Jesus on the subject of marriage

If you are hoping to find lots of useful information in the Gospels which tell us about Jesus’ views on sex, you are going to be disappointed. All the topics people get hot under the collar about these days were not referred to by Jesus. Despite the ideas of a few “ever hopeful” scholars there is really no evidence for, or teaching about, homosexuality, pre-marital intercourse or the basis upon which sexual ideas should be grounded.

Marriage, adultery and divorce though is somewhat different.

In St Mark’s Gospel a question arises about the issue of divorce.

In St Mark’s Gospel, Jesus seems fairly clear about the marital situation.

One man – one woman – for life.
Divorce leads to adultery.

“But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 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.”     Mark 10:6-12

This all seems very straight forward to me. However one A level text book wants to to cast doubt on the reading of this passage The author of this books suggests

the word “and” (underlined above) Greek kai could be translated “in order to”
And “adultery” (underlined above) Greek porneia could be translated in “different ways”.
Both of these variants seem to me to be somewhat speculative in the case of Mark’s Gospel.

However St Matthew’s Gospel has a different line on the subject of divorce and adultery. In the Sermon on the Mount the author of this Gospel has Jesus saying

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 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.  Matt 5:31

In this Gospel the implication is that Jesus says there should be no divorce, except where there has been unchastity.”Unchastity” seems quite a hard word to define. Nevertheless, the general rule seems to be that Jesus is not in favour of divorce.

Rules seem to be rules – at least as far as adultery is concerned.

However before you throw your hat in the air, declaring “we have a decision” perhaps you ought to read part of chapter 8 in St John’s Gospel.

Early in the morning Jesus came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”  John 8:2-11

Well that is quite a turn up for the book. In the three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke Jesus seems to be tune with Jewish thinking – observation of the absolute principle. “you shall not commit adultery.” One of the ten commandments.

This last episode though is quite a good example of Situation Ethics – applying the principle of agape.

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