by Matthew W. Bassford
Upton Sinclair once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Few better illustrations of this truth exist than the behavior of the craftsmen of Ephesus in Acts 19. They, along with everyone else in the city, are familiar with the miraculous powers of Paul and the large numbers of Ephesians who are coming to Christ. However, the craftsmen are much more interested in income than in eternal life. Because Paul’s success means that they can’t make as much money from selling idolatrous shrines, rather than obeying the gospel themselves, they start a riot to oppose it.
Still today, there are plenty of people who would rather serve Mammon than the Lord. Consider the man who lies because his boss expects it or the woman who never attends Sunday services because she works every weekend. To their number, we can add the denominational preachers who invest countless hours in trying to explain away passages like Acts 22:16 but won’t spend five minutes trying to figure out what it means. I’ve known exceptions, but most people who are required to maintain a doctrinal position to keep their job will continue to maintain it in the face of overwhelming Scriptural evidence.
However, money is far from the only thing that can blind our eyes to the truth. There are few passages that are as straightforward as Matthew 19:9. I’ve studied the verse with any number of couples before they even obeyed the gospel. Not once has any of those Biblical novices had any trouble figuring out what the text means, even when it had dire implications for their own marriage.
Ironically, the people I’ve encountered who struggle with comprehension in Matthew 19:9 have much more Scriptural experience than that. 99 percent of the time, they’ve got a problem. They’re unscripturally divorced. They’re unscripturally remarried. They’ve got a loved one who is unscripturally divorced or remarried.
Then, with such powerful motivation, they return to “restudy” the text. The ones who know enough about Greek to get into trouble, use their Greek to do exactly that. Others engage in massive Scriptural-reinterpretation projects. I’ve seen novella-length papers arguing that Christians are still under the Law of Moses, written with the sole goal of applying Deuteronomy 24 to modern marriages instead of Matthew 19. Sadly, none of this changes the teaching of Matthew 19:9 or what the Lord will do on the day of judgment.
It's easy for us to shake our heads at how easily others fall into self-deception in their study of the Scriptures. However, these things should call us not to arrogance, but to watchfulness and fear. If others who are knowledgeable about and even devoted to the word can make such grievous errors, none of us are exempt! Money, family, and even the fear of what others might think can render us equally blind. Only through awareness of our own vulnerability and stern commitment to the truth can we avoid stumbling ourselves.