The Pulpit Commentary

Mark 10:11 (Mark 10:11)

Committeth adultery against her ( μοιχᾶται ἐπ αὐτήν ) . This must surely mean the wife that has been put away. The adultery is against her, against her rights and interests.

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Mark 10:1-12 (Mark 10:1-12)

Marriage and divorce.

Our Lord Jesus is the great moral Legislator of humanity. His authoritative teaching applies to all classes and to all relationships of mankind. And it is to be noticed that he bases his commands and counsels both upon grounds of natural right and reason, and also upon the revealed Mosaic Law. With regard to the latter, it is observable that he professes not to destroy it, but to fulfill it—to inspire it with a new motive, and to give it a wider range; whilst he allows no authority to mere traditions and usages, but treats them simply upon their own merits.

I. UPON WHAT OUR LORD BASES THE SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE . It is to be observed that Jesus goes back behind the old Mosaic Law, which was universally accepted among the Jews as the authoritative standard of conduct.

1 . There is reference to what we should call natural adaptation. If there is design in any arrangement or provision of nature, there is certainly design in the division of mankind (as, indeed, of other races of living beings)into two corresponding and complementary sexes. Man was made for woman, and woman for man; and the equality in numbers of male and female is evidently a natural reason both for marriage and for monogamy.

2 . There is reference to the creative , historical basis of marriage. The record of Genesis is adduced, and Jesus reminds the Pharisees that marriage dated, as a matter of fact, from the beginning of the creation—that our first parents lived together in this relationship from their first introduction to each other until the close of life.

3 . Jesus asserts marriage to be a Divine ordinance. "God hath joined together" husband and wife. The Law of Moses came in with its additional provisions and sanctions; but it presumed the existence of the marriage state. God, who orders all things well, had seen that it would not be good for the man to be alone; accordingly he instituted wedded life, and hallowed it.


1 . A condemnation of the custom of facile divorce. It was a common practice for the Jews, when dissatisfied with their wives, to put them away for very trivial reasons—even because they were not pleased with them, without any offense having been committed. They were wont to appeal to a permissive provision in their law as a warrant for acting thus. In our own times, in many countries even professedly Christian, it is too common for regulations of great laxity to be made regarding divorce. In some countries even incompatibility of temper is a sufficient ground for permanent separation. Such practices are condemned by Jesus as contrary to the Divine intention regarding marriage, and as subversive of all sound morality. As the family is the unit and the basis of all communities, and of all moral unity and welfare, it is of the highest importance that the sacredness of this Divine institution should be upheld, and that all practices and sentiments which undermine it should be discountenanced and opposed. Lax views upon divorce are to be repressed, as inimical to all social welfare as well as to domestic concord.

2 . A declaration that such divorce is conducive to adultery. Our Lord does not say that the remarriage of divorced persons is in all cases adulterous; but, speaking of these who are separated for trivial offenses, and for any offense short of the most serious, he declares that for such persons to marry again is nothing less than adultery. They are not really and in God's sight released from one another, and a second union is therefore unlawful. "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."


1 . Learn our Lord's independence as an ethical and spiritual Teacher, and his superiority to traditional and even Mosaic authority.

2 . Learn his interest in all our human relationships; he consecrates them by the regard of his grace and by the imposition of his Law.

3 . Let Christians discountenance lax opinions and practices upon a question so vital to social and national well-being as the ordinance of marriage.

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Mark 10:1-12 (Mark 10:1-12)

Christ's statement of the Divine law of marriage.

It is well to note his locality at this time. He was approaching the center of the Judaean party, outlying members of which encountered him as he was entering Judaea from beyond Jordan. Nevertheless he no longer observes " counsels of prudence." He freely addresses the crowds that throng to his ministry, and confronts the attempts of his enemies to catch him in his words. This Divine abandonment is very noble and beautiful, and argues that he now clearly foresaw all that was to take place. There are two intentions in the reply of Jesus which it is necessary to distinguish, viz. that of defense, and that of teaching. His words are to be studied, therefore, as—

I. A MEASURE OF DEFENCE . That his questioners meant him mischief there can be no doubt. The word "tempting" is used for "trying," "proving," and that in an evil sense.

1 . What , then , was the danger that lay in such a question ? According to his reply they hoped:

(2) To discredit him with the common people. It was a vexed question at the time in the rival schools of Hillel and Shammai, the latter being stricter, the former laxer, in their view of the lawfulness of divorce. Probably convinced of their own view of the case, they relied upon easily confuting his arguments, and thereby "showing him up" as a pretender and imposter.

2. But in this twofold scheme they were defeated, Jesus making his interroggators themselves the declarers of the Law which he accepted and simply interpreted. He appeared, therefore, as a defender and not an assailant of the Law. And then he showed how deep the basis of obligation really was, and how much less strict the "precept" of Moses was than it might have been, and the cause of this.

II. A PERMANENT DOCTRINE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS . The historical circumstances of the time when the precept was formulated were probably considered at greater length than could be represented in Mark's account, and the position justified that it was a compromise or provisional measure necessitated by "the hardness of heart" of the Jews the drawing up of a formal document being a check upon hasty and passionate ruptures of the marriage tie. He thus proved that moral obligation is deeper and more permanent than convention or external law. He next considered marriage as a law of nature anterior to the social sanction, which does not therefore create the institution, but ought only to recognize and enforce it. To this end he traces it to the original purpose of God in creation , quoting Genesis 1:27 ; and strengthening the inference from this by the positive command of Genesis 2:24 , long anterior to the time of Moses. It is not for man to interfere with or modify an arrangement so manifestly Divine. The only ground upon which marriage can be set aside is therefore that of one or other party to the marriage bond having already broken it by sinful action , and thus destroyed it as an actual thing. The Law then simply steps in to defend the rights of the party who has been injured, setting that party free from further possibility of like injury. This transgression of the marriage bond which amounts to its annulment is not stated, but is clearly implied, viz. adultery. The Savior thereby proves his teaching in harmony with the teaching of nature and previous revelation. But the gospel which is proclaimed in his Name does more than this. It seeks to fit man for the highest social and religious duties, by purifying and strengthening his moral being.—M.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Mark 10:1-12 (Mark 10:1-12)


Again with low motives, "tempting him," the Pharisees propound a question as to whether it was "lawful for a man to put away his wife." Opinions were divided, and the Teacher was in danger of offending one or other party by his reply. This was the trap "to involve him with the adulterous tetrarch, in whose territory he was." But he wisely referred them to Moses, and their thought, which was for evil, he tamed to good; for he took occasion by it to show the grounds of Moses' "commandment" to have been to their condemnation, their "hardness of heart;" and he further took occasion to lay down for all Christian times, for the blessedness of the Christian home and for the preservation of Christian morals, the true, the wise, the beneficial law of marriage, founded upon the conditions of the original creation; and he defined with authority and precision what constituted "adultery." These words remained to condemn the disobedient, and will remain to "judge him in the last day . " The indissoluble bond of the marriage relation Jesus here affirms, and in the old words, spoken at "the beginning," "the twain shall become one flesh." To the propriety, the goodness, the blessedness of this law many Christian centuries bear their unequivocal testimony. The purest institution and the best, so hallowed, so beneficent, promoting in the highest degree individual happiness, the peace and sanctity of family life, the purity of public morals; preserving national health, stability, and greatness; guarding against wild lust, and a long train of envy, jealousy, revenge, and other passionate crimes; preserving the honor and dignity of women, the love and careful training of children; imposing responsibilities, but cherishing virtue and peace and joy. The family life is the symbol of the heavenly community; the marriage bond the type of the Redeemer's relation to his people, who are "the bride, the wife of the Lamb." It is God's ordination, and is very sacred; nor may it be set aside, but "for the kingdom of heaven's sake;" nor may its bond be broken, but for the one cause of fornication, from which it is the most efficient guard. Its rites were honored by Jesus, and its "holy estate adorned and beautified with his presence and first miracle." The wisest legislation tends to the conservation of the family, whose multiplied relations, whose sweet fellowship, whose united interest, and whose common possessions give rise to the lofty idea of the home. Conjugal, parental, filial, fraternal affection are cherished. Obedience on the one hand, care and providence on the other; discipline and wise authority; the sense of dependence arising from want; responsibility arising from the power to meet that want; common interests and common aims, go to make each home a miniature kingdom. Teaching to those in authority the beneficence of rule, and to those under authority the lessons of submission, the home lays the foundation for stable national life; while mutual interests and obligations teach all to respect the rights and just claims of the entire community; whilst each learns his responsibility to the whole, and his deep interest in the general welfare. The nation that honors the home and the sanctities of family life is honored of God. The Christian teaching, reverting to the condition of things as it was "from the beginning of the creation," shows how truly it is in harmony with natural law, which is the expression of the Divine will.—G.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Mark 10:1-12 (Mark 10:1-12)

The law of marriage.





V. BUT WHAT IS PERMITTED IS NOT , THEREFORE , TO BE APPROVED OR FOLLOWED PRACTICALLY . Christianity is throughout ideal. It makes appeal to our higher nature. At the same time, it admits the difficulty of carrying our ideals unexceptionably into practice.—J.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Mark 10:2-12 (Mark 10:2-12)

Parallel passage: Matthew 19:3-12 .—

Doctrine of divorce.

I. EVENTS IN THE INTERVAL . There is a gap in the narrative of St. Mark between the events of the preceding and present chapter. We need not do more than intimate them, and that for the continuity of the history. They are the following:—

1 . His journey to Jerusalem on the occasion of the Feast of Tabernacles.

2 . Occurrences by the way:

3 . The sending out of the seventy, and its similarity to the previous mission of the twelve.

4 . Presence and preaching at the Feast of Tabernacles.

5 . Various discourses during that feast, as recorded in the eighth chapter of St. John's Gospel, and escape from a murderous assault.

6 . Ministrations in Judaea, recorded in part by St. Luke (10-13.) and partly by St. John (9-11.), including the following:—

7 . His tour through Peroea, referred to in Matthew 19:1 , Matthew 19:2 , and Mark 10:1 ; his teaching during that tour, recorded by St. Luke (Lu 13:22-18:10), including, among other things,

II. A NEW DEPARTURE . The Pharisees now Change their tactics, and adopt a new mode of opposition. They, in fact, make new departure. The old hostility remains bitter as ever, or perhaps is increasing in intensity, but the manner of its manifestation is new. Up till this period their method of attack consisted in fault-finding—objecting to the conduct of our Lord and his apostles, or taxing them with violations of the Law; henceforth it consists in questioning—captious questioning—for the purpose of eliciting his opinion on doubtful or debatable matters in order to entangle him. The subjects on which his views were sought were those keenly discussed by the Jews of that day, and an answer could scarcely fail to give offense to some party or expose him to peril on some side. The present question was eminently one of this class. It was likely to entrap him into the charge of lax morality on the one hand, or of want of respect for the authority of Moses on the other; perhaps to embroil him with the tetrarch Herod Antipas, in whose dominions he now was.

III. THE ORIGINAL MARRIAGE LAW . In the days of our Lord one of the burning questions was the law of divorce. The school of Shammai limited the law of divorce, and allowed it only in the case of adultery; that of Hillel affirmed its legitimacy in case of dislike, or disobedience, or incompatibility in general, thus granting an arbitrary or discretionary power in the matter. The ground of the controversy is found in a difficult or obscure expression in Deuteronomy 24:1 , Deuteronomy 24:2 , where we read, "When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife." The difficulty or obscurity of this passage arises from the original words ervath davar, rendered "some uncleanness" in the text of our version, and in the margin, "matter of nakedness," or more exactly still, "nakedness of word or matter." The important point to be determined, and that which produced such diversity of opinion in its determination, was whether the expression referred to meant lewdness or merely something disagreeable.

IV. NATURE OF THE BILL OF DIVORCEMENT . The bill of divorcement was called "a writing of cutting off" ( sepher kerithuth ) . This bill or writing of divorcement implied, not only a mere separation from bed and board, as some restrict it, but a complete severance of the marriage tie. It was a certificate of repudiation, and either stated or omitted the cause of such repudiation. If the cause was adultery or a suspicion of adultery, the husband might prove himself ( δίκαιος ) just ( vide Matthew 1:19 ), that is, a strict observer of the Law in dismissing the guilty wife with a bill of divorcement; and yet, not wishing to expose her, he might send her away privately. If, however, the guilty person or the suspected person were brought openly to justice, and the crime proved, certain death was the penalty, as is distinctly stated in Le Deuteronomy 20:10 , "The man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death." Most commonly, therefore, when a bill of divorcement was resorted to in accordance with the Mosaic permission, it was for some less cause or minor offense than conjugal infidelity; and in such cases it served the wife as a certificate of character.

V. REASON OF THIS WRITING . Our Lord, in his reply, proceeds to the original marriage law; first, however, accounting for the Mosaic regulation referred to. That regulation is regarded by many as a relaxation of the Law; but it can scarcely be viewed in that light, because it would thus appear to be a lowering of the standard in favor of wrong-doing. It was rather a remedy for harsh treatment of wives, resulting from violations of the Law; it was rather a relief bill for wives who suffered from the unkindness of cruel husbands acting in defiance of the Law. It was a remedial measure to check the bad effects of their hardness of heart; it was to ( πρὸς ) this the lawgiver had respect. It was, in fact, to minimize the evil results that proceeded from their transgression of the Law rather than any relaxation of the Law itself. Of two evils it was the less, and even the less owed its existence to their hardness of heart. Besides, it was not an express command, as the Pharisees appear to make it from the word ἐνετείλατο in Matthew, but a permissory injunction ( ἐπέτρεψε ), as subsequently acknowledged by the Pharisees themselves.

VI. ORIGINAL MARRIAGE LAW . The Savior argues the indissoluble nature of the marriage law from the original unity of male and female, from the extreme closeness of the marriage bond taking precedence of every other union even parental and filial; above all, from its Divine origin. Marriage was thus an ordinance of God; it was instituted in Paradise in those bright and sunny bowers before sin had marred the freshness and the loveliness of the new-created world. Even then God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, and accordingly he gave him a help meet for him—one that was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto [literally, be glued unto] his wife: and they shall be one flesh." It was an ordinance of God himself, an ordinance nearly coeval with the creation, an ordinance made for man even in his unfallen state of innocence, an ordinance which our blessed Redeemer himself, when in sinless humanity he trod our earth and tabernacled among our race, honored with his presence, and at the celebration of which he was graciously pleased to work his first miracle. In Cana of Galilee, at the marriage at which Jesus and his disciples and his mother were present, Jesus made the beginning of his miracles by turning water into wine, manifesting forth his glory, "and his disciples believed on him."

"Living, he own'd no nuptial vow,

No bower to Fancy dear:

Love's very self—for him no need

To nurse, on earth, the heavenly seed:

Yet comfort in his eye we read

For bridal joy and fear."

The conclusion at which he arrives is in keeping with all this—that an institution created by God at first, coeval with our race, and confirmed by so many sanctions, can neither be nullified nor modified by any human enactment, nor set aside by any authority other than his who created it. "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."

VII. ONE EXCEPTION TAKEN FOR GRANTED . Conjugal infidelity, as it is a violation of the marriage vow, is a virtual dissolution of the marriage relation. This is implied or taken for granted in the passage before us, though it is expressly stated, in the parallel passage of St. Matthew, where it is written, "Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery." With respect to marriage with the divorced wife, there is a great and important diversity of sentiment. This diversity is in a certain way and to some extent connected with the right rendering of the word ἀπολελυμένην in Matthew 19:9 .

1 . Some translate it as if it were preceded by τὴν , and so equivalent to "her which is put away," or "the divorced woman." Thus it stands in the common English Version, and reference to the woman lawfully divorced, that is, for fornication, is presumed.

2 . Others, more accurately, render it "her when she is put away," as it is translated in the Revised Version, the reference being thus to her who is unlawfully divorced, that is, divorced not on the ground of adultery. This view is maintained by Stier and Meyer, the latter confirming it by the fact that "under the Law the punishment of death was attached to adultery,… and consequently, under the Law, the marrying of a woman divorced for adultery could never happen."

3 . There is, however, another rendering, namely, "a divorced woman," that is, any divorced woman. This is the rendering advocated by Wordsworth, who says, "In no case does our Lord permit a person to marry a woman who has been divorced." This is the view of the matter taken by the Latin Church, which declares marriage with a divorced woman under any circumstances unlawful. The Oriental and most Reformed Churches, on the contrary, hold that, in the excepted case, both husband and wife may contract a fresh marriage. These are the two extreme views; but what of the ease of unlawful divorce, that is to say, where the wife has been divorced for some other and less offense than that of adultery, or πορνεία , which is of widest extent, comprehending ante-nuptial as well as post-nuptial unchastity ( μοιχεία )? This is the case to which the guilt of subsequent marriage attaches, for it is that in which the marriage bond has not been really ruptured. The delay connected with getting a divorce or after its being granted might give time for better counsels to prevail; second thoughts might be found preferable; angry passion might in the mean time cool down, and reconciliation and reunion be effected.—J.J.G.

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