What Does “Except/Excluding” Modify (Mt. 5:32)?

By Timothy Sparks


There is debate about the Greek grammar and word order of Mt. 5:32, “But I say to you that who, suppose, may have dismissed his wife, excluding 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). Based on the previously published article “What Is Jesus Saying in Mt. 5:32?”  (https://timothysparks.com/2015/03/06/what-is-jesus-saying-in-mt-532), I received a question (and my response below) that while few today may ask or consider, it is worth calling attention to the discussion.


“Is it not so, that in standard english the order of the words of proposition 1 would allow for it to be an exception to divorce? Is there something in the order of the words that make you feel sure that the parektos modifies the ’causes’ and not the ‘may have dismissed’? I mean, it makes meaningful sense, but is there an extra in the grammar or word order?”


The focus of the text of Mt. 5:31-32 is on what the man “causes/makes” (poiei) his wife do (“commit adultery”) when he dismisses her. The focus is not on allowing an “exception” (parektos, “excluding”) in which Jesus favorably authorizes divorce.

Additionally, notice the focus in the last phrase of what is also caused in the cascade of events, “and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery” (Mt. 5:32). No exception allowing for divorce there either.

Notice also that the man, whether (1) married, (2) divorced or (3) single (the text does not specify, but if he is married or divorced, he commits adultery with a woman regardless of her marital status), commits adultery when he marries a divorced woman. It does not matter why the woman is divorced. A man, whether (1) married, (2) divorced or (3) single commits adultery marrying a divorced woman regardless of why she is divorced. Later, Jesus says, “And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mk. 10:12).

Again, Jesus’ focus in Mt. 5:32 is that the husband who dismisses his wife causes her to commit adultery. One of the repeated and consistent statements of Jesus is, “and marries another commits adultery” (Mt. 19:9; Mk. 10:11-12; Lk. 16:18). Jesus clearly warns about the adulterous cascade of events. Within Scripture, God gives no exception favorably authorizing divorce or marriage to another.


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