Re: Matt 19:9 & the Present Tense

From: Steven Craig Miller (
Date: Mon Oct 11 1999 - 17:20:22 EDT

To: Paul Dixon,

SCM: << The English translation "commits adultery" might give some the
impression that the sin is committed only during the marriage ceremony. I
wonder if the present tense might be better translated as: "living in
adultery"? >>

PD: << The problem is that the present tense may denote a progressive
nuance, that is, "is committing adultery (in the act of remarriage)". This,
of course, addresses the issue made by some over whether remarriage
constitutes an on-going act of adultery. This cannot be proved by the use
of the present tense. The nuance may be merely progressive. >>

SCM: << I find it interesting that at Matthew 19:9 we have three verbs, two
are aorist and one is present tense. "And I say to you, whoever divorces
[aorist] his woman, except for infidelity [or: prostitution [?]), and
marries [aorist] another lives in adultery [present]." If the Matthean
Jesus wanted to suggest that the act of adultery was a punctiliar act as
opposed to a linear act, why didn't he keep to the aorist tense, why the
switch to the present tense? The statement seems very clear to me. The
Greek verb translated as "divorces" is in the aorist tense because it is
viewed as a punctiliar act. The Greek verb translated as "marries" is in
the aorist tense because it is viewed as a punctiliar act. But the verb
translated as "lives in adultery" (or "commits adultery") is in the present
tense because it is viewed as a linear act. Why else the switch to the
present tense? >>

PD: << Again, the present tense may denote what you are arguing for here,
but it does not have to. It may denote a progressive nuance (is committing
adultery in the act of remarriage). Or, it may be a gnomic present, often
referred to as the aorist present, something that is timeless in reality,
true of all time (compare the use of SPEIRETAI in 1 Cor 15:42ff). The point
is you simply can not prove your thesis by an appeal to the use of the
present tense here. >>

I suspect that outside mathematics or modern logic, it is impossible to
prove anything beyond all doubt. The issue as I see it is not what can be
proven beyond all doubt, but rather what is MOST probable (given what we
know). As I see it, the present tense of MOICATAI (at Mt 19:9) creates the
presumption that it refers to linear action (as opposed to punctiliar
action) unless there is some evidence to the contrary. Without any evidence
to the contrary, then the BEST translation would appear to be: "lives in
adultery." I concede the fact that I have not PROVEN my case beyond all
doubt, but I do humbly suggest that taking MOICATAI to refer to linear
action is the MOST probable interpretation of the passage.

I know that this can be an emotional issue for some people. And I
personally don't mean to suggest that anyone is doing anything wrong by
being divorced and remarried. But it does seem to me to have been the point
of the Matthean Jesus at Mt 19:9. Furthermore, it is hard for me to imagine
any 1st century Jewish or Christian religious leader claiming that ONLY the
act of getting remarried is wrong, but BEING remarried is all right (once
one has been forgiven for getting remarried). Frankly, I feel that the
burden of proof is on anyone who would want to claim that such a scenario
was what the Matthean Jesus had in mind at Mt 19:9.

-Steven Craig Miller (

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