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 Vol. 3, No. 11 

Page 20

November, 2001

Since You Askedtypewriter

The Exception
Clause of Matthew 19

By Louis Rushmore

The argument above, excerpted from a lengthier correspondence, challenges the interpretation of Matthew 19:9 that teaches that the innocent party of a contemporary marriage whose spouse commits fornication may divorce and remarry a biblically eligible candidate. The reasons given for this disavowal respecting the exception clause of Matthew 19:9 are: (1) Jewish custom required a divorce if an engagement was broken and the impending marriage was not officiated. (2) Fornication is thought to be a sexual sin that occurs between people who are not officially married. (3) Since the exception clause of Matthew 19:9 does not appear in the other Gospel records, it pertains exclusively to the original recipients of the Gospel of Matthew -- the first century Jews only.

"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).

While point one above is true, the assumptions of points two and three, as well as the conclusion are inaccurate. Whereas the English dictionary confines the meaning of “fornication" to illicit sexual activity between unmarried persons, the Greek usage of porneia, from which we derive the word “fornication" in our New Testaments, has a broader meaning. Porneia stands for all kinds of illicit sexual activity, of which adultery, for instance, is merely a sub point beneath it. Adultery is fornication. Fornication includes adultery. Hence, the effort to relegate the “fornication" in Matthew 19:9 as an activity exclusively between unmarried persons (i.e., premarital sex) to bolster one's perspective that the verse pertains only to the first century Jewish betrothal is biblically incorrect. Married persons can commit any of a number of types of fornication, including adultery, any one of which could invoke the exception clause of Matthew 19:9.

It is true that the exception clause of Matthew 19:9 does not appear in the other Gospel records (Matthew, written to the Jews; Mark, written to the Romans; Luke, written to the Gentiles; John, a universal presentation of the Gospel to all mankind). It is also true that the remarriage permission after divorce does not appear in the Gospel of Matthew's earlier reference to marriage and divorce (Matthew 5:32). Is it the case that the information respecting remarriage permission in Matthew 19:9 somehow applied to first century Jewish men for its inclusion in Matthew 19, but at the same time did not apply since it did not appear also in Matthew 5? No, the summary of marriage-divorce-remarriage information from both Matthew 5 and 19 combine to constitute the instruction on this subject from the Gospel of Matthew.

However, notice also that Matthew's account says nothing about the possibility of a wife divorcing her husband for fornication or adultery. Yet, the account of Jesus addressing marriage and divorce in Mark's account specifically observes that both men AND WOMEN might divorce and remarry (though the passage prohibits divorces followed by adulterous marriages, Mark 10:11-12). Since the mention of women divorcing men does not appear in Matthew's account, is it the case that Jesus permitted first century Jewish men to commit fornication against their betrothals and that their first century Jewish fiancees had no biblical recourse as afforded the men if the women committed the sexual sins? Irrespective of whether women under then prevailing Jewish custom may have divorced their husbands for fornication or adultery, the summary of marriage-divorce-remarriage information from all the Gospel records (as well as elsewhere in the New Testament) combine to constitute the instruction of Deity on this subject.

Further, the “whosoever" of Matthew 19:9 (cf. Matthew 5:32; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18) has a broader application than merely first century Jewish engaged men. The Gospel records and the balance of the New Testament are literally populated with “whosoever” (110 times; plus “whoso” 11 times) referring to anyone and everyone. Still further, since there was and is but one Gospel (though four Gospel records), whatever truth is taught in any Gospel record (and the balance of the New Testament) combines to constitute God's revelation to humanity living in this final religious age -- the Gospel Age or Christianity. Consequently, the combination of references to marriage-divorce-remarriage in the Gospel records and the balance of the New Testament constitute God's message to mankind regarding marriage-divorce-remarriage for today, as well as in the first century when initially penned.

Matthew 19:9, respecting the exception clause for divorce and permission for the innocent party to remarry applies to “whosoever” (man or woman) who is the innocent party of “fornication" (irrespective of the type involved, including adultery). If there is no “fornication” or “adultery,” or if there is no innocent party, then passages such as found in Romans 7 and 1 Corinthians 7, as well as other references in the Gospel records apply and prohibit divorce and prohibit biblically unauthorized (adulterous) marriages. Those strictures are sufficiently difficult for a society that routinely violates them without becoming more restrictive than those biblical truths already are.

Tell It to the Church

By Louis Rushmore

What does the expression "tell it to the church" in Matthew 18:17 refer to? Does it mean the corporate assembly or merely to elders, or the men if elders are not ordained?

The word “church” is used in the New Testament of the divine organization for which Jesus died and over which he is head in three distinct senses. First, it may refer to the universal church, spanning not only the globe and including every congregation, but also such congregations in the past and the future (Acts 2:47; Ephesians 1:22). Second, it may refer to a particular congregation meeting in some locality (1 Corinthians 1:2) or a collective reference to such local congregations (Romans 16:16). Third, it may refer to the worship assembly of a local congregation (1 Corinthians 14:23). Therefore, the context, as often is the case respecting many biblical words, is essential to determine the way in which the word “church" is used in a certain verse of Scripture. Obviously, the reference to “church” in Matthew 18:17 is to a local congregation.

However, what constitutes telling it to the church when lodging a complaint against an impenitent brother who has sinned against one, and who is impervious to overtures by even several brethren to prompt him to repent of sin? Fully organized congregations are served by biblically qualified elders, part of whose responsibilities is to exercise church discipline (the subject of Matthew 18:15-18) (Titus 1:9-11) and who are otherwise to shepherd (Acts 20:28) or rule (Hebrews 13:17) the flock or church of God. Therefore, telling it to the church of Matthew 18:17 ought to first involve those elders whose responsibility it is to give an account for each soul in their care. In the absence of elders (i.e., a congregation does not have a plurality of biblically qualified men to serve as elders), the men of the congregation must accept responsibilities that normally would fall to elders. In such an instance, the men of the congregation, who as a unit serve the congregation in leadership capacity ought to be the recipient of complaints relative to Matthew 18:17.

Going directly to the assembled church without going to the elders (or men serving in the absence of elders) probably would result in “confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33) and a void of “decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:40). Telling it directly to the assembled, local congregation without consulting the elders would undercut the elders' ability to function in their capacity of oversight. ~ Skip Francis

Sword Piercing Mary's Soul

By Louis Rushmore

You have a nice website. Can you tell me why the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed through the piercing of Mary's soul with a sword? Luke 2:35 ~ Love from Lisa

The statement to which the querist refers occurs in a passage where a prophet named Simeon met Joseph and Mary as they brought baby Jesus to the Temple for dedication (Luke 2:25-35). The statement regarding the Christ in verses 34 and 35 is interrupted with a parenthetical expression (enclosed in parentheses) addressed to the mother of Jesus.

"34 And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; 35 (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35)

The words, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also," forewarn the mother of Jesus of the turmoil through which she, too, will go as the events unfold regarding the Christ child through his torturous death on the cross. The commentator Albert Barnes succinctly stated the meaning of these words to Mary this way.

The sufferings and death of thy Son shall deeply afflict thy soul. And if Mary had not been thus forewarned and sustained by strong faith, she could not have borne the trials which came upon her Son; but God prepared her for it, and the holy mother of the dying Saviour was sustained. (Barnes' Notes, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft)

The balance of the words in verse 35 pertains to verse 34 and completes the thought begun there. The life and ministry of Jesus Christ would variously affect the Jews (and really all of humanity through the present). While some would and do obey the Gospel, which Jesus inaugurated in his ministry, many reject the Christ and his Gospel. Therefore, the figurative reference to piercing Mary's soul is not what reveals the thoughts of people's hearts, but rather the ministry of Christ does that. Nestled within the statement about Christ's ministry that would cause people to react, favorably and unfavorably, is a short statement about sorrow that would visit the mother of Jesus.

Copyright © 2001 Louis Rushmore. All Rights Reserved.
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