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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic


Marital Separation in the Gospels

The Importance of Family Part 1: Marriage
The Importance of Family Part 2: The Family
Divorce and Remarriage: Introduction and Basics
Separation and Divorce in the Law of Moses
Marital Separation in the Gospels
Marital Separation after the Gospels and Conclusions
Marital Separation: Objections 1-3
Marital Separation: Objections 4-6 and the Early Church
Remarriage Addendum: Exception Clause Comparison
New Testament Protocols Regarding Men and Women (Part 1)
New Testament Protocols Regarding Men and Women (Part 2)
Comparative Peer Dynamics Chart



At this point it is important to make a brief comment on the Greek words used in the New Testament regarding the subject of marital separation. The Greek words used for marital separation in the New Testament are "chorizo" (Strong's No. 5563), "apoluo" (Strong's No. 630), and "aphiemi" (Strong's No. 863).

When we did a similar study in the Old Testament of the Hebrew words for marital separation, we found that both words, "shalach" (Strong's No. 07971) and "garish" (Strong's No. 01644), were really generic words applied to a variety of situations other than marriage. This was important because it demonstrated that by using these generic terms for separation, the idea that God had in mind when speaking of marital separation was a simple as the separating of the two spouses in the same way that one might drive nations out of a land (Exodus 34:11) or send forth a dove from the ark (Genesis 8:10).

The same is true for the New Testament Greek words for marital separation. They are generic terms applied to a variety of situations other than marriage. "Aphiemi" can be used to describe sending away a spouse and it can also be used to describe Jesus sending away the crowds (Mark 4:36). "Apoluo" can be used to describe putting away a spouse and it can also be used to describe an official ordering the dismissal of an assembly (Acts 19:41.) "Chorizo" can be used to describe putting asunder a spouse and it can also be used to describe Claudius Caesar commanding all the Jews to depart from Rome (Acts 18:2.) So, once again, the generic nature of these words demonstrates that the idea concerning marriage is simple the very basic concept of separating or sending away a spouse.

Having established the requirements of the Law of Moses for putting away a spouse, the very first question that we must ask as we examine the New Testament on this subject is this: is it possible for Jesus to allow less than the Law of Moses? Where Moses permitted separation for virtually any reason, could Jesus restrict that to only one reason? Where Moses permitted second marriages, could Jesus not recognize them? Could Jesus make certain aspects of his Law stricter than the Law of Moses?

These are, in fact, the chief questions under examination in this segment of our study. And we intend to establish them thoroughly by scripture rather than our own opinions.

In fact, it is no secret that Jesus in many ways took what was a "bare minimum" in the Law and expanded it, creating a standard for morality that was higher than the Law of Moses. One need only take a look at Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount to see that his teaching takes what was written in the Law of Moses and then goes a step further to a more righteous standard. We will include a rather lengthy portion of this passage while at the same time breaking it into sections so that the pattern of Jesus' instruction here can be made plain.

Matthew 5:21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

Matthew 5:27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: 28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Matthew 5:31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

Matthew 5:33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: 34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne...37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

Matthew 5:38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Matthew 5:43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

In each of these sections, Jesus begins by stating what was said or taught as part of the Law of Moses and the traditions of the Pharisees. Then, Jesus immediately gives his own teaching in contrast to these Old Testament traditions. In all cases, Jesus takes the instruction a step further, going beyond what they had been taught as part of the Law of Moses.

And, of course, included in this series of statements, Jesus makes 2 separate references concerning adultery and marital separation. What is quite clear is that Jesus has a pattern and habit in his teaching of going farther than what was written by Moses and raising the moral standard higher than what was set by Moses.

Therefore, we conclude that Jesus most certainly did in some ways create a stricter standard than the Law of Moses. And moreover, we can already see from Matthew 5:31-32 above that Jesus did indeed create stricter regulations for marital separation than the regulations of the Law of Moses. To answer our question from above, we now know that where Moses permitted a spouse to be put away for virtually any reason, Jesus forbid a spouse to be put away in all cases except for the case where the spouse was put away for committing adultery.

But one question that remains is whether or not Jesus recognized second marriages or not?

Matthew 19 and Mark 10 contain a more detailed discussion from Jesus on this topic. We will now take a look at those passages.

Matthew 19:3 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? 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. 7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, 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.

We must pay careful notice to the Pharisees' initial question and to the logical progression of this discussion. The Pharisees initial claim is that it is lawful under the Law of Moses for a man to put away his wife for any cause or reason. As a test, they ask Jesus to either confirm or deny this claim. Now, in verses 4-6, Jesus clearly responds in such a way as to contradict their initial claim. Their initial claim is that a man can divorce his wife for any reason. Jesus' counterclaim is that what God has joined in marriage, let no man put asunder.

And not only do we believe Jesus was disagreeing with the Pharisees' claim, but the Pharisees themselves clearly perceive that Jesus is disagreeing with them as well. This is why they continue in verse 7 to offer further evidence to support their initial claim and refute Jesus' counterclaims. If they had perceived Jesus' comments were agreeing with their own, there would have been no need to pursue the issue further by offering further evidence. In fact, the nature of their follow-up question demonstrates that Jesus' comments were a rejection of their claim.

For, the Pharisees then ask "why did Moses command to give a writing of divorce?" Clearly they are quoting from Deuteronomy 24, as any comparison will quickly show. But, the fact that they ask Jesus why Moses allowed a man to put away his wife with merely a certificate, demonstrates clearly that they perceived Jesus' stated counterclaim was in denial of this portion of the Law of Moses. In other words, they thought Jesus' previous comments in verses 4-6 contradicted Moses' instruction and they asked him to explain or reconcile this contradiction with Moses' Law.

The key is how Jesus responds to this follow-up question posed by the Pharisees. Does he deny that Moses taught this? Does he deny that Moses allowed for a man to divorce his wife for any reason? No. Even in verses 4-6, Jesus doesn't disagree with how they are interpreting Moses' teaching. In verses 4-6, Jesus doesn't appeal to the text of Deuteronomy to show how they are interpreting it incorrectly. Instead, he appeals to Genesis 2, in order to supercede the Law of Moses with the prior standard of God. (This same manner of argument by demonstrating which standard came earlier is also employed by Paul in Galatians 3:17-26 where Paul states that the Law of Moses cannot nullify the promise to Abraham, which came before it.)

Irenaeus also explains this answer given by Jesus. (Irenaeus was a second century disciple of Polycarp, a disciple of John the Apostle, who wrote a five-volume work entitled Against Heresies.)

2. And not only so, but the Lord also showed that certain precepts were enacted for them by Moses, on account of their hardness [of heart], and because of their unwillingness to be obedient, when, on their saying to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give a writing of divorcement, and to send away a wife?" He said to them, "Because of the hardness of your hearts he permitted these things to you; but from the beginning it was not so;"(6) thus exculpating Moses as a faithful servant, but acknowledging one God, who from the beginning made male and female, and reproving them as hard-hearted and disobedient. And therefore it was that they received from Moses this law of divorcement, adapted to their hard nature. [Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book IV. CHAP.XV.]

Our assessment is in agreement with Irenaeus. Jesus' answer did several things. First, it acknowledged Moses as a faithful servant. Second, it acknowledged that Moses did indeed permit a man to divorce for any reason. Third, it explained this loose standard for marital separation as an accommodation of the hardness of the people's hearts. Jesus doesn't take issue with their interpretation of Moses. And this could be no clearer than in verse 8, where Jesus plainly states that Moses permitted a man to put away his wife in the way the Pharisees claimed because of the hardness of the people's hearts. Jesus' clearly acknowledges that Moses did allow men to put away their wives for any cause by merely giving her a certificate of divorce.

The basis of Jesus' teaching here is not a better interpretation of Moses' instructions in Deuteronomy 24. The basis of Jesus' teaching here was not that the Pharisees were interpreting Deuteronomy 24 incorrectly. Jesus did not take any issue with how they interpreted Moses in Deuteronomy 24. The basis of Jesus' teaching was that there was a prior standard of God revealed in nature in the union of Adam and Eve. And it was this higher standard that Jesus was restoring beyond what was written in the Law of Moses, (just as before the Law of Moses, faith was the basis of righteousness for Abraham, and Jesus restored that standard as well - Romans 4:1-3, 9, 12-13, 16 and Galatians 3:1-9.)

And by restoring the previous standard of God revealed in Genesis 2:21-22, Jesus is likewise affirming the permanent nature of the marital union. The two were made one by God and God intends it to remain that way. And Jesus affirmation of God's desire for the two to remain one gives very strong indication that he will not recognize second marriages as the Law of Moses did because second marriages by their very nature counteract the oneness of the original spouses that God had joined.

As we move ahead, the most significant point is to establish that, in fact, Jesus did not recognize second marriages and why not. For this we of course turn back to Jesus own comments on the matter. Below are the parallel statements made by Jesus on this topic, some in more detailed contexts, some in less. We will make brief comments on some of the unique elements of each. Then we will analyze the elements common to two or more of the passages.

Matthew 5:27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: 28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. 29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. 30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. 31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away (630) his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away (630) his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced (630) committeth adultery.

Each one of these passages is fascinating, in part simply for its clarity.

Concerning Matthew 5, the first thing that we will notice is Jesus' initial comments concerning adultery during which he says that it is better for a man to cut off part of his own body and cast it away from himself rather than have that part of him pull him into adultery. What is interesting here is that earlier in our study we saw that the Old Testament word for "divorcement" in the phrase "bill of divorcement" was "kariythuwth" (Strong's No. 03748), which means, "divorce, dismissal, divorcement." We also said that for us this is a bit like defining a word using that same word. So, for more insight into the basic meaning of this Hebrew term, we turned to the word "kariythuwth" was derived from, which is the Hebrew word "karath" (Strong's No. 03772).

"Karath" simply meant "to cut, cut off, cut off a body part." As Genesis 2:24 and Jesus' own words in Matthew 19:5-6 and Mark 10:8 state the husband and wife become one flesh. So, in affect, when Jesus teaches that it is better to cut off any part of the body that might lead you into adultery, he is referring back to these Old Testament words as they relate to putting away a spouse.

As such, these comments in verses 27-30 concerning cutting off a part of the body that leads you into temptation act as an explanatory prelude to his comment in verse 32 that it is acceptable to put away an adulterous spouse. Better to put her away than to be led by her into committing fornication. In his early second century AD work Apology, Justin Martyr describes just such a situation where the adulterous spouse acts as a means by which the righteous spouse can become a partaker of fornication.

"For she, considering it wicked to live any longer as a wife with a husband who sought in every way means of indulging in pleasure contrary to the law of nature, and in violation of what is right, wished to be divorced from him...But when her husband had gone into Alexandria, and was reported to be conducting himself worse than ever, she--that she might not, by continuing in matrimonial connection with him, and by sharing his table and his bed, become a partaker also in his wickednesses and impieties--gave him what you call a bill of divorce,(5) and was separated from him." - Justin Martyr, CHAP. II.--URBICUS CONDEMNS THE CHRISTIANS TO DEATH

And Justin Martyr is not the only early Christian to write such things. In his second book, Commandments, another second century writer known as the Pastor of Hermas (A.D. 139-A.D. 155) writes similarly concerning a righteous spouse separating from an adulterous spouse so as to avoid partaking of fornication.

" 'But if the husband know that his wife has gone astray, and if the woman does not repent, but persists in her fornication, and yet the husband continues to live with her, he also is guilty of her crime, and a sharer in her adultery.' And I said to him, 'What then, sir, is the husband to do, if his wife continue in her vicious practices?' And he said, 'The husband should put her away, and remain by himself.' - Pastor of Hermas, Book Second-Commandments, Commandment Fourth, On Putting One's Wife Away for Adultery, Chapter I

Thus, it is clear that starting with Matthew 5, early Christianity held that the reason it was necessary to put away an adulterous spouse, even though they were your own flesh, was because it was better to cut off your own flesh than to participate in adultery yourself by means of your own flesh.

This concludes our commentary on the unique elements of Matthew 5. However, there is still one major element in Matthew 5 that is relevant to this study. This particular aspect of Matthew 5 is common to all of our remaining Gospel passages on this subject. For comparison, we turn to Luke 16.

Luke 16:16 The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. 17 And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery. 19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,

As we can clearly see from the surrounding context of Luke 16, Jesus' comment concerning remarriage in verse 18 is a stand-alone statement. In other words, it is not related to the content of the surrounding verses. As such, the comment in verse 18 is extremely straightforward. Without any commentary in the surrounding verses that would provide additional information to alter, enhance, or add subtle nuances to the meaning of verse 18, what we have is a very simple, unequivocal, unambiguous declaration by Jesus that any person, man or woman, who marries someone other than their original spouse is committing an act of adultery. Furthermore, anyone who marries someone who has been married before is also committing adultery with them. Earlier, we saw this same statement made by Jesus in Matthew 5:31-32.

Matthew 5:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away (630) his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced (630) committeth adultery.

Jesus' comments in Matthew 5:32 and Luke 16:18 are identical with the single distinction being that in Matthew 5, Jesus provides one exception to the prohibition of divorce whereas in Luke Jesus does not mention an exception at all. And we have already covered the exception. Having on separate occasions declared that a man and wife are "one flesh," Jesus states here in Matthew 5 that it is better to cut off any part of your flesh that causes you to participate in adultery and so it is permissible to put away an adulterous spouse even though they are part of your flesh.

Although the context is more detailed, the teaching from Jesus on this subject in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 is identical to Matthew 5.

Matthew 19:5 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. 7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, 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, Whosoever shall 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.

Mark 10:6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. 7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; 8 And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. 9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 10 And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. 11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.

In both Matthew 19 and Mark 10, Jesus first affirms that in marriage, a husband and wife are joined by God and made "one flesh." Then Jesus forbids men to separate that union. In doing so, he forbids either spouse from putting the other away. He also forbids anyone else from marrying someone who is separated from their spouse. And finally, Jesus declares that anyone who marries someone other than their original spouse commits adultery by doing so. Of the two passages, only Matthew 19 includes the exception that allows for putting a spouse away in cases where that spouse is committing adultery.

So, in the end these 4 passages have complete consistency. In Matthew 5, Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 16, Jesus himself plainly forbids marital separation on the grounds that the original husband and wife are one flesh in the eyes of God and therefore should not be separated. And in Matthew 5, Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 16, Jesus himself also plainly declares that because in God's eyes the original spouses are joined as one, any marriage to someone new is adultery against the original marriage.

Earlier we stated that the question remained concerning whether or not Jesus recognized second marriages or not? Now we arrive at the answer to that question.

We know that the Law of Moses did recognize second marriages. And we established earlier that Jesus does, in fact, make a stricter standard on the subject of marital separation than Moses. So, does Jesus recognize second marriages as Moses did?

The four passages above clearly indicate that the answer is "No, Jesus did not recognize second marriages." We know that Jesus does not recognize second marriages, but instead he calls such marriages adultery. And what is adultery? We can define it both in terms of the original Hebrew and Greek words as well as in our modern culture. The definition remains the same.

The Greek word for adultery in these passages is "moicheuo" (Strong's No. 3431), which means, "to have intercourse with another's wife." The Hebrew word for adultery (even as it appears in Exodus 20:14) is "na'aph" (Strong's No. 05003), which also means to have intercourse, "with wife of another." And even in modern society, we find the same definition. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language gives the following definition.

"Adultery - Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than the lawful spouse." - The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

Although the male-dominated Hebrew and Greek cultures focus the definition along gender lines, as we have seen very near the beginning of this study, Jesus' words in Mark 10:11-12 apply his standard uniformly to both men and women equally so that both genders are under the same standard. The American Heritage Dictionary likewise provides a definition that is more equitable to both genders.

And so without much controversy, we arrive at the simple definition of adultery. Adultery is "sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than the lawful spouse."

Consequently, by declaring second marriages to be adultery, Jesus is declaring that the original spouse is still the lawful spouse in God's eyes. This fundamental fact makes it impossible to recognize the second marriage. For how can a person marry one person when they are already married to someone else in God's eyes? They cannot precisely because their original spouse is still their spouse.

But let's not move over this essential point to quickly.

It is an undeniable, definitional fact that the only way that Jesus could have called second marriages adultery is if the original spouses were still joined as one in God's eyes and thus, still married.

So, the practical question arises: what should be done by those in second marriages? How can they end their adultery? But the answer to this is clear. Since it is the fact that they are still united as "one flesh" to their original spouse in God's eyes that is causing any second marriage to be adultery, any attempt at a cessation of adultery must observe and honor the oneness of the original spouses. Conversely, since it is the fact that the original spouses are still "one flesh" that causes the second marriage to be adultery, any supposed solution which denies or ignores the ongoing oneness of the original spouses will not end the adultery.

Or more specifically, any supposed solution in which the second marriage continues will not work because it does not change the fact that the original spouses are still joined as one in God's eyes. And since it is the very fact that the original spouses remain one in God's eyes that causes the second marriage to be adultery, until that fact changes, the second marriage will continue to be adultery.

For example, the problem is not that people in second marriages have never said to God, "I'm sorry" and thus acknowledge that marrying someone new was adultery against their original spouse. Adultery is not the failure to say, "I'm sorry." Saying, "I'm sorry. It was adultery," does not cause it to stop being adultery. The problem is that in God's eyes the husband or wife is still joined as one to their original spouse. If that were not the case, then the second marriage could not be considered adultery by Jesus. And since according to Jesus, God does consider the original spouses to still be joined as one, the second marriage cannot cease to be adultery for as long as God considers the original spouses still joined as one.

This we will see in the rest of the New Testament. But one thing is for sure: simply acknowledging to God that one's second marriage is adultery does not in any way put an end to the oneness with the original spouse. If anything, acknowledging that the second marriage is adultery is an acknowledgement that they are still united as one with their original spouse and as such, they must cease and desist from any attempted unions with someone other than the person with whom they are one in God's eyes (i.e. their original spouse.) In short, persons involved in a second marriage must separate from their second spouse and either remain single or be reconciled to their first spouse.

In light of this it is clear that by declaring second marriage to be adultery, Jesus is declaring that in his teaching, second marriages are not recognized as they were in the Law of Moses. Instead, they are adultery because God still views the original spouses as joined as one. And the fact that the original spouses are still joined as one in God's eyes makes the recognition of second marriages impossible. For how can a person who is already married to one spouse marry someone else? It cannot be done. And so on this point, Jesus is once again raising the bar and making the requirements stricter than the Law of Moses. Where the Law recognizes second marriages, Jesus' Law does not but instead affirms the ongoing oneness of the original spouses in God's eyes.

Now that we know that Jesus does not recognize second marriages but regards them as adultery, we can move ahead to the rest of the New Testament discussions of this topic to see if there were any amendments or additional nuances added by the apostles.

But before we move ahead, there is one last point that needs to be made. We need to address the exception clause that Jesus gives in these passages. There are potentially two valid ways to interpret the text.

In the first scenario, Jesus' exception is understood only as an exception regarding his prohibition of separation. It is not regarded as an exception to his prohibition against remarriage. The basis of this scenario is the contextual difference between Matthew 5 and Matthew 19. The explanation can be described as follows.

Of the 4 passages in the Gospels where Jesus' gives teaching on separation and remarriage, only 2 of them list any exception. Both are in Matthew.

In accordance with progressive revelation, we know that Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5 was revealed by Jesus before his teaching in Matthew 19. In Matthew Jesus states this exception for the first time.

Matthew 5: 27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: 28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. 29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. 30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. 31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

In this passage in Matthew 5, Jesus states that a man who puts away his wife causes her to commit adultery by marrying another man. His follow-up comment in the second half of the verse further explains this.

Jesus' reason for prohibiting divorce in this verse is his desire to prohibit adultery. This is evidenced by the fact that verse 27 begins this statement by addressing the topic of the prohibition of adultery.

In short, here in Matthew 5, Jesus prohibits divorce in order to stop the adultery that it inevitably leads to. But in cases where a spouse is put away for committing adultery, there is no reason to condemn divorce in that unique instance because the thing, which Jesus sought to prevent by prohibiting divorce, had already occurred. And since adultery had already occurred, there was no grounds for prohibiting the putting away of a spouse who was already committing adultery. This resulted in the single exception that there was no prohibition of putting away a spouse when that spouse was already committing adultery.

Thus, in Matthew 5:32, the exception was an exception to the prohibition against putting away a spouse. It was not an exception to the prohibition against adultery. Nor is there any mention or indication of an exception to the declaration that second marriages are adultery. So, while a spouse can separate from an adulterous spouse neither spouse is free to marry someone else, but must remain single or be reconciled to their original spouse.

This brings us to the mention of this same exception in Matthew 19.

Matthew 19:3 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? 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. 7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, 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, Whosoever shall 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.

As we indicated earlier, this first interpretation of the exception clause centers around the contextual difference between Matthew 5 and Matthew 19. What needs to be noted about Matthew 19 is that the primary focus of Jesus' comments is to prohibit divorce. This is different from Matthew 5 where Jesus begins with addressing the issue of adultery. Here in Matthew 19, the discussion begins with the issue of divorce. As such, Jesus' comments here are a response intended to support his prohibition of divorce and refute the Pharisees approval of it. This is quite clear as we follow through the process of the dialog.

In verse 3, the Pharisees begin with a question about the permissibility of divorce. In verses 4-6, Jesus denies the permissibility of divorce by reinstating the original standard of God that husband and wife are one flesh and should not be separated. Then in verse 7, the Pharisees again assert that Moses allowed for divorce. And so Jesus' comments in verse 9 are first and foremost a repudiation of the Pharisees' approval of divorce.

In other words, Jesus' statement that remarriages are adultery is itself intended as a condemnation of divorce. In condemning divorce here in chapter 19, Jesus cannot condemn or overturn his earlier exception allowing for divorce under specific circumstances as recorded in Matthew 5. So while condemning divorce here in verse 9, for the sake of consistency Jesus is sure to acknowledge his previous exception to the prohibition against divorce. In short, while condemning the Pharisees approval of divorce on the grounds that it leads to adultery, Jesus is sure to once again stipulate that his condemnation of divorce does not include cases where adultery is already occurring.

That is the reason that the exception appears here in chapter 19. Jesus is not listing the exception to indicate that remarriage is acceptable under the exception. As such, under this interpretation, Jesus exception only pertains to divorce. He never gives an exception to the prohibition of remarriage.

(Later, we will see that Paul also upheld this lifelong prohibition of remarriage and why as we move ahead to Romans 7. Likewise, we will also see that nowhere in his writing in 1 Corinthians 7 does Paul provide an extension of this exception or any additional exception to the prohibition against remarriage.)

However, even though this first scenario adequately reconciles Jesus' intent and the particular details of both Matthew 5 and 19, there is a second scenario that does so in an even simpler, more consistent, and straightforward manner, especially with regard to the wording of the exception in Matthew 19.

Above we discussed the exception clause in terms of illegal actions within legal marriages. In other words, Jesusí provides an exception to his prohibition of separation so as to allow a spouse to separate from their legal spouse when that legal spouse is engaged in illegal sexual activities. Under this interpretation, the purpose of the exception was to prevent a faithful spouse from joining or participating (even indirectly) in the illegal unions that are being committed by the other spouse. However, now we will discuss the idea that the exception results from illegal marriages, not from illegal actions within legal marriages. Under this alternative interpretation, Jesus acknowledges that persons currently involved in an illegal marriage should divorce one another.

Our examination begins by considering the Greek words that Jesusí uses for ďfornicationĒ and ďadulteryĒ (designated by the Strongís Numbers and definitions below).

Matthew 5:31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication (4202), causeth her to commit adultery (3429): and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery (3429).

Matthew 19:3 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? 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. 7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, 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, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication (4202), and shall marry another, committeth adultery (3429): and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery (3429).

4202 porneia
from 4203; TDNT-6:579,918; n f
AV-fornication 26; 26
1) illicit sexual intercourse
1a) adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals etc.
1b) sexual intercourse with close relatives; Lev. 18
1c) sexual intercourse with a divorced man or woman; #Mr 10:11,12
2) metaph. the worship of idols
2a) of the defilement of idolatry, as incurred by eating the sacrifices offered to idols

3429 moichao
from 3432; TDNT-4:729,605; v
AV-commit adultery 6; 6
1) to have unlawful intercourse with anotherís wife, to commit adultery with

It is important to note that the word for ďadulteryĒ is clearly a subclass within the larger category of ďfornication.Ē Thus, by using two different terms, Jesus is not describing two completely different and unrelated things. The second term he uses simply refers to a specific type of the first term. So, right away there is no conflict between these two words that Jesus uses.

When we apply these definitions to this interpretive scenario, it is not difficult to connect the dots and perceive that Jesus is describing a marriage that is itself adultery or some other kind of fornication. In fact, right after making this statement, Jesus immediately explains how a marriage itself could be adultery. A marriage can itself be adultery if that marriage involves one party who has been divorced. But in addition to adultery, there may be other reasons why the current marriage is unlawful. The most obvious example would be a marriage that is unlawful because it is incestuous. In fact, in Smithís Bible Dictionary, more than half of the description of illegal or ďprohibitedĒ marriages pertains to incest.

Smithís also lists marriages to non-Israelites as another category of illegal or prohibited marriage. Interestingly, Ezra and John the Baptist provide prominent examples of both of these two other kinds of fornication. As we will see, John the Baptist required the divorce of Herodís illegal marriage because it was incest according to the Law. Similarly, in the Book of Ezra, Godís people were required according to the Law to put away the pagan wives that they had illegally married. Consequently, it would appear from both Ezra and John the Baptist that divorce was required in any situation where the marriage itself was illegal in Godís eyes.

ďMarriage. Ö2. The conditions of legal marriage. Ė In the Hebrew commonwealth marriage was prohibited (a) between an Israelite and a non-Israelite. There were three grades of prohibitionÖ (b) between an Israelite and one of his own community. The regulations relative to marriage between Israelites and Israelites were based on considerations of relationship. The most important passage relating to these is contained in Lev. 18:6-18, wherein we have in the first place a general prohibition against marriage between a man and the ďflesh of his flesh,Ē and in the second place special prohibitions against marriage with a mother, stepmother, sister or half-sister, whether Ďborn at home or abroad,í granddaughter, aunt, whether by consanguinity on either side or by marriage, stepgranddaughter, or wifeís sister during the lifetime of the wife. An exception is subsequently made, Deut. 25:5-9, in favor of marriage with a brotherís wife in the event of his having died childless. The law which regulates this has been named the Ďlevirate,í from the Latin levir, Ďbrother-in-law.íĒ Ė Smithís Bible Dictionary, p. 382

Consequently, Jesusí use of the larger category of ďfornicationĒ during the exception clause would stipulate that divorce is not condemned in any case where the current union is unlawful, whether because it is adulterous or incestuous, etc. As a result, Jesusí use of two separate Greek words does nothing to dispel that the exception clause applies to the very same adulterous marriages described by Jesus in the passage. The exception would include adulterous marriages as well as other unlawful marriages.

The following facts support this interpretation.

The prohibitions making certain marriages inherently illegal from the very moment they begin are declared by God in Leviticus 18:6-18. Notice from verse 16, that marriage to a brotherís wife is included among the marriages prohibited on the grounds of incest.

Leviticus 18:6 None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the LORD. 7 The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. 8 The nakedness of thy fatherís wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy fatherís nakedness. 9 The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father, or daughter of thy mother, whether she be born at home, or born abroad, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover. 10 The nakedness of thy sonís daughter, or of thy daughterís daughter, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover: for theirs is thine own nakedness. 11 The nakedness of thy fatherís wifeís daughter, begotten of thy father, she is thy sister, thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. 12 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy fatherís sister: she is thy fatherís near kinswoman. 13 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy motherís sister: for she is thy motherís near kinswoman. 14 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy fatherís brother, thou shalt not approach to his wife: she is thine aunt. 15 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy daughter in law: she is thy sonís wife; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. 16 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brotherís wife: it is thy brotherís nakedness. 17 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, neither shalt thou take her sonís daughter, or her daughterís daughter, to uncover her nakedness; for they are her near kinswomen: it is wickedness. 18 Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.

The only exception to these prohibitions occurred in cases where a brother had died. This is spelled out in Deuteronomy 25.

Deuteronomy 25:5 If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husbandís brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husbandís brother unto her. 6 And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel. 7 And if the man like not to take his brotherís wife, then let his brotherís wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, My husbandís brother refuseth to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husbandís brother. 8 Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him: and if he stand to it, and say, I like not to take her; 9 Then shall his brotherís wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brotherís house.

What is even more important to this examination is the fact that after verse 18 finishes the definition of incest, the next five verses of Leviticus 18 describes other illegal forms of intercourse, including adultery, homosexuality, and bestiality.

Leviticus 18:19 Also thou shalt not approach unto a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is put apart for her uncleanness. 20 Moreover thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbourís wife, to defile thyself with her. 21 And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD. 22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. 23 Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion.

In other words, this passage from Leviticus is one of the Old Testament passages defining fornication, the broad category of illegal unions that Jesus refers to in the exception clause in Matthew. Consequently, it would seem that Jesus had illegal unions such as incest in mind when Jesus states an exception in which putting away a spouse is not condemned.

While these laws on fornication certainly referred to sexual activity outside of legal marriages, the New Testament also asserts that fornication included illegal marriages. This is proven by the account of John the Baptist. Notice from both of the following passages that John considered Herodís marriage to his brotherís wife to be against the Law of Moses. In saying this, John is clearly referring back to the fornication laws in Leviticus 18, which declared intercourse with a living brotherís wife to be illegal. And consequently, John the Baptist understood that the fornication laws included illegal marriages, such as Herodís marriage to his brotherís wife.

Matthew 14:3 For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodiasí sake, his brother Philipís wife. 4 For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her.

Mark 6:17 For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodiasí sake, his brother Philipís wife: for he had married her. 18 For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brotherís wife.

Also notice, that Mark specifies that Herod had ďmarriedĒ his brotherís wife. And in both Matthew and Mark, the text plainly specifies Johnís criticism. John had said that according to the Law Herod should ďnot haveĒ his brotherís wife. Obviously, John was calling for Herod to end his unlawful marriage. Here Johnís demand to Herod seems to either preview or conform to Jesusí exception clause in Matthew 5 and 19, that divorce is not condemned in such cases where the current marital union itself is illegal. The point is highlighted by the following fact. Since Herod was married and John had demanded putting away the current wife, Johnís teaching would have conflicted with Jesusí condemnation of divorce if Jesus had not stipulated an exception in the case of illegal marriages. Consequently, Johnís demand for Herod to divorce strongly argues that Jesusí exception clause was recognition that Johnís demand for divorce in certain cases was correct.

Moreover, it is sometimes suggested that the exception clause, particularly as structured in Matthew 19, allows for not only divorce in some cases but also for marrying someone else. If this alternate interpretation of the exception clause as a pertaining to illegal marriages is correct, then it would explain this issue very simply and very easily. Specifically, in cases where the current marriage is itself inherently illegal from its inception, there are several scenarios in which after the divorce both spouses would be free to marry someone else. And even more specifically, scenarios exist in which marriage to a new spouse after divorce from an illegal marriage would not constitute adultery or consequently another illegal marriage. Letís look at some examples.

The first example is a scenario in which the current marriage is actually the second marriage for both spouses. This is the type of marriages that Jesus calls ďadulteryĒ in Matthew 5, Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 16. It is illegal and invalid because in Godís eyes both spouses are still married to their original spouse. For that reason, the current spouses should divorce one another and, in such a scenario, would be free (if not required) to remarry their original spouse. In this case, marriage to a different person than the current spouse is clearly not illegal or adulterous in Godís eyes because the new marriage is actually to the original and legitimate spouse.

The second example is a scenario in which only one spouse in the current marriage has been married previously. This type of marriage would also be ďadulteryĒ under Jesusí definition. And in such cases, the other spouse (having never been married legitimately before) would be free to marry anyone after the current illegal, adulterous marriage is ended.

The third example is a scenario in which the current marriage is unlawful for some reason such as incest (rather than because it is an adulterous second marriage). While this is unthinkable in modern times, it makes complete sense in the original historical context (the Jewish commonwealth) in which Jesusí gave this command. This is proven by the case involving John the Baptist and Herod. In this scenario, depending on the type of incest, both spouses would be free to remarry anyone because neither one has ever been in a valid marriage in Godís eyes. (Or in the example of Herod, Herod could marry anyone but his wife would be free to remarry her original husband, Herod's brother. Neither new marriage would be adultery or prohibited.)

Consequently, there are at least three separate scenarios in which a subsequent marriage to a different party after the divorce of an adulterous marriage would not constitute any kind of adultery. As such, it would make perfect sense for Jesus to allow divorce and marriage to a different party in cases where the current marriage is itself illegal and invalid in Godís eyes.

In conclusion, the interpretation of the exception clause (as applying only to cases in which the current marriage is illegal) seems (A) to make the most sense of the content of the statement, both in its construction and its primary intent, (B) to make the most consistent and enforceable rule in accord with that primary intent, and (C) to explain the internal vocabulary in light of historical context, including John the Baptist in particular.