Mark 10:2 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

Mark 10:2, NIV: Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?'

Mark 10:2, ESV: And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

Mark 10:2, KJV: And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him.

Mark 10:2, NASB: And some Pharisees came up to Jesus, testing Him, and began questioning Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife.

Mark 10:2, NLT: Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: 'Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife?'

Mark 10:2, CSB: Some Pharisees came to test him, asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? "

What does Mark 10:2 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

In the century before Jesus' ministry, two rabbis taught contradictory views of divorce. The school of Shammai taught that the justification for divorce must be very serious, like adultery or an egregious offense against the Mosaic law. Hillel's school, in contrast, held that a husband could divorce his wife for anything that caused him shame or offense. Scribes judged Hillel's view to be more accommodating, and they grew to believe it was better to divorce than be in an unhappy marriage. Their Talmud teaches that a man can divorce his wife for such reasons as burning his dinner. Or, even that he met another woman to whom he's more attracted.

The original Mosaic law aligns more closely with Shammai, and says the only valid reason for a man to divorce his wife is indecency (Deuteronomy 24:1). Transgressions such as adultery were punishable by death (Leviticus 20:10). But God's interaction with Israel shows a more compassionate example. Like Hosea, whom God directed to take back his unfaithful wife, God took back the Israelites numerous times after they worshiped pagan gods. Eventually, God "sent away" the northern kingdom of Israel to Assyria (1 Chronicles 5:26). Then He "sent away" the southern kingdom of Judah to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:17–21). Even so, He forgave Judah and brought her back (2 Chronicles 36:22–23).

The process of divorce was simple: the man decided he didn't want the woman anymore, so he gave her a certificate of divorce, called a get, returned her dowry, and sent her from the house. Since Jesus' time, Jewish rabbis have realized how unjust such divorce laws are to women. Instead of changing them back to the Mosaic law, they enacted limitations on the husband and gave some liberties to the wife. The legal process for divorce became more complicated and expensive for the husband. Rabbis strengthened the ketubah, or pre-nuptial agreement, in the wife's favor. They established that the wife would have to consent to the divorce. Eventually, rabbis started allowing women to initiate divorce proceedings for things like unmet conjugal rights, impotence of the husband, or abuse. Still, today, a Jewish woman cannot present her husband with a get, although she can ask the court to compel her husband to present her with a get.

Jewish leaders had a hard time figuring out what to do if a husband abandoned his wife without divorcing her. Without a get, she is still legally married. If she remarries, she is an adulteress and the children from that marriage are illegitimate. Some men protect their wives by giving them a provisional get when they go to war, so if they are missing in action, the wife can remarry. Paul's writings prevented that difficulty from spreading into the Christian church by stating that abandonment was a legitimate reason for divorce (1 Corinthians 7:15).

The rabbinical tradition is the exact opposite of what God intended for marriage, obviously, but also for divorce. The beginning of Malachi 2:16 is usually translated, "God hates divorce." That phrase has been misused throughout history to shame spouses into trying to stay safe in abusive marriages. The literal translation of the Hebrew is "God hates the sending-out." In a culture where only the men could "send" anything, God is saying that He hates when men are faithless to the wife of their youth (Proverbs 5:18). He hates it when men stop loving their wives. He hates it when men "send out" their wives away from their marriage and children. To do so is to be clothed in violence (Malachi 2:14–16).

So, when the Pharisees ask Jesus if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife, they are asking which rabbi, Shammai or Hillel, Jesus follows. But they are also testing Jesus to see if He will take the same line as John the Baptist who was killed for his condemnation of Antipas' and Herodias' unlawful divorces and remarriage (Mark 6:14–29), while they sit in the same area John had his ministry. It's a smart political move as Antipas and his followers have had their sights on Jesus for a long time (Luke 13:31; Mark 3:6), and they are sitting in Perea, which Antipas controls. In addition, they probably know that Jesus' conservative view will alienate the men in the audience, as it certainly does the disciples (Matthew 19:10). But Jesus doesn't back down. His reply goes to the heart of the Mosaic law and God's plan for marriage, not the convenience or fear of man.