Matthew 19:3, When Is Divorce Allowed?

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” 

//One of the “eight great debates” in first-century Judaism was this matter of divorce. Under what circumstances was divorce to be permitted? Respected rabbi’s Shammai and Hillel espoused different teachings, and when the Pharisees came to “test” Jesus, they really were merely trying to nail down which side of the debate Jesus would take.

In this example, Jesus sides with Shammai … interesting, because he usually sides with Hillel. But this time, Hillel, quite lax on the matter, argued that divorce was permitted “even if she [merely] burns his soup.” Like the Pharisees ask, “Any and every reason.” Shammai’s stance was more strict, that divorce should only occur over a matter of immorality.

Thus we reach Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, who chooses Shammai in the debate: 

I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery. –Matthew 19:9

It’s curious that only Matthew includes this exception about infidelity. It doesn’t exist in Mark, the text that Matthew copies from. Mark simply says divorce is a no-no. But Matthew, apparently more familiar with the two sides of the big debate than Mark, adds the clause that a person is permitted to divorce under the circumstance of infidelity.


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