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

Monday, February 19, 2001

Ron Thomas Responds
To Al's Recent Comments

To begin, I must apologize for the length of this post. I told Al I would try to "cut" it down as much as I could, but I had no success. I felt that everything in here was needed for the reader to consider.

Al wrote: "This is highly inconsistent, Ron, and smacks of a double standard. You are allowed to extend a certain meaning and application to a passage, even though you admit the context suggests another meaning and application entirely than the one you personally prefer. However, when I suggest that perhaps we should keep open the possibility that certain words should be considered in their FULL semantic range, which certainly is NOT imposing some foreign meaning and application upon a text, you insist this is unwarranted and unsafe hermeneutics. You can't have it both ways, brother!"

Let me make some brief comments with respect to Al's analysis of the word eunuch and Deuteronomy 14 (et al). I will dispute Al's attempt to attribute to me something dishonorable in saying I'm not allowing him to do what I do. This is patently false. There is much to say with respect to Al's analysis of the word "eunuch" and the application of Deuteronomy 14. Al has dealt with some of what I have offered, but not all. I believe, if I were to continue with an analysis of his words we would continue to digress from the present discussion. Perhaps we can pursue this portion at another time.

Clarification For Al

  1. When I made use of the "potentially" in Matthew 19 it was only to indicate that Jesus did not have a particular case in mind but spoke as if this were to happen then this would be the result.

  2. I have no definition for the word "adultery." I read and restate what is in standard reference works (Continued remarks that say it is my definition are vain and they are going to be understood as a complete distortion of the matter. Not one time did I ever give a definition that originated with me). W.E. Vine defined the word (as stated in my first post) and The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary made use of the phrase "always with the wife of another" (p. 17). When Vines defines the noun as "unlawful intercourse with the spouse of another" why do you find fault with me? Did I originate the definition? Was the woman, in John 8, guilty of adultery? Does it say (anywhere) that she had a husband?

  3. Another says: "Adultery commonly denotes the sexual intercourse of a woman with any other man than her husband, or of a married man with any other woman than his wife" (Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. 1, p. 84).


  1. Can a person ever live in adultery?

  2. Is the word "adultery" to be understood literally or metaphorically in John 8 and Hebrews 13?

  3. If one were to divorce and marry another person, and God did not approve of that divorce, would the marriage (to another) be acceptable to God?

  4. When two people get married does God have to be a part of that marriage for it to be acceptable to Him?

  5. What is the definition of "breaking of the covenant?" What does it include or not include?

Various Translations on Matthew 19:9

Al, I did not ask you to comment on the philosophies of the translators with respect to the versions. I asked you, in the context of the discussion surrounding Matthew 19:9, if any of the translations offered are wrong in their respective translating of Matthew 19:9. If so, where? You have said that if one were not to be aware of the context (immediate and extended) surrounding the words of Matthew 19:9 then it might be possible for one to understand the passage in a similar way as myself. Have the translators done a poor job of translating the Greek into English in Matthew 19:9?

Approval/Disapproval of Divorce & Remarriage

Al teaches that though God does not approve of any divorce He will recognize a divorce just the same and the subsequent remarriage even though He does not approve of it (the divorce). This is done because it is the "reality" of the situation. Al, will God approve of a marriage that was contracted because of a previously disapproved divorce? In Ezra 10 there was recognized marriages; did God approve of them (it was a "reality" situation)?

Reference Works

With respect to the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament Al said, "YES!! They got it wrong! Their writings are not inspired; these writings are simply the views of mere men (educated though they may be) who bring their personal biases and religious baggage to their work (oftentimes unintentionally) just like anyone else. Most scholars do a fairly good job of objective presentation of facts, and they are pretty reliable, but now and then one can detect the imposition of their theology upon their writings and teachings. I believe this is one such case."

Al, you are bold enough to say the authors of this are wrong in their reference to Matthew 5:32. What about the other references I brought to your attention? Are they also wrong? Did they insert their bias into their work? Incidentally, what is your evidence that they inserted their bias? Your comments (it seems to me) are very presumptive in nature. Al, are you also going to stand in judgment of the two other works I presented for your consideration? I did cite Louw & Nida's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains which in no way supports your contention with respect to Matthew 5:32. Or, how about Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament? Will you also stand in judgment of that?


Al said, "If Jesus had wanted to make the point about such a union being a case of 'living in continual adultery,' and not a real marriage at all, then this was the perfect opportunity to proclaim such a doctrine. However, He did not, and His inspired writer did not. Indeed, the expression oft used by the traditionalists --- 'living in adultery' --- NEVER appears anywhere in the Bible, not even once!!"

What's this supposed to mean? Merely because Jesus did not say anything about "living in adultery," means nothing! A homosexual relationship exists and has existed in the lives of many people. Did the Holy Spirit ever describe such sinful activity as "living in homosexuality?" If not, does this negate the fact that one does (and can) be "living in homosexuality?" Does the words "adulterer" or "adulteress" mean one continues in the activity? Are these words used in the Bible? If they are is it only on account of their existence in the Bible that it is an actual state in which one is?

Since you said that their marriage (Herod/Herodias) was not honorable, then it must have been dishonorable. Are there any "dishonorable" marriages today? If there is and you are aware of it (them) what would you say to the husband and wife?

Application of Adultery

Al said: "The actual 'adultery,' however, was committed against the first spouse, not the second. Ron would disagree with this and say the adultery was committed WITH the second spouse. However, by his own restricted definition of the word, 'adultery' can only be committed with one OTHER than one's spouse. Thus, Ron must deny that this second marriage is really a marriage, and he must deny that the divorce was really a divorce. He must assert that the man in the passage is really still married to the woman he divorced, and that he is having illicit sex with one OTHER than his wife with this second woman whom he has married."

Was Herod's second marriage really a marriage? He did divorce his first wife. Since it was really a marriage (and the Scripture does say they were married), then God recognized it. When God recognized it, did He approve of it (John said it was against the law)? Or, are some real second (or third, or fourth, etc) marriages a possible violation of God's will?

You imply, Al, that these two ideas are mutually exclusive. I've said no such thing. Adultery is committed against the spouse (first) and committed with the other person. This corresponds with Mark 10 and Matthew 19. Why would you say I would have to deny that the second marriage is a marriage? Have I said that sometime previous? Merely because a second marriage occurs does not mean God approves of it (as you have said yourself). Neither have I said (or implied) that a divorce is not a divorce. All that I have said with respect to this is that a divorce that has occurred does not necessarily mean that God approved of it.

You don't like the idea that Jesus applies the word "adultery" to a second marriage. So you broaden the application of the word. You say that it is a "breaking of the covenant" as if it is only this (or this is its primary meaning). Scholarship refutes your way of thinking. Adultery has a primary meaning (which is unlawful sexual intercourse with someone not their spouse) and a broader application or metaphorical meaning (the context determines the application). Is "breaking of the covenant" involved in adultery? Certainly it is, but in the reading of Matthew 5 and 19 the primary definition (unlawful sexual intercourse) is the demanded application. When "unlawful sexual intercourse" occurs is there a "breaking of the covenant?" There is, but it is not to be extended to (for instance) a lie. Al, is "lying" a breaking of the covenant? Is a "lie" breaking of trust? Is this a justifiable reason for one to divorce? Well, let's not say "justifiable." If one divorces for this reason, has the person who told the lie broken covenant with their spouse? If so, is a divorce a divorce and a subsequent marriage a marriage? Will God accept the "reality" of this divorce and subsequent marriage?

Merely because there exists a connection between "unlawful sexual intercourse" and a "breaking of the covenant" in no way justifies the metaphorical application in Matthew 5 and 19. There is also a connection between "lying" and "breaking of the covenant."

Your comparison of David and Uriah with marriage is apples and oranges.

Yes, Al, I did say that you reason well, from a human vantage point. There is no difficulty in admitting this. I said, and maintain, that Jesus does not concur with your reasoning process. You call into question my statement by saying that all Jesus said was that a person "commits adultery." There is nothing in these words, you believe, that would suggest a "continual living in adultery." Good enough. Al, what is the grammatical breakdown of that phrase? I think I'll wait until you tell us.

Analysis of Matthew 19

Matthew 19:9 --- "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery" (NKJV).

You seem to think, Al, that merely because a divorce might occur that somehow the "guilty" one can just join up with another partner and all will be fine (in practice, this is the essence of your teaching). The only "consequence" to such an action is that the "guilty" person is culpable to the breaking of the original marriage. As far as you are concerned, Al, the "guilty" one is free to do as he or she will (if not, then please tell how).

Analyzing the verse: Jesus recognized that if one were to divorce their spouse and marry another --- that person (who had done the divorcing) commits adultery. Al, is the English word "commits" (NKJV) a proper translation of the Greek word? How is the word "commits" to be understood? The KJV uses the word "commiteth." Is that a proper translation of the Greek word? Al, is this a proper translation of the Greek in Matthew 19:9 --- "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits breaking of the covenant; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits breaking of the covenant." How would you translate the passage?

Further, is there anything in His words that would indicate approval of this divorce? Is there anything in the second clause that would indicate approval of the subsequent marriage? He is merely stating the "fact" of the matter (though He recognized it to have occurred). Jesus said that if one were to divorce his wife and marry another that person would commit adultery and continue to do so. Now, you don't like the definition of the word "adultery" as given by standard references because it does not correspond with what you want to believe. That I cannot help. If Jesus recognized a divorced person as committing adultery --- I think I will too. You attribute to me the putting of words into the mouth of Jesus. Let us see what you say about the grammar of this passage in Matthew 19 and its application.

From the cumulative effect of your words you have indicated that "divorce" sets one free from a particular marriage AND that God will accept that. Do all divorces "unbind" the parties to the marriage? Is this what you believe? When two people marry who does the "binding?" God or man? If a divorce occurs who is to do the "unbinding?" God or man? You asked me if I believe the innocent (the one who put away the spouse because of fornication) is free to marry again without sin (from the reading of Matthew 19). Yes I do; Jesus implied it when He granted the marriage to exist without the quality of "adultery" being attached to it (the nature of the exceptive clause). You asked if the "guilty" spouse is also free to marry, since I believe the innocent is free from the marriage. You reason that if the "innocent" is free, then the "guilty" is free also. But, is the "guilty" spouse actually "free," Al? Is that what the verse says, or are you attributing something to Jesus He neither said nor implied? Let us do your analysis. The verse, again, says: "And I say to you, whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery" (NKJV). The one who divorces his spouse (leaving out the exceptive phrase) and marries another is guilty of adultery. The one who marries the divorced spouse is also guilty of adultery. Did Jesus say that the one who married the divorced spouse is guilty of adultery? If this is not what He said, then what did He say? If Jesus attributed the "quality" of adultery to the now married (but earlier divorced) spouse, then why do you find fault with me? It seems evident that Jesus regarded the divorced spouse as "bound" to something for the quality of "adultery" to be attached. Even if the "innocent" is free of the first marriage, Jesus, evidently, did not "free" the "guilty" spouse.

Al, tell me where I have to redefine "divorce" and "marriage." You say that is what I have to do, please, tell me where or even why I would have to do so. In Ezra 10 did God recognize the marriages that were then in existence? If He did, then why did Ezra require the separation as he did?

You say to me that I have to understand the broader semantic range of the word. Interesting to me that of all the references I have looked at, not one concurs with your "broader" semantic application in the two passages under discussion.

Yes, Al, I will attribute to you (just as you've said) the fallacy of emotion when considering the abuses that have taken place or will take place. Those who are guilty of such actions will answer to the Lord. But, if you want to continue along this line, then have at it! But, I will ask, since you think that teaching I believe is an abomination from hell, then is it fair to say you think I'm a false teacher (can a teaching that comes from hell ever be true teaching?)? If you think I am (and I don't mind you saying so), then please tell me.

Analysis of Matthew 5

I will admit, at the outset, the difficulty surrounding the application of the passive clause of Matthew 5:32. The passage reads: "But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery" (NKJV).

The phrase "causes her to commit adultery" in the translation above is in the active sense, but the Greek has it in the passive. So, the idea is, "But I assure you that any man who divorces his wife except for fornication makes her to have suffered adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery" (Hugo McCord's translation).

The analysis of this passage must begin with Jesus' words in verse 31. Jesus made reference to Deuteronomy 24:1. The law in Deuteronomy 24 was that if a man married a woman and then gave her a writing of divorcement she was to go out and was allowed to be married to another. Jesus dealt with the divorce and the writing of divorcement (which was a justification, or an acceptable reason, for the divorce). Jesus then makes use of a conjunction "but" that would appear to get at the heart of the matter, hence His words in verse 28. But, what about the woman who had been put away through no fault of her own? Was she guilty of adultery? By the definition of the word, as accepted by scholarship (but not Al) in this passage, the answer is no. Well, then how could she be guilty? The understanding of verse 32 has to be connected to Deuteronomy 24 since Jesus made reference to it. So, if she is divorced, through no fault of her own, she is thrust into the position (or stigma) of being guilty of adultery. If her husband, who put her away, marries another then adultery is committed against her (the one put away). Certainly, he is the culpable one. Further, Jesus said that the person who marries the put away (divorced) woman commits adultery.

The word "adultery" is an aorist infinitive in Greek. It has been translated "makes her commit adultery" (NASV), "causes her to become an adulteress" (NIV). All recognized authorities (Bengel, Word Biblical Commentary, Expositors Biblical Commentary, Leon Morris, Henry Alford, Pulpit Commentary, John Broadus, D.A. Carson, Fritz Rienecker) that I have make note of the passive term, but understand it and interpret it to be the woman thrust into the position of committing adultery. R.C.H. Lenski says she has been stigmatized as an adulterous.

Al has to broaden the word from its normal meaning to get his theology to work. Hugo McCord made reference to the occurrences of the word "adultery" as spoken by Jesus. He said that Jesus used the word in three different ways: (1) physical, fourteen times, (2) mental, one time, (3) figurative, a general unfaithfulness in all of life, three times (Working in the Word, December 1998, p. 5).

Al castigates me if I were to insist on the literal definition (as given by scholars, which in fact, never gave the definition as much as they recognized how the word was used over the centuries). He says that I have to attribute to Jesus words He never spoke. Al referred to Matthew Henry and R.C.H. Lenski. In the section pertaining to Matthew 5:32 Matthew Henry recognized the woman being put into the position of committing adultery. He says it this way: "but he that puts away his wife upon any other pretense, causeth her to commit adultery, and him also that shall marry her when she is thus divorced" (Vol. 5, p. 62, emphasis in original). Al also introduced a comment from Lenski (seemingly with approval); Lenski said the woman was stigmatized. When he says I would have to put words into Jesus' mouth to say a certain thing --- he apparently accepts Lenski's putting words (or a word) into the text for the sake of clarification. I guess Al wants it both ways.

Al said: "For 'adultery' to have been committed here, it is going to have to be something other than 'sex with one other than one's spouse.' If you want to rewrite the biblical text, and add all manner of conditions and assumptions to the teaching of Jesus, then I suppose I can't stop you. However, when you examine what Jesus actually said here, you are going to have to realize that 'adultery' simply can NOT carry the meaning in this passage of 'SEX with one other than one's spouse.' It will not work, Ron."

The literal definition won't work, but evidently "breaking of the covenant" will? Al, if adultery, as used here, is a breaking of the covenant and the breaking of the covenant can include the sexual act, then why can't it fit? You said, "she had 'adultery' (breaking of covenant) committed AGAINST her!!" How does this definition, Al, fit in the next clause of verse 32? You would have it to read: "and whoever shall marry her that is divorced shall be breaking covenant" (with whom would she be breaking covenant? According to you she is free and, hence, not married).

Al said: "Ron seems to think, apparently, that understanding moicheia to signify a breaking of covenant is an erroneous imposition of meaning upon the text. That simply is not true. It is indeed one of the viable, legitimate meanings and applications of this word, and such has been recognized and utilized for centuries."

Certainly, adultery includes the idea of breaking covenant as much as any other sin against a spouse might include the idea of breaking covenant. But adultery here in Matthew 5 and 19 does not mean breaking covenant; it means unlawful sexual intercourse.

Addendum on Matthew 5:32

The following is taken from: Professor Gary D. Collier: A Note on the Translation of "moiei auten moicheuthenai" ("causes her to commit adultery") in Matthew 5:32, February 3, 1999.


The form moicheuthenai ("to be guilty of adultery, to commit adultery") is an aorist passive infinitive (only here in the NT). It is generally translated as a verb which indicates the woman's action, "makes her commit adultery" (KJV, NASV, TEV, and others), or as a verb which indicates her subsequent status, "makes her an adulteress" (RSV, NRSV, ASV, and ERV). The NIV translates "causes her to become an adulteress."

R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of Matthew's Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1961, p. 232-35), objects to this practice, energetically arguing that it should rather be translated as "has been adulterated," exculpating the wife of any wrong doing (cf., NEB: "involves her in adultery"). He further notes that, "No attempt is made to prove that the passive forms of this verb have the same sense as the active." He is followed in this by John Edwards, An In-Depth Study, p. 123-131, who also cites S. Zodhiates, What About Divorce? (Chattanooga: AMG, p. 130-34).

Unfortunately, Zodhiates gives inaccurate information about the occurrences of the passive forms of moicheuw in the NT, and Lenski's charge is at least outdated (perhaps he based his study on lexicons that did not list extra-biblical sources). BAGD, p. 526 notes numerous instances in which the passive form is common in reference to the adulteress, the one "with whom" adultery is committed. Among other examples, see: Sirach 23:23; Philo, Decalogue 124; and Josephus, Antiquities 7:131. In addition to these, see: Lev. 20:10 and John 8:4 (although John 8:4 could be understood as a middle, this is not the case with Lev. 20:10 which translates a Hebrew active. See below).

Surely, the situation has been stated correctly by Davies/Allison, Matthew, p. 528f: "The unstated assumption is that the woman will remarry." This point is very important, inasmuch as (1) Deut. 24:1ff is the text directly under review and it clearly indicates the remarriage of the divorced woman --- a life of "remaining single" after divorce was not a consideration in the Deuteronomy text; (2) the husband is blamed for forcing his wife into that situation; and (3) the point is not that "divorce is allowed, but remarriage is adultery," the point is that divorce in the first place results in adultery. So, it is the practice of divorce and of justifying it by Scripture that are under attack in Matthew 5.

The Passive Voice

It is important to see in Matt. 5:32 that the charge is against the husband who uses Scripture to justify the divorce: he is responsible for forcing his wife into adultery. Many people miss this point. According to Jesus, the one who views Deut. 24:1ff as a law which makes divorce legal (and so divorces his wife using Deut. 24 as a sanction) breaks the very intent of the law and forces his wife into adultery. The husband is at fault and therefore is held responsible for causing adultery. Even though she ends up guilty of adultery, the husband is blamed for it. (The notion that the wife is merely "tainted" with adultery and is somehow not guilty or responsible is not a part of this text).

The point here is about translating the passive voice of the verb moicheuw. Let us look at two texts from the Septuagint (LXX) which use our word in the passive voice. First, Lev. 20:10 (LXX and MT) can be helpful here since, in Greek, the active, middle and passive voices of this verb are all three used in one sentence to translate the Hebrew active voice! Note the LXX text first, followed by a comparison of the Hebrew and Greek (OT) texts:

There are other examples. The point here is that the LXX is not making subtle differences between active, middle and passive voices on this verb. In the first example, the Greek active, middle and passive forms of this verb are used to translate the Hebrew active voice. When this is coupled with other classical and Hellenistic references which use the passive form in similar ways as Lev. 20:10 and Sirach 23:23, then one must be cautious about reading too much into the alteration of voices for this particular verb. (See Liddel/Scott's classical lexicon, p. 1141 for specific references to ancient texts with moicheuthenai (aor. pass. inf.) et al for women who are guilty of adultery.)

Final Translation

Lenski's argument that the divorced wife is merely "adulterated" and somehow exculpated cannot be sustained. The bottom line is that moicheuthenai, though passive, is well translated with an active sense: "to commit adultery," or better still with a sense that focuses less on an action than a status: "to be guilty of adultery."

The context of Matt. 5:32 is best understood, not as an attempt to define every manner in which one might become guilty of adultery, or as an attempt to distinguish between divorce and remarriage so as to precisely locate adultery (e.g., at remarriage?), but as an attempt to condemn those who would use Scripture itself to justify or sanction the practice of divorce. Just because Deut. 24:1ff offers instructions on a divorce decree (says Jesus) does not mean that Scripture should be used to justify the practice or pursuit of divorce. In the same way, just because Matt. 5:32 uses the aorist passive moicheuthenai does not mean that the real issue to be discovered is whether the woman (in this case) is an innocent or guilty party. It is always a danger that in focusing on technicalities we will miss the major concern of a text. The point, here, is rather simple: Using scripture to justify or sanction what God has never wanted is always wrong and always causes terrible problems!

For Matthew, divorce is clearly against the desire of God. In this context, the phrase poiei auten moicheuthenai is well translated as "forces her into adultery," or "forces her to become guilty of adultery." The concern of the context is not on exactly how this happens, or on precisely what she does that brings about the status "adultery," but on the actions of the husband in using the law to justify divorce in the first place. Whatever her status, it is not what God wanted; and the husband is the one who caused it by his abuse of Scripture.

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