Christ’s controversies- (1) the Sabbath and (2) Marriage ,Divorce and Remarriage).



John 1:5 ” And the light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehended it not.”


Notes from CPRC Tuesday morning Bible Studies with Rev. Angus Stewart.  Begun Sept. 2013

Introduction: God’s people from the beginning of time have been harassed, persecuted and involved in controversy. The plain reason has to be the antithesis (Genesis 3:15).The prophets eg Jeremiah were opposed and often hurt or killed for their message. Paul gives a list of his sufferings for being an apostle! The main protagonists were Jewish religious leaders and sometimes pagans, and today it is the false and departing church and its members who most vehemently oppose the truth of the Reformed and Biblical faith. The chief causes of controversy were and still are, issues of doctrine and practice and we are right in being involved as we are told to contend for the faith. If we get into strife which is the result of power struggles in a church then we sin. We should avoid arguing over matters of Christian liberty (Romans 14) and some personal matters ought to be kept private. What can we learn from the Divine controversialist, the Lord Jesus Christ and His controversies? Almost all his controversies were with the Pharisees.That is the purpose of the class.



1.The Sabbath controversy.


This issue was the most frequent cause of controversy in the gospels. These occurred in the middle of Christ’s ministry. There are seven incidents of which four are in Luke. Each gospel will gave a different slant, for example Matthew concentrates on Jewish issues, Mark emphasizes Christ’s power,  Luke about compassion and John about Christ’s deity.

It is noteworthy that the arguments were always started by the religious leaders (Mark 3:2 and Luke 14:1), although we agreed it is not always wrong to start one. Six were occasioned by Christ performing a healing miracle. These controversies were usually on a Sabbath day except John 7:22, 23. They were an issue that caused His enemies to want Him killed (Mark 3:6). In all of Christ’s ministry His enemies were the Pharisees and Sadducees, the lawyers and scribes. Although the Sadduccees being ‘liberals’ did not oppose Christ on the Sabbath issue. If we ask why these issues surfaced it was because these men were legalistic, relying upon justification by works and feared loss of their influence and power.

These controversies occurred for the first four times in Galilee and the last three in Jerusalem. To be more specific, a cornfield, synagogues, a house, the temple, the pool of Bethesda and a roadside were the sites. Those recorded by John 7 and 9 all happened during the Feast of Tabernacles.”

What use is controversy? Well we ought to remember that all the great truths of our confessions and creeds came from major controversies in the church. On a more personal note we may rightly feel that we achieve nothing as those we argue with, never change their stance but often we are strengthened, onlookers may benefit and we are being faithful to our calling.

The passages under consideration are: Matthew 12;9-14, Mark 3:1-6,Luke 6:6-11, Luke 13:10-17, Luke 14:1-6, John 7:22,23, John 5 and John 9.

As regards a  Biblical keeping of the Sabbath Christ makes 10 or 11 points namely:

1. David in his need ate the showbread.

2.The priests work in the temple.

3.God desires mercy.

4.Christ is Lord of the Sabbath.

5.It is lawful to do good.

6.Lifting out a sheep (or ox or ass) is necessary.

7.Loosing an animal to water is necessary.


9.My Father works.

10.Who is Jesus? (blind man)

We noted that from 1-10 the arguments become more theological and less numerous ie in the first instance Christ makes four points.

The points Christ makes can be classified thus:

1. The principles of Sabbath observance. (3,5 above)

2.Animals (6,7)

3.Ceremonial law (1,2,8)

4.Jesus’ identity (4,9,10)

On 1 the principles of Sabbath observance we see that Christ justifies works of necessity and mercy. It is noteworthy that immediately prior to this passage Christ expresses the fact that in Him is rest-ie the Sabbath actually points to Him. Only in a relationship with Him are we able to keep a Sabbath rightly.

On 2 the animals, we often see a connection between the miracle performed and what is lawful to do for the animal eg the man with the withered hand was helpless as would be a sheep fallen in a pit (Matthew 12) and the animal being loosed and taken to water was like the woman who was also loosed of her infirmity (Luke 13). In the  first case, the situation was to be treated as an emergency and in the second a necessity (food and water). Why did Christ use animal examples-there may be several reasons. Firstly because in the fourth commandment animals are also to be rested-they are not to plough etc and neither to be sold.

On 3 the ceremonial law, Christ points out that even in Judaism young baby boys will be circumcised on the Sabbath if they were born the previous Friday. In modern day parlance we have baptisms and the Lord’s Supper, by church order on the Lord’s day among the whole congregation along with the preaching. He then points to the work of the priests on the Sabbath (Numbers 28:9,10)-killing, flaying, chopping up and sacrificing more animals than on normal days, all within the law. Today the work of a minister is rightly sanctioned on the Lord’s day! Finally, although this was actually Christ’s first argument time-wise, He points to the case of David, going into the tabernacle with his men, in the days of Abiathar (who was to become the High Priest, son to Ahimelech), and eating the shewbread which had just been taken off the table (as it was a Sabbath Leviticus 24:5-9), and giving to his hungry men (I Samuel 21). Christ with devastating logic and Scriptural support (‘have ye not read’) makes clear to the accusatory Pharisees that the High Priest and King David saw nothing unlawful about eating the shewbread, in the tabernacle, on the Sabbath yet here they were accusing the disciples of eating a few grains of corn, in a field, on the Sabbath. The need of the men trumps the letter of the law! Then He quotes Hosea 6:6, ‘For I desired  mercy and not sacrifice.’

On 4 His identity, Christ states He is ‘Lord of the Sabbath’. Hence He has power to change the day, which orthodox Christendom now believe is Sunday, the first day of the week rather than Saturday. The Sabbath is now ‘The Lord’s day’ (Rev.1:5). In His calling God,  ‘Father’  and saying He does the same works (John 5:17), the Lord Jesus claims deity, as His enemies clearly understood. In saying the Sabbath was made for man, He means it is a day designed to serve us and our salvation. So He elevates man above the Sabbath and as the Lord of men and Lord of the Sabbath, He is Lord of both. Specifically He points to two great works given into His hand;  first the resurrection which comprises regeneration and the general resurrection and secondly the judgement.

In the class today we considered three aspects of Christ’s controversies. These were 1) Emotions exhibited 2) Name calling and 3) Result of the controversy.

Jesus is recorded as looking round at the Pharisees in anger and grief (Mark 3). This was righteous anger at their hard hearts. His adversaries are recorded as becoming  mad with rage. A ruler of the synagogue became indignant when Christ  healed on the sabbath.

Christ, again correctly called the rule of the synagogue a hypocrite because he was condemning Christ for healing the bent woman on the sabbath while at the same time he would without a qualm lead his animals to water on the same day.

Christ was called ‘demon possessed’ and indirectly a ‘sinner’ and ‘not of God’ in John 9. The man whom he healed was dismissed as one ‘altogether born in sin’ by the Pharisees. Finally Christ, again justly and knowing men’s hearts called the Pharisees ‘blind’ because as unregenerate men they could not see the kingdom of God and because they willingly rejected the one they knew was Messiah.

The result of these sabbath controversies, on the part of Christ’s enemies was silence, they could not refute what he was saying, but simultaneously they plotted his murder and on a least one occasion it is recorded they were ‘ashamed’ (Luke 13:17). Many of the people who heard him believed in him and rejoiced.

In all these controversies Christ emphasis what a believer could do on the sabbath in contrast to the Pharisees negative legalism.


Finally we looked at Nehemiah 13:15-22 which shows us the godly governor’s reaction to antinomianism among the returned Jews and visiting Gentiles. They treated the sabbath as common and were buying and selling, which profanation was actually one of the reasons they were taken into captivity. Nehemiah used his God-given authority to forbid them and enforced the ban on their activities.


2.Christ’s controversy on Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage.


Part 1



Matthew 19:1-12

Mark 10:1-12  Matthew 5:31,32. Luke 16:18  Genesis 2:24

Deuteronomy 24:1-24    Malachi 2:10-16   Romans 7: 2,3   I Corinthians 7:10,11,39    Ephesians 5:22-33


Why is the topic important?


1) In the world and the church, Biblical teaching has been increasingly ignored and opposed.

2) It affects church life and discipline and our families.

3) Knowing God’s teaching may be a witness to others.

Context: The Pharisees deliberately started this controversy to try and trap Jesus. They were responding to his earlier teaching in the sermon on the mount. At that time there were two rabbinic schools, one of which was very liberal regarding divorce and the other less so.

The context of Luke 16:18 is Christ’s teaching on covetousness and of course the basis of sin in the marriage arena is coveting another for a partner. The Pharisees sought to pit Christ against Moses.

This took place in Perea, trans-Jordan which was significant because the ruler was Herod Antipas who had been arraigned by John the Baptist for his adultery and incest. He had subsequently killed John. In the area Christ would have been less known and popular, hence their choice to tempt him here.

In passing we noted that Moses injunction in Deuteronomy 24 was addressed to a church state that was almost to a man hard hearted and unbelieving. Ezra in Ezra 10 commanded the divorce of foreign wives. The NT teaching in I Corinthians 7 is, stay with your unbelieving spouse if they agree, and if you separate, do not remarry so that reconciliation can take place.

From what we read so far, there is only one ground for divorce and that is adultery or fornication and no grounds for remarriage.

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Part 2

Matthew 19:1-12

Today we looked at hard-hearted man’s recourse to Deuteronomy 24 as a ground for divorce and remarriage as typified by OT Israel in the wilderness, the Pharisees themselves and modern man. The main points were that this Mosaic legislation was brought in 2,500 years after God instituted marriage and was appealed to till Christ came 2,000 years ago ie about a quarter of human history. Christ had already spoken to annul or override Moses in Matthew 5:31 restating the permanence of the one-flesh union instituted at creation and he makes it clear that the reason Moses made this concession was that the Israelites were hardhearted unbelievers and it was to restrict their wicked practices. The grounds of divorce were unclear “ uncleanness” literally “ the nakedness of the thing” pointed to some sexual  impurity. The law was one-sided in favour of the man, and the fact that the divorced woman could never return to the man reinforced the seriousness of the step and prevent  “wife-swapping”. The use of the words “defiled” and “suffered” make it clear that both God and Moses disapproved of this concession. (See also Jeremiah 3 and Hosea 2:7).

This Mosaic legislative “interlude” does not apply in NT times or today where if a wife were to be divorced or leave her husband she is bound to remain single or be reconciled to her husband (I Cor.7:11).


Part 3

Adam and Eve

We read I Cor.6 and referred to several passages including Proverbs 5:18,12:4,19:14,chapter 31 and Eccles. 9:9  and a couple of verses in Leviticus which prescribed who a priest or high priest should marry and the command to Kings to avoid multiplying wives (Deut.17:17). All of these verses describe the marriage of one man and one woman. Sadly, Solomon who wrote many of these verses was a polygamist and paid dearly for this sin.

Although many of the OT men were polygamists eg Abraham, Jacob and David we concluded that they were in heaven but their sin did have consequences. Adultery now precludes the unrepentant sinner from heaven and because  Christ has come and we have NT revelation we must, as Christ says, return to the divine creation ordinance described in Genesis 2:24 where one man and one woman leave parents and cleave to each other,  joined by God in a one flesh union. This is marriage which contrasts with the one body union that exists in fornication which is a flagrant corruption of the one flesh union and homosexual contracts which cannot be called marriage.

‘One flesh refers to more than oneness of body. The sexual relationship  includes oneness of soul. “One flesh” refers to the becoming one of the entire nature of the man and the woman. There is a oneness of bodies and souls, of thinking and desiring, of hopes and disappointments, of labours and goals. There is a oneness of the whole of earthly life; the husband and wife share one life.’  (Marriage-the mystery of Christ and the church by Prof.D J Engelsma). Lord make this true of our marriages.



Part  4

Defining marriage


  1. The number in marriage is one.
  2. The forger of marriage is God.
  3. Man cannot break the bond.

Marriage is a one flesh union and flesh means total humanity, body and soul as in John 1:14 where the “word became flesh”. This is true even if one spouse is an unbeliever.

The Pharisees question in Matthew 19 concerns divorce, Christ’s answer defines marriage and he infers from Genesis 2:24 that God forges the marriage bond and that no human agency can break it. Because of this one flesh union divorce is devastating and the grief on the loss of one’s spouse is very great.  Malachi 2:15 and Paul in Ephesians 5:22,23 and I Cor.6:16 say exactly the same. Marriage is not a contract. What constitutes marriage? Generally we believe marriage is the making of publicly recognized vows according to the culture and acceptable by the state, which is usually, but not always, followed by consummation. To enjoy marriage as God ordained it you need faith to believe what he says about it. Christian spouses should be of one mind (I Cor.1:10, 2:16), the mind of Christ. Hence a Reformed believer should only date and marry another Reformed believer. Our confessions do not mention marriage but our form used in the marriage service does..

The Westminster Confession section 24 is grievously mistaken in its view which never mentions the one flesh union, allows for divorce on unbiblical grounds and remarriage while the spouse is still living. This has led to professing believers committing adultery worldwide whom God will judge by damnation if they are hypocrites and do not repent (I Cor.6:9,Gal.5:19-21) or somehow pull them out of it and bring them to repentance, like Lot.

Part 4

Further definition of marriage being a ONE FLESH union.

Genesis 2:24  one flesh for companionship and help (v loneliness), naked and unashamed,leaving and cleaving. They are bound by God and by vows.

Malachi 2:13-16  one flesh to produce a godly seed. Notice that the true God hates divorce (the false god of many departing churches gives it his blessing!)  Putting away your wife, especially to marry a pagan is abominable treachery, violence, tears apart what God has joined, brings tears and means the adulterer cannot worship God.

Part 5

Reading I Corinthians 6:9-7:39.

Fornication (and the Greek “porneia” means every sort of sexual sin) in the usual sense of two unmarried people, makes a one body parody of marriage. Living together (in sin) is NOT marriage.

Fornicators, adulterers and homosexuals shall NOT inherit the kingdom and some of the Corinthian believers were such.

vv13,14. The unequal yolk (a new believer married to an unbeliever) is sanctified by God. (the believer is set apart from corruption in the relationship)

v15. The leaving of the unbelieving spouse is for the believer’s faith, nothing else. They are to be let go with a clear conscience and the believer is not to feel bound to save the marriage (they separate, the marriage bond remains, both spouses are to remain unmarried) Bound is Gr. DEO=knit.  Bondage is Gr. DOULOO=enslaved.

v27. The loosing here is by the death of a spouse (the only way a person is loosed).

Part  6


Reading Ephesians 5:22-31   alongside  Psalm 128, Matthew 19:4-12 and 5:32

The underlying emphasis of this passage of  Paul is the mystery now revealed of the ONE FLESH union between Christ and his church.

This ONE FLESH union is based upon the fact that Eve was actually taken out of Adam, she was part of him, just as the church was elect IN CHRIST from before the foundation of the world. Major point is that God joins both and what he does lasts forever (Eccles. 3:14) The word “asunder” means separate  Gr.CHORIZO is same word used in I Cor.6 and 7. The fact that Christ mentions this possible attempt of man to separate what God has joined, in no way suggests that it can be done, though there are numerous ways that the bond is attacked.

We reviewed the God-given purposes of marriage which are laid out in our marriage form and the Westminster Confession article 24.

They are:

  • 1) To faithfully assist each other (be helper/companion) Gen. 2. The key relationship here is to SPOUSE.
  • 2) To bear children (and particularly godly seed) Mal.2, Psalm 128. The key relationship here is with CHILDREN.
  • 3) To have sexual oneness. I Cor.6. Prov.5. The key relationship here is with SELF (to prevent uncleannness).

Key lessons, still to be expanded upon, are 1) that marriage is not a contract wherein both parties are out to gain something and 2) that the Biblical teaching clearly and antithetically condemns and exposes as totally illegitimate  homosexual relationships or homosexual “marriage”.


Part  7


Many in Protestant churches who are Reformed or Presbyterian, and in particular those who use the Westminster Confession of Faith as their creed, believe that divorce and remarriage is permissible and that such who have done so, can be members and even elders in their churches. If Scripture teaches that these people are adulterers then the position of these churches is indefensible.

Much hinges on the interpretation of Matthew 19:9, the so called “exception clause”. Is Christ teaching that fornication (any kind of serious sexual sin) is both a ground for divorce and remarriage or only divorce? We (the PRCA/CPRC) emphatically state that they teach only one ground for divorce and no remarriage because:

1)    The word order (the exception clause refers to divorce only). It could just as easily have followed the phrase “and marries another”.

2a) It is the only passage that that might be interpreted this way.

b) The parallel passage Mark 10:11,12.

c) Other passages namely Matthew 5:31,32, Luke 16:18, Romans 7:2,3 and I Cor.7:39 all teach no remarriage after divorce.

3) Paul’s inspired commentary on Christ’s words in I Cor.7;10,11 teach only two options after divorce namely reconciliation or remaining unmarried.

4) The context is teaching against divorce, about hardness of heart of unbelievers that brought in Deut. 24, about the institution of marriage and it is followed by teaching on the necessity of remaining celibate for such as can receive it who have gone through a divorce. Those who are God’s elect will receive this teaching and even if they have been cruelly divorced by an unfaithful spouse or had to divorce one, they will make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.

Jay Adams, popular Presbyterian counsellor, teacher and author is in the forefront of those who accept divorce and remarriage but he omits to expound the key major passages that teach that it is a one flesh union and indissoluble bond such as Romans 7:2,3 and Ephesians 5:22ff where marriage is clearly for life, only dissolved by death and meant to reflect the unbreakable and eternal bond between Christ and his bride, the church.

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Part 8


The seriousness of adultery.

Christ calls it such 8 times in the gospels. We abhor modern euphemisms eg. affair.

1)      Christ’s polemics with the Pharisees     Matthew 19 and also Luke 16:10 where he slips it into the context of coveting (things including wives). A sin in the heart firstly (Malachi 2:16).

2)      Christ’s teaching on discipleship. Matthew 19:10-12, Matthew 5:31,32 and 27,28 (in heart)

3)      Christ’s teaching in evangelism. John 4:16-18 (the woman was divorced and remarried several times).

4)      Paul in the epistles. Eph.5, I Cor. 6,7. Romans 7. Also Hebrews 13:4

5)      John the Baptist Luke 3:19 who died for this teaching!

6)      Ezra and Nehemiah.  Ezra 9, 10/Nehemiah 13:23ff. When the Jews en masse had disobeyed Deut.7:3,4 and 12:30,31 and repenting divorced pagan wives (acc. to Deut 24) and may well have remarried according to OT law now revoked.

Marriage, as instituted by God in creation and taught by Christ and Paul, is a lifelong one flesh union only broken by the death of one spouse. Fornication or adultery is the only ground for separation by divorce but the bond stands and neither spouse may remarry so that there might be reconciliation. Any remarriage after divorce is adultery.

All who love the Lord and are part of his bride should know and love this doctrine.

For further/background reading see “From the beginning ” by John Hooper.

And  “Marriage-the Mystery of Christ and the Church” RFPA by Prof David EngelsmaMarriage Cvr FPO.EPS 110 DPI CMYK


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