Re: Matt. 5 - porneia

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Fri Oct 10 1997 - 01:23:36 EDT

At 00:00 97/10/09 -0400, David Moore wrote:
>Ward Powers <> wrote:
>>Rather, Jesus is here saying, "Everyone who divorces his wife when she is
>>not guilty of committing porneia makes her (stigmatizes her as) an
>>adulteress - that is, gives her the stigma of a person who has committed
>>porneia, when she is not such a one." The case which Jesus excludes is when
>>she HAS been guilty of porneia, when of course she brings upon herself the
>>stigma of "adulteress".
> Ward's estimation of whom Jesus is indicating as guilty in the case
>of divorce in this passage does seem to be on target. Let me suggest,
>however, a reason that might illustrate why this is so.
> The Greek expression POIEI AUTHN MOIXEUQHNAI (Mt. 5:32) could
>correspond to a Semitic hiphil (i.e. causative) form of the verb. This is
>the most logical option if, as most assume, Jesus spoke and taught mainly in

It is very possible that Mt 5:31-32 records in Greek something that Jesus
said in Aramaic, so that what David suggests is indeed a possibility.

>If it is this form, the emphasis would be on the action, not of
>the divorced woman who remarried, but on the one who forced her into a
>situation where she would be obligated to remarry.

Again, I concur - except for the bit about the woman being "obligated to
remarry". First of all, David, the introduction here of the idea of the
woman remarrying suggests that you may be taking it that there is a
connection between her being called an adulteress and a subsequent
remarriage. May I point out that this is not so. Jesus says that the
hardhearted husband, by the act of divorcing his wife, makes her into,
constitutes her as, gives her the reputation of being, an adulteress. (This
was discussed in an earlier post.) This is what he does to her, and where
she has been placed, by the act and fact of her having been divorced,
totally without reference to what she may or may not do subsequently.
Although she is not guilty of porneia (for Jesus expressly excludes that
situation), she is being given the status and reputation in her society of
a person who has. That is what is so unfair to the woman, and what Jesus is

Secondly, a person who had been divorced (man or woman) was free to marry
again (see Deut 24:1-4, which lies behind this passage). The standard
Jewish certificate of divorce included the words "So that thou art free,
and in thine own power, to marry whomsoever shall please thee." Remarriage
was not considered adultery. Indeed, the provisions of Deut 24:1 have as
one of their express goals to distinguish an adulterous relationsip from a
remarriage after a divorce which has ended the first marriage. The only
basis for holding that remarriage itself was in God's eyes an adulterous
relationship would be if the first marriage were to be in some way
continuing in existence notwithstanding a divorce. We can see from Deut
24:1-4 that Moses very clearly regarded divorce as totally terminating the
first marriage. Jesus also taught that divorce terminated a marriage - see
John 4:16-19, where Jesus tells the much-married Samaritan woman that she
is quite accurate in saying that she now has no husband at all. Paul also
taught that a marriage can end: he says (1 Corinthians 7:11) that the woman
who has CWRIZW from her husband is now AGAMOS, "unmarried".

Thirdly, when the hardhearted husband has divorced his wife as described in
Mt 5:32, she is not forced to remarry. She may well do so: she is permitted
under the law to do so. But the opportunity of such second marriage may
very well simply not be there for her. And certainly there is no reason to
think that she was "obligated to" do so. A range of other options was also
open to her. Why should such a woman not be capable of living
independently? Why indeed should she be more constrained to remarry than a
widow would be? (If she received back her dowry - usual unless divorced for
adultery - she could be as well off as a widow.) And other possibilities
would frequently be open: living in the household of a married brother;
returning to her parents' home; and so on. Leviticus 22:13 expressly refers
to a daughter who after divorce "returns to live in her father's house as
in her youth".

Perhaps some divorced women would be forced to seek an opportunity for
remarriage, but the other options which were open make hardly justifiable
the general statement applying to ALL such women. Suppose a divorced woman
follows the lead of Leviticus 22:13 and returns to her father's house and
never remarries: is SHE made an adulteress? According to the reasoning of
the scholars who see the adultery as occurring in the remarriage, she is
not. But Jesus says that she IS made an adulteress in the circumstances he
describes - he expressly says that his comment applies to everyone who is
divorced by her husband (PAS hO APOLUWN) in such circumstances.

It is the being put away by her husband that gives her the undeserved
stigma of being an adulteress (on the basis of the only ground for such an
action set out in Deut 24:1), not any subsequent remarriage she may enter.
Turning from your wife to another woman is described by Jesus as adultery
(Mt 19:9); but remarriage per se is never so described. Separation and
divorce are spoken against in Scripture, as contrary to God's will for the
one-flesh relationship of marriage. Remarriage after divorce is never
forbidden, never criticized; it is permitted by Moses (Deut 24:1-4); it is
(in appropriate circumstances) enjoined by Paul (1 Corinthians 7:8-9).

For consideration.


Rev Dr B. Ward Powers Phone (International): 61-2-9799-7501
10 Grosvenor Crescent Phone (Australia): (02) 9799-7501
SUMMER HILL NSW 2130 email:

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