#5. WHAT WAS JESUS' EXCEPTION, "EXCEPT IT BE FOR FORNICATION"?
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This is a bible study explaining what Jesus meant by 'except it be for fornication' as a condition for divorce and remarriage. There are three occasions in the Old Testament when a man could put away his wife, for what may seem to us a frivolous reason. The first is under the law of Moses when, after a victory at war, an Israelite man took one of the captive women to be his wife (Deuteronomy 21:10-14). If he then found "no delight in her," (v14), he could put her away if he let her go free. It is difficult to see how this can be applicable to us in modern times, at least in the west, as we do not obtain our wives this way. Even if we did, this would now be superseded by the instructions of Jesus, who commanded against divorce (Matthew 19:6; 19:9; Mark 10:9; #1.31). The second is the case of a man purchasing another man's daughter to betroth to himself or his son (Exodus 21:7-11; See #2.18). This seems to be a case of divorcing a slave-wife when the husband takes another wife, and is no longer willing to provide for her. This is certainly not for us today, as we no longer take slaves for wives, and polygamy is no longer acceptable anyway (1 Timothy 3:2; 3:12). The third one is the case of King Ahasuerus, who commanded his queen Vashti to present herself before the king and his guests (Esther 1:10-12). Vashti refused to come. For this disobedience she was put away (Esther 1:19-21), and the king took another wife (Esther 2:15-17). Again, this was done by a pagan king (Esther 1:1), who is no example for us to follow, and his reason is totally unacceptable according to the words of Jesus (Matthew 19:6; 19:9; Mark 10:9; #1.31). There are three other cases where Jewish people under the law seem to have had some kind of justification for putting away a wife:
(1) Israelites were specifically forbidden to marry foreign women (Deuteronomy 7:3-4; Joshua 23:11-13). However, this command was broken during the time of Ezra (Ezra 9:1-2) and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13:23), so during times of correction, foreign wives were put away (Ezra 10:1-44; Nehemiah 13:23-30). The reason for this was to keep Israel from being enticed after false Gods (Deuteronomy 7:4; 1 Kings 11:4-6; Malachi 2:11). So in the case of Rahab the harlot, who believed in the God of Israel (Joshua 2:9; 2:11), and Ruth the Moabitess, who had decided to follow the God of Israel (Ruth 1:16), exceptions seem to have been made. Both of these women appear in the genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5). This command was not given to anyone except Israel, so it does not apply in a physical sense to any other nation today, and we cannot interpret this in typology to mean marriages between believers and unbelievers, because this would contradict the teaching of Paul (1 Corinthians 7:12-16). However, because idolatry was spiritual fornication, or adultery, (this is why these relationships were forbidden in the Old Testament) we may consider this as a type of fornication within the marriage relationship (See #5.2; #5.3 Adulterous marriage; #5.4 Homosexual marriage), and one that had to be terminated to escape the fornication. The apostle John described Israel as committing fornication (Revelation 2:14), when they went off with women from Moab (Numbers 25:1-9).
(2) Infidelity during the betrothal period (Deuteronomy 22:13-27), which is what Joseph suspected Mary of (Matthew 1:19-20), is another case. This was "before they came together," (Matthew 1:18), so before they had become "one flesh", lawfully joined together by God. Once this "one flesh" relationship had been established, the only separation acceptable to God is death (Romans 7:1-3; 1 Corinthians 7:37; See #3.7). Therefore adultery under the law was punishable by death (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22), and a betrothed wife found not to be a virgin on the marriage night could be put to death (Deuteronomy 22:13-21; See #2.16). The alternative seems to be forgiveness (John 8:3-11), but Joseph's intended solution was to put her away privately, without making her a public example (Matthew 1:19). Following the conditions under which this occurred, this could only be applied today where a similar betrothal type of marriage is in existence, and before the marriage is consummated so that they become "one flesh". However, it is not equivalent to the modern, western type of engagement, and so could not be applied in such a case.
(3) A divorce was permitted by Moses for "some uncleanness" (Deuteronomy 24:1), the only place where a bill of divorcement was permitted in the Old Testament. We have concluded this to refer to an unlawful marriage relationship which was contrary to the commandment of God in the first place (See #2.17). Thus we can eliminate each of these reasons as an excuse for divorce today from a lawful "one flesh" marriage relationship, and go on to look for an explanation of Jesus' apparent exception clause for divorce and remarriage.
Note 1: The condition, saving for the cause of fornication1 (Matthew 5:32 KJV), is παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας, (Gtr. parektos logou porneias) in the Greek. The word "parektos" can be used as an adverb, or as a preposition with the genitive case, as it is here. Some lexicon definitions are:
"except" or "with the exception of" (Joseph H Thayer THAYER'S GREEK-ENGLISH LEXICON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT p487);
It is made up of two words, the preposition "para", which means "from beside", and is variously translated "of" (54x), or "from" (23x), with the genitive case, and "ektos" which has the basic meaning of "outside", or "outside of". It is the opposite of "entos" which means "inside". In this context it seems to mean "apart from", or "except for". The word "logou" is the genitive, singular, of the masculine noun "logos", which is variously translated "word/s" (218x), "saying/s" (50x), "account" (8x), "speech" (8x), "Word" referring to Christ (7x), etc., and so the most obvious interpretation would be "of a word". The word "logos" refers to written or spoken words, rather than to a deed or an act, and therefore may be considered not to refer to an act of adultery. One Greek Lexicon considers "logos" to be the opposite of "deed" (BAGD p477 λόγος, 1.a.α.). Some examples from scripture will show that they are different:
(Luke 24:19) "a prophet mighty in deed and word ..."
All of the underlined words are translated from the Greek word "logos". So why did Jesus not use the word "ergon" (Matthew 5:32 KJV), which means "work", or "deed", if he intended it to mean an act of adultery? The answer is that the word "logos" often refers to the word of God (Luke 5:1; 8:11; 11:28; Acts 8:14; 18:11; 2 Corinthians 2:17 etc.), and even to commandments in God's word:
(Romans 13:9) "if there is any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbour as yourself."
These are two quotations of one of God's commands in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18) which Jesus pointed people to several times (Matthew 5:43; 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31 etc.). In fact Jesus had a habit of answering people's challenges and questions by pointing them back to the Old Testament scriptures (Matthew 4:3-10; 15:1-9; 19:3-5; 19:16-19; 22:23-33 etc.). Even when John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah (Matthew 11:2-5), he sent them back with an answer from the scriptures (Isaiah 35:4-6; 61:1), which John would know. This is exactly what Jesus is doing here, he has been questioned concerning divorce, and he is pointing them back to God's commands concerning fornication in the Old Testament (Leviticus 18:6-22). The word "logos" is not used in the Sepuagint to translate the Hebrew word "davar" in the scripture that Jesus is quoting (Deuteronomy 24:1), but it should have been, because the most common use of "logos" in the Sepuagint is to translate "davar" (GAS p270 λόγος). Some examples are:
(Exodus 34:28) "the ten commandments."
The word "porneias" is the genitive, singular, of the feminine noun "porneia", and means "of fornication". This gives us a variety of possible
interpretations to this passage, so let us start with the two most obvious ones; "except for a word of fornication", or "apart from a word of
fornication." Let us now examine Jesus' other statement, except it be for fornication2 (Matthew 19:9 KJV), which is
εἰ μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ, (Gr. ei me epi porneia) in the Greek. The words "ei me" literally mean "if not", or "except", again leading us to expect an
exception to follow. The word "epi" is a preposition which is variously translated, "in" (53x), "at" (26x), "for" (19x), "upon" (18x),
"on" (12x), "over" (11x), "of" (9x) etc., with the dative case, while the word "porneia" is the dative, singular, of the feminine noun
"porneia", and means "fornication". Therefore, the most obvious interpretations of this are, "If not (or except) in fornication", or
perhaps, "If not for fornication". The word "at" is difficult to use in this context.
Note 2: Now let us look at the Greek case of each of these exception clauses, because this will throw even more light on what Jesus really meant. Why did Jesus use the genitive case when he said, "except for a word of fornication," (Matthew 5:32 KJV), and not the accusative case, or the dative case as he did later (Matthew 19:9 KJV)? Let us examine some of the uses of the genitive case:
(1) We have several names for our first example, "The Genitive of Definition" (HPVN p43), "Definitive Genitive" (WP p109), "Explanatory" (SMB p102), and "Genitive of Apposition" (DBW p95; RAY p39). This refers to two nouns together, the second of which must take the genitive case, and further explains or defines the noun to which it refers, both nouns referring to the same thing. In English we could supply the words "namely", or "that is", to bring out the meaning. Look at some examples:
(Acts 2:38) "You shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
In each case we could leave out one of the nouns in apposition, and it would still make sense, for example, we could say, "receive the gift", or we could say, "receive the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). Bearing this in mind, let us now look at our exception clause, "except for a word of fornication." (Matthew 5:32 KJV). If we take "a word" to literally mean "one word" (not a commandment or a saying), and that word to be "fornication", then Jesus could have meant, that outside of "fornication" there is no other exception to divorce and remarriage. We could then say, "except for one word", or "except for fornication", which is identical to the clause "except it be for fornication," (Matthew 19:9 KJV), and it would still make sense.
(2) One of the uses of the genitive is to explain the "content" of a noun (NT p214; SMB p102; WP p110), or more specifically for our particular context, communicative content: the topic of a written or verbal communication (RAY p27). The words "about", or "concerning", could be used to explain this. Look at some examples:
(Matthew 13:18) "the parable of the sower" simply means "the parable about the sower".
The Greek for word in these last two examples is "logos", from which we can see that "a word of fornication", could really mean "a word (written or spoken commandment) about fornication". If we add this meaning to our interpretation we would get:
(Matthew 5:32) "whoever shall put away his wife, except for a commandment about fornication, causes her to commit adultery:"
The exponents of divorce for adultery would have problems with this interpretation, because there is no command to divorce an adulterous partner; the penalty under the law was death (See #2.11Death for adultery; #2.13 Death for adultery).
(3) The genitive case can also used where it is required to indicate that a person or thing is "against" another. The most common construction for this is to use the preposition "kata" with a genitive noun or pronoun. According to the KJV Matthew does this twelve times (Matthew 10:35 (3); 12:14; 12:25 (2); 12:30; 12:32 (2); 20:11; 26:59; 27:1), and twice without the preposition:
(Matthew 10:1) "he gave them power against unclean spirits,"
If we add this meaning to our interpretation we would get:
(Matthew 5:32) "whoever shall put away his wife, except for a commandment against fornication, causes her to commit adultery:"
The exponents of divorce for adultery would have problems with this interpretation, because in their case divorce would more likely lead to fornication, while marriage is the way to avoid it:
(1 Corinthians 7:2) "Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband."
(4) The genitive case also includes the use of "the ablative", which denotes separation from something (HPVN p42; JWW p45), and is often used with the prepositions "apo", which means "away from", or "ek", which means "out of" (JWW p45; WP p107). The Greek word "apoluo", which we have taken to mean divorce in this verse, is made up of two words; the preposition "apo" and the verb "luo", "I loose" (See #4.2 Note 1), and it is a verb which denotes a separation. This meaning is inherent in the case even without a preposition; "to kainon tou palaiou" (Mark 2:21) literally translates as, "the new the old", but means "the new from the old", the word "away" being part of the verb. So if we add this case meaning to our interpretation, then we could get:
(Matthew 5:32) "whoever shall put away his wife, except for a command (to separate) from fornication, causes her to commit adultery:"
The exponents of divorce for adultery would find difficulty with this understanding also, because divorce does not get either partner out of adultery (which they call fornication). The "so called" innocent party would not be in it in the first place, and the so called guilty party would now be sentenced to live in it for the rest of their life, or at least until their partner died. On the other hand there are commands to separate from fornication, such as, "Flee fornication." (1 Corinthians 6:18).
Note 3: Now let us examine Jesus' use of the dative case, and the preposition "epi", where he said, "if not in fornication," (Matthew 19:9 KJV). In order to determine the real meaning of this phrase, let us investigate some of the various uses of the dative case that could apply here:
(1) One common use of the dative case is the so-called "Locative", which can refer to the "place at which", something or someone is (HPVN p47; WP p112). It can refer to physical locations, such as, " in a charger." (Matthew 14:8), " at the doors." (Matthew 24:33), " in her," (Mark 5:33), " in the porch" (Acts 3:11), or it can be used in a spiritual sense, such as, " in my name," (Matthew 24:5), " in God" (Luke 1:47), " in the Lord," (Acts 14:3), and can even apply to the way we live our lives:
(1 Corinthians 9:10)"he who ploughs should plough in hope,"
Some of these examples could be translated in other ways, such as, " on a plate" (Matthew 14:8), and " on the porch" (Acts 3:11), but every one of them uses the dative case with the preposition "epi", and there are some similar examples without a preposition:
(Romans 6:1) "Shall we continue in sin ...?" meaning, "Shall we continue (to live in) sin ...?".
This idea of being "in sin" often takes the preposition "en" with the dative also (John 8:21; 8:24(2); 1 Corinthians 15:17), so the meaning, "if not in fornication," (Matthew 19:9 KJV) cannot be ruled out. If we put this meaning into the exception clause, we could get:
(Matthew 19:9) "Whoever shall put away his wife, if not (living) in fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery;"
Some may think that the fornication applies only to the wife, who is the object of the verb, but it could also apply to the husband, because he is the subject of every verb in the sentence. He is the one who puts away his wife, he is the one who marries another, and he is the one who ends up committing adultery.
(2) Another use of the preposition "epi" with the dative case, is to express the "reason" or "motive" behind words or actions, so that "epi" is equivalent to "for", "because of", or "on account of" (See JHT p233; RAY p51-52). Some examples:
(Luke 2:20) "glorifying and praising God for all the things which they had heard and seen,"
This is also a function of the dative case without a preposition:
(Romans 11:20) " because of unbelief they were broken off,"
This seems to be the way that the KJV translators have interpreted this verse:
(Matthew 19:9) "Whoever shall put away his wife, except it be for (or because of) fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery;"
(3) Another use of the preposition "epi" with the dative case, which is not very common in the New Testament, but is still a possibility, is to express hostility "against" someone or something:
(Matthew 10:21) "the children shall rise up against their parents,"
If we add this sense into the exception clause, we would get:
(Matthew 19:9) "Whoever shall put away his wife, if not against fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery;"
This is the same as one of the interpretations for Jesus' use of the genitive case earlier (Matthew 5:32 KJV; See Note 2(3)), and for the same reasons, this is also against divorce for adultery. Having now extensively explored the possible meanings of the scripture, if we meditate upon all that has been discussed here, there is one explanation that fits all the facts that we have looked at. That is that "porneia" refers to fornication between a husband and a wife, within a forbidden marriage relationship. Thus the reason for the divorce would be because they have discovered that they are both living in fornication before God (See #5.2; #5.3; #5.4), and the divorce is the means of separating themselves from that sinful condition, which they would have to do in order to be saved (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21).
Definitions of physical adultery (Gtr. moicheia) for a man:
(1) Remarriage by a man who has divorced his wife for any reason other than "fornication" in the marriage relationship (Matthew 19:9 KJV).
Therefore we can define adultery for a married man as:
(Matthew 5:32) "whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery."
Definitions of physical adultery for a woman:
(1) Remarriage by a woman who has been divorced from her husband for any reason other than "fornication" in the marriage relationship (Matthew 5:32 KJV; Mark 10:12).
Therefore we can define adultery for a married woman as: An act of sexual union with any man, other than her own lawful husband in the sight of God.
Definition of fornication: Fornication (Gr. πορνεία, Gtr. porneia) is a general word for various types of unlawful sexual union. In the physical sense, it may include adultery in the married relationship, sex between unmarried persons, prostitution, incest, rape, homosexuality, bestiality etc., and the interpretation of this word depends upon the context in which it is used. As Jesus used it in the context of marriage (Matthew 5:32 KJV; 19:9), fornication can be defined as, "any marriage relationship which is unlawful in God's sight, or expressly forbidden in God's word." (See Intro 5.(1); #5.2; #5.3; #5.4), which will exclude the offenders from the kingdom of God, and bring his judgment upon them if they do not repent (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Hebrews 13:4; Revelation 21:8; 22:15). A man who commits fornication sins against his own body (1 Corinthians 6:18).
Conclusion: When Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees concerning his understanding on divorce (Matthew 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12), he did not give an answer that agreed with any of the interpretations of the Rabbis, but gave his own deeper understanding of the Old Testament writing (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). This was that divorce was permitted when the marriage was contrary to the command of God concerning fornication in the law. In such a case, remarriage was permitted, but not to the original partner. Meditate on this section #5.1 with #2.17 and the consistency of God's word should become obvious.
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