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Did Jesus Give “New Testament” Teaching About Divorce While Under the Old Covenant (Heb. 9:15-17)?

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.

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Dr. McFall: Audio of Matthew 19:9


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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?”  (, 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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“Not Do Divide” (Mt. 19:6)

By Timothy Sparks


Many English versions of Mt. 19:6 have a reading similar to “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” A word-for-word translation of the Greek text is “So no more are they two, but one flesh. What therefore the God united, a human not do divide.”

Briefly addressing the Greek phrase μὴ χωριζέτω (“not do divide,” Mt. 19:6b) we have: μὴ (“not”) which negates the imperative χωριζέτω (“do divide”). So how do we translate and interpret “a human not do divide”? Does it mean: (1) a human has the ability to divide what God united but should not or (2) a human has neither the implied ability nor God’s sanction to attempt to do so?

Based on “So they are continuously never again two, but they are continuously one flesh” (please see Jesus has already shown the impossibility of becoming two again. The two united into one will never be two again.

In view of what Jesus says, it is impossible to divide “what” (neuter gender, referring to “male” and “female”) God united back into the original two [please see What Is the “What” (Mt. 19:6)?,]. Therefore, Jesus is not merely saying “let not man divide” (as though Jesus may imply human ability to divide what God has united). Jesus does not imply that humans are able to accomplish a successful and approved severance of what God united. “What therefore God united, a human cannot divide.”

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The Institutions of God (Marriage & the Church)

By Timothy Sparks

Those who love God must be zealous for what God has created and must be eager to do God’s will. In discussing those things that God has created and what God’s will is, it is necessary for us to understand the institutions of God. We begin with a definition from Oxford Dictionaries of “institution”:

1 An organization founded for a religious, educational, professional, or social purpose.

‘an academic institution’

‘a certificate from a professional institution’

1.1 An organization providing residential care for people with special needs.

‘about 5 per cent of elderly people live in institutions’

1.2 An established official organization having an important role in a society, such as the Church or parliament.

‘the institutions of democratic government’

1.3 A large company or other organization involved in financial trading.

‘City institutions’

2 An established law or practice.

‘the institution of marriage’

If an institution is from God, we should be able to answer these following five questions from Scripture:

(1) What is the institution?

(2) When did God institute it?

(3) Where did God institute it?

(4) Why did God institute it?

(5) How did God institute it?

From Scripture we can clearly identify at least two divine institutions:

(I) Marriage/Family (Genesis 1-2)

(II) The Church (Acts 2)

We can answer the questions what, when, where, why and how God instituted them:


(1) What is the institution?

Answer: Marriage/Family

(2) When did God institute it?

Answer: The Beginning, the sixth day of Creation (Genesis 1:26-31)

(3) Where did God institute it?

Answer: The Garden of Eden (Genesis 1-2)

(4) Why did God institute it?

Answer: Companionship and reproduction (Genesis 1-2)

(5) How did God institute it?

Answer: God brought the woman to the man (Gen. 2:22-23).


(1) What is the institution?

Answer: The Church

(2) When did God institute it?

Answer: The Day of Pentecost (Acts 2)

(3) Where did God institute it?

Answer: Jerusalem (Acts 2)

(4) Why did God institute it?

Answer: Human salvation and to glorify God (Acts 2; Ephesians 3)

(5) How did God institute it?

Answer: Based on the perfect life, sacrifice and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus, those who believed, repented and were immersed into the forgiveness of their sins God added to the church (Acts 2:36-47)

Can you think of other institutions that are from God?

Some have suggested the following two:

(I) Polygyny

Definition: “The practice of a man having more than one wife at the same time”

(II) Divorce for sexual immorality (fornication/adultery)

Many recognize that divorce is not an institution of God since God instituted marriage and humans cannot divide (with divorce) what God united (Mt. 19:6). Also, many realize the truth that God did not institute divorce and God actually hates such a human institution (Mal. 2:16). However, many believe God did start the practice of divorce in the case of an unfaithful, sexually immoral spouse.

In our following attempt to answer the questions of what, when, where, why and how to the two previously mentioned (as we seek to test whether or not they are from God), we will notice some difficulties in providing answers from Scripture:


(1) What is the institution?

Answer: Polygyny

(2) When did God institute it?

Answer: ???

(3) Where did God institute it?

Answer: ???

(4) Why did God institute it?

Answer: ???

(5) How did God institute it?

Answer: ???


(1) What is the institution?

Answer: Divorce for sexual immorality (fornication/adultery)

(2) When did God institute it?

Answer: ??? The Beginning? Deuteronomy 24? Jeremiah 3 or Ezekiel 23? God did not institute it; men did?

(3) Where did God institute it?

Answer: ??? The Garden of Eden? The Wilderness Wanderings? God did not; men did?

(4) Why did God institute it?

Answer: ??? The hardness of human hearts? To punishment the sinner? To free the faithful spouse to remarry in order to be happy?

(5) How did God institute it?

Answer: ??? Through Moses? Through God’s Son Jesus? God did not; men did?

It should become clear that God did not institute polygyny or any other form of polygamy. It should be equally clear that God did not institute divorce or any of its forms, such as divorce for fornication. Polygamy and divorce are not institutions of God. They are not from God.

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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” (

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” (

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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No Manuscript Support for “If” (Mt. 19:9)

By Timothy Sparks


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. The following link contains a list of Greek texts:


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A Meaningful Difference Between Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9

By Timothy Sparks


Many seem to think that Jesus is saying the same thing in Mt. 5:32 and Mt. 19:9. Often the two passages are referred to as “parallel passages.” We stop to ask the obvious question: “Is Jesus saying the same thing in both passages?”

First, notice that “makes/causes” (ποιεῖ) occurs in Mt. 5:32 and does not occur in Mt. 19:9. In Mt. 5:32 Jesus is focused on what the husband causes his wife to do, namely to commit adultery. Jesus does not address the same scenario in Mt. 19:9 as he does in Mt. 5:32.

To observe additional differences please see the following:

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Hebrew Death Penalty for Adultery: Moses to Christ by Leslie McFall (Part 2)

According to some the Romans took away the traditional right of the Sanhedrin to apply the death penalty for adultery, among other capital offences, so that this left the Jews unable, and disabled, to enforce the death penalty for any sin that God required the death penalty for.234 [Note 234: John Ignatius Döllinger, The First Age of Christianity and the Church, translated from the German by Henry Nutcombe Oxenham (1st ed; London: Allen, 1866), see Appendix II. “The Right of the Sanhedrim over Life and Death” (pp. 304-09). It is thought by many that Jn 18:31 implies that the Roman government had deprived the Sanhedrin of the power of life and death. Josephus says that the Sanhedrin could not hold a court without the Roman Procurator’s consent (Jos. Arch. xx. 9, 1). The Talmud notes that forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem (in AD 70), Israel lost the power of life and death. Against this, it would be strange if Pilate, in telling the Jews to judge Christ themselves, publicly insulted the rulers, if they knew that they could not do what he told them to do. Döllinger points to the Romans allowing subjected people to live by their own laws (p. 305), and Josephus makes the high priest, Ananus, and Titus himself declare that the Romans had confirmed and secured to the Jews the free use of their laws; even after war broke out Titus offered to the Jews autonomy, if they would submit, which, they, therefore, clearly had not lost (Jos. Arch. xvi. 9, 4; Cf. 13, 1. Bell. Jud. vi. 6, 2; 3,5). Döllinger claims that all Jewish writing of that date speak of ‘autonomy’ as the thing to strive for and retain.] This was to fulfil Jesus’ own prophecy of the manner of His death, which was decreed to be by crucifixion. To be deprived of the ability to obey God’s commands was surely an indictment of the ruling class—the high priesthood—by God Himself.

Jesus was well aware that God had not granted the Jews the option to divorce their wives for adultery/fornication, so that sexual offences by females (married and unmarried) could never be commuted to divorce without direct authority from God, and no such right was ever granted to the Jews by God. So, to commute the death penalty to divorce was unlawful in the eyes of God. Consequently when Jesus referred to the upper limits of the causes the Jews were traditionally using to divorce their wives, from the time they came out of Egypt to the day Jesus spoke, these limits embraced every possible cause, from the most trivial cause, going right up the most heinous crime of fornication (which embraced adultery), but not including that offence, which had to be punished by death, Jesus’ statement in effect covered every conceivable cause that a Jew might nominate to be a ‘cause’ for divorce, and He condemned all divorces based on any cause that they traditionally used to get rid of their wives.

Up until the time that the Romans took away the Jews’ right to live according to the laws of God, they were under a strict obligation not to divorce for fornication. That particular sin, and the judgment God imposed on it, was not up for discussion. Divorce for fornication was never an option. So, when Jesus said, ‘not over fornication,’ He used it as the limit up to which the Jews had been traditionally able to get a divorce for non-fornication causes. And it was the current practice, without explicitly breaking any law of God (for divorce per se was not outlawed by God), that Jesus now condemned and abolished it in His new kingdom, the Church.

Jesus, in effect was saying, that any man who got a divorce for any cause up to the most heinous of all deserving causes, namely, fornication, which was to be punished by death, did so unlawfully. So the practice of the Hebrews/Jews from the time they multiplied in Egypt until Jesus’ day was tolerated by God as an evil manifestation of unregenerated men. God did not forcibly prevent the evil of divorce from being part and parcel of the evil condition that Adam’s sin had brought into being in the lives of all men toward their wives.

So Jesus’ use of ‘not over fornication’ (or, ‘not over fornication’) meant that He had in mind all the other causes that the Jews had been traditionally employing to get a divorce right up to the crime of fornication, and He condemned all these other causes. It was as comprehensive a way of referring to all causes as He could encompass in the minimum of words. It was lawful for the Jews to apply the death penalty for all capital offences, including all sins of fornication and adultery (Deut 22:22; Lev 20:10). It was not lawful for them to divorce their wives for capital offences, such as fornication, and the Pharisees who questioned Jesus knew the law. So when they asked Jesus, “Is it lawful . . . ?” Jesus replied in the language of the lawyer, “Anyone who divorces his wife for a noncapital offence and marries another commits adultery.” The phrase ‘for a non-capital offence’ is the same thing as ‘not over fornication.’ Jesus used the legal negative to point to whatever is left over.

The Jews knew that it was unlawful to get a divorce on the grounds of fornication, because God had specifically laid down the death penalty for that particular ‘cause’ (Deut 22:22; Lev 20:10). So, while Jesus used a negative statement, ‘not over fornication,’ He was, in effect, using it in a positive manner to define the upper limit of what constituted a ‘cause’ for divorce (which was the way the question had been framed by the Pharisees). He defined the upper limit as well as the lower limit, when He used the phrase ‘not over fornication,’ and it was within these boundaries that the Jews had traditionally obtained their grounds to divorce their wives.

In a head-to-head confrontation if you can corner your opponent to end up on the wrong side of the law, then he is broken. Jesus knew that no Jewish lawyer could change the law of God over the capital punishment for the sin of fornication/adultery. Everyone knew that the lawful penalty was death, not divorce, and no lawyer had ever tried to rewrite the law. So both Jesus and the Pharisees were on the right side of the law in not permitting divorce for fornication. To the question, ‘Is it lawful to divorce for fornication?’ the Jews would be forced to reply, ‘It is unlawful to divorce for fornication,’ but under their breath they would mutter, ‘If we can’t divorce her for fornication, we will get rid of her using our traditional ‘ervat dãbãr excuse.’ So the metaphorical use of ‘ervat dãbãr in Deuteronomy 24:1 could not refer to fornication (so rabbi Shammai was wrong). It could only refer to a non-capital offence in the description that God gives of the evil man who divorces his wife in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

The revolution that Jesus brought about was that He declared that all divorces obtained for non-capital offences (such as through an ‘ervat dãbãr or hatred) were now a sin against His Father’s new dispensation of Grace into which Jew and non-Jew were invited to enter by faith, and by faith to appropriate the life and work of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, for the ‘righteousness of God’ is obtained only through the Lord Jesus Christ (, pages 176-178).

The Romans did not interfere with the right of the Sanhedrin to impose the death penalty if that was the law of their religion, but they took away the Sanhedrin’s right to inflict the death penalty for civil matters. Note the difference. The Jews brought a civil charge against Jesus, “If he were not an evil doer, we had not delivered him to you” (Jn 18:30).330 They dropped the religious blasphemy charge under which they could have put Jesus to death, because they did not want to have His blood on their hands. They schemed to get the Romans to kill Jesus, hence they were technically and legally right to say, “It is not lawful [under Roman law] for us to put any man to death for the civil offence of ‘being an evil doer’” (Jn 18:31).

The fact that it was prophesied that no bone of Jesus would be broken in His death (cf. Jn 18:32) meant that if the Sanhedrin had convicted Jesus of blasphemy, as they did, it would have meant that the prophecy would not have been fulfilled. “Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He has spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now you have heard his blasphemy” (Matt. 26:65). With this, compare John 10:33: “The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we do not stone you, but for blasphemy; and because that you, being a man, make yourself God.” The fact that the prophecy was fulfilled meant that God was in total control of the legal procedures, and even had the Chief Priest prophesy that Jesus would die on behalf of the nation.

God planned that the Romans would be in charge of His people when He sent His Son into the world to be its Saviour. His death had to be by crucifixion and not by stoning. Therefore He could not be killed by a religious judge but by a civil judge, and on a civil charge and not on a religious charge. Since the Romans were in control of all civil punishments, the Sanhedrin had to accuse Jesus of a civil offense to get a civil death sentence passed on Jesus, not realising that they were playing into the hand of God, who had predetermined the manner of His Son’s death via a Roman crucifixion.

We now have the full background to Caiaphas’s statement that, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death” (Jn 18:31). They had brought a civil charge against Jesus, not a religious charge, so they were correct that Moses did not give the Levitical priesthood authority to deal with civil matters. They were not the national police force. Their duties were purely to do with the service of the Temple and insuring that that was not brought into disrepute. So they were correct in saying that they did not have authority to handle civil, capital punishment matters.

Josephus is a solid witness that the death penalty existed in his day for fornication and adultery, under Roman rule; and Paul persecuted the Christians “unto death” while under Roman authority (Acts 22:4; cf. 22:20; 8:1). Note Paul’s statement, “and many of the saints did I shut up in prison having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them” (Acts 26:31). Here we see that persecution came from the chief priests who had authority to put Christians to death under Roman rule. So much for the misinformation put out by the supporters of the betrothal interpretation that the Jews could not exercise the death penalty in the case of adultery and fornication. It is further proof of the power of the Sanhedrin to impose capital punishment that the Mishnah upheld the death penalty for adultery, see Sanhedrin 7:3,9; B. Sanh. 52b, 55b, and 66b. Nowhere in the Mishnah, nor the Talmuds, is divorce ever substituted for the death penalty in the case of adultery or fornication.331 But you will not find this statement in works supporting the betrothal interpretation. We also have John 8 and Roger Aus’s evidence to throw into the mix (Ibid., 286-287).

We noted that Paul was given official letters by the full Sanhedrin in Jerusalem to suppress Christianity even ‘unto death.’ How did Paul achieve this? He tells us in Acts 26:11, “And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.” It was blasphemy to call Jesus the Son of God, because that would be to make Himself equal to God, as the high priest pointed out at Jesus’ trial (Mt 26:65; cf. Jn 10:33). No Christian would deny this, so it was easy for Paul to trap any Christian by asking him or her this one question.

Now the punishment for blasphemy was death by stoning; so this was how Paul engineered their deaths. When he brought back his Jewish Christian prisoners, the Sanhedrin had no option but to stone all those whom Paul had compelled to commit blasphemy. Here we have the definitive proof that the death penalty for religious crimes had not been taken away by the Roman authorities.

Betrothal supporters claim that “Being under Roman rule, the Jews had to have the consent of the Roman rulers and could not act on their own to put any man to death.” I would deny this and point out the Scripture that states: “I [Paul] verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth, which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests, and when they were put to death I gave my voice against them” (Acts 26:9-10). When Pilate gave the Sanhedrin the opportunity to put Jesus to death [for blasphemy] they refused to accept the offer. But the very offer shows that the Roman authorities recognised that the Sanhedrin did have the power from God to put men to death for religious blasphemy. If they did not have this power, then only Pilate had this power, as betrothal supporters want to believe.

There is no precedent that I am aware of where a Roman governor could delegate his power to a third party to put someone to death. The fact that Pilate could tell the Sanhedrin to use their (not his) power to put Jesus to death “according to your [death penalty] law,” shows that the Jews always had this power.

Paul knew that the Sanhedrin had the power to discipline God’s people legitimately, both from God and the Romans, and that he was the cause of putting many Christians to death.

It is a keynote statement of the supporters of the betrothal solution to say that because the Romans took away the Jewish right to inflict capital punishment on any man (cf. Jn 18:31) that this justified the rabbis bringing in divorce in place of the prescribed death penalty, and Jesus just meekly fell in behind the rabbis, like an ignorant Jew, and took His lead from them.

Rather than portraying Jesus as at the mercy of compromising changes to God’s Law (brought about by the rabbis?), supporters of the betrothal interpretation should stand back and view the bigger picture and ask, Why did God take away the nation’s independent status in the first place?

We have evidence as early as the fifteenth-century BC to the fifth-century BC from Elephantine in Egypt that divorce was an everyday occurrence and that divorce has a polluting effect on the land in which it occurs, and “causes the land to sin” (Deut 24:4). Judea was certainly a polluted land by the time the Romans took control of it. If the Romans did prevent the Jews from implementing the Mosaic law on adulterers and fornicators (which, we have shown, is not likely), then God was shutting them up to having to live with their adulterous wives, because He provided no alternative punishment for this particular sin. It was unlawful to substitute divorce for the death penalty.

The one question that supporters of the betrothal interpretation cannot answer is: Why did Jesus change the death penalty into a divorce penalty in the case of the unfaithful espoused wife, but not in the case of the unfaithful married wife? If the rabbis had not already altered the death penalty into a divorce penalty due to their statement in John 18:31 (that it was not lawful, under Roman rule, for them to put a man to death), then Jesus, on His own authority must have altered the Law in favour of letting the unfaithful espoused bride get off scot free, but would not extend the same judgment and justice to the unfaithful married wife. Yet both committed the same sin, and both were defiled in God’s eyes. If Jesus did not extend divorce to the unfaithful married woman, then the death penalty was still in operation in her case, but not in the case of the unfaithful, betrothed ‘wife,’ if the supporters of the betrothal interpretation are correct.

It is not relevant to argue that one woman was in a ‘one flesh’ relationship with a man, while the other was not. Under the Law, both ‘wives’ are subject to the death penalty if they were unfaithful. One is in a one-flesh union, but the other is not. But God dispenses justice in demanding death for both wives. Hence the ‘one-flesh’ status is irrelevant. We are back to God being consistent and Jesus being inconsistent in how they punish the same sin, but only because a wrong assumption has been imposed on the text of Matthew 19:9.

The assumption is that a married woman cannot commit fornication or prostitution; that fornication is the sin of single, unmarried persons, male and female. This assumption might have been sufficient in the days of Daniel Whitby (1638–1726)(see 6.6.8.), when the data to the contrary was not available, but it is surprising to find this ignorance of the facts still paraded as a linguistic fact by modern supporters today.

We pointed out earlier that the betrothal interpretation had its origin in a corrupt Greek text dated to 1516 in the case of Matthew 19:9. No critical edition of the Greek New Testament has accepted Erasmus’s tampered text, yet supporters of the betrothal interpretation continue to read an exception clause in Matthew 19:9 as if these were the words of Jesus! They are the words of Erasmus! But most supporters of the betrothal interpretation are living in the past, and living on outdated research.

The fact that Jesus’ reputation as an infallible teacher is brought into question by this interpretation is hidden from them. When it is pointed out to them that Jesus altered God’s Law to allow divorce for some sexual sins but not for others, and in this He was no different from Hillel or Shammai, it is only then that they throw away this incompetent explanation, and begin looking around for another, more biblical solution, which would harmonise with all of Jesus’ statements on divorce and remarriage, and explain the practice of the Early Church in never allowing remarriage to follow a separation by an unbeliever (Ibid., 290-291).

It is speculated that divorce replaced the death penalty during the Roman occupation of Judah, and this has been used to justify the rabbinic departure from the punishments laid down in the law. Statements in the Talmuds (Sanh. 41a; Yer. Sanh. i. 18a, vii. 24b) indicate that the death penalty was removed from the Jews 40 years before the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. Jesus died in AD 29, which was 41 years before the Temple was destroyed. Could it be that the misuse of the death penalty by the Sanhedrin in Jesus’ day resulted in the death penalty being removed from the Sanhedrin for religious crimes? Under the cloak of killing Jesus for a religious crime of blasphemy the Sanhedrin could kill off political enemies. Under a similar cloak, if a man suspected his wife of adultery but he did not have the necessary eye-witnesses to convict her (as in Jn 8), he could divorce her anyway for some other petty offence. So divorce for adultery or fornication could be got through the backdoor. It was preferable to get rid of a wife this way for suspected adultery, rather than the mother of his children being publicly stoned for adultery, which might have put the legitimacy of their births in doubt. . . .

The citizens’ determination to kill the woman taken in adultery cannot be passed off as mob rule, as if it was unlawful in God’s sight. Jesus pointed out that the ‘scribes and Pharisees’ sat in Moses’s seat and He instructed the people to obey them. John tells us that it was the same ‘scribes and Pharisees’ who were only carrying out the death penalty that Moses commanded for adultery.

God strongly approved of citizen Phinehas, pumped up with zeal for His God, taking it into his hands to kill a fornicating Israelite (Zimri) and his Midianite prostitute (Num 25:8). God blessed this righteous citizen for taking it into his own hands to kill this law-breaker (Num 25:11). But in the case of the woman taken in adultery in John 8, the motive to execute her was different. The woman was being deliberately used as bait in a carefully crafted set up to accuse Jesus of taking the life of a citizen.

Even if she was executed by Jesus in strict accordance with the law of God (on the analogy of Phinehas’s righteous action), Jesus knew that the scribes and Pharisees would use it to hand Him over to the Roman authorities, because He was viewed by the Sanhedrin as a worse law-breaker, and someone who was more dangerous than an adulterous woman, because He had a growing popularity among the people, whom the scribes and Pharisees described as ignorant and gullible. So Jesus presented a real threat to the religious establishment, and had to be removed at all costs.

Because Jesus was fully aware of the trap set to kill Him, He exploited the situation to convict the executioners of their own law-breaking history. They recognised the hypocrisy of lawbreakers condemning law-breakers, and drew back from carrying out the decision of the scribes and Pharisees who set up the trap.

The implication of Jesus’ action is that He took the execution of law-breakers out of the hands of citizens, and put it back into the hands of those who sat on Moses’s chair (Mt 23:2). Jesus upheld the judicial system that God set up to carry out His judgments (Deut 17:9; 19:17; 26:3; Mt 23:2), even though corrupt judges dominated it, and yet were responsible to implement it. It was now up to the judicial system to take over the execution of the woman taken in adultery following God’s law. In this way Jesus upheld His Father’s judicial system.

By forgiving the woman her sin, Jesus did not rule out her judicial execution, but she had the satisfaction of knowing that the High Judge Himself had forgiven her her sin of adultery.

Roger Aus has brought forward evidence that God’s law was still being carried out under Roman rule, and that adulterers were stoned, so that divorce was not the only choice open to Godfearers right up to the fall of the Temple in AD 70.

Jesus showed that His position on marriage was superior to the Pharisees. (1) It is superior in time. Their position can only be traced back to Moses; His can be traced back ‘to the beginning of the creation.’ (2) It is superior in authority. Their position has only the authority of Moses; His has the authority of His Father behind it. In effect Jesus had undermined their position totally by showing how temporal and man-made it was. It has its origin in Man (Moses), and it was discriminatory in that the law of divorce was drawn up by man, for man, and disregarded the right of women to the exclusive use of their husband’s sexuality (cf. 1 Cor 7:4), which is what God intended ‘from the beginning of the creation’ (no doubt) (Ibid., 366-368).

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Hebrew Death Penalty for Adultery: Moses to Christ by Leslie McFall

According to rabbinic sources, adultery was punished by death, not divorce; see Mish. Sanh. 7.3, 9; B. Sanh. 52b, 55b, 66b. If, in the beginning, God did not permit divorce for adultery, and if in the end, the Mishnah (completed in the early 3rd cent. AD) did not permit divorce for adultery, what proof do we have that it was permitted between these points in time? And if it was permitted, it was done so without any sanction from the written or the oral Torahs.

If we look at the list of capital punishments for sexual sins in Leviticus 20 we see that the method of death is not specified in some of them, and in particular, not in the case of adultery. God leaves the method blank with the statement they “shall surely be put to death.” Only in one case does He specify the method, in Leviticus 20:14. The culprit is to be burnt to death. So whatever method is used it is not uppermost in God’s thoughts, but the end result is. He wants all of these sexual perverts exterminated.

The Pharisees say that Moses commanded that such be stoned. Maybe this was taken from Leviticus 20:4 by extension. However, in Ezekiel 23 Yahweh’s two wives, Aholah and Aholibah, became adulteresses, and He ordered the assembly to stone them and then cut them with their swords (Ezek 23:47). This would support the Pharisees’ demand that she be stoned.

Jesus approved of God’s punishment of stoning for adultery when the woman taken in adultery was brought before Him. He did not offer divorce as a way out of the situation, because it would have been against the Law. The challenge Jesus threw out to them was, “Yes, she should be stoned, but let the executioner be a righteous community of Law-abiding citizens.” So the Law was good in itself, and the punishment (death) just. If the Pharisees had changed the punishment for adultery from death to divorce, then they were guilty of changing God’s Law. It was not an option to commute the death penalty to a permanent divorce punishment.

Philo supported the death penalty for adultery, A betrothed “wife” is regarded by Philo as a wife, because she is his wife in all but deed. Betrothal is the equivalent of marriage, he says, and therefore if she willingly or unwillingly has intercourse with another man it “is a form of adultery” (III.58, 72). “And therefore the law ordains that both should be stoned to death.” Here Philo would have approved of the demand to stone the woman taken in adultery in John 8.

Roger Aus noted, “It is also recorded that at least one daughter of a priest (still in her father’s house) was burnt to death before 66 CE because of committing adultery (in Jerusalem).” And then adds, “If the daughter of a priest was caught while engaging in such behavior, it is very probable that those further down the social scale of priests/ Levites/Israelites did so also, and certainly more frequently.”3

This does not sound to me like a one-off burning for adultery, or mob-rule, but a regular practice. I suspect that the Romans could not care less what the Jews did, provided they did not riot.

If Roger Aus is correct, then I would tend to the view that the woman taken in adultery might well have been stoned to death had they not brought her to Jesus. That is what saved her, in this instance. It then means that the question put to Jesus was not just a technicality, but a real, dangerous situation to negotiate. How then does this square with John 18:31?

I suspect that John 18:31 should be looked at from a political standpoint, and not from a religious one.4 If the Roman authorities had allowed the Sanhedrin to handle all matters connected with the Torah Law, as Pilate permits them to do so, then only political, capital offences were denied them, such as the imprisonment of Barabbas, and other revolutionary leaders.

John 18:30-31 reads, “they answered and said to him, ‘If he were not an evil doer, we had not delivered him to you.’ Pilate, therefore, said to them, ‘Take you him — you — and according to your law judge him;’ the Jews, therefore, said to him, ‘It is not lawful to us to put any one to death [as an evil doer].’” The charge was that Jesus was “an evil doer”—a civil matter. So no religious charge of blasphemy was brought against Jesus.

The religious authorities wanted Jesus dead, but they wanted the Romans to take the blame, hence the charge was shifted from “blasphemy” to “an evil doer” and Jesus’ claim to be ‘king of the Jews’ helped in that direction. So maybe Rodger Aus’ observation can stand alongside the Jewish authorities’ refusal to meddle in political matters that rightly belonged to the Roman authorities.

Pilate clearly acknowledged the right of the religious leaders to control the people in religious matters when he said, “Take him and judge him according to your law.” But Jesus was a hot potato, and they did not want His blood on their hands if at all possible, hence they steered away from their own judgment of blasphemy, and put the focus on Jesus’ claim to be King of the Jews. This clearly put Him in political conflict with Rome. It was a clever ploy, and it worked.

So there is no need to dismiss Aus’ evidence. It can be reconciled with John 18:31 if the latter is seen as a capital punishment for usurping the ‘kingship’ of Rome. In that sense the Jews were right to say that they had no authority to put a man to death for saying he was ‘king of the Jews’. That was a political offence. John 18:31 should not be assumed to mean that all capital punishments were taken away from them in the light of Aus’ evidence that capital punishment was common for adultery (and presumably other religious offences such as blasphemy).

Under Roman occupation, following on from the Hellenisation of Jewish culture, the majority usually bend with the wind, and opt for a quiet life. But there will always be those who remain faithful to what they know to be God’s will. God’s will had been practiced under Jewish autonomy. That some would want to see the full Law kept through hard times is evident in the Zealots’ exploits. So what they did was not illegal in terms of obeying God rather than man (, pages 6-7).

The Jews were prepared to inflict the death penalty on the woman taken in adultery (Jn 8:5) in accordance with the law of Moses (Lev 20:10), therefore we must reject the interpretation that Deut 24:1-3 allowed divorce for adultery. It is assumed that under Roman rule capital punishment was abolished (see D. W. Amran, ‘Adultery,’ The Jewish Encyclopedia [New York, 1925], I.217). This is incorrect, because Pilate gave the Sanhedrin the necessary permission to execute Jesus “according to your law” (Jn 18:31), but the Jews wanted the Romans to do it for them, so the charges were changed to put Jesus in conflict with Roman law (Lk 23:2, 5, 14; Jn 18:30b), but he was found not guilty on those charges (Lk 23:14-15, 22, 23; cf. Mt 27:18, 23). With the dispersal of the Jews after the Second Jewish War in AD 132-35, and lacking nation status to implement the requirements of the Torah, rabbinic law developed to make divorce of an adulterous wife mandatory, see Mishnah Sotah 5:1, Sotah 18b, 27b, Ketubot 9a. This was just one of a number of adjustments that the Jews had to make after AD 135, when God permanently took away their power to enforce His Law (, p. 15, n. 13).

“The excuse that the Jews in Jesus’ day were not able to carry out the death penalty because this was taken away from them by the Romans is not borne out by the facts. First, the Mishnah (completed in the early 3rd cent.) does not permit divorce for adultery, but agrees with the Torah that the death penalty was still in force. Second, evidence from rabbinic literature shows that the death penalty was carried out while under Roman rule” (, p. 67).

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