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By Timothy Sparks
The philological evidence during the Koine period indicates that one can fornicate in marriage. For example, Hauck and Schulz in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Volume VI, page 587) state that during later Judaism (Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Josephus, the Rabbis) “the use of πορνεία etc. gradually broadened as compared with the original usage. In the first instance πορνεία is mostly ‘harlotry,’ ‘extra-marital intercourse,’ . . . . Materially, however, it often means ‘adultery,’ cf. ἐν πορνείᾳ ἐμοιχεύθη, Sir. 23:23.” They give additional evidence as well from passages such as Sir. 23:16-27.
Here is the Greek text of Sirach 23:23 (also known as Ecclesiasticus 23:23)–πρῶτον μὲν γὰρ ἐν νόμῳ ὑψίστου ἠπείθησεν καὶ δεύτερον εἰς ἄνδρα αὐτῆς ἐπλημμέλησεν καὶ τὸ τρίτον ἐν πορνείᾳ ἐμοιχεύθη καὶ ἐξ ἀλλοτρίου ἀνδρὸς τέκνα παρέστησεν (http://en.katabiblon.com/us/index.php?text=LXX&book=Sir&ch=23)
English translations of Sirach 23:23 (also known as Ecclesiasticus 23:23):
22 So it is with a woman who leaves her husband
and presents him with an heir by another man.
23 For first of all, she has disobeyed the law of the Most High;
second, she has committed an offense against her husband;
and third, through her fornication she has committed adultery
and brought forth children by another man.
RSV For first of all, she has disobeyed the law of the Most High; second, she has committed an offense against her husband; and third, she has committed adultery through harlotry and brought forth children by another man.
22 The same is true of a woman who is unfaithful to her husband and presents him with a child by another man. 23 In the first place, she has broken the Law of the Most High. In the second place, she has wronged her husband. And in the third place, she has made a whore of herself by committing adultery and bearing the child of a man not her husband.
CEBA: “First, she’s disobeyed the Law of the Most High; second, she’s wronged her husband; third, she’s committed adultery by her illicit sexual behavior and produced children by another man” (http://www.biblestudytools.com/ceba/sirach/23.html).
KJV of Ecclesiasticus 23:22-23–
22 Thus shall it go also with the wife that leaveth her husband, and bringeth in an heir by another.
23 For first, she hath disobeyed the law of the most High; and secondly, she hath trespassed against her own husband; and thirdly, she hath played the whore in adultery, and brought children by another man.
By Timothy Sparks
Jesus brought a new covenant. The new covenant went into effect after Jesus’ death, not before his death: “For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives” (Heb. 9:15-17, NASB).
The new covenant had no strength at all before his death. Jesus lived and died under the old covenant. “For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth” (Heb. 9:17, KJV). “For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives” (Heb. 9.17, NASB).
Some seem to have difficulty coming to grips with the fact that the Jews could not divorce for betrothal fornication or for marital adultery, as the penalty was death (Deut. 22:13ff). Jesus lived and died under God’s law.
The new covenant had no strength at all before Jesus died. Jesus did not give a different law concerning marriage and divorce than the law God established in the beginning (Mt. 19:4, 8). There was no divorce in the beginning. Jesus did not introduce divorce into God’s law of marriage.
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.