It’s hard to overlook the uncomfortable truth that, according to Jesus, a divorced woman is considered an adulterer in God’s eyes—merely by the fact that her husband divorced her.
“Whoever divorces his wife,” Christ said, “for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery” (Matthew 5:32 NKJV).
It’s also difficult to overlook the fact that Jesus didn’t accuse the divorcing husband of committing adultery. After all, in that day and age, the husband was the one who would instigate a divorce; shouldn’t he be equally guilty of adultery in that situation?
Theologian, Craig S. Keener, suggests that the omission of the husband here was cultural in its application, not eternal in its view. “Under Jewish law,” he says, “’adultery’ referred only to the wife’s misbehavior, not the husband’s. Matthew does not agree with this view (5:28), but because his readers must obey the law of their communities, he deals only with the issues of the wife.”
Additionally, although he doesn’t state it plainly, it can be inferred that Jesus considered a divorced man to be guilty of perhaps a worse offense: Causing another person—his wife—to commit sin (see Mark 9:42, Luke 17:1, 1 Corinthians 8:12-13).
In that patriarchal society, it was very difficult for a woman to survive without a husband or father as a caretaker. That meant, in order to eat and gain shelter, a divorced woman would almost certainly have to remarry. The sexual requirements of that remarriage would, in an eternal sense, be acts of adultery that violated her original marriage vows. Thus by divorcing his wife without true justification, the divorced man became the catalyst that “cause[d] her to commit adultery.”
As Jesus would later say, “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come” (Luke 17:1 NIV).
[BBC, 59; IBC 1125]
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