Matthew 19:3

ESV And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”
NIV Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?'
NASB Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?'
CSB Some Pharisees approached him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds? "
NLT Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: 'Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?'
KJV 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?

What does Matthew 19:3 mean?

Jesus and His disciples are on the east side of the Jordan River, likely in the region of Perea. Large crowds have followed Him there, and He continues to heal those who come to Him. Some of the Pharisees have found Jesus there, as well. Their goal is to discredit Jesus before the people or to find some reason to accuse Him of heresy. They continue to come up with questions to test Him in this way.

These Pharisees ask Jesus if it is lawful, under the law of Moses, for a man to divorce his wife for "any cause." In other words, can a man divorce his wife just because he wants to?

Divorce is a sensitive topic in every era, and Jesus knows this is a trap. For one thing, John the Baptist had been arrested by Herod Antipas for challenging that ruler's divorce from his wife and remarriage to his brother's wife (Matthew 14:3–12). John was eventually executed not far from where Jesus was now. Talking about divorce in the context of Israel's rulers was clearly dangerous.

For another thing, the Pharisees drove public opinion on when and if divorce was lawful. Both leaders and the people were divided into two views. Both groups said it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife, but they disagreed on what grounds. One group insisted the wife must be guilty of significant indecency or immorality. The other group said only that the husband could divorce his wife if he was unhappy with her for any reason, at all. In this era, it would not have been considered lawful for Jewish wives to initiate a divorce under normal circumstances. The Pharisees were trying to get Jesus to choose a side in this religious and social debate.

Finally, the question was a trap for the same reason some pastors avoid the topic today: Many of those listening to Jesus were very likely divorced and remarried. Apparently, even many of the Pharisees themselves had been divorced, according to historians. Almost any answer would fail to sit well with at least some people.
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