God Gives No Exception for Fornication (Mt. 19:9)

By Timothy Sparks


Until a person is willing to wrestle with the fact that no Greek word in Mt. 19:9 correctly translates into the idea of “exception,” that person’s exegesis will remain flawed. In over 500 occurrences of μὴ (mē or mh, “not”) by itself with no accompanying particle such as εἰ (ei, “if”) or ἐὰν (ean, “if”), μὴ (mē, “not”) nowhere in the Greek New Testament indicates an “exception.”

Additionally, if a person concludes that divorce for fornication is justifiable because of Mt. 19:9, then he has to affirm an unstated negation, that is, that divorce is justifiable because of fornication. The negative inference fallacy occurs when the negative of Mt. 19:9 is assumed: “If a man divorces his wife because of fornication and marries another, then he does not commit adultery.” Jesus does not say that, thus, the fallacy.

If one wishes to justify divorce and remarriage because of fornication, then as seen from Mt. 19:8 the justification for divorce is the hardness of heart of the apparently unforgiving husband. But even justifying divorce based on righteous hardheartedness is refuted by Jesus’ clear teaching that God’s will for marriage from the beginning has always been and remains permanency for life. Notice the Greek perfect tense of Mt. 19:8, “from the beginning it has not existed this way.” The perfect tense indicates an action that occurred in the past with continuing effects to the present. God has always hated humanity’s attempt to divide what he united (Mal. 2:16; Mt. 19:6).

Paul Dixon notes, “The translation ‘except’ is not only lexically without merit, but it is especially unfortunate if it conjures up the negation to the English reader. But that is precisely why the translators render it such, and it gives away their assumption of the negation. Porter and Buchanan, however, have shown that even the English ‘except’ does not necessarily imply the negation. As an example, they say: ‘All centers, except those over 6 feet tall, will fail in the NBA.’ Clearly, this is saying nothing about the success or failure of centers over 6 feet tall. That consideration is excluded from discussion. The point, rather, is to assert something about centers under 6 feet tall.

There is no good reason why mh in Matthew 19:9 (mh epi porneia, ‘except for immorality’) should not be translated by its normal ‘not.’ Literally, the translation would be something like, ‘not for immorality,’ or ‘setting aside the matter of porneia,’ the idea being to exclude porneia or immorality from consideration at this point, but certainly not to imply its negation” (https://timothysparks.com/2018/01/26/mh-epi-and-the-negative-inference-fallacy-of-matthew-199-paul-dixon).

Dixon also points out, “If we take MH as it normally is taken, simply as ‘not’ giving ‘not for immorality,’ then the idea is simply that the case of the immoral wife is not being considered in v. 9.

How does logic have any bearing here? What is normally inferred here is the negation. In logic notation we have this being affirmed:

If A and B, then C (If a man remarries after divorcing his wife and his wife was not immoral, then he commits adultery). This is v. 9.

If A and not B, then not C (If a man remarries after divorcing his wife and his wife was immoral, then he does not commit adultery).

The last statement is an invalid inference from the first, v. 9. The verse neither says the second statement, nor does it imply it” (http://www.ibiblio.org/bgreek/archives/97-05/msg00718.html).

If μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ (MH EPI PORNEIA) implies the negation, how do you get it? Can anyone provide just one precedent in the Greek New Testament or the LXX?


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2 responses to “God Gives No Exception for Fornication (Mt. 19:9)

  1. Mrs. Teresa Rilling

    Well done. so glad SOMEONE is talking about this!


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