ephesians 4:32 ESV Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
We are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:33). We are to love our enemies (Luke 6:27). Surely husbands and wives can obey the command to love each other (Ephesians 5:25, 28).
Colossians 3:13 ESV bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
2. God’s Plan for Marriage (10:6-9)
Jesus had asked the Pharisees what Moses had commanded them. The Pharisees gave the wrong answer. They told not what Moses had commanded, but what Moses has permitted them because of the hardness of their hearts.
Now Jesus gives the Pharisees the correct answer to his question by taking them back to the beginning of creation and revealing God’s plan for marriage.
Mark 10:6-9 ESV But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Jesus takes the Pharisees back to the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, chapter 2. Genesis was one of the five books that were written by Moses. We find in Genesis 2 what Moses commanded concerning marriage, and what he commanded reveals God’s intention for marriage.
2.1. The Foundation
Mark 10:6 ESV But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’
2.1.1. Marriage Has Its Foundation in Creation
We can learn so much from this one sentence: “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’” When did God make us male and female? In the beginning of creation. That tells us that man is not the result of millions of years of evolution. God created man in his own image on the sixth day of creation: “from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.”
We were created in the image of God. We are created for fellowship, just as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have been in eternal fellowship, loving one another through all eternity. God created us with a sense of morality, a sense of right and wrong, a desire for justice. He created us with the ability to communicate through the spoken and written word, and he has communicated his will for us through the prophets in the holy Scriptures. And in Genesis 2, we find God’s will for marriage.
2.1.2. Marriage Is a Male-Female Relationship
God made us male and female. Male and female is God’s idea.
Genesis 2:18 NET The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.”
In defining the nature of marriage, Jesus takes us back to the original design: God made us male and female. There is a correspondence between male and female. In taking woman from the side of man, God made man “a helper fit for him” (ESV). Male and female fit each other.
In Matthew’s account in Matthew 19, Jesus says to the Pharisees,
Matthew 19:4 ESV … “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,
“Have you not read?” Do you not know the Scriptures? Is it not clear to you? Is it not obvious that God has made us male and female? Is it not obvious that marriage is between a male and a female?
Marriage is the very first institution. The first man and the first woman were married. Before there was any church, before there were any employers, before there was any government, there was marriage. Marriage was not defined by the church, or by employers, or be the government. None of those institutions existence when the first marriage took place. God gave us marriage and God himself defined marriage.
Were Adam and Eve really married? Yes, they certainly were, for we read in
Genesis 2:25 ESV And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
Seven times in the first four chapters of Genesis, Eve is called Adam’s wife (Genesis 2:24-25; 3:8, 17, 20-21; 4:1). And twice, Adam is called Eve’s “husband” (Genesis 3:6, 16).
Marriage is one of God’s gifts to mankind.
2.1.3. Marriage Changes Our Orientation
Jesus said that since God made us male and female, there is something we must do:
Mark 10:6-7 ESV But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife,
First, Marriage Is the Time to Leave
There is a new orientation. There is a new direction. The man is no longer oriented toward his father and mother. He grows up. He leaves home. Yes, he leaves his mommy and daddy!
The Fifth Commandment was that we are to honor our father and our mother. This is second only to honoring God, but Jesus here declares that the husband’s “allegiance to his wife in the union of marriage surpasses his allegiance to father and mother, making marriage second only to obedience to God in sacredness.”
The commandment from the beginning was that a man is to leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife. You are not married to your parents. Many marriages fail at this point. Instead of obeying the Word of God and leaving his parents, the man brings his wife into his parents’ home. Rather than trying to please his wife (1 Corinthians 7:33), he seeks to please his parents. The wife never gets the respect and consideration that she is supposed to have as the man’s wife because the man is torn between his parents and his wife. God commands the man to leave his parents and to establish a new home. It’s time to grow up. It’s time to be man. It’s time to leave home.
Second, Marriage Is the Time to Cleave — Hold Fast
In holding fast to his wife, the husband orients himself to his wife. Marriage is not about me. It is not about my fulfillment. Marriage orients me toward my spouse. Marriage teaches us how to love. The Apostle Paul quotes this very verse in Ephesians:
Ephesians 5:31 ESV “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
Three times in this passage of Ephesians, Paul tells us that as husbands, we are to love our wives.
- We are to love our wives as Christ love the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).
- We are to love our wives as our own bodies, nourishing and cherishing them (Ephesians 5:28).
- We are to love our wives as ourselves (Ephesians 5:33).
How does love behave? A man who loves his wife, how does he behave?
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Romans 13:10 tells us that “Love does no wrong.” Love is not violent. Love does not mistreat. There is no room for wife abuse in the Christian home. The wife is not the husband’s child for him to discipline. The wife is not the husband’s property for him to mistreat or do as he pleases.
1 Peter 3:7 ESV Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
Beware, husband! If you mistreat your wife, God will take her side!
Third, Marriage Is a New Creation
Mark 10:8 ESV and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.
The two become one. They are no longer two, but one. This is God’s idea, not man’s. God made us male and female, and it was God’s plan that in the context of holy matrimony the two become one. It is a new creation and is an image of Christ and the Church, the Bride of Christ.
What About Polygamy?
Notice again that God says that the two shall become one flesh. Some will argue for polygamy, that a man can have more than one wife. They will argue for polygamy on the basis of the Old Testament patriarchs like Jacob. They will even say that we need to restore the practice of the patriarchs because some of them had several wives. Since the patriarchs set the precedence of polygamy and had several wives, they say that men today should be able to have several wives.
If we looked to the lives of the patriarchs to establish a precedent for how we live today, we would also
- take concubines like Abraham (Genesis 25:6) and Jacob (Genesis 35:22),
- frequent prostitutes like Judah (Genesis 38:15-16),
- deceive our parents like Jacob (Genesis 27:24), and
- kill our enemies like Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:5).
The Bible records what happened. But sinful men — even the patriarchs — did many things that were not the will of God.
As we read through the accounts of polygamous marriages in the Bible, it is clear that they were characterized by jealousy and conflict, every single one of them. Let the reader understand!
Jesus does not take us back to the patriarchs; he takes us back to the beginning. We do not look to the patriarchs to find God’s plan for marriage; we do not look to the example of fallen men to get our direction; we do as Jesus said, we go back to the beginning.
2.1.4. God Is the Lord of Marriage
Here in Mark 10:9, we find the greatest difference between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jewish culture gave man the right to divorce his wife. Man was the lord of the marital relationship. He controlled it and could divorce his wife if he were not pleased.
But Jesus shows us that it is neither the man nor the woman who controls marriage. Rather, it is “God, who is the lord of marriage.”
Mark 10:9 ESV What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Marriage is not some contractual agreement between a man and a woman. It is not even an arrangement that is determined by the society or the culture at large. It is God himself who has instituted marriage and who joins a man and woman together in marriage. The man has no right to separate it. The woman has no right to separate it. And no external force has the right to separate what God has joined together.
3. Jesus Summarizes His Teaching
The Jews assumed that divorce and remarriage was permitted in certain cases. Some thought that it was permitted in the case of adultery. Others thought that divorce and remarriage was allowed if the husband was no longer pleased with his wife.
Who did Jesus agree with? Neither. Jesus tells us that marriage is for life. One man. One woman. For life.
Mark 10:10-12 ESV And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Jesus tells us that divorce and remarriage is adultery, regardless of whether it is initiated by the man or the woman.
3.1. Counsel to Those in Difficulty
- If you are separated, the Apostle Paul summarizes the Lord’s teaching with two options: (1) stay single, or (2) be reconciled to your spouse (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
- If you have been through the pain of a divorce and are now remarried, you need to know that there is forgiveness with God. Jesus tells us in Mark 3:28 that all manner of sins will be forgiven.
1 John 1:9 ESV If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Make the best of your present marriage (1 Corinthians 7:17-24).
3.2. Counsel to Singles
- Only marry someone who loves God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. Make sure that you have God’s approval and blessing.
- Don’t expect too much from your spouse. Remember that marriage is the union of two sinners, not two angels.
- Let holiness be the goal of your marriage.
3.3. Final word to parents and families
Do not make it difficult for committed Christian young people to get married. Do not put terrible financial burdens on them. Do not put obstacles in their way. Do not sell your daughters like property. You give your Christian daughter to a Christian man who is worthy, who will lay his life down for her.
See also “Gospel of Mark”:
 In Mark we simply read, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” but this is surely an abbreviation for “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every cause?” just as we speak of the Second Coming (of Jesus) or civil rights (for minorities) or equal rights (for women). Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 5542-5543). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.
 Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5529-5532).
 Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5549-5551).
 Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5549-5551).
 Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5553-5554).
 Edwards Jr., James R.. The Gospel according to Mark . Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009.
 Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5593-5594).
 Edwards Jr., James R.. The Gospel according to Mark . Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009.