Re: Matt. 5 - porneia

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Fri Oct 17 1997 - 23:13:47 EDT

Fellow b-greekers:

Have David Moore and I reached the point in our conversation about Mt 5:32
where we have each made our points, and further discussion on list is
becoming tedious and repetitive for others?

I think perhaps we have.

Therefore (unless something new or different comes up), I will summarize my
case here, and withdraw from this thread.

David and I share a large area of agreement, in particular about the point
of Jesus's comment in this verse being a condemnation of the hardhearted
husband who repudiates his wife in the circumstances outlined.

If I understand David's position correctly (and part of the point and
purpose of these discussions is to increase our understanding of the views
of others), it is:

(a) that in the society of the times, the woman who was divorced would be
forced into a second marriage, and
(b) that such a second marriage after divorce is being called by Jesus (in
Mt 5:32), "adultery".

I strongly challenge both these propositions. I believe this view is at
variance with the facts, is mistaken in its understanding of Mt 5:32, and
is in conflict with the teaching of the rest of Scripture.

To elucidate these matters:

At 23:46 97/10/16 -0400, David Moore wrote:


> 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.

The crux of David's position is that (perhaps apart from richer people)
when a husband divorced his wife he forced her into seeking a second
marriage, and thus he "is guilty of causing her to commit adultery" - that
is, by throwing her out of his household he forces her into a second
marriage, and this second marriage is committing adultery. Now, it is
common ground in this discussion that adultery is sin. Thus this second
marriage is a sin, and her erstwhile husband forced her to do it, and thus
he is blameworthy for this woman's sin.

My contention is, first of all, that this is contrary to the facts. In a
previous post I made the point that "the opportunity of a second marriage
may simply not be there for her", even if she wanted this. This aspect of
the realities of the woman's situation needs to be recognized. The
demographics of the situation were that in just about any age group of
those of marriageable age, the women would outnumber the men. It would not
be quite as easy as appears sometimes to be assumed for a divorced woman to
procure a new husband in competition with those who had not been married
(especially as the marriage of the latter was being actively promoted by
their respective fathers, in consultation with the professional
matchmaker). If an older husband had repudiated his wife to marry a younger
woman, such a wife would be in the same position as (widowed) Naomi: "I am
too old to have another husband" (Ruth 1:12). It is completely unrealistic
to think that every divorcee who wanted to do so could just find a new
husband. But note: Whatever Jesus means by what he said in Mt 5:32, he said
that it applied to EVERY person who was put into that situation by a
hardhearted repudiating husband. So Jesus cannot be saying that remarriage
is adultery, because not every divorced woman would be able to remarry.

Furthermore, as I set out in previous posts, a divorced woman - like a
widow - had (depending upon her age and circumstances) the options of
returning to live with her parents (Leviticus 22:13), setting up her own
household (as did Naomi with Ruth - see the Book of Ruth), or (as would
most usually be the case), going to live with an older married brother and
his family. Certainly, family solidarity would be at pains to see that she
was not left to experience the "bleak old age" that David Moore so vividly
envisages as being the only alternative to a second marriage.

My contention is, further, that this interpretation is in error in that it
sets this passage (and the teaching of Jesus in it) in conflict with the OT
law, with Jesus's teaching elsewhere, and with Paul. In my previous post I
pointed out that "Remarriage after divorce was not regarded under the
Mosaic law as adultery, but was expressly accepted in Deut 24:1-4". David
says, concerning this situation. "The whole point of divorce, from a
biblical (especially Old-Testament) standpoint, is to facilitate remarriage
of the woman who is sent away." If then such a remarriage is adulterous,
then we are brought to the point (on this interpretation) that the whole
point of OT divorce was to bring the woman into the commission of a fresh
sin, that of adultery.

This conclusion is so untenable that (in my judgement) it on its own would
rule out of court the proposed interpretation.

The only way out would be to say that while in the law and in OT times such
remarriage was clearly not the sin of adultery, it now is adultery in the
view of Jesus: that is, that Jesus is changing the moral law in this
matter. Now, Jesus pointed out that adultery was not just an act but the
attitude of heart and mind (see Mt 5:27-28), and he clarified the meaning
of the law of Moses against the oral traditions which distorted it by
little additions or omissions (Mt 5:21-48E), and he strongly affirmed the
continuing validity of the commandments of the law (Mt 5:17-19). There is
no basis for an assertion that Jesus CHANGED the nature of adultery from
what it used to be under the law into something else (which now included
legitimate remarriage after divorce).

A second marriage can only be the sin of adultery if the first marriage
were viewed as in some sense continuing after a divorce: but Jesus showed
that he recognized that after a divorce the former partners were no longer
married (see John 4:16-18). And Paul concurs: a wife who has broken from
her husband is "unmarried" (1 Corinthians 7:11). Moreover, while not for a
moment condoning the sin involved in a broken marriage, Paul says expressly
that if you remarry after a divorce you have not sinned (1 Corinthians
7:27-28). The hardheartedness of Mt 19:8 lay in the husband divorcing his
wife unfairly. This is not said of any such divorced wife who remarried.

So to take it that in Mt 5:32 Jesus is somehow altering the divine
definition of adultery, or changing the law which recognized divorce as
terminating a marriage, so that as a result a marriage was now regarded as
in some sense continuing after a divorce, sets Jesus in this passage
against the OT teaching, against Paul, and against Jesus's own teaching

I trust that this serves to clarify my reasons for rejecting the view that
in Mt 5:32 Jesus is saying that it is a subsequent remarriage which is
adulterous. Rather, the passive MOIXEUQHNAI in this verse shows that by her
husband's act of divorcing her the woman was being made to be in the
position of an adulteress, i.e., given the status and stigma of
"adulteress" by her husband - a totally unjustified and blameworthy thing
for him to do except (Jesus says) if she had actually been gulity of
"porneia" ("ervath davar", Deut 24:1),

David, you are welcome to have the last word on this thread if you wish,
but I now withdraw from the discussion of Mt 5:32. My thanks to those who
have participated on-list, and written to me privately off-list, for an
interesting discussion.


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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