Jesus on Divorce: How My Mind Has Changed -- By: William A. Heth

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 06:1 (Spring 2002)
Article: Jesus on Divorce: How My Mind Has Changed
Author: William A. Heth

Jesus on Divorce:
How My Mind Has Changed

William A. Heth

William A. Heth is Professor of New Testament and Greek at Taylor University and has served as a professor at Taylor since 1986. Dr. Heth has written extensively on the issue of divorce and remarriage. He co-authored with Gordon Wenham Jesus and Divorce. A second edition of this work was published in 1997.


What did Jesus mean when he spoke out prophetically against divorce and remarriage as it would have been understood and practiced by his first-century hearers? How literally should we interpret those pronouncements? Did Jesus intend to set forth an exceptionless absolute? Or should we approach his divorce sayings as rhetorical overstatements intended to emphasize a particular point, but admitting of exceptions? How would his audience have understood those sayings, and what can we learn from his earliest disciples’ attempts to understand and apply Jesus’ teaching to their respective Christian communities? Did they faithfully reflect the intent of the one they called Lord and master, or would Jesus be displeased with how they had modified his standard? Furthermore, how should we, his twenty-first century followers, apply them in our very different socio-cultural contexts? These are the kinds of questions that scholars ask as they wrestle with the NT records of Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage.

The American edition of Jesus and Divorce appeared in 1985 with the subtitle The Problem with the Evangelical Consensus.1 What is that consensus? The majority of evangelicals believe that Jesus permits remarriage after divorce for marital unfaithfulness (Matt 5:32; 19:9) and that Paul sanctions remarriage when Christian spouses are abandoned by unbelieving mates (1 Cor 7:15). We argued to the contrary that even though marital separation or legal divorce may be advisable under some circumstances (persistent adultery, physical or verbal abuse, incest, etc.), Jesus taught that his disciples should not remarry after divorce. In short, remarriage after divorce for whatever reason—even sexual immorality (Matt 5:32; 19:9)—was a violation of the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exod 20:14; Deut 5:18).2 How do matters stand now?

The consensus appears to be stronger than ever. Christianity Today’s 1992 readers survey revealed that

The majority believe t...

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