31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 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.” (Matthew 5:31–32 (ESV)
As with His prior two examples, Jesus addressed an issue in direct confrontation to the religious teachings of the Pharisees. The subject was divorce. It is a topic the New Testament pays particular attention (Matt. 19:7-9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18; Rom. 7:1-3; I Cor. 7:10-11).
In the ancient world, a certificate of divorce gave a woman the right to remarry and reflected that divorce and remarriage were widely accepted and practiced in the first century world. This was in addition to all sorts of sexual immorality.
“Jesus did not accept the practice of easy divorce represented in v. 31. Because divorce was widespread in ancient times, God had instituted a regulation through Moses that was intended to uphold the sanctity of marriage and to protect women from being divorced for no reason. (Deut. 24:1–4; Matt. 19:8.) Here and in 19:3–9, Jesus based his teaching on God’s original intention that marriage should be a permanent union of a man and woman as “one flesh” (Mark 10:8). Divorce breaks that union,” explains one commentator.
The phrase sexual immorality (Gk. porneia) can refer not only to adultery (Jer. 3:9), but also to prostitution (Nah. 3:4; 1 Cor. 6:13, 18), incest (1 Cor. 5:1), or fornication (Gen. 38:24; John 8:41). Scripture prohibits any kind of sexual intercourse outside of marriage. This includes the practice of homosexuality and bestiality.
Jesus then commented on the consequences of disobedience to God’s Word in this particular context. An unbiblical divorce resulted in sexual immorality if the individual(s) in question choose to marry someone else. By making this declaration, Jesus revealed not only the seriousness of divorce, but also marriage.
“Even though some female Jewish divorcees would have gone back to live with their parents in shame, many would have sought to remarry (which seems to be the typical situation that Jesus is addressing here). Jesus is thus indicating that such second marriages begin with committing adultery, since the divorce would not have been valid in God’s eyes. But Jesus places primary blame on the husband who has wrongly divorced his wife, by stating that he (the husband) “makes her commit adultery,” continues one commentator.
How many individuals who have married, divorced, and married another individual do you know? I have known several. Among believers in Christ, the divorce rate is not as high as frequently reported. In fact, only 30%, approximately one out of three, of Christian marriages end in divorce. However, if believers in Christ truly believe the Bible is the Word of God, then even 30% is too high.
Soli deo Gloria!