What Is Jesus Saying in Mt. 5:32?

By Timothy Sparks

[I am using the Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Textform 2005, which is also the reading of the Majority Text: ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, ὅτι ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ, παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας, ποιεῖ αὐτὴν μοιχᾶσθαι· καὶ ὃς ἐὰν ἀπολελυμένην γαμήσῃ μοιχᾶται.]

“But I say to you that who, suppose, may have dismissed his wife, discounting an account of fornication causes her to commit adultery; and who, suppose, may have married a dismissed woman commits adultery” (Mt. 5:32, translation mine).

My understanding of Mt. 5:32 is as follows:

1. Anyone who dismisses his wife (excluding/discounting an account of fornication) causes her to commit adultery.

2. Any man who marries a woman who is dismissed by her husband commits adultery.

Proposition 1 states that the action of dismissing one’s wife has the ultimate effect of causing her to commit adultery, given that she would inevitably marry another.

Proposition 2 is an independent clause (a stand alone statement) indicating that any man who marries a dismissed woman commits adultery.

Jesus denounces the husband’s action of dismissing his wife. He places the blame on the husband for her consequent adultery. Parektos logou porneias (“excluding (discounting) an account of fornication”) serves as an exemption clause concerning the husband’s accountability and is linked to poiei (“causes/makes”). The focus is on the word “causes.” The husband did not cause her to commit adultery if she engaged in fornication before he dismissed her. Her sin is her sin. She caused herself to commit adultery through her fornication. In such a case, the husband cannot be blamed for causing her to commit adultery. 

Jesus does not give permission to divorce. Nothing in the verse should cause us to read “does not commit adultery.” Jesus says nothing to suggest that the husband or wife can marry another without committing adultery.

In summary, Jesus blames the husband for causing his wife to commit adultery by dismissing her. Jesus does not exonerate the husband from blame if his wife engages in adultery after he dismisses her.

[Note on the Greek text: Παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας (parektos logou porneias) modifies the main verb ποιεῖ“causes/makes” (not the subjunctive ἀπολύσῃ, “may have dismissed”), serving as an exemption to blame, not as an exception to divorce. Jesus does not approve of a man sending away his wife for committing porneia.]

For the “matter of fornication” see The Exemption Clause (Mt. 5:32).

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Filed under MDR, Mt. 5:32

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