The Ethics of Marriage
Matthew 19:1-12
And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee…

Note here a contrast: multitudes following Christ for healing, Pharisees pursuing him for mischief. Satan will be among the sons of God. Jesus turns the contradiction of sinners into instructions for his disciples. Let us consider -


1. The occasion.

(1) It was commonly practised. Josephus recites Deuteronomy 24:1, and relates that he divorced his own wife because he was not pleased with her manners and behaviour ('Ant.,' bk. 4, 100, 8).

(2) The practice had the sanction of scribes. While the school of Schammah were strict in their interpretation of the Law, the school of Hillel were lax.

(3) The temptation was to embroil Jesus with one or other of these schools. The plot was similar to that in the question of the tribute (see Matthew 22:15). "In evil things Satan separates the end from the means; in good things the means from the end" (Philip Henry).

2. The reply.

(1) Note: It takes no notice of the scribes. Human authority is nowhere when put into competition with the Word of God.

(2) It appeals immediately to the Word: "Have ye not read?" Matrimonial cases are made intricate by leaving the Law of God and following the leading of human passion and folly.

(3) "He that made them from the beginning made them male and female." It is profitable to reflect upon our genesis. Man was created in the image of God, woman after the likeness of man. The true marriage is the union of wisdom and love. One man and one woman, leaving no room for divorce and remarriage, so intimating the perpetual obligation of the marriage tie. Note: This argument is equally conclusive against polygamy.

(4) "And said" - God said - "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife." But these words of God were spoken by the lips of Adam (see Genesis 2:23, 24). Adam, then, who had no "father and mother," spake prophetically under Divine inspiration. Marriage, then, is a sacred, not a mere civil, institution; and no legislature has power to alter its law. The relation between husband and wife is nearer than that between parent and child. If, then, a parent may not abandon his child, or a child his parent, by so much less may a husband put away his wife.

(5) "And the twain shall become one flesh" - as if one person. What can be less dissoluble? His children are of him, his wife is as himself. One flesh with his wife, "one spirit with the Lord." "One flesh," viz. while in the flesh. "No man ever yet hated his own flesh." "They twain shall be one;" so there must be but one wife (cf. Malachi 2:15).

(6) "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." But this the scribes had presumed to do. God is the Author of union; man, of division. Man would sunder soul and body, sin and punishment, holiness and happiness, precept and promise.


1. The concession.

(1) "Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorcement?" It is usual for sinners to justify their conduct by the perversion of Scripture. The "command" of Moses applied solely to the manner of the divorce; the thing was permissive simply. A toleration is strangely converted into a command.

(2) The reason of the toleration was the reverse of creditable to the Jews. "Moses for your hardness of heart suffered you to put away your wives." The permission was to prevent the cruelty of vicious husbands to their wives, which was murderous. The bill of divorcement had to be drawn and witnesses procured, and afforded time to obviate the effects of sudden impulses of passion. God's permission of lesser evil is evermore to prevent greater.

2. Its repeal.

(1) This is prefaced by an appeal. "But from the beginning it hath not been so." The appeal here is from Deuteronomy to Genesis; so from Moses still to Moses (cf. Luke 18:17, 18). God who gave the law had a right to relax it.

(2) But the relaxation applied only to the Jews, and was conceded to them in judgment for the hardness of their hearts; for the original was the more excellent way.

(3) This relaxation is, however, now removed. "I say unto you." Here is an authority superior to Moses, equal to God. By Divine authority the law of marriage is now explicitly stated (see ver. 9). Note: The grace of the gospel is superior to that of the Law. The Law considered the hardness of the heart; the gospel cures it (cf. Galatians 3:19).


1. They viewed it in the light of selfishness. "If the case of a man is so," etc. (ver. 10). God said, "It is not good for man to be alone," i.e. unmarried; the disciples, blinded by the prejudices of their race, said, "It is not good to marry."

2. Jesus put it in its true light.

(1) The principle of expediency is admissible. "All men cannot receive this saying;" for there are some who are disqualified for marriage, so that the question for them is settled without their option.

(2) Others have not the gift of continence. For such celibacy is not expedient. "It is better to marry than to burn."

(3) For those who have this gift celibacy may be expedient in times of persecution and suffering (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:26).

(4) It is commendable in those who are celibates "for the kingdom of heaven's sake," viz. that they might walk more closely with God, and be mort serviceable to the salvation of men (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:32; 1 Corinthians 9:5, 12). - J.A.M.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan;

WEB: It happened when Jesus had finished these words, he departed from Galilee, and came into the borders of Judea beyond the Jordan.

The Doctrine of Christ Concerning Marriage
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