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The Lord Jesus describes a very straightforward and plainly understood rule in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, concerning remarriage after divorce: it is adultery(1). But in the gospel of Matthew, it is possible to translate generally high-quality ancient manuscripts in such a way that the Lord appears to be giving an exception to that rule: if fornication was the grounds for divorce, then remarriage is not adultery(2).

Questions I submit:

  1. Can the Ancient Greek of Matthew be read so that there is no contradiction of Mark and Luke?

  2. Is there a clear precedent for any gospel, or any book of the New Testament, contradicting or majorly nuancing another book of the New Testament?

Personally, as a Bible translator, I believe there are possible linguistic grounds for translating the Ancient Greek of Matthew such that there is no exception or contradiction to the Markan and Lukan rule being given. Such translations could be as follows:

... anyone who is loosing from the wife of his except on account of fornication causes adultery to be committed against her (Matthew 5:32);

... whoever would loose from the wife of his not upon fornication and [whoever] would marry another commits adultery (Matthew 19:9).


[Edit added in response to comments:] These readings (if they are reasonable on linguistic grounds) remove any nuancing or contradiction of the Markan and Lukan statements about remarriage after divorce, because

(1) in Matthew 5:32, the Lord would only be saying that divorce itself, when done not on the ground of fornication, is an act of adultery against the other spouse,

and

(2) in Matthew 19:9, there would be a combination of a re-statement of Matthew 5:32 with the additional information that a man remarrying after divorce is committing adultery.

Thank you to all who are contributing to the answering (and improvement) of the question that I asked.

NOTES:
  1. Mark 10:11-12, Luke 16:18
  2. Matthew 5:32, 19:9
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  • 1
    I don't see it as a contradiction, to add a perfectly logical qualifying statement on one occasion out of three reports.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 8:41
  • 2
    Welcome to BH.SE. Please take the tour to get a better feel for how the site funtions. When quoting Bible passages it is good practice to include the version being used. I'm guessing you are quoting your own work, so I provided links for readers who may want to investigate your work further.
    – enegue
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 10:28
  • Adultery was forbidden -and even punished- by Mosaic Law. Christ is pointing out that there is no meaningful difference between (lawfully) divorcing one's wife out of lust for another woman (which the Mosaic Law technically allowed; one of its many loopholes), and brazen adultery; the letter of the Law stayed intact, but its Spirit was thereby tarnished (Romans 2:29, 7:6 and 2 Corinthians 3:6).
    – Lucian
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 12:32
  • I don't understand how your translations resolve the difference. The Greek word translated as "divorce/loose" is also used in both Mark's and Luke's accounts. It might be helpful to explain in your post why you think this is a potential resolution. Commented Jul 20, 2020 at 2:56
  • I do not understand what you are trying to say and what point you make here.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 3:34

2 Answers 2

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(1) Can the Ancient Greek of Matthew be read so that there is no contradiction of Mark and Luke?

Yes, but not necessarily by understanding the Greek differently. Here is one way to resolve the difference:

In the Gospels of Mark and Luke, Jesus' teaching on divorce might represent his teaching on divorce for the typical grounds for divorce in his day, while in the Gospel of Matthew there is a clarification to this general position in regard to the exceptional case of a matter of sexual immorality.

Jesus' exception clause in the Gospel of Matthew appears to be based on Deut. 24:1 where עֶרְוַת דָּבָר, "a nakedness/indecency of a matter," is interpreted to mean λόγου πορνείας, "a matter of sexual immorality". The school of Rabbi Shammai had a similar position on Deut 24:1 and thus divorce according to m. Gittin 9:10: https://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Gittin.9.10?lang=bi.

In a world where one could theoretically divorce his wife for burning his toast it might be fair if an author were to summarize Rabbi Shammai's position on divorce as impermissible and for there to be another writer to clarify that this rabbi finds sexual immorality to be valid grounds for divorce.

(2) Is there a clear precedent for any gospel, or any book of the New Testament, contradicting or majorly nuancing another book of the New Testament?

Yes, here are two other examples of purported contradictions or nuancing:

A. The disciples are not allowed to take a staff in Luke 9:3 and Matt. 10:9-10, but they are permitted to take one in Mark 6:8-9.

B. The women did not report the resurrection to the men in Mark 16:8 (according to the earliest and most reliable manuscripts), but in Matt. 28:8 they do tell them. Some manuscripts attempt to resolve this difference and the abruptness of the ending in Mark 16:8 by adding:

And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. (NRSV)

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"Context, context, context,..."

One major contextual factor to consider is the expected audience for each of the Gospels in the Bible.

Reading each Gospel from the perspective of the expected audience ensures that 21st-century readers like us can understand said gospels in a more accurate complex Contextual light.

  • Matthew's Gospel’s primary audience was expected to be the Jewish community of the early New Testament biblical time period.

  • Mark's Gospel’s primary audience was expected to be the Romans of the early New Testament biblical time period.

  • Luke’s Gospel’s primary audience was expected to be the Greeks of the early New Testament biblical time period.

  • John’s Gospel’s primary audience was expected to be the Christians (or some might even take the perspective that John’s Gospel’s audience was probably expected to be every ethnic and/or racial group) of the early New Testament biblical time period.

In this context the point begins to emerge that Matthew’s qualified teaching on divorce, unique in the New Testament, could well refer to a particular Jewish issue in his community to do with porneia. The term has usually been translated as adultery or fornication in general, but some modern scholars offer the attractive suggestion that it had a special significance in Matthew’s Jewish-Christian community, and that the editor of the gospel added the exceptive clause to the words of Jesus in order to apply his teaching on divorce to a particular issue which concerned this community. 1

To elaborate, as @ryan-stephen mentions in his answer posting, since Matthew’s audience was Jews, they most probably would be interpreting Deuteronomy 24:1’s use of the word “indecency” very broadly to a point where it could be comical like divorcing a wife because she was a poor cook.

Deuteronomy 24:1 NASB 1995

When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house,

Therefore, we can reason that Jesus Christ knew that the Jewish community had sinfully interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1 so broadly for their own selfish fleshly convenience. And so, Jesus Christ correctly narrowed the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 in order to give the Jewish community an accurate reason for divorce:

Matthew 5:32 NASB 1995

but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 19:9 NASB 1995

And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.

Mark and Luke mention the general rule because their audiences were not interested in parsing the Law of Moses. It was more important to get the main rule across to the Gentiles: Marriage is for life! You will notice that John doesn't even bother mentioning the discussions about divorce because this ought to be less of an issue for Christians who already know Christ's teachings about marriage. 2

References:

  1. Grounds for divorce in St Matthew
  2. Why does Matthew mention the exception to divorce but Mark and Luke don’t?
  3. Four Gospels, Four Audiences?

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