Sermon on the Mount, Sixth

The next two versus of the Sermon give me a ton of heartburn. Here they are:

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 5:31-32.

Re-reading this passage today, I was first struck by some of the cultural ugliness. I would have preferred, “Don’t get divorced except in the case of marital unfaithfulness.” Instead, the passage makes clear that men are the ones who do the divorcing, and apparently, women are the ones who commit adultery. Notice that if the man wrongfully divorces his wife, he is not guilty of adultery but the women he remarries is. Ug.

Fine, notions of marriage and divorce are so tied up in the cultural context, it would be very difficult to discuss them without incorporating the social biases of the time. The real problem for me is the meat of the passage. Many of the people I care about are divorced. I don’t know if infidelity was always involved, but I can think of other reasons for divorce. Abusiveness, overpowering and unaddressed addiction for two.

What to do?

5 replies on “Sermon on the Mount, Sixth”

Right or wrong, when I look at biblical moral teaching I automatically divide things in my head/mind/heart into two categories. One category is a roughly a group of things that essentially I put into the “stay away from because if you aren’t careful with it you might hurt yourself or others”. The second is roughly “Don’t do this because it is wrong and always will be wrong, and Do this because it is right”.

A lot of stuff that I lump into the first category can be very much explained by social biases, or not even biases but practices and reality during biblical times. From them I try not to learn the exact message or moral, but I try to learn to examine life and situations and to not put myself or others into potentially negative or harmful situations.


Allow me to try to apply your standard. “Don’t get divorced except for infidelity,” is category one guidance. Getting divorced too quickly will likely hurt you. You should avoid it. “Don’t hate people” is category two advice. Hatred will always eat you up from the inside.

The former, prophylactic advice, will almost always be more tied to the social context. Here, we would include abuse in the out clauses, for example.

Is that a fair application of your rule?

Is there a third, “Do it and you’ll suffer some penalty.” ?

That is definitely a third way to understand the mandates. And, if you were living under Hebrew rule, that is certainly the way to read the Torah, since it explicitly lists the penalty to receive for violations.

Carried forward, we have the whole idea of damnation. Maybe Luke’s breakdown could be used for lesser and greater sins. (What are sins that aren’t mortal? Are they venial?)

Although, it seems to me that the Bible would assign negative consequences to violating both types of moral teachings described by Luke.

Although, it seems to me that the Bible would assign negative consequences to violating both types of moral teachings described by Luke.

Which is where I struggle with the bible. I actually tend to view my “category 1” not as sins. I’m not sure how to reconcile this though. Does that mean that these are things in the bible influenced by the humans interpreting the word of God? I’m not really sure.

I don’t think premarital sex is a sin. I can see why there are things in the bible that say you shouldn’t have sex outside of marriage. Sex can be terribly confusing and emotionally damaging. Clearly though people can have sex out of marriage and not cause harm. Given the state of contraception and early ages of marriage in biblical times, it probably just makes sense to say “Don’t do it.” I can’t see that sex outside of marriage is a sin though. Now, irresponsible sex that causes harm is.

Clearly my thoughts on this aren’t too clear, but I guess I disregard category 1 stuff as “not sin”, unless doing those things causes harm. So the very fact that the things are paid attention to makes them important to think carefully about, but I’m not going to not do them because “the bible says not to”.

Category 2 stuff is the serious stuff.

Make any sense?

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