In the Gospel of Mark, Judean Pharisees come to Jesus and ask him: “Can a man divorce a woman?” (Mark 10:1-12) In summing up his answer, Jesus states: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” This seems to be a statement that completely denies any legitimacy to divorce and remarriage altogether. But the Gospel of Matthew clarifies that this was not exactly the question asked.
Literally, no Israelite at the time of Jesus thought it possible that the Word of God given through Moses was wrong in permitting divorce. No one was debating if divorce was allowed, but rather how liberally can it be practiced. The Gospel of Mathew provides a fuller version of this question and therefore sets Jesus’ answer in its proper context. They asked him: “Can a man divorce a woman for any reason?” (Mathew 19:3-9)
The conservative Jewish approach understood “unfaithfulness”, “abuse” or “abandonment” as the only valid grounds for divorce (Deut. 24:1-4; Exod. 21:10-11), while various more progressive Jewish interpreters argued that a man had the right to divorce his wife for any reason at all (Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 90a). When Jesus was faced with this question he rejected the idea taught by Pharisees of the house of Hillel (divorce for any reason) and sided with the Pharisees from the house of Shammai and the Essenes who taught the opposite.
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