Category Archives: Matthew 19:9


The Greek word which translates as fornication in Mathew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 is a general word covering all types of sexual intercourse (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, pp. 699-700).

When looking to the Greek Old Testament (known as the LXX), the word “porneia” (translated as fornication or harlotry) is used on multiple occasions to describe both literal and figurative persons who are married who commit unlawful, sexual activity with someone other than their spouse (e.g., Amos 7:17; Hosea 1:2-3; 2:2-5; Ezek. 16:8, 20, 22, 25, 28, 29; 23:4-5).

In Ezekiel 16 and 23, God used the word fornication/harlotry (porneia) some 40 times concerning Israel’s unfaithfulness to Him. The word for adultery is used some six times here to describe the same action(s) (for more study see:

The LXX translates moicheia for naaph (adultery) and porneia for zanah (fornication/harlotry). In these chapters, and in Jeremiah 3, both words are used to describe the same action, as is seen in Ezekiel 23:43 where both words occur. Using the word fornication to describe unlawful sex when at least one of the parties was married was not at all uncommon.

Furthermore, the Greek word porneia occurs approximately 25 times in the New Testament. The times we see this word defined and used literally in context, it is seen as any type of consensual, physical sexual intercourse (Jn. 8:41; 1 Cor. 5:1; 6:13; 15-18; 1 Cor. 7:1-2; etc.). As shown above, this word is a general word covering all unlawful sexual intercourse. The only way that the word could be limited to a specific type of intercourse is if the context(s) demands it.

Porneia is also employed to describe the actions of a married person by Tatian and Origen (Divorce & Remarriage in the Early Church, p. 193, Harrell). Furthermore, there are historical writings that are non-inspired known as the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha that use both the words fornication and adultery together to reference the same action (Sirach 23:17, 23; Joseph 3:8-9; Ecclus. 23:23 etc.).

It was not at all uncommon to use the word fornication/harlotry to describe someone who was married who was having unlawful sexual relations with someone else. If an argument is going to be made to try and limit the meaning of the word “fornication,” it must be done based upon context because it cannot be done by appealing to the word itself.

– Kevin Pendergrass

For any questions or to be added to the newsletter list, please send an e-mail to


In the Greek language, the phrase “commits adultery” is present indicative in Matthew 19:9. In the Greek, the present indicative usually carries with it the force of continuation. Some have made the argument based upon the Greek language that one is continuing in adultery as long as they continue in a subsequent marriage after their divorce. In this article, I am going to explain why such is not the case.

First, the present indicative doesn’t necessitate continued action and can refer to a completed action. Professor Osburn states it this way:

“…Greek syntax requires that each occurrence of the present indicative be understood in terms of its context to determine whether continuity is involved. The context of Matt. 19:3-12 involves a discussion of general truth, as a ‘gnomic present’ in which continuity is not under consideration…” (Carroll Osburn, The Present Indicative in Matt. 19:9. Restoration Quarterly Corporation, Abilene, Taxes, Vol. 24, No. 4, 1981. p. 193; See also: Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 517; Robertson, The Grammar of the Greek New Testament In Light of Historical Research, Nashville, Tenn,; Broadman Press, 1934, p. 864-865).

Therefore, it is erroneous to assume that an action must be continual just because it is in the present indicative.

Second, continuous action is not even the chief usage of the present indicative in the gospel of Matthew. Brother Clinton Hicks studied through every occurrence of the present indicative found in the gospel of Matthew. Here were his results:

  • Of the 719 occurrences of the present indicative in Matthew, 448 were in the “Not Under Consideration Category.” In other words, these examples didn’t have a bearing either way.
  • 226 occurrences were in the “Definitely Not Continuous Action Category.”
  • Only 45 were in the “Must Be Continuous Action Category” (Clinton Hicks, The Abuse of the Present Indicative, A guide research paper presented to professor Richard Oster, Harding Graduate School of Religion, Memphis, Tennessee, Harding School of Religion Library, p. 33-34).

This means that the dominant usage of the present indicative in the gospel of Matthew is used for completed action, not continual action. In fact, it is used as completed action five times more than continual action.  Therefore, if someone wanted to strictly argue from the use of the present indicative in the gospel of Matthew, it would favor a past, completed action and not an ongoing action due to its usage in the gospel of Matthew.

Third, Matthew 19:9 is dealing with hypothetical time. When one accepts the concept of hypothetical time in writing, then any argument pertaining to tense when hypothetical time is involved becomes frivolous. This explains the vast difference of mixed tenses in the marital teachings of Jesus throughout the gospel accounts. The tenses found in the marital teachings of Jesus are anything but uniform. Let me explain.

For example, in Matthew 5:32a, the divorcing is present tense and the adultery committed is aorist. In Matthew 5:32b, the divorcing is in the perfect tense, the remarrying is aorist, and the adultery is in the present. In Luke 16:18, the first saying of Jesus has the divorcing, the remarrying and the adultery in the present tense. But in saying two, the divorcing is in the perfect tense, while the remarrying and adultery are in the present tense. In Mark 10:11-12, the divorcing and marrying are in the perfect, while the adultery is in the present. In Matthew 19:9, the first saying has the divorcing and remarrying in the perfect and the adultery in the present. But the second saying has the divorce in the perfect, the remarrying in the aorist and the adultery in the present. Below I have broken it down by action:

  • Divorce(Present: Mt. 5:32a; Lk. 16:18a; Perfect: Mt. 5:32b; Lk. 16:18b; Mk. 10:10-12; Mt. 19:9a; Mt. 19:9b).
  • Marries Another(Aorist:  5:32b; Mt. 19:9b; Present: Lk. 16:18a; Lk. 16:18b; Perfect: Mk. 10:10-12; Mt. 19:9a).
  • Commits Adultery (Aorist: Mt. 5:32a; Present: Mt. 5:32b; Lk. 16:18a; Lk. 16:18b; Mk. 10:10-12; Mt. 19:9a; Mt. 19:9b).

As we can see, when we compare the narratives, there is little uniformity among the tenses in the marital teachings. According to Bible Historian William Luck and Hebrew Scholar Dr. John Walton, the reason behind this mixed bag of tenses is because hypothetical time is not a constant (Kevin Pendergrass, Dr. Luck, E-mail Correspondence, April 29-May 1st, 2015). A hypothetical situation deals with time that may have already happened, is currently happening or may happen in the future (or a combination of mixed time). Therefore, it is faulty to make an argument on the Greek tense when hypothetical time is involved.

If one wants to reason that the adultery is an ongoing state in Matthew 19:9 simply on the basis of the present indicative, then one would also have to reason that the divorce attained unlawfully is an ongoing state of sin as well since it is in the present indicative in Matthew 5:32 and Luke 16:18. When one divorces (or was divorced) unlawfully, even if they remain single, they are in a constant state of separating what God has joined together (Mt. 19:6) regardless if they remarry. Yet, this doesn’t mean one can’t remain single after an unlawful divorce just because it is in the present indicative any more than it would mean one can’t remain in their new marriage after an unlawful divorce just because it is in the present indicative.

In other words, if one wants to base their argument solely upon this faulty understanding of the present tense, then remaining single after obtaining an unlawful divorce is just as sinful as remarrying after obtaining an unlawful divorce since both actions (divorce and adultery) are seen in the present indicative in the marital teachings of Jesus. Obviously, this conclusion is nonsensical and demonstrates why one should abstain from making Greek tense arguments when dealing with hypothetical time.

– Kevin Pendergrass

For any questions or to be added to the newsletter list, please send an e-mail to



Matthew 19:9 says:

“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

Let’s begin by looking at the first statement in Matthew 19:9a:

“Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

This statement is very similar to Matthew 5:32a in that the emphasis here is placed on the man unlawfully divorcing his wife. The only difference between Matthew 19:9a and Matthew 5:32a is that Matthew 5:32a shows that the man was guilty of adultery when he divorced his wife. Here, in Matthew 19:9, a remarriage is mentioned.

In Matthew 5, Jesus was giving His teaching from a teacher/student perspective. It was His “sermon” that He was “preaching.” Remember, the teaching on the Sermon on the Mount and his altercation with the Scribes and Pharisees were two different instances.

Matthew 5:31-32 teaches that when one unlawfully divorces, they cause their spouse to be guilty of their adultery. Thus, one is guilty of adultery when they divorce their spouse unlawfully, regardless if they ever remarry because the adultery takes place in the unlawful divorcing.

The teaching of Matthew 19:9 arose from questions asked by the Scribes and Pharisees to test Jesus (Mt. 19:3). It was historically assumed that the reason one would divorce is because they had someone else to go to. The reason these hardhearted Jews would typically divorce their spouse is because they already had someone else they were going to marry.

Interestingly enough, the “and” (kai) clause here can function in Greek as a purpose clause explaining why the unjust divorce took place. Though the word “and” (kai) in Greek does not in itself intrinsically denote purpose (epi does), it can. On many occasions, Jesus uses an “and” (kai clause) to express purpose (e.g., Matt. 13:44, 46).

If Jesus is only condemning the act of unlawful divorce, then why does He even mention a remarriage at all if the sin is only in the unlawful divorce? To answer this question properly, it should be pointed out that Jesus did indeed condemn the divorce as being adulterous in Matthew 5:31 without a remarriage being in view.

Furthermore, in the other passages of Scripture when Jesus mentions a remarriage, He is simply speaking to the culture of the day. It was presumed that one would divorce their wife so they could go to another. This process of attaining a new marriage was sinful because it involved unlawful divorce (Mathew 19:6). Therefore, Jesus mentioned the remarriage to make it clear that the complicit third party was not innocent and free of sin. If you divorced unlawfully you sinned. If you divorced unlawfully to marry another, you sinned. If you were the complicit party and the beneficiary of the divorce, then you sinned.

One is still guilty of adultery if they unlawfully divorce (Matthew 5:31). The command is to not separate what God has joined together. An unlawful divorce does just that and makes one guilty of adultery without a remarriage in view. However, a remarriage typically was in view and Jesus spoke to the guiltiness of the third party as well — thus the reason for Jesus’ inclusion of such in Matthew 19, Mark 10 and Luke 16 (see also: Mt. 19:6; Mt. 5:32a; 1 Cor 7:4).

A good paraphrase would be:

“Whoever divorces their spouse unlawfully to go marry someone else commits adultery.”

Now let’s go to Matthew 19:9b:

“and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

This is a variant reading which means that not all manuscripts include it. However, assuming it is legitimate, it teaches the same thing Matthew 5:32b teaches. Since this divorced woman could be understood in the middle voice in the Greek, then it would line up with Matthew 5:32b and Mark 10:12. In other words, the “her who is divorced” in Matthew 19:9b would be the woman who unlawfully divorced her husband. And the man who married her would be the homewrecker and the complicit partner for whom the woman divorced her husband. This would once again emphasize that the sin is not in the new marriage itself, but in how the new marriage was attained (i.e., through an unlawful divorce specifically caused by a third complicit party).

A good paraphrase reading would look like:

“And the homewrecker whom the woman unlawfully divorced her husband for is also found guilty of adultery because he is the beneficiary/complicit partner of her unlawful divorce.”

Therefore, Matthew 19:9 teaches the exact same thing as Matthew 5:31-32. The two “parties” whom Jesus speaks to includes:

  • A man (or woman) who unlawfully divorces their spouse.
  • If applicable, a complicit third party (man or woman) for whom the man (or woman) unlawfully divorced their spouse because they are the beneficiary/catalyst of the unlawful divorce.

– Kevin Pendergrass

For any questions or to be added to the newsletter list, please send an e-mail to


There are two separate instances where Jesus taught on marriage and divorce. Jesus taught on marriage and divorce once during the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:31-32), and He taught on marriage and divorce when He was challenged by the Scribes & Pharisees (Mt 19:1-2; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:18). Jesus taught the same principles on both occasions.

At this point in time, the Jews had twisted and misinterpreted the law to justify their hardheartedness and the unjust treatment of women through unlawful divorce (Mt. 19:8; Mk. 10:5). It is important to note that Jesus is not giving a new teaching on marriage and divorce. Jesus is giving the correct understanding of the law and answers questions and correctly interrupts the law on marriage and divorce.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 teaches that when a woman was divorced, she was to be given a certificate of divorce. Only the woman would need the certificate since the man could marry more than one woman in any case (Gen. 4:19; 16:1-3; 20:3, 17; 29:9-32; 30:1-9, 26; 36:2; Deut. 21:15-17; Judges 8:30-32; 1 Sam. 1:2-3; 2 Chron. 11:21; etc.). The Scribes & Pharisees asked Jesus why Moses commanded that a certificate of divorce be given if divorce was wrong. Jesus told them that it was because of the hardness of their hearts (Mt. 5:31; Mt. 19:7; Mk. 10:5).

Some have misinterpreted Jesus’ words to teach that God allowed unlawful divorce under the Old Law because of the hardness of their hearts. This idea could not be further from the truth. This would imply that they were “rewarded” and God was more “lenient” because of their hardness of hearts under the Old Law. Are we to believe that Jesus was teaching that had they not had hard hearts, then God would have been stricter on them, but since they had hard hearts, then God was softer on them? Furthermore, are we to conclude that Jesus was teaching that God was more tolerant towards hardhearted men under the Old Law than He is on innocent women who would be the victims of hardhearted men under the “New Law?”

These conclusions not only contradict the nature of God, but it also makes absolutely no sense historically or contextually. Instead, the law was put in place because of their hardness of hearts. The law didn’t command divorce, the law commanded that a divorce certificate be given when a divorce did take place (Mt. 19:7-8; Mk. 10:3-5; Deut. 24:1-4). God, knowing the hardness of their hearts, gave Moses a precept that would protect the woman — the divorce certificate. Even though it was never God’s intent for man to unlawfully divorce, God knew that because of sin and the hardness of their hearts, divorce was inevitable. Therefore, Moses commanded that when divorce did take place, a certificate be given to the woman to protect her.

The certificate was put in place to protect the woman from being passed back and forth as well as protecting her future rights and assets if the former husband were to claim she was still his wife in the future (Ex. 21:10; Deut. 24:1-4). The purpose of the certificate was to prove that she had been divorced by her husband and that she could remarry. The certificate dissolved the marriage and intrinsically gave the right to remarry. Historically, the wording of the divorce certificate can be traced as far back as the 5th century BC. The wording reads:

“You are allowed to marry any man you wish” (Divorce & Remarriage in the Bible, Instone-Brewer, p. 29).

As we examine the marital teachings of Jesus, it is my conviction that Jesus is condemning the act of unlawfully divorcing. The “adultery” Jesus is speaking of isn’t in a subsequent marriage after an unlawful divorce, but rather in the unlawful divorce itself. It must be remembered that Jesus is speaking to the hardheartedness of people in these verses. Therefore, I believe Jesus is speaking against the following two groups of people in His marital teachings:

  • Married persons who unlawfully divorce their spouses.
  • The complicit person/catalyst whom the divorcer unlawfully left their spouse for (i.e., the homewrecker).

Both of these groups of people are guilty of actions committed in hardheartedness. Jesus taught the Jews that unjust divorce was sinful and never commanded. The command to give a divorce certificate was to protect the woman and not justify the man’s unlawful divorce. Yet, they had taken this command to justify themselves in unlawfully divorcing and then attempted to put the blame on the law and Moses! Jesus taught that such was an abuse and gross misunderstanding of the law. This was nothing more than a result of their hardness of hearts. After Jesus explains this and makes an appeal back to creation for God’s original intent for marriage (one man-one woman for life; Mt. 19:5-6), He then proceeds to address unlawful divorce. In the following articles, we will examine the marital teachings of Jesus.

– Kevin Pendergrass

For any questions or to be added to the newsletter list, please send an e-mail to


But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery” (Mt. 5:32).

And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immoralityand marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” (Mt. 19:9). 

Biblically and historically speaking, a divorce granted permission for a subsequent marriage (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship; Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall p. 193). The Jews would naturally have understood that a divorce authorized the right of remarriage because divorce and permission to marry another were inseparable (The Gospel of Matthew, R. T. France, p. 212). This is the way it had always been and this is the Jewish context in which Jesus speaks. According to Instone-Brewer, the wording on a standard, rabbinic divorce certificate was as follows:

 “You are allowed to marry any man you wish.’ This wording can be traced through Jewish divorce certificates and marriage certificates that have survived from as far back as the fifth century B.C.E., and it can then be traced through Babylonian marriage certificates and law codes back as far as the fourteenth century B.C.E. This would fit all the known facts. This document would be needed by women, but not men, because men could marry more than one woman in any case. It would have been a most valuable document for a woman to possess because it gave her the right to remarry” (Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, Instone-Brewer, p. 29).

When considering the evidence, one cannot properly argue that Jesus was only giving permission to divorce in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9, but not permission to marry another. There would have been no other way the Jews would or could have understood this.

This view harmonizes with the linguistics, the immediate context of the gospel accounts and the context of the Old Testament. Divorce was common in the Jewish culture (and the world). This can be seen in Scripture and in secular antiquity at that time. Divorce for fornication had always been allowed. Unfortunately, the Jews were divorcing for just any reason that they could come up with. Marriage and divorce was merely a game to most that wasn’t taken seriously.

The Pharisees asked Jesus if it was lawful to divorce for just any cause (Mt. 19:3). The topic under consideration was divorce for just any reason. Jesus replied by explaining the importance of covenants and God joining man and woman in marriage (Mt. 19:4-6; Mal. 2:14-16; etc.). From the beginning, divorce and division were not part of God’s plan. However, when sin entered the world the world changed. Even God is seen as “divorcing” physical Israel in order to make a new covenant with the church (spiritual Israel).

Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord” (Jer. 31:31-32).

Jesus explained that the Jews were hardhearted and that man is not to separate what God has joined together for just any reason (Mt. 19:1-3). Jesus then gives the exception to this rule allowing one to divorce their spouse lawfully if the marriage covenant is breached by fornication (Mt. 19:9).

Some argue that it would be a contradiction for Jesus to say that man is not to separate what God has joined together while going on to give an exception. This is a weak argument for the very fact that an exception is, well, an exception. Some argue that all divorce was hardhearted, however, Jesus was speaking of careless and unlawful divorce (Mt. 19:3). God divorced Israel and established a New Covenant with Christians. Did this make God hardhearted? Exceptions do not negate rules, they give provisions for rules.

Others argue against this position claiming that if fornication automatically breaks the covenant, that would mean one would have to divorce their spouse if their spouse committed fornication because a covenant would no longer be intact. However, this is a false assumption. Fornication doesn’t dissolve the covenant, it violates it. Fornication doesn’t automatically make the covenant itself invalid, but it does give the right, to the one not guilty of fornication, to lawfully end the covenant according to Matthew 19:9.

There is a difference in violating a covenant and dissolving a covenant. Jesus taught that when one violates the covenant through fornication, the spouse innocent of fornication has a right to lawfully dissolve the marriage covenant (Mt. 19:9; Hosea 2:1-4, 14, 16). Just as God ultimately divorced Israel for “her” unfaithfulness (Jer. 3:8) and made a new covenant (Jer. 31:31-32), so God gives permission to lawfully divorce for fornication and made a new covenant.

In conclusion, Jesus provided an exception to His marriage and divorce law in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9. Another interesting read is by William A. Heth. You can click here to read it. He was one of the leading proponents and scholars of the “no divorce for any reason view” at one time. He has since changed his mind and wrote about why he changed.

– Kevin Pendergrass

For any questions or to be added to the newsletter list, please send an e-mail to


There are some who believe that Jesus, in giving His exception in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9, was speaking of Jewish betrothal and not actual marriage in the exception clause. Instead of believing that Jesus was teaching an exception to divorce, this view argues that Jesus was teaching an exception only during the betrothal process since the Jewish betrothal was a legal contract (Deut. 20:7; 22:23-26). If the one to whom you were betrothed proved unfaithful prior to the marriage, legal action could be taken and a divorce could be obtained.

This view argues that this process can be demonstrated by looking at Matthew 1:18-20. The Greek words that are translated as “husband,” “wife,” “put away” and “divorce” were also used in reference to the betrothal period. Even though Joseph believed that Mary had been unfaithful during her betrothal, he didn’t want to make her a public spectacle and he wanted to divorce her secretly. Advocates of the “betrothal view” point to Joseph as an example of what they believe Jesus was speaking about in Matthew 19:9. Furthermore, advocates of this betrothal position believe that it answers why the exception is only in Matthew and not in Mark and Luke. However, this explanation of Matthew 19:9 falls short for several reasons.

First, the Greeks and Romans were familiar with and participated in forms of engagement and betrothal (The Marriage Covenant, Bacchiocchi, Chapter 6).

“Greek law required that marriage be preceded by a betrothal agreement. A father’s pledge of his daughter to a prospective bridegroom was formal with witnesses on both sides and her dowry agreed upon. In Rome by the end of the Republic this betrothal became a looser system — an information business arrangement in writing before witnesses, which was easily renounced by either party and did not necessarily lead to marriage” (Background of Early Christianity, Ferguson, pp. 72-73).

Second, there were no laws, restrictions or instructions in the Old Testament when it came to reasons for ending a betrothal. If there are no laws, then there is no need for exceptions. The man could divorce his betrothed for any reason. Jesus wouldn’t be giving an exception to a betrothal law that didn’t even exist.

Third, the context of Matthew 19:1-10 is in relation to marriage, not betrothal (Mt. 19:1-4). This is seen in light of the fact that Jesus speaks of God joining man and woman, a process that happens at marriage, not betrothal (Mt. 19:6; Gen. 2:23-24).

Fourth, the Greek word translated “marriage” is in the context of Matthew 19 (v.9, 10). This Greek word translated as “marriage” in this context never refers to a betrothal in the New Testament or in the Greek Old Testament. Certainly, if Jesus wanted to speak of betrothal, He would have used the Greek word that meant betrothal (Mt. 1:18, Lk. 1:27; 2:5). Instead, Jesus used the word marriage and not the word betrothal. The disciples also understood Jesus to be speaking of marriage in this context (Mt. 19:10).


  • This argues that if one’s mate was guilty of fornication during the betrothal period or before they were married, they could be divorced after they are married for the sex they committed before they were married. This is highly inconsistent.


  • This would make it more consequential to commit fornication during a less committed relationship (betrothal) than it would be to commit fornication during the most committed relationship (marriage). This understanding of the exception clause would imply that faithfulness during the betrothal period bond is more sacred than the actual marriage bond itself.


  • Proponents of the betrothal view do not believe that the marriage bond can be broken except by death. Therefore, if someone married a spouse who did have sex during their betrothal period, does that mean that Jesus is saying that this bond can indeed be broken in this case and that death is not the only thing that can break a marriage? If so, advocates of this position have in essence given up one of their fundamental beliefs, namely that the marriage bond can’t be broken except through death.


  • If on the other hand, they argue that this marriage (where a man married a woman who had sex during her betrothal) was never even a God-joined covenant to begin with, then not only would they have to argue that Jesus was giving an exception to get out of this marriage, but they would have to say He was making it mandatory. Yet, the exception is an option and not an obligation.


  • Finally, there is one more glaring inconsistency. Proponents of the betrothal view argue that Jesus couldn’t be giving an exception in Matthew 19:9 because Jesus went back to the garden to establish His “law” when God first created man and woman. Yet, the same could be argued about betrothal using the same logic. In other words, there were no exceptions in the garden about divorcing your betrothed if they were unfaithful or divorcing your marriage partner if you found out they were not a virgin on your consummation night. Obviously, this reasoning is nonsensical from both sides since Adam and Eve were the only two humans living at the time of their marriage.

Based upon the aforementioned information, one should reject the betrothal view in regards to the exception clause.

– Kevin Pendergrass

For any questions or to be added to the newsletter list, please send an e-mail to


The “incestuous marriage” view argues that Jesus, in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9, was giving an exception to divorce your spouse if it was an incestuous relationship. Consider the following argumentation and talking points from one of the leading proponents of this view, Samuele Bacchiocchi.

“Jesus allows for divorce only where a marriage should not have taken place in the first place, namely, within the degrees of prohibited relationships. Consequently, in Matthew, Jesus does not envisage any exception to the absolute ban on divorce but only allows for the dissolution of a marriage which was validly contracted according to Greco-Roman laws but which was in conflict with the Mosaic law of prohibited relationships” (The Marriage Covenant: A Biblical Study of Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, Chapter 6.).

“One of the possible lexical meanings of porneia is ‘incest’ or ‘incestuous marriage.’ We find this meaning in 1 Corinthians 5:1 where Paul demands the expulsion of a Christian who has married his stepmother, a clear violation of Leviticus 18:8. The same meaning of porneia appears in Acts 15:20, 29 where the Jerusalem Council recommends that Gentile converts should abstain from idol sacrifices, blood, meat of strangled animals, and porneia” (ibid, Chapter 6).

“It is quite apparent that James was thinking of the Leviticus 17-18 restrictions but suggested them in the wrong order (Acts 15:20). Then, when the Council formulated its decision, the restrictions were recorded in their correct order according to Leviticus 17-18 (Acts 15:29). In the light of the correlation existing between the four recommendations of the Jerusalem Council and the regulations of Leviticus 17-18 which appears to be the source of the Council’s recommendations, it seems plausible to conclude that porneia refers not to sexual immorality in general, but to the forbidden marriage relationships of Leviticus 18:6-18 in particular” (ibid, Chapter 6).

Matthew wrote his gospel principally for Jewish converts to Christianity. Jewish-Christians continued to follow the Mosaic marriage laws which prohibited marriage with a near relative (Lev 18:6-18). Gentile converts to Christianity kept the Greco-Roman laws of marriage. This would explain why Matthew, in writing to a Jewish-Christian audience familiar with the prohibitions against marriage to a near relative, includes the exception clause (“except for porneia”). Mark and Luke omit the clause presumably because Gentile Christians were less likely than Jewish Christians to marry a near relative. Gentile people were not as tribally related as Jewish people.” (ibid, Chapter 6).

“The narrower interpretation of the porneia exception as referring to incestuous marriages prohibited in Leviticus 18:6-18 is supported also by the historical setting of Christ’s dispute with the Pharisees. Since the dispute occurred in Perea (Matt 19:1; Mark 10:1), the territory governed by Herod Antipas, it is quite likely that the Pharisees wanted to trick Jesus into making a statement against the incestuous marriage of Herod Antipas. John the Baptist was imprisoned and executed for condemning Herod Antipas for divorcing his wife in order to marry the wife of his brother Philip (Matt 14:4). Antipas had violated the Mosaic law which stated, “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; she is your brother’s nakedness” (Lev 18:16; cf. 20:21)” (ibid, Chapter 6).

“The immediate context supports the narrower interpretation of the porneia exception as a reference to the prohibited relationships of Leviticus 18:6-18. In Matthew 19:4-8, Christ rejects the Mosaic provision for divorce as a mere concession to human rebellion running contrary to God’s original plan for marriage. In this context, it would be inconsistent for Jesus to proceed to make a concession of his own for divorce in the case of sexual misconduct” (ibid, Chapter 6).

With the above in mind, we will analyze this argumentation. This position, as we will see, falls short of Bible, logic and consistency. The main problem with his argumentation is that it relies heavily on assumptions and presuppositions that are not supported by scripture.

The first problem with this position is that it attempts to give some sort of special and limited meaning to the word fornication (“porneia”) in Matthew 19:9. Porneia is an all-encompassing word including any and all acts of unlawful sexual intercourse.  If one wants to place a limited definition upon this word, they must do so from context and not the word itself. There is no doubt that this word could be used to condemn incestuous relationships because incestuous relationships would fall under the category of porneia (see: 1 Cor. 5:1-5). However, there is nothing in context that would demand the word “porneia” to be limited to only incestuous sexual intercourse/marriage in Matthew 19:9.

Interestingly enough, Bacchiocchi is attempting to use a passage from the Old Testament (Lev. 18:8) that does not even contain the word “porneia” in the LXX. Furthermore, even if we grant that Acts 15:20, 29 is speaking of sins listed in Leviticus 17-18, it does not support his presupposition because, while these passages in Leviticus deal with incest laws, the Greek word “porneia” is never used in the LXX in these passages.

Also, using this explanation as to why the exception clause was only recorded in Matthew’s account doesn’t make any sense when considering his understanding of Acts 15:20, 29. He says the reason why Mark and Luke leave out the exception clause is because:

Gentile converts to Christianity kept the Greco-Roman laws of marriage. This would explain why Matthew, in writing to a Jewish-Christian audience familiar with the prohibitions against marriage to a near relative, includes the exception clause (“except for porneia”). Mark and Luke omit the clause presumably because Gentile Christians were less likely than Jewish Christians to marry a near relative.” 

If it were the case that the exception clause was omitted in Mark and Luke’s account because the Gentile Christians were less likely than Jewish Christians to marry a near relative and it didn’t apply to them, then why would Paul teach the Gentiles in Acts 15: 20, 29 what Bacchiocchi argues was not necessarily for the Gentiles to hear? Why teach it to the Gentiles in Acts 15, but exclude it in Mark and Luke? This doesn’t make any sense, especially since Luke is the author of Acts and Luke.

In regards to Herod and Herodias, there is no doubt that the situation of Herod & Herodias involved the violation of the incestuous Jewish law. However, that would in no way prove that Jesus was taking the word “porneia” and using it in a limited way in Matthew 19. In fact, the word “porneia” is not even used in any of the contexts of Herod & Herodias (although it would certainly be applicable).

If indeed the exception was only in the case of incestuous unions, then it would be odd that Jesus would give forth an exception that would just “allow” them to divorce. If one argues that this marriage (where a man married a close kin) was never even a God-joined covenant to begin with, then not only would they have to argue that Jesus was giving an exception to get out of this marriage, but they would have to say He was making it mandatory. Yet, this is not what the text says nor does it fit within the context of Matthew 19:9.

Finally, he argues that God’s original purpose was for there to be no incest. That is not the context of the marital teachings of Jesus. Prior to the writing of Leviticus, there are no Old Testament passages that condemn incest. In the whole book of Genesis, incest is a common practice. Abraham married his half-sister (Genesis 20:12), and both Isaac and Jacob married kinsmen (Genesis 22:20ff; 24:4; 24:43). Of course, all of Shem, Ham, and Japheth’s children, Jacob, all of Adam and Eve’s grandchildren, Isaac, Esau, etc. would have been in incestuous relationships. The people of the Patriarchal Period, therefore, were not under the specific regulations of the Mosaic Code.

“Prior to Moses time, incest in many of the forms later proscribed, were not thought to be wrong. Thus, even Moses’ own father, Amram, married an aunt, his father’s sister, Jochebed (Exodus 6:20)” (Hard Sayings of the Bible, eds. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., F. F. Bruce, p. 101).

In the early stages of human history, marriage among kinsmen was not deemed immoral. In fact, it was a necessity from the nature of the situation. The children of Adam and Eve married kinsmen, for there were no other people on earth except those who descended from the original pair. Therefore, the laws on incestuous relationships were not given until the earth had been populated and the Old Covenant was given to Moses.

Therefore, the incestuous view should be rejected for the aforementioned reasons.

– Kevin Pendergrass

For any questions or to be added to the newsletter list, please send an e-mail to


In Malachi 2:14, the Bible says:

“Yet you say, ‘For what reason? ”Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, With whom you have dealt treacherously; Yet she is your companion. And your wife by covenant.”

Some use this passage to teach that divorce doesn’t dissolve a marriage. However, this passage does not teach that marriage can’t be dissolved. Under the Old Testament, a divorce clearly dissolved the marriage (Deut. 24:1-4; see also: Exodus 21:1-11). Malachi 2 is speaking of the former wife and not a current wife. Professor Luck comments on this verse:

“Hebrew verbs are not so much concerned with point of time as with completeness of action. As in Greek, it was common for the writer to omit verbs altogether when the action had the effect of the English present tense. Though they had a particle that could convey the idea of the present, they more often than not omitted it and expected the reader to supply it. Supplying the present tense in a verb-less clause is inappropriate if the previous clauses convey the sense of another tense. The Hebrew “perfect” (i.e., completed action) is as close to the English “past” as one could expect. Though the action could have ongoing implications, the stress is on the fact that the action is finished. Combining these grammatical elements and applying them to the text of Malachi 2:14, we note that ‘is your companion and your wife’ is a verb-less clause, without the particle, but in the context of a prior perfect (i.e., “you have dealt treacherously”). Thus, the translation of choice would be ‘though she was your companion and your wife.’ This matches quite nicely with the concept of relation subsequent to divorce in Hosea 2:2: ‘she is not my wife, and I am not her husband.’ (

In other words, based upon syntax, there is no problem understanding Malachi 2:14 to refer to the wife here as the former wife. The phrase “you have dealt treacherously” is perfect (which is typically past, completed action) in the Hebrew. The text doesn’t say that they were still dealing treacherously. This was an action done in the past to their former spouse(s) that had been completed.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible says:

“Yet you ask, “For what reason?” Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have acted treacherously against her, though she was your marriage partner and your wife by covenant.” (Mal. 2:14). 

Interestingly enough, the Douay-Rheims Bible also translates this passage as the wife being a former wife. This is especially interesting because the Douay-Rheims Bible is a translation from the Latin Vulgate into English. It is basically a Catholic translation of the Bible and is the foundation on which nearly all English Catholic versions are still based. Why is this so interesting? Because most Catholics actually do believe that marriage is indissoluble. Yet, even they translated Malachi 2:14 as the wife being a former wife:

“And you have said: For what cause? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee, and the wife of thy youth, whom thou hast despised: yet she was thy partner, and the wife of thy covenant” (Mal. 2:14)

To attempt to use Malachi 2:14 to allegedly prove that the woman was still a current wife after divorce took place is to overstate a point from the English translation that cannot be sustained from the original Hebrew.

– Kevin Pendergrass

For any questions or to be added to the newsletter list, please send an e-mail to



Deuteronomy 24:1 says:

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house…” 

One of the main texts for divorce under the Old Law is found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. When the law was originally given, the penalty for sexual unfaithfulness was death, not divorce (Lev. 20:10). Therefore, the question is often posed as to the meaning of “uncleanness” in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. There are a couple of explanations as to the meaning of uncleanness in this text (both fitting within the context).

When it came to sexual unfaithfulness under the Old Law, not only was the woman to be put to death, but the man was also to be put to death according to the Levitical law (Lev. 20:10). However, the requirements of proving such were very difficult and included the following:

  • There had to be at least two witnesses to testify (Deut. 17:6).
  • The witnesses had to prove their case or they themselves could be stoned for being false witnesses (Deut. 19:15-21).
  • If the witnesses did prove their case, then they had to be the first ones to stone those who were guilty (Deut. 17:7).

It was nearly impossible to meet the demands of the law in order to enact the death penalty especially with actions done in secret. This is the reason why it appears that most rabbis discontinued the death penalty judgment shortly after the death of Moses (Divorce & Remarriage in the Bible, Instone-Brewer). There are instances of it being practiced after Moses (See Josh. 7:25; 1 Kings 21; etc.), but it was not commonly practiced after Moses’ death.

According to Instone-Brewer, most rabbis were opposed to stoning by the first century. This sometimes led to “mob stoning.” Mob stoning was not in accordance with the Jewish law nor did it meet the demands of the law—but it did happen in the first century (Jn. 8:1-12; Acts 7:54ff; Acts 14:19).

Since the death penalty against sexual unfaithfulness under the Old Law could only be enacted when the aforementioned laws of the land were met, then it could be the case that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is about divorcing your spouse for sexual unfaithfulness when the proper legal evidence could not be supplied to enact the death penalty. While not enough evidence to legally meet the demands of a death penalty, a divorce could be enacted per Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (e.g., “He found” uncleanness vs. “witnesses found”).

Therefore, the first explanation is that the word translated “uncleanness” in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 did refer to sexual unfaithfulness and applied to divorce in cases where there was not enough evidence to convict per the death penalty.

This would mean when Jesus was speaking to the Jews in His marital teachings (Mt. 19:1-10; Mk. 10:1-12, etc.), He would be affirming that uncleanness (sexual unfaithfulness) is the authorized reason for divorce and not just “any reason.”

This is certainly a plausible explanation and would harmonize with both the Old and New Testament contexts on marriage. But there is a second explanation.

The second explanation points out that divorce for sexual unfaithfulness was always intrinsically understood as a “just” reason to divorce, and even an expected result (Hosea, Mt. 1:18-20; Isa. 50:1; Jer. 3:1). There is no evidence anywhere of someone trying to argue that sexual unfaithfulness was not a just reason for divorce. Therefore, this position assumes that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 wouldn’t be needed by the male to justify grounds for divorce per adultery since that would naturally result in death or divorce.

This position reasons that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was put in place for the sole purpose of protecting the woman when the husband would divorce her because of her “uncleanness.” The words in Hebrew translated uncleanness are “erwat dabar.” There is only one other time in all of Scripture these two words are used together and that is in Deuteronomy 23:9-14 where it refers to hygienic problems (specifically in that context a man’s nocturnal emission and poor toilet practice).

This position argues that this uncleanness mentioned in Deuteronomy 24:1 refers to a woman’s menstrual flow. This would render the woman unclean during this time and if the man touched her in that condition, he would be rendered unclean (Lev. 15:19-33). Since this happened often, his frustration could lead to divorce. This explains why the subsequent husband might divorce her too since the same “male-urge” frustration could kick in (Deut. 24:3). Of course, only a hardhearted man would divorce his wife for such. Therefore, the law was put in place to protect the woman if the man did divorce his wife for such a trivial and hardhearted reason.

If this explanation is true, then when Jesus spoke to the subject of divorce, He reaffirmed their sinful hardheartedness for unlawfully divorcing their spouses, the Deuteronomy law which protected women, and the intrinsic moral justification of divorce for fornication which was always granted and assumed.

Either way one wants to interpret “uncleanness” in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, it needs to be understood that Jesus is not teaching a “new law” in His marital teachings. Jesus is properly teaching the law and correcting their misunderstandings of it (Matthew 5:17).

– Kevin Pendergrass

For any questions or to be added to the newsletter list, please send an e-mail to


Before we look at the contexts of the exception clause in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9, we will verify its authenticity. One view known as “The McFall Theory” attempts to dismiss Matthew 19:9 in our common versions of the Bible. This view states that the exception clause was never in the original text, at least not the way it reads today. This view asserts that a Catholic priest named Erasmus altered the text of Matthew 19:9 in his Greek Testament and added the exception.

The McFall Theory can be easily exposed by looking to manuscripts that predated Erasmus and that include the exception clause. Erasmus lived between 1466-1536 c.a. and he only had approximately eight Greek manuscripts on which to construct his New Testament text and most of those were later dates (Theological Propaedeutic, Philip Schaff, pp. 166-167). Today we have hundreds of Greek manuscripts of Matthew, including some of the oldest and most reliable, which all include the exception clause.

Furthermore, prior to 325 c.a., several Ante-Nicene “Church Fathers” refer to the texts containing Jesus’ exception clause.

The exception clause is mentioned by most of the writers who comment upon the subject of divorce, for most take Matthew’s Gospel as their main source. The clause is mentioned in Theophilus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, and Lactantius” (Divorce and Remarriage in the Early Church, Pat E. Harrell, p. 190).

Erasmus could not have altered the text. The early “Church Fathers” had access to Greek manuscripts that predated Erasmus by centuries which included the exception clause. Furthermore, the origin of Matthew and his Gospel was unanimously accepted by the early church including the exception clause.

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 ( 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 textually authentic.

Kevin Pendergrass

For any questions or to be added to the newsletter list, please send an e-mail to