Jesus Is Less Accommodating on Issues of Justice

Jesus Is Less Accommodating on Issues of Justice
Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

In my "Cross Vision: How to Read the Hebrew Bible In Light of the Cross" class, we recently delved into how Jesus positions Himself in relation to the Hebrew Bible, particularly the Torah. The New Testament portrays Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God's character, presenting Him as superior to the Scriptures. Jesus frequently says, "You've heard the law say this, but I tell you to do this instead," indicating His authority to reinterpret or even supersede these laws.

Jesus on Divorce: A Case Study

One pertinent example is found in Matthew 19, where Jesus addresses a question from the Pharisees about divorce. The context here is a long-standing debate on the conditions under which a man can divorce his wife. The Pharisees ask Jesus to weigh in, and He responds by quoting Genesis 2: "What God has put together, let no human separate." The Pharisees counter with, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce?" Jesus clarifies that Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of people's hearts, not because it was ideal.

Jesus' stance on divorce, as permitted by Moses, was that it was an accommodation for human failings rather than an ideal. The ideal that Jesus' set forth is one that sees first-century divorce as (usually) unjust towards women. It is important to understand that the Torah assumes a patriarchal society where only men could initiate divorce. Jesus' teachings on this subject do not address modern concepts of divorce but rather an ancient context where wives were treated as property.

Addressing Class Questions

A thought-provoking question from a classmate was whether this actually makes Jesus less accommodating than Torah. The question is tricky because it might imply that Jesus, who is supposedly all about love, grace, and mercy, is now being more strict than the Law itself. Typically, when we think of Jesus superseding the Law, it's in order to allow for more freedom, not less. But in this case, is Jesus promoting less freedom and potentially oppressive marriage arrangements for those stuck in difficult relationships?

In response, it is crucial to recognize that the Torah should not be seen as the ultimate statement of God's ideal for human society. It was written in a context that assumed patriarchal norms, and the individual commandments of the Torah address particular issues in contextual ways rather than providing a once-for-all answer for every situation. Jesus is indeed less accommodating to the patriarchal society and the men who treated women like property. For example, a rabbi from the generation before Jesus said a man could divorce his wife for burning a meal. Jesus opposes such trivial reasons for divorce.

Jesus is indeed less accommodating to patriarchal society and to men who treat women like property.

Jesus' Ministry and Human Flourishing

While Jesus' ministry is centered on grace and mercy, this should not be mistaken for permission to treat people poorly. When the Torah is used to justify oppression, genocide, or treating women like property, Jesus is unequivocally less accommodating. Jesus does not accommodate actions that dehumanize or oppress people. Although God is willing to forgive those who engage in oppressive actions (as well as call for restorative justice), Jesus does not endorse a society based on such principles. By putting the Law in its place—as accommodation, not ideal—Jesus helps promote human freedom and flourishing. Jesus sets Himself up as more authoritative than even Moses (while, of course, quoting Genesis 2 as the higher ideal there all along).

Jesus vs. Legalism

While Jesus can be seen as less accommodating on issues of justice and oppression, Jesus cannot be confused with a legalist. He emphasizes the spirit of the law over the letter of the law. For example, He says, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice," and criticizes those who focus on minor laws while neglecting more important matters. The whole law, according to Jesus, can be summed up as "love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus is less accommodating to laws that hinder human flourishing, such as those treating women as property and sending them away or divorcing them in a way that would guarantee their destitution. He is also less accommodating to human traditions and laws that do not actually help anyone.

Because of these higher values that Jesus' adheres too, I believe if Jesus were asked a different question by someone that assumed divorce must not happen for any reason whatsoever, He would just as likely not be accommodating to laws that keep spouses in abusive or harmful situations.


Jesus sets Himself up as superior to the Torah and corrects it when necessary to promote human freedom and flourishing. His approach is not a new kind of legalism, but instead focuses on the spirit of the law and the ultimate goal of love and mercy. Jesus' less accommodating stance towards oppressive laws and practices demonstrates His priority for protecting those with less societal power and ensuring human dignity and flourishing.

Anthony Parrott

Anthony Parrott

Washington, DC