Some time ago we came across an argument between Jesus and the teachers of the law. I mentioned that the way theological arguments happened in those days was through a successive appeal to authority. The ultimate authority, for those first-century Jewish teachers of the law, was Moses, the man who wrote the first five books of the Old Testament.
So in the course of your argument, if you’re able to prove that your position can be traced back to Moses’ words, then you win. Jesus knew that the Pharisees held Moses in the highest regard, and he probably didn’t feel like arguing that day, so he just conceded the point: What did Moses command you? Jesus is like, “Okay, I’m more interested in teaching than arguing, so just give me your best argument right off the bat.” Let’s just cut to the chase.
And the Pharisees presented Moses’ position: “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” Before we move on, we should probably ask the question: Where did Moses say that? Great question! It’s actually in Deuteronomy 24. I bet you didn’t even know there was a Deuteronomy 24! Let me read it to you.
1 If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, 2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, 4 then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.Interesting. Did Moses ever say a man can divorce his wife? He didn’t, did he? The law here is not, “Here are acceptable grounds for divorce”; instead, the law is, “When one of you gives your wife a certificate of divorce…”. Moses never permitted divorce; he just conceded that divorce was a reality when human beings marry one another.
But Jesus isn’t ready to concede that point. Look at how he interprets this passage in Deuteronomy 24.
5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”The fact that laws like this exist, Jesus says, points to the reality that you’re all a bunch of hard-hearted sinners who are too stubborn to humble yourselves, work through your issues together, and persevere through trials in order to keep your commitments. No, Moses wrote you this law because you’re only willing to fight for what you want, you’re too proud to admit it when you’re wrong, and you’re ready to drop your commitment the moment others start impeding upon the realization of your selfish desires. That’s why Moses just conceded the reality of divorce—because he knew people too well.
Jesus knew people really well, too, but he’s not willing to concede the reality of divorce. Jesus has far too divine an imagination to settle for a world in which divorce happens.
The Pharisees have made their appeal to Moses. Now Jesus is going to make his appeal—to creation. And remember, he was there. The New Testament declares that Jesus was present at creation. He remembers how things were originally designed. He knows, firsthand, what God’s intention had always been for marriage.
God did not build divorce into his creation because he did not build sin into his creation. He did, however, build marriage into his creation because he also built self-sacrificing love into his creation by creating human beings as free, moral agents. But God has never been willing to concede the reality of divorce. He says through his prophet Malachi, “I hate divorce.”
So Jesus quotes from Genesis 1 and 2, the only passages in the Bible, until Revelation 21 and 22, that are unstained by the presence of sin. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’” God had a plan, and that plan did not include divorce.
You see, we were not originally created as hard-hearted sinners who are too stubborn to humble ourselves, too proud to admit that we’re wrong, or all too ready to drop our commitments the moment others start impeding upon the realization of our selfish desires. That is not how God made us. That is not found in Genesis 1 and 2.
But we were made as ‘male and female’, the perfect complements to one another. Perfect partners. By design. According to plan.
Moses looked at the world and conceded the reality of human sin. Jesus stepped into our world and refused to accept our reality, then he went about changing it. Here’s the most important thing I or anyone else will ever say about marriage: We’re supposed to be looking at Genesis 1 and 2, not Leviticus 24. Our model is the beginning of creation because Jesus came to make all things new, to restore creation to the way God originally intended it, to undo all the evil that has been wrought upon God’s good creation by sin and death. When it comes to marriage, we claim Jesus as King must look to Genesis 1 and 2. Male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. And we must conclude what Jesus concludes: "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."
Christian marriage is not based on romantic love or sentimental feelings; it is based on the beginning of creation being re-created in our hearts and in our most important relationship. Marriage predates Moses. Marriage predates sin. Marriage was built into creation by the Creator himself.