All the Bible is infallible and equally inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16), but I find it incredibly important to put my main focus on Jesus while reading all of the Scriptures. Soaking myself in the four gospels teaches me to read the whole Bible in the light of God incarnate. When we see Jesus, we’ve seen the Father (Jonn 14:8-11) so that’s where I start. To quote Shane Claiborne, “Jesus came to show us what God is like in a way we can touch, and follow. Jesus is the lens through which we look at the Bible and world; everything is fulfilled in Christ.” (Claiborne, Shane, and Anthony Campolo. Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said? page 7.)
Another reason the red letters are important is that even though Jesus tells us that, “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18), the way in which he preaches on the concepts of the law in the Sermon on the Mount, sure strike us as very different from what we thought the laws originally meant. This makes it all the more important to understand who Jesus is, because he is annotating the Scriptures for us. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount he says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:38-39).
Interesting, isn’t it? To many, that seems the opposite of what was originally said. But Jesus speaks with the authority of the Father (John 14:10) so the annotation sticks—though technically this isn’t as much an annotation as it is a fulfillment of the original law (Matthew 5:17).
In Jesus we find the fullness of God and we begin to realize that just because something is in the Bible, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s “biblical” per se. For example, Jesus also pointed out that, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:31-32).
While later speaking on this same subject in Matthew 19:7-9, the pharisees asked Jesus, “‘Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.’”
According to Jesus here, divorce was an option created by Moses, not by God. Moses’ legal certificates may have appeared as a progressive move at the time, but it was actually a regressive one, since “from the beginning it was not so.” In saying this, Jesus validated the first marriage of Adam and Eve to be the understanding of what marriage should look like: one man, one woman, with no option of divorce. Moses tried to progress how marriage could work, but according to Jesus, he regressed it instead. There is a spiritual aspect to marriage—something we aren’t physically seeing that is so strong that Jesus sees divorce as nothing more than adultery. You may move onto another person, but he still sees the marital bond connecting you to the last person you were married to. The only time Jesus says divorce is allowed is if there has been sexual immorality (though I have heard amazing testimonies of Christians whose faithfulness was so strong that they have even overcame that kind of difficult circumstance).
But before we take everything out on Moses, let’s point out that Jesus said that Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of people’s hearts. You have to feel bad for the guy. People constantly whined to him. At one point in his life, people whined so much to him that he prayed the holy prayer that many church leaders have repeated since: “I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me.If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.” (Numbers 11:14-15).
So how did one of God’s prophets end up making a law that didn’t line up with how God’s people should have been living? According to Jesus, it was because of the hardness of the hearts of God’s people. How often today does the church get misdirected from Jesus because people won’t stop whining and hardening their hearts?
All of this to say, that though divorce is in the Bible, it is not biblical. It is biblical in the understanding that, yes, it is in the Bible, but it is not biblical in the understanding that it is God’s standard. Jesus sets God’s original order of Eden as the standard (as will Paul in Romans 1).
This is why we must read the Bible while sitting next to Jesus. He is the ultimate revelation of God. I find that he is transforming the way that I read the Scriptures as his Spirit leads me through them, just as he transformed the disciples understanding of the Scriptures after he rose from the dead and walked with them on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27).