On Marriage and Divorce (1)William Barclay takes a fascinating approach to Jesus' comments on marriage. He points out that in the three major societal cultures impacting on Jesus' hearers, the institution of marriage was at its lowest ebb.
The Jews held marriage and family in high regard, but woman were treated as objects rather than equal partners in marriage. This led to the situation that a husband could write his wife a divorce decree for something as frivalous as putting too much salt in his food.
As far as the Greeks went, Demosthenes (a Greek statesman and orator of ancient Athens) said "We have courtesans for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the sake of daily cohabitation and wives for the purpose of having children legitimately." Faithfulness was not a value at all.
Initially the Romans had a very high view of family. The Roman home was central to life and the mother was the visible and honoured matron of the home. Faithfulness to one's spouse was considered important and a virtue. Unfortunately, although the Roman armies conquered Greece, Greek morals defeated Rome. The Roman view of family and marriage degenerated into the self-and-pleasure-focused way of the Greeks. This situation manifested in two sad ways: Firstly, when women wanted to achieve prominence, they did so by going from being married to one prominent man after another. Secondly, marriage became such an undesirable institution that young people had to be enticed into marriage for the sake of procreation. (As such, special taxes were levied on unmarrieds and they were prevented from inheriting so that more young people would get married).
Jesus' pronouncement on marriage addressed some of the failings of the cultures of the day. The Jews were reminded that woman could not simply be discarded for any reason. To the Romans and Greeks came the reminder that faithfulness in both men and women was the ideal and that men who chose "trophy wives" who were getting divorced for trivial reasons would themselves be considered guilty. Significantly, the idea of a man marrying a woman whose husband had trivially issued her a 'certificate of divorce' and thereby becoming guilty of adultery was a clear indication that, in the eyes of God, they were not released from their vows.
With a few simply words, Jesus significantly raises the bar on marriage. His comments were vitally important in the light of the chaos in the "cultural soup" of society.
(Tomorrow we'll wrestle with implications of this passage for us today...)
|"It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew5:31-32)|