Maxey - Thomas Debate
An Examination of a Proposition
Relating to Divorce and Remarriage

Friday, February 9, 2001

Ron Thomas Responds
To Al's Recent Comments On
Self-Mutilation and Moicheia

Al, your first full paragraph I concur with. Certainly, it's not our desire to wallow down in a "did too, did not" scenario. However, I do desire to respond to some of what you said with respect to the word and application of "eunuch."

You said: "Yes, these are forms of mutilation, but self-mutilation may assume many forms, and be performed for many purposes. The ones specifically mentioned in the passages proffered by Ron, however, are limited in scope to the pagan practices associated with great distress and mourning, and were largely linked to attempts to gain the attention, or solicit the favorable action, of the gods. The particular passages Ron mentions have no reference to castration whatsoever."

The passages I referred to have as much reference to castration as they do to dismemberment. Is dismemberment outlawed by God? If so, on what passage would you show that God has outlawed such an activity? I referred to the passage in Deuteronomy 14:1-2. Al told us that passage (and others) speaks about "pagan practices associated with great distress and mourning." Really? Look at the passage in Deuteronomy 14. Does the context say anything about pagan practices? Is it possible that pagan practices are under consideration? Certainly. But, the passage and context speak nothing about it. All that it says is that a cutting is not allowed because the Israelites are holy. (To borrow Al's phrase, "for the record," I think Al is correct that the context of the statement has in view pagan practices, but I cannot limit it to that.) Furthermore, the reference by J.A. Thompson (in my previous post) speaks of any kind of mutilation. Again, note what Josephus said, with respect to being a eunuch: "Let those that have made themselves eunuchs be had in detestation; and do you avoid any conversation with them who have deprived themselves of their manhood, and of that fruit of generation which God has given to men for the increase of their kind; let such be driven away, as if they had killed their children, since they beforehand have lost what should procure them; for evident it is, that while their soul is become effeminate, they have withal transfused that effeminacy to their body also" (Antiquities, Book 4, chapter 8, paragraph 40 .... page 123 in the 1987 edition). So, those of the first century, certainly had a view of physical emasculation that was abhorrent; if it was practiced, that individual was ostracized.

I refer you to the passage and encourage you to read it yourself. Al, responding to this, indicated that circumcision would also be excluded if the word "cutting" is pressed too hard. This is a fair response. The difficulty is that the Lord required circumcision, but did not allow any other kind of "cutting." So, obviously, "cutting" has something in view that is more than circumcision.

Al indicated that the definitions I offered from the recognized authorities were adequate, but incomplete. He then says, "A simple rule of biblical hermeneutics, when considering words in Scripture, is that the 'full semantic range' of those words must be given consideration before arriving at an interpretation. You provided a single meaning and application of these words in your post, but you failed to provide the full semantic range." This is, of course, true. But the primary meaning of words takes precedence when interpreting unless the context dictates otherwise. Alexander Campbell said, "Common usage, which can only be ascertained by testimony, must always decide the meaning of any word which has but one signification; but when words have, according to testimony (i.e., the Dictionary), more meanings than one, whether literal or figurative, the scope, the context, or parallel passages must decide the meaning; for if common usage, the design of the writer, the context, and parallel passages fail, there can be no certainty in the interpretation of language" (The Christian System, p. 4, 1974 edition). So, the full semantic range of a word can be ascertained, but the context in which the word is found will determine its application.

Al said that none of the 14 translations I offered for his consideration are "fatally flawed." Al, are these translations "flawed" in any respect? Can one understand God's word, accurately, when one of these translations is read and studied by a person?

I was asked about the word adultery and who would be committing adultery if a divorce occurred and the divorced person married another. "Ron, with whom are they committing adultery?! The man's first wife is no longer his wife; he divorced her .... and you have already acknowledged in this debate that divorce does terminate the union; that a 'divorce' is really a 'divorce.' So, he's not committing anything sexual with her; she's gone. And the woman he is now with is his wife; a marriage has taken place. Thus, he is not committing adultery with her, because you can't commit adultery WITH one's own spouse, but only AGAINST one's spouse WITH another person. So, again Ron, with whom is he committing adultery? And how?!"

Merely because a divorce is recognized does not mean God approves of the termination. A divorce may be a termination by man, but with God it is something entirely different. Further, in Matthew 19:9 Jesus recognized a divorce occurring (potentially), but He still said adultery was occurring when a second marriage occurred. In the second clause of the verse Jesus recognized the "put away" or "divorced" spouse. He recognized, further, a person marrying the divorced spouse (of the first). When this second marriage occurred, Jesus said it was adultery and it was something they continued committing as long as they were married. According to your approach, however, because the first spouse was divorced, i.e., she was no longer married, it is not possible for adultery to occur (except when one redefines the word in the context). But Jesus said it is; I'll stand with Jesus.

Recognition does not mean approval. Consider Mark 6:17. John spoke against Herod because he was married unlawfully. Did John "recognize" the second marriage? He surely did, but that did not mean there was any approval of it by the Holy Spirit. Is a marriage a marriage? It's a marriage according to the human perspective and even the Holy Spirit recognized it (accommodatively), but is was not accepted by God.

Let me deal with your assertion that the definition I offered on "adultery" was incomplete. On page 526, the BAGD lexicon defines moichao (literally) as one who commits adultery. Of the three points related to this word only the third point is referred to as figurative and Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 are NOT part of that segment. Are the lexicographers incomplete in their definition when they do this? Again, the following is from the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains (vol. 1, p. 772), in a discussion on the words moicheuo, moichaomai, moicheia: "Sexual intercourse of a man with a married woman other than his own spouse -- to commit adultery, adultery. From the standpoint of the NT, adultery was normally defined in terms of the married status of the woman involved in any such act. In other words, sexual intercourse of a married man with an unmarried woman would usually be regarded as porneia, 'fornication,' but sexual intercourse of either an unmarried or married man with someone else's wife was regarded as adultery, both on the part of the man as well as the woman. In view of the married status of the woman being the determining factor in moicheuo, moichaomai, moicheia, and related terms, there is a significant contrast with porneuo and related expressions. Porneuo, however, may be regarded as more generic in meaning, and thus in certain contexts including adultery." In the context of all of this the authors of this reference include Matthew 5:32 (they make no reference to Matthew 19:9 anywhere in their two volumes -- as per index). Did the authors of this source give a complete definition of the word adultery and did they apply Matthew 5:32 correctly to this definition? The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament devotes 2 pages and half a column to the word group. In a discussion, surrounding Matthew 5:32, they say this: "A divorced woman who remarries causes her husband to violate the first marriage, which was viewed as still in existence, with regard to Matt. 5:32 consequently, however, also imputes blame to the first husband as the one who made this adultery possible." Al, did the authors of this recognized Greek work get this wrong? Did they give due consideration of the semantic range before they concluded such with reference to Matthew 5:32?

Your next paragraph before the title EXAMINING MOICHEIA has you reasoning very well from a human perspective. But, that's just it; from a human perspective a divorce sets one free (and, consequently, the other free as well). The one main difficulty is that Jesus does not concur with your conclusion. It appears reasonable that if the innocent is free of the first marriage (because of "putting away" a fornicating spouse), then the "put away" spouse would be also. But Jesus says the "put away" spouse commits adultery in the second marriage and continues to do so while in that second marriage. Now, you think "my" definition of adultery is weakened because of your ability to reason accordingly. But I never gave the definition; scholars of greater authority than you or I did so (and even they did not give a definition as much as they saw how it was used through the years and made the proper application). And they even considered the semantic range of the word in their applications to Matthew 5:32 and 19:9.


Al wrote: "The fact is, the Greek noun moicheia, which is generally translated 'adultery,' has several other biblical meanings and usages."

You cite Kittel's work on pages 733-734 (volume 4) where an application is made that adultery starts in the heart of a person before the act ever occurs. This, of course, is easily understood. But, on these two pages there is the recognition of the literal sense and the figurative sense (or application) of the word. Kittel's does NOT consider the application of Matthew 5:32 or 19:9 under the figurative section. A most significant point! Further, your reference to Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon (p. 417) was not taken from the section where he dealt with Matthew 5:32 or 19:9. In THAT section he affirms the word to be understood literally -- nothing figurative about it at all! As a matter of fact he defines the word in Matthew 5 and 19 (moichao) as to have "unlawful intercourse."

Al wrote: "Therefore, according to the Scriptures, adultery can be regarded figuratively as a breach of covenant with one's Lord; a breach which can be effected by any number of sinful, rebellious acts. In this sense, adultery is viewed as being far more than the performance of specific acts, but rather the breach of covenant itself which was generated by those acts."

You attribute to me an "incompleteness" when bringing forth definitions of porneia and specifically moichao (in this present discussion), but it appears that you are not letting your readers know that the authorities you cited actually have the word "adultery," in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, to be understood literally. Nothing figurative at all in these two passages. Your comment above is true, but not in the text of Matthew 5 and 19; the word "adultery" has a primary definition and its primary definition is to be applied unless the context demands otherwise. Frankly, scholarship is not on your side.

Al wrote: "It should be rather obvious, therefore, from this admittedly brief and incomplete overview, that adultery, as understood within the pages of the Scriptures, simply cannot be limited exclusively to the narrow definition of "an illicit sexual act between a married person and one other than their spouse."

If this is so, Al, then your references to John 8:3-11 and Hebrews 13:4 could also be understood as metaphors. If it cannot be limited to the physical act in Matthew 5 or 19, then it cannot be in either of the two you cited.

Al wrote: "By limiting the meaning of moicheia to only ONE of its many biblical usages, and then maintaining that this ALONE is adultery, one will have great difficulty understanding the teaching of Jesus with respect to divorce and remarriage."

This is simply false. But before I comment about it further, I'll wait and let you present the so-called difficulties you think I'll run into.


  1. Al has argued that the Greek word that gives us our English word "adultery" is to be understood in a broader way than merely the sexual -- physical act the word is usually understood as meaning. He cited Greek authorities in an attempt to bolster his case.

  2. I have strongly argued against this on the basis of the usual meaning of the word. The word is to have its primary meaning when the context demands it (and it does in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9). Further, when citing the Greek reference works that Al referred to, I made it known that Al did not use them in a "complete" sort of way. In other words, the authorities he cited did not (and do not) concur with Al's application of the word in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9.

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