A Tempting Question

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?

Matthew 19:3 (KJV)

Tempting – Since when did asking a question become tempting someone? How was Yeshua tempted in this scenario? Well without any study into the context of the situation and times, we might jump to the conclusion that they were Pharisees, and the Pharisees were always tempting Him, so I’m sure they were trying to ensnare Yeshua with their question.

But that’s not quite accurate. And without context, we miss what’s actually happening here. During Yeshua’s time there were two opposing thoughts/interpretations regarding divorce: the school of Hillel, and the school of Shammai. The followers of Hillel believed that a man can divorce his wife for any trivial offense, while the followers of Shammai believed divorce was only permitted for serious sexual offenses such as adultery. This was a long lasting controversial topic based on Deuteronomy 24:1.

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.

The word uncleanness above, can be interpreted in different ways. And this was the struggle the Rabbis were having. What was the true interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1? Notice the question isn’t about whether or not divorce itself is lawful, but for which reason divorce is lawful. Everyone, including Yeshua, understood that divorce was permitted by the law of God. And so this age-old question was presented to Yeshua in Matthew 19. But why was it considered tempting?

Are you familiar with Yeshua’s authority by which He spoke? He had the authority of the Father and often times would speak in ways unbecoming of a Rabbi. How so? The common practice for Rabbis was to quote their own Rabbi when providing interpretation of Scripture. Yeshua didn’t do this. He said, “I tell you”. And in John 8, He clarifies that the authority He has comes directly from the Father. This was unsettling to the Pharisees and other Rabbis. They didn’t know how to fit Yeshua into a nice little box. You see if Yeshua quoted from other Rabbis, it would immediately be evident from where He received His teaching, and everyone would understand how Yeshua arrived at His interpretations. But Yeshua didn’t do that. So when the Pharisees approach Him and tempt Him with a very common question during this time, it becomes a temptation because they’re trying to get Yeshua to conform to a Rabbinic lineage of teaching. Is Yeshua aligned with the school of Hillel or the school of Shammai? Once they know this, they can classify all His other interpretations. But what does Yeshua do?

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,

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?

Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Matthew 19:4-6

Yeshua doesn’t conform to a Rabbinic lineage, but rather takes them back to the beginning as the Father instituted. Yeshua quotes from the Father (His Teacher) on the situation at hand. But ultimately, Yeshua resolves to provide the correct interpretation in verse 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.

Yeshua sides with the school of Shammai stating that divorce is only permitted for adulterous purposes. He avoided the preconceived ideologies by which the Rabbis wanted to define Him by referring back to the Garden, but He also clarifies the grounds for divorce.

Again we see that context is everything when studying Scripture. We can’t just continue to interpret the text based on our own understanding in context of the year 2016. We have to study, we have to learn what 1st century Israel was like.


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