“For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel….
-Malachi 2:16a, NASB
“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
-Matthew 19:9, NASB
Jesus did not quote the infamous passage from Malachi on divorce: “I [God] hate divorce.”
This is an important observation to note. Jesus did not reiterate this teaching when presented with a golden opportunity to do just that. This opportunity came when he was challenged regarding interpreting the contested Deuteronomic text on divorce (see Matthew 19 and Deuteronomy 24:1-4).
Instead, Jesus frames the conversation regarding divorce as problematic primarily regarding whether or not it leads to a spouse committing adultery.
This connection between unbibilical divorce and adultery is at the core of Jesus’ objection to an overly permissive religious acceptance of divorce. So, I find it odd how often adultery is excluded or omitted in a pastoral discussion of divorce. Clearly, Jesus thought adultery was front and center to the question of permissible or illicit divorce. Hence, he mentioned it as the sin happening when someone did not divorce over sexual immorality already committed.
Jesus did not simply prohibit all divorce by talking about God’s hate for divorce citing Malachi 2:16 as some Christians do today.
His stance on divorce was more nuanced and merciful than that. Jesus did not treat all parties in an infidelity ravaged marriage the same. His words in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 gives clear direction that a victim of adultery–or other sexual immorality–is not treated as an adulterous spouse if he or she chooses to divorce and remarry. The distinction matters to Jesus.
And it ought to matter to Jesus’ followers.