Who Does the Exception Clause Apply To? 

By Jeff Belknap 

The Lord could not have made it any clearer.  Three times, in two separate gospels Jesus stated that the one who marries the put away person commits adultery (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Lk. 16:18).  Yes, there are revealed exceptions (reconciliation of a bound couple – I Cor. 7:11, and remarriage to another after the death of one’s bound mate – Rom. 7:3).  However, the possibility to exercise a post-civil-divorce “putting away” for post-civil-divorce fornication in order to remarry another is an exception that originates only in the creative minds of men (cf. Isa. 8:20). 

Consider the sequence of events in Luke 16:18: Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.”  Here, when the unjustly put away person remarries even after the fornication of her bound mate, she becomes guilty of adultery nonetheless. This is the same sequence of events revealed in Matthew 19:9 (when the exception clause is stated), yet the put away person is never authorized to “put away” and remarry after their bound partner’s post-divorce remarriage to “another” (i.e. fornication)! 

Regardless of who marries first (after an unlawful divorce), adultery is still the result for both when they marry another.  There is simply not one shred of Bible authority for any put away person to remarry another, while their bound spouse lives (Rom. 7:2-3). 

It is not difficult to understand that Jesus offered the exception clause only to the one who puts away – not to the put away.  Moreover, authorities confirm that the exception clause in Matthew 19:9a (cf. Mt. 5:32) does not extend or apply to the second clause of the verse. 

Notice how this faulty conclusion is exposed in brother Rader’s book, “Divorce & Remarriage – What Does the Text Say?” Although some affirm that the exception clause applies to the “b part” of Matthew 19:9, let us acknowledge what others have to say about this assertion.  In chapter 4 of brother Rader’s book (p. 31), Matthew 19:9 (Part 2), under section I. The Exception Phrase (pp. 31-33), Donnie wrote the following: 

“The exception phrase cannot grammatically modify both the first and last parts of Matt. 19:9.  As it modifies the first clause it is an adverbial phrase (qualifying “shall put away”).  Yet, if it modified the second clause it would be an adjectival phrase (qualifying “is put away”).  This cannot be done grammatically!  I wrote to Bruce M. Metzger asking him, ‘Does the exception clause (‘except it be for fornication’) modify the phrase ‘and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery’?’  His answer was ‘no, it qualifies the preceding clause.’


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 Matt. 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
, 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.”

Home | Search This Site

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