by Robert Brow ( Kingston, Ontario February 2008

Jesus said to the woman of Samaria "You have had five husbands, and
the one you have now is not your husband" (John 4:18). This does not
mean she had been legally married five times. She had lived with five
different partners, and she is now having an affair with a married

In the Old Testament if a man wanted a bride to give him children, he
could insist on a one sided marriage contract. He may have been with
many women, but his bride had to prove she was a virgin (Deuteronomy
22:13-15). She had to stay with him till he died, but he could dismiss
her for a trivial reason (Deuteronomy 21:13-14). To celebrate and
witness the marriage contract he might invite guests to a banquet. But
this only took place among the wealthy.

This is why the vast majority of marriages took place informally. A
couple began living together, and people said "they are married." If
she had an affair with a married man it was condemned as adultery, and
she could be stoned (John 8:5).

What would Jesus say to men and women in the messy situations of our
modern world ? He introduced three radically new principles which have
already affected the understanding of marriage in many countries.

NO CONDEMNATION In the encounter with the woman of Samaria Jesus
neither condemned her previous behavior, nor her current adultery.
Similarly with the woman taken in adultery. Jesus silenced her
accusers by saying "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the
first to throw a stone at her." When one by one they all disappeared,
Jesus said "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do
not sin again" (John 8:7-11).

In the New Testament wrath means bad consequences in this life, not
eternal damnation in the next. As Paul explained "There is therefore
now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus the Messiah" (Romans
8:1). That does not remove the wrongness of adultery, but the
wrongness resides in the adulteration of the marriage.

THE CONSEQUENCES OF DIVORCE Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount,
"Whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes
her to commit adultery" (Matthew 5:32). When a woman is divorced her
life and that of her children is adulterated. What is wrong with
divorce is that it brings the innocent party's world into confusion.
Jesus explained that "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another
commits adultery against her" (Mark 10:11).

patriarchy, the New Testament commends a mutual relationship between
husbands and wives. In his great chapter on marriage Paul is careful
to say "Each man should have his own wife and each woman her own
husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and

likewise the wife to her husband. For he wife does not have authority
over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not
have authority over his own body, but the wife does" (1 Corinthians
7:2-4). He certainly did not learn this from the Old Testament, or
from the marriage practices of other nations. We wonder what the
five-husband woman might have thought of such a radical idea ?

Robert Brow



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