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Often, when passages have parentheses they're meant to convey an extra meaning or add to the context of the sentence or something of that nature.

But when Jesus says this:

31“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.’

32But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matt 5:31-32 NABRE

Matthew adds a parenthetical, is he putting words in Jesus' mouth here, trying to explain something that Jesus plainly taught elsewhere so it's not construed the wrong way or is there a way of looking at dialogue that actually includes this. I have a hard time accepting that it's just something Jesus muttered under His breath.


For purposes of translation here's what's on Newadvent.

English:

But I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, excepting for the cause of fornication, makes her to commit adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, commits adultery.

Latin:

Ego autem dico vobis: quia omnis qui dimiserit uxorem suam, excepta fornicationis causa, facit eam mœchari: et qui dimissam duxerit, adulterat.

Greek:

ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ἀπολύων τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας ποιεῖ αὐτὴν μοιχευθῆναι, [καὶ ὃς ἐὰν ἀπολελυμένην γαμήσῃ μοιχᾶται].

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I just wanted to note that this marks our site's 500th question. And a really good one to boot! (Thanks, Peter.) –  Jon Ericson Apr 30 '12 at 17:46
    
Are the parentheses in the original Greek, or are they a translator's interpretation? –  Gone Quiet Apr 30 '12 at 17:47
    
I'll have to crack open the UBS for this. It could be anything from an original statement by Jesus, to a Matthean redaction, to a later scribal insertion. I don't have it on me, so I'll have to look through the variants later. –  swasheck Apr 30 '12 at 18:10
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also ... punctuation is never inspired as it didn't exist in the original manuscripts. –  swasheck Apr 30 '12 at 18:25
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@swasheck, there are also 2 extant mss of Matthew in Hebrew (not Aramaic). They are younger than some of the Greek mss. but not all. Also, there is a tradition in the church fathers that Matthew wrote in Hebrew. Jerome testified that he had touched the still existing original when he traveled to the Holy Land. –  Frank Luke Apr 30 '12 at 20:43
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2 Answers

I think this is a clear Matthean addition:

And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”—Mark 10:11-12 (ESV)

Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.—Luke 16:18 (ESV)

But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.—Matthew 5:32 (ESV)

And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.—Matthew 19:9 (ESV)

The basic teaching seems to be Divorce = Adultery. But the details of both sides of the equation are a bit fuzzy. Mark emphasized that whoever initiates a divorce, man or woman, and remarries has committed adultery themselves. Luke phrases it so that a man who divorces a woman and remarries, or a man who marries a divorced woman has committed adultery. And Matthew twice adds the "sexual immorality" clause.

However, the context of each of these verses is that God's intention was that marriage be permanent and that it was only "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so." (Matthew 19:8 ESV) In other words, ideally divorce should be unnecessary, but in order to prevent worse abuses, the Torah allows marriage covenants to be broken.


I read Matthew's addition to be a clarification about where the problem lies. From the Luke version especially, it's possible to interpret a divorced woman as carrying some sort of taint from her previous marriage. Given the value pre-Modern cultures place on virginity, this would have been a sensible reading. But the problem is in the breaking of the marriage covenant, which could either mean initiating the legal process of divorce or breaking the marriage vows. Matthew presumably inserted the clause to clarify that point. Jesus was warning against breaking a marriage rather than forcing people to remain in a marriage that had already been broken.


Note that Jesus was not the first to point out the dire consequences of divorce:

“If a man divorces his wife
    and she goes from him
 and becomes another man's wife,
    will he return to her?
 Would not that land be greatly polluted?
 You have played the whore with many lovers;
    and would you return to me?
 declares the LORD.

—Jeremiah 3:1 (ESV)

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That was a good answer and thanks for all the context! As far as satisfying my initial curiosity about the parentheses you're basically saying that since Jesus didn't actually say it at that time, He didn't have to say it under His breath? –  Peter Turner May 1 '12 at 17:28
    
@Peter: I don't think the text tells us one way or the other. My guess is that the disciples heard this same teaching dozens of times and sometimes Jesus made the point about sexual immorality, but often not. Perhaps he clarified after being questioned. We see the disciples doing just that twice in Matthew 19. –  Jon Ericson May 1 '12 at 18:20
    
Jon, your answer comparing the various gospels clearly demonstrates that this a phrase added for clarity, be it by Jesus, the witness, or early translators. This is so simple and so very helpful. –  Sarah Mar 6 '13 at 17:34
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Addendum:

John's answer is not bad considering that he is attempting it using only the literal.

The difficulty comes in with Matt 5:32. A woman is caused to sin when her husband divorces her, though no fault of her own is indicated. His conclusion that divorce = adultery seems logical, but patently unfair. We are each to be punished for our own sins, not the sins of another.

In SP Matt 5:32 stands out as an exception to the standard formulations. Therefor, it is calling attention to itself for special handling.

Adultery symbolizes unfaithfulness in the relationship with God. The man is Christ and the woman is the church, or us individually depending on the scope of the voice.

If there is a breach in the relationship, no matter who is at fault, the woman is separated from God. She is left with something other than God as God. Since God is faithful, this would never happen in the relationship with him, therefore, it is a hypothetical situation which says just the opposite.

We hear it this way: If God were to divorce the church, then he would make the church a harlot. Since God does not cause us to sin, he will never divorce her.

So the lesson we learn from the shadow of marriage is that Christ will not leave us, but instead will love us enough to lay down his life for us.

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