Matthew 19 – Marriage and Divorce Houses in the Holy Landof the 1st Century A.D.: Peter’s House In Capernaum

Many people were quite superstitious back then, as they still are today.  And back then they had Greek Mythology, and there were also many different Legends of different things. 

Including things that Jesus had said, so tomorrow we’re going to look at…

Matthew 19
Marriage and Divorce

1 And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan;

“Beyond Jordan” – the east side, known later as Transjordan or Perea and today simply as Jordan.  Jesus now began ministering there.

2 And great multitudes followed him; and he healed them there.

3 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?

“For every cause” – the last part of the question is notin the parallel passage in Mark (10:2).  Matthew possibly included it because he was writing to the Jews, who were aware of the dispute between the schools of Shammai and Hillel over the interpretation of Deut 24:1-4. 

Shammai held that “some uncleanness: meant “immorality” (Matt 19:9) – the only allowable cause for divorce.  Hillel (c. 60 B.C.-20 A.D.) emphasized the preceding clause, “she finds no favor in his eyes.”

He would allow a man to divorce his wife if she did anything he disliked – even if she burned his food while cooking it.  Jesus clearly took the side of Shammai (see v. 9), but only after first pointing back to God’s original ideal for marriage in Gen 1:27, 2:24.

4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

5 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?

6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Sunset over the Sea of Galilee.

7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing ofdivorcement, and to put her away?

8 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.

9 And I say unto you, Whosoevershall 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.

10 His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.

19:10-12 – see 1 Cor 7:7-8, 26, 32-35.

11 But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.

“This saying” – the disciples’ conclusion in v. 10 “it is not good to marry.”  Not everyone can accept this teaching because it is not meant for everyone.  Jesus then gives three examples of person for whom it is meant in v. 12.

The tomb of Shammai in the Meron river, Israel.
Hillel and Shammai were two leading rabbis of the early 1st century BCE who founded opposing schools of Jewish thought, known as the House of Hillel and House of Shammai.

12 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.

“Made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” – those who have voluntarily adopted a celibate life-style in order to give themselves more completely to God’s work.  Under certain circumstances celibacy is recommended in scripture, but it is never presented as superior to marriage.

It is unknown if the Apostle Paul had been marriedprior to his conversion to Christ, but once he accepted Christ he wasn’t married, nor was he a eunuch, but he gave his life to God.  Paul recommends marriage to those that cannot maintain life without having sex; it would be better to marry then to fornicate and burn in hell.

13 Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them.

14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

15 And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.

16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?

God delights in marriages

17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

“There is none good but one” – the good is not something to be done as meritorious in itself.  God alone is good and all other goodness derives from Him – even the keeping of the commandments, which Jesus proceeded to enumerate (vv. 18-20).

“If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” – “To enter into life” is the same as “have eternal life.”  The requirement to “keep the commandments” is not to establish one’s merit before God, but is to be an expression of true faith. 

The Bible always teaches that salvation is a gift from God’s grace received through faith, not by works (Eph 2:8).  There is nothing we have to do to please God to be saved, our faith in Jesus Christ is all that is necessary (Heb 11:6).

18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,

19 Honor thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?

21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

The Lord is saddened by divorces because He can fix ANYTHING! But He has to be asked from a true heart of faith.

“Perfect” – Greek teleios, “goal, end.”  His goal was eternal life, but wealthy/greed stood in his way (cf. 1 Jn 2:15-17).

“Go and sell that thou hast” – in His listing of the commandments, Jesus omitted “do not covet.”  That was the rich man’s main problem and was preventing him from entering life. 

If you have wealthy friends enjoy their company while you can because most of them won’t be going to heaven (v. 24; Matt 7:13-14).

22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.

24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

25 When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then canbe saved?

26 But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

27 Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?

28 And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

“Judging” – governing or ruling.  Some think that the 12 disciples will someday rule with Christ in His literal millennial kingdom on this earth.  Yet, that would mean God sees them better than others and that would contradict what Peter (and others) said on Acts 10:34 – “God is no respecter of persons.”

But then again, God does have His favorites, as He said to Moses:

…I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion (Rom 9:15). For a clearer explanation see Ex 33:13-23.

29 And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.

“Shall receive a hundredfold” – we are to place Jesus first in our life, nobody or anything should be more important to you than Him because only Jesus can save you.

30 But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.

Houses in the Holy Land
of the 1st Century A.D.: 

Peter’s House In Capernaum

Housing conditions in the 1st century Holy Land varied dramatically according to people’s financial situations. The best preserved homes are those that were built for the upper classes and constructed with obvious craftsmanship from lasting materials.

A Key found at Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found)

Of these, the most splendid examples are the remains of Herod the Great’s lavish palaces in Jerusalem, Masada and Jericho.

These structures, along with other luxurious houses discovered in Jerusalem’s upper city, reflect the stylistic conventions of contemporary Roman villas.

The villa was structured around an open, colonnaded courtyard and contained a large reception room and dining area to accommodate large gatherings. Floors were covered with detailed stone mosaics, and walls were painted with frescoes.

These upper-class houses and palaces in Judea also contained distinctively Jewish features, such as ritual baths alongside ordinary bathrooms, the absence of human or animal representation in mosaics and frescoes and the presence of Jewish symbols  (e.g., the menorah).

Since relatively few people lived in palatial homes, many more examples of middle-class dwellings have been revealed through archaeology. An important example, discovered in Jerusalem in 1970, is known as the “burnt house.”

This home was completely buried with soot and ash from the destruction of the city in 70 A.D. and, therefore, has been well preserved. The floor plan reflects a common pattern of three medium-sized rooms, a small storage room, a small kitchen and a stepped, ritual bath built around a paved courtyard.

Measuring about 30 square feet, the Burnt House had a Mikveh, a kitchen, a courtyard, and four rooms. These seven spaces made up the first level of what would have stood as a much larger home.

Throughout the house, archeologists discovered scorched beams and stones and layers of ash that revealed the house had been destroyed by fire. The wooden ceiling collapsed under its own weight, burying this house for 20th-century archaeologists to find. Interestingly, the bones from a woman’s forearm were found in the kitchen area. After discovery, they were buried.

The walls were covered with a thin layer of limestone plaster, and the floors consisted of pressed earth. Furnishings within the house included rectangular stone tables, bowls, plates, cups and cylindrical weights, one of which identifies the owner as Bar Karos.

Other significant examples of 1st century houses have been unearthed in Capernaum.  Excavations near the ruins of the ancient synagogue there revealed a group of approximately 12 homes constructed of black basalt rocks and small pebbles and arranged around a central courtyard containing ovens and grinding stones.

These single-story dwellings had floors of beaten black earth and stairways leading to flat roofs. The less-substantial roofs were probably built with tree branches covered with mud and straw (cf. Mk 2:4).

The largest of these homes attracted particular attention in that it featured a crushed limestone floor and had plastered walls filled with decorations (including flowers, pomegranates and numerous crosses) and inscriptions, which were fragmentary and in many languages: 124 in Greek, 18 in Syriac, 15 in Hebrew and 1 in Latin.

Most the inscriptions were short prayers, such as “Christ have mercy” or “Lord Jesus Christ help.” Others contained the name Peter, suggesting that this house was venerated in antiquity as a place of Christian pilgrimage associated with the memory of Peter.

A shy, private person would not have an easy time of things in ancient Rome. Bathing was typically conducted as a group activity, the baths of Caracalla in the city of Rome could accommodate upwards of 1600 bathers, and “going to the powder room” was often a group effort as well. Rome gave us lots of amazing things that we take for granted today: central heating, giant sports stadiums, vaulted ceilings, concrete and coin operated machines to name a few.

The most important innovation, in my opinion, however was the flushing toilet. Not the porcelain gods we have come to know and appreciate (sometimes praying to after a night of excessive, youthful partying), but often large, sometimes elaborate communal affairs–marble cladding, statuary, shrines.

Thus, this dwelling has come known as the house Peter in Capernaum (Mt 8:14: 1:29; Lk 4:38).

The lowest urban classes inhabited crowded treatment buildings called insuloe  – multi-storied buildings divided numerous apartments called cenaculi. The lowest floor generally contained a shop in which the proprietor also lived.

The upper floors were accessed through outside staircases. The insulae usually lacked any system of heating, running water or sewage.

Eutychus most likely fell from the third floor window of an insula while listening to Paul preach Christ in Troas (Acts 20:7-12). 

…the Legend of the “Needle’s Eye Gate.”