Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus’ doctrine was often contrary to the accepted doctrine of the religious authorities. Such was the case when it came to the subject of divorce.

In the first century the Pharisees were divided into two groups led by two great rabbis named Hillel and Shammai. With regard to divorce Hillel was a liberal. He taught that a Jewish man could divorce his wife for any reason whatsoever, no matter how flimsy it was. For instance, if a wife burned the toast, the husband could divorce her. Or if he felt his wife had insulted his parents, he could divorce her. Some of his followers said that if a man found a woman he liked better, he could divorce his wife and marry the one he liked. By contrast Shammai was a conservative. He said that divorce could only be obtained on the grounds of sexual immorality. Guess which interpretation was more popular? You guessed correctly; the school of Hillel was the accepted view of the vast majority of religious people of the day.

Although the interpretation of Jesus is closer to the view of Shammai, we see that Jesus doesn’t take the bait of throwing in His vote for either side, but He goes right back to the Scripture: “ ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning “made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So then, they are no longer two but  one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.’ ”

(Matthew 19:4-6, NKJ; emphasis added, quoting Genesis 1:27, 2:24) The authority Jesus based His teaching on were the very words from the mouth of God, and God’s original plan for marriage never included divorce as an option. The “divorce option” that was taken from Deuteronomy 24:1-4 Jesus said was given due to the hardness of men’s hearts, not as a divine command (Mark 10:4,5).

We are living in a culture where the sting of divorce no longer exists and couples inside and outside of the church are walking away from their marriage vows (Ecclesiastes 5:1-5) at an alarming rate. Yes, there are Scriptural provisions made for divorce (Matthew 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:10-15), but the heart of God has always been that a man and a woman remain in the covenant of marriage until death do they part. That may not be popular, but it is most certainly Biblical.