divorce in the New Testament

God's will in regard to the important matter of indissolubility of marriage was first revealed to man in Paradise, when God created man and woman and united them in marriage so that "they shall be two in one flesh" (Genesis 2). God did not withdraw His will by permitting divorce in the Law of Moses, for divorce was merely tolerated. A husband could divorce his wife (not vice versa) because of some indecent deed by giving her a "bill of divorce." The rabbis and their schools disputed as to what constituted an indecent act, whether adultery or something less evil.
"And there came to him [Christ] the Pharisees tempting him, and saying: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? Who answering, said to them: Have ye not read, that he who made man from the beginning, made them male and female? And he said: For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. They say to him: Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorce, and to put away? He saith to them: Because Moses by reason of the hardness of your heart permitted you to put away your wives. But from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away committeth adultery." (Mattahew 19)
The Protestants, who base their doctrine of divorce on Our Lord's reply, as related by Matthew, consider divorce permissible in the Church. The text of Matthew is difficult, because of the clause "except it be for fornication." But considering it in its context together with the parallel texts, it is hard to imagine how Protestant moralists could have based their doctrine of divorce upon it. A principle of such important matter must be sought where it is expressed without danger of it misleading the reader. We find it in Mark 10, Luke 16, and 1 Corinthians 7. Here the clause, "except it be for fornication," is entirely omitted and no one can explain away the truth of the indissolubility of marriage from these texts. The clause would not have been omitted by the inspired writers, if it were meant to regulate the relations of man and wife, married in the Church of Christ. In Matthew it is added as though in parentheses, for the Pharisees only. They, in Matthew, question Our Lord regarding the causes that would permit divorce. Our Lord lays down the absolute principle of indissolubility for His disciples and for the Church, but at the same time He incidentally elucidates the Old Law to the Pharisees, using the clause as an answer to them, explaining through it that divorce is permitted to them as Jews, but only in case of adultery. Mark narrates Christ's later private explanation of this matter to His disciples, and omits the clause as Christ Himself did, because it was meant for the Jews and not for His disciples and His Church. Luke in omitting the clause from his Gospel is altogether in concordance with Paul, whose companion and disciple he was. The Church, however, takes the clause of Matthew into consideration and, interpreting it according to the intention of Our Lord, permits in certain cases separation, but at the same time, basing itself on the clear texts of the two other Evangelists and Paul, maintains Christ's absolute principle of higher perfection and never can concede divorce.

New Catholic Dictionary

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