Reasons Mὴ Eπὶ (Mh Epi or Mē Epi) Should Not Be Translated “Except For” (Mt. 19:9)

By Timothy Sparks
tdsparks77@yahoo.com
http://www.timothysparks.com

In reading an English version of Mt. 19:9, many people seem to understand “except” as an exception. It is hard to get an exegesis correct if the translation is not correct or if the translation creates a misunderstanding.

Please consider the following reasons the Greek phrase μὴ ἐπὶ (mh epi or mē epi; Mt. 19:9) should not be translated “except for”:

1. Mὴ ἐπ (mh epi or mē epi; Mt. 19:9) should be translated “not over.” 

2. The only evidence in the Septuagint (LXX; the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) is that μὴ ἐπὶ means “not on/over/to/for.”

3. The only evidence in the New Testament is that μ ἐπ means “not on/over/to/for.”

4. Dr. Guenther states the following in “THE EXCEPTION PHRASES: EXCEPT πορνεία, INCLUDING πορνεία OR EXCLUDING πορνεία? (MATTHEW 5:32; 19:9)”  (http://www.tyndalehouse.com/tynbul/library/TynBull_2002_53_1_05_Guenther_ExceptionPhrases.pdf):

“Indeed, Basil, the 4th century (AD) bishop, who interprets the text of Matthew quotes both Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 (presumably from memory) and instinctively writes the ‘exception’ phrase in 19:9 as εἰ μὴ ἐπί (except for), in contrast with the simple μὴ ἐπί (excluding) of Matthew. This reinforces our argument that μὴ ἐπί without the conditional conjunction does not mean ‘except’” (p. 94; p. 12 of the pdf).
“In Matthew 19:9, then, the divorce saying reads, ‘whoever divorces his wife (apart from/excluding/not introducing [the factor of] πορνεία) and marries another commits adultery’. It does not mean ‘except’ as it has traditionally been interpreted. Had the Gospel writer wanted to introduce an exception, he would have used εἰ μὴ ἐπί or ἐὰν μὴ ἐπί” (p. 95; p. 13 of the pdf).

“Our conclusion regarding the meaning of the μὴ ἐπί phrase in Matthew 19:9 is that it must be understood as, ‘apart from πορνεία, ‘πορνεία aside’, or ‘excluding the subject of πορνεία’. It does not mean ‘except’ as it has traditionally been interpreted” (p. 96; p. 14 of the pdf).

5. Many people think the English preposition “except” means “unless.” The primary definition of the English preposition “except” is “excluding” (see definition of “except”). The definition of the English conjunction “unless” is “except if” (see definition of “unless”). “Except/Excluding” does not mean “unless/except if.”

The proper understanding of μὴ ἐπὶ is “not over/excluding.”  Mὴ ἐπὶ does not mean “except if for/unless for.” If μὴ ἐπὶ is rendered “except for” and if people misunderstand it to mean “unless,” that misunderstanding then might cause people to believe that Jesus taught in contradiction to God’s law.

  • The Jews could not under God’s law grant divorce over adultery or fornication (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22).
  • If Jesus had changed God’s law while he was on the earth, he would have violated it (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6).
  • Jesus did not come to change God’s law but to fulfill it (Mt. 5:17-19; Lk. 24:44).
  • Christ’s new covenant went into effect after his death (Heb. 9:16-17), not before his death.

6. Jesus calls us back to the way God instituted marriage, which did not include divorce (Mt. 19:4-8).

7. The evidence provided is sufficient to show that μὴ ἐπὶ should not be translated “except for.”

For a comprehensive discussion of translating Mt. 19:9, please see Explaining the Translation of Mt. 19:9 by Dr. Leslie McFall.

See also The “Except” List: Where It Is Necessary for Divorce and Remarriage to Be.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “Reasons Mὴ Eπὶ (Mh Epi or Mē Epi) Should Not Be Translated “Except For” (Mt. 19:9)

  1. Brother Tim, how do we know that this particular verse was not changed several times.

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    • There is no manuscript in existence that supports the Textus Receptus reading of εἰ (“if”) before μὴ (“not”) in Mt. 19:9. All the manuscript evidence supports the omission of εἰ. Based on overwhelming evidence, the correct reading is μὴ ἐπὶ (“not over”). The text is firmly μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ (“not over fornication”) and is the reading of the Majority Text (M-Text), the Greek New Testament (GNT) and all other texts that do not follow the Textus Receptus tradition.

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  2. Here is a few thoughts on your premises:

    // The Jews could not under God’s law grant divorce over adultery or fornication (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22).//

    Then why does Matthew 1:19 appear that Joseph had the option to put away Mary privately?

    ///If Jesus had changed God’s law while he was on the earth, he would have violated it (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6).///

    //Jesus did not come to change God’s law but to fulfill it (Mt. 5:17-19; Lk. 24:44).//

    //Christ’s new covenant went into effect after his death (Heb. 9:16-17), not before his death.///

    Then why would He choose a betrothed bride and not a virgin single woman? Yes, we know the truth, but what was Joseph and Mary’s excuse to those who knew she was clearly pregnant before the consummation of the marriage? Why wasn’t she stoned? Could it be that Christ was fulfilling the Law of marriage and the clause in Matthew 19:9 was directly related to Christ’s own birth?

    Just some thoughts to consider.

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    • Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22 was God’s law under which Joseph lived and nothing in God’s Word would change what was written in God’s law. There would be no public divorce if it was to be a private dismissal, otherwise it would not have been private, which is what the text states of Joseph’s intentions. Regardless, Joseph did not divorce her publicly nor dismiss her privately, so there is a lot of speculation among some, going so far as to infuse betrothal into a clear discussion of a God-joined union as is the context of Matthew 19.

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    • We could ask some pertinent questions to help in this study:

      (1) Where is it contained in God’s Hebrew law that a betrothed man was either to divorce his fiancee or could divorce her?

      (2) Is there any other punishment than death stated in God’s Hebrew law for fornication?

      (3) I do not believe Mary was guilty of fornication, do you?

      If she was not guilty of fornication, she could not be stoned and Joseph was commanded not to dismiss her but rather to marry her. If Joseph had dismissed her, he would have been going against God . . . and we know how that would have ended . . . badly for Joseph. I hope we are agreed on this point.

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