Marriage, Divorce, Eunuchs, and Children
“Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable.”
The matter of marriage, divorce, and remarriage was as hotly debated among religious people in our Lord’s day as it is today (vv. 3-9).
“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? 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. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. 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.”
The importance of our Lord’s words in these verses cannot be over stressed. The well-being of nations, the happiness of society, and welfare of the church greatly depends upon the strength of families. And family values, family strength, family wholeness depends upon a proper understanding of the teachings of God’s Word about marriage. In these verses our Lord teaches us that marriage is for life. The marriage union of a husband and wife is never to be dissolved, and cannot be lawfully dissolved, except upon the most serious grounds.
In the days of our Lord’s earthly ministry, during the zenith of the Roman Empire, moral decadence was much the same as it is in western society today. Divorces were permitted and marriages were dissolved, even among the Jews, for the most frivolous and trifling reasons. The Pharisees did not simply ask, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?” They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” It is true, because of the hardness of men’s hearts, to prevent the abuse of and murder of women, Moses did permit men to divorce their wives, but not for “every reason” (Deut. 24:1-4). Yet, by long tradition and great laxity, that which Moses permitted was so commonly practiced, that marriage had become nothing more than a whimsical thing, regarded with utmost disdain.
When men and women abandon God’s law and look contemptuously upon marriage, they produce a generation of children who are utterly without conscience (Mal. 2:14). The disciples comment in verse 10 (“If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.”) gives us some idea of just how bad things were. They as good as said, “If a man cannot get rid of his wife whenever he wants to, he would be better off not to marry at all!”
Marriage is a relationship of greater importance and greater influence than any other earthly relationship. It was established by God in Paradise before sin entered into the world (Gen. 2:18-25). It was chosen to be typical of the relationship that exists between Christ and his church (Eph. 5:25-33). Marriage is a relationship superior even to the relationship between parents and children (Eph. 5:31). Marriage involves commitment, the loving devotion of a man and a woman to one another. It involves sacrifice and self-denial. It is giving, never taking. It is yielding, not demanding. It is unconditional, never qualified. Marriage involves a dissolution of other relationships, and a blessed isolation of a man and woman with one another.
Our Lord here teaches us that this blessed relationship of marriage is a life-long union. Today, few people enter into a marriage with the determination that it is forever. Multitudes write out prenuptial agreements in anticipation of divorce. And many do not even bother with a wedding ceremony. They just shack up like wild animals until something more attractive comes along. “From the beginning it was not so…What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” All who violate God’s Word in this matter are guilty of adultery, and cause those who are recklessly abandoned and put away to do the same.
This life-long marriage union can be dissolved lawfully, biblically, only for the most extreme reasons. In this passage our Lord cites fornication as the basis of divorce. As it is used here, the word “fornication” refers to sexual infidelity. The Master is not teaching that men and women ought to get a divorce if one or the other commits an act of infidelity. Indeed, we ought to forgive. But he is teaching that in such cases the marriage union may be permanently dissolved. The apostle Paul, writing by divine inspiration, also allows that abandonment dissolves the marriage union (1 Cor. 7:15). In such cases, the person abandoned, or the one against whom the infidelity was committed, is perfectly free to marry again in the Lord (Deut. 24:1-4).
Many of God’s saints have already experienced divorce and remarriage, some several times, before the Lord was pleased to save them by his grace? The question is sometimes raised, “How should we deal with them?” We are to deal with them as forgiven sinners, just like the rest of us! Like us, they are sinners saved by God’s free grace in Christ, born of God, washed in the blood of the Lamb, forgiven of all sin, free from all condemnation, and new creatures in Christ (Rom. 8:1).
Union with Christ
The Scriptures clearly teach us that marriage was ordained of God to be an instructive and beautiful picture of the union of Christ and his church (Gen. 2:18-21; Eph. 5:23-33). Moses, the law, permitted the union of a man and his wife to be dissolved by divorce because of adultery. He did so because of the hardness of men’s hearts. But, blessed be his name, God our Savior “hateth putting away” (Mal. 2:16). He has betrothed his elect to himself forever (Hosea 2:19-20). His word is, though “thou hast played the harlot with many lovers, yet return unto me saith the Lord” (Jer. 3:1). Therefore, he recovers his adulterous wife by his free and sovereign grace. When he does, he causes the object of his love to willingly put away her lovers and return to him, saying, “I will return unto my first husband” (Ps. 65:4; 110:3; Hosea 2:6-7).
In verses 10-12 our Savior gives us a word of instruction about eunuchs, or about the matter of celibacy.
“His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”
The word “eunuchs” here does not merely refer to an emasculated man. Nowhere does the word of God approve of physical disfigurement in the name of worship! As it is used here, the word refers to men who have no interest in marriage. Yet, it has nothing to do with effeminacy! Our Savior tells us that some are eunuchs by birth. Some (particularly those who were slaves) were forced to be eunuchs. Others choose to be eunuchs, to remain celibate, so that they may be freer to serve Christ’s interests in this world.
Our Lord is not here teaching that celibacy is a more spiritual or more desirable state than marriage (1 Cor. 7:1-2; 1 Tim. 4:3). He is simply telling us that some men do not have the need to marry. And he is telling us that some men voluntarily forgo marriage that they may more freely serve Christ (1 Cor. 7:32-33). Such men are not to be held in suspicion. Having said that, I must add, in this day of rampant homosexuality, it seems best (in my opinion) for any man who is not impotent to take a wife with whom he can serve Christ, particularly if he is a minister of the gospel.
Our Savior uses children to exemplify his own humility and to teach us what humility is (vv. 13-15).
“Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.”
These little children were brought to the Lord Jesus, just as sick and diseased people were, that he might lay his hands upon them and pray for them. There is no more and no less in this incident than that. There is not a word about whose children they were. There is not a word about baptism, much less sprinkling! And there is not a word about the common practice these days of having a dedication service for babies.
Very few passages in the New Testament have been so perversely twisted to teach false doctrine as these three verses. Papists and those who continue to practice Roman rituals commonly refer to these verses as a defense of sprinkling water on babies. If there were any place in the Bible where we might expect to find some mention or example of “infant sprinkling” this would be the place; but that is not the case. This practice of what is called “infant baptism” is totally without foundation in Holy Scripture. There is not so much as one word in the Bible that teaches, or even implies it. And there is not a single example of it in the entire Bible. It is a practice purely of Roman Catholic origin. It is vainly hoped by those who practice infant sprinkling, that the baby sprinkled with a little water is thereby regenerated, or at least given one foot up toward God. The practice is, of course, totally contrary to the plainest declaration of Holy Scripture, both with regard to salvation and baptism.
It is a complete contradiction of the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ. Salvation does not come by water, be it much or little, but by grace. It is not the result of some man’s priestly pretense, but of God’s sovereign operation. Infant sprinkling is also totally contrary to the teaching of Holy Scripture about baptism. Baptism is immersion, picturing the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and our death, burial, and resurrection with him (Rom. 6:3-6). It is called “believer’s baptism” because only believers are to be baptized. Baptism is the believer’s symbolic confession of faith in Christ.
“Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them.” — They brought these children to the Master that he might, as was his custom, heal them of their diseases by touching them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought these sick children to the Master. We are not told why the disciples’ rebuked them. They may have had what they thought were good reasons for doing so. In fact, that appears to have been the case, because the Lord Jesus did not, in any way scold them for their action. But this much is certain. — They did not bring the children to the Savior to be baptized by him. As John Gill observes…
“From this rebuke and prohibition of the disciples, it looks plainly as if it had never been the practice of the Jews, nor of John the Baptist, nor of Christ and his disciples, to baptize infants. Had this been then in use, they would scarcely have forbidden and rebuked those that brought them, since they might have thought they brought them to be baptized. But knowing of no such usage that ever obtained in that nation, neither among those that did, or did not believe in Christ, they forbad them.”
“But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not to come unto me.” — Our Lord Jesus was such a gracious, humble, accommodating man that he readily seized the opportunity to tenderly embrace young children, take them onto his lap, and minister to them. He was so gracious, gentle and kind that young children were perfectly comfortable in approaching him.
“For of such is the kingdom of heaven”. — It is as if our Lord said, “Don’t drive these children away from me. Let them come, and I will teach you something. These children are a good picture of what I require all my children to be: trusting and dependent, harmless and inoffensive, free from bitterness and malice, meek, modest and humble, without pride, arrogance and ambition, having no desire for greatness, just children.” In a word, our Savior here tells us that there is no true faith, except that faith that is exemplified in childlike qualities. What a profound, needful, vital lesson that is! May God give us grace to receive it. — “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.”
I am compelled to give a word of comfort and instruction concerning infants. As I was preparing to write this chapter, I received a lengthy, sad letter from a dear friend. She and her husband married fairly late in life, just two or three years ago. They have been trying to have a child. You can imagine their elation when they learned that she was pregnant. Then, my dear friend miscarried. You can imagine their disappointment. She wrote to ask me three things.
1. Was my unborn child a human being?
2. At what point is an unborn child a living person?
3. Is my child in heaven?
You can imagine my elation as I wrote back and said, “Yes, your baby is one of Christ’s jewels, taken from your womb into his everlasting arms and into his glory.
John Newton once said, “The majority of persons who are now in the kingdom of God are children.” I would not argue the point. When I think of all the multitudes of babies who have died in infancy, who are now swarming the streets of glory, I rejoice in God’s great wisdom and goodness. Though adults, generation after generation, die in rebellion and unbelief, countless multitudes of infant children have entered into the kingdom of heaven, saved by the grace of God, through the death of Christ, and forever sing the high praises of their great Redeemer and Friend before the eternal throne of his glory. — “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
I have no hesitancy in asserting that infants dying in infancy (That includes the infants slaughtered in abortion, burned upon heathen altars, the infants of Papists, Mohammedans, and Buddhists.) enter the kingdom God. I am fully convinced that all of our race who die in infancy are the objects of God’s eternal love, are redeemed by the blood of Christ, and born again by God the Holy Spirit. Let others object, if they please. For my part, I am delighted with this. Everything I read in the Book of God convinces me of it. All who leave this world as babies are saved.
How are they saved? How do they enter the kingdom? By works? By the exercise of their will? Of course not! They enter the kingdom by the mighty operations of God’s free grace. And if we enter the kingdom of God, that is exactly the way we will enter it.
However it is that they receive the kingdom of heaven, that is the way we must receive it (Luke 18:17). How do such children receive the kingdom of heaven? In the same way we must receive it! Certain it is that children do not receive the kingdom by birth or blood, for we are expressly told in John’s gospel that the children of God are born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh. No baby enters into heaven because it was born of godly parents, neither shall any be shut out because his parents are atheists, or idolaters, or ungodly. If saved, as I am convinced the Scriptures teach they are, infants must be saved simply according to the will and good pleasure of God, because he has made them his own by election, redemption, and regeneration.
Notice this, too. These children were “brought unto him.” These young children were brought to Christ. The word means “brought and presented.” So sinners, if ever they enter into the kingdom of God, must be brought by God the Holy Spirit, brought by omnipotent, irresistible grace and power, and presented to Christ, presented to him as the reward of his soul’s travail. Thus, “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.”
When we think of marriage, let our hearts be drawn to Christ, who has married himself to us, and has caused us to be married to him forever. When we think about eunuchs, may the thought of such inspire us not with curiosity, but with devotion to Christ. When we see a child, let us pray for grace to be as a child before Christ, our God and Savior.
 1 Timothy 3:2 has nothing to do with divorce and remarriage! There Paul is dealing with the issue of polygamy.