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Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Disappearing Exclusion

I am working through a Biblical understanding of Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9. These two verses have been misunderstood by many within the church (and more than a few outside of it) and have undermined the institution of marriage. If you are new to the series, please first check out the introduction as well as the first contextual argument. Also check out why I believe our discipleship must be different for the one considering divorce than it is for the one already divorced.

Context Argument B1—Missing Phrase

Not only do we gain insight from the context of Matthew 5, but we can also gain understanding as we consider parallel passages in other gospels. Consider Luke 16:18
Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.
and Mark 10:11-12
And He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”
It is interesting, and should not be lightly dismissed, that a major phrase is “missing” from these passages that we see in the passages in Matthew. Neither Mark nor Luke insert the phrase “except for the reason of unchastity” or “except for immorality.”

Some have tried to reconcile this “omission” by claiming that Mark and Luke did not see it necessary to enclose the entire phrase. Many claim that Mark and Luke intentionally left this phrase out of their gospels. There are a few obvious problems with this perspective.
    Maybe a scribe took it out.
In the science of textual criticism (not “higher criticism,” but the art and science of comparing variant copies of the ancient texts to determine which is probably the true original) you work from shortest and simplest out. In other words, if this were an issue of textual criticism (which I believe it is not) a person would have to conclude that Mark and Luke provide the original quote, whereas Matthew (or a scribe later) added to the text. From a textual critical perspective, the argument that there is no exception is only strengthened.
    Excuse me boys, but this is a biggie.
Some argue that Mark and Luke just didn’t think it was necessary to include the phrase. But consider what happens when you exclude the phrase. Suddenly, Jesus offers an escape from an unfaithful spouse, and Mark and Luke take that escape away by not including it. If one believes that Jesus was offering permission for divorce in the passage (as some misunderstand), Mark and Luke take it away from their audience by it’s omission. This could not be considered just a casual act.
    You have to see it between the lines.
Some argue that you must read Mark and Luke within the context of Matthew as well and realized they assumed we would realize this provision. They claim, that allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture (which is what we are called to do, but this isn’t a case of actually doing that), we get the fuller meaning from Matthew. A couple of problems with this view.
    Few actually consider Matthew to be the first gospel that was written. Therefore, it is not probable that Mark and Luke were expecting the reader to cross reference their words with Matthew.
    Each was written to a different audience. (This is a critical point we will return to later.) For now, simply consider Luke, who is writing to Theophilus. Are we to suppose that this man had a better knowledge of marriage and divorce than the Jews to whom Matthew wrote? This does not seem a proper assumption.
    You can’t exegete what isn’t there.
Some people have made some pretty silly arguments to provide for reading this exception into Luke and Mark. However, a faithful exegesis of each passage must cause a person to see silence as to whether adultery abolishes marriage vows. No faithful reader of Mark or Luke can read their texts and believe that Jesus sees an exception for marriage vows.

Did Mark and Luke choose to leave this “exception” out? If so, why would they choose to make Jesus’ words more binding than originally? Did they accidentally omit the phrase? If so, what does that do to our understanding of the Holy Spirit’s divine working to inspire the texts.

No, we must examine these texts and find ourselves driven back to the Matthew passages. For a proper handling of the text requires us to see that Matthew must have been the one to take the deliberate action to insert the phrase.

But does that mean Matthew changed the words of Jesus? We’ll examine this tomorrow.


  • At 10:41 AM, Blogger Gary Underwood said…

    All your talk about "exceptions" reminds me that Mike James signed with the T-Wolves for the MLE. What a deal!

  • At 3:22 PM, Anonymous peppo said…

    O.K. brother, you're losing me. Hurry up and explain.

  • At 9:47 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    this post losing you, or the length?

    brad, i realize your personality and mine would be to write the words longest post ever, and you and i would probably be the only two people to read it. ;)

    i beg your forgiveness if this is testing your patience, but i think this is a critical issue, that needs to be very deliberate, and i'm putting it in small chunks to make it understandable and readable.

    my desire would be that a person who thinks they have permission to divorce would read each post seperately and as they read realize the evidence is overwhelmingly stacked to the side of their not having permission.

  • At 7:33 PM, Anonymous J-Lo said…

    Since I got divorced four times already, can I come to Christ and be forgiven?

  • At 10:58 PM, Anonymous peppo said…

    No, the length is fine. You've just been creating a very effective sense of suspense. I'll be honest; your position on this issue strikes me as more than a little unusual (not that I'm at all adverse to unusual positions) and I was just anxious for you to get to the bottom of it.

    I'm just not quite able to follow your(usually impressive)logic on this one. Actually, just to give you an idea of how strangely your position strikes me, when you first stated it, I honestly thought you were pulling our collective leg. But press on; I'll try to be more patient.

  • At 7:43 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    again, j-lo,

    read john 4. all the answers are there for you.

  • At 3:02 PM, Anonymous J-Lo said…


    I read John 4, and I see no real answers about my own forgiveness. All I see is some stuff about which mountain to worship on... or to worship in spirit and truth?


  • At 3:45 PM, Blogger Gary Underwood said…


    Did you actually READ John 4? It's very clear there that a hurting woman who has made some mistakes in marriage has found forgiveness, hope, and healing in the living water (and salvation) brought by the ONE sent from God, Jesus Christ.

    I would strongly encourage you to read the Gospel of John and even share some of your thoughts or questions with Danny here on his blog. He's all about God's grace and love - and that we would live to honor Him!


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