Friday, December 2, 2011

More on Divorce

I don't feel my previous post did this justice, so I'd like to go back and look further into the topic of the "exception clause" in Matthew 5. First, lets read Matthew's second record of Jesus speaking on this matter found in chapter 19:3-10.
Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?”

He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.

They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?”

He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.

[His] disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”
This is taken from the NAB version, which is informed in it's translation by Catholic Tradition, so the problem of the "exception clause" has already been resolved. You'd find the same to be true of the parallel verse in chapter 5. Instead of the words, "except on the ground of unchastity," found in the RSV, or the similar wording of other translations, we find the words, "(unless the marriage is unlawful)." This "unlawful marriage" is a reference to the Levitical laws regarding sex, so this translation leads clearly to the understanding of the Catholic Church, which is that valid sacramental marriages are entirely permanent, and only a marriage which was "unlawful" to begin with can be ended.

Of course the problem still exists that Protestants do not use the NAB, and we really have to back to the original Greek manuscripts of Matthew's Gospel. What we find is inconclusive.

The Greek word which is variously translated as "unlawful marriage" or "unchastity," is porneia. This word is used many times in the Greek New Testament and Septuagint, and it has a variety of context sensitive meanings. Let's spend a moment on the rest of the words in the exception clauses of Matthew 5 & 19 before we return to that key word. The Greek literally translates as "except on the ground of porneias" or "excluding the matter of porneias" in Matthew 5 and "except for porneia" in Matthew 19. The Greek does not state that this is "her porneia," as translations such as the NLT or GNT convey. Still, the porneia in question could be "her porneia," it just isn't stated outright in the Greek.

Back to porneia, its most straight-forward meaning is "prostitution," but based on context, it can also refer to just about any kind of sexual immorality, such as adultery, homosexuality, fornication, incest, or unlawful relations. Thus, translations which give the word as "unchastity" or "sexual immorality" are trying to be broad just as the original word can be broad.

We can however, be fairly certain that the intended meaning is not "adultery," because the same verse uses the word which specifically means "adultery" twice, but does not use that word within the exception clause. But what kind of "sexual immorality" or "unchastity" can exist within marriage other than adultery? Given what Jesus said about lust in Matthew 5:28, it is hard to imagine a sexual sin which would not be considered adultery. Yet, here, Jesus is intentionally using a word that is not meant to mean adultery. And the only meaning of the word, "porneia," which actually differs from "adultery" within the context would be "unlawful relations." If a person were married in a way opposed to the law, they may or may not be culpable of adultery, but regardless, their marriage is void.

We find porneia used in a very similar situation in Acts 15:20, where James says:

"but tell them [the Gentiles] by letter to avoid pollution from idols, porneias, the meat of strangled animals, and blood."

We find porneias translated in this verse in a similar manner, as either "sexual immorality," "unchastity," or "unlawful marriage." The context of the verse is clearly related to Jewish Levitical law, not universal morality. It would make no sense to tell the Gentile converts to avoid adultery in this context; they were already well aware they needed to obey the moral law, including the Ten Commandments. The question was what parts, if any, of the Levitical law were they expected to follow. The only reasonable understanding of porneia would then be "unlawful marriage."

Thus, in Matthew's gospel, Jesus was not leaving a loophole, rather he was making clear that his statement did not apply to "the matter of unlawful relations."

Yes, at times this can be a hard teaching, but that's why our Lord's disciples said, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”

While I find this argument sound, volumes have been said on the matter, and there exists a great deal of disagreement. I'll add some links to more information below:

The Church Fathers on the permanence of matrimony.

Did Jesus say adultery is grounds for divorce?
byJimmy Akin

What does the Catholic Church teach on divorce and remarriage?
by Patrick Madrid