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Except for Adultery - Matt 5:32 (Monday with Mounce 159)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Monday with MounceThis is one of the most difficult passages in the Bible to interpret, and especially to apply in a church situation. I have already written on this relative to elders, but I came across an interpretation the other day that just floored me.

I received a desperate email from a lady who was being told by her elders that she was not allowed to divorce her unfaithful husband. And the reason was that in the Greek (so they claimed), Jesus was really saying that “But I say to you that anyone who divorces  his wife, even including (παρεκτὸς) sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery” (Mt 5:32).

First of all, if someone claims that the Greek says something that none of the translations say, dismiss their idea and walk away. Perhaps if they are commentary writers or scholars, their argument might have some validity; but I am always suspect of someone who bases their interpretation on any basis that you are not able to check. An appeal to the Greek can be this type of baseless appeal.

But on top of that, this interpretation is simply impossible. BDAG lists these definitions of παρεκτὸς.

  1. pert. to being different and in addition to someth. else, w. focus on being external, besides, outside
  2. used as prep. w. gen., pert. to someth. left out of other considerations, apart from, except for.

No option for “including.”

Then check the translations. Nothing like this.

Then check the parallels. Matt 19:9 says, “except for sexual immorality (μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ).” This construction is a bit peculiar, so I am just going to quote Carson referring to the interpretation, “not apart from sexual promiscuity”. “But all this requires almost impossible Greek. When epi has this ”additive” force [i.e., “in addition to” or “apart from”], it is nowhere preceded by  (“not”), which most naturally introduces an exception” (page 415). Blomberg calls it “highly unlikely renderings of the Greek” (page 292). There would have to be some serious exegetical basis for seeing μὴ ἐπὶ as having a meaning the exact opposite of παρεκτὸς, which can only mean “except” in this context.

So the moral of the story: beware of people who claim authoritative knowledge based on something you can’t check. If they can cite a well-known translation or commentary writer, or if the make a sensible contextual argument, that is one thing. But to dismiss interpretations to the contrary that are held by all translations, be suspicious.

God intended marriage to be permanent. However, sexual infidelity does break the marriage bonds, and the person sinned against is free to remarry. See France’s excellent commentary for more discussion, especially on the point that Jewish divorce was for the purpose of remarriage. Also David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context.


MouncewWilliam D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more about Bill at BillMounce.com, and visit his other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at BiblicalTraining.org.

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