This epistolary exercise is prompted by the gospel reading appointed for Sunday (Proper 22 Year B - Sunday between October 2 and October 8 in our three year cycle of readings). We provide below a lengthy series of posts on this particular reading as an example.
Sidebar: Few commentators and scholars are as consistent as I am with regard to a healthful standard approach to Sacred text. As proof: most - including those below - start out with a de facto perspective of literalism and go from there, either trying to explain it away or historically analyze it. I think that is unreflective even as I respect the scholarship. Now as to the point of castigating divorce: Jesus is provoking us to wonder with what and why we replace our most important relationship and how those replacements fail us and are in some way fraudulent and this is entirely about our relation with God. My connection to our Creator is intimate, lifelong, and cannot be replaced with lesser or late-coming alternatives. The options for replacement abound, are very distracting, and promise all sorts of better and/or easier commitments. The origin of that relationship is beyond my knowing but not beyond my recommitment, and return from time to time as needs arise, as they all too frequently do. So that’s my take, consistent with how I approach all the Holy Bible. It is so holy and so authoritative that I would never cheapen it by mere literal application.
For a rough translation & comment - I place that as a last post here due to the intimidating nature of wading through Greek texts. I think you will, however, find it quite meaningful and rather easy to scan through.
But first some other scouts on what they report:
From Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, Glatfelter Professor of Biblical Studies, United Lutheran Seminary Gettysburg, Penn.
Today's lesson actually consists of two pericopes (short passage-PCJ) . One deals with divorce, the other with the blessing of little children. I suspect that the Revised Common Lectionary committee decided to put them together to help out the preacher who did not want to deal with the challenging divorce text. It is so much more pleasant to talk about little children.
Still, divorce was a significant and disputed issue in Jesus’ time, and doubtless there will be divorced persons in the pews who will pay special attention to this reading today. Divorce is not an easy sermon topic, and it was a complicated matter in the first century. There were differing perspectives between Jews and Romans and also within Judaism. Even within the New Testament there is not complete unanimity.
Here’s what you need to know. In general:
Here in Mark’s gospel, however, Jesus expresses an even more restrictive view. Divorce is simply a symptom of human failure that is contrary to God’s intentions in creation, so, Jesus says, “What God joined together, let no human separate.” Is this a blanket prohibition against divorce? What about the abusive or destructive relationships of which we are painfully aware? Should a corollary to Jesus’ pronouncement be just as true: What humans wrongly joined together, let God rightly separate?
As we should expect, God’s commands are not arbitrary but have a principle that motivates them. In a patriarchal Jewish society where only husbands had the prerogative of divorcing their wives, a prohibition of divorce provided a safeguard for women who could be left seriously disadvantaged after a divorce. Further, as Jesus spells out to the disciples in 10:10-12, in situations where either party could initiate a divorce, it’s the faithful partner that is harmed when his or her spouse divorces in order to marry someone else. Committing adultery is not an abstract, moral sin. It is a real, hurtful action against one’s God-joined partner.
This concern for those who are vulnerable carries over into verses 13-16 regarding the children brought to Jesus. We should first note that this section actually has a narrative function in connection to Mark 9:33-37. There the disciples had argued about who was the greatest, and Jesus asserted that “whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” By way of example, Jesus took a child in his arms and said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (9:37) When parents bring their children to Jesus a mere 25 verses later, the attentive reader knows that the proper response is indeed to welcome them. When the disciples, however, scold them, the reader can naturally become indignant, and when we are then told that Jesus became indignant (10:14), we discover that we have been guided into the proper, Jesus-like response of a true disciple.
The second thing to note, I would argue, is that experiencing the dominion of God is like welcoming a child, not becoming like a child. The NRSV renders verse 15 as: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child (paidion) will never enter it.” That paidion can be understood in two ways in the Greek. As a nominative case noun, it would mean, “Welcome the kingdom like a child welcomes it.” As such, this saying has often generated sentimental reflections on the importance of a simple, child-like faith. Really? In my experience, children are much better with “Why?” and “No!” than they are with quiet assent. If paidion is understood as an accusative case noun, however, then it means, “Welcome the kingdom like you would welcome a child.” This latter reading certainly fits the immediate context better, and it serves as a clear reiteration of what Jesus said in 9:37.
Why is this significant? In the culture of Jesus’ time where honor and shame were decisive factors in determining behavior, people would be very eager to welcome someone of high status whose company could increase one’s own honor. Children, however, were of very low status. There was no perceptible value in hosting a banquet for a child. (Birthday parties for children are a quite modern invention.) So when Jesus says that the reception of God’s dominion is like embracing a child, he is asserting again that God is not experienced in power but in weakness. Entering God’s dominion is not a way to become first or great but a way to identify with the least and to serve simply for Jesus’ sake.
For a selfish and self-centered person, it makes no sense to welcome children or remain faithful in a relationship when temptation beckons. From the very beginning, however, God has embraced us and remained faithful, and that’s good news.
From Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at Crossmarks Resources
I wonder about the wisdom of the scholars who put all these verses into one lection. What does Jesus talking to Pharisees about divorce and his disciples about adultery have to do with the blessing of young children? One connection is that both women and children were considered secondary citizens to the men. They were both people who often had little or no power or authority in first century society.
A QUESTION ABOUT DIVORCE (vv. 2-9) // Mt 19:3-8Only Mark tells us that the Pharisees were testing (peirazo) Jesus with their question. When this word is used in Mark, it is either Satan (1:13) or the Pharisees (8:11; 10:2; 12:15) who are "testing/tempting" Jesus. It would seem that from scriptures (and personal experience) that the testings/temptings we face are more likely to come from human forces than from demonic ones.
Their question begins, "Is it lawful...?" However, they aren't really asking Jesus to tell them what the law says. They already know what the law says. They indicate that in v. 4. The law, from Deuteronomy 24:1, says:
Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house [NRSV].
It is clear that it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife. However, the law as written did raise an important question: "What constitutes 'something objectionable'?" There were different answers to that question. R.T. France (The Gospel of Mark) has a paragraph full of quotes about the marriage:
While the permitted grounds of divorce were debated in the rabbinic world, the admissibility of divorce (of a wife by her husband, not vice versa: Josephus, Ant. 15.259) as such was not questioned: Dt. 24:1-4 (the only legislation relating specifically to divorce in the torah) was understood to have settled the issue. The more restrictive interpretation of the school of Shammai (only on the basis of 'unchastity', m. Git. 9.10) was almost certainly a minority view. More typical, probably, is Ben Sira 25:26: 'If she does not accept your control, divorce her and send her away', or Josephus's laconic comment (Life 426): 'At this time I divorce my wife, not liking her behavior.' Josephus paraphrases Dt. 24:1, 'He who wants to be divorced from the wife who shares his home for whatever cause -- and among people many such may arise -- ...' (Ant. 4.253), and the school of Hillel allowed this to cover a spoiled meal, or even, so R. Akiba, 'if he found another fairer than she' (m. Git. 9:10). (pp. 387-8)
Where do these different views come from? The root meaning of the Hebrew word, translated "something objectionable," is "nakedness" or "nudity." This led the School of Shammai, as noted above, to conclude that only adultery was grounds for divorce.
A secondary meaning of the Hebrew word is "offensive" or "shameful," which led the School of Hillel to conclude that anything the wife did that offended the man was grounds for divorce.
It should also be noted that according to Jewish law only the husband could divorce his wife. A wife could not divorce her husband. The divorce proceedings were very simple. As I understand it, the husband could draft a certificate of divorce. This meant writing on a piece of paper: "She is not my wife and I am not her husband." Give her the paper and kick her out of the house. They were divorced.
Some commentaries note that Jesus asks: "What did Moses command you?" They answer with what Moses allowed. In their reference to Dt, Moses does not command anyone to get a divorce.
Malina & Rohrbaugh (Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels) point out that the first century understanding of marriage is quite different than ours today.
For an understanding of divorce one must understand what marriage meant in a specific culture. Under normal circumstances in the world of Jesus, individuals really did not get married. Families did. One family offered a male, the other a female. Their wedding stood for the wedding of the larger extended families and symbolized the fusion of the honor of both families involved. It would be undertaken with a view to political and/or economic concerns -- even when it might be confined to fellow ethnics, as it was in first-century Israel. Divorce, then, would entail the dissolution of these extended family ties. It represented a challenge to the family of the former wife and would likely result in family feuding.
Jesus looks upon the married couple as "no longer two, but one flesh." This indicates that marriage is a "blood" relationship rather than a legal one. And because it is a blood relationship, like the relationship to mother and father (in v. 7) or to one's siblings, marriage cannot be legally dissolved. Moreover, just as it is God alone who determines who one's parents are, so too, it is God who "joins together" in marriage. This is not difficult to imagine in a world of arranged marriages, where choice of marriage partner is heavily rooted in obedience to parents and the needs of the family. Parental and family choices are readily seen as determined by God. [p. 240]
Given their understanding of marriage as something arranged by parents, divorce was a sin against one's parents (and in-laws, as we will see later). The divorcing son was dishonoring his parents by undoing the marriage they had arranged. It was the parent's promise to the wife's parents that was being broken by the divorce.
There is quite possibly a political agenda behind the Pharisees' "test." In Mark, the previous occurrence of the word "lawful" (exesti) is when we are told that John had been telling Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." What had Herod done? He had divorced his wife (a Nabatean princess whose name is unknown) in order to marry Herodias! Would Jesus side with John and state that (this) divorce was not lawful? If so, the Pharisees might push to have Herod do to Jesus what he had done to John. Since Mark 3:6 we have known: "The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against [Jesus], how to destroy him." Perhaps this question was an attempt to have Jesus, in a sense, "hang himself," by speaking against Herod. The Pharisee's goal may have been to destroy Jesus more so than an honest inquiry about interpreting a biblical passage.
When we ask, "What does the Bible say about divorce?" we come up with a number of different answers.
Jesus answers the right question: "What is God's will concerning marriage?" God's intentions were revealed at the beginning of creation. Humans were created male and female. (I think implied in the Genesis context -- Gn 2:18-24 -- they were created with an attraction towards each other -- they were originally one and seek that unity again, which comes with marriage.) I think that the assumption was made in biblical times that marriage was for everyone. As I noted above, marriages were usually arranged by parents or other family members. It wasn't a matter of dating and then "falling in love" with someone. It was a matter of honoring one's parents. (I'm not sure if a marriage was based primarily on the promises made by the bride and groom or by the agreement made between their parents. I don't know what was said or what happened at a first century wedding ceremony -- except that they drank a lot of wine -- John 2.)
James Edwards (The Gospel according to Mark) writes the following about looking at a text about divorce to try and understand marriage:
You do not learn to fly an airplane by following the instructions for making a crash landing; you will not be successful in war if you train by the rules for beating a retreat. The same is true of marriage and divorce. The exceptional measures necessary when a marriage fails are of no help in discovering the meaning and intention of marriage. Jesus endeavors to recover God's will for marriage, not to argue about possible exceptions to it. (p. 301)
A question this text doesn't answer is when and how does God "yoke together" the couple -- making "one flesh" of the two? Does it happen instantaneously at the conclusion of the vows in a marriage rite or the act of sexual intercourse? Does a couple's unity take place over time? Or, in other words: Is the "oneness" created (1) by the legal rite or (2) physical actions or (3) an emotional and relational connection? Can couples be legally marred, have sexual intercourse, and still not be one?
Paul says 1 Cor 6:16: "Do you not know what whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, "The two shall be one flesh." It seems to be his opinion that sexual intercourse is what makes two people "one flesh". A couple's unity has nothing to do with love, only sex. However, he goes on to say in the next verse: "But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him." The word translated "united" (kollaomai) in both verses is used of the marriage relationship in Matt 19:5. Mark 10:7 (also Ep 5:31) use a closely related term, proskollaomai) for the marriage relationship.
However, most often this word refers to a non-sexual, non-marriage relationship or association between people. That's how it is used in Acts (5:13; 8:29; 9:26; 10:28; 17:34). Luke also uses the word to refer to dust that clings to one's feet (Lk 10:11) and of an employee/employer relationship (Lk 15:15).
Contrary to Paul's understanding, it would seem that the uniting should involve something more than just sexual relationship.
I like the title of a book by Herbert Anderson and Robert Cotton Fite, Becoming Married. The title and the theme of the book is that "marriage" doesn't instantly happen with the ceremony or the signing of the license (at least in our cultural understanding of marriage). The "becoming one" begins before the ceremony and needs to continue progressing towards "becoming one" for the rest of their lives. Similarly, "divorce" or "separation" doesn't just happen when the legal document is signed. Most couples stop "becoming one" long before the divorce finalizes the one becoming two.
If it is not God's will that couples "who have become one," should be divorced, why are there divorce laws? "Because of your hardness of heart," (sklerokardia) is Jesus' answer (v. 5). This word is used in the parallel passage in Matthew (10:5), and again in Mark 16:14. More often Mark uses poroo or porosis ("to harden" or "hardness") with "heart" (3:5; 6:52; 8:17). The image of a "hard-heart" might be best rendered by the image of a "closed mind." It refers to people who are unwilling to learn. Their minds are made up. They are stubborn, unwilling to listen to anything new, unwilling to consider changing their minds or attitudes. In the OT, it is used primarily of people's attitude towards God rather than of the way they treat each other.
Does the "your" in v. 5 refer specifically to the Pharisees who are testing Jesus to whom Jesus directs his response? or to society in general? Is it just this small group who has hard-hearts or the Jewish people or the world?
Whatever Jesus (or Mark) may have meant, I think that we can safely say that the entire world is afflicted with hard-hearts. There are times when all of us are unwilling to listen and learn from God. There are times when all of us don't want to be confused with the facts, because our minds are made up. Or, as I sometimes paraphrase it, "Don't confuse me with the Bible, my faith is made up."
I wonder, "What's the difference between a hard-heart and a steadfast faith?"
Anyway, to put it in simple terms, we have divorce laws because of human sinfulness. If human beings were perfect, we wouldn't need divorce laws -- we wouldn't need any laws. We would instinctively know and follow God's will in all that we do -- including our relationship with a spouse. We are not perfect. We need laws -- even divorce laws.
REMARRIAGE AND ADULTERY (vv. 10-12) // Mt 19:9; 5:32; Lk 16:18Jesus offers some private teaching to his disciples.
In these verses, Jesus follows the Greco-Roman rules which allowed for a woman to divorce her husband.
Jesus has already established that God's intentions are that a man and a woman become one flesh and that they should not be divided. Now he says that when a separation happens and a man or a woman marries another, they are committing adultery.
Note that Mark (nor Luke 16:18) do not have Matthew's one exception, "except on the grounds of unchastity" (5:32; 19:9).
I quote again from Malina & Rohrbaugh (Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels) because they help us understanding the culture and common thinking that was present when Jesus spoke these words.
It is important to read this text carefully. In Mark's community, what is prohibited is not divorce, but divorce and remarriage, or divorce in order to marry again. The community also knows of women (or a woman's family) who can initiate divorce. It would be such divorce that inevitably would lead to family feuding, a true negative challenge to the honor of the other family. However, for Mark's community, nothing is said about cases of divorce not with a view to marrying some other person.
For a married woman to have sexual relations with someone other than her husband is adultery, clearly the implication in v. 12. Given first-century understandings of adultery that makes sense. She dishonors her husband. But given those same first-century understandings, for a male to marry another after divorce (v. 11) simply cannot be adultery. Adultery against whom?
Adultery means to dishonor a male by having sexual relations with his wife. Take this definition quite literally. Since it is males who embody gender honor, and since only male equals can challenge for honor, a female cannot and does not dishonor a wife by having sexual relations with the wife's husband. Nor can a married man dishonor his wife by having sexual relations with some other female. A husband's relations with a prostitute do not dishonor the honorable wife.
If a husband divorced his wife in order to remarry, which male would be dishonored? On any obvious reading, it would have to be the father (or other males) of the family of the divorced wife. In other words, it is the family of the divorced woman who is dishonored by her husband's divorcing and marrying another, precisely what led to family feuding. That is what is prohibited here. [p. 241]
What is "committing adultery"? The ancient concept of "adultery" was "taking another man's property." One could not "commit adultery" with an unmarried or unengaged woman. It might be sexual immorality (porneuo), but not adultery (moicheuo, or moichaomai).
Contrary to what Malina and Rohrbaugh state: Mark has the little phrase "against her," in v. 11. He presents adultery as a sin against her, rather than her father or other males. However, it isn't clear whether the sin is committed against the new wife or against the old wife. Mark is also not clear whether or not the new spouses had previously been married (compare Mt 5:32). It is clear that with the remarriage, faithfulness towards the first spouse has ended. "Adultery" is often used to mean "unfaithful," e.g., being unfaithful to the one God by worshiping idols.
Mark is not giving us detailed rules about what constitutes adultery. However, it is clear that divorce and remarriage is not part of God's plan, but because of human sinfulness it happens. The unity of flesh that God intends sometimes breaks apart.
Some additional thoughts about "committing adultery" (moichaomai). A closely related word is used later in the chapter. One of the commandments that the rich man has kept is "You shall not commit adultery" (10:19 - moicheuo). However, keeping that commandment or all the others isn't enough to inherit eternal life. Remaining married to one another "'til death do them part" is not what saves a couple. While such faithfulness to one another is commendable and needs to be encouraged and celebrated, it doesn't save them. It does not bring eternal life to them. If this is true, then neither is not staying married bring condemnation. One can be divorced and remarried, and not be condemned by God. Whether a couples stays married for life or they divorce each other because of hard hearts, their salvation, in both cases, is based on their relationship with and their faith in Jesus Christ that counts.
We also need to recognize that Jesus brought a new definition to "committing adultery" in Mt 5:28. Anyone who looks at another lustfully has committed this sin. I doubt that any of us can plead "not guilty" to this commandment. In our imaginations we break faithfulness with a spouse (if we are married). In our imaginations we consider someone to be a sex object -- something less than human. I think that each of us is just as guilty of "committing adultery" as those who go through the public trauma of a divorce; and then marry again. We can't point fingers at "those sinners." We are also them. (My mother used to tell us that whenever we point a finger at others, there are three fingers pointing back at us.) I heard a clergy colleague comment about the number of men in her congregation who commit adultery through internet porn sites. Even if they never had sex with another woman, these sites encourage their imaginations to break faithfulness with their wives.
When Jesus was asked to judge a woman who had been caught in adultery (what about the man?), he refused to condemn or punish her as the law of Moses dictated (John 8:3-11).
Divorce is not God's intentions for marriage; but, because of human sinfulness it happens, and we need divorce laws for protection. (Divorce is probably better than murder <g>). Divorced (and remarried) people are sinners, but so are all of us. Jesus refused to condemn and punish the one who had been caught in adultery. I believe that that same grace and mercy is extended to all of us sinners -- even those who have been through divorce and remarriage. How much more does someone whose life has publicly been torn apart need the comfort and love and acceptance from a community?
THE CHILDREN (vv. 13-16)A contrast can be made between the intentions of the Pharisees who come to Jesus -- to test him and are unwilling to learn from him (v. 2) and these people coming to Jesus -- to have their children touched by Jesus.
In the first century, there was not a very positive attitude about children. Some comments that express their feelings about children
Why were they bringing these children to Jesus? Why do they want Jesus to touch them? Every other time the word "touch" (apto) is used in Mark, it is part of a healing (1:41; 3:10; 5:27, 28, 30, 31; 6:56; 7:33; 8:22). I would conclude that these children were brought to Jesus because they were sick and in need of his touch for healing.
The mental picture this brings to me is not at all like so many paintings of Jesus and the children, where all the children have a squeaky-clean look; children full of life and smiles. Rather, it is more like a pediatrician's waiting room -- or the emergency room at a children's hospital. Jesus is surrounded by sick children -- and all the problems and smells that come with that: runny noses and dirty faces; diarrhea and smelly diapers; nausea and its unpleasant eruptions; crying or whimpering that just won't stop. With this picture in mind, it makes even more sense to think that the disciples would want to protect Jesus from these sick children. Somebody like Jesus -- a great teacher and scholar -- wouldn't want to waste time with sick children -- especially since 60% of them died before age 16. He'd have more important things to do, wouldn't he?
Malina & Rohrbaugh (Social-Science Commentary of the Synoptic Gospels) say something quite similar about these verses:
In view here are the proverbial vulnerability and helplessness of children. The picture is one of peasant women, many of whose babies would be dead within their first year, fearfully holding them out for Jesus to touch. Jesus' laying his hands on children to protect them from or clear them of the evil eye (this is the main malignancy from which parents have to protect their children in the Mediterranean) is offered as a model for how to enjoy God's patronage (= entering the kingdom of heaven). The argument is that God's patronage belongs to those ready and willing to be clients. [p. 243]
Earlier the disciples had tried to stop an exorcist from doing his deeds in Jesus' name. Jesus tells them not to stop him (9:38-39). Now they are trying to stop parents from bringing children to Jesus. Jesus tells them not to stop them. This may be a warning to all of us who believe that we are doing Jesus' will when we are trying to stop some activity in the world.
Perkins (Mark, New Interpreters Bible) gives this summary of the children-image.
Verse 15 turns toward the disciples. Once again, Jesus is warning the disciples that they must give up the normal human calculations of greatness if they are to participate in the rule of God. Jesus' saying that one who does not "receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" (v. 15) is puzzling. Modern ideas about the innocence of children cannot be carried back to the first century. In the philosophical context of the teacher and student, "babes" are those who are still without any real understanding of serious teaching (see 1 Cor 3:1-4). Therefore, it is not likely that the image referred to the disciples as recipients of Jesus' teaching. The child in antiquity was radically dependent upon the pater familias. The father decided whether the child would even be accepted into the family. Children belonged to their father and remained subject to his authority even as adults. The saying "to receive the kingdom like a child," which most scholars treat as originally independent of the scene about accepting children, must, therefore, refer to the radical dependence of the child on the father for any status, inheritance, or, in families where children might be abandoned, for life itself. It warns the disciples that they are radically dependent upon God's grace -- they cannot set the conditions for entering the kingdom. [p. 647]
Beyond this dependency image of children. One might also talk about the "non-persons" of society today. Perkins suggests that Jesus would not use the image of children today, but maybe "homeless 'street people'" or "particularly in under-developed nations, indigenous peoples might provide a more telling example" [p. 647].
In order to enter the kingdom, one gives up power, status, importance -- one dies to one's self; so that one's power, status, importance, and life can come from God. How much easier is it for children to do that than "Pharisees" or the "hard-hearted"?
From, In the Meantime, by David Lose
But what strikes me this time around is that perhaps we don’t need to read this as addressed to individuals but rather as something descriptive of, and helpful to, a community. Bear with me a moment while I explain.
When this passage is read at church, we tend to hear it in an intensely personal way. This is particularly true, of course, if you have gone through a divorce, or your parents have been divorced, or someone close to you has. All of this has the end result of hearing this passage as addressed to particular individuals and feeling ashamed or angry or hurt or embarrassed, and that’s totally understandable. Especially if Jesus imagined these words being addressed to individuals.
But here’s the thing: I don’t think he did.
Note, for instance, how Mark sets up this scene: “Some Pharisees came and to test him, said ‘Is it lawful…’” Did you catch that? This isn’t a casual – or even intense, for that matter – conversation about love, marriage, and divorce. It’s a test. Moreover, it’s not even a test about divorce, but about the law. There were, you see, several competing schools of thought about the legality of divorce. Not so much about whether divorce was legal – everyone agreed upon that – but rather under what circumstances. And with this question/test, the Pharisees are trying to pin Jesus down, trying to label him, trying to draw him out and perhaps entrap him so that they know better how to deal with him.
And Jesus is having none of it. He deflects their question away from matters of the law and turns it instead to relationship and, in particular, to God’s hope that our relationships are more than legal matters but instead help us to have and share more abundant life. Hence the turn to Genesis: questions of marriage and divorce, he argues, aren’t simply a matter of legal niceties, but rather are about the Creator’s intention that we be in relationships of mutual dependence and health.
In fact, Jesus goes one step further and takes what had turned into a legal convenience – typically for the man who sought a divorce – and pushes his interlocutors to see that this law – indeed, all law – was and is intended to protect the vulnerable. When a woman was divorced she lost pretty much everything – status, reputation, economic security, everything – so how can they treat this as a convenience, Jesus asks, let alone a debating topic. The law is meant to protect the vulnerable and hurting and every time we use it for another purpose we are twisting it from the Creator’s plan and, indeed, violating it in spirit if not in letter.
Jesus isn’t speaking to individuals, you see, he’s making a statement about the kind of community we will be. In fact, he’s inviting us to imagine communities centered in and on real relationships; relationships, that is, founded on love and mutual dependence, fostered by respect and dignity, and pursued for the sake of the health of the community and the protection of the vulnerable.
Now, here’s the interesting part for me. Even though the discussion up to this point has been about divorce, I don’t think that’s really the heart of what’s going on here. Which is why I’m grateful the lectionary includes the next verses describing the reaction of Jesus’ disciples to those bringing children to Jesus to bless and, more importantly, Jesus’ reaction to the same.
Let’s recall the context: Jesus has announced his intention to go to Jerusalem to die and, in response, his disciples argue about who is the greatest. Jesus in turn tells them that to be great is to serve, and that the very heart of the kingdom he proclaims is about welcoming the vulnerable. In fact, he says that whenever you welcome and honor a child – one who had the least status and power in the ancient world – you were actually welcoming and honoring Jesus. Now, on the heels of this conversation about the purpose of the law, some folks bring their children to be blessed and the disciples try to keep them away. And Jesus intervenes, forcefully, saying that welcoming the kingdom pretty much means welcoming children, that is, the vulnerable, those at risk, and those in need.
This whole passage, I think, is about community. But it’s not the kind of community we’ve been trained to seek. It’s not, that is, a community of the strong, or the wealthy, or the powerful, or the independent. Rather, this is a community of the broken, of the vulnerable, of those at risk. It’s a community, in other words, of those who know their need and seek to be in relationship with each other because they have learned that by being in honest and open relationship with each other they are in relationship with God, the very one who created them for each other in the first place.
This is what the church was originally about – a place for all those who had been broken by life or rejected by the powerful and who came to experience God through the crucified Jesus as the One who met them precisely in their vulnerability, not to make them impervious to harm but rather open to the brokenness and need of those around them.
But, goodness, is that hard to remember! No wonder Paul had to remind the Corinthians,
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God (I Cor. 1:26-29).
Part of being human is to be insecure, to be aware of our need and, in light of the cultural preference for strength, power, and independence, to be embarrassed by our need. For this reason, Paul, following Jesus, reminds us that to be broken isn’t something to be ashamed of. Rather, to be broken is, in fact, to be human. And to be human is to be loved by God and drawn together into relationship with all the others that God loves. Which means that our gatherings on Sundays are local gatherings of the broken and loved, of those who are hurting but also healing, of those who are lost but have also been found, of those that know their need and seek not simply to have those needs met but have realizeed that in helping meet the needs of others their own are met in turn.
Can we look at this passage this way, Dear Partner, not so much as instructions about divorce but instead as an invitation to see our communities as those places where God’s work to heal and restore the whole creation is ongoing, not by taking away all our problems but surrounding us with people who understand, and care, and help us to discover together our potential to reach out to others in love and compassion? Can we, that is, tell our people that we are communities of the broken, but we are those broken whom God loves and is healing and, indeed, using to make all things new?
We are, in short, communities of the broken and blessed. And that can be a hard message to hear because it runs contrary to conventional wisdom about strength and security. But it can also be life-giving, not only to those who know themselves to be broken and wonder if this is a place to them, but also to those of us in denial, seeking relentlessly to make it on our own, even if it kills us.
From Mark Davies, author, Left Behind and Loving it
Below is my rough translation and some comments regarding Mark 10:1-12, which is part of the lectionary reading for the 20thSunday after Pentecost. The lectionary also includes vv.13-16, but I see those verses as a separate pericope and will not treat them here.
I view these conversations between Jesus and the Pharisees, then Jesus and the disciples, as arguments over the nature of interpreting Scripture, namely Deuteronomy 24:1-4.
1 Καὶ ἐκεῖθεν ἀναστὰς ἔρχεται εἰς τὰ ὅρια τῆς Ἰουδαίας [καὶ] πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου, καὶ συμπορεύονται πάλιν ὄχλοι πρὸς αὐτόν, καὶ ὡς εἰώθει πάλιν ἐδίδασκεν αὐτούς.
And having gone up from there he entered into the region of the Judeans [and] beyond the Jordan, and again crowds gathered to him, and as he had been accustomed again he was teaching them.
ἀναστὰς: AAPart, nms, ἀνίστημι,1) to cause to rise up, raise up 1a) raise up from laying down 1b) to raise up from the dead
ἔρχεται: PMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 1a) of persons 1a1) to come from one place to another, and used both of persons arriving and of those returning
συμπορεύονται: PMI 3p, συμπορεύομαι, 1) to go or journey together 2) to come together, to assemble
εἰώθει : PluperfectAI 3s, ἔθω, to be accustomed, to be wont
ἐδίδασκεν: IAI 3s, διδάσκω, 1) to teach
1. The verb ἔθω (accustomed) is used 4x in the NT, twice about Jesus. The other custom attributed to Jesus was the habit of attending the synagogue on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16). ἔθω, as one might tell from the looks of it, is related to 'ethos,' primarily used to describe customs of the law in the gospels. It allows us to appreciate how some of Jesus' habits were learned from his upbringing, enabling him to do his ministry as a faithful Jew and not always as a contrarian. I say that because I've recently read this powerful essay by Marc Brettler (thanks for the tip, Beverly Gaventa!), and am reminded how important it is for New Testament scholars, interpreters, and proclaimers to push back against anti-Semitic portrayals of Jesus as if his Jewishness were beside the point.
2 καὶ προσελθόντες Φαρισαῖοι ἐπηρώτων αὐτὸν εἰ ἔξεστινἀνδρὶ γυναῖκαἀπολῦσαι, πειράζοντες αὐτόν.
And Pharisees having approached were interrogating him if it is lawful a man to divorce a woman, while testing him.
προσελθόντες: AAPart npm, προσέρχομαι, 1) to come to, approach 2) draw near to 3) to assent to
ἐπηρώτων: IAI 3p, ἐπερωτάω, 1) to accost one with an enquiry, put a question to, enquiry of, ask, interrogate 2) to address one with a request or demand 2a) to ask of or demand of one
ἔξεστιν: PAI 3s, ἔξεστι, 1) it is lawful
ἀπολῦσαι: AAInf, ἀπολύω, 1) to set free 2) to let go, dismiss, (to detain no longer) … 4) used of divorce, to dismiss from the house, to repudiate.
πειράζοντες: PAPart npm, πειράζω, 1) to try whether a thing can be done 1a) to attempt, endeavor 2) to try, make trial of, test: for the purpose of ascertaining his quantity, or what he thinks, or how he will behave himself
1. For the last few weeks I have been interpreting the verb ἐπερωτάω as “interrogate,” rather than as “ask,” in Mark’s gospel, when it is used it often seems to have an edge to it. See below for more information.
3 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς,Τί ὑμῖν ἐνετείλατο Μωϋσῆς;
Yet having answered he said to them, “What did Moses command to you?”
ἀποκριθεὶς: APPart nsm, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 1a) affirm over, maintain
ἐνετείλατο: AMI 3s, ἐντέλλομαι,1) to order, command to be done, enjoin
1. Jesus does not “interrogate” these Pharisees, but also does not simply submit to their interrogation. The old saying that Jesus answers a question with a question is in full bloom here. We might see this as a way of restructuring the question so that it starts on the right foundation. We might see it as an extension of the question, which is premised on what the law says. Or, we might see it as Jesus challenging the balance of power, by turning the interrogation into a debate.
4 οἱ δὲ εἶπαν, Ἐπέτρεψεν Μωϋσῆς βιβλίον ἀποστασίου γράψαι καὶἀπολῦσαι.
Yet they said, “Moses permitted to write a writ of divorce and to divorce.”
εἶπαν: AAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 1a) affirm over, maintain
Ἐπέτρεψεν: AAI 3s, ἐπιτρέπω, 1) to turn to, transfer, commit, instruct 2) to permit, allow, give leave
γράψαι: AAInf, γράφω, 1) to write, with reference to the form of the letters … write down, record
ἀπολῦσαι: AAInf, ἀπολύω, 1) to set free 2) to let go, dismiss, (to detain no longer) … 4) used of divorce, to dismiss from the house, to repudiate.
1. At this point, the original question posed by the Pharisees has been answered and it is the answer that they knew all along. However, the story continues, indicating that there is a greater point to this story than what the law actually says.
2. The reference here is to Deuteronomy 24:1-4: Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house and goes off to become another man’s wife. Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies);her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession.
As one can see, the point of this law is not whether or not one can get a divorce. The point is that one cannot re-marry a former spouse who has been married and divorced by someone else along the way. While the passage does not suggest that she – by virtue of having been through a first marriage and divorce – is‘defiled’ to her second husband, it does suggest that by going through the second marriage and divorce she is now defiled for a repeat marriage to her first husband. The matter of “writing a bill of divorce” is taken for granted here as a practice. Perhaps it is this status of “things taken for granted” that the word “permit” signifies (see next note).
3. I like how the ‘olde English’ versions translate Ἐπέτρεψενas “suffer” – as in “Suffer the little children to come unto me” or “Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement.” This is not the same word as παθεῖν, as in Mark 8:31 “the Son of Man must suffer.” The KJV translation raises, not a biblical question per se, but an interesting question of whether there is an inherent relationship between ‘permitting’ and ‘suffering.’ Does is suggest that granting permission exacts a cost of some sort by the one permitting? (I think the same kind of issue lies in the relationship between 'forgive' and 'suffer,' but that's for another time.)
5ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Πρὸς τὴν σκληροκαρδίαν ὑμῶν ἔγραψεν ὑμῖν τὴν
Yet Jesus said to them, “To your hardened heart he wrote to you this law.”
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 1a) affirm over, maintain
ἔγραψεν: AAI 3s, γράφω, 1) to write, with reference to the form of the letters … write down, record
1. For the Pharisees to recognize that divorce is “permitted” and for Jesus to show that there is context for this permission, suggests that this conversation is about how to interpret Scripture, and not just about whether the law says this or that. This is a much more sophisticated approach to reading Scripture than to repeat II Timothy 3:16 (“All Scripture is inspired by God) as some kind of mechanical event, whereby God dictates every word of Scripture as equally inspired. Jesus suggests a keen interdependence behind this law. The law not only reflects God’s way to God’s people, but it was written with sensitivity to the human situation – in this case, hard-heartedness. This law is not the apodictic law that simply expresses a requirement or prohibition; it is the conditional law that is given ‘by Moses’ in a way that befits human experience, limitations, and sinfulness.
2. The word for “hard hearted,” σκληροκαρδίαν (sclero-cardia), is familiar to the medical profession, which continue to use these Greek words to describe calcification of the heart.
3. In the end, the “permission” of Deuteronomy 24 is not a reflection of what God wills as much as it is a concession by Moses to human failings. Is it lawful? Yes, but not in the same way that “Love your neighbor as yourself” is lawful.
4. I suggest that God’s concessions make up a huge part of the story of the Scriptures. Among the things that God may not have ‘willed’ but conceded because of human need might be the temple, the monarchy, and the sacrificial system.
5. As my comments suggest, I am not investing too much into the phrase "your hearts," as if Jesus is putting all of the cardio sclerosis onto the Pharisees themselves - no more than I would think "to you" meant that Moses wrote the law specifically for these Pharisees. The Pharisees were not there when Moses wrote this law, so the "you" language seems to be more collective of human experience.
6ἀπὸ δὲ ἀρχῆς κτίσεως ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτούς:
Yet from the beginning of creation male and female he made them;
ἐποίησεν: AAI 3s, ποιέω, 1) to make 1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct, form, fashion, etc
1. Jesus moves to the second creation story as a way of reaching for something more fundamental than a proviso that is rooted in Moses’ concession human hard-heartedness.
7ἕνεκεν τούτου καταλείψειἄνθρωπος τὸν πατέρα αὐτοῦ καὶ τὴν μητέρα
[καὶ προσκολληθήσεται πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ],
For this a man will leave behind his father and the mother [and will hold fast to his woman.]
καταλείψει: FAI 3s, καταλείπω, 1) to leave behind 1a) to depart from, leave
προσκολληθήσεται: FPI 3s, cleave, hold fast
1. The latter [bracketed] portion of this verse is not in many of the earliest manuscripts.
2. I've always thought this description curiously was reversed in most of the stories, because the woman is the one who would leave her home and be joined with the man and his household. I imagine the actual practice was driven by economics. But, this still strikes me as a curious way for Jesus to portray the act of coupling when it seemed that the customs were different.
3. It is interesting, isn’t it, that the model for a man leaving his parents to be joined to a woman is Adam and Eve, who had no parents. Hmm…
8καὶ ἔσονται οἱ δύο εἰς σάρκα μίαν: ὥστε οὐκέτι εἰσὶνδύο ἀλλὰ μία σάρξ.
and the two will be into one flesh; so they are no longer two but one flesh.
ἔσονται: FMI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
εἰσὶν: PAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. This verse is about sex, right? The word “flesh” is used twice, two fleshes becoming one flesh and, in the first half of this statement, two will be into one flesh. My sense is that the preposition into indicates that this is talking about copulation. The only reason I find this important to note is that we often romanticize this text to make it “two hearts that beat as one,” or something like. What is at stake in Deut.24 is whether a woman who has been married and divorced, then married and divorced to a second husband, can be re-married to the first husband. The permission to divorce in Deut.24 is a concession to human weakness, not a perfect expression of what God wills. What I don’t know is whether the proviso “she does not please him” in Deut. 24 is an explicit reference to sexual pleasure. If that is the case, the whole notion of desire, boredom, then desire to re-conquer the same woman who has been another man’s woman means that this a law concedes to some forms of human vagary, but not to all of them.
9ὃ οὖν ὁ θεὸς συνέζευξεν ἄνθρωπος μὴ χωριζέτω.
Therefore whom God has joined together no person may separate.
συνέζευξεν: AAI 3s, συζεύγνυμι, 1) to fasten to one yoke, yoke together 2) to join together unite 2a) of the marriage tie
χωριζέτω: PAImpv 3s, χωρίζω, 1) to separate, divide, part, put asunder, to separate one's self from, to depart 1a) to leave a husband or wife 1a) of divorce 1b) to depart, go away
1. I wonder what people hear whenever a pastor says these words at a wedding. This verse – if I am reading the context of Deut.24 correctly – suggests that this is a 3rdperson imperative saying that nobody is allowed to pursue either of the married couple any more as a sexual partner and that neither of the couple is allowed to pursue others as sexual partners, even if they grow bored with one another.
10Καὶ εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν πάλιν οἱ μαθηταὶ περὶ τούτου ἐπηρώτων αὐτόν.
And in the house again the disciples interrogated him about this.
ἐπηρώτων: IAI 3p, ἐπερωτάω, 1) to accost one with an enquiry, put a question to, enquiry of, ask, interrogate
1. When the Pharisees interrogated Jesus (for “interrogate,” again, see below) they did so in order to test him. Does the word “again” indicate that the disciples, likewise, are testing Jesus in some way? Usually when the disciples 'interrogate' Jesus, it doesn't end well for them. This time it's not so bad, at least until the children come along in vv. 13-16. If one includes that pericope with vv. 1-12, then we would see a pattern that the disciples simply ought not to interrogate Jesus.
11καὶ λέγειαὐτοῖς, Ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ γαμήσῃ ἄλλην
μοιχᾶται ἐπ' αὐτήν,
And he says to them, “Whoever might divorce his woman and might marry another is adulterated by/against her.”
λέγει: PAI 3s, , λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 1a) affirm over, maintain
ἀπολύσῃ: AASubj 3s, ἀπολύω, 1) to set free 2) to let go, dismiss, (to detain no longer) … 4) used of divorce, to dismiss from the house, to repudiate.
γαμήσῃ: AASubj 3s, γαμέω, 1) to lead in marriage, take to wife 1a) to get married, to marry 1b) to give one's self in marriage 2) to give a daughter in marriage
μοιχᾶται: PPI 3s, μοιχάω to have unlawful intercourse with another's wife, to commit adultery with
1. The verb “adulterate” is in the passive voice - hence 'is adulterated.' Most translations make it an active – indeed a very strongly active – voice, “commits adultery.” But to say, “commits adultery” makes adultery the object of a verb (commits) that is not actually here. I am trying to retain the passive voice, but there is very little company here among other translations.
2. What is the antecedent to the pronoun ‘her’? Is it ‘his woman’ or ‘another’? Both potential antecedents and the pronoun are feminine singular.
3. The preposition ἐπ'can mean a variety of things, depending on the context. If one chooses ‘by’ or ‘against’ that would sway the meaning of the verse and create its own context. This is a really fine area for translators.
4. It is interesting to compare these verses with Matthew, because Matthew has Jesus making this argument twice – 5:31-32 and 19:1-12. Matthew adds a provision that one can divorce if there is unfaithfulness involved. If we combine Matthew’s provision with Paul’s arguments over divorce because of one’s spouse not being a believer, it seems to me that the question of divorce was a live one among the early church, not a settled matter.
12καὶ ἐὰν αὐτὴ ἀπολύσασα τὸν ἄνδρα αὐτῆς γαμήσῃ ἄλλον μοιχᾶται.
And if she having divorced her man might marry another she is adulterated.
ἀπολύσασα: AAPart nsf, ἀπολύω, 1) to set free 2) to let go, dismiss, (to detain no longer) … 4) used of divorce, to dismiss from the house, to repudiate.
γαμήσῃ: AASubj 3s, γαμέω, 1) to lead in marriage, take to wife 1a) to get married, to marry 1b) to give one's self in marriage 2) to give a daughter in marriage
μοιχᾶται: PPI 3s, μοιχάω to have unlawful intercourse with another's wife, to commit adultery with
1. The question arises whether it was even a real option for a woman to divorce a man legally. Part of the answer would like in whether by ‘legal’ one is referring to the Law of Moses or to the Romanic law in force in 1stcentury Palestine.
Looking at how Mark uses the verb ἐπερωτάω, which could simply mean “to ask” but also carries the connotation of a challenge, I have translated it as “interrogate.” Because it is Mark’s word for confrontational conversations – Jesus and demons, Pharisees and Scribe and Jesus, etc. – I translate it confrontationally – at least in the rough translation.
And he asked him, What is...
...Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk...
...people, his disciples asked him concerning the...
And he asked them, How many...
...hands upon him, he asked him if he...
...by the way he asked his disciples, saying...
And he saith unto them, But...
And they asked him, saying, Why...
And he asked the scribes, What...
And he asked his father, How...
...house, his disciples asked him privately, Why...
...and were afraid to ask him.
...in the house he asked them, What was...
...to him, and asked him, Is it...
...house his disciples asked him again of...
...to him, and asked him, Good Master...
...unto them, I will also ask of you one...
...no resurrection; and they asked him, saying,
...answered them well, asked him, Which is...
...after that durst ask him any question...
...John and Andrew asked him privately,
...the midst, and asked Jesus, saying, Answerest...
...the high priest asked him, and said...
And Pilate asked him, Art thou...
And Pilate asked him again, saying...
...him the centurion, he asked him whether he...
What I don’t and cannot know is whether the “answers” that emerge from an interrogation are different in kind than an answer that might emerge from a question that is genuinely curious or spiritually thirsty. I often see biblical scholars analyze Jesus’ conversations with fencing terms, as a “parry and riposte.” Besides demonstrating that they were schooled in elite settings, I wonder if those terms are always appropriate or if we should stipulate certain types of terms for certain types of questionings. Then we could explore, for example, whether the import of an answer to an “interrogation” carries different weight than an answer to a genuine question. After all, this text has been about how to read the Scriptures, and not confusing a ‘permission’ or ‘concession’ with God’s will.