Re: Matt 19:9 & the Gnomic Present Tense

From: Steven Craig Miller (
Date: Tue Oct 12 1999 - 13:11:03 EDT

To: Paul Dixon,

SCM: << ... 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). >>

PD: << If, then, a man divorces his wife, not for fornication, and remarries,
then he is living in adultery as long as he is remarried (according to your
view). If so, then what should he do to correct this? Leave the second
marriage (it is that, according to Deut 24) and go back to his true wife?
As Charles pointed out, this is forbidden in the same passage (v. 4).
Should he leave the second wife and remain single? The Deut 24 passage
seems to recognize the second marriage (if the latter husband detests her
and writes her a certificate of divorce, v. 3). If so, then the laws of
divorce apply here as well. He is forbidden from divorcing her.
Where does that leave us? Apparently trapped in an adulterous relationship
with no rightful course of action. I don't think so. >>

I don't believe that the saying at Mt 19:9 was intended to present a course
of action for a divorced person who had remarried, rather its intent was to
state that remarriage (with one exception) was unacceptable to the Matthean
Jesus. I find it ironic that anyone could read Mt 19:3-9 and come away
thinking that being remarried was acceptable to the Matthean Jesus. One can
only guess how the Matthean Jesus might have handled this issue if pressed
for an answer. Perhaps he would have suggested that one should divorce
one's second spouse and remain celibate. The second divorce might be
allowed, either because it was thought never to have been binding in the
first place, or because it was thought that being previously married
implied infidelity towards any subsequent marriage. But just because you
find the Matthean Jesus' ethics difficult, that is not a serious historical
argument against the translation "lives in adultery." For anyone to suggest
that the Matthean Jesus would have thought that divorced-remarried persons
were NOT "living in adultery" merely because they asked God to forgive them
for remarrying, appears to be nothing more than special pleading.

IMO, my last point settles the issue. How is remarrying adultery? It is
adultery because the first marriage is thought to be still binding. That is
the only way it could be deemed adultery! Is the first marriage some how
annulled because the remarried person asks for forgiveness? Of course not.
There cannot be any serious doubt that the Matthean Jesus held that the
first marriage continues to be binding. Thus it is absolutely clear that
the translation "lives in adultery" reflects the thought of the Matthean
Jesus. For as long as the first marriage is thought to be binding, the
second marriage would be thought to be adultery!

-Steven Craig Miller (

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