2 August 2016

Matthew 5:31-32

"It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

Psalm: Psalm 125


(For those following this week's notes, you will notice that some of the material is repeated. This is intentional. So often we read a number of verses and do not have the opportunity to reflect more closely on them. This week's passages offer the opportunity for closer reflection, each following the same model and with similar questions.)

The verses preceding today's extract from the Sermon on the Mount are the key to understanding it, with its repeated contrast between "you have heard that it said" and "but I say". In each case - murder, adultery, divorce, oaths - Jesus contrasts the way Old Testament teaching was traditionally interpreted by the religious leaders of the time, the scribes and Pharisees, with his own more exacting requirement. The overall thrust is to go behind a literal approach, which could easily lead to people finding ways to evade the rule, to the spirit of the rule and the need for a change in our inner attitude.

In verses 31-32 it is important to remember the context of the time, which was very different from Western society today. Then, in Jewish law the wife was the husband's property; only he could initiate a divorce, and according to some interpretations could do so for any reason however trivial. In that context verse 32 insists that unless the marriage bond has already been broken by adultery it remains binding and marriage to a divorced woman constitutes adultery by both parties.

Note how the authority of Jesus comes out in all these sayings.

To Ponder

  • To what extent is Jesus' teaching here practicable in today's world?
  • Does verse 32 state an absolute rule for today? If not, why not?
  • In what other ways should a Christian's conduct should go beyond conventional standards?