AUTHENTICITY OF THE EXCEPTION CLAUSE IN MATTHEW 19:9

Before we look at the contexts of the exception clause in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9, we will verify its authenticity. Some have attempted to dismiss Matthew 19:9 (and Matthew 5:32) in our common versions of the Bible. Some argue that the exception clause was never in the original text, at least not the way it reads today. Other’s argue that it should be understood as excluding even fornication as a valid means to divorce. Such conclusions are false. The exception clause is textually legitimate and it should be understood as a true exception.

Today, we have hundreds of Greek manuscripts of Matthew, including some of the oldest and most reliable, which all include the exception clause. Furthermore, the origin of Matthew and his Gospel was unanimously accepted by the early church as including the exception clause.

Some argue that it is poorly translated in most English translations and should be understood as “not even/upon fornication.” This, of course, is a frivolous argument because it would still be an exception. The “rule” Jesus gives is exclusive to fornication and not inclusive to fornication. Below is an except from Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament.

Except for fornication (παρεκτος λογου πορνειας — parektos logou porneias). This is the marginal reading in Westcott and Hort which also adds “maketh her an adulteress” (ποιει αυτην μοιχευτηναι — poiei autēn moicheuthēnai) and also these words: “and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery” (και ο απολελυμενην γαμησας μοιχαται — kai ho apolelumenēn gamēsas moichatai). There seems to be a certain amount of assimilation in various manuscripts between this verse and the words in Matthew 5:32. But, whatever reading is accepted here, even the short one in Westcott and Hort (μη επι πορνειαι — mē epi porneiāi not for fornication), it is plain that Matthew represents Jesus in both places as allowing divorce for fornication as a general term (πορνεια — porneia) which is technically adultery (μοιχεια — moicheia from μοιχαω ορ μοιχευω — moichaō or moicheuō). Here, as in Matthew 5:31., a group of scholars deny the genuineness of the exception given by Matthew alone. McNeile holds that “the addition of the saving clause is, in fact, opposed to the spirit of the whole context, and must have been made at a time when the practice of divorce for adultery had already grown up.” That in my opinion is gratuitous criticism which is unwilling to accept Matthew‘s report because it disagrees with one‘s views on the subject of divorce.” 

All of the English mainstream translations of the Bible in their scholarship accept the exception clause as being legitimate and translate it as such. I contacted Dr. Daniel Wallace, a textual expert, to find out more information about these texts. Dr. Wallace is one of the field’s leading scholars in textual criticism and is a professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is founder and executive director of The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (www.csntm.org). I asked Dr. Wallace about the authenticity of Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9. Below you will find his response.

Kevin, the critical texts of the Greek NT do not list any variants whatsoever for the exception clause in Matt 5.32. However, Matt 19.9 is significantly different. There are eight variants there, some with good MS testimony. Yet not one of them changes the meaning. There are no variants that omit the exception clause in either verse. I take it that the exception clauses in both places are thus authentic…the oldest MSS we have for those portions of scripture are Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, both fourth century MSS. And yes, Matthew was most likely the most circulated Gospel at least in the second century, though John was especially popular in Gnostic circles.” (Kevin Pendergrass, Dr. Daniel Wallace e-mail, January 24th-25th 2014).

Since there is no textual reason to reject the authenticity of Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9, the exception statements found in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 should be accepted as a textually authentic exception clause.

Kevin Pendergrass

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