I am investigating the claim, made by Leslie McFall's Erasmus and Divorce in Matthew 19:9, that in fact Erasmus(1466-1536), a Catholic priest, in his construction of a Greek New Testament, altered the text of Matthew 19:9 to allow the fornication exception. He asserts the text should read:

"Now I say to you that whoever shall dismiss his wife—not even over fornication—and shall marry another, he commits adultery. And the one who marries one divorced commits adultery."

I have read various rebuttals which to my mind are compelling, such as several ante-nicene writers also have the Erasmus' "traditional" understanding (divorce is permitted following adultery). However, I am far from being a Greek scholar, theologian, historian or anyone with any particular knowledge other than what I've been able to glean on the web - mainly through blog posts.

So my question is: Does/has McFall's theory stood up to academic critique?

  • It is a baseless claim and a lie. Even if we accept this assumption, there are other passages Matt 5:32, Luke, Mark etc says the same. See refutation christiancourier.com/articles/…
    – Michael16
    Feb 28 at 5:03

5 Answers 5


John Chrysostom, a 4th century Byzantine Greek Church hierarch quotes this verse in his 62nd Homily on Matthew:

Whosoever shall put away his wife except it be for fornication, and marry another, committeth adultery.

This would have been over a millennium prior to Erasmus.

  • Thx vm for this. The articles I read referenced Clement, Origen, Tertullian and Novation with the same version as you have quoted above. It seems such a simple debunk of the thesis that I can't quite see how McFall, a lecturer in Hebrew/OT, and researcher at Tyndale House, Cambridge, didn't address it. Jan 8, 2017 at 8:34
  • From reading the paper itself, he seems to believe that the "early church fathers" believed in "no divorce". I guess this is possible, despite several quoting the exception clause.."These authors [authors writing in favour of permitting divorce] believe that all the Early Church fathers were wrong" (pg 13 para 2 - .morechristlike.com/documents/…) Jan 8, 2017 at 9:16

I have checked out the few manuscripts supposedly used by Erasmus. (except for one which was inaccessible) None of them had "εἰ μὴ ἐπὶ". A few had "μὴ ἐπὶ". So why did he choose an expression found in none of his manuscripts? To match his "side by side" Latin translation. (Erasmus was primarily interested in the Latin translation and was keen to reconcile the Greek and Latin)

I'm entirely a novice when it comes to Greek but it seems clear that "εἰ μὴ ἐπὶ" translates as an EXCEPTION whereas "μὴ ἐπὶ" translates as an EXCLUSION. A subtle but crucial distinction. The "Textus Receptus" alone has the former, Majority and Critical, the latter.

Why would Jesus exclude certain sexual misdemeanors (πορνεια) from his answer? Because he was dealing with matters of law and the law prescribed death for certain sexual acts. In which case divorce/remarriage became an entirely different issue, demanding separate treatment. (Refer to "the woman caught in adultery". Yes, the death penalty still applies....but!)

Why can't the church see this? I suggest:

  1. Because we find it very hard to think in terms of certain sexual sins deserving the death penalty.
  2. Because as illustrated by the shocked response of the disciples, man always wants an exception to enable divorce. God's way seems too hard.
  3. Momentum. Erasmus got things moving, it was carried on by the Reformation and KJV, and modern translations have conveniently failed to correct the error. (apart from 2 or 3 minor translations, Jerusalem is clearest)
  4. There is a danger in insisting that every passage in the Bible is "word perfect" and can "stand alone". We need the whole counsel of Scripture.

Full disclosure: As a divorced person, I searched hard for a "loophole". But could not find one.

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    – agarza
    Feb 28 at 2:26

I, also, have read Mr. McFall's writings on the subject, as well as several of the writings of the early Church fathers and other writings on the subject. Here is my understanding from what I've learned:

I believe the reading and connotation, in the original Greek, of this clause - as per Mr. McFall- was "such as"; rather than the word "except". In the writings of the early Church Fathers, my understanding is that the majority did view marriage as permanent. Further readings offered the explanation that the Jews would have clearly understood Jesus' meaning, due to their own law: That the only "exception" was if one of the parties slept with another party, (which was adultery), during the Betrothal period. Betrothal was far more than the "engagement" period of today. It could only be dissolved by divorce. Bottom line according to this: Jesus was telling them the only time divorce was justified was in the case just described.


There is no manuscript in existence that supports the Textus Receptus reading of εἰ ("if") before μὴ ("not") in Mt. 19:9. All the manuscript evidence supports the omission of εἰ. Based on overwhelming evidence, the correct reading is μὴ ἐπὶ ("not over"). The text is firmly μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ ("not over fornication") and is the reading of the Majority Text (M-Text), the Greek New Testament (GNT) and all other texts that do not follow the Textus Receptus tradition (https://timothysparks.com/2018/08/21/no-manuscript-support-for-if-mt-199).

Dr. McFall, who allowed me to edit and publish to my website his Appendix B in which he explains his translation of Mt. 19:9, considers the following translation the most likely interpretation, "If we take the most literal translation another meaning comes to light. The translation reads: 'Now I say to you that who, for example, may have divorced his wife—not over fornication which was punished by death—and may have married another woman, he becomes adulterous by marrying her. And the man having married a divorced wife, he becomes adulterous by marrying her'” (https://timothysparks.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/mcfall-mt-199-appendix-b.pdf, page 1).

For his complete ebook on divorce and remarriage, please see his website, which is maintained by his daughter and son-in-law: https://lmf12.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/divorce_aug_2014.pdf. You may also see other references to his work, which may provide clarification, here: https://timothysparks.com/marriage.

  • 3
    Please edit this post to explicitly say that the material being cited is your own. This site encourages external material to be used as citations to support the author's point in their answer posts, but ALL of the links you cite seem to be to your own work. That should be spelled out saying that you have further content on the topic, not referencing yourself in the third person as if you were appealing to some authority.
    – Caleb
    Aug 22, 2018 at 10:30

based on the kjv lexicon on Biblehub I have to agree with Dr. Mcfall and the other 4 discourses of the gospels seem to support it.

Matthew 19:9 ... "οτι - hoti hot'-ee:" "causative, because" "-- as concerning that, as though, because (that), for (that), how (that), (in) that, though, why."

"ος - hos hos: nominative singular masculine" "who, which, what, that -- one, (an-, the) other, some, that, what, which, who(-m, -se), etc."

"αν - an an:" "denoting a supposition, wish, possibility or uncertainty"

"απολυση - apoluo ap-ol-oo'-o: third person singular" "to free fully, i.e. (literally) relieve, release, dismiss (reflexively, depart), or (figuratively) let die, pardon or (specially) divorce"

"την - ho ho: accusative singular feminine" " the, this, that, one, he, she, it, etc."

"γυναικα - gune goo-nay':" "a woman; specially, a wife -- wife, woman."

"αυτου - autos ow-tos': genitive singular masculine" "the reflexive pronoun self, used of the third person , and (with the proper personal pronoun) of the other persons"

"μη - me may:" "any but (that), forbear, God forbid, lack, lest, neither, never, no (wise in), none, nor, (can-)not, nothing, that not, un(-taken), without."

"επι - epi ep-ee':" "meaning superimposition (of time, place, order, etc.), as a relation of distribution (with the genitive case), i.e. over, upon, etc.; of rest (with the dative case) at, on, etc.; of direction (with the accusative case) towards, upon, etc."

"πορνεια - porneia por-ni'-ah: dative singular feminine" "harlotry (including adultery and incest); figuratively, idolatry -- fornication."

"και - kai kahee:" "and, also, even, so then, too, etc.; often used in connection (or composition) with other particles or small words"

"γαμηση - gameo gam-eh'-o: third person singular" "to wed (of either sex) -- marry (a wife)."

"αλλην - allos al'-los: accusative singular feminine" "else, i.e. different (in many applications) -- more, one (another), (an-, some an-)other(-s, -wise)."

"μοιχαται - moichao moy-khah'-o: third person singular" "to commit adultery -- commit adultery"

"και - kai kahee:" "and, also, even, so then, too, etc.; often used in connection (or composition) with other particles or small words"

"ο - ho ho: nominative singular masculine" "the, this, that, one, he, she, it, etc."

"απολελυμενην - apoluo ap-ol-oo'-o: singular feminine" "to free fully, i.e. (literally) relieve, release, dismiss (reflexively, depart), or (figuratively) let die, pardon or (specially) divorce"

"γαμησας - gameo gam-eh'-o: nominative singular masculine" "gameo gam-eh'-o: to wed (of either sex) -- marry (a wife)."

"μοιχαται - moichao moy-khah'-o: third person singular" "to commit adultery -- commit adultery."

"...because he wishes to divorce (let die figuratively) her, the wife; he shall not lay with another woman (recalling the other person of autos) to fornicate with her or marry another wife to commit adultery with her. For, [apoluo) he divorced her/(he) whom the divorced woman][(gameo) he is married/marries]; he commits adultery."

The other accounts in the gospel read likewise (matthew 5:32, luke 16:18, mark 10:11-12 john 8). Matthew 5 contains a lovely thought in the verse concerning that divorce teaches that God causes judgment and reckoning and john is ambiguous as to whether the woman the woman has a boyfriend who is married or has married a divorce man but warns her to separate from him because from that day, she is told, she "will miss the mark and lose her prize."

to read the lexicon on it you can go to bible hub and fill in the book chapter and verse in the url, wherer I have indicated. https://biblehub.com/lexicon/book/chapter-verse.htm

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