1. Exposition

What is the test that the Pharisees give Jesus?

Mark 10:2 (ESV)

2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

The Pharisees refer here to Jesus’ own teaching: they know that more than once he has objected to the certificate of divorce (Matthew 5:31–32). These Pharisees now try to elicit from Jesus in a sensitive case a statement that was against the law.1,2 According to all Jews, divorce (however restricted) is allowed by the law of Moses. If Jesus declares himself now to be against divorce he goes against the law. And not only that, he will also lose a lot of popularity among the many men who are standing around him, not because they want to divorce quickly, but because the abolition of the certificate of divorce and of divorce as such would, in the people’s view, give permission to women to disregard their marriage duties and tasks. We should not forget that many marriages were arranged by the parents and that such arranged marriages could grow into successful ones because the wife, in view of the risk of being sent away, exerted herself to help and please the husband, so that it became easier for him to learn to love his wife as well. Jesus’ own disciples also could not consider the possibility of getting married without the freedom of sending their wife away (Matthew 19:10). And so if, because of the feelings of the predominantly male crowds around him, Jesus should declare divorce acceptable after all, then he would deny his own earlier teachings. The question has been chosen with care: the subject is sufficiently touchy to drive a wedge between Jesus and his followers and to unmask him as an unstable or a heretical teacher. In this way the Pharisees hope to get rid of Jesus’ teaching.3