When Jesus finished teaching, he left Galilee and went to the part of Judea that is east of the Jordan River. Large crowds followed him, and he healed their sick people.

Some Pharisees wanted to test Jesus. They came up to him and asked, “Is it right for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”

Jesus answered, “Don’t you know that in the beginning the Creator made a man and a woman? That’s why a man leaves his father and mother and gets married. He becomes like one person with his wife. Then they are no longer two people, but one. And no one should separate a couple that God has joined together.”

The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Why did Moses say that a man could write out divorce papers and send his wife away?”

Jesus replied, “You are so heartless! That’s why Moses allowed you to divorce your wife. But from the beginning God did not intend it to be that way. I say that if your wife has not committed some terrible sexual sin, you must not divorce her to marry someone else. If you do, you are unfaithful.”

The disciples said, “If that’s how it is between a man and a woman, it’s better not to get married.”

Jesus told them, “Only those people who have been given the gift of staying single can accept this teaching. Some people are unable to marry because of birth defects or because of what someone has done to their bodies. Others stay single in order to serve God better. Anyone who can accept this teaching should do so.” (Matthew 19:1-15)

Questions aren’t always what they seem. Why would some Pharisees quiz Jesus on whether it was right for a man to divorce his wife? There was much more to the question than just the legality of divorce. They wanted to know if divorce could be had for “any reason.” Jesus said “no,” that divorce should never happen, except maybe for adultery. He explained that God never intended for relationships to be irrevocably breached. To do so was counter to the whole concept of love and forgiveness.

The disciples were taken aback. They decided that not being married at all was better than being “stuck” with a bad wife.

And Jesus agreed with them. Whether celibacy was the consequence of circumstances beyond an individual’s control, or because that person choose to commit himself to God in that way, celibacy, Jesus explained, could be considered a gift from God. Certainly it was far preferable to a bad or unhappy marriage. Both marriage, and celibacy are gifts from God. They should never be lightly thrown aside.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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