In Private. 10 In the house the disciples again questioned him about this. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
In the privacy of a house, the disciples question Jesus about “this” – presumably, “what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Jesus has taken the question back to the divine intent. One way to understand the unstated question is that the disciples are not asking about divorce per se, but the broader question of all the things that cause the separation of what God has joined. Jesus declared without qualification that a man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. The use of the word “adultery” directs the disciples back to the absolute command of God (Ex. 20:14) and clarifies the seriousness of the issue. But to be clear, Jesus is not saying that divorce and remarriage is the only circumstance that lead to adultery, but it is of the same gravitas.
One must not miss the new element in this teaching, which was totally unrecognized in the rabbinic courts. It was not conceived that a husband could commit adultery against his former wife. According to rabbinic law a man could commit adultery against another married man by seducing his wife (Deut. 22:13–29) and a wife could commit adultery against her husband by infidelity, but a husband could not be said to commit adultery against his wife. The unconditional form of Jesus’ statement served to reinforce the abrogation of the Mosaic permission in Deut. 24:1. This sharp intensifying of the concept of adultery had the effect of elevating the status of the wife to the same dignity as her husband and placed the husband under an obligation of fidelity. Adultery is a sin against God’s creative love that joins two to become one.
“By treating marriage as grounded in God’s creative love, Jesus removes it from the realm of law. The first-century audience was familiar with marriage as a contract. As with any contract, it could be nullified. Indeed, marriage contracts often anticipate that happening. Sometimes people enter into marriage assuming that it will not last. Jesus was not the only one to challenge the casual attitude of his day, but, unlike the Essenes, he did not think new laws would create the spirit in which disciples would live out his teaching. Sometimes people think that Jesus is merely the product of a stricter society. In fact, the legal protections around marriage were much more individual in his day than in ours. The questions he poses about a hard-hearted or utilitarian view of marriage are still crucial for our reflection, not because we want tough laws against divorce, but because we seek to make Christian families what God intended them to be.” (Perkins, 646)
The Kingdom as Gift. 13 And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” 16 Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.
It is fitting that a passage on children should follow one on marriage since both were especially vulnerable in first century society. But this passage first addresses the Kingdom of God and what prevents people from being included. The Pharisees and scribes had already been rebuked for substituting the traditions of men for God’s law and intention. Jesus made an example of service to a little child to overturn the disciples’ arguments about which of them was the greatest in 9:33–37. That episode was followed by the disciples’ trying to prohibit an outsider from using Jesus’ name (9:38–39). This episode begins with the disciples’ attempting to enforce the standard social norms that children are not deserving of attention or time.
There are two sides to this teaching: (a) the disciples who need to not keep excluding folks but to open the gates to all, and (b) to all those to whom the Kingdom is opened, to realize that it is all gift – and to received it as would a child.
This passage is not only well placed with the passage affirming the sanctity of marriage, but serves as a bridge to next week’s gospel when the man comes to Jesus asking what he must do to receive eternal life: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, ‘You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
Perhaps the man had earned much, but would not accept what he had not earned. He did not understand the gift. Can he be saved? “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” It is the gift; children have no problems receiving gifts.
Mark 10:2 Pharisees. Many manuscripts of Mark do not have “Pharisees” in the verse. Scholars think this was a later harmonization with Matthew’s text. In any case, Jesus will frequently enter into debate with various Jewish groups, including the Pharisees. divorce: the verb apolyein, used in the context of marriage, is generally translated divorce. More broadly it means sending the woman away from the household.
Mark 10:3 What did Moses command you? In fact, Moses commanded nothing that is recorded in Scripture. It is clear that divorce [“setting aside”] was the practice in Jesus’ time. Consider Joseph’s initial plans when he heard that Mary was with child.
Mark 10:4 bill of divorce: According to Dt 24:1,3 the husband wrote out a document declaring that he had divorced his wife and sent her away. Possession of this document provided the woman with the legal proof that the marriage has ended and she was free to marry another. In part, it was protection against the former husband making later claims against her.
Mark 10:7 and be joined to his wife: This phrase is missing is some manuscripts. Many scholars accept the text as original assigned it as an omission in the manuscript where the scribe’s eye moved from kai to kai in the copy process.
Mark 10:9 what God has joined together: The underlying Greek word, synezeuxein (joined together) is the preposition with (syn) and the root zeug- which describes two animals yoked together.
Mark 10:11 commits adultery: This statement is consistent with 1 Cor 7:10, Luke 16:18 and Matthew 5:32. Some scholars postulate that 10:12 is a later addition adapting to the Roman custom whereby a woman could divorce her husband – something not permitted in Jewish custom. But this assumes that Jesus was not addressing a diverse group whose customs he would have been familiar with.
Mark 10:13 they were bringing children: “they” is ambiguous – one is left to assume people in the crowds who discovered Jesus was in the house. “Children” (paidia) could mean infant through 12 years old. The Gospel of Luke, in the parallel account uses brephē, leaving no doubt they were infants. that he might touch them: literally, “lay hands on them,” leaving open the question if the contact was for purpose of blessing (v.16) or healing.
- K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007).
- Alan Cole, Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989) 230-36
- Raymond F. Collins, Divorce in the New Testament (Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazer / Liturgical Press, 1992)
- John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina v.2 (Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazer / Liturgical Press, 2001) 292-301
- Michael Smith Foster, Annulment: the Wedding that Was (New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1999)
- Wilfred Harrington, Mark, The New Testament Message, v.4 (Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazer Press, 1979)
- William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974) 351-61
- Philip Van Linden, C.M., “Mark” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, ed. Dianne Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) 923
- Pheme Perkins, The Gospel of Mark, vol. 8 of The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, TN: Abington Press, 1994) 642-47
- Ben Witherington, The Gospel of Mark: A Social-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001) 274-81
- David Turner and Darrell L. Bock, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005) 292-301
- Brian Stoffregen, CrossMarks Christian Resources, available at www.crossmarks.com/brian/
- Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
- Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990)
Scripture – The New American Bible available on-line at http://www.usccb.org/bible