Matthew 19:1-12 Supplement
a supplement to chapter 5 in Is It
by Jeff Smelser
The following is a description and
critique of certain
interpretations of the exception
clause in Matthew 19:9 which were not included in my article in
the book, Is it
30-59), edited by Dennis G. Allan and Gary Fisher. For the full
description of works cited
here only in abbreviated form, the reader should consult the
endnotes accompanying my
article in that volume.
The Preteritive interpretation, the
Inclusive interpretation, the
interpretation, and the awkwardly styled Interpretive
interpretation are discussed herein.
Discussion of the "betrothal interpretation", which is
also mentioned in my
article, is not
available at the present time. None of these interpretations has
gained support from such
diverse quarters as has the so-called Rabbinic view.
The first two interpretations to be
discussed, the Preteritive and
the Inclusive, attempt
to rule out any true exception to true divorce, not by redefining πορνεία, but by redefining
μὴ ἐπί. Fitzmyer labels these
"subterfuges to avoid the obvious."1
Fellow Roman Catholic, Augustine Stock, calls them "attempts
to escape the
Essentially that espoused by Augustine,3 this
championed in this century by
Anglican J. P. Arendzen4 and Roman Catholic Bruce Vawter,5
and is, for all practical
purposes, the view defended by Thomas V. Fleming.6 It is aptly described by
and Gordon Wenham as "the 'no comment' view."7 Either μὴ ἐπί or
παρεκτός is taken to
mean "irrespective of, setting aside, independently
of."8 Thus in
both Mt. 5:32 and
is made to say, "Never mind" the meaning of Dt. 24:1.9
To arrive at this, Arendzen argued that
either Matthew's μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ is a "freer
rendering [than in 5:32] and a guess," or παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας
should be regarded as
the original reading of Mt. 19:9. Although Vawter did not follow
Arendzen in speculating
against the authenticity of μὴ ἐπί,
effort to buttress the
preteritive view, he argued
that λόγου πορνείας
in 5:32 is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew erwat dabar
thing).10 In this
his view was shown by Roman Catholic cleric A. Vaccari to
The remaining fallacies to be noted are:
(1) μὴ ἐπί does not
mean "irrespective of,"12
and (2) as it stands in 5:32 and 19:9 v.l., παρεκτός does not
"irrespective of " in the
sense required by the preteritive view.13
Like the Preteritive interpretation , the
relies on a novel
understanding of μὴ ἐπί. In setting
this interpretation, Roman
made "except for fornication" mean "even not
outside the case of
uncleanness," i.e., "even
inclusive of the case of uncleanness."14 Vawter rightly termed Brunec's
gymnastics."15 For an English discussion of
Brunec's view and
of the specific
arguments, see Vawter's 1954 article, pp. 160f.
Based on the alleged connection between
λόγου πορνείας and erwat dabar, Roman
Catholic Aidan Mahoney proposed that in Mt. 5:32 and 19:9, πορνεία is
"something unseemly [in the eyes of God],"16
between a Christian
unbeliever. Mahoney did not claim that such marriages were not in
marriages (although Heth and Wenham,17 as well as Ryrie,18
supposed he did claim this). In
the case of such a relationship, Mahoney concedes "grounds
in the eyes of God for
of legitimate marriage,"19 but "only when a legitimate
of grace in Christ rooted in faith"20 - in other words, only when the
marriage union is in
conflict with the spiritual union between the Christian and
Christ. Thus Mahoney holds the
Roman Catholic line against adultery as a just reason for
In spite of Mahoney's complex reasoning,
the purely gratuitous
nature of his
interpretation of πορνεία stands as a
objection to his view.
Furthermore, such an
interpretation of Mt. 19:9 is contradicted by Paul's teaching in
1 Corinthians 7:12-13, where
the believer is forbidden to leave the unbelieving spouse.
Indeed, as Mahoney points out, Paul
said the believer is not under bondage if the unbeliever departs,
but this is a far different
thing than saying the believer, at his discretion, may put away
This, according to Vawter, was proposed
by Roman Catholic J.
Grimm (died 1896)
and advocated by fellow Catholic A. Tafi.21 As Vawter describes it, the
supposes that Jesus, "having stated the absolute
indissolubility of marriage from the
law, proceeded to interpret the Mosaic concession of Dt 24,1 in
favor of the teaching of the
school of Shammai."22
Three objections can be noted. First, the
(as has been shown in
Is it Lawful?, pages 30-35) assumes that the discussion
in Mt. 19:1-9 had in view
Rabbinical dispute described in Gittin 9. Second, the exception
clause in Mt. 5:32 is made
incomprehensible. In a context where Jesus' point is the
insufficiency of the righteousness of
the scribes and the Pharisees, why would he have decided between
their rival interpretations of
Dt. 24:1, neither of which (according to the proponents of this
interpretation) was in accord
with His new teaching? Third, in Bruce Vawter's words, "it
attributes to Christ a highly
questionable exegesis [of Dt. 24:1] that would best be left to
Shammai and his school."
207, n. 39.
Texts," Biblical Theology Bulletin 8 (Feb.
9-10. Rather than making a linguistic argument,
Augustine drew this conclusion by supposing that a husband's
adultery is a greater
wrong when he has put an innocent wife away than if he has put a
wife away for
fornication. Augustine thought the husband wrong in both cases,
but Jesus "wished to
mention what is more important," i.e., more grievous sin.
Therefore, in reordering
Jesus' words, Matthew is "silent concerning the other."
4 J. P.
"Another Note on
Matthew XIX, 3-12," Clergy Review 21 (July,
1941):23-6. "Rewriting St. Matthew," The
Expositor 16 (Nov. 1918)
6 Thomas V.
Divorce" TS 24 (Mar. '63):106-20.
7 Heth and
(1955):149-51, as described
by Roman Catholics Dyson & Leeming in
Scripture 8 ('59):77f. Vawter later abandoned the
preteritive interpretation, but
nevertheless, in an article titled "Divorce and the New
Testament" (CBQ 29:534f,
12), he persisted in identifying λόγου πορνείας with the erwat
dabar of Dt.
24:1, citing the Shammaite transposition. See above, p.5.
12 In his
Greek, Roman Catholic M.
Zerwick said that in Mt. 19:9 "μή
only may but should mean 'except', not that μή =
'except' is of itself
because μή is here dependent upon the
introductory ὅσοι ἄν which is
equivalent to εἄν τις ('whoever = if
dismiss his wife μὴ ἑπὶ πορνείᾳ . . .') and thus we have
(ἐὰν) μή = 'unless', i.e. 'except'." (§ 442) Many other scholars could be cited
to show the true exceptive force of μὴ ἑπί.
Perhaps, however, the most significant here is Bruce Vawter, who
his preteritive interpretation as untenable. In 1977, Vawter said
of the exception
clauses, "These clauses must . . . certainly be regarded as
new view on the interpretation of the exception will be discussed
interpretation requires that παρεκτός mean "outside of" in
indifferent sense rather than an exclusive sense. The instances
wherein Arendzen found
the meaning "outside of" for παρεκτός
actually require the
exclusive sense, not
the indifferent sense. This is clearly demonstrated by Dyson and
Leeming, pp. 78-80.
"Tertio de clausulis
divortii" Verbum domini 27 (1949), as quoted in
Vawter, "The Divorce Clauses in Mt 5,32 and 19,9"
15 Ibid., 161, n. 24.
described his own preteritive view as "linguistic
simplicity" (p. 164), his characterazation of the inclusive
view is a classic case of the
pot calling the kettle black.
New Look at the
Divorce Clauses in Mt 5,32 and 19,9" CBQ 30
17 Heth &
20 Ibid., 35.