The Marriage Trap

The Marriage Trap

The Marriage Trap
Text: Mark 10:1-12

Main Idea:  God’s allowance for divorce does not mean that marriage is a disposable commitment.

I.   A Deceptive Inquiry (Mark 10:1-4)
II.  A Surprising Response (Mark 10:5-9)
III. A Puzzling Declaration (Mark 10:10-12)

Mark 10:1–12

Before we begin this morning, I want to tell you that I have been praying about this message for the last few weeks. I know that divorce touches every single one of us in one way or another whether that be: our parents, our siblings, our children, or your own marriage. And I know that there is not a single person who has not at least witnessed the bitter pain, relational destructiveness, and personal shame that divorce brings.

  • In the United States, there is one divorce approximately every 36 seconds. That’s nearly 2,400 divorces per day, 16,800 divorces per week and 876,000 divorces a year.
  • 45% percent of first marriages end in divorce.
  • 60% of second marriages end in divorce.
  • 73% of third marriages end in divorce.

These are the tragic numbers.[1] But, how are we, as Christians, supposed to deal with the question of marriage and divorce among fellow believers? Because the reality is that evangelical Christians hold three different views of divorce and remarriage.

  • Some believe that divorce is never allowable and on account of this believe that remarriage is never legitimate.
  • Some believe that there are legitimate reasons for divorce but that remarriage is never allowable.
  • Some believe that there are legitimate reasons for divorce and that remarriage is appropriate as long as the divorce was legitimate.

And before we turn to the text, I want you to know that I hold to the third view of marriage and divorce because I believe it is the view that the Bible upholds as a whole. The difficulty that I have this morning is that we do not have the time to dig into all of the relevant texts. Nor, do I believe our Church would be best served by a 3–4 week mini-series on marriage and divorce at this time. Therefore, I am going to limit our discussion to Mark 10 and its parallel in Matthew 19.

Finally, I want to let you know that I am not looking to shame anyone this morning. In fact, I’m hoping that God may use this message:

  • To free some of you from the misplaced and inappropriate shame that you have felt for years.
  • To drive some of you to renew your commitment to your spouse and children.
  • To help us think better about marriage and divorce as a church.

Main Idea: God’s allowance for divorce does not mean that marriage is a disposable commitment. (Mark 10:2–4)

A Deceptive Inquiry (Mark 10:1–4)

The Underlying Question

The first thing that we see in the text this morning is that the Pharisees are not really interested in divorce and remarriage—they are trying to trap Jesus in a test (10:2). If there was one thing that the religious leaders agreed about it was that divorce and remarriage were completely acceptable. Listen to this passage on divorce from their official discussion book of God’s Law known as the Mishna:[2]

    1. The School of Shammai says: A man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her, for it is written, “Because he hath found in her indecency in anything.”
    2. And the School of Hillel says: [He may divorce her] even if she spoiled a dish for him, for it is written, “Because he hath found in her indecency in anything.”
    3. Akiba says: Even if he found another fairer than she, for it is written, “And it shall be if she find no favor in his eyes.” (m. Git. 9:10)

See, the question in the Mishna is NOT, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife.” Everyone agreed that it was on account of Deuteronomy 24:1–4. The real question is, “Under what circumstances is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife.” In fact, this is how the question is recorded in Matthew 19:3.

Matthew 19:3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?

This final phrase was the crux of the controversy over divorce in Jesus’ day. To put it another way, “Can I divorce my wife at any time and for any reason so I can freely marry another woman?”

Notice that Jesus does not give them a direct answer. He answers them with a question, “What did Moses command you?” But, the Pharisees answer in turn with an allowance not a command.

Deuteronomy 24:1–4 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord.

Two Observations (Deuteronomy 24:1–4)

This passage is not a command to divorce your spouse. Rather, it’s an exception clause for marriages that fall apart and most of all a safety net for the divorced woman. Commentator James Edwards puts it this way:[3]

The certificate of divorce guaranteed the divorcée—normally the wife—the dignity and the right to remarry another man if she chose. It thus safeguarded the rights of the woman as much as possible in a patriarchal culture… Thus, as originally intended Deut 24:1–4 did not encourage divorce but rather attempted to preserve a levelheaded ruling in the unfortunate event of divorce. God’s provision for divorce, under certain conditions, always included the opportunity to remarry.

The problem with the Pharisees’ question is that they want to leverage Deuteronomy 24:1–4 as a pretextfor “no fault” divorce, when its initial purpose was to limit the destructive effects of divorce.

A Surprising Response (Mark 10:5–9)

The Origin of Marriage

What have the Pharisees failed to factor into the equation? Yes, God may allow for divorce in the law but this provision is an expression of his merciful accommodation to sinners and protection of women not his sovereign purpose for marriage itself. Divorce exists because humans sin against each other. Whereas, God instituted Marriage before human sin ever existed.

In other words Jesus wants them to see that Deuteronomy 24:1–4 is a text of concession, not a text of intention.[4]

No one learns to fly an airplane by following the instructions for a crash landing; neither will a commander be successful in war if he only trains his men in the rules of retreat. And the same thing is true of marriage and divorce because the exceptional measures we must observe when a marriage fails cannot help us discovering the true meaning and intention of marriage. God’s intention for marriage cannot be determined from a text about divorce.

The Permanence of Marriage

Even more, Jesus wants the Pharisees to see that Marriage is not a disposable contract between any two people who want to enjoy the legal benefits of cohabitation. Rather, from the very beginning, marriage has been a God-ordained union between one man and one wife for their entire life. Notice, there are two quotations from Genesis here:

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Genesis 2:24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Let me make a few observations here:

Both Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, equal before God as persons yet distinct in their manhood and womanhood. Does God ordain certain roles for men and women? Yes. But, these roles have nothing to do with a person’s inherent worth.

Jesus is declaring that this maleness and femaleness is the foundational building block for marriage itself. Marriage is not defined by an human’s love for another human not is it defined by an individual’s idea of sexual pleasure. If the Bible is the very Word of God, then this is his plan for marriage.

Furthermore, Jesus is teaching something about the Law that the Pharisees are completely missing: that a husband’s obligation and dedication to his wife surpasses his legal obligation to his very own parents. Now this might not seem like an issue to modern Americans or relevant to the question of marriage. But, to the diligent Jew the commandment to honor one’s parents (4th) was second only to the command to honor God and worship him alone. Therefore, Jesus is in fact saying, “From the foundation of the world, a man’s covenant commitment to his spouse in marriage is second only to God’s demand that mankind honor and worship him alone.[5] Just let that sink in for a minute. God cares more about your faithfulness in marriage than you can possibly imagine.

In addition to all of this, Jesus wants his audience to know that marriage is not the means by which misogynistic men can legally satisfy the lust of their flesh, sire future heirs, and subsequently discard their old flames for a different model. Because, marriage is a God-ordained union through which two individuals become one flesh.

Husband you are not your own. Wife you are not your own. You are mysteriously joined together by God himself. “Therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9). The Jewish expression “one flesh” means “united together like one person” and emphasizes the permanence of the bond. To break this bond is like ripping a single person in two.[6] This is one of the reasons why divorce is so painful and destructive, you might think that you are autonomous but you are not. Divorce is like amputation, in that, to some extent the parties are never whole again even when divorce is wholly warranted.

Therefore, does God make provisions for divorce in Deuteronomy 24? Clearly the answer is yes. But, Jesus’s main point is that God’s provision for divorce does not diminish his original intention that most marriages should be permanent. To put it another way, “Stop looking for excuses to divorce your spouse and devote yourself to them as you ought to.” Stop looking for loopholes and pursue faithfulness!

But, this leaves us with at least one more question from the text, “Does Jesus believe it is sin for Christians to get divorced and remarried today?” (Mark 10:10–12)

A Puzzling Declaration (Mark 10:10–12)

The Truth of “No Fault” Divorce

Some have claimed that Jesus is upholding God’s allowance for divorce in Deuteronomy 24, but that he is changing the rules by prohibiting future remarriage (vv. 11–12). This, however, misses the point of the passage. Remember, the certificate of divorce always granted the spouse legal permission under God’s law to be remarried. By its very definition, divorce meant the right to get married again. But, here is the key, only if the grounds for divorce were valid. Which is the very reason that the Pharisees are arguing about the grounds for divorce to begin with![7]

Therefore, I believe Jesus is saying, if your 1st divorce is invalid your 2nd marriage is, in fact, an act of adultery against you previous spouse; even though you filed all the proper paperwork with the governing authorities.[8]

Thus the thrust of Jesus’ teaching is not to deny people the opportunity to remarry after a divorce; but to deny the Pharisees’ demeaning and dishonorable practice of frivolous, easy access, wife-abusing, “no-fault” divorce.

A Caution about Application

Please do not receive Jesus’ prohibition of “no fault” divorce and remarriage as a blanket statement against divorce and remarriage. Jesus affirmed divorce and remarriage in the case of adultery; though he never mandates it (Matt 19:1–9). In addition to this, Paul affirms a spouse’s ability to get divorce and be remarried in the case of abandonment (1 Corinthians 7:12–16).

But even more, the question of divorce demands incredible wisdom because these two provisions are given as answers to specific questions about divorce and remarriage—not systematic teaching about divorce and remarriage.[9] What if the question of physical abuse came up in one of Paul’s letters? We will never know. But, sad reality is that human sinfulness means that divorce is sometimes necessary.

In light of this, regardless of how you answer the question of marriage and divorce; we need to join hands and (1) strongly affirm the true significance of marriage, (2) the tragedy of divorce, and (3) the redemptive power of the gospel.

Marriage is a sacred covenant between God, a husband, and a wife, whereby the man and woman commit themselves to a lifelong, one-flesh union—to love one another, to sacrifice themselves for the good of the other, and to work constantly toward reconciliation. This relationship reflects the very nature of God, who is all-loving, all-giving, and working constantly toward reconciliation with his wayward children.

Divorce should be inconceivable in a situation where both parties are committed to promoting the best for the other person. But, when divorce must happen, we must make every effort to help our brothers and sisters honor God and one another in the process.

If you have been divorced, I want you to know that the elders and pastors love you, are praying for you, and want to see you grow in your love for Jesus.

Finally, I want to remind you that there is no sin or failure that the blood of Jesus cannot atone for. The blood of Jesus Christ is more than enough to pay for your guilt and cover your sin. And as a result of this, God will always love you as he loves Jesus himself.

If you are in Christ, your spouse may divorce you, your children may hate you, you friends might forsake you. But, Jesus will never abandon you.


[2] See also, Josephus, Ant. 4.8.23 §253. Mark L. Strauss, Mark, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 422–23.

[3] James R Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 301.

[4] Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 301–302.

[5] Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 303.

[6] Walter W. Wessel and Mark L. Strauss, “Mark,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark, Revised Edition., ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 858.

[7] Strauss, Mark, 425–26.

[8] John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, trans. John Pringle (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 384; Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 303; J. C. Ryle, Mark, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Crossway Books, 1993), 144; Wessel and Strauss, “Mark,” 858. Contra, Robert H. Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 532.

[9] Strauss, Mark, 429.