Britain continues in a downward spiral spiritually as MPs approved the Government’s no-fault divorce Bill in June of this year.  Even the moderate amendments put forward were rejected.  How the mighty are fallen.  We are cave-men in that we cave in to public opinion and the politically correct [im]morality of the day.

It hasn’t always been so, but for about five-hundred years, the Protestant wing of the Church has debated the meaning of Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage in Matthew 19:9a – “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (see also Matthew 5:32).  The main antagonist is one word, and the question before us – Is it post-marital adultery or pre-marital fornication that justifies divorce and remarriage?

To investigate further we turn to the appropriate words used and their meanings; perhaps we should also consider the proposition held by Dr Leslie McFall, that Jesus did not use the word “except”; so in effect, since there isn’t an “except”, then there is not an “exception clause”.  Regardless of whether porneia (fornication) covers all sexual sin, including adultery, and according to this view, Jesus was saying, “not even for fornication.”  That is a reason for the astonishment of the disciples in Matthew 19:10. What has happened, according to Dr McFall, is that an exclusion has become an exception by the introduction of a tiny Greek word that was not there in the original.  The Greek word “not” is me, which changes to “except” when the Greek word “if” “ei” or “ean” is put in front of it.  It is how the word “except” came into the English translations of the Bible over the past four-hundred years or so.  This tiny addition, if correct, is the cause of the radical results the Church has suffered for centuries.  There is a detailed study by Dr Leslie McFall that you can download on the Internet (The Biblical Teaching on Divorce and Remarriage).[i]  According to his paper, we have the humanist, Erasmus to thank, in 1516AD for making the alterations, just before the Reformation.  The Protestant Reformers accepted the changes without question.  Erasmus, out of his humanist compassion, sympathised with those that were trapped in intolerable marriages and discovered two loopholes in the New Testament that would allow them to escape.  If Dr McFall’s proposals are correct, Erasmus has done immense damage by adding the word “except” to Matthew 19:9, opening the way for divorce and remarriage on the grounds of sexual infidelity to take place in the name of Jesus, when the teaching is not of Jesus.  Then there is the “Erasmian exception” of 1 Corinthians 7:15, where he applied “not bound” concerning the bond of marriage rather than the bondage of slavery.  He opened the way for desertion by a non-Christian partner.  There is a weakness to his argument when you consider Matthew 5:32 where the Greek is “apart from”.  Read the paper by Dr McFall and draw your own conclusions. 


The KJV translates porneia as “fornication.”  The NIV translates porneia as “marital unfaithfulness.”  In the first example (KJV), we see that if a man discovers his wife had sexual intercourse with another man before they were married, he is justified in divorcing and remarrying.  The second example (NIV) reflects the adultery view – If a man’s wife has had sexual intercourse with someone else after the marriage (committed adultery), then the husband is justified in divorcing her and remarrying.

The Fornication View holds that the underlying Greek word that was prior to and at the time of Jesus, was usually used to refer to sexual behaviour by a single person (fornication).

The Adultery View claims that this word was a catch-all phrase for sexual immorality in general, prior to and at the time of Jesus, and that in this context it is referring to adultery.

When we consider what Jesus said in Luke 12:47-48, it is extremely important that those contemplating remarriage after a divorce, to understand who can and who cannot enter into a new marriage.  Often today, Christianity is a religion of convenience, and the Bible is not the Word of the Living God, so people are not guided by it.  But Luke indicates that even those who sin in ignorance will be punished.

A Christian that separated from her husband many years ago because of his various sexual affairs is now preparing to take him back and re-marry.  She quoted 1 Corinthians 7:10-11.  It looks like the right thing to do until you realise that the husband had entered into a second marriage.  He would have to divorce his second wife to be able to go back and re-marry his first wife.  Is that possible according to Scripture? See how the waters become muddied and how we need the mind of Christ to resolve such issues?  Deuteronomy 24:1-4.  Jesus quoted frequently from Deuteronomy, and He taught the same on divorce and remarriage in Matthew 5:31-32 as well as the verse we are considering in Ch.19.

The New Testament and post New Testament writers used the porneia family of words giving more credence to the Fornication View rather than the Adultery View.  The Adultery View causes Matthew 10:9a to contradict Luke 16:18 which deals with an adulterous spouse.  The Fornication View lines up with a reference to concealed pre-nuptial sin in the Law of Moses.  There is a theological explanation for the Fornication View founded upon the idea of covenant.  The Fornication View, as we saw last time, is found in the natural law.  The Adultery View was rejected by Christians throughout history, only becoming popular in modern times.  The teaching on divorce and remarriage in the New Testament is very clear, and gives no grounds for an adultery exception.

Greek literature before the New Testament used the porneia family of words to refer to sexual behaviour by single people, who were committing fornication for pleasure, or for prostitution.

A Greek word in the New Testament that specifically means “adultery” is the word moichao (moichalis, moicheia, moicheuo, and moichos).  It is a member of a family of words which all mean and were used to convey the idea of post-marital unfaithfulness.  Interestingly it is used in Matthew 19:9 as well as Porneia.  “whoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication (porneia), and shall marry another, commits adultery (moichao)”.  It speaks for itself for those that want to know the truth.

We saw in Part 1 that under the Law of Moses adultery is never given as a reason for divorcing and marrying.  We also saw that in Jeremiah, God does not view adultery as having actually dissolved the marriage.  Even after the divorce to His adulterous wife, God still regarded her as His wife.  Adultery, neither then or now, dissolves a marriage.

Other loopholes that evangelicals use because “God is love”, are: (a)If you were divorced before you were saved, “all things have become new”, therefore you are free to remarry.  (b)Since your unscriptural divorce, have you asked God to forgive you?  If you have, God will forgive you, and you are free to remarry.  (c)If you have really repented of your unscriptural remarriage, God will not only forgive you, He will allow you to stay in the new marriage (even if your first spouse wants you back).  (d)If your remarriage falls into a category that Jesus described and classified as adulterous, you need not worry.  The adultery only occurred the first time that you had intercourse.  After the first time, it is not adultery.  This is the kind of gymnastics entered to avoid fulfilling God’s word.

The Pauline Privilege

Along with the Adultery View this became part of the official position, certainly in the mainstream Evangelical wing of the Church.  The Pauline Privilege is based upon 1 Corinthians 7:13-15.  In this view, the belief is that in a marriage between a Christian and an unbeliever, this passage, adherents claim, teaches that if the unbelieving spouse departs, then the believing spouse is no longer under bondage to the marriage covenant, meaning the believing spouse is free to remarry.  This interpretation of the passage by Paul contradicts what Jesus taught.  In Matthew 19:9 and again in Luke 16:18, Jesus said that an abandoned spouse did not have the privilege of remarrying.  The Pauline Privilege claims they can marry; Jesus says they cannot.  Who will you follow, Jesus or the teachings of men?  Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).  The Pauline Privilege contradicts the teaching of Jesus on divorce and remarriage in the case of abandonment.  In 1 Corinthians 7:39, Paul says that a wife is bound by the law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.  Paul is clear, a woman is bound to her husband for his entire life, even if they are separated.  One doesn’t need to feel “under bondage” to renounce Christ in order to please their spouse.  If the husband wants to leave, then let them leave rather than compromise obedience to Christ; but if they do leave, you are still bound to them in marriage until the husband dies.  It is extraordinary that Paul is speaking of obedience to Christ, yet many today use his words to teach disobedience to our Lord.


The etymology of Hebrew bᵉrît is not entirely clear.  Various roots have been suggested, with two finding wide acceptance, Hebrew bārâ, “eat bread with,” and the Akkadian noun birītu, “fetter,” or perhaps the prepositional phrase ina beri, or the preposition birit, “between.”  Whatever the etymology, the OT term bᵉrît came to mean that which bound two parties together.

The Mari documents from the 18th Century BC contain several significant phrases, some speaking of a sacrificial ass that was slain.  The phrase “to kill an ass” is almost the equivalent of “to make a covenant.” (Judges4:17; 1 Samuel 7:14; 1 Kings 5:12).  A further phrase, “to kill an ass of peace,” is reminiscent of the Hebrew “to make a covenant of peace” (Ezekiel 34:25;37:26).

Religious ceremonies involving the slaughter of a beast were associated with each treaty or covenant.  Customs similar to those at Mari are attested among the people of Syrian descent in the 18th Century BC, as well as among the Assyrians and the later Arameans of Syria at least down to the 8th Century BC (cf. Genesis 15:9f.; Jeremiah 34:18).  A common element in the cursing formula in some treatise is: “Just as this (beast) is cut up, so may X be cut up.”  The man reciting the formula declared his expectation of the fate that would befall him if he broke his treaty obligations.

In the Old Testament, with covenants between men, the term bᵉrît carries with it the idea of ‘cutting’, and is used for a wide variety of agreements.  A covenant, generally speaking, is defined as an agreement entered into by two parties, with certain requirements expected of either side.  We see in Scripture that when people entered into a covenant, it included a “cutting” or “separating” of a living creature, resulting it its blood being shed.  We see this in the Noahic covenant (Genesis 20:9-17), the covenant with Abraham (15:7-21; 17:7-14), with Moses (Exodus 20:1-23:33), and in the New Covenant with Jesus… “This is My blood of the covenant…” (Matthew 26:27-28).  If you read through these covenants, there is a cutting, separating, and shedding of blood.  Similarly, when two people enter into a covenant marriage, there is generally speaking, a cutting, separating and shedding of blood.  This happens when the husband inserts his penis into his virgin wife’s vagina for the first time, separating and rupturing the hymen.  There is a cutting or separating and bleeding which is the act of entering into a covenant with one another.  That is God’s design.  It is why concealed, pre-marital sexual intercourse would allow a man to “put away” his wife and marry another.  This is the only theological reason for the so-called exception clause.  Any other reason is the inventiveness of the human mind.  If a woman was not a virgin and she concealed this from her husband, the man, according to Jesus in Matthew 19:9a, had a right to call off his marriage.  The one act that made a marriage a marriage – the creation of a covenant – could not be repeated if the woman had already ruptured her hymen in a previous act of sexual intercourse.  Jesus’ teaching here does not contradict His other prohibitions against divorce and remarriage (Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18), because a covenant marriage never actually took place, and is why a man is justified in “putting away” his wife in the case of fornication – sex before marriage with another man.  In God’s eyes and according to Scripture the woman had never become the man’s wife, because her hidden sexual activity had kept her from entering into covenant with her husband to be.  The “exception clause” deals only with the experience of a man who discovers the truth of his wife’s lack of virginity after the marriage.

There is clear teaching in the Old Testament that a woman was to marry the person who ruptured her hymen.  The man was required to approach the girl’s father asking for her hand in marriage (Deuteronomy 22:28-29; Exodus 22:16-17).

I am sure we would all rather think about salvation and God’s love, than we would care to focus our attention on true discipleship.  Sometimes we hide not only our own sin but the sin of our friends too, thereby honouring our friends greater than we honour God and His word.  Afraid that we might lose friends, colleagues, church members, we choose not to teach the truth.  We avoid divorce and remarriage issues in an effort to hold everything together, including friendships.  We forget that it is Jesus who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17), and thereby we make the error of extending the kingdom of Satan.

Blessings and shalom

Malcolm [01.08.2020]