Matthew 5:27-32 Part 2

We now come to examine our Lord’s statement in verses thirty-one and thirty-two concerning divorce.  And let me begin by saying that when we come to a subject like this we can clearly see the value of systematically preaching through is a very difficult subject to preach; and I think many ministers are just overwhelmed by those difficulties – due in part to the large numbers of divorced people in the churches, which causes pressure to compromise what needs to be said!  The divorce rate among the general population of the country is now over fifty percent.  And in couples who profess the Christian religion, the rate is closer to thirty percent.  So sexual issues and divorce issues constitute problems for ministers – problems leading to congregational discontent and pastoral unemployment!

But those are not the only difficulties.  There are also those of translation and interpretation!  This is not an easy subject to deal with!  But that gives us no right to slide over these two verses, as many preachers, and even commentators, have done, and they fail to provide the Church with the full teaching of Scripture – especially since the institution of marriage is in such shambles in our society.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ concerns the whole of life; and it makes no sense at all to gloss over an issue of such great need right now!  There is clear teaching here – from our Lord Jesus – and we have to face it honestly, difficulties accepted, and submit ourselves to the will of our King.

Now, as we approach these two verses, I need to briefly set the background, or context, once again.  This statement is one of six statements made by Christ in which He introduces the subject by the formula – “you have heard... but I say to you.”  “You have heard....” refers to the tradition of the Pharisees.  “But I say to you...” explains and confirms the true content of the Law of God, the fullness of which is Christ Himself!

The Pharisees had distorted the absolutes of the character of God.  But Jesus, as the Word Incarnate, establishes the requirements for living in the Kingdom – Righteousness!  Not just exterior dedication to a man-made standard, but a “whole-man” submission to the righteousness of God!  The Pharisees had not seen their own desperate heart-condition, and therefore saw no need for the cleansing of their deep depravity.  So when Jesus honors the Law of Moses and displays it in all its glory, the leadership of Israel hated it – and they hated Him.

So Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness – to establish the Kingdom – to separate out a people unto Himself – to die in their place and incorporate them into His Own body – and to re-establish the Law of God, which was the standard of holiness for this separated people!

And that is precisely what He does with this issue of adultery and divorce.  He corrects the perverted content of Pharisaical law, and He confirms the standard of holiness to which His Own people are to submit!  And, again, it must not be just an exterior submission – but we must delight in it because it is the nature and character of Christ in Whom we live!

Just a note on the form here.  You will notice that Jesus introduces each of His points of teaching with this formula – “You have heard that it was said....” as we mentioned a minute ago.  But this teaching on divorce does not begin in exactly the same way as with the others.  He says, “And it was said....”

I think it is expected of us that we see a purpose in the difference here.  And the purpose is that this is not an entirely new subject!  The movement from the sixth to the seventh Commandment was a change of subjects ... murder to adultery.  But the law concerning divorce, although a different subject in the perverse interpretation of the Pharisees, is not a different one in the heart of God!  In His holy Law, divorce is a subject which is covered, or summarized, in the seventh Commandment, which is the summary of all sexual sin!  It is a summary of all sins of infidelity!

Since the Pharisees taught only the external observance of law, and only sanctioned external infractions of law – infractions which the court system could punish – they gave no thought to the depravity and degeneracy of the human heart.  And so, divorce, to them, became just a relatively minor issue.  An issue completely separated from the Commandment against adultery.  When Jesus didn’t intend it to be!

And so, having been liberated from the seventh Commandment, and taken out of the context of sexual perversity, divorce became just a civil issue.  And, of course, this plays right into the hands of those who would provide themselves with excuses for degenerate behavior.  People have to remove issues from the realm of morality and make them civil issues only.  To free themselves from immorality.

But Jesus brings them right back to the condemnation of God’s Law by connecting divorce to the summary of sexual sin.  The seventh Commandment, verses twenty-seven through thirty – “And it was said....”  Remember the Pharisees had reinterpreted the seventh Commandment to mean the physical act itself.  And Jesus said that that was not its original intent.  You commit adultery in your heart – by your desires and thoughts and emotions, He said.  And you can’t justify yourselves by abstaining from the completed act and punishing overt sin!  You are perverse!  And out of your heart gushes adultery by nature!  You are adulterous!   

And not only that, but you are also outwardly committing adultery, because you can’t get away with reinterpreting the divorce laws either!  You see, not only had the Pharisees reinterpreted and perverted the Law against adultery, they had also reinterpreted the Law against divorce, so that they could commit adultery and still justify themselves!  Jesus said, “You have not only committed adultery in your hearts, but you have also committed the physical act itself!”

Now, not only that, but, by introducing divorce like He does here, connecting it to adultery, Jesus also teaches that divorce is a sin of the heart!  Not only is divorce clearly connected to the seventh Commandment, but it clearly comes from a perverse and adulterous heart – person!  Divorce does not happen unless somebody is lusting for something else outside marriage!  Divorce doesn’t happen unless somebody refuses to be merciful.  There is no divorce unless somebody refuses to be a Christ-like peacemaker.  When people are poor in spirit, there is no divorce.  When people mourn their own sin and hunger for the righteousness of God there is no divorce.  When hearts are pure there is no divorce.

The Pharisees allowed divorce simply if a wife displeased her husband!  They taught that the holy Law-Word of Almighty God allowed a man to put his wife away if he didn’t like her any more!  All he had to do was give her a divorce paper!  It was as easy then as it is now!  All you have to do now is hire an attorney to file a divorce paper, pay him ninety-nine dollars, and it is done!  That is exactly what the Pharisees taught.

Jesus says, “no you don’t.”  “Wait a minute!”  Divorce is a seventh commandment issue!  Divorce comes out of a perverse and degenerate heart!  Divorce is an adulterous sin.  Your heart is adulterous, and you have perverted the Words of God in order that you can legally commit physical adultery!”

You see, the Pharisees, with their external view of the Law, had seen the verse in Deuteronomy chapter twenty-four, which says, “Whoever should divorce his wife, let him present to her a bill of divorcement,” and that was all they needed.  And around those words, taken out of their proper context, they built an external, legal system with regard to marriage and divorce!

As you can see, Jesus quotes the verse correctly here in verse thirty-one – right out of Deuteronomy twenty-four.  The Pharisees had not ignored it; they hadn’t misquoted it; the very foundation of their system, it could be shown, was the Law of God!

But they had perverted it by taking it out of its context, and made the whole issue of marriage and divorce a civil issue only.  But Jesus retains their civil context and refers them back to the original intent and content of His Words.  Even in the civil context, they were in error.  That is the focal point of these two verses.

He says, “What about your ex-wives?  And what about those who may marry them later?  You have managed to pervert the Words of God so that you can submit to the lusts of the flesh and exchange wives at will, but what about them?  What about the terrible tragedies you have caused by the injustice of unlawful divorce?

“You are turning out stigmatized women by the thousands – labeled with the stigma of ‘uncleanness.’  You are putting them out in the streets to fend for themselves, and they have got this stigma attached to them like a cloud – ‘UNCLEAN!  ADULTEROUS!  DIVORCED!’  And whoever marries them has the same stigma – ‘ADULTERER!’  He married an unclean woman!”

That is what He is really saying in verse thirty-two.  Now, I fought with this verse for a long time, because something was wrong with the way it reads in all of the translations.  And when I translated it the first time, I did the same thing!  It reads,


“...everyone divorcing his wife without reason of fornication is putting her forth to commit adultery; and whoever should be married to her who has been divorced is guilty of adultery."


I went over this, and over this, and over it again, and it wasn’t right.  What it says just does not match what the rest of Scripture says!  Paul says that if one party to a marriage breaks the marriage by an unclean act, then the other party, who is clean, is able to remarry should a divorce come to pass!

But when I looked at this verse, the way it is written, or seems to be written, Jesus seems to be saying that a woman who is put away by a husband who has an adulterous and lustful heart, is an adulteress when she remarries, and whoever marries her is an adulterer.  Now, both of those things cannot be true!  So I went back to the Greek text again to find my mistake - knowing that if I found one, all the other translations now on the market would be wrong!  I want you all to know that, because what I have done is against all the commentators who spoke to the issue, and against all the popular translations of Scripture!

I won’t explain the details of it, because it wouldn’t be edifying to you, but I found a technicality which allows a different translation.  And I was so worried about it I called my Seminary Greek professor, as most of you know, to ask him about it.  After I explained it all to him, and we looked it up again in our Greek textbooks, and after he fought me on it for a while, he finally agreed that it could be translated the way I have done it.

Now, I want you to know that I am not sure that I have found the right avenue to solve all the difficulties of this text, so I won’t be absolutely dogmatic about it.  But I am sure enough to preach it this way; and may God be pleased to not allow error to creep into our faith.

Anyway, this is how it ought to read.  Verse thirty-two:


“But I say to you that everyone divorcing his wife without reason of fornication (uncleanness) is putting her forth to be stigmatized as an adulteress; and whoever should be married to her who has been divorced (unjustly) is stigmatized as an adulterer.”


You see, the other way makes the woman who has been put away unjustly the guilty party.  And it makes the one who marries her, the guilty party.  But Jesus isn’t condemning them!  He is condemning the one who puts his wife away for any reason, as the Pharisees taught!  Not only is that a sexual sin coming out of a perverse heart, but the injustice of it all is a terrible tragedy!  Women were turned out of their homes with an “unclean” tag on them – many probably past the bloom of youth – they lost their security and upkeep – they had to glean the corners of the fields or turn to prostitution to stay alive – unless, that is, another man married them.  And then, he, too, was labeled an adulterer, married to an unclean woman.

And all of these injustices due to the perverted law of the Pharisees.  I think you can see why Jesus’ condemnation of them was so severe.

So the whole context of these two verses is the adulterous hearts of the Pharisees; and, as a result, the injustice done to wives who have been turned out unlawfully.  As a result of their distortions of the Law, the Pharisees were the adulterers, not their wives.  Now this is the only way this text can be properly fit into the context.  It is Pharisaical perversion of law.  The guilt is theirs, not their wives!

Now, over in chapter nine of this Gospel, Jesus teaches on this subject again.  And on that occasion the context is the subject of divorce itself.  And we will get into it more then.  Suffice it to say that God had prescribed the indissolubility of the marriage bond.  “A man shall cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.”  Jesus says that it was that way from the beginning.  Let no man tear it apart.  Let no man rend what has been made in unity!  Let no man separate by divorce that which has been made one.

But by the hardness of men’s hearts they would not exhibit the mind of Christ.  They continued to rip at the sanctity of marriage because of the lusts of the flesh; hearts were perverse and Moses instituted the bill of divorcement in order to regulate and restrain the evil!

And the Pharisees picked up this civil regulative law and made it the foundational law for marriage and divorce!  Do you see the distortion?  Although the Scriptures are quoted exactly in Pharisaical law, they used a law which was specifically given to restrain and regulate an existing evil, and they built their entire civil code around it!  That is a terrible distortion, but it is significant, because it allows us to see clearly the kinds of manipulations of Scripture that were prevalent; and we can guard against them in the Church.  Because these very perversions of God’s Law are still around – in massive proportions – in our Churches.

One other point about this text and we will stop.  Jesus says, that anyone who puts his wife away for any other reason than for fornication, stigmatizes her.  The opposite is also true.  In other words if a man divorces his wife for uncleanness, or fornication, she is not just seen as an unclean person – she really is unclean!

So there is cause for divorce in God’s Law.  God commands us not to tear the unity apart.  But if one does by fornication, that unity is broken, and it is reason for divorce.  It is not commanded that a divorce take place, but it is sufficient reason.  If the offending party succumbs to the lust of the flesh and is afterwards repentant, then true healing can take place in the body of Christ.  And the offended spouse may not take action for a divorce.  The Pharisees commanded it – but it was not so.

Jesus says that the only valid reason for divorce is fornication, which already rips asunder that which has been made one by God.  Fornication is the New Testament word for “unclean thing” in the Hebrew Old Testament.  It is not limited to just adultery – which is a married person being sexually involved with someone other than his own spouse.

Fornication includes also those sins, which God calls abominable, and which call for the complete cutting off of the guilty party - adultery, sodomy, bestiality, witchcraft and sorcery, murder – and the like.  All of these call for the death penalty and effectively terminate the “one-flesh” unity of a marriage – (outside repentance and the grace of God in Christ).  None of these sins is unforgivable in Him.  He came to seek and to save those who are lost....  Not the religious leaders of the day who think they don’t need a Savior, but the ones in the depths of degradation who become poor in spirit.  And He saves us to the uttermost – cleansing us from all our sin and guilt.

To all of those millions in our society who are guilty of unclean things and rending in two that which God has made one, let me say to you that the consequences of your sin against God are severe.  And many of those consequences go unabated.  But to those in poverty of spirit and through mourning and repentance do cast themselves upon the mercy of God in the Name of Jesus Christ, there is liberation from the condemnation of the Law.  And, even though you rent that which God made one flesh, no man can then separate you from the body of Christ as you separated yourself from your own spouse.  There is your example of true forgiveness.

And to those in Christ whose marriages are still intact, I would say to you that you have a full bundle of gracious benefits from God.  And praise Him and honor Him for that.  Your marriage is a picture of the unity and continuity in Christ and His redeemed people.  Cherish it and nurture it and protect it and delight in it.  Our Lord delights in it; and He also delights in the thanksgiving that you return for it.