Matthew 5: 32 and Matthew 19: 9, a Study


     The words, "It is not good that the man should be alone" have reverberated down through time to the present (Gen. 2: 18). Based on man being a social being, God created woman and instituted marriage (Gen. 2: 18: 25). Matthew 5: 32 and Matthew 19: 9 are important verses in a study of biblical marriage. Let us now insert Jesus' teaching and then make some introductory comments relative to God's marriage law, after which we shall engage in an exegetical study of the verses.

     "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: 32) and, "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" (Matthew 19: 9, all quotations are from the King James unless otherwise stated).

     It is evident from the Genesis' account of the institution of marriage that God designed that marriage consist of one man and one woman for life (Gen. 2: 18ff., polygamous and homosexual marriages were never intended by God). I believe that it is manifest from Matthew 19: 4-9 and Romans 7: 2-4 that fornication and death provided the only severance to the marriage bond (fornication provided the option, see Jeremiah 3: 8, it is also clear from Romans 7: 3 that one can be married and bound to another). However, there was a concession affixed to the Mosaic code that allowed divorce for additional reasons (Deut. 24: 1ff., see addendum 1). Perhaps more than a "concession," this provision was for the protection of the woman who was more susceptible to abuse during the time of Moses (the provision was designed to cause the hard hearted husband to think twice before he flippantly divorced his wife in view of having to state in writing the reason for the divorce and he could not "take her back" (Deut. 24: 1-4). Jesus' teaching in Matthew 19: 9 and Matthew 5: 32 was designed to challenge the then extant perversions of God's marriage law and to restore marriage as originally set up by God. Jesus' teaching is just as challenging today in view of the occurrence of flippant divorce and the acceptance of society and civil law of divorce for every imaginable cause under the sun. Religions today often ignore and reject Jesus' cogent teaching. There are many efforts past and present to distort Jesus' teaching and change it to make it say something totally foreign to the original enunciation. Not only has man in about every conceivable way twisted and distorted Matthew 5: 32 and Matthew 19: 9, but segments of society are now exerting influences to encourage society as a whole to more freely accept homosexual marriages. Some cop out by telling us that Jesus' teaching is too hard and ambiguous to be understood and understood alike. Let us now take a serious look, both exegetical and in application, and see the pristine teaching of Matthew 5: 32 and Matthew 19: 9. Again, Jesus taught:

     "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: 32).

     The expression, "But I say unto you" (ego de lego umin) shows that Matthew 5: 32 enjoys a connection with something that has been previously said in the context. The opening word "but" (de) is expressive of contrast and the "I say unto you" is reflective of Jesus' authority (cp. vs. 22, 28, 34, 39, 44). It appears that many of the Jews were randomly putting away their wives. The common emphasis appeared to have been simply on the providing of the "writing of divorcement" without due consideration to the cause (Matt. 5: 31, cp. Deut. 24: 1ff.). Rather than being aware of the spiritual nature and intended duration of marriage, it seems the paramount concern was in legalistically satisfying the legal document requirement (it must be understood that the Law of Moses was a theocracy, civil and spiritual combined). It is in opposition to this shallow practice that Jesus said, "But I say unto you."

     "That" (hoti) introduces the following two clauses: "…That whosoever shall put away his wife…" and, "whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery" (we shall examine the exception phrase last). These two clauses are direct objects of the verb "say" (lego).

     "…Whosoever…" (pas) is inclusive of all, rich or poor, popular or unpopular, religious or non-religious. Regarding the players, there are no exceptions as far as God's moral law is concerned (it should be remembered that God's original marriage law that Jesus is restating was universal in its applicability, Gen. 2: 18ff.).

     "…Shall put away…" (ho apoluon). The basic idea of "put away" in the scriptures involves dismissal and repudiation. The act of putting away (apoluo) fully viewed in all its practical application is public as opposed to private or mental only and entails the necessary mental decision, appropriate declaration, and conformity to applicable civil laws. Some believe that civil procedure is irrelevant, but why would not the Christian want to be fully and unmistakably active in also pursuing any proper civil action, especially in view of I Peter 2: 13? (See addendum number 2.)  (For a detailed study of apoluo, click on "A Treatment of Apoluo.")

     "…His wife…" (ten gunaika autou). The Greek autou (genitive or "possessive" case) shows this woman (gune) belongs to him; hence, his wife. Even though the woman is "his wife," God regulates the whole matter and has final and ultimate authority. Notice that the unjustly put away woman is still said to be put away.

     "…Causeth her to commit adultery…" (poiei auten moicheuthenai). He "causeth her to commit adultery" because out of necessity and desire she will likely marry another (see addendum 3). The fact that he (the one who unjustly puts away) would be particeps criminis, responsible for her sin, should cause the man to seriously consider the unscriptural act of putting away.

     "…And whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery…" (kai ho hean apolelumenen gamesas moichatai). "And" (kai) introduces clause two and "whosoever" again expresses the universality, no exception. Notice that the contemplated act of adultery is called "marry" (Rom. 7: 3, 4). Hence, there can be a marriage but no marriage bond. The innocent put away is not allowed marriage to another. If one marries her, he "committeth adultery." "Adultery" (moichatai) is third person, singular in number, present tense, and indicative mood (The Analytical Greek Lexicon, pg. 272). The present tense in the indicative mood indicates continuing action; hence, the one marrying an innocent put away person keeps on committing adultery (one can live in this sin, cp. Col. 3: 5-7). Since the marriage relationship itself is biblically unlawful, the conjugal relationship (marriage) must cease.

     Let us now focus on the exception phrase: "…saving for the cause of fornication…" (parektos loyou porneias).

     "Saving…" (parektos) often translated "except" literally means "without" and indicates an external circumstance or a situation that is not applicable. The circumstance is when the mate has committed fornication. In such a case, the innocent mate is not held responsible when the put away marries another. When the exception phrase is activated, the put away may be either the innocent put away or the guilty put away. (To engage in more study of "except," click on, "A Study of 'Except'")

     "…Fornication…" (porneias). "Fornication" is a broad word "including illicit sexual intercourse in general," even homosexuality while "adultery" (moichos) "denotes one who has unlawful intercourse with the spouse of another" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 523; Jude 7; Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W. E. Vine). Therefore, adultery is a specific, if you will, of fornication or, put still another way, fornication can include adultery.

     Matthew 5: 32 has the design of showing the consequences of an unscriptural putting away, a divorce not for the cause of fornication, and the terrible consequences of such a putting away involving the innocent put away and the one who marries her living in adultery as well as the shared guilt of the putting away mate. Divorce not for fornication is within itself wrong and prohibited, even if neither mate marries another (see I Cor. 7: 1ff.) By activating the exception phrase, Matthew 5: 32 also shows that the innocent mate is guiltless when they put away because of the fornication of their mate.

     Matthew 19: 9 contains tantamount teaching with a different emphasis: The emphasis and focus is on the sin a husband commits if he puts away and marries another. Let us now turn our attention to Matthew 19: 9 (since much of the original is essentially the same, I shall only attempt to introduce added or new grammatical information).

     "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."

     "And" (de) is translated "but" in Matthew 5: 32. Again, there is a situation in which Jesus is contrasting the pure moral teaching relative to marriage and divorce with what was being taught. The Pharisees appear to be endeavoring to place Jesus in opposition to the popular contemporary school of Hillel, which taught multiple causes for divorcement (the school of Shammai allowed divorce only for adultery). It should be appreciated that Jesus did not hesitate to provide an answer (Matt. 19: 3ff.). Based on Jesus' reply, the Pharisees thought that they had Jesus going against the Law of Moses (vs. 7). However, Jesus explained the concession and then stated the original moral law pertaining to marriage and divorce (vs. 8, 9).

     In addition to the proposed scenario of Matthew 5: 32, Jesus now presents the husband who unjustly puts away committing adultery when he marries another ("committeth adultery" is the Greek moichatai, which is present tense and indicative mood, denoting continuous action. Therefore, adultery continues as long as the conjugal relationship lasts).

     "…And whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." Clause B of Mathew 19: 9 corresponds to clause B of Matthew 5: 32. Some, however, claim clause B of Matthew 19: 9 is without manuscript authority and is consequently an interpolation. It is tragic that some latter day translations omit clause B. When one researches the manuscript authenticity of "…And whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery," one does find it missing in some manuscripts but present in many others. I think the matter is best described as follows: "…but it has high authority in its favor" (The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 15, pg. 245).

     It is contended that clause B in Matthew 5: 32 teaches that the one who marries the put away person commits adultery because her husband never married another. However, clause B in Matthew 19: 9 is stated in connection with the action of the putting away mate marrying another. The sequence is: (1) The mate puts away his mate for some unscriptural reason, (2) he then marries another and is in adultery, (3) the one whom he put away marries another and is also in adultery. While some say that Jesus did not mean to teach a sequential order and that the innocent put away may put away and marry another, even after post divorce adultery, I believe we must acknowledge the resident sequence (cp. the sequence of Mark 16: 16). By thus presenting the sequence consideration and pronouncement, Jesus is removing and precluding even the circumstance for all waiting game practices (first to marry, frees the other). Jesus provided the right to put away and to marry another to the innocent mate, but the innocent must exercise this right or be themselves put away (notice, again, that Jesus does say the innocent is "put away" and every where the "put away" is mentioned, they are forbidden marriage to another).

     An old argument that I dealt with in the seventies and eighties is now resurfacing. It is the position that in both clause B of Matthew 5: 32 and 19: 9, the put away woman is simply the ''divorced" woman. In other words, there is no attendant identification as to the specifics, the woman is just divorced. If they can obtain this concession, they then proceed to contend that in view of the marital bond still being in place (indicated by the adultery that is committed when she marries another), the divorced woman must have put away her husband for some reason other than fornication. Hence, instead of seeing a put away person, whether innocent or guilty, they see a woman who unscripturally put away her husband. They often appeal to the King James Version that renders apoluo 'divorced' in Matthew 5: 32, clause B. Could this actually be the case and if not, how can we prove it is not the case (just because there is a marital bond does not necessarily mean there is the opportunity to put away and marry another)?

     The word translated "divorced" (KJV) and "put away" in clause B of Matthew 5: 32 and 19: 9 is the word apoluo but in a different grammatical posture. Apolelumenen is, accusative case, singular in number, feminine in gender, participle, perfect, and passive in voice (compare The Analytical Greek Lexicon, pg. 44). Consider some comments regarding the passive voice by recognized Greek grammarians:

"Significance of the passive. The subject is represented as the recipient of the action. He is acted upon...." "The passive voice is that use of the verb which denotes the subject as receiving the action...." "'In general it can be said that in the passive voice the subject is acted upon or receives the action expressed by the verb" (A Grammar of the Greek New Testament, by A. T. Robertson, pg. 815; A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, by Dana and Mantey, pg. 161; and Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics by Daniel B. Wallace, pg. 431).

     Just about every critical work in my library refers to apolelumenen as being in the passive voice. However, some have pointed out that apolelumenen may share voice ending. In fact, some grammarians present this as a grammatical fact. Consider grammarian William Davis' comments:

     "The passive voice of the present, imperfect, perfect, and pluperfect tenses is the same in form as the middle" (Beginner's Grammar of the Greek New Testament, pg. 228.

     Why, then, is apolelumenen said to be passive in voice (subject is passive and acted upon)? I believe the answer is simply the participle apolelumenen (having been put away woman) is used in the passive voice circumstance. Consider another quote from the same grammarian:

     "Generally the context will make clear whether the middle or passive is meant" (Ibid., pg. 40).

     I believe it is "clear" from the sequence of Matthew 19: 9 that the having been put away woman is the recipient of the action (divorcement) and thus is not the putting away person, the one who affects the action.

     "Except it be for fornication" (me epi porneia). Just as in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus by injecting the exception phrase presents another possible act and consequent outcome. I might mention that some reject the exception phrase in both Matthew 5: 32 and Matthew 19: 9, claiming that it also is without adequate manuscript authority. However, when carefully researched one finds that there is strong manuscript authority for its inclusion and that most of the opposition is Catholic in origin. "Not for fornication" (literally rendered) when activated and applicable shows that the innocent mate may put away and marry another without adultery. Some contend that "not for fornication" not only modifies the clause in which it occurs (clause A), but that it must also be viewed as modifying clause B. In clause A the thought would be that the innocent mate may put away and marry with impunity and clause B says that the one marrying a guilty put away person (exception phrase applied) is without adultery, they reason. "Adultery breaks the marriage bond both for the innocent mate as well as the guilty mate, allowing both the right of marriage to another," is what they teach. Just as in the case of the exception phrase in Matthew 5: 32 being naturally and syntactically limited to the clause in which it occurs and not floating to clause B, so would be the understanding relative to the exception phrase in Matthew 19: 9 ("And," the Greek conjunction kai, introduces another clause, even though clause B is sequential).

     Donald Drury of the English Department of Long Beach City College wrote the following: "The modifying clause (except it be for fornication) applies only to the first person mentioned, in the first half of the sentence. It does not apply, grammatically or syntactically, to the person ('whoso marrieth her who is put away') in the second half of the sentence " (quoted from the Melear/Williams Debate).

     I do not believe "not for fornication" modifies clause B for the two following simply stated reasons:

(1). Jesus by using the exception phrase extended a liberty to the innocent mate (divorce and marriage to another). To attempt to force the exception phrase into clause B would be allowing the same right to the guilty put away; thus, neutralizing the advantage of the innocent mate and placing a premium on adultery.

(2). If Jesus had meant for "except for fornication" of clause A to also modify the having been put away woman, he would have added it and would have used a grammatical setting that would have smoothly and naturally received the phrase (see addendum 4. To say the least, changing the grammatical climate from clause A to clause B, as Jesus did, and then expecting it to be understood that the exception phrase is applicable to clause B, is highly unlikely). Thus, all doubt would be removed.

     What is the conclusion to be drawn from our study of Matthew 5: 32 and Matthew 19: 9 (also borrowing from Romans 7: 2, 3), who is eligible for marriage according to God's law? From the affirmative, there are three marital circumstances that are acceptable to God.

1. Those who have never been married may marry, so long as they themselves marry an eligible partner, all things equal and understood (Heb. 13: 4).

2. Those who have been previously married but whose former companion is dead (Rom. 7: 2-4).

3. Those who have been previously married but whose former companion was guilty of fornication and was put away by them for this reason (Matt. 19: 9).

     From the negative, we make the following necessary deductions relative to those who may not marry with God's approval:

1. Those who have a living former companion who was not put away because of their fornication (Matt. 19: 9).

2. Those who marry anyone who has a former still living mate who was not put away because of fornication (Matt. 19: 9).

3. Those who were put away unjustly or because of their own fornication (Matt. 5: 32).

     The simple biblical rule is that if the putting away was not for the cause of fornication, then all that follows is wrong (Matt. 5: 32). If the putting away is scriptural, then only the putting away person has the right to marry another, again, all things equal and understood (the putting away person must not have caused their mate to have committed fornication, for instance, see addendum 5). Having completed studying the foregoing material, please again read Matthew 5: 32 and Matthew 19: 9:

     "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: 32) and, "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" (Matthew 19: 9, all quotations are from the King James unless otherwise stated).  (For related material, click on "Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, Questions and Answers)

     Addendum 1:  In the case of Jesus' teaching about divorcement, it is not a part of the Law of Moses but of the original moral law given by God in Genesis two (compare Matthew 19: 4-9 with Genesis 2: 23-25). Jesus' teaching is not the concession of Deuteronomy 24, that which was granted because of "the hardness of their (Jews) hearts, but the restoration of the original marriage law. Jesus' teaching and the original law stood opposed to the concession. If we say Jesus is only explaining the Law of Moses in Matthew 5: 32 and 19: 9, we must of necessity say that the particular nuance of the law being explained is the concession provision found in Deuteronomy 24 (see Matt. 19: 9, 3-7). Hence, "uncleanness" (ervah, matter of offense, Hebrew) is fornication (Deut. 24: 1). The position that uncleanness only means fornication is replete with many irreconcilable problems. In the first place, there was not a problem regarding what a mate could do with their adulterous spouse (regarding the divorce and remarriage issue). This is because the adulterer was to be put to death (Lev. 20: 10). It is the height of folly to imagine God allowing a concession (divorce for adultery only) when the law demanded the death of the adulterer! In the second place, God himself practiced divorce on grounds of adultery (the spiritual nature of the marriage matters not, Jere. 3: 8, 14). Would God practice something that was only granted because of the hardness of the practitioner's heart (in this case, God, Matt. 19: 8)? Hence, the position that Jesus' teaching regarding divorce and remarriage must be limited to the Law of Moses not only creates a situation of contradiction, but even degrades God himself!

     Addendum 2:  It is true that the case of Joseph’s decision to privately put away Mary is used as an example of an instance of a private, mental divorcement. However, Alfred Edersheim, considered by many as the foremost authority on first century Jewish customs and practices, maintains that the private putting away of Matthew 1:19 was a regular divorce. He wrote: "...Resolve to ‘put her away,’ which could only be done by regular divorce; this one determination only standing out clearly, that, if it must be, her letter of divorce shall be handed to her privately, only in the presence of two witnesses….It was a relief that he could legally divorce her either publicly or privately" The difference, then, in the "public" and "private" divorce was Joseph’s decision not to charge Mary, but to put her away without charge.

     Addendum 3:  It should be evident to the Bible student that Jesus is not forbidding reconciliation. In cases of an unscriptural divorce, reconciliation is the only hope two people have regarding a scriptural marriage relationship (I Cor. 7: 10, 11, Paul is not indicating that unscriptural divorce is acceptable, but it is showing the hopelessness of putting away for a cause other than fornication, see vs. 3ff.). Jesus said, "…and marries another" (kai gamese allen, Matt. 19: 9); hence, Jesus is not addressing the circumstance of reconciliation but Paul does.

     Addendum 4:  Roy Laniar, SR. wrote regarding "except it be for fornication" as follows: "Except for fornication" is an adverbial clause, since it modifies the predicate of the sentence. Since it is not repeated in the last half of the sentence, I think no one can prove that it is implied as a modifier of any word in that last clause. But suppose we admit, for sake of argument, that it should be repeated in the last half of the sentence in 5: 32 and 19: 9. What word in the last clause would the compound phrase modify? It cannot very well modify the word 'marries,' which is the verb and the predicate of the clause, since that would make fornication a reason for another marriage. And we have already shown that is not a very good reason for another marriage. It cannot very well modify 'a dismissed woman' of the last clause. Although this word (apolelumenen, translated a dismissed woman) is a participle, it is used here as a substantive (noun) and is the object of the verb 'marries.' If the compound phrase, 'apart from a matter of fornication,' modifies this substantive it becomes an adjectival modifier instead of adverbial. Since it is used but once in the sentence it seem that it cannot be taken as both adverbial and adjectival....." (Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, pg. 43, 44).

     Addendum 5:  This study has focused on Matthew 5: 32 and Matthew 19: 9 because these verses constitute the core of God's teaching relative to his marriage law. While there is additional teaching found else where, there is perfect harmony and nothing new is stated that would alter Matthew 5: 32 and Matthew 19: 9. Mark's recording of Jesus' teaching reveals that the teaching about putting away applies equally to both the man and the woman (Mk. 10: 11, 12). Luke's account does not include the exception phrase, evidently emphasizing the situation in the absence of fornication (Lk. 16: 18). Paul deals with the matter of marriage, divorce, and remarriage and addresses some additional particulars but he does not present any incongruity as far as Jesus' personal teaching is concerned (I Cor. 7). The fact of the matter is, "God hates putting away" (Mal. 2: 16). Without exception, putting away means that somebody, perhaps all, have sinned. Putting away terribly and unfairly involves innocent children and is a serious threat to any society. Putting away is marriage failure and all that accompanies it, in the best of cases.