The Teachings of Jesus on Divorce — (Matthew 5:32b)
Teaching in the Sermon on the Sin
of Conspiratorial Adultery
The Teaching Itself:
Treatment of the second divorce saying in the Sermon (Matt. 5:32b) seldom exceeds a paragraph or two, even among scholars. It is usually seen as presenting the occasion for the adultery committed by the woman in the first saying. That is, she is caused to commit adultery when she remarries, which is presumed to be discussed in the second saying. But, as we have seen, the first clause is independent and makes perfectly good sense without recourse to the second saying, though not the traditional sense.
We began the last chapter by noting that the connective kai, cannot be made to mean “when.” I mentioned then that we would continue our grammatical considerations when we arrived at the second saying. That time has arrived.
It is worth noting that the second saying is introduced by the words kai os ean. This is an unusual construction peculiar in the New Testament to Matthew, found only in 5:32b, 12:32 and 18:5. In each case the noted phrase precedes a subjunctive verb, in turn followed by an indicative verb. The verbs are found in clauses, having a form grammarians call a conditional statement. The first verb is in a clause which shows some uncertainty as to whether or not the action will take place. The mode of the first verb, which expresses this hesitancy is called subjunctive. This clause is also called the protasis, because it sets a condition which must exist before the truth of the next clause will hold. The “next” clause is called the apodosis. In the case of each of the kai os ean phrases, the verb in the apodosis is in the indicative mode, which expresses a statement of fact. Thus in each conditional saying, if something might (were to) happen, then something will be true.
Translators generally choose “and whoever” to render these words, although “and if … ” captures the (third class) conditional construction a bit better, since the former treats the sentence like a simple relative clause, while the ean is a hallmark of the a third class conditional, which has the form of “and if.”299 A consideration of the similar constructions in chapters 12 and 18 to not suggest to us that the “kai” should be interpreted as if it were a “when.” Additionally, the fact that the protasis of the saying introduced by the kai os ean phrase is in the subjunctive is further evidence that the second saying is not to be seen as causally interpretive of the first (she is caused to commit adultery when she remarries). If the traditional interpretation of the second saying claims that it give us the occasion of the adultery of the first. Such an event as the remarriage of a divorced woman would be expected to be in the indicative mode, the mode of positive assertion. This would be the case if the second saying began with a temporal clause introduced by a conjunction other than kai, such as oti (definite as to time) or otan (indefinite as to time). The subjunctive’s hesitancy seems an odd way indeed to provide the necessary situation in which the point of the first saying is to be made. In a bit we will ask why exactly the subjunction was chosen at this point in the antithetical rebuke of Jesus, but before we do that, we should look at the standard interpretations of the second saying.
Interpretations of What it Means
to Commit Adultery in Marrying a Divorcee
As this portion of the verse reads in most translations, it seems to be saying that any man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery with her. In spite of the seeming obviousness of this interpretation, there are several views that scholars have taken of this saying.
Remarriage Only Stigmatizes
The View Explained
In the previous chapter, we considered the work of the Lutheran Greek scholar, R. C. H. Lenski. We noted his theory that the woman of saying one (Matthew 5:32a) is innocent, but stigmatized. We did not rule out the possibility of stigma, noting that on several occasions the Old Testament Law prohibited the defamation of a “virgin of Israel” (e.g., Deut. 22:19). However, we concluded that stigmatization was only a secondary meaning of the offense-phrase. It was perhaps enough of an issue to rule out the clearer active, “commits adultery against her” but not enough to unseat the preferable “causes her to be adulterized.”
Lenski continued his theory of stigmatization into the conjoined logion, interpreting its meaning by the translation “and he who shall marry her that has been released is stigmatized as adulterous.”300 He explained this view further by arguing that the participle (“she who has been divorced”) is both perfect and passive, conveying the idea both that this woman was put away and that this procedure is final. This idea, then, Lenski related to the preceding saying: the first husband was unjustly putting away his wife, and now the divorce is a completed fact.
Lenski further argues that the second husband is not the agent of the “adultery” but the recipient of it. Thus, just as the woman of saying a was not guilty of sin, but suffered it, the husband of saying b is not guilty of adultery, but only suffers it. What he suffers is then interpreted as in the saying about the woman. The man has not sinned, but only become stained with the same stigma as was previously described as staining his present wife.301
The Stigma View Criticized
We may first ask if this view makes sense on its face. Whereas the sayings so far in this section of the Sermon seem to be identifying, as an offender, a man who thinks he is innocent, but is really guilty, Lenski would have us believe that though this second husband may be thought to be guilty, he is really innocent. Of course, it might be rejoined that the text indirectly identifies the divorcing first husband as the offender. But why then is the first husband not more clearly brought into the saying? In the first saying, the treacherous man is brought to the forefront. In 5:32b, it is the second husband who is at the forefront. And, again, such an explanation requires the sort of interdependency of sayings that we have argued the grammar does not support.
Clearly, the stigma view presupposes at least two points that, if they are not true, render the position incredible. First, the woman in question must be innocent of adultery. If the woman is guilty of adultery, then the man may well share in her guilt. Lenski makes much of the point that both the woman and her new husband have nothing in either of their histories to justify a charge of actual adultery. Second, the new husband cannot be the agent of the verb moikatai (“commits adultery”). If he is not the recipient, then how could he be said to suffer stigmatization?
Considering the first of these, we understand Lenski to find evidence for the innocence of the woman in a combination of the tense and voice of the participle and the relation of the second logion to the first. The completion of a divorce procedure against her in saying B is identified with the process of divorce underway in saying A. The hypothetical innocent woman of the latter saying, then, is identified categorically with the woman of the former saying.
All scholars will grant Lenski that the participle is perfect as to tense. Most will grant that it is passive in voice. Many will agree that there is a relationship of identity between the women of the sayings. For my part, I question whether the participle is passive and deny that there is any necessary identity between the principal women of the sayings. I offer the following reasons:
The relevant participle, apolelumenan, being in the perfect tense, could be either passive or middle in voice. Most translators assume the passive, but there is no reason this has to be the case. The form is the same in either case, and the context has to determine which is meant.302
Were the voice middle, the whole interpretative situation would be changed for Lenski. If middle, the woman would, in one manner or another, be implicated in the divorce process that has been completed. The nature of her involvement would depend on what sort of a middle it is, for there are three major concepts that may be involved in the middle: reflex, intensification, and reciprocity. Of the three, we may rule out the last, as it only occurs with plural subjects. An intensive middle underscores the producing agent rather than the agent’s participation. The reflexive middle, which is the nearest to the basic idea of the voice, refers the result of the action directly to the one who did it, with an emphasis upon that person’s participation in the action. The following middle-translations would then be possible:
Reflexive middle: “she who has divorced herself”
Intensive middle: “she herself who has divorced”
In either case, the point to be noted is that the woman has been not a passive object, but the causal agent. Lenski’s interpretation cannot stand a middle.
But is it middle or passive? The context decides, but the near context could abide either. It could be the woman of the preceding clause (passive), or it could be a woman, who, like the sinning divorcer of the first saying, has herself ended her marriage (middle). The issues become complex.303 Were the text to have stressed the woman by using a definite article, “the”, instead of merely putting the participle in the feminine singular, we would almost certainly have a grammatical indicator for tying this saying with the first and identifying this woman with the treacherously divorced woman in the first saying.304 But the article is missing. This is just “a” woman.305 At this point, let us simply say that Lenski may be leaning on a broken reed if he depends on the voice of the participle.306
Matters go from bad to worse when one considers the second assumption: the grammar of the crucial verb “commits adultery” (moikatai). Lenski insists that this verb, like the infinitive of the previous saying, is passive-that the second husband is the recipient of its action, not the cause. Lenski is surely in error. Though “causes her to be adulterized” (moikeuthanai) in the preceding saying can only be passive (being in the aorist), “commits adultery” (moikatai) in this saying, being in the present tense, has a form that can be either passive or middle. However, there is the added factor that the verb in question is deponent.307
A grammatical reminder may be helpful. A deponent verb, though middle or passive in form, should be translated as an active in function. Deponent verbs are verbs whose active form has been laid aside in preference for the middle. The form changed, but the function did not. Following the grammar book, then, we would not side with Lenski, because the verb is deponent. Thus, the verb should be translated “he is committing adultery.”308 This makes Lenski’s interpretation impossible. If the second husband is the agent of the verb, then the only way stigmatization can still be argued would be for the second husband to stigmatize an already guilty woman! It seems useless to even consider stigma as a secondary concept.
“Actual” Adultery Views
If Lenski’s idea of mere stigmatization is inadequate, the only reasonable alternative is that actual adultery takes place when the remarriage occurs. But to say this does not solve all the interpretative problems. There are at least three major variations to this category (at least two of these are liable to variation themselves).
The No-Remarriage View
The View Explained
One position goes beyond the basic statement by absolutizing the prohibition. It says that all remarriage is prohibited by this saying.309 The logic behind this expansion seems to be the following: remarriage is denied the divorced woman because the consummation of the second wedding defiles her bond with her first husband. (The presumption here is that the marriage bond is unbreakable, and the first union still intact.) Moreover, if she is still bound to her first husband, he must still be bound to her. If he is still bound to her, then he too is not free to consummate a relationship with another.310
The assumption here in the case of the husband is that polygyny is immoral.311 This is a questionable assumption, given biblical passages up to this point in the text, i.e., considering all prior revelation.
This no-remarriage view does not require any relationship between 5:32a and 5:32b. Generally, this interpretation is given in the context of such verses as Luke 16:18a and supported by the idea that for a man to divorce his wife and marry another is adultery.
The View Criticized
Concerning the support of this interpretation by verses identifying a divorcing and remarrying man as committing adultery, I shall withhold criticism until we analyze Luke 16:18. Instead, we here turn our attention to the two basic assumptions of this position: first, that a continuing bond is the only way to explain how the man can be said to commit adultery with the divorced woman when they marry and, second, that polygyny was immoral impermissible when the verse was written.
Taking the last first, we note that, if polygyny was morally permissible when the verse was written, then for a divorced man to marry again would not have been immoral per se. After all, he could simply have married the second woman alongside the first and been guilty of no offense. Only if polygyny was immoral can this view make way from the text of Matthew 5:32b alone.312
In line with what I have argued before.313 I would contend that in the time when this verse was written (if not spoken), polygyny was understood to be morally acceptable (and not just by the Pharisees)—the Scriptures gave it moral sanction by implication in the fornication and levirate regulations. Moreover, one must understand that if this point is conceded, the argument that a continuing bond exists between the husband and his first wife is rendered irrelevant. The morality of polygyny implied that a man may have more than one “one-flesh,” covenantal relationship at a time. The divorced man may be faulted for the divorce of his first wife, but he cannot be faulted simply for marrying another. It is not clear that the logic of this verse alone requires us to include male divorces in the condemnation of remarriage.
If we are correct in this criticism, then we are back to the basic position: divorced women may not remarry. And if expansion of the saying (to men) is out, perhaps some form of limitation could further clarify the prohibitions here.
The No-Remarriage-for-the-Innocent View
The View Explained
The no-remarriage-for-the-innocent view, exemplified by Murray, is a part of the Erasmian position. The view holds that the union of marriage is not dissolved by the divorce, but by sexual infidelity. Erasmians hold that in 5:32b Jesus is presenting a saying limited to cases in which this bond has not been broken. The woman of that clause is the innocent woman of the preceding saying. Though legally divorced, she is still bound to her former husband. Until that bond is broken by an act of sexual infidelity on the part of either original spouse, each is morally obligated to remain celibate. The legalities of the second marriage no more justify its consummation than the legalities of the divorce did. The verse does not mean to inhibit the marriage of an “innocent” spouse once the bond has been broken by sexual infidelity of the “former spouse,” but proscribes a marriage in which an “innocent” spouse who has been treacherously divorced would become guilty of breaking their continuing bond by consummating a second marriage. Those guilty of groundlessly divorcing their partner are not for that reason guilty of adultery (that is a sexual sin), but would be guilty of adultery if they remarried (before their offended partner?).
Murray claims to have “good reasons” for limiting the logion to remarriage with a treacherously divorced woman. They are: first, guilty women are only the focus of a preceding parenthetical (except) clause, and second, the concern of the combined sayings is with the consequences of and wrongs entailed in unjust divorce. Jesus is silent on the status of the remarriage of guilty women, though He suggests that the force of the except clause may carry over and dissociate the second husband of such remarriage from the condemnation of adultery.314 On the other hand, since this saying does not speak to the condition of disciplining divorcers (male or female), it is possible to teach that the innocent party in such cases is free to remarry. The reason for this is that the guilty party by the act of adultery has dissolved the marriage.315
The View Criticized
Criticisms of the previous positions arise again. First, as noted under the discussion of the no-remarriage view, the morality of polygyny makes the egalitarian nature of this position suspect. To be most proper, it would have to speak of the innocent female divorcee. Second, as mentioned in the criticism of Lenski’s view, Murray’s presumption that there is an interpretive connection between 32b and 32a is questionable. His supposition that this woman is the innocent divorcee of 32a is wrong if the participle in 32b is a middle—thus rendering the woman the agent of the divorce and not the recipient of the former husband’s action. Third, I believe that Murray’s view is determined by his assumption that the marriage bond is broken only by sexual infidelity. I believe that assumption is ill grounded in the Scriptures. The divorce of the innocent woman breaks the promise of the husband to continuously provide for her (Exod. 21). To presume that the remarriage of such a woman is adultery flies in the face of Deuteronomy 24 in a way that not even a dispensational argument can explain.
Another problem arises for Murray’s view when he later admits that for a treacherously divorced woman to marry is adultery (Matt. 5:32b), whereas a deserted woman may marry without tainting her husband (1 Cor. 7:15). It would seem that if the “one-flesh” bond exists until broken by sexual infidelity (Matt. 5:32b, etc.), the deserted woman would not be free to remarry until her former husband remarried or committed fornication.
Murray argues valiantly to harmonize the two, trying to force Matthew 5:32b language solely into the category of 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, and not into any relation with 1 Corinthians 7:15. Remarriage for “putting away” by Christians is presented as a different item than “going away” in a mixed marriage. After all, does not Paul say that the two categories are different when he distinguishes between Jesus’ teaching and the matters discussed in 7:15?316
Ultimately Murray’s effort is unconvincing. Unless some more significant distinctions between Matthew 5:32b and 1 Corinthians 7:15 can be given, it would seem that the disharmony will remain.
Seeing the no-remarriage-to-the-innocent-divorcee view as inconsistent and unlikely, we turn to a second variation of the limiting views.
The No-Remarriage-to-the-Guilty View
The View Explained
The essence of the no-remarriage-to-the-guilty view is that 32b prohibits the remarriage of a treacherous spouse, in this case the woman who divorced her husband. Since it permits the remarriage of an innocent divorced person, this view must deny that the marriage bond lasts past the divorce. Like the previous view, it would most likely argue that whatever moral obligation exists in marriage ends with the offense that determined the guilty party to be such. The most consistent statement of such a position would argue that, if no moral grounds predate the divorce, the divorce itself becomes such grounds. This is not to be construed as saying that the innocent party will always be the one divorced, for sometimes the innocent party will be a disciplining divorcer. Guilt is determined by the unfaithful (not necessarily sexually understood) action of one spouse. When the innocent party divorces as a discipline, it is to serve notice that the moral bond, which the spouse has broken, should be restored by a renewal of the covenant.
Such a view denies remarriage to the guilty party, not because some bond still exists, but because the guilty party has unfinished moral business, that is, repentance, including actions that are the appropriate “fruits of repentance.” If the guilty party was the divorcer, as in the saying at hand, then that party should not marry another person but seek the forgiveness of the offended former spouse. The appropriate “fruit” would be to restore the marriage by recommitting to the marriage vows, if the offended will and can take the offender back. To marry someone else while repentance and restoration is possible is evidence of continuing treachery, in the same way as thieves remain thieves until they provide restitution, or prove they are still thieves by fencing the property they have stolen.317
The View Criticized
A common criticism of this view is that it presumes that the woman divorced her husband, a procedure not available to women in Palestinian society at that time.318 But this criticism will not stand. First, Herodias did divorce Herod.319 That would make such a statement relevant. Second, there is no doubt that Mark 10:12 includes the same point. We cannot deny the possibility of Christ here identifying the wife as a divorcer without denying the even more straightforward identification in Mark’s Gospel.320 The view’s interpretation of 32b harmonizes with Mark on this point. They are conceptual complements, each touching on a different side of the same issue: the remarriage of women who unjustly divorce.
A second criticism of this view is that it goes against the idea of an indissoluble moral bond that exists between marriage partners. If the view were further qualified to relate to guilty female divorcees(ers), then it would be criticized by positions that protect polygamy. However, if previous argument is compelling regarding the dissoluble nature of the marriage bond and the moral permissibility of polygamy, neither of these criticisms damage the position.
A third criticism against this view could arise out of comparison such verses as Luke 16:18a, Matthew 19:9, and Mark 10:11. How can this interpretation be harmonized with them? Some of them would not seem able to be harmonized. I will answer this criticism when we discuss those texts.
Beyond these criticisms, there are two questions to ask this position regarding its focus upon the second husband. Why exactly is he singled out, rather than the divorcing woman? And why, if her marriage bond is broken, is he hung with the tag “adulterer”?
The suggested answer to both is that the text at hand sees the second husband as an accomplice in the continuing rebellion of the guilty, perhaps even the cause of it. Several matters support this suspicion. In the first place, remember that the Sermon was preached to the disciples, who were probably mostly men; Jesus spoke to the majority of His audience. Second, remember that the question of the right to end the marriage (in re Deut. 24:1-4) was one primarily of concern to men, since few women divorced their husbands. In one sense this fit the Law’s plan for men to be the ones who led in family decisions. But this “lead” was a great responsibility, to be exercised in a manner designed to keep families together. “In the days of Jesus (and in most days of history), however, men were behind the disruption of marriage. Jesus is trying to rebuke such behavior by speaking against male lust, male treachery in divorcing, and male treachery in claiming a woman who should be going repentantly back to her husband.
This latter progression brings up two matters that may explain why the man is singled out in the remarriage saying, and that may help us see the reasonableness of this interpretation. One is logical, the other is historical. Consider again the connection between the three logia of Matthew 5:27-32. There is an interesting progression in the three cases in which men are guilty of adultery when they might at first seem to be innocent. The logical progression runs: thoughts of treachery with another’s wife, treachery to rid oneself of one’s own wife, and the treacherous claiming of the neighbor’s wife. Lust, treachery, and duplicity.321 A complete set of evils. But this progression may have more behind it than logic and completeness.
To Jesus’ listeners, Galileans, the progression would sound like a comment on the daily news scrolls. The “buzz” was one of the most celebrated cases of contemporary immorality in high places: Herod Antipas. Remember the Herod incident? Luke 3 tells us that John preached against Herod’s marital sins (3:18) before Jesus was even baptized (3:21). Jesus’ Sermon certainly came after His baptism (cf. Matt. 3:13-17 vis-a-vis Matt. 5-7). The Sermon seems to have come near the beginning of His ministry with His disciples, as it lays down the ground rules of discipleship (Matt. 4:18-5:1). Thus, it is likely that the Sermon was preached while John was striking out against Herod, and it probably was preached in Galilee, Herod’s domain. Furthermore, the Pharisees were notoriously silent about the case. Their silence might imply to the people that Herod was not guilty of any other moral infractions in his married life then his infamous incest. Whereas John focused upon the incest, Jesus spoke against the less bizarre marital sins of Herod.
The false impression that lust, treachery against one’s wife, and treachery against one’s neighbor are somehow passed over by God because the first is covered by the heart and the last two are permitted by the prevailing laws must be corrected.322 Herod’s antics were in the minds, if not the hearts of the people, and it is highly unlikely that Jesus’ hearers would have understood such teachings as these without some reflection upon the biggest story in the “daily newspapers.” We may presume that to some degree the Herod incident formed a background for the saying. Let us see exactly how the history and sayings could relate.
Looking at the combination of all three sayings that relate to adultery, a rather interesting progression appears:
1. 1. A man desires a married woman (5:28) Though that status is obscured by the fact that translators never choose it, context determines whether the woman is single or married. The context in this case is the word adultery. Since that term only relates to pledged females (wives or fiancés), “wife” is the preferable translation. Beyond this the text says nothing more to identify the woman lusted after, such as her relationship to the lusting male (including possible incest).
2. 2. A woman is divorced by her husband (5:32a). Though the text mentions the possibility of a valid divorce for porneia, the thrust of the passage is upon a man who divorces a woman unjustly.
3. 3. A man marries a woman who initiated a divorce that is final (5:32b). The definite article is missing so as not to force us to think of this as the treacherously divorced woman in 32a.
This series fits the case of Herod Antipas, who 1) lusted after Herodias, his brother Herod Philip’s wife. They joined in conspiracy against Philip and seem to have eloped (from Caesarea del Mare). At her insistence he 2) unjustly divorced his own wife (the daughter of the king of Petra) and then 3) married Herodias, whose marriage to Philip ended upon receiving permission from Rome. Josephus informs us, Herodias herself did the divorcing, not Herod Philip.323
The middle participle and the deponent passive verbs in this second saying of Jesus would seem to fit the historical facts nicely. Matthew 5:32b then reads: “And if someone marries a woman who herself has divorced he himself is committing adultery.” This fits the Herodias case precisely. The stress upon the man who marries such a woman would put the blame upon Herod even more than upon Herodias—the man being seen as morally responsible for her divorce. Those who think that this historical episode was not on the mind of our Lord, should consider, first that Jesus was aware of both the preaching career of His cousin, John, and as well as that of “that fox, Herod.” Second, the Luke 16:18 passage, considered below, shows that Jesus was familiar with the Pharisees’ failure to act in concert with John in the common stewardship of God’s previous revelation. And His comments there relate to divorce, not to incestuous marriage.
Of course, Jesus is not simply condemning Herod, but all who, like Herod, would aid in or instigate treachery against their neighbor. Then as now, it is usually the man who lusts, clears the way for his next love, and wrests the woman away from any prior commitments. And then more than now, few women (who were prevented from holding most jobs) would think of divorcing their husbands without having a new spouse waiting in the wings. In such cases, the “adultery” of the second husband is clearer yet. He was a party to the sundering of the first marriage—a clear instance of adultery according to the spirit of the Mosaic Law, though it might not be precise to speak of him as an adulterer until he actually took possession of her.
Even were he not to have sexual intercourse with her before the legal divorce, he would not be free from the condemnation of One such as Christ, who could easily see when prevailing law was being used as a cloak for evil by such a trick. To have finally removed a previous covenant (perfect participle) by legalities cannot fool God. The guilty parties are, in their remarriage, about the business of adultery.
But does this interpretation fit the grammar? Here we return to the matter that the protasis is in the subjunctive. I believe that the fact that women seldom initiated divorce led to the grammatical hesitancy in the saying. Our verse would then read rather literally, “and he, if she who has herself divorced, is marrying, he is committing adultery.” Smoothing the grammar it becomes, “and if he is marrying a woman who has herself ended her marriage (though that is somewhat unlikely), he is committing adultery. It is not that marriage for a man is improbable, but that a man would marry a woman who had initiated the divorce, since few did that in a patriarchal society. On the other hand, it may not have been that uncommon for a man to marry a divorced woman. I am not aware of figures on remarriage, but we do have the text of John’s Gospel, which relates that the Samaritan woman had remarried four times.324
But if it is unlikely for a man to marry a woman who has initiated her divorce, why make a saying about it at all? The answer, again, is that Herodias had divorced her husband, and Herod Antipas had married her. In other words, that which was unlikely according to Jewish custom, was still happening in the experience of Jesus’ hearers. The silence of the Pharisees on the subject implied that what Herod had done was acceptable because Herodias did, after all, have a legal writ. The verse emphasizes the guilt of the man, because, I believe, the man is assumed to have played a primary role in the woman divorcing her husband. Why would she place herself in economic jeopardy by divorcing unless she had a “golden parachute” with which to save herself once she was cut off from her husband’s provision?
Notice also that this provides a nice parallel to the first saying. There the husband destroys his own marriage trusting in the divorce writ he produces by which to cut off his innocent wife. In the second he trusts in the divorce writ a woman has acquired for herself, by which she destroys her own marriage. Both sayings, in different ways, express a rebuke to those who are involved in the destruction of marriage, trusting in prevailing legalities rather the revealed moral necessity of covenant keeping.
Believing that Jesus is condemning those who, with their neighbor’s wives, are treacherous against their neighbor, I do not agree that 32b is “unqualified.” Jesus is not interested in introducing new legislation that prohibits the remarriage of every divorced female. Such an idea would contradict the essence of Deuteronomy 24 and Exodus 21, both of which protect the abused wife by granting her freedom which does not exclude remarriage. The interpretation that any remarriage is adultery or that remarriage to an innocent divorced woman is adultery is not a clarification of the law; it would annul several of them, and that is something Jesus specifically said He was not going to do (Matt. 5:17 ff.).
But this may not be enough qualification. If the concern of the saying, and of the Law that it seeks to clarify, is to promote the continuation of valid (first) marriages and to prohibit subsequent marriages that inhibit restoration, what do we make of a case in which the “guilty” divorced woman has seen the error of her ways and sought to return to her husband, only to find that he is unable or unwilling to take her back? Since the thrust of the saying is to satisfy moral strictures, not simply live up to mystical, ontic unions, what would Christ say to such a woman? Unfortunately we do not have an instance of this, but I suggest that He would not bind such a one by such a saying as this. For the saying is not designed to prohibit the marriage of the “subsequently” innocent (i.e., repentant woman) but of the “continually guilty.”
My point here arises from general principles of Christian ethics, which we will consider in greater depth when we look at the context of the Matthew 19 divorce legislation.
Conclusions Concerning Jesus’ Teaching in the Sermon
The teaching of Jesus on divorce/remarriage in the Sermon should be understood in its proper perspective. Insofar as the subsequent words of Jesus on the subject are only supplemental to the Sermon, and uttered in spontaneous dialogue with His opponents and disciples, we must suspect that the positions set forth in the Sermon are topically complete when understood in the context of the Law and the Prophets. We have focused upon the Sermon sayings without recourse to the later ones precisely for this reason, while not expecting the later sayings to be in the slightest contradictory to what has been said to this point.
To sum up the “academic” words of Christ, we could say that He affirms the Old Testament teaching that covenant breaking as treachery (Mal. 2). Treachery in the heart is adultery. Treacherous divorce is a species of adultery. Treachery fulfilled in remarriage is adultery. Just not doing it in bed will not fool God. Just because the prevailing laws say a writ of divorce ends (moral) responsibility to the first covenant does not mean that God will fall into line. The prevailing laws and teachings be damned. The received teaching of the Old Testament is that divorce without grounds is treacherous. The only proper use of divorce is as a discipline for actions that by their nature breach the essentials of the marriage covenant. Since that is so, the man, who has pledged to provide for his wife, has committed adultery against his wife by divorcing her, has publicly spoken his treachery. No remarriage need take place for this adultery to occur, and Jesus mentions none nor alludes to none in Matthew 32a. Further, since divorce is only to be used as a discipline, the watching public may well (falsely) suppose that the innocent woman was actually guilty. Thus, this man actually defames her with his own sinful acts—an offense specifically proscribed in the Law. In the first saying of the divorce couplet, Jesus is seeking merely to restore to its fullness the meaning of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 as further disclosed by Deuteronomy 22:13 ff. and Malachi 2:15.
Having said that groundless divorce is adulterous against the spouse in the case of the male, it is unnecessary to say it regarding a female, for any legal annulment of the vows is covenant breaking by definition. The woman who groundlessly divorces is also guilty of adulterizing her husband and stigmatizing him as guilty of breaking his vows to her. Those who don’t realize that the law is reciprocal on this point need only listen to the nuances of Matthew 5:32b, when Jesus speaks of a woman who has ended her own covenant.
In the second saying, Jesus wished to point out that her compliance with prevailing (Roman) law, which permitted morally groundless divorce, did not free her from the sin of adultery. She intended to break her vow of monogamy. That is why she divorced her husband—she wished to have relations with another. The spirit of the Old Testament should not be difficult to discern in such a case, but there would probably be a need to pinpoint the adultery of her partner in the crime of vow-breaking: the man who as a result takes her. This man, who dared not to take her while she was still legally married to her husband, trusted in the legal divorce to grant him the right to bed her. Jesus wishes to rebuke such trust. This point is the burden of the second saying.
We return, then to the point at which we began this chapter. The second saying is similar to the first insofar as both warn against the same sin: “legal adultery.” The Pharisees, abusing Deuteronomy 24:1-4, taught that a divorce writ ended moral responsibility. Two implications of this false teaching are:
1) that a marriage may be ended without sinning against the innocent spouse, as long as there is such a writ given, and
2) that as long as the woman desired is able to end her own marriage, and has a divorce wit to prove it, she is fair game to be taken.
Jesus rejects both ploys as the evil of covenant breaking. In such cases the divorce writ is merely a cloak that covers evil.
But in arriving at this conclusion, have we rejected our previous position that, marriage being essentially a covenant, a divorce ends marital obligation? If it is over, why cannot the guilty party remarry at will? I answer that the legal obligations are indeed over, but the moral obligation to repent still exists. The woman who does not repent and become reconciled with her husband is still an “adulteress” in the same respect that an unrepentant murderer is still a “murderer” even though the event is in the past. The second husband is in the process (present tense) of making himself an accomplice to his new wife’s continuing treachery to her past husband and, in all likelihood, was the adulterous target of the woman while her first marriage was on the books. The second husband’s marriage to this divorced woman is part of an overall process of treachery against the first husband.
The thrust of Matthew 5:32b is similar to that of Luke 16:18. The latter passage also discusses adultery and remarriage; we turn to it now, to view it in its context.
Jesus’ First Confrontation with the Pharisees
The Customary Neglect of the Context
Most treatments of Luke 16:18 suffer from their failure to take the context into account. In fact, seldom is there a full treatment of this important verse in its own right. Usually it is appended in some way to the discussion of the Matthew 19/Mark 10 parallel. Laney, for example, has a whole chapter on the teachings of Jesus in Mark and Luke, but of the nine pages in that chapter, only one is devoted to Luke.325 Murray, who also ties Luke 16 to Mark 10, never mentions the former without also mentioning the latter. His discussion centers around showing that Mark 10 and Luke 16 complement Matthew by discussing the adultery of remarriage where there has been no fornication.326
Discontinuity with the Old Testament?
A Higher Teaching?
Those who do touch on the context differ quite radically over how it affects the passage. The old Pulpit Commentary, for example, argues that Jesus was telling the Pharisees that His teaching on the law of divorcement was more strict than the Old Testament—which earlier code will not pass away. It has Jesus saying:
“See,” He said, “the new state of things which I am now teaching, instead of loosening the cords with which the old law regulated human society, will rather tighten them. Instead of a more lax code being substituted, I am preaching a yet severer one. My law of divorce is a severer one than that written down by Moses.”327
Thus Jesus’ teaching is pictured as different from the Law. The Law permitted remarriage, but “grace and truth” proclaim it to be adultery.
The Rejection of the Mosaic Concession?
Laney offers a less radical approach to Jesus’ relation to the Old Testament doctrine. He suggests that Jesus simply distances himself from the Mosaic concession, harkening back to the original teaching of God in Genesis 2:24. This alternative, like that of the Pulpit Commentary, concludes that Christ is proscribing all remarriage.328
It is my suggestion that neither of these approaches to the context sufficiently grasps Jesus’ meaning or that of the Gospel writer. I understand Jesus as affirming the precise teaching of the Law and the Prophets, neither more nor less. To have done more or less would have undercut the strength of His criticism of the Pharisees, who themselves altered the meaning of the Law.
Continuity with The Old Testament
A serious consideration of the broader context of Luke presents, I believe, a picture of continuity rather than discontinuity with the Old Testament. Analysis of the structure of the Sixteenth and the (beginning of the) Seventeenth chapters of Luke reveal the following closely related units:
1. 1. The parable of the unjust steward, 16:1 -13
2. 2. The rebuke of the listening Pharisees, 16:14-18 (including the divorce saying)
3. 3. The parable of Lazarus and the rich man, 16:19-31
4. 4. The warning of the disciples, 17:1-6
Analysis of The Lucan Rhetoric
The Parable of the Unjust Steward
The first unit sets forth the teaching that some people are so committed to money and position that they would rob their master to ensure their own ease. The steward in the story is a man at a crisis point in his life. His past is that of a thief. Having been entrusted with his master’s affairs, he has mishandled them to his own advantage, often using his master’s goods for his own gain. When discovered, he simply changes his tactics and uses his remaining authority as a steward to give his master’s debtors a “cut rate.” Though this does not at first seem to be to his own advantage, it really is, insofar as those on the receiving end of his injustice to his master now are indebted to him for cutting their debt in half. All this shiftiness causes the steward’s master to comment on how worldly-wise and shrewd the man is. In other words, the wronged master “damns him with faint praise.”
The point of the parable is that some people will break trust to further themselves. Surely this is a point worth remembering for the disciples, as they are, in a sense, the stewards of God’s wealth, the kingdom and the gospel message (including the teachings of true discipleship). But the section that follows in the text shows that Jesus had a particular group in mind when He spoke of the unjust steward.
The Rebuke of the Pharisees
The second unit begins with the Pharisees laughing behind His back at Jesus’ teaching. Jesus exposes their conceit and identifies them as the very stewards about whom He has been talking. In the structure of the Gospel, it is clear that Jesus was all along thinking of the Pharisees. It was no happenstance, no coincidence, as if Jesus were thinking of some abstract steward and then the Pharisees mumbled themselves into the picture, thereby giving Him a chance to illustrate the principle. No, the Pharisees are the prime and intentional illustration. Jesus has “set them up,” so to speak.
Says Jesus in 16:15, “You are the ones I’m talking about” In what respect? They, like the unjust steward, love money more than they do their master. Who is their master, and wherein have they failed their stewardship? God is their master—they were supposed to be His spokesmen to His people. Their failure is identified as “justifying themselves in the sight of men.” Though this charge is doubtless general, could Jesus have some special instance in mind?
The Divorce Saying
It was at this point that Jesus became specific. “The law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since then the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.” What did Jesus mean by this remarkable saying? Well, clearly, John preached like a righteous steward. He was a true spokesman for the standard of God of Old. He served but one Master, whose message he proclaimed. We should expect from this part of the saying that Jesus is in some way suggesting that the Pharisees are a contrast to John. Jesus does not mean that John was the last to teach the righteous standard. Jesus himself continued to teach it, as the great Sermon clearly shows.
Jesus continued that the gospel of the Kingdom of God had been preached from the time of John. This is clearly a reference to His own ministry. But Jesus was not the first to teach about the kingdom, John was. Jesus does not mean to contrast himself with John, but to show that both John and He added to that standard of Law the clear message of the gospel. There is in the time designation no criticism or abrogation of the Law. No, that message (the Law, v. 17) will not pass away. The message of the “good news” of salvation presupposes conviction wrought by the preaching of the Law. The Pharisees understood that before gospel comes Law, with its requirement to be a servant to the Master himself. And they were willing to identify with the movement toward the kingdom. But they wanted to define that service in their own terms. They wanted to be thought of as the custodians of the kingdom, while personally rejecting the inner change of heart that is the hallmark of a true steward. They wanted the blessings of the kingdom without bowing to the obligations. They did not want to get into the kingdom through the door, but through the window. Jesus understood full well such thieving hearts, and so did John. The Baptizer had refused the likes of the Pharisees entrance into the antechamber of the kingdom, telling them to go back home and produce the fruits of righteousness (Luke 3:7 f.). The Matthean parallel notes that it was specifically to the scribes and Pharisees that John spoke these words (Matt. 3:7-11).
The object of faith must be Jesus as Lord, not simply Jesus as national Messiah. Just as the steward in the parable was willing to count his master as master without any commitment to allowing him the rights he was entitled to as master, so too the Pharisees were willing to muster to the service of the kingdom as long as it didn’t cost them anything. This is not the way to enter the kingdom. There is only one way to enter it: admit that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that there is no other way in. To accept Him as the Lord and Savior requires first a recognition that we have sinned and that only by completely giving our rights of determination to Him will He give His life to us. But the Pharisees refused to acknowledge how woefully short of God’s standard—the very Law that was their stewardship—they had fallen. They sought to excuse themselves and thereby enter the kingdom through the window—or, as Jesus puts it, upon having the door closed in their faces, they sought to batter it down with their formal religious “clout.”
But what, we press, might be an objective evidence of their failure to be good stewards of the Law? Of course Jesus had identified a good number of things in the Sermon, but He takes the time to bring before them a charge of immediate note: a celebrated issue of divorce. Given the flow of His argument, for Jesus to have put any distance between himself and the standard of God, which was the overall stewardship in question, would have been for Him to have undercut the argument. How inappropriate for Him to have said that God said X, but I say X + 1. Such a personal display of ad hoc legislating would have been most out of place. Similarly, for Him to have said, “God gave you a cut rate from the time of Moses, but I am returning you to the pure teaching of Genesis 2:24” is, if anything, even more bizarre. It makes God to be the unjust steward who does not demand full rate.
I submit instead that Jesus was specifying one celebrated instance of the Pharisees’ poor stewardship when He pointed out their failure to accurately represent God’s teaching regarding the morality of divorce and remarriage. And rather than fish around trying to discern what in that regard He was referring to, I submit that the reference to John is doubly potent. For it had not been long before this confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees that John (the “just steward”) had lost his head for refusing to offer Herod a “cut rate” regarding the Old Testament Law on marriage. According to Luke 3:19, John rebuked Herod “on account of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and on account of all the wicked things which Herod had done.”
Note, please, that Luke 3:19 does not say that John rebuked him simply for the matter of incest.329 That was only a part of the wickedness that Herod had done in taking to himself his brother’s wife. As we noted earlier, beyond incest, Herod had divorced his lawful wife and contrived at the divorce of Philip by Herodias. About these sins, the Pharisees had been silent.330 Having doubtless themselves abused the divorce legislation in their own marriages,331 and having not taught God’s doctrine of divorce—and having had this pointed out by Jesus in the Sermon—they proceed by their silence to side with Herod, God’s debtor, giving him a cut rate, that is, no public rebuke.
Concerning the two sayings themselves. The first says that anyone who is divorcing his wife (present active participle) and is marrying another woman (present active participle), is committing adultery (present active indicative). I believe that the key to understanding this verse is that the connective “and” (“and is marrying another”) functions to “introduce a result, which comes from what precedes”.332 A narrative is being told: this man divorces his wife, and then, as a result of being free, remarries. This has the sense of saying, “Having given a divorce, he felt free to remarry.” Put another way, “He put his wife away in order to remarry.”
Notice how this second instance of Jesus’ teaching, omits the exception clause, leaving us to guess as to the cause of why the man chose to put away his wife. The only clue that we are given as to why he did so is in the narrative structure of events that, subsequent to the divorce, he married another woman. Is it not most natural to see in this narrative, that the man divorced his wife simply in order to devote himself to another woman? That was such a likelihood that it had been discussed in first legislation regarding the breakup of marriage, i.e., Exodus 21:10-11. There, a man set on marrying a second wife is required to maintain his first partner’s situation in life. He must provide the basics of life or allow his abused wife to go free. But what of the man who takes advantage of this legislation? As Matthew 5:31-32a had taught without reference to the frivolous divorcer remarrying, Jesus condemns legal treachery as moral adultery. Josephus makes it clear that the Jewish men of his day did indeed see themselves as having the right to put a wife away and let someone else care for her. The saw themselves as guiltless. But Jesus says that a man who divorces simply to marry another woman is guilty of adultery against his first wife. Writ or no writ.
The second saying, is connected to the first with “and.” This “and” functions quite the same way as the connector in Matthew 5:32, namely, it joins two similar sayings. It no more implies that the second saying is interdependent upon the first than the connector in the Sermon. The saying goes: “He who marries (present active participle) a one who is divorced (perfect middle/passive participle) from a husband commits adultery (present active indicative). Note the difference between the two sayings is that the first divorce is the simple action, while the divorce of the woman is more complicated. The perfect tense is the Greek tense of completed action. Three ideas are implicit here: 1) there is an act in process, 2) which comes to a culmination point, and 3) a resulting state of being. Or, more simply, the perfect tense emphasizes a completed state. I believe that the point here is that a man who involves himself with a woman whose marriage is in process of breaking up and comes to completion, is a party in that adulterous action. I think it natural to suggest that just as in the first saying the husband is guilty for having destroyed a marriage, namely his own, the second man is guilty for destroying a marriage, namely that of the woman whose divorce is a by then completed state. Given the option of interpreting her divorce as a passive or a middle, I take the middle, making it parallel to Matthew 5:32b. Especially in view of the situation that confronted the righteous steward, John the Baptist, i.e., the divorce of Herod Philip by Herodias in order to marry Antipas, this choice fits the historical context better than the more common passive. It also avoids conflict with the Old Testament permission of the innocently divorced woman to remarry all except a former spouse when there was a subsequent marriage. Why choose the less harmonizing option?
The difference between Luke 16:18b and Matthew 5:32b is not in the verb translated “divorce,” but in the verb for “marry.” Luke’s is a simple present active indicative, Matthew’s is an aorist subjunctive active. Is that significant? Hold that.
The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man
The Lucan structure proceeds into the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. In view of the contextual discussion of the Pharisees’ commitment to riches, it is nearly impossible to miss the point that the rich man in the story is a deceased Pharisee. His whole life he manipulated God’s Law to his own advantage, to assure himself a place in Israelite society, and now he realizes that such riches, status and such friends as moral silence had bought could not result in his reception “into the eternal dwellings” (16:9). Upon finding that it is now too late to become a happy steward in the dwellings of the master (16:24 f.), he is stricken with regret and concerned with his surviving Pharisees brothers back on earth. He wants this Lazarus fellow to be sent back and warn his brother Pharisees that they must repent or they will end up suffering as he does.
In the story, Abraham tells him that even the resurrection of a man named Lazarus (or any other—Jesus, for instance) will not convince them that they should mend their ways. For their god is their position and their wealth, and they have already rejected clear evidence of how to avoid such a tragic afterlife. The message is in the Law and the Prophets. The living Pharisees knew that there was a Master, they knew the Law, but they rejected it. Theirs was an unpardonable sin, insofar as they had rejected God and sided with His adversary while possessing full knowledge and experience of the oracles and while denying the power of the Holy Spirit Who inspired the oracles.333
The Warning to His Disciples
In the fourth section, we see Jesus turning to His disciples and admonishing them to warn a stumbling brother. Just as John warned Herod, they were to rebuke the sinner. What? Herod, an Idumaean, a “brother”? Yes, in the sense that Herod claimed to follow the Law as a King of the Jews, he should be considered at least as much a neighbor as the “good Samaritan.” We do not see John so addressing Roman authorities. They made no pretense of obeying the Constitutions of Israel. But Herod claimed to be the Jews’ brother and to follow their standard. The disciples are told to rebuke such professors, for there is a chance that they will repent and become good disciples.
Of course, we know that in the case of John the Baptist and Herod it did not turn out like that. John, like the Lazarus in the story, was then in his grave, basking in the bosom of Abraham! By obliging them to rebuke the Herods of this world, was not Jesus sending them to their own graves? They can only cry: “Increase our faith!” And He seeks to bolster them by telling them that the requisite faith was not so much as they imagine, and that they should remember a faithful steward collects his reward after the work is done—just as John was then claiming his reward in Abraham’s bosom.
The Divorce Teaching Per Se
What is the result of all this contextual investigation? It is helpful to repeat something similar to what was said at the close of our discussion of Matthew 5:32b. The significance of determining whether or not the Herod incident is behind the sayings of Luke 16:18 is that, if it is, we do not expect the text to inveigh against all remarriage but only against such as we see in Herod’s case: treacherous remarriage. Herod’s divorce of his rightful wife was sheer treachery, condemned by Malachi 2. His complicity in the divorce by Herodias of his half-brother Philip involved him in the treachery of a covenant-breaking and adulterous wife. He was a partner with her in the sin of adultery, i.e., covenant-breaking. The language employed here is a simple third person present active indicative: “he is committing adultery.” There is no surprise here, no need for the use of the middle voice. The Pharisees knew they were giving a “cut rate” to Herod.
But what of the voice of the participle in the second clause? In Matthew we noted that the woman herself (middle) divorced the husband. Does not Luke imply that the woman was divorced, and is this not different from the case of Herodias and Philip? Actually, the voice of the participle here is exactly the same as that in the Matthew passage, that is, either middle or passive. I, of course, take it to be middle—implicating the woman as the treacherous divorcer, while stressing the complicity of the second husband in the first divorce by centering the saying upon him.
But, one may well ask, how is a person today to have known enough of all this background to realize that “all who” is really “all who [like Herod]”? A straightforward reading of the verse seems clear enough: no remarriage! Have we not turned the verse nearly on its head by limiting it to cases like Herod’s? To this one must reply, with Walter Kaiser, people always want to “skip the exegesis and go straight to the blessing.334 The references to John and the loyalty of Jesus to the Old Testament should have steered us in the right direction in the first place. Beyond this, the reader should have known that the interpretation of these verses as a proscription of all remarriages, though prima facie the proper one, has no support in the Old Testament, the very stewardship that Jesus and John sought so diligently to uphold, “every jot and tittle.” For one thing, a study of Malachi and the polygamy passages should have led one to understand that a man taking a second wife was not in itself a moral offense. How then could remarriage for a man be adultery, unless predicated solely upon the desire to limit himself exclusively with a new partner? Abraham took another woman to be his one-flesh partner, and he was not guilty of immorality for doing so. Why not? Because he did not in the process break faith with Sarah. So too, remarriage in itself is not a problem (at least for the Old Testament male). It all depends on the conditions upon which that second marriage is predicated: Was the divorce just or treacherous?
But we are getting ahead of ourselves here. The next chapter, on Matthew 19 and Mark 10, will return us to these crucial issues. But before I close this chapter, I need to stress again that Jesus is not in Luke 16:18 simply taking a shot at Herod Antipas or the Pharisees. The condemnation is equally devastating regarding anyone who, like Herod, remarries by a process of treachery. Or if you prefer, the passage warns against remarriage of or with the guilty party, especially as a part of that process. Thus, the traditional “Erasmian” interpretation, which sees this text as not addressing the case of the innocent divorced person, is vindicated. However, rather than coming to that conclusion by saying that the verse states a general rule and pedagogically ignores the exception, I am saying that the text more directly rebukes the divorce by the guilty party.335
299 It is also possible that the construction at hand “kai … ean” introduces a “concessive clause.” That introduction would be rendered “even if.” What stands against this is the interposing of “os” between the kai and the ean, although such a splitting is so rare (found only these three times in the New Testament) that it is hard to state with assurance that this could not be a concessive. The translation of a concessive, according to Chamberlain is “even if,” though R. Saur of Moody Bible Institute regards “although” as a better rendering. Either of these renderings is counter to the traditional translation and interpretation of the relation of the two sayings of Jesus. “Even if” or “Although” both direction attention to a difference between the first saying and the second.
300 Lenski, Interpretation, p. 230.
301 Ibid, pp. 234 f.
302 The problem of knowing which voice Jesus intended would not have occurred to his listeners, since Aramaic-which we presume Jesus spoke-has no middle voice to confuse with the passive. He would have conveyed his point with a pronoun like himself. Aramaic was not the vehicle that God wanted to use to speak to the Roman world, and we must wrestle with the Greek.
303 Although the middle is used less often in Greek, the deponent passive or middle moikatai (“commits adultery”), in the same verse, conveys the sense of an active or middle. Further, the deponent apolusasa tied to the pronoun (“her”) in the potentially parallel clause in Mark 10:12 yields something very much like a middle: “her, the one having dismissed.” The more obvious parallel in Luke 16:18b is not helpful, because it uses exactly the same term as in the text before us.
304 This is yet another reason to disconnect the two sayings.
305 Nor does it help to look for “a” person in the first saying, since both the divorcer and the divorcee have the definite article.
306 I shall return to this matter later to argue more forcefully from context that the middle is the correct alternative.
307 Moikeuthanai, on the other hand, comes from the verb moikeuo, which is not deponent, thus permitting Lenski’s and my previous consideration of moikeuthanai to be passive.
308 Thus, all Lenski’s attempts to substantiate the form as passive (or middle) are useless. Murray, who replied to Lenski, argued for the middle voice. His arguments support the concept of the verb as deponent, though he does not speak to that point directly. Murray, in voicing his opposition to Lenski, strongly objects to interpreting the verb form as a passive, choosing instead to identify it as a middle. To support his position, he cites similar verses, some of which employ exactly the same verb form, which clearly show that there is adultery in remarriage (Matt 19:9, Mark 10:11; and in the LXX: Jer. 3:8; 5:7; 7:9; 9:1; 23:14); he insists that the verb intends “active participation in the sin of adultery” (Divorce, p. 23). Although some of the verses chosen by Murray would seem to imply that active participation comes only when the woman is guilty already (cf. the passages in Jeremiah), his contention seems well grounded when it comes to the Gospel usages of this particular verb form. A fair consideration of all the instances seems to reveal without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is employing the more rare form for the purpose for which it was created: emphasis. This man who marries this woman is himself committing adultery.
309 I presume that this position would be held by Heth/Wenham, e.g., Jesus, p 135. They do not spend much time on this part of Matt. 5:32. They make two incidental comments about clause B, and call it an “unqualified conditional” statement Jesus, (pp. 135,223, n. 71). Elsewhere (p. 50), they seem to agree to call it an “unconditional statement” But I suspect that this is just a slip. The former is correct. They criticize the NEB and the NIV for translating 32b in a manner that identifies the woman of clause B as the guilty woman of clause A, thereby limiting the condemnation of remarriage to that class of divorced women.
310 Though it is in a section of criticism of the Erasmian view, the following seems to be a statement of Heth/Wenham’s own position: “For, if the woman cannot remarry she is not technically divorced, but separated. The marriage bond with her husband still exists: that is why remarrying a divorced woman is adultery (5:32b). Thus her former husband is really becoming a bigamist if he takes a second wife since the marital bond with his former spouse has not been dissolved” (Jesus, p. 50).
311 They comment of the Erasmian view: “[To suppose] that the divorced adulteress is refused the right of remarriage, but the innocent husband may remarry (= Erasmian view) … is effectively to allow polygamy!” (Heth and Wenham, Jesus, p. 50).
312 Believing biblical polygamy to be moral, we can see why, as Robert Gundry correctly notes, “Matthew writes nothing about the question of the remarriage by the husband who has divorced his wife for unchastity” (Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982], p. 90). Of course not; polygamy presumed the right of a husband to take another wife. But I do not agree with him when he immediately and boldly states that “Luke gives an unambiguous negative answer” to the question of the man’s right to remarry. See chap. 7 on this point.
313 Chap. 2 and Appendix B.
314 Murray, Divorce, p. 26.
315 Ibid., p. 42.
316 Ibid, pp. 70-72.
317 Though in the illustration chosen here there is no exact parallel, because there is a sense in which the body of the guilty remarrier is no longer the property of the former spouse. Divorce is somewhere between then and death, for which there cannot be restitution.
Elements of this position are the most likely interpretation of some practices in the early Church. (See Appendix F.) Those Fathers consistently insisted upon disciplinary divorce—they did not see it as disrupting an ontological and especially a moral bond. They saw the refusal to so divorce as a moral lapse. Thus, they must have felt that this sort of bond was broken by the offense. Second, in the clearest cases, Justin Martyr, for instance, it is evident that the reason for inhibiting the remarriage of the divorced parties is to facilitate the repentance of the guilty. This expansion goes beyond the text before us, but they used others to support it.
318 See the point made by Gundry, Matthew, p. 91.
319 Even if the divorce was not in a Jewish court, that fact is unimportant.
320 I do not see adequate reason for denying the genuineness of the latter dominical saying.
321 The Old Testament, of course, condemns all three. Lust, As a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Prov. 23:7) Divorce. Let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth (Mal. 2:15). Remarriage: She goes from him and belongs to another—harlotry (Jer 3:1-11).
David lusted and wrested from Uriah his rightful wife. There was no reason to force Uriah to divorce her, because David got rid of Uriah by a different kind of treachery—death (2 Sam. 11). About all that can be said in David’s behalf is that he committed no treachery against any other of his wives in the process!
322 Though it is doubtful the Pharisees would have verbally supported such an impression, we must remember that the teaching Jesus wished to correct may in this case have been a matter of Pharasaic omission rather than public teaching. Note that the “you have heard” is missing from this combined saying.
323 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.5.4.
324 John 4:17.
325 Laney, Myth, pp. 51-60.
326 Murray, Divorce, pp. 43-54.
327 Luke, vol. 16, The Pulpit Commentary, ed. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1950), p. 65.
328 Laney, Myth, pp. 58-60
329 This in disagreement with Hoehner’s comment to that effect in Herod Antipas: A Contemporary of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972), p. 138 n.
330 Josephus, for example discusses the Herods without ever condemning Antipas for any of these non-incestuous sins. He is clearly more concerned with Herodias divorcing Herod Philip than with her remarriage to Herod Antipas. Antiquities, Book 8, 5:4. This is similar to his condemning language concerning the earlier case where a Jewess, Salome had divorced her husband, Costobru, according to Antiquities, Book 15, 7:10 … “female crimes against the male”!
331 Again, consider as an example the clearly Hillite position of Josephus, himself a Pharisee, in Antiquities, Book 4, 7:23, where any cause at all is a basis for Jews divorcing their wives, resulting in their freedom to remarry, as long as they had received a divorce writ from their husbands.
332 Bauer, “Kai”, meaning 2f.
333 Incidentally, such analysis reveals that this parable is a “prophetic parable” for John’s Gospel relates that God, in his ever-wooing grace, did in fact send them a departed one named Lazarus to serve as a warning of their pending fate. But according to John 11:45 f. they only wished to send Lazarus back to his grave, in order to preserve their “place” in the nation. How desperately sad!
334 Heard often in classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School of Deerfield, III., 1970-72.
335 To be more specific, I would add that the condemnation is of the guilty party who has not attempted to reconcile. I do not believe that the text means that a guilty party may not remarry if the “innocent” party refuses to reconcile. The passage clearly deals with a process of divorce to marry another. There is no thought here at all of a guilty party who has tried to reconcile, has been unable (for one reason or another) to have the marriage restored, and has subsequently found a new partner. I see no prohibition here of that sort of remarriage. Remember that the paradigm case of restitution is God and Israel. Israel, the guilty party, should have come to their senses and sought reconciliation to God. But God would never have turned them away if they had! Human spouses, alas, show how unlike God they are in this respect. Those “innocent” parties who are so inclined should take the parable of the unforgiving steward to heart.