What Jesus said about Divorce-Remarriage & Adultery

If JUST LOOKING AT a married woman lustfully is adultery, how much more is actually MARRYING AND SLEEPING WITH her!

Matthew 5:27-31 27 "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. 31 "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife. ... NIV

 
BIBLE SKILLS: Use the clear passages to understand the less clear ones:
The clear verses: there is no argument about what these next two passages mean:

Mark 10:11-12 (apostolicbible.com) 

 

"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery (moichátai) against her.
And
if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery (moichátai)."
 

Luke 16:18 (apostolicbible.com)

 

"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery (moicheuei);
and
whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery (moicheuei)."

The clear passages: there is no argument about what these above two passages mean:

Sexual relationships outside of that lawful, first marriage are adultery
because God considers that first couple to still be joined as man+wife:

Man cannot change the fact that God has joined together that first-wife/first-husband as one flesh.
(Nor can these passages be divorced from their contexts, Mark 10:2-10 & Matthew 19:3-10).

BIBLE SKILLS: Use the clear passages to understand the less clear ones:
 
Since its rise in the 1500’s, Western Protestantism has not been willing to agree on the passages below.  The cause of so much of the argument is the phrase, “except for sexual immorality (porneia).”  For both of these passages, the underlying Greek for the term “sexual immorality, unlawful sexual union” is “porneia” and is often translated, “fornication.”  This is a different word from “commit adultery” which is “moichátai.”

Matthew 19:9 (apostolicbible.com)

"Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality (porneia), and marries another, commits adultery (moichátai);
and
whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery (moichátai)."

Jesus is NOT saying in Matthew 19:9a, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for committing adultery (porneia), and marries another, commits adultery (moichátai).”
Jesus employs different words. 

porneia = unlawful sexual relationship: sexual relationship with someone who is not lawfully married to you = fornication. (Leviticus 18 define unlawful sexual relationships, porneia).

moichátai = sexual relationship with someone who is lawfully married to someone else = commmit adultery.  (Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18 define adultery, moichátai). 

The rest of the Word of God also uses these same two words in the same passages, even in lists of sins, showing that the two mean different things.

Matthew 5:32 (apostolicbible.com)

"Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality (porneias) causes her to commit adultery (moichásthai);
and
whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery (moichátai)."

NOR is Jesus saying in Matthew 5:32a, “Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except for committing adultery (porneias) causes her to commit adultery (moichátai).”  That would make Jesus to say something inane since it goes without saying that she has already committed adultery aside from her husband.

 



 

Let us look at these four passages again, comparing them side-by-side: 

Mark 10:11-12

A1) Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery (moichatai) against her.
        And
B1)
  if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery (moichatai).

 

Luke 16:18

A1) Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery (moichatai);
        and
B2)
  whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery (moichatai).

 

Matthew 19:9

A2) Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality (porneias)and marries anothercommits adultery (moichatai);
        and
B2)
  whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery (moichatai).

 

Matthew 5:32

A3) Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality (porneiascauses her to commit adultery (moichatai); 
        and
B2)
  whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery (moichatai). 


 

Observation I.  It is interesting that each of these passages are couplets.  And it is interesting that 3 out of 4 of the second couplets, B2), virtually say the exact same thing. And these three agree with B1), which expresses the message from the other angle.  All four of the second couplets are agreed; case closed.  (The variation of wording between B1) and B2) show that BOTH of those involved in an adulterous relationship are committing adultery, even if only one of them has been lawfully married).

"Whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery along with her." 

 

Observation II.  The first couplet, A1), of Luke 16:18 & Mark 10:11-12 say the same thing. This agreement between them strengthens their clear message all the more. (A twofold chord is not easily broken).

"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery."

 

Observation III.  B1) mirrors A1): Each of the preceding are just gender-specific ways of saying the same thing:

"Whoever marries a divorced person commits adultery along with him or her."

  

Observation IV.  The endings of Matthew 19:9a & Matthew 5:32a report subtle differences with eachother:

     A2) "Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality (porneias)and marries anothercommits adultery (moichatai)"

     A3) "Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality (porneias) causes her to commit adultery (moichatai)"

          i) So A2) ends by saying that the divorced man commits adultery when he marries another, (Observation II above).

          ii) And A3) ends by saying that the divorced woman commits adultery when, (naturally), she marries another, (Obs. I).

          

Observation V.  All these statements by Jesus on Divorce-Remarriage & Adultery have been in strong agreement, reinforcing oneanother in saying the same thing in gender-specific ways,

"Whoever marries a divorced person commits adultery along with him or her."

Jesus knows that people can be hard-headed about this subject and often looking for a way out, even a gender-specific one if need be.  So He has spelled out the same message in various contexts.  The significant difference among these four statements by Jesus is the clause found in the first half of two of them, "except for sexual immorality (porneias)."  It has been shown previously  that sexual immorality (porneias) is different from commit adultery (moichátai).

porneias = unlawful sexual relationship: sexual relationship with someone who is not lawfully married to you = fornication.
moichátai = sexual relationship with someone who is lawfully married to someone else = commmit adultery.

Next I will explore how "except for sexual immorality (porneias)" has been taken two different ways.
And I will show that "except for sexual immorality (porneias)" can only mean one thing in order to be agreed with of what Jesus has said here.

 



 
Mat 19:9NKJV

A2) Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality (porneias)and marries anothercommits adultery (moichatai);
        and
B2)
  whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery (moichatai).

 

A2) Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality (porneias)and marries anothercommits adultery (moichatai); 

The controversy over how this half a verse is to be understood involves how the Greek term "PORNEIAS" is understood:

Let us focus again upon just the first half A2) since the second half B2) is in solid agreement with all the verses under scrutiny.

 

TWO WAYS TO UNDERSTAND "(PORNEIAS) SEXUAL IMMORALITY"

PORNEIAS = the 'marriage' itself is a sexually immoral relationship, an unlawful union, an unlawful sham 'marriage' ~Catholic & Orthodox

PORNEIAS = the husband or wife has had a sexually immoral relationship, an unlawful union, during the marriage ~Western  Protestant

 

Breaking it down
Whoever (man) divorces his wife (woman)
A2.0)................................................................................................and he marries another ................. he commits adultery
A2.1) because .........(PORNEIAS) sexually immoral relationship and he marries another he DOES NOT commit adultery
A2.1M)............their 'marriage' was actually a sexually immoral relationship and he marries another he DOES NOT commit adultery
A2.1W)...............the wife.......had a sexually immoral relationship and he marries another he DOES NOT commit adultery ???
A2.1H)................the husband had a sexually immoral relationship and he marries another he DOES NOT commit adultery ???
A2.1H&W)................BOTH had sexually immoral relationships and he marries another he DOES NOT commit adultery ??? 

 

 
 
ANALYSIS OF POSSIBLE MEANINGS:

A2.1M) PORNEIAS = the "marriage'" itself is actually a sexually immoral relationship, an unlawful union, a sham "marriage"

Whoever (man) divorces his wife because the marriage itself is actually a sexually immoral relationship (porneias) and marries another, he DOES NOT commit adultery.

This is crystal clear and in complete harmony with the all the other verses – they were never lawfully married to begin with. Their divorce was actually REPENTING from unlawful sexual relationship (their unlawful “marriage”).  And their "marriage" relationship is recognised openly for the unlawful sexual relationship that it was and is then publically "anulled," the repentant couple being granted an "anullment," (fancy words for "divorce from unlawful, sham 'marriage' ").  Whether a man marries his sister or he marries another man or he marries a woman who is lawfully married to another man, it is still an unlawful sexual relationship, an unlawful "marriage."  Jesus announces no penalty from repenting from such via divorce, (anulment), and moving on to a lawful marriage to a truly elegible bachellorette.

 

A2.1W) Guilty Wife  PORNEIAS = wife has had a sexually immoral relationship, an unlawful union, during the marriage

Whoever (man) divorces his wife because she had a sexually immoral relationship and he then marries another, he DOES NOT commit adultery.???

Wife has affair...., husband then divorces her and marries another woman and its NOT called adultery for him. QUESTIONABLE. Here's why that is confused and untenable, the implications:

  1. Whoever "marries" this guilty woman commits adultery along with her because God still sees her married to her first husband, Mat 19:9b (B2).
  2. But her husband "remarries" another woman and its not adultery at all – because God no longer sees this husband married to his first wife.
  3. The above two results have God divided against Himself as to whether or not He still regards the original husband&wife couple as “one flesh.”
 

 

A2.1H) Guilty Husband  PORNEIAS = husband has had a sexually immoral relationship, an unlawful union, during the marriage

Whoever (man) divorces his wife because he had a sexually immoral relationship and he then marries another, he DOES NOT commit adultery.???

Husband has affair.... guilty husband then divorces his innocent wife and marries another woman, and its NOT called adultery. WRONG, Mark 10:11 & Luke 16:18 (A1).  Here's why that is confused and utterly untenable, the implications:

  1. Whoever "marries" this innocent woman commits adultery along with her because God still sees her married to her first husband, Mat 19:9b (B2), "whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery."
  2. But her guilty husband "remarries" another woman and its not adultery at all for him – because God no longer sees this husband married to his first wife "because of the sexual immorality (porneias) that occured."
  3. The above two results have God divided against Himself as to whether or not He still regards the original husband&wife couple as “one flesh.”  Worse, it has God permitting remarriage for the guilty husband but condemning remarriage for the innocent wife.

 

 A2.1H&W) BOTH Guilty Husband & guilty Wife  PORNEIAS = both partners have had a sexually immoral relationship, an unlawful union, during the marriage 

Whoever (man) divorces his wife (woman) because BOTH of them had sexually immoral relationships and he marries another he DOES NOT commit adultery.???

 

Husband has affair.... wife also has affair... guilty husband then divorces his guilty wife and he marries another woman, and its NOT called adultery. WRONG, Mark 10:11 & Luke 16:18 (A1).  Here's why that is confused and utterly untenable, the implications:

  1. Whoever "marries" this guilty woman commits adultery along with her because God still sees her married to her first husband, Mat 19:9b (B2), "whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery."
  2. But her equally guilty husband "remarries" another woman and its not adultery at all for him – because God no longer sees this husband married to his first wife "because of the sexual immorality (porneias) that occurred."
  3. The above two results have God divided against Himself as to whether or not He still regards the original husband&wife couple as “one flesh.”  Worse, it has God permitting remarriage for the guilty husband but condemning remarriage for the guilty wife. 

 

 

IN SUMMARY: Which is Jesus really teaching here?  God is NOT the author of confusion, 1 Cor 14:33.

Husband divorces his wife.…………………………………………………..……………….and marries another……..…………commits adultery.
'Husband' divorces his 'wife' because the 'marriage' itself is actually a sexually immoral relationship (porneias) and marries another DOES NOT commit adultery(He is actually just repenting of a sexually immoral relationship and going on to its cure, a lawful marriage).
 
OR
 
Innocent husband divorces his innocent wife and marries another…………………commits adultery (moichatai).
Innocent husband divorces his…….guilty wife and marries another DOES NOT commit adultery? BUT SHE DOES B2) Mat 19:9NKJV
Guilty…….husband divorces his…….guilty wife and marries another DOES NOT commit adultery? BUT SHE DOES B2) Mat 19:9NKJV
Guilty…….husband divorces his innocent wife and marries another DOES NOT commit adultery? BUT SHE DOES B2) Mat 19:9NKJV

 What has been outlined here so far is just a brief introduction to the confusion that arises when Jesus phrase, "except for sexual immorality (porneias)" is taken to mean "except for single act of sexual immorality within a marriage."  By this definition, who can ever identify which remarriages are really adultery?  In order to preach repentence? In order to repent?  In order to obey the Bible and avoid the adulterers who call themselves fellow Chrstians?  "I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. 'Expel the wicked man from among you.' "  1 Corinthians 5:11-13NIV  Run a concordance search of the word "adultery" and understand that God expects us to identify it plainly.  God is NOT the author of confusion, 1 Cor 14:33.




 

 

 
Matthew 5:32 NKJV

A3) Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality (porneiascauses her to commit adultery (moichatai); 
        and
B2)
  whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery (moichatai). 

 
Since the second half B2) is in solid agreement with all the verses under scrutiny.

Let us examine then Mat 5:32 NKJV, part A

A3) Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except (PORNEIAS) sexual immorality................... causes her to commit adultery (moichatai);
Same as saying
A3) Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except (PORNEIAS) sexually immoral relationship causes her to commit adultery (moichatai);

 

TWO WAYS TO UNDERSTAND "(PORNEIAS) SEXUAL IMMORALITY"

PORNEIAS = the 'marriage' itself is a sexually immoral relationship, an unlawful union, an unlawful sham 'marriage' ~Catholic & Orthodox

PORNEIAS = the husband or wife has had a sexually immoral relationship, an unlawful union, during the marriage ~Western  Protestant

  
The controversy over how this half a verse is to be understood involves how the Greek term "PORNEIAS" is understood:
Breaking it down
Whoever divorces his wife
A3.0).................................................................................................................causes her to commit adultery
A3.1) because .........(PORNEIAS) sexually immoral relationship DOES NOT cause her to commit adultery
A3.1M)............the 'marriage' is a sexually immoral relationship DOES NOT cause her to commit adultery
A3.1W)............the wife.......had a sexually immoral relationship DOES NOT cause her to commit adultery ?
A3.1H).............the husband had a sexually immoral relationship DOES NOT cause her to commit adultery ? 
 
 
ANALYSIS:
A3.0) “Whoever divorces his wife causes her to  commit adultery.” = “Whoever divorces his lawfully wedded wife causes her to  commit adultery.”
(Presumably when, driven by nature, she marries another = adultery). This is crystal clear and in complete harmony with the all the other A1) verses, Mark 10:11 & Luke  16:18.

A3.1M) “Whoever divorces his 'wife' because the 'marriage' is a sexually immoral relationship DOES NOT cause her to  commit adultery." = "Whoever divorces his unlawfully wedded 'wife' DOES NOT cause her to  commit adultery.”
This is crystal clear and in complete harmony with the all the other verses – the couple were never lawfully married to begin with. Their divorce was actually REPENTING from unlawful sexual relationship (their unlawful “marriage”). Like Jesus said to the woman caught in the act of adultery, “Leave your unlawful sexual relationship and I forgive you.”

A3.1W) “Whoever divorces his wife because SHE had a sexually immoral relationship DOES NOT cause her to  commit adultery.”
THIS IS QUESTIONABLE. 
Wife has affair.....husband then divorces guilty wife and somehow it DOES NOT cause her to commit adultery against him. QUESTIONABLE.
.....i) If guilty wife could not sexuallly control herself while married, much less will she keep from adultery after being denied sexual relations with her husband after he divorces her.
.....ii)  If guilty wife goes on to marry another, whoever marries this divorced woman commits adultery along with her because God still sees her married to that first husband, B2), Matthew 5:32b and Matthew 19:9b and Luke 16:18b.
.....iii) The above two outcomes have God divided against Himself as to whether or not He still regards them united as “one flesh,” married. 

 
A3.1H) “Whoever divorces his wife because HE had a sexually immoral relationship DOES NOT cause her to  commit adultery.”
THIS IS QUESTIONABLE.  Husband has affair, husband then divorces his wife and somehow it DOES NOT cause her to commit adultery. QUESTIONABLE.

.....i)  Because the guilty husband sexually sinned before divorcing his innocent wife, she loses all desire for sex, never to marry again?  Why does she feel driven to commit adultery under every other circumstance then?
.....ii)  Because the husband sexually sinned before divorcing his innocent wife, she may remarry without it being adultery against her 1st husband.
.....iii) But if the guilty husband remarries after divorcing his innocent wife, he commits adultery against her because God still sees them as married, Mark 10:11 & Luke 16:18a (A1)
.....iv) The above two outcomes have God divided against Himself as to whether or not He still regards them united as “one flesh,” married. 
 
These last two would have Jesus saying that the only time divorcing a wife causes her to commit adultery is when there was no sexual immoraility involved in the marriage. This has Jesus saying that only when a sexually pure couple divorces does it cause the woman to commit adultery, and whoever marries her commits adultery along with her against her first husband who is now free to remarry. NONSENSE.
 
 
IN SUMMARY
Husband divorces his wife causes her to commit adultery.
Husband divorces his wife because its a sexually immoral relationship (porneias) DOES NOT cause her to commit adultery.
OR
Innocent husband divorces his innocent wife………………..causes her to commit adultery. NOT free to remarry
Innocent husband divorces his…….guilty wife DOES NOT cause her to commit adultery. ........free to remarry?
Guilty husband divorces his innocent wife DOES NOT cause her to commit adultery. ........free to remarry?
Guilty husband divorces his…….guilty wife DOES NOT cause her to commit adultery. ........free to remarry?

 



 

 

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What the Bible Really Says About Marriage and Divorce

 

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See also:  http://www.nataliespianostudio.com/2006/03/exception.htm

 


 

From:  http://www.speroforum.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=2468

I am going to assume the numbers represent greek letter. But the difference boils down to the greek uses the word porneia not the word moichaia. Moicheia means adultery as

But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is porneias) causes her to commit moicheuthênai, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits moichatai.

egô de legô umin oti pas o apoluôn tên gunaika autou parektos logou porneias poiei autên moicheuthênai kai os ean apolelumenên gamêsê moichatai

Porneia=fornication-or unlawful
Moicheia=adultery

Mt 15:19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, moicheiai, porneiai, theft, false witness, blasphemy.

ek gar tês kardias exerchontai dialogismoi ponêroi phonoi moicheiai porneiai klopai pseudomarturiai blasphêmiai

Fornication is used throughout the new testament Mt 19:9, Mk 7:21, Jn 8:41, Acts 15:20, 15:29, 21:25, 1 Cor 5:1, 6:13, 6:18, 7:2, 2 Cor, Gal, Eph, Rom, Col, 1 Thes, Rev.

There is an enourmous difference between the two. To find out which marriages are unlawful we just have to look at Levitcus. Leviticus 18 lists those things which are fornication and considered unlawful.

Protestants include Moicheia in the definition of Porneia. Catholics don't. The bible supports the catholic view. The protestant view didn't come into existantce until later. If Moicheia and Porneia are the same thing there never would have been a differentiation in the above example, or Mt 19:19, or Mk 7:20 etc.

Peace and God Bless
Nicene

--------------------------------------------------------------------

 

I've just been studying on this a little bit. I believe Theo is right that the Church is not dogmatic on that interpretation, though I think there is good evidence for it. The whole thing hinges on the Greek word 'porneia' - which in other places speaks of marrying within the forbidden degrees. For instance, Herod was married to his brother's wife, and it was 'unlawful' to have her. To put her away would not be adultery - since they were never lawfully married in the first place. I don't think it's meant as a loophole to escape marriage because the other cheats.

quote:
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NO DIVORCE "EXCEPT FOR FORNICATION?"

By HUBERT J. RICHARDS

Scholars of all times have returned again and again to struggle with this phrase. On the one hand it does seem at first sight to qualify in some way Christ’s general prohibition of divorce. On the other hand the context makes it clear that Christ considered a divorced person still bound by the marriage bond: To attempt marriage with another would be "adultery." If there is to be any solution to the dilemma, some alternative translation must be found for one or the other of the three words which appear in our text as "divorce," "except," and "fornication" . . .

It is the third word, "fornication," that perhaps provides the most satisfying solution to the problem. The solutions based on the other two words unconsciously make this word equivalent to "adultery," without allowing for the fact that when the text speaks of the adultery of the divorced husband or wife, it uses an entirely different word. It would seem that "fornication" refers to something else. Can we discover its exact meaning by looking to see how it is used elsewhere in the New Testament?

The Greek word porneia that is used in Matthew 5 and 9 is in fact both more general and more specific in meaning than the English word "fornication." In itself it means simply "impurity" (the English word "pornography" which is taken from it has a similarly wide meaning) and the context must decide what precise impurity is being referred to. Such a context is provided, for instance, by St. Paul in his first letter to Corinth, where he condemns the illicit union between a Christian and his dead father’s wife. This he calls porneia (1 Cor. 5:1). The Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 uses the word in exactly the same sense when it directs Christians of Gentile origin to respect the susceptibilities of their brethren of Jewish origin by complying, where necessary, with Jewish custom in the matter of porneia. The Council had made it clear that, in principle, the Christian is no longer bound by the ritual laws of the Old Testament (Acts 15:7-19). But charity demanded that, where converts from Judaism were in a majority and continued to live according to these ancestral laws, the Gentile Christians among them should make a communal life possible by respecting their social taboos in the matter of idolothytes (food which had been offered in pagan sacrifices), porneia (marriage within forbidden degrees), "blood," and "things strangled" (non-kosher meat) (Acts 15:20). Exactly the same four concessions had for centuries been demanded of any stranger who wished to make his home in Israel (Lev. 17:8–18:26).

These two examples make it possible, if not likely, that porneia, as well as bearing the generic meaning of impurity, had in certain circumstances the technical meaning of marriage within certain degrees of kinship forbidden by Jewish law. Among the Gentiles there was no restriction on the matter, and marriage between near relatives was not unusual. But it was the Jewish custom which was eventually taken over by the Church, where a marriage of this kind was regarded as being one in name only and in reality as illicit a union as plain fornication. The use of the same word porneia in the context of a dispute about marriage makes it at least possible (more and more scholars today think that it is certain) that the text of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 refers to such illicit unions and excepts from the general law of indissolubility those "marriages" which were already null and void through forbidden degrees of kinship. The text then could be paraphrased: "If anyone divorces his wife, he may not marry again, except when his marriage was not a real one at all, but had only the appearance of one."

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quote:
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Did Jesus Say Adultery Is Grounds for Divorce?

By Jimmy Akin

In the first-century Mediterranean world, divorce and remarriage were common—except among the Jews. Jesus in particular used strong language in condemning the practice. In Matthew 5:31–32, he says, "It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." Similarly, in Matthew 19:9, he says, "And I say to you: Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery" (emphases added).

Many Protestants seize on these so-called "exceptive clauses" as legitimizing divorce in cases where one of the spouses has committed adultery or engaged in some sort of sexual sin.

There are a number of problems with this. First among them is that the exceptive clauses do not appear in the parallel passages in Mark and Luke. In Mark 10:11–12, Jesus says only, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." Likewise, Luke 16:18 says, "Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery."

This is striking. How could Mark and Luke, writing for the Greco-Roman world, omit the one, glaring exception that allows remarriage after divorce? Adultery and sexual sins were rampant in the Roman culture. Mark and Luke would have realized that their audiences needed to know about the exception even more than the Jewish audience for which Matthew wrote.

The exceptive clauses also do not appear in Paul’s discussion of divorce and remarriage. In Romans 7:2–3, he writes that "a married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress."

And in 1 Corinthians 7:10–11, 39, he writes, "To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband)—and that the husband should not divorce his wife. . . . A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord."

Paul was dealing also with a Greco-Roman audience, and he also does not make an exception for unfaithfulness or sexual sin. (The only exception he does make is for the dissolution of a non-sacramental marriage when one spouse has converted to Christianity [1 Cor. 7:12, 15]—what we know today as the Pauline privilege—but that is a different matter.)

Because the exceptive clauses occur only in Matthew’s Gospel—one written for a Jewish audience—it suggests that they reflect some issue of particular concern to Jews. What might this be?

One possibility is that the exceptive clauses are there as an illustration of the precision demanded in rabbinic logic. In other words, the clauses indicate that if one divorces an adulterous wife, one isn’t making her into an adulteress because she already is one. That doesn’t mean that she’s free to remarry; it just means that you aren’t forcing her into an adulterous situation if you divorce her.

Another possibility is that the exceptive clauses are a way of avoiding altogether the subject of an unchaste spouse. In Judaism around this period, there was a debate between the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai over the circumstances in which one could divorce. The Hillelites argued that it could be essentially for any reason, while the Shammaites argued it could be only for adultery. The exceptive clauses could be a way of avoiding this debate. The Greek grammar allows the passage to be understood roughly in this sense: "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another—I’m not going into the subject of unchastity—commits adultery."

A third possibility is that the Greek term used for "unchastity"— porneia—is being used in a special sense. For example, some have taken it to refer to unchaste behavior before the marriage is consummated. At that point, it is possible to dissolve the marriage, for marriages become indissoluble only when they are consummated.

Today, with the tradition of the wedding night, it is highly unlikely a spouse could be unfaithful between the marriage ceremony and the consummation. However, in Jesus’ time it was customary for a couple to be legally married for about a year before the consummation. The bride continued to live with her family while the husband prepared their home. At the end of this time there was the "fetching of the bride" ceremony, where the groom took her back to his own home with family and friends accompanying them. Then, during the wedding party, the couple would retire and consummate their union. Clearly, within this long time frame unchastity was possible on the part of one of the spouses.

Why would Matthew be the only Evangelist to point out the possibility of dissolving such unions? Because he is the only one who mentions that, when Mary was discovered to be with child by the Holy Spirit, Joseph had in mind to divorce her quietly (Matt. 1:19). He alone would seem to have a reason to clarify why Joseph’s planned course of action was legitimate, given what Jesus said later regarding marriage.

Others have interpreted the Greek term used for "unchastity"— porneia—as a reference to incest, the idea being that divorce and remarriage is permissible in the case of incestuous marriages, since the marriage was never valid to begin with. If this is correct, then we have the principle that underlies modern annulments: Those who are not validly married are free to contract it.

Advocates of this interpretation point out that porneia is not the usual Greek term for adultery. Indeed, in the passages cited above, Jesus uses the term for adultery (moicheia) and does not identify it with porneia. These advocates point out also that many peoples in the eastern-Mediterranean region had marriage practices that allowed unions forbidden by Leviticus 18. This caused problems when individuals wanted to convert to Judaism and Christianity. Did they have to leave their spouses? Matthew, writing in an eastern-Mediterranean context, would have had reason to insert a clarification to prevent such converts from using the unqualified statement as justification for staying with their current spouses.

The idea that porneia is being used in this narrow way is suggested by two other biblical passages. In Acts 15:29, it is proposed that, to avoid offending Jewish believers, Gentile converts abstain from eating idol meat, blood, strangled animals, and from porneia. These objections are often regarded as being based directly on Leviticus 17–18, where the same things are prohibited in the same order.

The second passage is 1 Corinthians 5:1, where Paul applies the word porneia to the case of a man who has married his stepmother—a case forbidden by Leviticus 18:8. These considerations make it reasonable to assume that porneia is being used in the exceptive clauses to refer to incestuous unions.

Whichever above arguments you find convincing, it is clearly false that Jesus meant to allow divorce and remarriage when one party has committed adultery. Matthew 19:9 has often been read against the context of the Hillel-Shammai debate and interpreted to mean that Jesus was simply siding with Shammai in permitting divorce only for adultery. But this does not square with two key points in the text.

First, 19:3 specifically says that the Pharisees were trying to test Jesus, and it uses a Greek word—peirazo—that the synoptic Gospels use to indicate an act of malice. Even John P. Meier, a biblical liberal, notes, "If the Pharisees are simply asking Jesus he favors the opinion of Hillel or Shammi, how does this constitute a malicious attempt to force him into a dilemma whereby one choice or either choice would involve a damaging statement? After all, both rabbinic opinions were perfectly respectable" (The Vision of Matthew, 252).

Second, Jesus’ answer is so amazing that in 19:10 the disciples declare that it would be better not to marry if what Jesus has said is true. Meier again: "This is not a reaction to the well-known position of Shammai, which would hardly lead a Jew or anyone else to such a conclusion. Matthew has the disciples react all too humanly to Jesus’ total prohibition of divorce" (ibid., 253).

Finally, "if Matthew were espousing adultery as grounds for divorce, he would soon run up against grave practical difficulties. In this hypothesis, Matthew would allow divorce and remarriage for a husband and wife who had committed adultery. But a husband and wife who remained faithful to each other would not be allowed to divorce; indeed their attempt at divorce would be considered adultery. Obviously, the only thing to do for a faithful Christian couple who wanted a divorce would be to commit adultery, after which a dissolution of the marriage would be allowed. What we wind up with is divorce on demand, with a technical proviso of committing adultery. This all constitutes a strange church discipline, one in which adultery seems encouraged and fidelity discouraged" (ibid.).

The situation Meier describes is actually found in many Protestant churches. Any experienced Evangelical counselor can attest that many Evangelicals who find themselves in difficult marital situations do commit such sins specifically for purposes of being able to divorce and remarry. They may say to themselves, "Jesus will forgive me afterwards" or "I have already been forgiven for all my sins—future ones included." Through this loophole Evangelicalism has absorbed the secular world’s divorce and remarriage ethic, just as it has absorbed the secular world’s contraceptive mentality.

Fortunately, in recent years all the interpretive options mentioned above have found advocates in conservative Protestant circles. Time will tell whether this new recognition of the seriousness of Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage will bear significant fruit.

 

 

Regarding a Sacramental marriage, the wiki on Annulments that Rob Duncan started will be helpful (http://www.speroforum.com/wiki/default.aspx/SperoWiki/MarriageAnnulment.html). I meant it in a "Catholic" context, which believes that only marriages that were not true (read Sacramental) from the first can be annulled.