Matthew 19:3-9 KJV
3 The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?
The question that Jesus is being asked by the Pharisees is, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" To put away one's wife for every cause was the view espoused by the liberal Rabbi Hillell and his students. They believed that a man could put away his wife for something as small as burning a meal. They held to the right of the man to put away his wife at his pleasure.
So, they are asking this question in light of their understanding of Deuteronomy 24. This is where Moses gives the regulations for putting away wives. So, the point I want to establish from this verse, and the following verses, is the kind of wife that is being discussed in this context. Is it only the espoused wife (Matthew 1: 18-20), or is it a married wife? The kind of wife being discussed in these verses, especially verse 9, has much to do with how one understands the teaching of Jesus on marriage, divorce and remarriage.
I think that it will become abundantly clear that the kind of wife that is being discussed in this text is the married wife, and not the espoused wife. Beginning with the question under consideration here in verse 3, we immediately realize that the premise of the question is Deuteronomy 24. So, if we can determine what kind of wife is under consideration in the question, then we will know the kind of wife that is under consideration in Jesus' answer. What kind of wife is being asked about by the Pharisees?
“When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. 2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife.” Deuteronomy 24:1-2 KJV
Clearly from this text the wife under consideration is the married wife, for she will depart out of his house and go be another man’s wife. She must be a married wife, and not merely an espoused wife, for she is cohabitating with him.
So, the wife of the Pharisees’ question is the married wife, and therefore the wife of Jesus’ answer must also be the married wife. If she is not, then Jesus is answering a question that was not asked. It is impossible to understand Matthew 19 apart from the backdrop of Moses (Deut 24).
4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
In verses 4-6 Jesus answers the question of verse 3 on the premise of the first husband and wife. Jesus appeals to the beginning. He states that the man is to leave his parents and cleave to his wife. Again, this tells us the kind of wife that is being discussed; the wife of this text is the cohabitating wife. This is exactly parallel with Deuteronomy 24.
Jesus further proves that the kind of wife that He is addressing is the married wife by saying, “they shall be one flesh.” The phrase “one flesh” refers to the sexual union (1 Corinthians 6:16). So, the husband-wife that Jesus is addressing is the sexually joined husband-wife.
This “one flesh” husband and wife are married because Jesus says, “what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” It must be understood that Jesus is addressing regulations concerning marriage and not espousal.
7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
This proves my initial premise correct that the Pharisees were asking about Deuteronomy 24, and the next couple verses are going to prove that is what Jesus is responding to as well. What are the Pharisees quoting here? It can only be Deuteronomy 24, and Deuteronomy 24 is addressing the marred wife and not the espoused wife.
8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
So, Jesus responds to their appeal to Deuteronomy 24 by saying that Moses allowed divorce for uncleaness, because of the hardness of your heart, but I say from the beginning it was not so. When Jesus says, “Moses said, but I say,” He is giving His teaching concerning the same topic as Moses addressing, namely the divorcing of married, cohabitating wives.
This proves that the instructions that Jesus is giving here is God’s will concerning what Moses gave in Deuteronomy 24. Moses said, but I say, is contrasting two opinions about the same subject.
9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
“And I say unto you,” is Jesus contrasting His teaching with Moses in Deuteronomy 24 concerning married wives. “And I say unto you,” is Jesus giving what is to be taught by the Church. If Jesus is not addressing married wives Matthew 19:9 it makes gobbledygook out of the flow of this text. If this is not what Jesus is addressing it makes no sense whatsoever.
Jesus clearly, by the context and backdrop of Deuteronomy 24, is addressing married wives in verse 9. Jesus’ plain teaching is, if a person divorces their spouse and marries another, except for fornication (See Fornication: What Does It Mean Parts 1 & 2), they commit adultery. So, marital unfaithfulness is an exception to the rule: Whosoever divorces his spouse and marries another commits adultery.