Divorce, Adultery, and Context
“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery,
and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery."
-The Gospel according to Saint Luke, Chapter 16, Verse 18, New Revised Standard Version
Various forms of Christendom have taken this verse entirely literally, to the extent that the Roman Church officially doesn't sanction divorce and remarriage (though annulment does happen).
At face value, the verse is extremely harsh; what's Jesus trying to get across here? Is divorce entirely wrong at any time? Is it truly an absolute?
This is where context matters entirely, as well as rhetorical devices. Jesus often speaks in hyperbole in the Gospels. That's difficult to square away for many of us, but that also comes from thousands of years worth of accretion around the man Jesus, the culture in which Jesus lived, and so on. The humor, the exaggeration, the "attitude" all gets lost, especially in translations like the King James Version.
The context here is important- the notes in the New Oxford Annotated Study Bible clue us in on what's really going on: the point isn't about divorce happening at all, but divorce with the specific intent to remarry someone else.
Jesus is taking aim at a political enemy, specifically Herod Antipas, who had done the exact thing mentioned: divorcing a wife to remarry another woman instead.
This kind of contextualization is the reason I encourage people to study the Scriptures- you learn that things aren't always as they appear.
Leave a Reply.