About Jesus   Steve Sweetman

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Luke 16:18 - Divorce Remarriage


Nowhere in the Biblical record does Jesus systematically set forth His teaching concerning divorce and remarriage.  Except for Matthew 5:31 and 32, we see Jesus responding to a few questions concerning this issue.  So, when it comes to Jesus, we're limited in what we learn, but, what we do learn is crucial.   


Out of the four places found in the gospels where Jesus addresses divorce and remarriage, I begin with Luke 16:18 because it's only one verse.  One verse doesn't constitute the totality of Biblical teaching.  The text reads.  "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery".  Upon a superficial reading of these words you may think you understand what Jesus said, but without a grasp of the context you'll surely misunderstand Him.         


The context of what Jesus said here goes back to Luke 15:2 where the Pharisees were angry with Him for associating with prostitutes.  On one occasion a sinful woman, probably a prostitute, touched Jesus by washing His feet. (Luke 7:36-40)  The self-righteous Pharisees were furious.  How in all lawful honesty could Jesus let a ceremonially defiled prostitute touch Him?       


Jesus responded to the Pharisees by pointing out their hypocrisy concerning legal matters.  In Luke 16:15 He said, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts.  What is highly valued among men is highly detestable in God's sight".  Jesus blasted these guys for their hypocritical rabbinical teaching that allowed them to circumvent the Law of Moses they arrogantly claimed to uphold.            


The specific point of hypocrisy Jesus zeroed in on was the Pharisees practice of free and easy divorce and remarriage.  He didn't say much, but what He did say was directed specifically to the Pharisees and their supporters. They clearly knew that, and so should we.     


Many of these Pharisees were of the liberal Hillel school of thought who majored on the words "displeasing" and "disliked" in Deuteronomy 24:1 4.  They believed that any "unpleasing" thing they "disliked" about their wives was grounds for divorce.  The words "anyone who divorces his wife commits adultery, and he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery", in context, were spoken specifically to these Pharisees and their supporters who disguised their wife swapping in rabbinical legalities.          


Based on the context, here's my paraphrase of this verse.  "Any one of you hypocritical and lust filled men commit adultery when you freely and easily divorce your wife to find a new sex partner".  This may sound crude, but the historical fact is that these men were that crude.    


I believe to be hermeneutically accurate, we must know exactly and specifically to whom Jesus spoke.  He was speaking to guilty hypocritical wife swappers who were standing right in front of him.  I don't believe Jesus was speaking to men who lawfully divorced their wives on the grounds of adultery as Deuteronomy 24: 1 - 4 permitted.  Those men were few and far between.  I believe a contextual analysis of Jesus' statement tells us that wife swappers committed adultery when they remarried, not those who lawfully divorced their wives on the grounds of adultery.          





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