Today’s post continues a study of verses from Mark’s Gospel which have been omitted from the Lectionary used for public worship.

These verses are part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to an understanding of Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Mark 10:1, 10-12

1 And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.

10And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11And he said to them,  “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

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In Mark 9 (see last week’s post), Jesus was preaching in Galilee — in Capernaum, where He and the Apostles had their home during His public ministry.

Jesus’s ministry in Galilee ends in Mark 9. In Mark 10:1, He is now in Judea. Once again, crowds of people flocked to see Him, although Mark does not record His public teaching at this point. John MacArthur believes that Jesus would have healed those who came to hear Him as well as teach them.

MacArthur says that the beginning of Mark 10 actually records the end of His Judean ministry. For a record of this period, MacArthur directs us to Luke 10 through Luke 18 and John 7 through John 11:

So we jump from the Galilean ministry right over the top of the Judean ministry, and here we find our Lord beyond the Jordan in the area called Peraea, often referred to then as His Peraean ministry. This is the last little bit of ministry He does before He goes down to Jericho and in chapter 11 enters Jerusalem for the final week of His life. So we’re at the end of His earthly ministry here, virtually at the end of it. And He is teaching His disciples some very, very important lessons. And this one happens to be about the subject of divorce.

Mark 10:2-9 record the Pharisees once again putting Jesus on the spot, testing Him to see if He will fall into their trap. The topic is divorce, on which MacArthur preached at length in two sermons dealing with this passage: here and here. He also explains that divorce had been commonplace for centuries among the Jewish leadership and the practice had a trickle-down effect into everyday Jewish homes. Therefore, it was not unlike the situation today wherein someone mentions a couple got divorced and the hearer of this news says, ‘Oh, that’s too bad’ before moving on to the next topic of conversation. The Jews from the Old Testament time to Jesus’s day — see Isaiah, Jeremiah, Malachi — divorced for any reason: someone else came along, personality differences, troubles with in-laws — just like today. It was a rather casual yet legal thing to do for convenience.

In short, Matthew Henry says that divorce is a highly serious matter, as is marriage (emphases mine):

Moses tells us, [1.] That God made man male and female, one male, and one female; so that Adam could not put away his wife and take another, for there was no other to take, which was an intimation to all his sons, that they must not. [2.] When this male and this female were, by the ordinance of God, joined together in holy marriage, the law was, That a man must leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife (v. 7); which intimates not only the nearness of the relation, but the perpetuity of it; he shall so cleave to his wife as not to be separated from her. [3.] The result of the relation is, That, though they are two, yet they are one, they are one flesh, v. 8. The union between them is the most intimate that can be, and, as Dr. Hammond expresses it, a sacred thing that must not be violated. [4.] God himself was joined them together; he has not only, as Creator, fitted them to be comforts and helps meet for each other, but he has, in wisdom and goodness, appointed them who are thus joined together, to live together in love till death parts them. Marriage is not an invention of men, but a divine institution, and therefore is to be religiously observed, and the more, because it is a figure of the mystical inseparable union between Christ and his church.

Now from all this he infers, that men ought not to put their wives asunder from them, whom God has put so near them. The bond which God himself has tied, is not to be lightly untied. They who are divorcing their wives for every offence, would do well to consider what would become of them, if God should in like manner deal with them. See Isa. 50:1; Jer. 3:1.

Therefore, if we treat our bond with our spouse lightly, God might also treat His bond with us lightly and forsake us. I doubt many people think of that nowadays, but it is worth bearing in mind.

The Bible also carries several references to sinners as adulterers not in the sense of marital infidelity but in that those engaging in serious and habitual sin are betraying their loving bond with God.

Jesus’s answer to the Pharisees summarises the sacred union of husband and wife and in verse 9 says:

What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.

Divorce was not meant to be used as an all-encompassing get-out clause. MacArthur readily acknowledges that, for some couples, marriage requires work from both parties. Henry sums up the divergence between the carnal mind and the grace-filled one:

Wisdom and grace, holiness and love, reigning in the heart, will make those commands easy which to the carnal mind may be as a heavy yoke.

This is why many denominations and independent churches require couples to have at least a few in-depth conversations with the pastoral team or to take a series of courses on marriage before tying the knot. It’s not so much policing and interference as it is testing for various pressure points and the potential for future conflict. Often, these have to do with money, child-rearing and domination of one partner by another.

On this point, MacArthur reminds us:

When sin came into the world, when Eve sinned and Adam followed in sin, the race was cursed. Adam was cursed, he was cursed to labor by the sweat of his brow and earn his bread. And the woman was cursed and she was cursed, Genesis 3:16 says, by having to suffer pain in child bearing and then this…”Your desire shall be toward your husband and he will rule over you.” That curse spells out the conflict in marriage. And the language, as we saw last time, means that instead of her willingly, graciously submitting to him and he tenderly, compassionately leading her, she has a desire to dominate him and he has an overbearing reaction of over-dominating her. That’s the conflict between women’s liberation and male chauvinism. That’s all a part of the curse. That brings trouble into a marriage…a sinful woman with strong will wants her way, an equally sinful man with a strong will wants to dominate her.

This is why wise parents and friends ask couples: ‘Are you absolutely sure?’ Hence, the terms ‘Mr’ and ‘Ms Right’. One’s spouse is meant to last a lifetime.

Mark 10:10-12 have their parallel in Matthew 19:10-12:

10The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

So, in Mark 10:10, the disciples ask Jesus about what He said; in Matthew 19:10, they deduce that perhaps not everyone is meant to marry. This is because Matthew 19:9 — which also ties in with Mark 10:11-12 — records Jesus as saying:

And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.

(Incidentally, MacArthur says that the verse about eunuchs is another way of saying that, yes, some people should remain single but that those who cannot do so without burning with lust should really get married.)

Going back to Matthew 19:9, Jesus said the same earlier in Matthew 5:32:

But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

However, MacArthur reminds us of reconciliation, particularly that of Hosea and Gomer in the Old Testament:

Adultery doesn’t have to be the end of a marriage. How long did God wait? Seven-hundred years. How about Hosea. Remember Hosea? God says, “Take a wife.” And he took a wife named Gomer…I think anybody who would marry a woman named Gomer has got trouble coming. But anyway, he marries this girl called Gomer. She turns out to give him some children. Then she becomes a prostitute, sells her body and she’s gone. And God says, “Go find her. Buy her back, pay the price and redeem her, take her back.” And it’s a magnificent story, it really is.

He goes into the marketplace where she’s being sold on the block and he treats her like a virgin bride. Takes her back. And God says that’s the picture of My relationship to Ephraim, divorced and one day in the future bought back.

So there’s a pattern here as well, to say the just an act of sexual sin doesn’t necessarily mean the end. There’s a place for restoration. There’s a place for forgiveness.

So, what does a Christian couple do if they have the misfortune to face an adulterous situation in their marriage? MacArthur advises:

… in cases where there’s genuine penitence, genuine remorse, a real forgiveness … the pattern stops. Where there’s impenitence, or where there’s continuance, then I think that is precisely why this exception [divorce] is given. And that’s, in some ways, to be determined carefully and thoughtfully and prayerfully by the person who has been sinned against, the innocent spouse.

It’s a complex issue and one which requires careful consideration — in some cases, appropriate pastoral counselling. In others, the couple are able to work out the situation and bring it to a successful and faithful resolution.

However, this is why, throughout the centuries, Christians have taught the sanctity and permanence of marriage — holy matrimony — between a man and a woman.

Next time: Mark 10:13-16