Re: Matt 19:9 & the Gnomic Present Tense

From: Steven Craig Miller (
Date: Tue Oct 12 1999 - 10:07:27 EDT

To: the participants of B-Greek,

The suggestion has been made (perhaps by more than one participant) that
MOICATAI (at Mt 19:9) might be a gnomic present. Buist M. Fanning, in his
"Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek" (1990:208), writes about "the gnomic
or proverbial present" and states:

<< As the name implies, this use of the present occurs in proverbial
statements or general maxims about what occurs at 'all' times. >>

Fanning also accepts MOICATAI at Mt 19:9 to be a gnomic present. He also
cites an article entitled "The Present Indicative in Matthew 19:9"
(Restroration Quarterly 24[1981]:193-203) by Carroll D. Osburn, who argues
for the gnomic present here (I haven't read the article.)

But accepting MOICATAI as a gnomic present would not tell us whether or not
"commits adultery" would be a better translation than "lives in adultery,"
for both translations could be gnomic! After all, there is also the gnomic
use of the aorist and the gnomic use of the perfect.

As already noted, Mt 19:9 contains three verbs. The first two are aorist,
the last present. Why the switch to the present tense? One cannot explain
the present tense merely on the desire to make it gnomic, since the gnomic
aorist could have worked just as well. Rather, the most reasonable
interpretation IMO is that the present tense was used because the action of
adultery was viewed to be ongoing!

Furthermore, what is adultery? Adultery can only take place when a married
person has sexual relations with someone other than their spouse. Two
unmarried people cannot commit adultery. Adultery is a violation of a
marriage. Without a marriage, there cannot be adultery! The point of the
Matthean Jesus' saying at Mt 19:9 (in the context of Mt 19:3-9) is that the
first marriage (even after a divorce, although with exception) is still
binding, thus any sexual relationship with anyone else is adultery!
Implicit is that idea that it must continue to be adultery as long as the
first spouse is alive. The notion that one ONLY commits adultery during the
re-marriage ceremony, and that afterwards the second marriage is free from
adultery, has no merit from this text. The reasoning at Mt 19:3-9 is very
clear, namely a divorced remarried person "lives in adultery" (because it
violates the first marriage).

-Steven Craig Miller (

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