Matthew 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12
3. And the Pharisees came to him, tempting him, and saying to him, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever? 4. Who answering said to them, Have you not read, that he who made them at first, 1 made them male and female? 5. And he said, Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall be one flesh. 6. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh: what God therefore hath joined, let not man separate. 7. They say to him, Why then did Moses order to give a letter of divorcement, and send her away? 8. He said to them, Moses, for the hardness of your heart, permitted you to divorce your wives; but at the beginning it was not so. 9. And I say to you, That whosoever shall divorce his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
2. And the Pharisees, coming to him, asked him, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? tempting him. 3. But he answering said to them, What did Moses command you? 4. And they said, Moses permitted to write a letter of divorcement, and to send her away. 5. And Jesus answering said to them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote to you this commandment. 6. But at the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. 7. For this reason shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; 8. And they shall be one flesh: therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. 9. What therefore God hath joined together let not man separate. 10. And in the house his disciples again asked him about the same subject. 11. And he saith to them, Whososever shall divorce his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12. And if a woman shall divorce her husband, and shall be married to another, she committeth adultery.
He adds another argument drawn from the less to the greater. The bond of marriage is more sacred than that which binds children to their parents. But piety binds children to their parents by a link which cannot be broken. Much less then can the husband renounce his wife. Hence it follows, that a chain which God made is burst asunder, if the husband divorce his wife. 2
Now the meaning of the words is this: God, who created the human race,
But it is asked, Ought Moses to have permitted what was in itself bad and sinful? I reply, That, in an unusual sense of the word, he is said to have permitted what he did not severely forbid; 6 for he did not lay down a law about divorces, so as to give them the seal of his approbation, but as the wickedness of men could not be restrained in any other way, he applied what was the most admissible remedy, that the husband should, at least, attest the chastity of his wife. For the law was made solely for the protection of the women, that they might not suffer any disgrace after they had been unjustly rejected. Hence we infer, that it was rather a punishment inflicted on the husbands, than an indulgence or permission fitted to inflame their lust. Besides, political and outward order is widely different from spiritual government. What is lawful and proper the Lord has comprehended under the ten words. 7 Now as it is possible that many things, for which every man's conscience reproves and charges him, may not be called in question at a human tribunal, it is not wonderful if those things are connived at by political laws.
Let us take a familiar instance. The laws grant to us a greater liberty of litigation than the law of charity allows. Why is this? Because the right cannot be conferred on individuals, unless there be an open door for demanding it; and yet the inward law of God declares that we ought to follow what charity shall dictate. And yet there is no reason why magistrates should make this an excuse for their indolence, if they voluntarily abstain from correcting vices, or neglect what the nature of their office demands. But let men in a private station beware of doubling the criminality of the magistrates, by screening their own vices under the protection of the laws. For here the Lord indirectly reproves the Jews for not, reckoning it enough that their stubbornness was allowed to pass unpunished, if they did not implicate God as defending their iniquity. And if the rule of a holy and pious life is not always, or in all places, to be sought from political laws, much less ought we to seek it from custom.
But an exception is added; for the woman, by fornication, cuts herself off, as a rotten member, from her husband, and sets him at liberty. Those who search for other reasons ought justly to be set at nought, because they choose to be wise above the heavenly teacher. They say that leprosy is a proper ground for divorce, because the contagion of the disease affects not only the husband, but likewise the children. For my own part, while I advise a religious man not to touch a woman afflicted with leprosy, I do not pronounce him to be at liberty to divorce her. If it be objected, that they who cannot live unmarried need a remedy, that they may not be burned, I answer, that what is sought in opposition to the word of God is not a remedy. I add too, that if they give themselves up to be guided by the Lord, they will never want continence, for they follow what he has prescribed. One man shall contract such a dislike of his wife, that he cannot endure to keep company with her: will polygamy cure this evil? Another man's wife shall fall into palsy or apoplexy, or be afflicted with some other incurable disease, shall the husband reject her under the pretense of incontinency? We know, on the contrary, that none of those who walk in their ways are ever left destitute of the assistance of the Spirit.
For the sake of avoiding fornication, says Paul, let every man marry a wife, (1 Corinthians 7:2.) He who has done so, though he may not succeed to his wish, has done his duty; and, therefore, if any thing be wanting, he will be supported by divine aid. To go beyond this is nothing else than to tempt God. When Paul mentions another reason, namely, that when, through a dislike of godliness, wives happen to be rejected by unbelievers, a godly brother or sister is not, in such a case, liable to bondage, (1 Corinthians 7:12,15,) this is not inconsistent with Christ's meaning. For he does not there inquire into the proper grounds of divorce, but only whether a woman continues to be bound to an unbelieving husband, after that, through hatred of God, she has been wickedly rejected, and cannot be reconciled to him in any other way than by forsaking God; and therefore we need not wonder if Paul think it better that she should part with a mortal man than that she should be at variance with God.
But the exception which Christ states appears to be superfluous. For, if the adulteress deserve to be punished with death, what purpose does it serve to talk of divorces? But as it was the duty of the husband to prosecute his wife for adultery, in order to purge his house from infamy, whatever might be the result, the husband, who convicts his wife of uncleanness, is here freed by Christ from the bond. It is even possible that, among a corrupt and degenerate people, this crime remained to a great extent unpunished; as, in our own day, the wicked forbearance of magistrates makes it necessary for husbands to put away unchaste wives, because adulterers are not punished. It must also be observed, that the right belongs equally and mutually to both sides, as there is a mutual and equal obligation to fidelity. For, though in other matters the husband holds the superiority, as to the marriage bed, the wife has an equal right: for he is not the lord of his body; and therefore when, by committing adultery, he has dissolved the marriage, the wife is set at liberty.
to remain unmarried, or to be reconciled to their husbands,
(1 Corinthians 7:11;)
that is, because quarrels and differences do not dissolve a marriage. This is clearly made out from the passage in Mark, where express mention is made of the wife who has left her husband:
1 "Qui feit l'homme des le commencement" -- "who made man from the beginning."
2 "Que le mari qui se separe d'avecques sa femme rompt le lien dupuel Dieu estoit autheur;" -- "that the husband, who separates from his wife, bursts the chain of which God was the author."
3 "Il n'y a celuy qui ne fust estonne d'un tel monstre;" -- "there is no man who would not be astonished at such a monster."
4 "C'est un meslinge faux et pervers;" -- "it is a false and wicked mixture."
5 "Ils avoyent songe ceste calomnie pour l'avoir toute preste;" -- "they had thought of this calumny, to have it all ready."
6 "Ie repond, Qu'a parler proprement, il ne l'a pas permis: mais d'autant qu'il ne l'a pas defendu estroittement, il est dit qu'il l'a permis;" -- "I reply, That, strictly speaking, he did not permit it; but in so far as he did not strictly forbid it, he is said to have permitted it."