Gospel Truths, Volume XIV Number 10, October 2003
Posted with permission

The “Exception” of Matthew 19:9 and “Sequence”

By J. T. Smith

LAST month we discussed “The ‘Innocent’ Party.” Our conclusion was that many are now attributing the words “innocent party” in a divorce to the one who is “innocent” of initiating the divorce. But as we observed, that is a redefining of terms on the subject. The innocent one has always been understood to be the one who puts his/her spouse away because he/she committed adultery.

All can see that the “exception” in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 allows the one putting away his/her spouse the right to remarry. Christ gives instruction: “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matthew 19:9). The rule is, “Whosoever shall put away his wife and shall marry another, committeth adultery.” But, He gives an exception, “except it be for fornication.”

To illustrate, let’s use another of Christ’s statements. “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). The rule was, you will perish – except you repent. So if they repented they would not perish. Likewise, if one puts away his spouse for fornication and marries another he would not commit adultery.

Now we are being told that the “exception” of Matthew 5:32 and especially in Matthew 19:9 may be in both the first and second clause.

There are at least two things wrong with this position. (1) By reason of the position of the “exception” in the sentence it cannot modify both clauses. And if we move the “exception” to the second clause, it would no longer exist in the first where Christ put it. (2) The phrase “except it be for fornication” is an adverbial phrase which modifies the verb “shall put away.” But if it is transposed to the latter part of the sentence it would have to modify “her that is put away.” That would mean that you would have to change an adverbial phrase into an adjectival phrase. This cannot be done grammatically.

The following quotes, compiled by Gene Frost, are from teachers and professors of English and Greek who say that this phrase cannot modify both clauses.

“In Matthew 19:9 the original Greek text translated ‘except for fornication’ modifies the ‘putting away’ on the part of the man and does not modify the person who is put away. And the present tense form of the Greek form moichatai = commits adultery means ‘continuous action at any time,’ i.e. as long as the condition of second marriage continues to exist adultery continues to exist.”

Leonard Latkovski
Professor of Classic Languages
Bellarmine College
Louisville, Kentucky

“In my opinion, the phrase, ‘except it be for fornication,’ applies to the first clause but not to the last.”

Dr. Harry Sturz
Greek Department
La Mirada, California

“The modifying clause (except it be for fornication) applies only to the first person mentioned, in the first half of the sentence. It does not apply, grammatically or syntactically, to the person ('whoso marrieth her who is put away') in the second half of the sentence.”

Donald A. Drury, M.A.
English Department

Long Beach
City College

There is no evidence from the English, Greek, this text or any other that demands that this exception modify the last clause.

The Matthew 19:9 Sequence

Matthew 19:9 “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

Below is a diagram of God’s sequence of events.

Scriptural Divorce

God’s Order, “Sexual Immorality + Put Away = Right to marry another”

Brethren’s Order: “Put Away + Sexual Immorality + Put Away for Sexual Immorality(?) = Right to marry another”


God’s Order, Believe + Baptism = Salvation

Man’s Order, Believe = Salvation + Baptism

Let me go over this again.

1. If a divorce is obtained when no fornication has been committed by either party, then when either one of them marries another he/she is committing adultery.

2. When the one who does the putting away marries another he/she and the new spouse are both committing adultery.

When the one who is put away marries another he/she and the new spouse are both committing adultery.

Thus all four parties are committing adultery. This will continue until and unless they separate or one of the original mates dies (Romans 7:2-3). That’s what the text says. So, what’s the problem? 

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Last Updated:  Thursday, January 26, 2006 12:41 PM