By Timothy Sparks
Reading the accounts of the gospel within their historical contexts, it should be stressed that Mark and Luke write to those with Gentile background (Mark to the Romans; Luke to the Greeks). Matthew writes to those with Hebrew/Jewish background. This explains why Matthew records for the Jews the phrases “for every cause” (Mt. 19:3) and “not over fornication” (Mt. 19:9), while Mark and Luke do not record them for the Gentiles.
The Gentiles divorced for every reason (sexual and nonsexual). Mark and Luke reveal Jesus’ absolute standard for marriage (Mk. 10:11-12; Lk. 16:18). Jews did not practice the divorce penalty for sexual immorality as God’s Law was the death penalty (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22). The Pharisees’ question focused on God’s Law about divorce for every cause for which a Jewish man divorced his wife (Mt. 19:3). Since God commanded that a sexually immoral wife be put to death, a Jewish man did not divorce his wife for sexual immorality. A Jewish man divorced his wife only for nonsexual reasons (“not over fornication,” Mt. 19:9).
Matthew records Jesus’ complete condemnation of Jewish divorce and remarriage, with no exception to God’s standard from the beginning. Mark and Luke write to Gentiles. Matthew writes to Jews. All accounts reveal Jesus’ absolute teaching of marriage for life.
After Jesus’ question and answer session with the Pharisees (Mt. 19:3-9; Mk. 10:2-9), Mark records Jesus’ interaction with the disciples. “In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter. So He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery’” (Mk. 10:10-12, NKJV).
Jesus speaks clearly and definitively concerning the permanence of marriage for life in his answers to the Pharisees (Mt. 19:4-6, 8-9; Mk. 10:5-9). However, marriage for life is a hard teaching for many, including Jesus’ disciples, who ask him to address it again (Mk. 10:10). Jesus reinforces his absolute teaching against divorce of a God-joined union and against marriage to another while the God-joined spouse lives (Mk. 10:11-12). Upon understanding God’s teaching concerning marriage for life as it has existed from the beginning, the disciples exclaim, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Mt. 19:10, NKJV).
If Jesus had intended any exception to his teaching, he would have made such clear to his disciples since Mark records Jesus’ clarification of marriage, divorce and remarriage. Jesus’ teaching goes back to the way God designed marriage from the beginning. Those who wish to put an exception in Jesus’ teaching must also address why Jesus says the beginning answers both questions the Pharisees ask (Mt. 19:4-6, 8).
Additionally, Luke clearly records an earlier account of Jesus’ teaching concerning the permanence of marriage for life (Lk. 16:18) than Matthew’s or Mark’s account of Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees (Matthew 19; Mark 10). For evidence of the chronological order of the events of Luke 16 occurring before Matthew 19 and Mark 10, compare Lk. 18:15-30, Mt. 19:13-30 and Mk. 10:13-31.
If Jesus meant for there to be an exception to his teaching, why would the meticulous inspired Luke have failed to record it in his documentation of an earlier occasion? Jesus emphatically states, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery” (Lk. 16:18, NKJV).