Matthew 19:1-12 – The Trap


Jesus and the disciples have now come down beyond the Jordan River.  The geographical location is important.  This was the area that was under the leadership of Herod Antipas.  This was also where John the baptist had ministered before Herod had him beheaded.  If you remember your Bible, you know that John was murdered by Herod due to the fact that he spoke out against his unlawful marriage (Luke 3:19).  This is the setting that the Pharisees come to test Jesus with a question concerning marriage.

The Pharisee trap was twofold.  On the one hand, they knew that Herod was not beyond murder to silence opponents of his marriage.  If they could link Jesus to John’s message against Herod’s marriage, then Herod could possibly take care of Jesus the same way he did John.  However, if Herod remained uninvolved, the Pharisees knew they could possibly turn the people against Jesus no matter what answer He gave to their question about marriage.  There had been a fierce debate over the meaning of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, and two schools of thought had emerged.  The Shammai school, believed that the “indecency” mentioned in Deuteronomy could only mean marital unfaithfulness and that this was the only justifiable reason for divorce.   The Hillel school, believed that “indecency” could mean a number of things, even trivial things like ruining dinner, or embarrassing the husband in public.  They offered many caveats to the rule on divorce.  By the time of this conversation with Jesus, the Hillel school had won the culture war and had most of the people on its side.  If Jesus said that certificates of divorce were only for marital unfaithfulness, then the Pharisees believed they could stir the crowds up against Him.  If Jesus said that divorce was for any reason, the Pharisees would try and say that Jesus was soft on the law and just like everyone else so He shouldn’t be followed.  They thought they had found a lose-lose scenario for Jesus to get trapped in.  Jesus, however, always leaves them speechless (Luke 20:40).



In answering the Pharisees question, Jesus justified His answer by quoting from the original creation account that is found in Genesis.  God’s original plan for marriage was simple and straightforward.  Marriage was to be between one man and one woman.  They were created to perfectly compliment one another.  This relationship was also to last a lifetime.  Marriage is when two people become “one flesh.”  Once they are united, they are never to be torn apart.  This is how God created mankind to be fruitful and multiply.  Anything other than this picture of marriage is an aberration from what God intended.  Anything less than this picture of marriage is sin.

Jesus taught them that sin is the real problem with the question they were asking.  The scribes had written many books describing the problems with marriages and what constituted a divorce and what didn’t.  Jesus enlightened them to the fact that they had missed the point and it was because of their own “hardness of heart.”  This word, “sklērokardia,” is found two times in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), and in both places is used to describe the idolatry of Israel (Deuteronomy 10:16, Jeremiah 4:4).  To be God’s people we cannot look for loopholes to do what we want.  We need a new heart.  Jesus wants to give His people a new heart that hates sin and loves God (Ezekiel 36:26, Romans 2:29).  Jesus again silences the Pharisees by exposing their wickedness instead of falling into their theological trap.



In verse 9, Jesus restates His high view of marriage.  When two people become one flesh it is for a lifetime.  The only thing that can betray the “oneness” of a married couple is sexual immorality.  We would do well to remember that Jesus is teaching these things after His message on forgiveness (18:21-35).  For those who are married and reading this, practice forgiveness.  Fight for your marriages (Nehemiah 4:14).  Divorce, even when justified, goes against the original intention of marriage.  However, if divorce should happen then we need to heed the instructions that Jesus gives next.  A eunuch is someone who lives a single lifestyle.  Some are born eunuchs.  This means they are single and never intend to marry from birth.  Jesus and Paul are examples of this kind of single calling.  Others are made eunuchs.  Man has made it to where some live in servitude and are never able to marry.  Still, some make themselves eunuchs.  Many divorced Christians choose this lifestyle for themselves.  We should have a high view of marriage, but we should have a higher view of the Kingdom of God.  I end this section the way all Christian teaching should end… with the gospel.  So many who find themselves divorced or remarried feel like they have to live the rest of their lives with a scarlet letter on their chest.  The gospel says that is not true.  You don’t need to be continually punished for your sin.  Jesus Christ was punished on your behalf.  You are free in Christ.  You are forgiven in Christ.  Live in the grace that is yours.  No condemnation, just you walking with Christ, forgetting what is behind and pressing forward toward Him!


Study Questions

  1. How does the geographical context of this text inform our interpretation?
  2. Why should we have a very high view of marriage?
  3. Why should we have an even higher view of the Kingdom of God?