“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” This record in Mark contains the same event recorded in Matthew 19, but with different details. When the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark cover the same event, Mark usually has a more abbreviated version of the event, as is the case here. To properly understand what Jesus said, it is important for us to know the full question the Pharisees asked, but Mark only records part of their question. Mark records the Pharisees’ question as, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?” However, Matthew records the full question as, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for any reason at all?”
The background of the question was the ongoing debate between the rabbis at that time about divorce. The school of Hillel taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason, while the school of Shammai taught that divorce was only called for in the case of sexual immorality. The Pharisees, who were followers of the school of Hillel, thought a man could divorce his wife for any reason, and it is likely that there were some of the Pharisees in the group talking with Jesus who had divorced their wives without good cause based on that teaching.
When we understand the rabbinic debate, and the question the Pharisees asked, we are in a position to understand Jesus’ answer in Mark 10:11-12. See commentary on Matthew 19:3 and the commentary on Mark 10:11.