On The Logical Structure Of Matt 19:9 -- By: Stanley E. Porter

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 34:3 (Sep 1991)
Article: On The Logical Structure Of Matt 19:9
Author: Stanley E. Porter


On The Logical Structure Of Matt 19:9

Stanley E. Porter

Paul Buchanan*

Few Biblical texts have as many practical theological consequences as the divorce passages in the synoptic gospels (see esp. Matt 5:27–32; 19:1–12; Mark 10:2–12; Luke 16:18; cf. I Cor 7:10–16). Various issues in these passages have been repeatedly addressed, including their historical setting, their relation to Jewish teaching and belief at the time, and their relation to each other. But one issue repeatedly suggests itself since it threatens to unbalance the synoptic harmony: the so-called “exception” phrases in Matt 5:32; 19:9. Since so much can be made to ride on such a slender phrase, it is imperative that the phrase be handled with the utmost precision.1

Recent attempts have been made to deduce the exact meaning of the “exception” phrase in Matt 19:9 by determining the logical function of the term “except,” and it is with attempts along these lines that this paper will deal. The conclusion that we reach, however, may apply to the entire practice of appealing to logical analysis as a means of interpreting problem passages.

Matt 19:9 reads as follows:

Whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another, commits adultery. (1)

Historically this verse has been interpreted in two ways. The first interpretation asserts that it allows for divorce and remarriage in cases where the divorce was due to the sexual immorality of one of the partners. The second interpretation contends that no such allowance can be inferred from the passage because the scope of the text is limited to the subject of divorces that are not due to immorality.2

Recently attempts have been made to clarify this important phrase by appealing to the logical structure of the verse. These attempts have been concerned specifically with the logical function of the term “except.”

* Stanley Porter is associate professor of Greek and Paul Buchanan is lecturer in English and philosophy at Biola University in La Mirada, California.

One such attempt is Phillip Wiebe’s “Jesus’ D...

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