“Is It Lawful For A Man To Divorce His Wife?” -- By: Robert H. Stein

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 22:2 (Jun 1979)
Article: “Is It Lawful For A Man To Divorce His Wife?”
Author: Robert H. Stein


“Is It Lawful For A Man To Divorce His Wife?”

Robert H. Stein*

This question that the Pharisees addressed to Jesus (Mark 10:2) is still a troubling one today. If evangelicals identified the “law of the land” with the “law of God” in this matter, the question would be easy to answer. Divorce would then be lawful for all kinds of reasons. But if for the evangelical the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice, then there is a higher authority than the “law of the land” to which he can and must turn for guidance.

In seeking to understand how the Bible answers this particular question it will be helpful to divide our investigation into three specific stages. The first stage is to seek to ascertain the ipsissima verba, the actual words, of Jesus.1 Using the more technical terminology of form criticism and redaction criticism, one seeks at this stage to investigate the first Sitz im Leben of the gospel materials.2 After arriving at what Jesus actually said, one can then seek to understand how the evangelists interpreted the words of Jesus for their congregations.3 In so doing one finds that he possesses not only an authoritative saying of Jesus but also an authoritative interpretation of that saying by the evangelists. Since the evangelical has as one of his presuppositions that the evangelists were inspired and led by God in their interpretation of Jesus’ words (note here John 14:26 and 16:12–14) he finds himself doubly fortunate, for he has both the authoritative word of Jesus and often an inspired commentary by the evangelists on those words. There is still a third step which should follow, however, and that involves the task of applying that teaching to one’s own particular situation in the twentieth century.

*Robert Stein is professor of NT at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Unless this is done the first two steps are little more than a fruitless exercise in historical study.

The purpose of this article, then, is to understand how Jesus actually answered the question on divorce, to see how the evangelists and the apostle Paul interpreted Jesus’ answer, and to see if some conclusions can be drawn as to how we should apply this to our own situation today.

I. Jesus’ Teaching On Divorce
As Found In Mark 10:2-12 And Matthew 19:3-12

Although there are some scholars who have s...

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