Re: Matt. 5 - porneia

From: David L. Moore (
Date: Thu Oct 16 1997 - 23:46:10 EDT

Ward Powers <> wrote:

>At 00:01 97/10/11 -0400, David Moore wrote:
>>Ward Powers <> wrote:
>> What Ward says about the divorced woman having the reputation of
>>being an adulteress foisted upon her by being divorced by her husband is
>>probably true. Nevertheless, it is difficult to understand the Greek here
>>as saying that. MOIXEUQHNAI is a verb. To have the meaning Ward suggests,
>>one would expect a noun (perhaps MOIXALIS) rather than a verb.
>David, you may well be right in your comment here, and your examples do
>back you up. Our problem, though, is that we have to deal with what we
>actually find in the text, rather than alternative ways in which something
>could perhaps have been expressed. That is where we have to come to terms
>with the significance of the use of the passive MOIXEUQHNAI here. What I
>cannot get away from is that the passive shows that the intended meaning is
>something being done to the woman.

        I suggested the noun for the verb of the text as we have it because
the former would give the meaning Ward maintains; as the text stands with
MOIXEUQHNAI as a verb, it does not give his meaning. Firstly, because
MOIXEUQHNAI is a verb, not a noun, and secondly, because the use of the
passive here indicates that the active party in what is done to the noun or
pronoun (i.e. the woman) is not the person who is the subject of the
sentence (i.e. the one who divorces), but some third person or persons. We
may find similar constructions (from a gramcord search) in Mat. 18:25; Lu.
18:40; Acts 5:21; 1Cor. 10:13; Gal. 6:12, 13

>Now the common explanation (you will
>even find it in BAGD on this verb, and this verse) is that "he causes her
>to commit adultery (by contracting a subsequent marriage)". But the
>evidence shows this understanding to be wrong. Firstly, the text says the
>repudiated wife is put in this situation (whatever it is) by her husband
>through his action in divorcing her, not by any subsequent action of hers,
>whether forced upon her or not.

        But a verb of causing, commanding, or wishing with the accusative
noun or pronoun and a passive infinitive does contemplate subsequent action
by someone other than the subject of the main verb. But to address Ward's
apparent concern here, it is my impression that this passage is speaking
mainly of the culpability of the man who divorces his wife, rather than the
one who subsequently may marry her. It is the former that is being shown as
causing the adultery.

>So we cannot find in this text that it is A
>SUBSEQUENT REMARRIAGE which makes her to become an adulteress, but the
>action of her repudiating husband. It is my contention that this can only
>mean that he is causing her to be viewed as, to have the stigma of being
>regarded as, an adulteress.
>Secondly, if remarriage after divorce were to be regarded as adultery, this
>would mean that in some sense the first marriage was taken to be still in
>existence (in God's eyes, perhaps), the divorce notwithstanding; but in a
>previous post I showed that this idea was not part of the beliefs and
>teaching of Moses, or of Jesus, or of Paul. (Remarriage after divorce was
>not regarded under the Mosaic law as adultery, but was expressly accepted
>in Deut 24:1-4.)

        I am all for employing the whole context of Scripture, while keeping
in mind the personality and literary idiosyncrasies of each writer; but when
the words used, the grammar and the syntax simply do not allow a certain
interpretation, it may be time to go back to the other data and see whether
one has interpreted it correctly.

>Thirdly, please note the crucial point which David cites again [below] from
>my previous post.
>> The whole point of Jesus' teaching on divorce, not only here, but in
>>the other pertinent passages, is that it is not God's will that marriages be
>>broken and that obtaining a divorce does not discharge one who has broken a
>>marriage from guilt.
>I agree absolutely. But there is grace in forgiveness available from Christ
>which can remove this guilt.

        I certainly agree; Jesus pointed out sin not only so that those who
heard would be disuaded from choosing it, but also with the purpose of
calling people who had sinned to a change of heart and a return to God.

>[David citing my previous post:]
>>>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.
>> All these things may have some truth in them, but aren't we
>>discussing what the Greek is saying in Mt. 5:32. It seems to me that Jesus
>>is focusing on the guilt of the man - who alone had power of divorce in that
>>society - since divorcing a woman regularly and logically led to her
>David, the whole point of my previous paragraph which you have cited above
>is that it is not in fact the case that "divorcing a woman regularly and
>logically led to her remarriage". Please recheck what I have previously
>said, above. The point made there is that "a range of other options was
>also open to her", and remarriage after divorce was not always possible and
>certainly not always inevitable.

        One of the things we should keep in mind, is that Jesus did not
appeal so much to the aristocracy as to poor and the common people. So,
considerations having to do with large doweries and rich relatives who could
support a divorced woman may not have been part of the picture. Also, in
place of systems of social security and government provision for the
elderly, in the society of Jesus' day the elderly depended on their children
for support. If a woman was divorced while still childless, she
contemplated a bleak old age unless she married.

        We should also remember that Jesus' teaching about sin equated
contemplating and entertaining evil purposes as equally blameworthy as doing
them. The whole point of divorce, from a biblical (especially
Old-Testament) standpoint, is to facilitate remarriage of the woman who is
sent away. Since divorce could not be contemplated without acceeding to the
sending of one's wife to find with another man those things a marriage
should provide to her, I think it is in keeping with Jesus' teaching that he
say anyone who divorces his wife (except... etc.) is guilty of causing her
to commit adultery.

David L. Moore
Miami, Florida, USA
Southeastern Spanish District of the A/G Dept. of Education
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