Mark 10:1-12, “Trying To Trick Jesus, The Pharisees Ask Him If It Is Lawful For A Man To Divorce His Wife”



Jim Bomkamp

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1.                  In our last study, we looked at verses 30-50 of chapter 9 of Mark.


1.1.            We saw that as Jesus was going around Galilee with His disciples that the disciples were discussing among themselves who among them will be the greatest of all.  We saw that Jesus taught His disciples what constitutes greatness in His economy.


1.2.            Jesus’ disciples asked Him if they did the right thing in stopping a man who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and Jesus told them that they should not have hindered the man.


1.3.            Finally, Jesus sternly warned His disciples that no one should cause one of the littlest ones to stumble in their faith. 


1.4.            Jesus finished up by telling the disciples that they are to cut out the offending part of their body.


2.                  In our study today, we are going to look at verses 1 – 12 of chapter 10 of Mark.


2.1.            In our study today, we see that Jesus has now completed His Galilean ministry.  With His disciples He now begins to head down to Jerusalem for His last trip.  We’re not exactly sure where Jesus was at this point in time up in Galilee, though some have suggested that He was in Capernaum when this journey began.  In His trek towards Jerusalem, we see that Jesus heads across the Jordan River into the area of Perea, and it is here that He begins to teach and is confronted by some Pharisees.


2.1.            This map that I found on the internet at the address sent at the bottom right hand shows the location of Perea in the Transjordan area:


2.2.            We will see that some Pharisees now will put Jesus to the test again, trying to get Him to say something to incriminate Himself that they can use to get Him killed or imprisoned.  They will ask Jesus if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife.  We will look at Jesus answer and see how that He uses His answer to elevate marriage and the family to the status that it should be before the Lord. 



2.3.            We have to look at Jesus’ answer to the divorce question here and observe that He did not give what for the people at that time would be the “politically correct” answer.  One friend of mine once remarked, “Jesus wasn’t politically correct, He was just correct.”  Jesus was not a man who was concerned about being pleasing people, and being liked by men, He wanted to be pleasing to His Father in heaven alone.


2.3.1.      We Christians should follow Jesus’ steps and be people who are not men pleasers but do all that we do not in order to be liked by men, but rather be pleasing to our Father in heaven. 


2.4.            Marriage is an institution created by God for mankind, and we in the church need to always recognize that point.  Marriage was created by God out of love to meet our needs as people (it was God who observed of Adam that it was not good for man to be alone, and then He brought Eve to Adam), and, we need to follow the guidelines of His word regarding marriage. 


3.                  VS 10:1-9  - 1 Getting up, He went from there to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan; crowds gathered around Him again, and, according to His custom, He once more began to teach them. 2 Some Pharisees came up to Jesus, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife. 3 And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. 7 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, 8 and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” – Jesus takes His disciples to the Transjordan area and when the crowds again gather around Him He begins to teach them as was His custom, and then some Pharisees come up to Him and put Him to the testing asking Him if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife, Jesus answers and affirms marriage in the highest terms in God’s sight


3.1.            The Pharisees were always looking for any advantage which they could gain over Jesus, and this was especially more the case as time went on and Jesus became more widely accepted and popular.  These Pharisees were desperate to find some reason to have Jesus put to death or at least incarcerated out of public sight.


3.2.            In Jesus’ day, divorce was very common.  Men would and could divorce their wives for any reason.  If a man didn’t like his wife’s cooking, for instance, he could immediately divorce her for this.  Likewise, any unpleasantness that a man found in his wife could be used as an acceptable cause legally for him to divorce her.


3.3.            Adultery was punishable by death under the Law of Moses, and so because of how prevalent divorce was in Israel, Moses had permitted a man to legally divorce his wife by simply writing up a divorce decree document.  After the decree was submitted, the man and woman were no longer considered to be married and thus they could remarry.  This divorce decree provided then some protection for women and kept them from suffering the death penalty if they found another husband.


3.4.            When Jesus first returns their question with the question about what Moses says, the Pharisees reply that Moses “permitted” that a man could divorce his wife, indicating that God had given liberty to men to divorce their wives.  This Greek word translated ‘permitted’ has the following entry in Strong’s Enhanced Lexicon:


2010 ἐπιτρέπω, συγχωρέω [epitrepo /ep·ee·trep·o/] v. From 1909 and the base of 5157; GK 2205 and 5181; 19 occurrences; AV translates as “suffer” 10 times, “permit” four times, “give leave” twice, “give liberty” once, “give license” once, and “let” once. 1 to turn to, transfer, commit, instruct. 2 to permit, allow, give leave.


3.5.            The Bible Exposition Commentary says the following about how this divorce certificate protected women from abuse:  The law protected the wife by restraining the husband from impulsively divorcing her and abusing her like an unwanted piece of furniture, instead of treating her like a human being. Without a bill of divorcement, a woman could easily become a social outcast and be treated like a harlot. No man would want to marry her, and she would be left defenseless and destitute.  By giving this commandment to Israel, God was not putting His approval on divorce or even encouraging it. Rather, He was seeking to restrain it and make it more difficult for men to dismiss their wives. He put sufficient regulations around divorce so that the wives would not become victims of their husbands’ whims.”


3.6.            Divorce had devastated Israel, and there were so many women and children who had suffered horrible consequences of divorce. 


3.7.            Here, we see that the Pharisees ask Jesus a trick question to put Him to the test and see if they can find a reason to accuse Him to one group or another.  They ask Him if it is ‘lawful’ for a man to ‘divorce’ his wife, and depending upon Jesus’ answer here are some of the potential ways they could accuse Him:


3.7.1.      Being now in the territory under the control of Herod Antipas, the man who had John the Baptist beheaded for confronting him of his adultery, if Jesus made a strong statement about divorce being sinful, they could accuse Jesus to Herod Antipas and possibly have Jesus arrested and murdered as John was murdered.


3.7.2.      If Jesus made some statement about the law of Moses not being authoritative, and thus its pronouncements about marriage and divorce not binding, the Pharisees could have Jesus arrested for blaspheming Moses and the law.


3.7.3.      If Jesus stated that divorce was not lawful, then the Pharisees could accuse Him of blaspheming the Law because it taught that divorce was permitted in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, “1 When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, 2 and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance.”


3.7.4.      At Jesus’ time, there were two rabbis who held differing views on divorce, and the populace were divided in following these teachers.  The Bible Knowledge Commentary states the following about another way in which the Pharisees considered trapping Jesus with this question:  The strict view of Rabbi Shammai allowed divorce only if a wife were guilty of immorality; the lenient view of Rabbi Hillel allowed a husband to divorce his wife for almost any reason (cf. Mishnah Gittin 9. 10). Perhaps Jesus would take sides in this dispute and thereby split the ranks of His followers.”


3.7.5.      The multitudes for the most part believed in the sanctity of marriage and many saw the horrible consequences of divorce upon demand that was practiced by the Pharisees and those who followed their example.  If Jesus said something that undermined the sanctity of marriage or the family, or encouraged divorce, the Pharisees thought they could incite the multitudes against Him and have Him stoned.


3.8.            Because Jesus’ answer to this question has a huge impact on our lives as believers due to the fact that today divorce is rampant both in all of the world as well the church, we ought to consider the consequences of divorce today. 


3.9.            The enemy of our souls knows that in any people group he can destroy the work of God if he brings down families, because the family unit is the centerpiece of society and the church.  If you can break down families you can overthrow a nation and hinder the building of the church and progress of the gospel.  Our country has lots of problems, however the biggest problem we have as a nation is not crime, drugs, terrorism, etc., rather it is divorce.  Divorce and the breakdown of the family we have experienced since the 1960s has been the greatest catalyst for all of our other problems we face.


3.10.        I went out on the internet yesterday and looked up the latest statistics on divorce as well as the effect of divorce on those who grow up in broken homes.  At this website,, for instance, I found these statistics:


3.10.1.  It is stated that approximately 50% of all marriages in America will end in divorce.  Unfortunately, this rate is as high for Christians as for non-Christians.  The tendency of a marriage towards ending in divorcing increases in America with each subsequent divorce, as this table shows:



Divorce statistics (in percent)

First Marriage

45% to 50% marriages end in divorce

Second Marriage

60% to 67% marriages end in divorce

Third Marriage

60% to 67% marriages end in divorce



3.10.2.  Likewise, childless couples in America are much more likely to end in divorce, as this table shows:


Divorcing Couples

Divorce Rate Statistics (in percent)

Couples With Children


Couples Without Children




3.11.    This website gave these further statistics about divorce in America and how children from broken homes are affected: :


3.11.1.Children of divorce are twice as likely to drop out of school as those from intact homes, three times as apt to have a baby out of wedlock, five-fold more likely to be in poverty and 12 times more apt to be incarcerated. Judith Wallerstein followed 100 children of divorce for 25 years after parental divorce. Only 60 of the 100, now aged 27-43, had ever married vs. 84 percent of those from intact families. And 25 of the 60 had already divorced, leaving only a third who built lasting marriages.


3.11.2.Forty years ago, 90 percent of children were reared to maturity by their married, natural parents. Today, that figure is 68 percent. More than one in four children are living in a sole-parent family or step/blended family from which one natural parent is absent, nearly always the natural father. The proportion of children born to unmarried mothers has increased six-fold since the 1960s. Rates of child abuse are eight to 10 times higher in step/blended and sole-parent families than in natural, two-parent families. Divorce has increased four-fold since 1960. About 46 percent of marriages will end in divorce, and about 50,000 children are affected by divorce each year. Cohabitation has increased rapidly, but cohabiting relationships are even more unstable than marriage. Cohabitation does not lead to stronger marriages. Six percent of children live with cohabiting parents. Forty years ago, 10 young male adults out of every 100,000 of the population killed themselves. Today, it is 40 out of every 100,000. Suicide is associated with loss of family bonds, social isolation, drugs and unemployment. "The damage done by the decline of marriage" The Age (AUSTRALIA), By BARRY MALEY Saturday 8 December 2001.


3.11.3.The sons of single parents are more prone to commit suicide as adults than others, and daughters are more likely to have abortions and more children. The risk of suicide doubled if sons were raised by single parents. When compared with people who grew up in a traditional family with both parents, children of single parents are hospitalized more often due to injuries and poisonings. The sons of single parents also commit more crimes. Licentiate in Medicine Anu Sauvola studied some 11,000 young people, two thousand of whom came from families with one parent or guardian. The lives of the children are followed from before birth to 32 years of age. The study revealed that the family background of childhood is connected to problems in adulthood, such as physical illnesses, premature death and crime. Helsinki Sanomat: "Children raised by single parents more prone to difficulties in adulthood".


3.11.4.A new study conducted by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University indicates that men who grew up in broken families are less likely to wed and have a lower opinion of marriage and of parenthood than those from intact families. The survey of 1010 men aged 25-34 revealed that:


"* Among married men, 63% grew up in two-parent homes vs. 37% in
non-traditional families.

* 54% from traditional homes say they'd ''be ready to marry tomorrow if the
right person came along'' vs. 43% of men from single-parent or step-parent

* 22% of singles are ''not the marrying kind.'' These are more likely to be
from non-traditional families (59%) vs. 41% from homes with two biological

The findings suggest that the experience of growing up with both
parents is an important factor influencing young men's desires for, and
confidence in, marriage," said David Popenoe, a Rutgers sociology professor and co-director of the National Marriage Project.


3.11.5.  Concerning Religion, children of divorce (whose parents divorced while they were children) are 62% more likely than children of non-divorced parents to no longer identify with the faith of their parents when they grow up.:


·        Catholics were 1.7 times more likely to switch to a moderate Protestant denomination, 2.6 times more likely to switch to a conservative Protestant denomination, and 2.2 times as likely to apostatize.

·        For moderate protestants, parental divorce doubles the likelihood of
switching from that faith to Catholicism. The authors interpret this as a seeking of a stronger religious community. This group is 2.2 times more likely to reject religion altogether than children of intact families with similar faiths.

·        For conservative Protestants, the increased risk is about 1.5 for changing to a more moderate denomination, and 2.7 times for rejecting the faith altogether.


3.12.        This website gave the following statistics about divorced homes producing criminals,


A survey of 108 rapists undertaken by Raymond A. Knight and Robert A. Prentky revealed that 60 percent came from female-headed homes,. 70 percent of those describable as 'violent' came from female-headed homes. 80 percent of those motivated by 'displaced anger' came from female-headed (single-parent) homes.


Of the juvenile criminals who are a threat to the public, three-fourths came from broken homes.


"A study of Stanford University's Center for the Study of Youth Development in 1985 indicated that children in single-parent families headed by a mother have higher arrest rates, more disciplinary problems in school, and a greater tendency to smoke and run away from home than do their peers who live with both natural parents - no matter what their income, race, or ethnicity."


3.13.        The Bible Knowledge Commentary states the attitudes of the Jews towards divorce from Deuteronomy chapter 24: 


They summarized Deuteronomy 24:1-4, the basis for their divorce practices. They believed that Moses permitted a husband to divorce his wife if he protected her from the charge of adultery by writing out a certificate of divorce in the presence of witnesses, signing it, and giving it to her (cf. Mishnah Gittin 1. 1-3; 7. 2). In ancient Israel adultery was punishable by death, usually stoning (cf. Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22-25), when guilt was clearly established (cf. Num. 5:11-31). By Jesus’ time (ca. a.d. 30) the death penalty was dropped (cf. Matt. 1:19-20; tdnt, s.v. “moicheuō, ” 4:730-5), but Rabbinic law compelled a husband to divorce an adulterous wife (cf. Mishnah Sotah 1. 4-5; Gittin 4. 7).

3.14.        The Bible Exposition Commentary states the following about how the Law of Moses did not provide for a legal divorce for the cause of adultery:  The Law of Moses did not give adultery as grounds for divorce; for, in Israel, the adulterer and adulteress were stoned to death (Deut. 22:22; Lev. 20:10; also see John 8:1–11).


3.15.        In answering these Pharisees’ question, Jesus first explains to them that this decree in Deuteronomy chapter 24 was given to them by Moses not as God’s ideal for their lives, but:  Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.’  God would rather the Israelites had not divorced, but because one way or another they would divorce, Moses provided a way for the women to at least be protected to some degree by the requirement of a certificate of divorce in order to have a legal divorce from their husbands.  Jesus proves this assertion by what He says next.


3.16.        Jesus points the Pharisees to God’s intentions for marriage when He first created man, and we can determine from Jesus’ answer to them that He was not one who always spoke politically correct statements:


3.16.1.  First of all, God made them ‘male and female’ that they might become married and be ‘one flesh’ with each other.  Today in our country’s legislatures we have had bills written and in some cases passed that make marriage a legal institution between people of the same sex.  However, Jesus point is that marriage is only to be between a man and a woman. 


3.16.2.  Jesus points out the importance of “leaving and cleaving” to your spouse in marriage here:  For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, 8 and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.’  I believe that one of the biggest and most common mistakes that people make when they get married is not taking these two steps: need to move out and leave their own families and homes, and set up their own home.  Mom and dad should never be allowed to disrupt their children’s marriages and families, and a couple needs to draw lines to keep them from being able to interfere. that continue living at home with mom and dad encounter lots of interference, plus it keeps them from being able to establish their own rules of conduct and values for their homes. need to recognize the fact of oneness in their marriage and try to develop that oneness to be reality. that a spouse does they should consider that they are doing it as one with their spouse, and not see any part of their life as being separate. a spouse should never belittle or undermine their spouse publicly or before the kids because this violates the principle of oneness.


3.16.3.  Finally, Jesus says that if God has joined a married couple together that no one should ever try to separate them:  What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.’ divorce causes the oneness of the marriage bond to be broken.  I have often mentioned that if people divorce, this is kind of like Siamese twins being separated.  Though both may be able to survive a surgical separation, they will both be damaged by that separation.


3.17.        The Bible Knowledge Commentary states that Jesus said more later about this subject:  Later, when Jesus’ disciples questioned Him privately about this subject in the house (cf. 7:17), He added, Anyone who divorces (apolysē, “releases,” same word in 15:6, 9, 15) his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her, his first wife (cf. Ex. 20:14, 17). According to Mark 10:12, which is unique to Mark, the same applies to a woman who divorces her husband and marries another man. These words were significant for Mark’s Roman readers since under Roman law a wife could initiate divorce. Though not allowed under Jewish law such action was sometimes practiced in Palestine (e.g., Herodias, 6:17-18).”


3.18.        The Bible Knowledge Commentary states the following about what Jesus meant by this statement regarding divorce:  ““Man” (anthrōpos, probably meaning the husband) is to stop disrupting marriage through divorce. Marriage is to be a monogamous, heterosexual, permanent one-flesh relationship. Jesus indirectly confirmed John the Baptist’s courageous pronouncement (cf. Mark 6:18), contradicting the Pharisees’ lax views.”


4.                  VS 10:10-12  - 10 In the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again. 11 And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; 12 and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.” – Jesus explains privately to His disciples that anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against his wife, and if a woman divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery


4.1.            In Jewish culture, women almost never divorced men.  It was only men who divorced their wives.  Women divorcing their husbands was more common in Rome.  For the sake of Gentile culture, and those few instances where this happened in Jewish culture, Mark includes here that Jesus also stated that if a woman divorced her husband that she too was committing adultery.


4.2.            There are some acceptable reasons for divorce, each of which will allow you to be able to remarry:


4.2.1.      On another occasion, Jesus taught that there was an acceptable reason for divorce, that being if your spouse commits fornication:  Matthew 5:32, “32 but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.  Fornication means any sex that is outside of monogamous marriage.


4.2.2.      In the seventh chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul gives another acceptable reason why a person may divorce their spouse, and this is the situation where the unbelieving spouse abandons you:  1 Corinthians 7:13-16, “13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. 15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?”


4.2.3.      According to Rom. 7:1–3 you are free to remarry if your spouse dies.


4.3.            There are times when a separation of a couple is warranted, however I don’t recommend this except for the situation where you or your children are in physical danger from your spouse.  There are too many temptations for a couple living apart, and many a marriage would not have ended had the couple just not separated in the first place. 


4.4.            CONCLUSIONS:


4.4.1.  Follow Jesus’ lead and don’t be a man pleaser, but rather do all you do to be pleasing to your Father in heaven.


4.4.2.  Remember that marriage was meant by God to be for life, and therefore you must not take the commitment of marriage lightly.


4.4.3.   Remember the consequences of divorce as well as God’s intention that the marriage bond is meant to be for life.



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