Wait a second. This is not marriage counseling but an important practical theological truth.
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery…”
Luke 16:14-18. This verse 18 in itself seems very clear, but what is odd – at first sight, at least – is the place we find this verse. Consider the whole context:
- Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him.
- And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
- “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.
- And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.
- “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.
Does verse 18 have any connection to the previous passage? For that matter, does it have any connection to the verses that follow afterward? Either way, it seems to be an orphan; the idea of divorce and remarriage not fitting anywhere else in the context of which this verse is in the middle. Many commentators have picked up on this incongruity – and then proceeded to find some way to make the fit. A few even suggest that the verse has no place here, but was added by an unskillful later redactor.
It is true that God’s commands and restrictions concerning verse are an example of the law mentioned in verse 17, yet the incongruity and question remains: Why just single this one command out?
I believe that Christ, once again, is speaking spiritually – just as He did of the temple and of leaven in the previous examples. I believe that He is speaking of spiritual divorce in this passage, not a physical, personal one. A good cross-reference, I believe, is Romans 7:1-6:
- Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?
- For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband.
- So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.
- Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.
- For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death.
- But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.
In these last two passages, Romans and Luke, we have identical terms: Law, divorce, wife, adultery. I believe that the application is the same in both, both referring to spiritual adultery.
Paul told the Roman Jews that they were married to the Law, and that their marriage was for life. We have been set free from the law by death. It was literally “till death do us part”. That is exactly what happened; death – Christ’s death on the cross – is what killed the believing Jews – and us. New life in Christ means first that the old life – as the old wife – died. That first marriage was a tough, exacting one. There was no satisfying the requirements of that marriage. Thank God that all things are new and old things are passed away!
Now, both Jesus and Paul warn against the absolute sin of living the new life with the old wife: Law. According to Jesus every “jot and tittle” of the Law must be followed. According to Paul we are “adulteresses” if we try to live as if we were married to Christ yet still serving under the “dominion” of that old slave-driving first wife.
But once the demands of the Law are past, through death, Hebrews 9:16-17, the new life of the New Covenant come into effect. To try to live the new life the old way is adultery – and futile. To recognize the death of all that is the key to wholeheartedly living the new life.
There are several passages like the above, which do not seem to neatly follow from the previous context. I believe too many run too readily to commentaries and study Bibles. There is a place for these, but they should not be the first thing we consult. A better course would be to first study out the passages yourself, mixing prayer with perseverance, knowing that, just as God is one, so is His Word.
It is in these seeming discrepancies that we often find most welcome and encouraging treasures.