Re: Grammar, Logic, Mt 19:9

From: Jeff Smelser (
Date: Sat Jun 07 1997 - 23:10:13 EDT

Jeff Smelser, responding to Paul Dixon, who wrote:

>We are trying to direct the logic discussion specifically to the Greek
>grammar. The question is: what relationship, if any, is there between
>Greek grammar and logic or logical analysis?

>How does logic have any bearing here? What is normally inferred here is
>the negation. In logic notation we have this being affirmed:
> If A and B, then C (If a man remarries after divorcing his wife
>and his wife was not immoral, then he commits adultery). This is v. 9.
> If A and not B, then not C (If a man remarries after divorcing
>his wife and his wife was immoral, then he does not commit adultery).
>The last statement is an invalid inference from the first, v. 9. The
>verse neither says the second statement, nor does it imply it.

Hello Paul- I'll offer the following comments, quoting from something I
wrote on Mt 19:9 a few years ago, wherein I looked at the same logical issue
you have laid out, but came to a different conclusion, taking into
consideration additional factors, viz. the purpose of the communication. In
the following excerpt, "H&W" is a reference to a book titled _Jesus and
Divorce_ by William Heth and Gordon Wenham. "Kilgallen" is John J.
Kilgallen, who wrote "To What Are the Mathean Exception-Texts (5,32 and
19,9) an Exception?" in _Biblica_ 61:102. This will perhaps stray a bit from
discussion of the Greek Text, but I think I can justify this post as an
attempt to help isolate what is necessitated by Grammar, as opposed to what
is necessitated by logic, as opposed to what is necessitated by context.


H&W devote seven pages (113-119) to developing a grammatical
argument to show that one "should not attempt to relate the
exception clause to the entire statement." Rather one should
"understand the function of the negated prepositional phrase in
the protasis alone." Later, however, though they do not
ultimately espouse them, H&W speak commendably of the betrothal
and Rabbinic views, both of which relate the exception clause
to the whole sentence, recognizing that marriage to another was
permitted in the event of the "exception". H&W are willing to
abandon their grammatical objections in the case of the Rabbinic
and betrothal views, because in practice these do not allow for
one who is legitimately married to put his wife away for
fornication. This suggests a reason for H&W's conclusion other
than strong conviction concerning a grammatical point.

     From a logical point of view, the sentence can be stated as
an if/then proposition. It will then be clear that both
conditions of the protasis must be fulfilled (he puts his wife
away not for fornication and he remarries) in order to affirm the
apodosis (he commits adultery) on the basis of this statement.

              If a man put his wife away not for fornication
                          and he married another,
                         then he commits adultery.

     In an if/then proposition with a compound protasis, it can
be possible for the apodosis to be true when only one of the
conditions is met, and the proposition as it stands to still be
valid. For example, consider the following proposition:
             If a man does not breathe and he is 30 years old,

                             then he will die.

The proposition is valid. However, a man who does not breathe
will die even if he is 28. But this is not a truth deducible from
the proposition itself. It is a truth known by other means.
Furthermore, because we know this truth, we would say the framer
of this proposition is guilty of confusing the issue with
impertinent information. Are we ready to say the same of Jesus?

     Moreover, while the sentence, "If a man does not breathe, he
will die," makes sense, the sentence, "If a man puts his wife
away not for fornication, he commits adultery," is nonsense. He
is guilty of sin, but putting away in and of itself does not
constitute the particular sin of adultery. One can see why H&W
found Kilgallen's definition of divorce as including adultery


The work from which this is excerpted can be found in HTML format at

Jeff Smelser
Bristow, VA
NoVa Bible Study Page

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:18 EDT