GOD DESIGNED MARRIAGE TO BE A PERMANENT ONE-FLESH DIVINE UNION BETWEEEN MAN AND WOMAN FOR LIFE
Orthodox Evangelical commentators have long been divided on their positions on this passage as it relates to the teaching of Jesus regarding the permanency of marriage and potential for divorce and remarriage. You have John MacArthur and D. A. Carson and the vast majority of Christendom today on the side of allowable exception clauses that would validate divorce and remarriage for believers in specific cases. While John Piper, James Boice, Voddie Baucham and others would hold to no allowance for divorce and remarriage under any circumstances as long as the departing spouse has not yet died. So I enter humbly into this discussion without claiming that I have the last word or the simple truth.
It is interesting that both sides have criticized the other side for taking a position based on utilitarian grounds, when in fact all the players named above certainly have accurate biblical exegesis and the pursuit of truth as their sincere goal. It has been claimed that those holding the permanency view are simply trying to stem the tide of rampant increases in the rates of divorce and remarriage in society. While the reverse charge is that pastoral pressure from the prevalence of complicated life situations has rendered the permissive interpretation less than inductively-based and objective in approach. I choose to stay clear of all such charges and admit the complexity of the issues since so many different passages are involved. I have to add that no expositor can claim complete objectivity, but at least I don’t have some of the more common pressures of denominational positions or immediate pastoral pressures of a large church to impact my thinking.
There is no question that a pastoral heart is required for sensitivity towards those who have either experienced or been impacted by such situations. We must always embrace the compassion of God in extending love and forgiveness and grace as we seek to maintain the unity of the body and to encourage all believers to grow in Christ in their present situation. But still truth is truth and we must endeavor to discern the mind of Christ on this important issue and apply truth without compromising.
My personal view aligns with the Permanency of Marriage without any provision for divorce or remarriage. Obviously, the “exception clauses” such as we find in Matt. 19 will be the major sticking point for me. The following observations have informed my conclusions:
- The starting point should be God’s design for marriage and His stated hatred of divorce rather than investigating how far one can push the envelope before crossing the line into obvious transgression. How can anything but death of one of the partners break the one-flesh union that God creates in marriage?
- The simple statements of Jesus show that He is comfortable with unambiguous support of the permanency of marriage. It is only in the Jewish context in Matthew, when pressed by the entrapment-minded Pharisees that He addresses any type of possible exception. There are a variety of approaches to interpreting His response.
- The Pharisees expected Jesus to support the more conservative of the two schools of thought of the day – that which would only allow divorce in the case of adultery or sexual sin. Yet Jesus so shocked His disciples by taking a more extreme position that they almost despaired of the option of marriage. Jesus encouraged them with additional teaching about God’s grace and provision for celibacy where appropriate. Thus Jesus remained consistent to His requirement that kingdom ethics required righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees.
- Some of the topics in the surrounding context in the Gospel of Matthew include the unlimited nature of forgiveness and the importance of faithfulness to vows – both of which would be compromised by the Permissive View.
- The Permanency view better maintains the essential symbolic picture of the relationship between Christ and His bride the church.
- The Permanency view better fits the hermeneutical principle of interpreting unclear passages in light of clear passages rather than vice versa.
I also find that the Permissive View allows for fallen humans to attempt to “game” the system and create a situation where they can take advantage of the “exception” loophole to escape an undesirable marriage.
- For example, take a mixed marriage situation where the believing spouse could antagonize the unbeliever to the point where the unbeliever would seek a divorce and supposedly release the believer from bondage to remarry.
- Or even in a marriage between believers, a spouse could manipulate the situation to make it more like that the partner commit adultery and make divorce and remarriage a viable option.
That seems like a dangerous can of worms to me.
Of course the relevant passages still need to be exegeted in a manner that would allow for this Permanency View.
Stu Weber: Lifelong marital faithfulness is God’s intention, requiring our dependence on his supernatural strength.
William Barclay: Beyond all doubt, the ideal is that marriage should be an indissoluble union between two people, and that marriage should be entered into as a total union of two personalities, not designed to make one act possible, but designed to make all life a satisfying and mutually completing fellowship. That is the essential basis on which we must proceed.
R. T. France: The whole pericope therefore constitutes a double challenge to conventional attitudes to marriage:
- on the one hand God intends marriage to remain unbroken, and the current acceptance of divorce is a surrender to human failure;
- on the other hand, for some people obedience to God’s will may properly mean that they do not marry at all.
The resultant argument develops as follows:
- statement of basic scriptural principle (vv. 4–6);
- counter-scripture (v. 7);
- resolution of how scripture B relates to scripture A (v. 8);
- resultant pronouncement (v. 9).
Donald Hagner: Again in this pericope we encounter the absoluteness of the kingdom of God and its ethics. In his answer to the question about divorce, Jesus appeals to the creation narrative of Genesis. The kingdom of God brought by Jesus is ultimately to involve the restoration of the perfection of the pre-fall creation, and the ethics of the kingdom as taught by Jesus reflect this fact. As God intended no divorce for the Garden of Eden, so divorce is not to be allowed in the new era of the kingdom of God. The call of some to celibacy also reflects the priority of the kingdom in the present time frame.
Van Parunak: Each component of the Lord’s teaching emphasizes that marriages are made in heaven, but divorce is a purely human product. Every party involved in divorce and remarriage is guilty of adultery. The Lord condemns the mate who initiates the divorce, and (if remarriage follows the separation) the one who is put away and the second partner. The fornication clause seems to make an exception. But it was only recorded for Jewish audiences, and they should know from their own Scriptures that fornication leads, not to divorce, but to death.
(:1-2) GEOGRAPHIC TRANSITION
A. (:1) Jesus Leaves Galilee for Judea
“And it came about that when Jesus had finished these words, He departed from Galilee, and came into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan;”
Grant Osborne: The first clause is Matthew’s formula for ending a discourse (cf. 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 26:1) and introduces the first of the comments on the travel narrative in Matthew. Jesus has spent his entire ministry thus far in Galilee (in Matthew at least; cf. John 2:1–13; 4:1–5:47; 7:1–52; 10:22–42 with several trips to Judea for the feasts) and now begins his final journey.
R. T. France: This is now the fourth use of the concluding formula which marks each of the five main discourses. The formula serves again both to conclude the discourse and to move the narrative on into its next phase. Within the narrative structure of this part of the gospel the next phase must be the approach to Jerusalem, which was announced as the ultimate goal of their journey in 16:21 and toward which they have been travelling since leaving the area of Caesarea Philippi. They have passed through Galilee again on their way southward (17:22, 24), but now the group finally leave their home province and head for the unfamiliar territory of Judea and its threatening capital Jerusalem. They will not return to Galilee until 28:16, after all Jesus’ predictions have been fulfilled.
D. A. Carson: Their “test,” here, was probably delivered in the hope that Jesus would say something to damage his reputation with the people or even seem to contradict Moses. Perhaps, too, they hoped that Jesus would say something that would entangle him in the Herod-Herodias affair so that he might meet the Baptist’s fate.
B. (:2) Jesus Heal Many among the Crowds
“and great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.”
I. (:3-6) PERMANENCE = GOD’S DESIGNED INTENTION FOR MARRIAGE
A. (:3) Entrapment by the Pharisees Regarding the Issue of Divorce
“And some Pharisees came to Him, testing Him, and saying,
‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?’”
Stu Weber: John the Baptist’s dealing with the issue of divorce had cost him his head. The verb test is from peirazo, meaning “to test, tempt.” It is the same verb Matthew used of Satan tempting Jesus in 4:1, 3; the Pharisees and Sadducees demanding the second sign in 16:1; the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians together trying to trap Jesus concerning taxation (22:18) and the greatest commandment (22:35). Their “test” was an action of malicious intent.
Van Parunak: The Pharisees know that divorce is a sensitive subject in Perea. They also know that the Lord’s position on divorce, as presented in the Sermon on the Mount, is similar to John’s. When they find Christ in this region, they try to lure him into saying something about divorce that will enrage Herod’s wife, so that she will destroy him as she did John. Matthew and Mark record portions of the resulting conversation.
Charles Swindoll: The debate among the Pharisees themselves centered on the meaning of the words “he has found some indecency in her” (Deut. 24:1). The interpretations of this expression tended to go in one of two directions in Jesus’ day. The more conservative school of thought restricted this language to be referring to only sexual immorality, while the more liberal school of thought understood “indecency” to include anything that displeased a husband. . .
I suppose this question was posed by the more conservative teachers. But they weren’t trying to win Jesus’ support so as to gain points against their liberal opponents. Rather, they were attempting to set up a trip wire that Jesus would spring, entangling Himself in a net of complex biblical, theological, practical, and political controversy from which He wouldn’t be able to extricate Himself. Little did they know that they weren’t dealing with some amateur interpreter of the Law of Moses . . . they were dealing with the Author Himself!
Stanley Saunders: The Pharisees, following Deuteronomy 24, presume the legality and legitimacy of divorce, as well as male cultural dominance and prerogative in initiating divorce. Jesus will challenge each of these assumptions.
B. (:4-6) Exposition by Jesus Regarding God’s Design for Marriage
“And He answered and said,”
- (:4b-5) Argument from God’s Design in Creation
a. (:4b) Potential for Marriage Union Derives from Creation of Male and Female
“Have you not read,
that He who created them from the beginning
made them male and female,”
No gender confusion back at the point of creation.
Stu Weber: Haven’t you read implies that the answer should have been obvious. Jesus was unveiling the Pharisees’ true motives, which was to trap him. In effect, he was saying, “You know better than to ask this question.” Marriage should reflect God’s image, not guarantee our personal “happiness.” The permanent marriage bond is in keeping with God’s original design for men and women.
Grant Osborne: Jesus’ point is that God created men and women to be together, not to be divorced. . . The purpose of creation is the God-given union of “male and female.”
Jeffrey Crabtree: The creation of the two sexes was foundational to God’s order. God’s creation of Adam as male and Eve as female shows God planned for their physical union from the beginning (Hendriksen 715). Their potential for union is one basis for the permanency of marriage.
b. (:5) Permanence of Marriage Derives from Creation of New Family Unit
“and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother,
and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh ?’”
Robert Gundry: Traditionally, marriage vows were “consummated” by sexual union. The Bible says husband and wife “become one flesh.” God planned for a man and a woman first to give their hearts, then their wills to each other, through wedding vows. Then they can give their bodies. Then, as the Bible says, they can be naked and feel no shame. We can reveal ourselves, show our warts, both literal and metaphorical. When two people pledge to love one another for life, it becomes safe to give the body. It is safe to become pregnant. When two people promise to love as long as they live, it is no longer a half-insane risk to have a child.
But God wants more than “safety” for us. The pledge of lifelong loyalty makes physical intimacy safe. But when the pledge begins to feel formal or dry, physical intimacy both expresses and rekindles love.
As the Song of Solomon celebrates love in marriage, the woman says, “I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me” (Song 7:10). We are used to hearing that we should control our desires, but the Bible encourages desire in marriage and for good reason. In marriage, we take the body of the beloved after we have first given mind and will to the beloved. Then we can take another without abusing the other, and we can give ourselves without fear of rejection or domination. That provides the foundation for intimate love.
But when we give the body without marriage, the relationship often becomes unsettled, insecure. People fret, “Is he committed to this relationship? As much as I am?” When premarital sex is common, it also leaves people less motivated to marry.
S. Lewis Johnson: And finally, I think we can say the Lord Jesus regarded marriage as a permanent union. We read, here, for example—or rather, verse 5—“For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife.” That word is very interesting. That word in the Greek text is a word that meant, literally to glue or cement together—something I don’t think that we are to take literally—but you can see that it expresses a union that is regarded as permanent. Erasmus referred to this in the Latin text and translated this, aglutenabatur, which means the same thing, “shall be glued together.” You can recognize our English word from the Latin word, aglutenabatur, the future tense of that word. Glued together. So, the ideal is an indissoluble union. He says, “And shall cleave to his wife.”
- (:6) Argument from the Nature of the Marriage Union
a. One-Flesh Union
“Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh.”
b. Indissoluble Union
“What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
II. (:7-9) PERMANENCE = CHRIST’S CLEAR COMMAND DESPITE CONFUSION OVER MOSAIC PRACTICE
A. (:7) Objection of the Pharisees
“They said to Him,
‘Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?’”
Charles Swindoll: In their response, they essentially argued, “If what You say is true, that divorce was not part of God’s intention for marriage, then why would Moses —the great revealer of the Law —command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Here, they tried to pit Jesus against Moses —His words against the Law. Ignoring Jesus’ argument from Genesis 1 and 2, they went back to Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The argument, in their minds, was compelling: If it were unlawful to divorce a wife, based on the words of Genesis, then Moses was breaking God’s law by providing for divorce in Deuteronomy.
D. A. Carson: But what was the “indecency” in Moses’ day that allowed for divorce? “Something indecent” could not be equated with adultery, for the normal punishment for that was death, not divorce (Dt 22:22)—though it is not at all clear that the death penalty was in fact regularly imposed for adultery (cf. Henry McKeating, “Sanctions against Adultery in Ancient Israelite Society,” JSOT 11 : 57–72). Nor could the indecency be suspicion of adultery, for which the prescribed procedure was the bitter-water rite (Nu 5:11–31). Yet the indecency must have been shocking. Ancient Israel took marriage seriously. The best assumption is that the indecency was any lewd, immoral behavior, sometimes including, but not restricted to, adultery—e.g., homosexuality or sexual misconduct that fell short of intercourse.
R. T. France: This is a principle which applies much more widely than only to the specific issue of divorce: ethical norms should be sought not in legal texts which deal with the situation where things have already gone wrong, but in the most fundamental statements available of the positive will of God for human behavior. There is a saying, “Hard cases make bad law,” and it may be suggested that they make even worse ethics. The ethics of the kingdom of heaven, as we have seen them illustrated in 5:21–48, seek not primarily how evil may be contained and alleviated, but how the best may be discerned and followed. It would make a huge and beneficial difference to modern debates on divorce if this priority were observed, so that the focus fell not on what grounds for divorce may be permitted (as in the Pharisees’ question), but on how marriage may best live up to the Creator’s purpose for it. There will, no doubt, always be a need for trouble-shooting legislation and pastoral help when things have gone wrong, but if that is where our ethical discussion begins the battle is lost before it is joined.
- Those who start from Deut 24:1–4 will have as their basic presupposition that divorce is to be expected, the question being only how it is to be regulated.
- Those who start from Genesis 1–2 will see any separation of what God has joined together as always an evil; circumstances may prove it to be the lesser evil, but that can never make it less than an infringement of the primary purpose of God for marriage.
Van Parunak: The Pharisees want the Lord to comment on Deuteronomy 24 and divorce. The Lord deflects their attention to Genesis 3 and marriage. Frustrated, they try to pull him back to Deuteronomy. They carelessly drop their guard, and show their real attitude toward the passage by calling it a command. Matthew records this part of the conversation.
[The Pharisees] say unto him, “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to dismiss away?” He says unto them, “Moses because of your hardness of heart allowed you to dismiss your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Matt. 19:7, 8).
The Lord answers, not by opposing Moses, but by opposing their interpretation. They claim, “Moses commanded.” He responds, “Moses allowed.” Moses’ legislation does not command divorce. It only makes allowance for it, by telling people what to do if they are divorced.
The Pharisees see divorce as a right guaranteed by the Law, following the three law interpretation of Deuteronomy 24. The Lord says that it merely makes provision for man’s sin. He supports the interpretation of the entire paragraph as a single command.
The Lord has taken control of the conversation. From this position of strength he delivers his teaching:
And I say to you, “Whoever dismisses his wife, except for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery, and he who marries a dismissed woman commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9).
Ironically, this is probably just the sort of strong statement that the Pharisees originally hoped to elicit from him. Yet he delivers it only after making clear to them who is in control. His control extends beyond them to Herod, for inspite of their malice, they do not succeed in bringing John’s fate upon him.
The Lord’s teaching on divorce here is similar to that in the Sermon on the Mount. He again uses the Pharisees’ word for divorce, meaning literally “dismiss.” He again says that it is adultery to marry a dismissed woman. Going beyond the Sermon on the Mount, he adds that the husband who dismisses her and marries someone else commits adultery, unless he dismisses her for fornication. Once again, we understand from Deuteronomy 22 that in the case of fornication she is dead, and there is no danger of adultery.
B. (:8) Divorce Is Rooted in Hardness of Heart
“He said to them,
‘Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives;
but from the beginning it has not been this way.’”
Grant Osborne: In light of the creation principle that God does not want divorce, Moses’ statement becomes mere “permission” rather than command. As Keener points out, “To be able to exercise some degree of restraint over human injustice, Moses’ civil laws regulated some human institutions rather than seeking to abolish them altogether: divorce, polygyny, the avengers of blood, and slavery.” So what is behind it is not God’s will but “the hardness of your hearts.”
Stu Weber: Moses knew that hardhearted people would continue to divorce their spouses, so he passed on God’s guidelines to protect those who were victims of divorce.
The second half of 19:8 states God’s original intention, preparing for 19:9. But contrasts God’s will concerning divorce (that there be none) with his permission of divorce through Moses. From the beginning refers to God’s original plan. God’s clear intention was that there be no divorce at all. He actually hates the concept (Mal. 2:16).
Jesus’ point was that anyone who saw divorce and remarriage in terms of what may or may not be permissible was already out of line. Divorce is not some morally neutral option open to God’s people. It is fundamentally sinful, and it grows out of the hardness of the selfish human heart.
Ken Peterman: General observations about the use of hardness in Scripture:
- Hardness is associated with stubbornness (Acts 19:9).
Stubbornness involves an unwillingness to accept truth and perhaps a turning from the truth itself.
- Hardness is associated with disobedience (Hebews 3:8).
Disobedience involves an unwillingness to receive the truth rather than an inability to understand it (John 6:60).
- Hardness is associated with selfishness (Matthew 25:24).
Selfishness is a product of the flesh, not the Spirit.
C. (:9) Christ’s Clear Prohibition of Divorce
“And I say to you,
‘whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.’”
Leon Morris: We should be clear that he is not setting up a new set of regulations and providing for all the exceptions that a law must take note of. He is laying down in strong terms the permanent nature of the marriage tie in the face of a society where a marriage could be dissolved at any time a husband chose to write out a few lines containing the necessary formula, sign it before witnesses, and hand it to his wife. Jesus is saying that this is no way to treat a divine ordinance. He is not defining under what circumstances a divorce may or may not take place.
D. A. Carson: The second problem concerns the meaning of porneia (NIV, “marital unfaithfulness,” GK 4518; KJV, “fornication”). H. Baltensweiler (Die Ehe im Neuen Testament [Zurich: Zwingli, 1967], 93) thinks that it refers to marriage within prohibited degrees (Lev 18), i.e., to incest. Many others, especially Roman Catholic scholars, have defended that view in some detail (cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, “The Matthean Divorce Texts and Some New Palestinian Evidence,” TS 37 : 208–11). Appeal is often made to 1 Corinthians 5:1, where “a man has his father’s wife” (his stepmother). But it should be noted that even here Paul gives no indication he is dealing with an incestuous marriage but only an incestuous affair. It is very doubtful whether Paul or any other Jew would have regarded an incestuous relationship as marriage: Paul would not have told the couple to get a divorce but to stop what they were doing. And in the next chapter, Paul uses the same word (porneia) to describe prostitution (1Co 6:13, 16).
Others have argued that porneia refers to premarital unchastity (A. Isaksson, Marriage and Ministry in the New Testament [Lund: Gleerup, 1965], 135ff.; Mark Geldard, “Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce,” Churchman 92 : 134–43); if a man discovers his bride is not a virgin, he may divorce her. This has the advantage (it is argued) of being no real exception to Jesus’ prohibition of divorce, making it easier to reconcile Matthew and Mark, who omits the “except” clause. Moreover, it provides a neat background for the disciples’ shock (v.10), for if porneia refers to every sexual sin, Jesus is saying no more than what many rabbis taught.
Still others hold that porneia here means “adultery,” no more and no less (e.g., T. V. Fleming, “Christ and Divorce,” TS 24 : 109). Certainly the word can include that meaning (Jer 3:8–9 LXX; cf. Sir 23:23). Yet, in Greek the normal word for adultery is moicheia (GK 3657). Matthew has already used moicheia and porneia in the same context (15:19), suggesting some distinction between the words, even if there is considerable overlap. A. Mahoney (“A New Look at the Divorce Clauses in Mt 5:32 and 19:9,” CBQ 30 : 29–38) suggests porneia refers to spiritual harlotry, a metaphor often adopted by the OT prophets. Jesus then prohibits divorce except where one spouse is not a Christian. But it is almost impossible to conceive how such a response, couched in such language, could have any relevance (let alone intelligibility) to the disputants here. . .
The reason these and many other creative suggestions have been advanced lies in the difficulty of the verse as a whole, both in its immediate context and as a parallel to Mark-Luke. But it must be admitted that the word porneia itself is very broad. In unambiguous contexts, it can on occasion refer to a specific kind of sexual sin. Yet even then, this is possible only because the specific sexual sin belongs to the larger category of sexual immorality. Porneia covers the entire range of such sins (cf. TDNT, 6:579–95; BDAG, 854; Joseph Jensen, “Does Porneia Mean Fornication? A Critique of Bruce Malina,” NovT 20 : 161–84) and should not be restricted unless the context requires it.
Van Parunak: There are two ways in which a man may “dismiss” his wife.
- He may “divorce” her, putting her out of his house. In this case he causes her to commit adultery, for she will be without support unless she remarries.
- But if she is guilty of fornication, he has another option. Deuteronomy 22 says that a married woman who commits fornication should be stoned to death. If she is guilty of fornication, he may “dismiss” her from life by having her tried and stoned. In this case he does not cause her to commit adultery, for she is dead and so cannot remarry.
The law of Deuteronomy 22 prescribes stoning not only for adultery (unfaithfulness after betrothal or marriage), but also for uncleanness before marriage that is concealed from the bridegroom. The word “fornication” covers both of these cases, and so the Lord uses it in his instruction.
The second part of the Lord’s teaching is also clear.
And whoever marries a dismissed woman commits adultery.
Remarriage is possible only when the woman is “dismissed” in such a way as to leave her alive. Whenever the woman survives her “dismissal,” remarriage is adultery, both for her and for her new spouse. When a woman is “dismissed” by stoning because of fornication, though, the question of remarriage does not arise.
The Lord thus rejects the Pharisees’ notion that God sanctions divorce. Divorce and remarriage is adultery. By introducing the case of fornication, with its associated penalty of stoning, he emphasizes that only death can break the marriage bond. His answer reflects not only the Old Testament notion that “the Lord hates divorce” (Mal. 2:16), but also the law that condemns impure wives to death (Deuteronomy 22).
Various explanations of dealing with porneia here that would fit within the Permanency View:
1) Treating the act of dismissal as death by execution rather than divorce – advocated by Van Parunak
2) Treating this case as unfaithfulness during the Jewish betrothal period (John Piper, Voddie Baucham – see below in the notes)
3) Treating porneia as some other type of Jewish prohibited marriage within the prohibited relationships of Leviticus 18 (Charles Ryrie and J Carl Laney in The Divorce Myth.)
III. (:10-12) SHOCK OF THE DISCIPLES REGARDING JESUS’ HIGH STANDARD OF MARRIAGE WITHOUT DIVORCE
A. (:10) Dismay of the Disciples over the Elimination of the Option of Divorce and Remarriage
“The disciples said to Him,
‘If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.’”
Van Parunak: The disciples’ next question shows that they have always thought of divorce as a possible escape from a bad marriage.
His disciples say to him, “If the case of the man be so with the wife, it is not expedient to marry” (Matt. 19:10).
If there really is no escape from marriage other than death, then one had better remain unmarried.
The disciples’ suggestion shows how strong they understand the Lord’s teaching to be. Some modern readers may try to find loopholes in the Lord’s words. To the disciples, who hear the teaching over and over and discuss it with the Lord, there are no loopholes. The Lord’s answer to their comment certainly doesn’t add any, either.
Grant Osborne: The gift of celibacy is a valid option in the church. The disciples made an ironic statement that it would be better to be single (v. 10), but Jesus turns that on its head and says they are right. For many in ministry, it would be better to remain single and thereby have more time for kingdom business (cf. 1 Cor 7: 7, 26–35). This is as valid today as it was in the time of Jesus or Paul. We are all aware of those leaders who have chosen the path of celibacy (e.g., John Stott) and of the ministries they had as a result. Pioneer missionaries, evangelists, itinerant teachers, and many others should consider this gift as part of their calling. Most importantly, it is a calling and is not for everyone; Jesus does not elevate single status above marriage but rather says it is a valid calling for those in ministry.
Stu Weber: No matter how one interprets Jesus’ stance on divorce and remarriage, it was far stricter than the disciples (or anyone else) expected. They had lived all their lives in a society where divorces were granted liberally. The prevalence of arranged marriages and the tendency for women to be viewed as property may have contributed to the number of divorces. To learn that there was no easy way out of an unsatisfactory marriage caused the disciples to rethink the marriage commitment. They considered that it might be better to avoid the risk of getting into a bad marriage by staying single. The disciples’ conclusion, given Jesus’ high standards, was, it is better not to marry. Jesus had made his point.
David Turner: Matthew 19:10–12 should not be read as requiring singleness for all those who have been divorced (contra Gundry 1994: 381–82; Heth and Wenham 1984: 88). This would imply that God has gifted all divorced people with celibacy. It should also be noted that this passage does not teach that celibates are holier than married people or that their lifestyle is morally superior. Only those who are enabled by special gift should choose a celibate lifestyle for the sake of the kingdom. This passage does not promote asceticism as the ideal for human existence.
B. (:11) Difficult Truth Regarding Celibacy
“But He said to them,
‘Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given.’”
C. (:12) Diverse Types of Celibacy Reflect the Possibility of Living a Life of Sexual Abstinence
Grant Osborne: This may be an example of Jesus’ wisdom teaching, in which he uses two concrete realities of everyday existence (those born eunuchs and those made eunuchs) to support a third spiritual or moral truth (those eunuchs for the kingdom). The first two described the two different types of eunuchs in the world, those born without sexual organs or impotent and those “made eunuchs,” either castrated (often for service in a royal court [e.g., the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8] or in a harem) or had become impotent due to disease or accident.
John Piper: Jesus does not deny the tremendous difficulty of his command. Instead, he says in verse 11, that the enablement to fulfill the command not to remarry is a divine gift to his disciples. Verse 12 is an argument that such a life is indeed possible because there are people who for the sake of the kingdom, as well as lower reasons, have dedicated themselves to live a life of singleness.
- Celibacy Caused by Physical Handicap at Birth
“For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb;”
- Celibacy Caused by Forced Surgery in Order to Serve the Interests of Powerful Men
“and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men;”
- Celibacy Caused by Voluntary Embracing of Ministry Opportunities
“and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs
for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”
- Celibacy Not for Everybody
“He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”
Craig Blomberg: If many Roman Catholics have overly exalted celibacy as an ideal, most Protestants have drastically undervalued it. Christian singles need much more support from their married friends and their churches, who must value them as equally significant members of the body of Christ. In a society that constantly pressures people into hasty marriages, the church desperately needs to encourage all who sense God leading them to remain single, for however long or short a period of time, to remain faithful to his guidance.