Matthew 19:9 (The Exception Clause to Divorce and Remarriage)

Recall from Mat 19:3 that the Pharisees had asked Jesus if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all, His answer to which was clearly “no” because they are no longer two but one flesh.  Are we to then understand that there is no cause for which it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife?  What is the one exception that Jesus notes in Mat 19:9 when divorce and remarriage would not constitute adultery?  Cf. Mat 5:32.  What is meant by “immorality” or “unchastity”?  Note that the Greek word used in both Mat 5:32 and 19:9 is translated every time by the KJV as “fornication”.  How is fornication typically understood as being different from adultery?  Cf. 1Co 7:1-2 and notice they are distinguished from one another in Mat 15:19, Mar 7:21, 1Co 6:9 and Heb 13:4.  Considering this distinction, what word would we expect to find in Jesus’ exception, but don’t?  Is it significant that the exception Jesus gives is not adultery but fornication, or are we to understand these as synonymous in this context?

Consider also that the “exception” clauses to divorce and remarriage are found only in Matthew who was writing to Jews and not in any of the other gospels or Paul’s letters that were written to Gentiles (see Mar 10:11-12, Luk 16:18, Rom 7:2, 1Co 7:39); why do you think that is?  Think: were the Gentiles given any less to immorality than the Jews?  Cf. 2Co 12:21, Eph 4:19, 1Pe 4:3.  Think too: because women historically had no other means to provide for themselves they needed a man to provide for them; thus, when a man divorced his wife he caused her to commit adultery (Mat 5:32) because she was forced either to remarry or into prostitution.  Would not the “immorality” involved with her marrying or consorting with another man thus render of no account the whole thrust of Jesus’ one-flesh argument for the permanence of marriage and that whoever divorces his wife and marries another is committing adultery?

What is the defining characteristic of marriage that makes a man and woman one flesh?  See 1Co 6:16.  Is it significant that this is also what makes their relationship creative?  What insight does this give us about why every other sexual union is sinful?  Cf. Gen 6:2,4, Jude 1:6-7.  What insight might it give us about how God views our modern practices of birth control that have transformed our notion of sex as being primarily for pleasure and not procreation?

What was different about Jewish marriage from Gentile marriage that would warrant an exception clause for fornication, considering that once a man and woman have consummated their marriage to become one flesh such immorality is more properly called adultery?  See Mat 1:18-19,24-25.  Consider too the more binding and often lengthy nature of the Jewish betrothal period (Gen 29:18-21) and the ramifications of sexual misconduct that took place during this period (Deut 22:23-27).  Would Joseph, a righteous man, have been sinning against God in desiring to divorce Mary and marry another woman because he assumed she must have committed fornication during the time of their betrothal when they were lawfully considered to be married although the marriage had not yet been consummated?

What are we to conclude then regarding the exception clause that Jesus gives in Mat 19:9?  Should we understand that it refers to adultery in general, and it is purely incidental that 1) the word used is not adultery but fornication and 2) the exception is entirely absent from the other gospels and Paul’s writings?  Or, should we understand that the exception clause refers to sexual immorality during the Jewish betrothal period before the man and woman consummate their marriage at the wedding feast to become one flesh—an example of which Matthew has used as central to his purpose of rebutting the Jews’ defamation of Jesus as the son of a harlot—and it is for this reason that 1) Jesus used the word fornication to distinguish His meaning from adultery in keeping with His one-flesh argument for the permanence of marriage and 2) the exception is not found in any of the other gospels or Paul’s letters that were written to Gentiles because they did not observe the same marriage customs as the Jews that would warrant such an exception?  Cf. the laws for the marriage of priests; see Lev 21:7,13-15, Eze 44:21-22, 1Pe 2:9.

The Greek word used for “immorality” (NAS) / “fornication” (KJV) in Mat 19:9 is porneia: what English word do we get from this?  Considering the sanctity and permanence of the marriage relationship and that this is the one and only exception for divorce and remarriage—even if only during the time of betrothal prior to the consummation of the marriage—what does this teach us about the great evil, seriousness, and danger to one’s soul of every form of porneia in the eyes of God?  Cf. Mat 5:28-30, Heb 13:4, Gal 5:19-21.  What is the Christian response to every form of porneia?  See 1Co 6:18, 2Ti 2:22.

Matthew 19:3-6 (Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce, Part 1)
Matthew 19:7-9 (Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce, Part 2)
Matthew 19:9 (The Exception Clause to Divorce and Remarriage)
Scripture Passages Related to Divorce and Remarriage
Matthew 19:1-9 (The Spiritual Significance of Marriage)
Matthew 19:10 (The Disciples’ Response To Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce)
Matthew 19:1-10 (Answers to the Really Hard Questions Regarding Divorce)
Matthew 19:1-10 (Answers to the Really Hard Questions Regarding Remarriage Part 1)
Matthew 19:1-10 (Answers to the Really Hard Questions Regarding Remarriage Part 2)
Matthew 19:11-12 (On Celibacy)

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