The porneia Clauses in Matthew 5.32 and 19.9: A brief examination of the current debate with a proposal for future discussion.
No one is surprised anymore when it is declared that divorce rates are on the rise. It is simply a matter of fact in Canada. As of the end of 2003, more than 38% of marriages will result in divorce before the couple celebrates its 30th anniversary.1 This is particularly alarming when other studies show that divorce amongst older couples who have been married longer is on the rise.2 What's more, about 16% of all divorces in Canada involve at least one partner who has been previously divorced (i.e. this is at least his / her second divorce).3 Perhaps the most alarming fact is that "born again" Christians are every bit as likely to divorce as those who do not profess faith in Christ.4 In a very sad way, we who are supposed to be "salt" and "light" have lost all taste and brightness. The reason for studying divorce is clear: it is "one of those rare subjects for which academia has the potential to make a direct and meaningful impact on the real mess of people's lives."5 Divorce is everywhere in today's culture and Christians must be able to speak with clarity and insight to a world of hurt (both in and outside the church).
There are many problems inherent with studying this topic, however. One may lament with Vawter that no matter how persuasively Christian leaders argue against divorce, pragmatism and hardness of heart will still win in the end,6 or one may simply be overwhelmed by the amount of discrepancy and debate involved in the subject. Collier laments that even though this is an opportunity for the church to speak to our people and our culture "where the rubber meets the road" it is incredibly difficult with the number of studies produced to even understand the text, let alone gain direction from them.7 David Janzen can identify with the "lostness" which can attend studying even just Jesus' exceptive clauses in Matthew: "It is likely that not a truer word has been written in the field of biblical studies than Ben Witherington's observation that nearly everything about the two Matthean divorce exception clauses is disputed."8 Collier cites Luz's commentary on Matthew (1985, v.1, p.73) and says that the literature on porneiva and the exception clause is "unsurveyable."9 Having noted all that, it is still the intention of this author to deal with this very issue.
Though the material is "unsurveyable," it could well be argued that many of the volumes currently being produced are merely reproducing and recycling arguments which have previously been put forward. Scholars are (very) broadly divided into three main positions10 with regard to Jesus' allowance for divorce in Matthew's Gospel: (1) No divorce is allowed, since porneiva should be translated "incest" and refers to the annulment of incestuous marriages of Pagan converts to the Matthean Christian community,11 (2) Divorce is allowed in cases of porneiva, but remarriage is always forbidden,12 or (3) Divorce and remarriage are allowed only13 in cases of porneiva.14 These three groups continue to publish articles and books back and forth with regards to the origin / authenticity of the exception clause, whether the statement itself was formulated as an apodictic general prophetic principle or in legal ordinance form, the meaning of porneiva, the referent of the exception, what the assumptions of Jesus' audience would have been, what the early church believed (and if that is even a legitimate argument to build a case on),15 etc., but no consensus has been reached as to what Matthew actually intended to convey in his exception clauses.
It is the opinion of this author that with this amount of material being produced, one of three possibilities must be the reality: (1) One group is right and the others are simply not capable of understanding (or willing to accept) it; (2) One group is right, but both sides are spending so much time and effort talking that they are not taking the time to listen, or; (3) Everyone is arguing their own positions from the same pool of inconclusive data, which results in people simply compiling the evidence which best supports their preconceived conclusion.16 Since the first two are hardly likely, it will be the goal of this paper to examine a few of the key current issues being debated, showing how the evidence on both sides in many cases is both convincing and yet inconclusive, and then finally to suggest another alternative which--though not really new--perhaps has not received the fair hearing it deserves. This paper will not develop a comprehensive theology of divorce, but will seek only to deal with some of the issues surrounding the Matthean exception clauses and perhaps draw some tentative conclusions from there.
2. Popular, Yet Inconclusive Debates
A. The Origin / Authenticity of the Exception Clause
Since the synoptic parallels of Jesus' divorce statements (Mark 10.2-12; and Luke 16.18) appear without the exception given them by Matthew in both 5.32 and 19.9, critical commentators are quick to offer suggestions about redactional additions by the author of Matthew. This issue must preface all discussion on the exception clause, for if the clause is not original then we have already received an interpretation of Jesus' statements on divorce: Matthew clearly feels that even though the original statements of Jesus were absolute, his disciples were free to allow exceptions, as Matthew himself does here.17 But is it so clear that the exception clause is in fact redactional?
in keeping with Matthew's general purposes and the context in which he has set the logion to conclude that he has simply adapted the dominical saying to the more of a society in which porneia had long been regarded as making divorce mandatory, not optional.20
In other words, Matthew is merely adapting the saying of Jesus--which was originally absolute prohibition of divorce--to his culture, which demanded divorce.
Davies and Allison,21 Nolland,22 and Hagner23 all agree with Vawter that the exception is a Matthean addition. It is argued that it is "extremely unlikely" that the sayings are original with Jesus because (1) they do not fit with the context of absolute statements regarding the ethics of the kingdom (or the synoptic parallel divorce teachings for that matter), (2) the clause is an accommodation to the common understanding of Deuteronomy 24.1, which probably reflects the actual practice of the Matthean community more than Jesus' teaching, and (3) the addition of the exception nullifies the antithesis (5.31) and in the case of the parallel in 19.3-12 weakens the logic of the passage, where Jesus appears no different than the Pharisees of the Shammaite persuasion.24
Nolland believes that the exception clause is from a group of believers who wanted to make Jesus' directions practical, not understanding that he was seeking to establish an absolute moral vision rather than giving practical directions on how we should live, implementing that principle.25 He concludes,
I think it most likely that Matthew found the exception clause in the tradition that stands behind Mt. 5.32, and that to produce consistency he added this into the tradition that stands behind Mt. 19.9, which came to him without an exception clause, but that the exception clause is still best taken as a pre-Matthean addition to a tradition which originally lacked it.26
The difference between Jesus' absolute statement and the excepted one that the Matthean community produces is to be expected: "Such rules for life are never exactly the same thing as the original moral vision."27
In clear contrast with these scholars, Carson argues for the authenticity of the exceptive clause.28 In his words, "not a few scholars hold that, at least on this point, Matthew 19:9 is authentic and that Mark omits the obvious exception."29 It is argued that since most assume Matthean redaction because the exception clause makes verse 9 incoherent with verses 4-8, if verse 9 can be shown to be coherent with the rest of the passage, it forbids claiming that Matthew was dependent on Mark. And even if one could prove Markan priority in this pericope, the elements that would be presumed to be redactional cannot be assumed ahistorical unless there is strong evidence showing that Matthew had access to no other information--evidence which simply does not exist.30 Likewise, Cornes argues that it is difficult (to say the least) to think that Matthew would simply make a redactional concession to the hard circumstances of his community given the uncompromising nature of the Sermon on the Mount and the fact that there is no tendency anywhere in Matthew to soften the requirements of the law. This idea is "without parallel" elsewhere in the gospel.31
In conclusion, it appears that nothing may be proven in a hard and fast manner about the origin of the exception clauses: Those arguing that the clause is redactional do so based on their own conclusions and assumptions, not on any textual evidence and those who argue for the origin of the sayings with Christ simply point this out. The burden of proof, ultimately, still must lie with those who would argue that the clause is an editorial insertion.32
B. Popular Understandings of porneiva
The question of what Matthew means by the word porneiva has produced no shortage of scholarly interest and presents a particular problem in the texts at hand. Had Matthew simply intended to convey the idea of "marital unfaithfulness,"33 the choice of porneiva instead of moiceiva is unusual at best. Feinberg and Feinberg have their doubts about translating porneiva simply as "adultery":
We doubt that the word (porneia) refers only to adultery. The more usual word for adultery is moicheia, and in 15:19 Matthew distinguishes porneia from moicheia. In fact, in Matthew porneia only occurs three times (5:32; 15:19; and 19:9). Two of the three are the cases in question, and the third (15:19) clearly distinguishes moicheia from porneia."34
Davies and Allison agree: "moiceuvw and moicavomai are the words the evangelist uses for 'commit adultery' (5.27, 28, 32; 19.9, 18), and in 15.19, moiceiva and porneiva are clearly two different sins. So porneiva is not likely to mean 'adultery'."35
So the question must then be asked, "why did Matthew choose porneiva rather than moiceiva?" Fitzmyer has suggested that it is because the porneiva under discussion is incest.36 The argument is that there is evidence from Palestinian literature that marriage was acceptable amongst pagans within degrees of kinship too close for Jewish law. For those who were converting to Christianity, this posed a serious problem: What happens to the marriage? This explanation helps to inform us why porneiva was one of the things that Gentiles were to refrain from in Acts 15.29 at the Jerusalem council. Here appeal is also made to 1 Corinthians 5.1 where a man is chided for committing porneiva in his union with his father's wife.
This argument has been widely refuted, however. For one thing, with regard to the 1 Corinthians 5 passage, "it is very doubtful whether Paul or any other Jew would have regarded an incestuous relationship as marriage" at all. Rather, "Paul would not have told the couple to get a divorce but to stop what they were doing."37 In his excursus on porneiva as incestuous unions, Keener notes that this position "requires us to suppose a situation that must have been so rare as barely to warrant mention, especially if we assume a Syro-Palestinian provenance for Matthew."38 He goes on to explain that while there is evidence that the Jews suspected the Gentiles of widespread incest, their suspicions "misrepresented the actual degree of incidence of the activity."39
There are, most assuredly, many problems with the incest view. The "evangelical consensus" or "Erasmian" view is the most widely accepted reading of the text. Keener argues for this position from the perspective of how Jesus' audience would have understood his words: they would have "understood this (porneiva)as a legal charge, interpreting these words in line with the typical meaning of 'infidelity' as grounds for divorce, namely, sexual unfaithfulness to the marriage." Since Jewish and Roman law both mandated divorce on such grounds, "Mark and Luke could probably assume such an exception without explicitly stating it."40 France agrees:
The Matthaean clause merely spells out what was taken for granted in current thinking, and is therefore assumed in the other versions, i.e. that adultery automatically annuls a marriage by creating a new sexual union in its place... The Matthaean exceptive clause is not therefore introducing a new provision, but making explicit what any Jewish reader would have taken for granted when Jesus made the apparently unqualified pronouncements of Mark 10:9-12.41
Fundamental to this conclusion is the argument which Carson makes in his comments on 19.9:
Sexual sin has a peculiar relation to Jesus' treatment of Genesis 1:27; 2:24 (in Matt 19:4-6), because the indissolubility of marriage he defends by appealing to those verses from the creation accounts is predicated on sexual union ("one flesh"). Sexual promiscuity is therefore a de facto exception.42
Based on these observations these scholars are able to rest firmly in the position that they may take the "natural" understanding of porneiva as "unrepentant adultery,"43 "sexual unfaithfulness to the marriage,"44 or "sexual sin of any sort."45 Divorce and remarriage can be legitimate since the sexual promiscuity of the one partner has fundamentally broken the "one-flesh" union.
At first glance, this position seems safe from refutation, but such is not the case. On account of space limitations, the problems inherent with this view can only be addressed briefly. (1) The idea that the "one-flesh" union is created by the act of intercourse and thus can be broken by an act of intercourse is not in fitting with the text. Though the sexual union appears to be the means by which the two are brought together, it is not what joins them together--God is the one doing the joining. This is why Jesus says, "What God has joined together, let not man separate" (19.6). If it were the case that "one-flesh unions" were broken by adultery then it would only follow that if a wife committed porneiva, the husband would have to divorce her since she has become "one flesh" with another man and therefore, she is no longer his wife. For him to remain with her, then, would be adultery. This is clearly not what the text is saying. Moreover, if a lustful glance is adultery (5.27-30) and "sexual sin of any sort" is grounds for divorce (5.31-32), then it is difficult to see how Jesus is being strict on divorce at all.
(2) This argument amounts to nothing more than a "Christian statement of the Shammaite position"46 excepting that where Shammai demanded divorce, Jesus merely allows it. This hardly accounts for the disciples' shock in 19.10. (3) This argument does not explain the choice of porneiva over moiceiva except if one is willing to admit that "porneia should mean more than adulterous infidelity."47 Again, this does not seem to fit with Jesus' demand for a righteousness that will surpass the Pharisees' (5.20).
(4) This view of divorce based on "hardness of heart" (19.8) does not seem to fit in with the kingdom ethic or the heart reflected in the beatitudes (5.3-10).48 While Carson argues that kingdom morality is not being appealed to in 19.3-12,49 the same cannot be said about the clause in Matthew 5. Moreover, Collier has put 19.1-12 into the context of this section of Matthew's gospel and arrives at an entirely different conclusion:
Matt 16:13-20:34 specifically deals with the demands or rigid-ness of following Jesus, and the values of the kingdom of heaven are set forth: self-sacrifice and allegiance (16:24-17:13); faith (17:14-21); submission to authority (17:24-27); self-denial and humility (18:1-14); forgiveness and mercy (18:15-35); moral purity (19:1-12); innocence and humility (19:13-15); detachment from possessions (19:16-30); and position and service (20:1-16; 20-28). With the interspersion of Jesus' fate (viz., to suffer, be killed, and be raised: 16:21-23; 17:22-23; 20:17-19) into the demands or values of the kingdom of heaven, the ultimate demand is shown: a willingness on the part of disciples to follow the steps of Jesus even to death. This is a call to total discipleship. Those who understand the demands or values of the kingdom in the context of suffering know what it is to think the things of God. It is in this context of the rigidness of the values of the kingdom that Matt 19:1-9 appears as a call to moral purity in the face of the Pharisees' abuse of the law of Moses.50
Seen in this context, a call to absolute righteousness seems far more appropriate than allowance for "hard heartedness."51
(5) France has explained the presence of the exceptive clause in Matthew alone by stating that Matthew is simply "making explicit what any Jewish reader would have taken for granted when Jesus made the apparently unqualified pronouncements of Mark 10:9-12."52 This proves quite problematic, however. For one thing, if any "Jewish" reader would have assumed this, then why would the gospel-writer to the Jews be the only one to include it? Would this not be a more likely explanation if Luke were the only writer to include it? Even more importantly, however, is how dangerous this logic can be when applied consistently. The proposition here is that when Jesus makes an absolute statement, a, and there are cultural expectations which limit that absolute, b, present, then b trumps (or at least qualifies) a. So if Jesus declares that every lustful glance is adultery, a, but there is the cultural expectation that men are allowed to take such glances, so long as they are not excessive, b, then b must rule a, and men should be allowed to (at least in a limited sense) look lustfully at women. This is troublesome to say the least and it is doubtful if anyone would want to consistently apply this logic.
(6) France and others see Matthew as trying to be practical by providing a realistic expectation: "The fact that Matthew includes the phrase suggests that he had an eye not only to the general statement of principle but also the applicability of his teaching in a real-life situation."53 This presents a problem, however, for those who would otherwise hold that Jesus' teaching style in Matthew 5-7 is much more haggadic.54 With this understanding one is put in the uncomfortable position of having to discern why Jesus was inconsistent in his teaching style (haggadic for 5.21-30, then halakhic for 5.31-32, then haggadic again in 5.33ff) or else having to explain why Matthew has misunderstood or misrepresented Jesus by offering a halakhic interpretation of what Jesus taught in haggadic manner.55
In summing up this matter one is forced to conclude that even though the incest view is extremely unlikely (if not entirely implausible) still the "marital unfaithfulness" position is perhaps not an air-tight alternative. This remains, however, the majority position. As stated in the introduction, within this "divorce for marital unfaithfulness" camp there are two main schools of thought; one which allows remarriage if the divorce is legitimate (i.e. for porneiva), and one which decries all remarriage as adultery.56 The reason for this difference of opinion is where attention is turned next.
C. To What Does the Exception Clause Refer?
Commenting on the text of exception clause in Matthew 5.32, Davies and Allison regretfully inform the reader that "In our judgment, the issue cannot, unfortunately, be resolved on exegetical grounds: Matthew's words are simply too cryptic to admit of a definitive interpretation."57 Unfortunately, this issue, like many of the others surrounding these texts, does not seem to yield much common ground between interpreters or clarity for the reader. The issue debated here is whether or not the exception clause ("except for porneiva") refers to the divorce alone (thus giving grounds for legitimate divorce, but not remarriage), or whether it governs the entire protasis (thus giving ground for divorce and allowing for remarriage in cases where the divorce was conducted for porneiva).
As a leading proponent of the "valid remarriage" school of thought, D.A. Carson argues that the exceptive clause must "be understood to govern the entire protasis. We may paraphrase as follows: 'Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery--though this principle does not hold in the case of porneia.'"58
Those who have spent the most time and effort arguing against this reading of the clause are Heth and Wenham.59 The main thrust of their argument is as follows:
The elliptical phrase 'except for immorality' does not contain a verb, and the one to be supplied is the one immediately preceding it - 'put away' - the one Matthew's readers just passed over. It would indeed be grammatically harsh to force another verb - 'marries another' - into this elliptical clause that is clearly, by the nature of its position in the protasis, linked only with 'put away'. The construction of 19:9 basically indicates that we are dealing with two conditional statements, one that is qualified and one that is unqualified or absolute:
1 A man may not put away his wife unless she is guilty of adultery
2 Whoever marries another after putting away his wife commits adultery60
The problem that interpreters like Murray and Carson have with these verses, they argue, is that they try rearranging the words in a way that makes sense in English, rather than thinking about them from the Greek mindset.61
This author simply does not have the facility with the language required to conduct an educated evaluation of the arguments, but it does appear that there is now somewhat of a scholarly consensus (in part). Keener,62 Hagner,63 Cornes64 and others have all acknowledged that Heth and Wenham's treatment of the text is to be preferred over Carson and Murray's, although this does not mean that they all agree about the conclusions to be drawn.
Even Carson concedes that it is "formally true that the except clause is syntactically linked to the divorce clause, not the remarriage clause," but yet he insists that "this is scarcely decisive."65 In similar fashion, like-minded Keener acknowledges that "'except for infidelity' may modify Jesus' statement about divorce rather than remarriage, but if it does it does so precisely because, in Jesus' graphic statement, it is the validity of the divorce that is in question."66 In stark contrast, Cornes, who holds the opposite view, is willing to acknowledge that Carson and Murray's understanding of the syntax is "a perfectly natural way to understand the verse in isolation."67 He concludes:
So, both interpretations of Matthew 19:9 are possible and the syntax of the sentence, taken by itself, might lead us to believe that Jesus allows remarriage (and is saying that the marriage bond has been destroyed) in the case of divorce for adultery.68
Thus, in the end, the reader is left with the understanding that even the scholars writing on the issue are unable to draw conclusions based on the syntax of the sentence. Each writer is willing to concede that the sentence may rightly be taken in the way that his opponent takes it, but will not concede that such an understanding would lead to his opponents' conclusion.69
It appears that Davies and Allison were right and that the issue cannot be decisively resolved on exegetical grounds because each scholar is drawing from inconclusive evidence and using that to support the positions which are developed from elsewhere. Heth, too, has recognized to some extent the futility of the study thus far:
Most NT specialists concentrating on the NT divorce material seem to be sufficiently aware of cultural backgrounds and prevailing attitudes in both Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts. Yet when each one takes his or her own hypotheses about what Matthew's and Paul's readers would have assumed, combines them with their exegesis of the pertinent OT and NT texts, and then filters it all through their own biblical theology of Christian ethics, sometimes radically different conclusions emerge. This must mean that good textual, grammatical, lexical, biblical-theological, contextual congruency, and cultural context points of validation are being offered on all sides.70
So what is the thoughtful Christian who is thus far unpersuaded left with?
3. A Suggested Solution
A. The Legitimacy of Looking Within
In March of 1993 Dale Allison published an article entitled "Divorce, Celibacy and Joseph (Matthew 1:18-25 and 19:1-12)." In it he discussed some of the thoughts that he has had since his commentary on Matthew was published; namely, with regard to the figure of Joseph in Matthew 1 and his potential connection to Jesus' teachings on divorce and celibacy in Matthew 19. In this article Allison pushes his colleagues to move beyond looking for technical, syntactical or extratextual evidence for determining the meaning of the divorce exception clauses and to look within Matthew for an intertextual explanation:
Maybe we have been looking for an extratextual explanation--Matthew borrowed from Shammai (so most), or Matthew's brand of Judaism required divorce for adultery (so Bockmuehl), or Matthew's community had a problem with Gentile converts incestuously married (so Fitzmyer)--whereas we should have been looking for an intertextual explanation: the exception clauses allow for harmony with 1.18-25.71
In Matthew 1.18-25 the story of Joseph is narrated, and he is declared "righteous" (a loaded word in Matthew's gospel) because he was desirous of divorcing Mary quietly when he found out that she was pregnant. This "righteous" man's decision to divorce would surely still be in the mind of the original audience when, only a few chapters later, Jesus teaches on divorce in the Sermon on the Mount. Allison reflects, "Although discussions of Mt. 5.31-32 and 19.1-12 have, at least in my reading, paid little if any attention to 1.18-25, it is difficult to fathom why."72 The argument is made, then, that the reason why Matthew includes the exception clause is specifically because he is creating harmony between Jesus' righteous father and Jesus' righteous teaching.73
At this point, however, Allison's argument contains a fatal flaw. He instructs the reader to note well: "such harmony only obtains if porneiva = 'adultery', for adultery is (despite the demurral of a few commentators) the imagined crime of Mary."74 Janzen points out that Allison is wrong here because "he sees the situation of Joseph and Mary as one of full marriage. Mt 1.18 is quite clear, however, that at this point the couple is only engaged."75 And thus, by taking a narrative-critical approach to the gospel of Matthew one can begin to let Matthew be his own interpreter, and also begin to discover the proposed solution.76
B. A Potential Insight from Porneia
The proposal being brought forward is an offshoot of the betrothal view. The most common critique of this view comes from the use of the word porneiva. Perhaps being overly kind, Heth and Wenham critique the betrothal view as such: "The only major objection to this view is the restricted nuance given the word porneia. Without specific contextual indicators would Matthew's readers have understood it to mean betrothal unchastity?"77 Carson critiques the view along the same lines:
It must be admitted that the word porneia itself is very broad. In unambiguous contexts it can on occasion refer to a specific kind of sexual sin. Yet even then this is possible only because the specific sexual sin belongs to the larger category of sexual immorality. Porneia covers the entire range of such sins and should not be restricted unless the context requires it.78
He offers only a brief treatment of this view, rejecting the notion that pre-marital fornication could be meant by porneiva because "there are too many other possibilities; and there is no reason to adopt this one if porneia is being squeezed into too narrow a semantic range."79 The challenge, then, is to present a context in which porneiva can legitimately be seen to mean "pre-marital unchastity."
First of all it must be established that "fornication" is a legitimate translation of the word in some setting, because if it is without attestation, the case is lost. A look at the lexicon yields the possibilities: "Unlawful sexual intercourse, prostitution, unchastity, fornication." The lexicon also points out that it can be distinguished from moiceiva ("adultery").80 Most scholars are quick to point out that this distinction is made clearly in Matthew's gospel.81 Janzen takes a step in the desired direction when he states that porneiva in the divorce clauses can refer to sexual intercourse during betrothal or marriage.82 Again,
The notion is a somewhat broader one than that encompassed by moicheia, since that usually refers only to extra-marital sex, not to sex during betrothal. While moicheia usually means 'adultery', it can refer to illicit intercourse in general. If Matthew employs the term porneia, it is in order to make it clear that sex outside of betrothal and outside of marriage allows the husband to divorce.83
So it is acknowledged that porneiva should be distinguished from moiceiva and can be used to refer to unfaithfulness in the betrothal stage. Isaksson, in his influential work, even went so far as to note that "we can find no unequivocal examples of the use of this word to denote a wife's adultery."84
With the understanding that this is a possible meaning for porneiva and that the justification of the "righteous" Joseph is the backdrop for Jesus' teachings on divorce in Matthew 5, it is not at all a stretch to see porneiva in Matthew 5.32 as "fornication." Heth and Wenham concede,
...the restricted nuance of porneia denoting that kind of sexual sin of which Joseph suspected of Mary is a definite possibility and should not be dismissed lightly. If the Sitz im Leben of the exception clauses is the life of Jesus then the betrothal view has even a better chance of being correct...85
Other significant biblical evidence comes from John 8.41 where the Pharisees accuse Jesus of being born of porneiva. Remarkably, there is even inter-gospel attestation to the idea that Mary's suspected sin would be referred to as porneiva. Perhaps a helpful question would be to ask, "If Matthew had in mind to record the exception clause to justify Joseph, what word would he use?" He would certainly not use moiceiva, because that would denote adultery within a marriage. So what word is the most suitable for the "sin" of Mary without potentially confusing the audience into thinking that he is referring to divorce from a marriage? The most likely option is surely porneiva.86 And once the clause is included in chapter 5 it is only natural to see it included again for consistency in chapter 19 (the minor wording alterations are insignificant both to meaning and to this argument).
C. The Practical Import
So what is this position? Matthew's original readers were to know that they were free to divorce for porneiva within the betrothal period, but that divorce outside of that time period was unacceptable. Since Western culture today does not require divorce for breaking off engagements, today's disciple of Christ should never seek divorce or remarriage as long as their spouse lives.87
D. Arguments Against This View
As it has been noted, the main scholarly objection to this view has been the narrowed nuance of porneiva. Once Matthew's recording of Jesus' teaching on divorce is placed in light of Matthew 1.18-25, however, the use of porneiva for fornication does not seem so far-fetched. There still remain further arguments against this position, however.
Davies and Allison have posited that the betrothal view cannot be accepted because marriage is clearly in view in both 5.32 and 19.9, not betrothal.88 Furthermore, the betrothal view seems to make fornication out to be a bigger sin than adultery since it alone is grounds for divorce.89 In answer to the former it might be suggested again that a look to the context could help. While marriage may have been the topic at the time when Jesus was preaching, when Matthew was writing he was aware of his literary context and the repeated use of ajpoluvw which would catch the perceptive listener's ear and would stick out if there was no qualification. In response to the latter it is suggested that this is not the case since the breaking apart of a betrothal is far less severe than the breaking apart of a marriage already consummated.90
Köstenberger objects to the betrothal view on the basis that it would ban Joseph from remarrying.91 This objection falls short, however, as Piper notes: Since the "divorce" under discussion is not the breakup of a marriage, "we may take it for granted that the breakup of an engaged couple over fornication is not an evil 'divorce' and does not prohibit remarriage."92 One could also refute this objection by noting that it would only hold true (that Joseph would be banned from remarrying) if it is assumed that the exceptive clause governs only the divorcing, not the remarrying (i.e. siding with Heth and Wenham). If, however, one abides by the grammar of Carson and Murray, or even the logic of Keener, Bock, or Blomberg, then "remarriage" is acceptable, so long as the divorce took place in the betrothal period, and on account of porneiva.93
F. Benefits of This Position
The benefits of accepting this interpretation (in no particular order) are at least as follows: (1) This view makes the debate about the authenticity of the exception clause a moot point. If it is original, then all is fine and good,94 and if it is redaction, that is fine as well because it is included merely to reconcile Jesus' teachings with the righteous decision of his father which might otherwise have been misunderstood. (2) The betrothal view preserves the "righteousness" that Matthew ascribes to Joseph. (3) This position preserves the integrity of the gospel-writers. In the words of John Piper, "It does not force Matthew to contradict the plain, absolute meaning of Mark and Luke and the whole range of New Testament teaching"95 on divorce. With this position we avoid taking the tack of Vawter who concludes that the direction of Q has been "radically changed" by someone.
(4) With this position is ended the seemingly futile pursuit of extra-textual knowledge on which one can build endless hypotheses about what the original audience would have expected to hear and / or would have assumed.96 (5) In a similar fashion, this argument ends dependence on extra-textual evidence for the meaning of porneiva since the meaning is attested in context of the gospels and the New Testament and is limited by its own context. (6) This view easily squares with Matthew's own usage of porneiva in Matthew 15.19.97 (7) The betrothal view adequately explains why Matthew would choose porneiva instead of moiceiva.98
(8) Further, this position renders the referent of the exceptive clause of secondary importance at best. One no longer needs to depend on how he or she explains the construction of the sentence in order to develop a practical position on divorce and remarriage. (9) This idea is consistent with the ideal of a perfect (Matthew 5.48) kingdom ethic. It avoids the pragmatic downgrading of Jesus' moral vision that comes with the allowance of divorce and remarriage in contexts where Jesus has absolutely prohibited them. (10) Lastly, this view fits well with the notion that the New Creation (i.e. the inbreaking of the kingdom of God on Earth) should have a moral ideal at least equivalent to God's original standard for creation (Matthew 19.4-6).
Has the case been proven? Absolutely not. This paper falls short in many ways; not the least of which is that it only takes into account two of the relevant texts for developing a New Testament theology of divorce. Moreover, these passages are not examined in depth or in their own contexts. Much more attention needs to be given to the actual grammar and structure of the texts, as well as to their canonical setting within the flow of redemptive-history: Do these texts function as the final authority on divorce for believers today? In the end nothing has been proven, but then again, that was not the goal. If this paper has stimulated the reader to give more thought to re-examining his or her own understanding of the Matthean divorce texts, then it has served its purpose.