As part of our usual series of studies in Mark’s gospel at SPC, we came last night to Mark 10:1-12 where Jesus teaches Pharisees and disciples on marriage and divorce. It is perhaps worth noting the key points of Jesus teaching in verses 6-9:
- Marriage is built into the created order. In 10:6, Jesus goes back to Genesis 1:27 where it is spelled out that man as male and female is made in the image of God. Jesus brings this into the marriage discussion as he emphasises that marriage is between a male and a female and is instituted as such by God.
- Marriage is a covenant. In 10:7, we see a man leaving the parental home and “holding fast” to his wife. This is a statement about loyalty and commitment of the man to his new wife (and vice versa). Malachi 2:14 describes marriage as a ‘covenant’.
- Marriage is a union. In 10:8, the couple become “one flesh” which expresses itself in sexual union and intimacy.
- Marriage takes priority over other relationships. 10:7 makes clear that the old order of parent-child relationship as primary now slips to secondary as a man leaves his home and joins with his wife.
- Marriage is an act of God. In 10:9 Jesus states that it is God who joins a man and woman together in marriage. He is not simply referring to that first marriage in Eden, but to any marriage. It does not matter whether the parties are believers or not, it is a marriage that God has made. There is not “religious marriage” and “civil marriage” – just “marriage”. Marriage as defined above is for human society, not just for Christians or religious people.
One post-script to this teaching from Jesus is the context into which he is speaking. He is being ‘tested’ by the Pharisees. They come asking a legal question about whether it is lawful to divorce at a time when divorce was simply a matter of a man writing a certificate. This was the accepted norm for religious Jews. The reason that Jesus goes back to the basics of marriage is that, because of the cultural norms, they are misreading the heart of Moses. In quoting him, they are treating his teaching of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 as authorising divorce. Jesus teaches, however, that Moses neither commanded, nor even permitted divorce. His teaching simply regulated it, but at root it was because their hearts were hard to God and his word.
Accepting a cultural norm and then misreading scripture to make it fit the norm. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how important a warning that is to Christians in our day.