Jesus made clear that God’s ideal for marriage did not include divorce. His plan was for husband and wife to become one flesh: “Two individuals they are, two personalities; but they are one in love, in aim, in purpose” (Roy Deaver, A Study of Matthew 19:9, p. 5).
What about divorce? Let’s continue –
“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality (fornication KJV), and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).
The language sounds universal (cf. “whoever” John 3:16). Remember that God’s ideal for marriage goes back to creation. It predates the Law of Moses. It predates the distinction between Jew and Gentile.
“Whoever divorces his wife… and marries another, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).
I have removed the exception clause. This allows us to clearly see the general rule. The general rule is that divorce plus remarriage results in adultery (cf. “and” Mark 16:16). It is not divorce alone which results in adultery (Though, we should be cautious even with this cf. Matthew 5:32).
The general rule works both ways. Mark 10:11-12 reads “whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
What is adultery? Thayer: “To have unlawful intercourse with another’s wife.” Associate Professor William L. Peterson (Religious Studies Program; Department of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies), Pennsylvania State University: “Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than his/her spouse” (Personal letter to me, 1995). Professor Ed. L. Miller (Philosophy/Religious Studies; Director Theology Forum), University of Colorado at Boulder: “That the verb mokeuo, ‘to commit adultery,’ and the noun moikeia, ‘adultery,’ involves sexual activity is apparent from too many passages (both Biblical and non-Biblical alike) to list” (personal letter to me, 1995). Even when the word “adultery” is being used figuratively, it is still based upon the literal meaning. Consider: “Thou… hast opened thy feet to everyone that passed by… as a wife that committed adultery, which taketh strangers instead of her husband” (Ezekiel 16:25, 32 KJV).
Brother Tyler Young has suggested that the word “adultery” in Matthew 19:9 is being used as a synecdoche. He has written, “When Christ spoke of divorce and remarriage resulting in a state of adultery, he did so because the sex act is a natural consequence of the marriage union… But simply because he focused on the sinfulness of that aspect of a marriage does not mean the only problem with divorcing and remarrying is unlawful sexual relations. In this writer’s view, Jesus was using a figure of speech known as a synecdoche, in which a part of something is used to stand for the whole… Jesus chooses one aspect of the marriage relationship, one that is supposed to be peculiar to it – sexual intimacy – to condemn the entire relationship. There is more to marriage than sex, and two people who do not have a right to be married to each other do not have a right to any aspect of the marriage relationship” (Young, Article: Living in Sin). This is similar to how the Bible “Child bearing” is used of the role of women (1 Timothy 2:15).
The tense of the words seem significant. The words “divorces” and “marries” are aorist tense; while “commits adultery” is present tense. Professor Ed. L. Miller (Philosophy/Religious Studies), University of Colorado at Boulder: “The verb in question, moichatai, ‘commits adultery,’ is a present-tense verb and indicates an ongoing action. It may in fact be contrasted with two previous verb-forms in the verse which are aorist – or simple past-tense and indicate a past one time action: apoluse, ‘divorce’ and gamese, ‘marry.’ I would say that the rendering ‘keeps on committing adultery, ‘preserves the force of the original” (personal letter to me, 1995). Professor Craig Kallendorf (Department of International Studies), Texas A&M University: “Your letter of 4 October eventually made its way to me, since I am now teaching the New Testament Greek course. I am trained as a Greek language specialist and not a theologian… the present tense here does not indicate a one-time action, but a continuous state of affairs (Personal letter to me, 1995).
However, the present-tense in the indicative mood may be used for linear and punctiliar action (A.T. Roberson; Dana and Mantley). Roy Deaver has written, “Though we recognize that there are certain instances of the ‘Aoristic present’ (pointed action in present time) the fact remains that the general, regular, normal, force of the present tense is continuous action in the present tie. This cannot be successfully denied. Therefore, if and when a person decides that a present tense verb is pointed action he will have to have good and sufficient and compelling reason or reasons for this conclusion… However, let me hasten to emphasize that my case does not depend upon whether or not moichatai in Matthew 19:9 indicates continuous action, that it does, in fact, have this meaning I have not the slightest doubt. But, the point we make is this: repentance (among other things) demand one getting out of sinful situations! All persons who sin by entering into a sinful relationship continue to sin by staying in that relationship. For example, all persons who sin by entering the Baptist church continue to sin by staying in it” (Deaver, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, pp. 6-7).
“…except it be for sexual immorality (fornication KJV)…” (Matthew 19:9).
The exception phrase appears in Matthew (5:32; 19:9), but not in Mark (10:11-12), and not in Luke (16:18). This has led some to deny that the exception phrase is genuine, and thus – to deny divorce and remarriage for any reason including, fornication. However, the textual evidence does not support this denial. Mark and Luke are simply setting forth the general rule without the exception being stated. Consider: Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed…” This is the general rule. However, clearly there are exceptions. This very verse authorizes capital punishment. Consider: “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). This is the general rule. Yet, “whoever kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death…” (Numbers 35:30). The words, “put to death” is from the same original term.
One exception is stated, fornication. What is fornication? Vine’s: “illicit sexual intercourse.” Thayer: “illicit sexual intercourse in general.” Arndt-Gingrich: “of every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse.” Earl Edwards (Lecturer in Bible), Freed-Hardeman University: “It includes sexual intercourse with any person (of either sex) other than one’s spouse as well as intercourse with beasts (Ed. Jim Laws, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage – Spiritual Sword Lectureship book, p. 345). All adultery is fornication (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6), but not all fornication is adultery (Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21; Galatians 5:19). The N.A.S.B. falls short in translating the word porneia, “immorality.”
“…and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).
Earl Edwards commented, “These words appear at the end of verse nine in the King James Version but many ancient manuscripts do not contain them… At any rate, approximately the same words do appear in Matthew 5:32, and in that passage the authenticity is recognized by everyone” (Ed. Jim Laws, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, p. 351).
The exception phrase does not appear in the clause. Kerry Duke has written, “Matthew 19:9 is made up of two clauses, each which stands by itself as a sentence. The first clause has the exceptive phrase. The second clause does not. Injecting the propositional phrase of Matthew 19:9a into Matthew 19:9b is a grammatically unwarranted procedure” (Duke, The Remarriage of A Divorced Couple, p. 35). Again, “Epi porneia (on or for fornication – B.H.) cannot justifiably be injected into Matthew 19:9b any more than me epi porneia (not on or for fornication – B.H.).” (ibid, p. 40).
Further, James O. Baird remarked, “Since the definite article is omitted in the Geek, no specific woman is referred to, so the meaning must be any put away woman” (Baird, And I Say Unto You…, p.38)
Some seem to think that marriage is always right, if the two love each other. This passage does not agree.
This is Difficult
The disciples of Jesus thought this to be a very difficult teaching. They said, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10). This may have been said later in private (Mark 10:10).
Jesus pointed out that not all men could accept what they had said (Matthew 19:11-12). Some men were born eunuchs (without such passion for the opposite sex). Some men were made eunuchs by men. Some lived as eunuchs for the Kingdom’s sake [This would include those who chose not to be burdened with a family (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:32-34). This includes those who do not remarry, but live single (1 Corinthians 7:10-11, 39-40)]. The norm is to marry.
Let us teach our children, and those not yet married that marriage is for life.