What Does “Except” Mean in Mt. 19:9?

By Timothy Sparks


Many seem to believe that the word “except” always creates an “exception.” Perhaps this is especially true when it comes to Mt. 19:9. Along the same lines, there is a lot of confusion when many believe that “unless” (definition: “except if”) is a perfectly good synonym for “except” (definition: “excluding”). However, a study of the word “except” in English (and the Greek phrase mh epi1) may be helpful. As seen below in Merriam-Webster’s definition2, “except” can be used as a preposition, conjunction or verb:


Definition of except for English Language Learners

: not including (someone or something) : other than (something or someone)


Definition of except for English Language Learners

: to leave out (someone or something) : to not include (someone or something)


Definition of except for English Language Learners

—used to introduce a statement that indicates the only person or thing that is not included in or referred to by a previous statement

—used to introduce a statement that explains the reason why something is not possible, will not happen, etc.

Noticing the difference between an “exception”3 and an “exclusion”4 from Oxford Dictionaries should also prove helpful:


A person or thing that is excluded from a general statement or does not follow a rule.

‘he always plays top tunes, and tonight was no exception’


The process of excluding or the state of being excluded.

‘he had a hand in my exclusion from the committee’

In the text of Mt. 19:9, epi (“over”) in the Greek phrase mh epi (“not over”) [as well as “except” in English] is used as a preposition, not as a conjunction. Therefore, we should not read “except” as a conjunction, which would create an exception to what Christ said. We should read “except” as a preposition, which is used to exclude fornication from the action of dismissal.5 Understanding that Jesus did not provide an exception to divorce but rather stated an exclusion of fornication from the action of dismissal can help us understand that Jesus was only addressing a sending away that was “not over” (mh epi) fornication (thus, a non-fornication dismissal).

If we wish to know the historical context of God’s law at the time Jesus spoke the words contained in Matthew 19, we can learn quickly that under Hebrew law (the law under which Christ lived and died), God stated the death penalty, not the divorce penalty for consensual sexual immorality (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:13-24). Jesus was in no way trying to create an exception to the rule he had previously concluded: “What therefore God united, a human do not divide” (Mt. 19:6, translation mine).6 Jesus was not trying to state something different than the way God established marriage in the beginning. Jesus clearly states concerning divorce: “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to dismiss your wives, but from the beginning it has not existed this way” (Mt. 19:8, translation mine).7


1For further study of mh epi and “except,” please see the following articles:
5For a more technical analysis, please see Matthew 19:9 English Parallel to Greek Diagram.
6See also:
7For a brief study of Mt. 19:8 and the Greek perfect tense, please see: Bound for Life, Released Only by Death.


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6 responses to “What Does “Except” Mean in Mt. 19:9?

  1. Joe McClure

    Thank you for putting this online. More than you know will see this, and the seed will be sown, either to doubt false doctrine, or to affirm truth. Thanks for your work in Christ.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ocedir Teixeira

    I am loving your articles! They are the most in truth!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Dr. Joseph A. Webb

    Timothy; Keep on keeping on! I have been teaching this truth for over 40 years, and have written two books to establish the things you are writing about. When I began teaching this, I only knew of two others doing so. Today, there are over 100 ministries that we know of, and many Christian leaders in many other countries are picking up this truth and carrying it to their nations.
    Someone asked me why I would ever choose such a ministry, since it stirs up much animosity. I told them I realized it would since the first preacher God ever called to preach this message lost his head for it.
    May God give you wisdom and much fruit.
    Dr. Joseph A. Webb; President of Christian Principles Restored Ministries International, Inc. Longwood, FL. Josh 1:8, 9

    Liked by 1 person

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