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Did God Authorize Divorce for Fornication or Adultery (Deuteronomy 22; Mt. 19:9; John 8)?

By Timothy Sparks

We do not read a dismissal penalty or divorce penalty for sexual unfaithfulness in Deuteronomy 22. Some would have Jesus approving divorce for sexual unfaithfulness in Mt. 19:9. However, Jesus clearly did not contradict his Father’s law while teaching on earth (Mt. 5:17-20). Under God’s law, Jesus could not teach divorce for fornication; the law was death. If Jesus had taught they could divorce rather than put to death, he would have been a false teacher.

Concerning the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 8:3-11), God’s penalty according to the law was stoning (Jn. 8:5). Jesus upheld his Father’s death penalty, as seen in the Greek imperative βαλέτω (baletō), “do throw” (Jn. 8:7). He did not offer divorce as an option because it would have been against God’s law. If the Pharisees had changed the penalty for adultery from death to divorce, then they would have been guilty of changing God’s law. It was not a lawful option to change the death penalty to a divorce punishment.

Just as God has the ability to pardon, like he did David (2 Sam. 12:13), so Jesus had “authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mk. 2:10). Notice the similarity of the statements by Jesus and Pilate:
● “Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more’” (Jn. 8:11).
● “Do you not know that I have power to crucify you, and power to release you?” (Jn. 19:10).
● A proverb of Roman law says, “Nobody who can condemn cannot acquit” (Nemo, qui condemnare potest, absolvere non potest. Justinian, Digest 50.17.37).

Philo supported the death penalty for adultery. Philo regarded a betrothed “wife” as a wife because she is his wife in all but deed. He says betrothal is the equivalent of marriage and therefore if she has intercourse with another man it “is a form of adultery.” “And therefore the law orders both to be stoned” (III.58, 72-73).

We read only about the death penalty for sexual unfaithfulness during both betrothal and marriage and nothing about divorce as an authorized punishment (Deut. 22:13ff):

13 “If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and detests her, 14 and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings a bad name on her, and says, ‘I took this woman, and when I came to her I found she was not a virgin,’ 15 then the father and mother of the young woman shall take and bring out the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. 16 And the young woman’s father shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man as wife, and he detests her. 17 Now he has charged her with shameful conduct, saying, “I found your daughter was not a virgin,” and yet these are the evidences of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. 18 Then the elders of that city shall take that man and punish him; 19 and they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name on a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days.

20 “But if the thing is true, and evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman, 21 then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done a disgraceful thing in Israel, to play the harlot in her father’s house. So you shall put away the evil from among you.

22 “If a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband, then both of them shall die—the man that lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall put away the evil from Israel.

23 “If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her, 24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he humbled his neighbor’s wife; so you shall put away the evil from among you.

25 “But if a man finds a betrothed young woman in the countryside, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. 26 But you shall do nothing to the young woman; there is in the young woman no sin deserving of death, for just as when a man rises against his neighbor and kills him, even so is this matter. 27 For he found her in the countryside, and the betrothed young woman cried out, but there was no one to save her.

28 “If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days” (NKJV).

While God is able to pardon abundantly on his terms (Is. 55:7), humans are to obey God’s law under which they live. If the Hebrews had failed to execute the death penalty as God commanded, deciding instead to be merciful and let the fornicator live, they would have been in direct disobedience to God’s law. Deuteronomy 22 granted favorable approval to execute fornicators and adulterers as specified.

See also: Hebrew Death Penalty (John 8; John 18:31) https://timothysparks.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/death-penalty-john-8-john-18.pdf

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Explaining the Translation of Mt. 19:9 by Dr. Leslie McFall

Dr. McFall granted permission to make the following 11 pages available from his e-book:

APPENDIX B, abstracted from his e‑book (11 august, 2014): AN EXPLANATION FOR THE AUTHOR’S LITERAL TRANSLATION OF MATTHEW 19:9


This is the link for his entire free e-book:

The Biblical Teaching on Divorce and Remarriage (Dr. McFall)


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The “Except” List: Where It Is Necessary to Divorce and Remarry

By Timothy Sparks


Those who seek God’s favorable authorization for divorce and remarriage may point to passages where they see “except”:

  1. Mt. 5:32—exemption from blame, not permission to divorce and remarry (see also What Is Jesus Saying in Mt. 5:32? and The Exemption Clause)
  2. Mt. 19:9—Many see Jesus saying, “Whoever divorces his wife for the exception of fornication and marries another does not commit adultery.”

Notice the following Scriptures where people must insert “except” to have God’s blessing for divorce and remarriage:

  1. The “one-flesh” law is permanent (Gen. 1:27; 2:23-24; Mt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:6-8)except when people want to divorce and/or remarry
  2. A person must forgive his/her spouse of any and every sin an unlimited number of times (Mt. 18:21-22, 35), except the sin of adultery, which carries with it the consequence of divorce if the “innocent spouse” chooses to execute the divorce penalty upon his/her spouse
  3. “Therefore what God united, a human cannot divide” (Mt. 19:6; Mk. 10:9)except when people think they have the ability to do so
  4. Jesus does not endorse being hard-hearted (Mt. 19:8; Mk. 10:5), except when people want to divorce
  5. In the context of Jesus’ time, God’s law was the death penalty for adultery, and Jesus did not change God’s law before his death (Deut. 22:22; Lev. 20:10; Jn. 8:3-7; Heb. 9:15-17), except when people decided to divorce for adultery
  6. God did not institute divorce in the beginning and Jesus did not institute divorce; so divorce neither came from God in the beginning nor existed within God’s will to Jesus’ present time [notice the force of the Greek perfect tense: “but from the beginning it has not existed this way” (Mt. 19:8)], except when people want Jesus to state exactly the opposite and would have Jesus instituting divorce for fornication in the very next verse (Mt. 19:9)
  7. Marriage to another person is adulterous (Mk. 10:11-12), except when a person wants to divorce and marry another person
  8. Again, marriage to another person is adulterous (Lk. 16:18)except when a person wants to divorce and marry another person
  9. God forbids taking a believer to court (1 Cor. 6:1-8),  except when a believer wants to divorce a believing spouse 
    • “Christians are banned from taking other Christians before the law courts of this world (1 Cor. 6:1), which belong to Satan. Yet the only way to obtain a divorce is to go to Satan to obtain it, which he will be only too ready to hand out” (McFall, p. 126).
  10. The believer is commanded not to separate or abandon the unbelieving spouse (1 Cor. 7:10-13)except when the believer wants to divorce the unbelieving spouse
  11. When people are united by God in marriage, they are bound for life and released only by death (Rom. 7:2; 1 Cor. 7:39)except when people want to divorce and/or remarry
  12. God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16), except when people want to divorce


*Unless otherwise stated, translations are mine.

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Reasons Mὴ Eπὶ (Mh Epi or Mē Epi) Should Not Be Translated “Except For” (Mt. 19:9)

By Timothy Sparks


This article details the problem with using the English word “except” to translate the Greek word μὴ in Mt. 19:9. Nowhere in either the Greek New Testament or the LXX is the word μὴ (mh or mē) or the words μὴ ἐπὶ (mh epi or mē epi; Mt. 19:9) to be translated as “except.”

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.

In reading an English version of Mt. 19:9, many people seem to understand “except” as an exception. It is hard to get an exegesis correct if the translation is not correct or if the translation creates a misunderstanding.

Please consider the following reasons the Greek phrase μὴ ἐπὶ (mh epi or mē epi; Mt. 19:9) should not be translated “except for”:

1. Mὴ ἐπ (mh epi or mē epi; Mt. 19:9) should be translated “not over.” 

2. The only evidence in the Septuagint (LXX; the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) is that μὴ ἐπὶ means “not on/over/to/for.”

3. The only evidence in the New Testament is that μ ἐπ means “not on/over/to/for.”

4. Dr. Guenther states the following in “THE EXCEPTION PHRASES: EXCEPT πορνεία, INCLUDING πορνεία OR EXCLUDING πορνεία? (MATTHEW 5:32; 19:9)”  (https://legacy.tyndalehouse.com/tynbul/Library/TynBull_2002_53_1_05_Guenther_ExceptionPhrases.pdf):

“Indeed, Basil, the 4th century (AD) bishop, who interprets the text of Matthew quotes both Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 (presumably from memory) and instinctively writes the ‘exception’ phrase in 19:9 as εἰ μὴ ἐπί (except for), in contrast with the simple μὴ ἐπί (excluding) of Matthew. This reinforces our argument that μὴ ἐπί without the conditional conjunction does not mean ‘except’” (p. 94; p. 12 of the pdf).
“In Matthew 19:9, then, the divorce saying reads, ‘whoever divorces his wife (apart from/excluding/not introducing [the factor of] πορνεία) and marries another commits adultery’. It does not mean ‘except’ as it has traditionally been interpreted. Had the Gospel writer wanted to introduce an exception, he would have used εἰ μὴ ἐπί or ἐὰν μὴ ἐπί” (p. 95; p. 13 of the pdf).

“Our conclusion regarding the meaning of the μὴ ἐπί phrase in Matthew 19:9 is that it must be understood as, ‘apart from πορνεία, ‘πορνεία aside’, or ‘excluding the subject of πορνεία’. It does not mean ‘except’ as it has traditionally been interpreted” (p. 96; p. 14 of the pdf).

5. Many people think the English preposition “except” means “unless.” The primary definition of the English preposition “except” is “excluding” (see definition of “except”). The definition of the English conjunction “unless” is “except if” (see definition of “unless”). “Except/Excluding” does not mean “unless/except if.”

The proper understanding of μὴ ἐπὶ is “not over/excluding.”  Mὴ ἐπὶ does not mean “except if for/unless for.” If μὴ ἐπὶ is rendered “except for” and if people misunderstand it to mean “unless,” that misunderstanding then might cause people to believe that Jesus taught in contradiction to God’s law.

  • The Jews could not under God’s law grant divorce over adultery or fornication (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22).
  • If Jesus had changed God’s law while he was on the earth, he would have violated it (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6).
  • Jesus did not come to change God’s law but to fulfill it (Mt. 5:17-19; Lk. 24:44).
  • Christ’s new covenant went into effect after his death (Heb. 9:16-17), not before his death.

6. Jesus calls us back to the way God instituted marriage, which did not include divorce (Mt. 19:4-8).

7. The evidence provided is sufficient to show that μὴ ἐπὶ should not be translated “except for.”

For a comprehensive discussion of translating Mt. 19:9, please see Explaining the Translation of Mt. 19:9 by Dr. Leslie McFall.

See also The “Except” List: Where It Is Necessary for Divorce and Remarriage to Be.


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What Is Jesus Saying in Mt. 5:32?

By Timothy Sparks

[I am using the Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Textform 2005, which is also the reading of the Majority Text: ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, ὅτι ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ, παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας, ποιεῖ αὐτὴν μοιχᾶσθαι· καὶ ὃς ἐὰν ἀπολελυμένην γαμήσῃ μοιχᾶται.]

“But I say to you that who, suppose, may have dismissed his wife, discounting 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).

My understanding of Mt. 5:32 is as follows:

1. Anyone who dismisses his wife (excluding/discounting an account of fornication) causes her to commit adultery.

2. Any man who marries a woman who is dismissed by her husband commits adultery.

Proposition 1 states that the action of dismissing one’s wife has the ultimate effect of causing her to commit adultery, given that she would inevitably marry another.

Proposition 2 is an independent clause (a stand alone statement) indicating that any man who marries a dismissed woman commits adultery.

Jesus denounces the husband’s action of dismissing his wife. He places the blame on the husband for her consequent adultery. Parektos logou porneias (“excluding (discounting) an account of fornication”) serves as an exemption clause concerning the husband’s accountability and is linked to poiei (“causes/makes”). The focus is on the word “causes.” The husband did not cause her to commit adultery if she engaged in fornication before he dismissed her. Her sin is her sin. She caused herself to commit adultery through her fornication. In such a case, the husband cannot be blamed for causing her to commit adultery. 

Jesus does not give permission to divorce. Nothing in the verse should cause us to read “does not commit adultery.” Jesus says nothing to suggest that the husband or wife can marry another without committing adultery.

In summary, Jesus blames the husband for causing his wife to commit adultery by dismissing her. Jesus does not exonerate the husband from blame if his wife engages in adultery after he dismisses her.

[Note on the Greek text: Παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας (parektos logou porneias) modifies the main verb ποιεῖ“causes/makes” (not the subjunctive ἀπολύσῃ, “may have dismissed”), serving as an exemption to blame, not as an exception to divorce. Jesus does not approve of a man sending away his wife for committing porneia.]

For the “matter of fornication” see The Exemption Clause (Mt. 5:32).

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What Is Jesus Saying in Mt. 19:9?

By Timothy Sparks

“But I say to you that who, suppose, may have dismissed his wife not over fornication and may have married another commits adultery. And the one having married a dismissed wife commits adultery” (Mt. 19:9, translation mine).1

Central to the issue of Jesus’ teaching about marriage, Jesus goes back to “the beginning” (Mt. 19:4-8; Gen. 1:27; 2:24) when God instituted marriage. He appeals to a time before God tolerated putting away or divorce, when “it was not that way” (Mt. 19:8). Jesus teaches the truth that always has been and always will be concerning marriage. People will continue to divorce and remarry, but it does not change the truth of God’s Word “from the beginning.” It really is that simple. Do we want to know how God wants marriage? Jesus says to go back to “the beginning” (Mt. 19:4, 8).

The background of God’s law (Deut. 22:22; Lev. 20:10) is crucial to understanding the context of Jesus’ statement “not over fornication” [MH EPI PORNEIA, Mt. 19:9–see also Reasons Mὴ Eπὶ (Mh Epi or Mē Epi) Should Not Be Translated “Except For” (Mt. 19:9)]. We now address whether Jesus gives permission to divide what God united (Mt. 19:6) in a situation of fornication.

Under the Old Covenant:
For adultery = Death penalty (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22)
For fornication during betrothal = Death penalty (Deut. 22:23-24)



Theoretically, Jesus could have said:
“Whoever dismisses his wife OVER FORNICATION (EPI PORNEIA) and marries another does not commit adultery.”

This was not a lawful option. It would have been an act of disobedience to change the punishment for fornication from the death penalty to either putting away or divorce (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6). Rather, Jesus says, “Whoever may have dismissed his wife NOT OVER FORNICATION (MH EPI PORNEIA; thus, Jesus is addressing a nonsexual dismissal; the penalty of fornication was death) and may have married another commits adultery” (Mt. 19:9).

Stated another way:

1. Under the Old Covenant fornication during betrothal and adultery in marriage was punishable by death (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22-24).

2. It would have been a violation of God’s law to change the penalty for fornication from death to putting away or divorce (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6).

3. Jesus came to fulfill the law, to bring it to completion (Mt. 5:17-19).

4. The Old Covenant was not changed until Christ’s death (Heb. 7:12; 8:4; 9:15-17).

Therefore, Christ did not change the Old Covenant under which he lived but gave corrective teaching, calling people back to God’s will from the beginning (Mt. 19:6-9; Mk. 10:5-12).


1. Jesus gave clear and precise teaching to the crowds in the region of Judea beyond the Jordan (Mk. 10:1), giving permission for neither putting away nor divorce (please read Mk. 10:2-9).

2. After his definitive teaching, Jesus gave a conclusive summary to settle the matter: “And in the house his disciples asked him again about the same thing. And he said to them, ‘Who, suppose, may have dismissed his wife and may have married another commits adultery against her. And if a woman may have dismissed her husband and may have married another, she commits adultery'” (Mk. 10:10-12).

3. Similarly, Jesus revealed the strength of God’s law and then immediately stressed the result of remarriage after putting away: “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the law to fail. Anyone dismissing his wife and marrying another commits adultery; and anyone marrying a wife having been dismissed from a husband commits adultery” (Lk. 16:17-18).

Knowing the background of God’s law (Deut. 22:22; Lev. 20:10) is essential to a well-informed discussion concerning whether or not Jesus endorsed divorce for fornication. When we know the background of God’s law under which Jesus lived, we then know that Jesus would have violated God’s law if he had given permission to divorce for fornication. Rather than endorsing divorce for any reason, Jesus focuses on God’s law of marriage “from the beginning” (Mt. 19:4, 8) and emphatically states, “Therefore what God united, a human cannot divide” (Mt. 19:6).


         1Unless otherwise stated, translations are mine from the Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Text Form. See also, Leslie McFall, APPENDIX B, abstracted from his e‑book on divorce (11 august, 2014): AN EXPLANATION FOR THE AUTHOR’S LITERAL TRANSLATION OF MATTHEW 19:9.
           2Leslie McFall, The Biblical Teaching on Divorce and Remarriage, rev. Aug. 2014: 159. https://lmf12.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/divorce_aug_2014.pdf.

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