While Jesus was teaching and healing in Judea, some Pharisees tried to trap Jesus by asking Him a loaded question about marriage and the Law of Moses. Jesus’ response caused the disciples to conclude that “it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10).
The Pharisees, trying to trap Jesus in a dilemma, asked Him whether it was lawful to divorce a wife for any reason (Matthew 19:3). They were trying to get Jesus to contradict Moses so they could brand Jesus as a false teacher. Of course, Jesus shrewdly responded by answering them with Scripture. Jesus reminded them that humanity was created male and female and that marriage was God’s joining of the man and woman into one flesh; thus, no person could actually separate what God had united (Matthew 19:4–6). Jesus appealed to the design of marriage, implying that divorce was a violation of that design.
The Pharisees thought Jesus had taken the bait, and they questioned further why Moses allowed for divorce (Matthew 19:7). Jesus’ answer was perhaps not what they expected. Jesus explained that Moses’ allowance of divorce was a concession because of the people’s hardness of heart, but divorce was never what was designed (Matthew 19:8). Jesus further explained that, if one divorces for any reason other than immorality (or unfaithfulness) and marries someone else, then he or she is committing adultery (Matthew 19:9). Matthew did not record the Pharisees’ response, but the disciples concluded that it is better not to marry (Matthew 19:10).
Jesus communicated that God’s standard is high. Those who are married become one flesh and are united by God in a unique way. Only unfaithfulness by one partner could warrant the other partner’s divorce and remarriage—and even that was a concession. Divorce was not the ideal and was not to be considered the guaranteed privilege of disgruntled men. The disciples, accustomed to the notion that divorce should be easy, shrank back from the idea of being stuck in an unpleasant marriage. According to Jesus’ teaching, a man who is displeased with his wife has no way out, and the disciples conclude it would be better not to marry than risk a life of unhappiness.
In answering the Pharisees’ question, Jesus reiterated the seriousness of the marriage relationship as God has joined the husband and wife. That union was also affirmed by the married persons by their covenant with each other. To violate the covenant would be treachery (see Malachi 2:14–16). This is why the disciples conclude that it is better not to marry. They understood from Jesus’ words that the marital commitment is a serious responsibility. Divorce was legally permitted for almost any reason, but Jesus explained that the husband had a weighty obligation no matter how easy it might be to legally divorce his wife.
Paul later explains in Ephesians 5:22–27 that the husband is to love his wife fully and unconditionally (illustrating Christ’s sacrificial love for the church), and the wife is to subject herself to her own husband (illustrating the church’s response to Christ). These unconditional responsibilities are incredibly serious and should not be undertaken lightly. Just as the disciples conclude that it is better not to marry, it would be wise for those pondering marriage to recognize how important marriage is to God and how He designed it to be a lifelong commitment. Perhaps some might also conclude that it is better not to marry.