Mark 10:1-12 – Marriage and Divorce

Mark 10v1-12


Marriage and Divorce


cf. Matthew 19; 1 Corinthians 7; Deuteronomy 24; Hosea.




We come this evening to one of the difficult issues of life – divorce! It is difficult because it breaks hearts, it negatively affects children and it weakens society in general.

It is challenging for Christians because on the one hand we are called upon to uphold marriage God’s sacred institution and we are also called upon to reach out to those in society who are hurting and need support and comfort.


I am not going to bore you with reams of statistics – We all know that today fewer people marry as many more simply co-habit. Of those that do marry about 1in 3 get divorced. It is estimated that with in the next 20 years half the children in Britain will live in stepfamilies or with only one parent. The sociological implications of this we have yet to fully realise.


What does the Bible have to say about this issue.

In Mark 10 we have Jesus’ teaching about this issue – Matthew 19 is almost the same but adds a few things. Paul deals with a number of issues about marriage in 1Corithians 7.

In the OT we generally tend to go to Genesis 2 and Deuteronomy 24, both of which Jesus refers to.


  1. 1.     The Pharisee’s question.


The Pharisees were not particularly anxious about divorce – their purpose as on other occasion is to trap Jesus – and as before Jesus avoids the trap and deals with the issue.

Mark 10:2  Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (NIV)

Matthew 19:3       ADDS…………. for any and every reason?” (NIV)



Two schools of thought amongst the Pharisees at the time.

¨     One groups argued that a man could divorce his wife for the slightest reason.  If he didn’t like the way she ironed his shirt / or if he suddenly decided that he no longer like her hairstyle – trivial things.

¨     The other group argued only on the ground of “unfaithfulness” on the part of the wife.

Both based their reasons on Deuteronomy 24:1

1 If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, [some uncleanness in her (KJV)] and he writes her a certificate of divorce, …….


In Jesus day a man could divorce his wife but not vice-versa.

Also, the Pharisees who opted for easy divorce – on trivial grounds – was operating on the basis that his happiness, not his wife’s, was the all important issue. This is so relevant today – People feel they have an inalienable right to personal happiness and to remove anything / anyone who does not serve that end.


The Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus in jumping into one or other of their camps – he does neither.


  1. 2.     Jesus’ question to the Pharisees.


Jesus responds by asking a question.

Mark 10:3  “What did Moses command you?” he replied. (NIV)

Jesus knows their thinking – they are bound up in legalistic argument. And their understanding was shallow because they were focussing on the laws to regulate their failures instead of focussing on the first principles of God’s original intention.


Their response was accurate – Moses did allow a man to write a divorce certificate for his wife and send her away.

However this God allowed under Moses not because it was his wish BUT because the people were not living up to his standards and he wants the situation to be properly regulated and controlled and the abandoned wife afforded some measure of protection. This permission was only granted Jesus reminds them in v.5 because the human heart is often so hard and so sinful that divorce becomes necessary.


  1. 3.     Back to first principles.


Having agreed that Moses allowed divorce Jesus now takes the Pharisees back to God’s original intention for marriage.

“It was not like this in the beginning…” –


Mark 10:6-9 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female’. 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (NIV)


Jesus taught the Marriage is God’s idea – it is not an arrangement that man has evolved and that he can change to suit himself.


Jesus then, quoting from Genesis 2 gives three key elements marriage.

¨     Leaves – it talks of leaving mother and father  – a new family unit/ relationship is established. This new unit is recognised by society at large.

¨     United – a mutual / permanent relationship is established

¨     One flesh – there is a coming together in sexual union in this marriage relationship. It is within this union only that sexual activity is permissible.


This is God’s design – and so Jesus adds – Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate –


Divorce therefore is against God’s original design – in a sense Jesus is re-echoing what God said through Malachi – Malachi 2:14-16 14 …. the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner/ companion, the wife of your marriage covenant.

15 Has not [the LORD] made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.

16 “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “…

God was so angry with those in Malachi’s day who were divorcing their wives esp. because the wife had been faithfully. “The words “wife of your youth” and “Partner/companion” are put in to show the aggravated nature of the offence. She was thus wronged was the companion of those earlier and brighter days, when in the bloom of her young beauty she left her father’s house, and shared your early struggles, and rejoiced in your later success; who walked arm-in-arm with you along the pilgrimage of life, cheering you in its trials by her gentle ministry; and now, when the bloom of her youth is faded, and the friends of her youth have gone, when her father and mother are in the grave, then you cruelly cast her off as a worn-out, worthless thing, and insult her holiest affection by putting another in her place.” – Larry Richards


This was the result of the selfish pleasure seeking men of Malachi’s day and God says “I hate it….”


Jesus now states that to divorce one’s spouse and marry another constitutes adultery. Straight forward enough!

However – Matthew expands this statement and puts in and exception clause.


Matthew 19:9 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (NIV)

Matthew 19:9 9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: {and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.} some mss. Don’t have this phrase – but does really change anything as it comes in 5v32 (KJV)


Matthew 5:32.. anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery. (NIV)

Matthew 5:32 32 …… whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. (KJV)


Here Jesus gives one reason for which divorce it permitted – marital unfaithfulness.


¨      Marital unfaithfulness is treated as a special case because it breaks the oneness of the one flesh union of the married couple. Hebrews 13:4 4 Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. (NIV)

However, forgiveness is possible, both by God and the offended party, and divorce is not therefore inevitable. After genuine sorrow and forgiveness restoration is possible. BUT even so there are scars and consequences as King David discovered to his cost.


¨     Although Jesus permits divorce on account of marital unfaithfulness this permission / concession must be seen against the background of his strong endorsement of the permanence of marriage. The gospel is the gospel of reconciliation. ILLUS.: Hosea is the classic example of a man with an unfaithful wife and yet he pursues her, and loves her and restores her – in spite of her blatant adultery.

Therefore divorce should only be pursued after every effort has been made towards reconciliation with the guilty party.

It is easy for me as one who is happily married to says these things and I don’t in any way want to diminish pain and hurt a person feels when his/her spouse has been unfaithful. BUT I honestly believe this is God’s way – reconciliation.


¨     HOWEVER – in spite of our best effort reconciliation is not always possible – God is a loving, understanding and compassionate father. Thus is believe that God allows divorce as an option in cases of martial unfaithfulness where reconciliation fails.

¨      Another justification for divorce is found in 1 Corinthians where Paul deals with the case of a Christian married to a non-Christian. 1 Corinthians 7:15  But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. (NIV)       1 Corinthians 7:15 15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. (KJV)

If the unbeliever insists on leaving the believer has to acquiesce. Here again permission is granted reluctantly.


4. The question of remarriage.


¨     What about the matter of remarriage of those who have been divorced because their spouse has been unfaithful or desert them because he/she is a believer. Godly scholars have disagreed on this issue for centuries! I don’t believe it is possible to be dogmatic – no doubt some will disagree.

  • Does “except for marital unfaithfulness” [Matt.5 & 19] refer to divorce only or to divorce and remarriage. It seems to me there are two reasons for allowing remarriage in these circumstances:-

1)    To me the most straight forward reasoning of the text is thus – Mark says “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery” [and vice versa] Matthew adds the clause “except for marital unfaithfulness” – In other words the one who divorces and remarries commits adultery EXCEPT in the case where there was unfaithfulness – in which case the one flesh relationship is broken // and under the OT laws such a one would be put to death leaving the offended party free to remarry.

2)    In the OT divorce and remarriage were permitted [Dt.24] – Jesus does say Moses was wrong to allow this – just that this was not God’s original purpose.

  • What does Paul mean in 1 Corinthians 7v15 when he says “not bound” [NIV]  / “not under bondage” [KJV] – Does he mean that the believer whose unbelieving spouse has deserted him/her is free to divorce only or doe he mean the marriage is dissolved and the believer is free to remarry? We can’t be certain!!


It seems to me that re-marriage is permissible under the circumstances I have outlined.


HOWEVER – Any Christian contemplating re-marriage should carefully consider the following:-

  • Don’t even consider marrying a non-Christian
  • Remember we are all imperfect human beings – and so is anyone you subsequently marry. ONLY Jesus is perfect and the ultimate source of satisfaction and fulfilment.
  • It may be God’s will that you remain single – prayerfully consider and seek counsel from mature Christians you value.
  • A depressing fact is that second time marriages are more likely to end in divorce than first time marriages.


5. What about singles?


In Matthews account there are some extra verses added:

Matthew 19:10-12         10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” (NIV)


Jesus disciples found the standards Jesus set for marriage extremely high and demanding and considered whether it was better not to marry at all.

Jesus reply is amazing – “Not everyone can accept this word,… i.e. that ….. it is better not to marry.” –

He lists three groups:-

– Those born impotent

–       those who were castrated as a requirement for service where they were surrounded by royal women

–       and those who live as singles for the sake of God’s kingdom {Paul says that same thing}

Jesus teaches that singleness is a perfectly viable option for life – no better than marriage and certainly not inferior, in fact God esp. calls some to such a position.


Concluding Comments


Given the state of marriage in our nation we need to affirm the high place that God’s gives marriage. It is good for the couple, for the children, for society and indeed for singles who are part of society. Marriage is God’s design – God’s ideal.

On the other hand, God knows our world is far from ideal. God is compassionate, merciful and understanding of our human weaknesses.


May God give us his wisdom as we continue to grapple with this and other difficult issues.

May he also give us his deep compassion and love for hurting people.


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