top of page





What Jesus Taught on Marriage and Divorce


In the last chapter we learned that Jesus rejected a double standard. He did not accept the cultural tradition that allowed one standard of conduct for men and another for women. We also saw that He held women responsible for their own behavior rather than a piece of property under the rule of a man.


In this lesson we will see these concepts again while being given a very important look into Jesus’ theology, the scriptural foundation to support His words and actions.


In this session we explore,


1. The scriptural basis for Jesus’ teaching on gender (male/female) relationship

2. God’s plan for marriage

3. Why God allows divorce

4. The importance of this teaching today


This teaching is based on Matt 19:1-11, Mark 10:1-12 and Matt 5:31-32.


1 Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.  
3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?"  


Divorce for “any reason” also called “any matter divorce” was supported by those who followed the teachings of Hillel, a famous teacher who maintained that Moses allowed a man to “put out” his wife for any reason. If the wife displeased in any way, the man could send her out of the home. Another group held to the teachings of Shammai who taught that the only scriptural reason for “putting out” was infidelity.


4 And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female,


When Jesus said “at the beginning,” He ignored Hillel and Shammai and even Moses. He went back to God’s original plan which is found in Genesis 1 and 2. We have studied these passages, but here again we emphasize their importance.


In the early chapters we learned that male and female were created at the same time and together they were given dominion over everything except each other.  By going back to this truth, Jesus has focused on how God intended for men and women to relate to each other.  In the next verses, Jesus went further and gave God’s intention for marriage.


5 "... 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’

6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."


Jesus’ words were radically different from the culture of His day. Here it was the man who was told to leave his father and mother and to make the relationship with his wife his primary human relationship. It is second only to his relationship with God. Marriage is a three fold relationship—a man and a woman held together by God. Like it says in Ecclesiastes 4:12 “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”


Jesus highlighted the unity and equality of husband and wife, when He quoted further from Genesis, “. . . and the two will become one flesh.” They are still two individuals, but one in their marriage covenant. The Hebrew word for one (ahad) is a compound singular word, like a cluster of grapes or a pair of shoes. It’s one cluster or one pair but it is composed of more than one part.[1]


The unity God intended between a husband and wife is like the unity that God the Father, God the Son (the eternal Word) and God the Holy Spirit have enjoyed for eternity. This is part of the significance (importance or meaning) of that statement, “Let us make man in our image...male and female.” As we said in Part One, the word "man" in Hebrew is adam, with a small “a,” and it means human being not just male. As there is no hierarchy in the Godhead,[2] no inferior or superior, neither can there be any between a husband and his wife.


These words were revolutionary! Jesus had had come against hundreds of years of Jewish teaching and tradition. His words went far beyond a discussion of divorce. He was condemning the whole patriarchal system that had men rule. How can two be one, reflecting the unity of the Godhead, if there is not equality between the man and the woman. He was also commanding us to return to God’s plan not to separate people according to human systems (ideas) of value. We can’t have one standard for men and another for women any more than we can have one standard for the rich and another for the poor. A double standard is another way of separating what God has joined together.[3]


Then quoting the Law from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, the religious leaders asked,


7. “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?"

8. He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.


The Law of Moses concerning divorce is found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The first verse says, "When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,”


Again Jesus refers back to Genesis before the fall. He does not rely on the teaching of the rabbis or even the words of Moses or Abraham. He returns to God’s original plan. The importance of these first two chapters of Genesis is critical. Every move of Jesus, as He related to women, reinforced God’s original plan.


The word translated “hardness”  is a term meaning stubborn continuation of a particular action without wishing to change. This definition gives us a good place to look at some of the traditional teaching on divorce that needs to be corrected. We need these corrections in order to understand what Jesus is about to say.


There is a widely-used verse in Malachi 2:16 where most modern translation say "For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce…” What God says He hates is not divorce but the “putting out” or “putting away” of a woman. The Hebrew word shalach is only translated divorce in this Malachi passage. Shalach is translated “send’ 566 times, “send or put forth” 54 times, “send away” 48, along with many other similar meanings, but shalach becomes divorce only in modern translations and only in this one scripture.


The King James Version and a couple of other translations get it right.


16.”For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away…”  Malachi 2:16


"Putting away” or “putting out" is altogether different from divorce in Jewish culture. When a man “put out” his wife, he would send her away, denying her the Jewish divorce certificate. This woman would still be legally married but with no home. The husband would keep her dowry and children. She would have already surrendered her virginity to him. She would be ineligible to remarry, since technically, she was still legally bound to her husband. Further, her culture would label her as an adulteress since she did not have a valid divorce certificate. If her family did not take her back, a woman couldn’t just get a job. There was seldom work for a “put out” woman in Jewish culture of that day except prostitution.


Since most marriages were arranged by the family, meaning she did not choose the man herself, this whole horrible chain of events would have been completely out of her control. The husband, however, was free to marry again and to do this as much as he liked since polygamy was an accepted practice. That is why Moses required a divorce certificate to be given . . . so that the marriage was legally, fairly, and religiously terminated, and the woman would be free to remarry and go on with life.”[4]


In Orthodox and Conservative Judaism today the certificate of divorce is still a major problem. These branches of Judiasm do not recognize divorce in civil courts. A religious divorce, obtained by going through the rabbinical courts, is required. Without the certificate of divorce, now known as a “get,” a woman is considered "agunah," a “chained woman” and can not remarry. If a woman remarries in a civil ceremony, her second marriage is considered adulterous and any children of that marriage are "mamzerim" which means illegitimate. Although pressure can be brought on a husband to give his wife a “get,” he can’t be forced.


9 "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery."


The mistranslation of the Greek word apolyo as “divorce” in this passage and in Matthew 5:31-31 has led to a total misunderstanding of what Jesus means in these verses. The word apolyō in Greek means to send forth or put out or away. As we have said, a woman who is “put out” does not have a certificate of divorce and is therefore still married. Clearly, a man would commit adultery if he married a “put out” woman as she is technically still married!


Only in cases of sexual immorality was it permissible to “put out” a woman. This is because a woman, who had committed adultery and was brought before the courts for a divorce proceeding, could be stoned to death. This is why Joseph, being a righteous man, planned to “put out” Mary, the mother of Jesus, secretly (Matt. 1:20-25, particularly v. 19). He did not want her to face stoning. In the Jewish culture being engaged was to legally enter a marriage contract. So even though they had not been through the marriage ceremony, some action would have been necessary to free Joseph from the contract.


We also need to remember that it does not say a marriage MUST end because of infidelity (adultery). Many marriages have weathered the storm and come out stronger on the other side. The question, "can I get a divorce if my spouse commits adultery?" is based on a misunderstanding of Scripture and a Christianity that is still ruled by law without grace. Every situation is different. That is why it isn't appropriate to seek a legalistic way out of a marriage. Instead, pray and follow God's leading, remembering that He loves everyone involved very much.[5]


In Jeremiah 3:8 when God says, “I have put her away and given her a certificate of divorce…,”[6] He is speaking of Israel. If divorce were never justified, would God have used these words? We never find God saying that He committed adultery with Israel, or lied to her, or cheated her. That’s because these things are always sin. Both marriage and divorce can be sinful depending on the circumstances.


In an absolutely perfect world, the union between a man and a woman would be God’s perfect choice for each individual without any destructive forces tearing at the bond. Marriages would never break down. But, this isn't a perfect world, and some marriages become so emotionally, spiritually, and/or physically destructive that divorce can even be lifesaving. That is why it is dangerous to put legalistic judgment onto yourself or others.”[7]


"His disciples said to Him, 'If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.'" Matt 19:10


This response is not surprising. Looking at the whole discussion we see that Jesus has rejected the privileged position of men over women found in the traditional lifestyle of His day. He has used scripture to declare the holiness of the marriage covenant in the sight of God. By going back to Genesis, Jesus has stated God’s original plan while rejecting the traditions of men. Are we willing to do the same?[8]





 [1] It’s the same word used in the most important statement of Judaism from Deut. 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, The Lord is One (ahad).” The word God is Elohim in Hebrew and is plural.

 [2] Heirarchy in the Godhead is a controversial issue.  Here is a link to further discussion. 

 [3] Cunningham, Lauren and David Hamilton with Janice Rogers, Why Not Women A Fresh Look at Scripture on Women in Missions, Ministry and Leadership (Seattle, YWAM Publishing, 2000) pp. 114-15.

 [4] Wendy Francisco, Does God Really Hate Divorce, God’s Word to Women website

 [5] Francisco, Wendy, Except in Cases of Adultery, God’s, God’s Word to Women website,

 [6] It is interesting to note that the word for divorce, keriylhuwth, means a cutting off of the matrimonial bond comes from the root word karath which means to cut covenant.

 [7] Francisco, Wendy, Is Divorce a Sin?, God’s, God’s Word to Women website,

 [8] While many of the quotes used in this teaching are from the same author, her statements have been researched for accuracy and found to be true.


Questions and Discussion Points


1. Discuss the difference between “putting out” and divorce.


2. Does this difference have any affect on your view of divorce or people who are divorced?


3. Besides the physical union, what do you think God means when He says, “the two shall become one flesh?”


Click here to discuss 


Back to the top    Link to Part Two Session Four

Anchor 12
bottom of page