Matthew 19: What Jesus Said about Divorce (and Marriage)

Matthew 19 offers an intriguing look at what Jesus had to say on the issue of divorce from Matthew’s perspective. I’ll let the words speak for themselves and then comment below:

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.

Here we find Jesus claiming the following:

1. Men divorcing women is typically (though not necessarily always) due to a hardness of heart.

2. Jesus taught divorce was to be limited to situations in which a spouse commits adultery (the apostle Paul extends this a bit in his writings).

3. Living as a celibate single can be a God-honoring lifestyle.

People often like o debate what Jesus taught on sexuality or marriage, but he was very straightforward. Divorce is reserved for worst-case scenario, marriage is a sacred relationship not to be easily broken, and celibacy is an admirable lifestyle.

These words hold many ramifications for our contemporary lives, but two I find as I reflect today is holding the marriage relationship between a man and woman with the utmost respect and treating singles with equal respect in all my relationships.

This is not a commentary on anyone’s past or present, but an insight into Christ’s intent and teachings for those of us who follow him. May we live with his perspective as we reflect on his words today.


Dillon Burroughs has written, co-written, or edited over 60 books, including the upcoming devotional work Thirst No More (October 2011). He served as an associate editor for The Apologetics Study Bible for Students and is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary. Find out more at

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  • Thanda

    Good article. I don’t totally agree that Jesus was saying Celibacy is a good lifestyle. By “to whom it is given” might mean that to who God, for His own reason, gives the command and not to who just suddenly decides. I would say the interpretation is multiply and replenish the earth, or at least try to, unless God commands otherwise or makes it impossible.

    I would also, being a manist/malist/masculinist, change the wording of the first point to be more general as in the second point or include a “vice versa” clause.

    What do you think of the other points he makes about divorce and marraige: eg If someone marries someone that is divorce both they and the divorcee are committing adultery.
    I think God put that law in place for the very sake of making people understand just how important marriage is in His eyes and to prevent people from divorcing for reason not as serious as adultery.