Updated: 26th 4:01pm
Introduction to McFall’s Research Paper
Leslie McFall has written an interesting 43-page paper called The Biblical Teaching on Divorce and Remarriage. In his paper, he discusses an addition that Desiderius Erasmus added to his Greek-Latin New Testament (1516 1st ed) that [he claims] changed the way Matthew 19:9 has been translated.
McFall [offers evidence he says] shows how Erasmus’ addition of the Greek word εἰ in Mat 19:9 has lead to the incorrect translation of this verse. What should be translated as an exclusion to divorce, “not even for fornication” (McFall Translation), is seen by most to be a exception to divorce and remarry, “except it be for fornication” (KJV).
While the other scriptures (Mar 10:11, 12; Luk 16:18, Rom 7:2, 3; 1Cor 7:11, 39) are very clear on divorce and remarriage, many people find that Mat 5:32 and Mat 19:9 leaves them puzzled and uncertain as to what the Word of God teaches concerning divorce and remarriage.
The purpose of this article is to introduce you to the concepts that McFall discusses at length in his research paper. I have been in communication with McFall concerning his paper, and have made a number of suggestions to him. He has reviewed this introduction to his paper and has given me a number of suggestions, which I have implemented.
The concepts outlined by McFall clearly show that the so-called ‘exception clause’ in Mat 19:9 is an exclusion to divorce, not an exception to divorce and remarry. This will bring an understanding that Mat 5:32 is an exception to blame, not an exception to divorce and remarry; hence the divorce and remarriage issue fits together like a puzzle, and people can get peace for this difficult question.
History of the Textus Receptus
Many people that hold to the KJV and the Textus Receptus (TR) Greek manuscript are not even aware of the history of the Greek manuscript. They are surprised when you tell them that, for the most part, it was the work of a Roman Catholic priest. Let me give you a short history.
Erasmus (1466-1536) was a Dutch humanist who was ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1492, and stayed loyal to the Roman Catholic Church until his death. He became very popular in Europe for his satirical writings like “The Praise of Folly” (1509), which poked fun at the church and state. He also wrote many scholarly works, and held a debate with Luther on the freedom of the will.
Erasmus’ Greek New Testament (3rd ed) was the basis for the 1st edition of the Robert Stephens’ 1546 Greek New Testament. Stephens’ 1550 edition (3rd ed) was the well known “Royal” edition. Theodore Beza published a Greek New Testament in 1565 that was basically the same as Stephens’ 4th edition of 1551.
Then, in 1565, Bonaventure Elzevir reproduced the 1st edition of Beza’s Greek Manuscript – which is now known as the Textus Receptus (TR). The 1611 King James version of the Bible was based on this Greek manuscript and other translations from this historical era of manuscripts.
The Greek Manuscripts that Erasmus Used
When Erasmus put together his Greek-Latin New Testament, he used 7 manuscripts. Only 3 of them contained the Gospels. Using the Gregory-Aland numbering system, these manuscripts were MS1 (1200s), MS2 (1200s), and MS69 (1500s).
It is important to note Erasmus’ position on divorce and remarriage. Erasmus published his view of divorce in “Annotationes” (1519), which was that the remarriage of a divorced person was legitimate. He later developed a more elaborate defense of this position, which he published in the 1522 and 1527 editions of “Annotationes”.
Erasmus added the Greek word εἰ (if) before μὴ (not) into Matt 19:9, thus changing the text to read from “not” to “except”. There is no information on why Erasmus added εἰ. None of the manuscripts he used support this addition, and the marginal reading from manuscript MS69 with this reading appears to have been added post-Erasmus.
Erasmus Changed the Latin Also
Erasmus’ New Testament was a Greek and Latin translation. He not only added this addition to the Greek manuscript, but his Latin translation was different from the Latin Vulgate, in that it included the exception clause and broadened the exception from “fornication” to “disgrace”.
The Latin word in the Vulgate was “fornicationem” and the Latin word Erasmus used in his Latin New Testament was “stuprum”, which is defined in the Oxford Latin Dictionary as “dishonour, disgrace, defilement, unchastity, debauchery, lewdness, and violation”
Vulgate and Erasmus Latin Compared
The following is a comparison of Matthew 19:9 in the Latin Vulgate and in Erasmus’ Latin New Testament (3rd ed). The Latin to English translations are from McFall’s paper.
Mat 19:9 Latin Vulgate: dico autem vobis quia quicumque dimiserit uxorem suam nisi ob fornicationem et aliam duxerit moechatur et qui dimissam duxerit moechatur
Mat 19:9 Erasmus Latin NT in English: And I say to you that whosoever shall repudiate his wife, unless it be for disgrace, and shall marry another, committeth adultery.
Mat 19:9 Erasmus Latin NT: Dico autem uobis quia quicunque repudiauerit uxorem suam, nisi ob stuprum, et aliam duxerit, is comittit adulterium.
Mat 19:9 Erasmus Latin:
Comparing McFall/KVJ and NA27/TR
The following is McFall’s translation of Matthew 19:9 with the Nestles-Aland (NA) Greek, and the KJV translation with the Textus Receptus (TR) Greek. Compare the Greek texts and you will see that εἰ is not in the NA Greek text.
Nestle-Aland’s 27th edition, the most popular Greek manuscript, has rejected Erasmus addition of εἰ to Matthew 19:9. However, translations continue to translate the Greek “except for fornication”, even though they reject the Greek word εἰ that Erasmus inserted.
McFall’s translation is based on the the Majority Greek. He has done a Greek-English Harmony of the four Gospels, but it is currently unpublished. In Appendex B of his paper The Biblical Teaching on Divorce and Remarriage, he explains his process for translating Mat 19:9.
Mat 19:9 (McFall Simplified): And I say to you that who, say, may put away his wife—not even for fornication—and may marry another commits adultery; and he who did marry her that has been put away commits adultery.
Mat 19:9 (NA27): λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ καὶ γαμήσῃ ἄλλην μοιχᾶται
Mat 19:9 Alfred Marshall Interlinear Translation:
Mat 19:9 (KJV): And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
Mat 19:9 (TR): λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ εἰ μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ καὶ γαμήσῃ ἄλλην μοιχᾶται καὶ ὁ ἀπολελυμένην γαμήσας μοιχᾶταιμοιχᾶται
Mat 19:9 Erasmus Greek 3rd ed:
Jewish Betrothal Explanation
I have never felt comfortable with explaining the so-called ‘exception clause’ of Matthew 19:9 with the Jewish betrothal explanation, but I had never found anything better. Even though I have done a lot of research on this passage, I had not been aware of the addition of εἰ to Mat 19:9 or of its implications.
I had looked at the position of removing the exception clause completely based on the Vatican manuscript (MS03), but as this is not supported by the majority of Greek texts, I stuck with the Jewish betrothal interpretation until I read McFall’s article.
In my view the Jewish betrothal interpretation has a serious issue that creates more questions than they answer. The Jewish betrothal interpretation takes Mat 19:9 and gives it a completely different meaning than Mar 10:11. Those that hold the Jewish betrothal interpretation would teach that Mar 10:11 is talking about marriage, not Jewish betrothal. Then when they go to Mat 19:9, they say that the same words that Jesus spoke now mean something else, as Matthew is written to the Jews.
If you hold that Mat 19:9 is dealing with Jewish betrothal, then you must hold that the same account in Mar 10:11 is teaching that same thing. But the problem is that there is no so-called ‘exception clause’ in Mar 10:11. With no ‘exception clause’ you now have Mar 10:11 teaching that Jewish betrothal cannot be broken even for fornication, and Mat 19:9 teaching that it can be broken.
As far as I can see, the Jewish betrothal interpretation raises more questions than it answers. For honest souls that are seeking truth, all scriptures (Mar 10:11, 12; Luk 16:18; Rom 7:2, 3; ICor 7:11, 39) other than Mat 19:9 are very clear that there are no exceptions for divorce and remarriage.
So, what we need is a clean way to deal with Mat 19:9 that does nott raise more questions that it tries to answer. Leslie McFall’s correction of the Greek gives us a clear way, and I see no reason not to take it.
What This Means to You
In closing, what McFall’s article provides us with is a proper way to explain the so-called ‘exception clause’ that Erasmus created by adding εἰ to Matthew 19:9. There is no information on why Erasmus added εἰ. None of the manuscripts he used support this addition, and the marginal reading from manuscript MS69 with this reading appears to be added post-Erasmus.
This addition changed the information phrase of “he may not have divorced her for fornication” into a conditional clause “except it be for fornication”. This introduced an allowance for divorce into the Bible translations that used Erasmus’ Greek. This addition has caused people to believe that if anyone divorces his wife for marital unfaithfulness, they are free to remarry and they are not committing adultery.
This means we need to warn those who are thinking of divorcing and remarrying that there is no exception (allowance) for remarriage. Those who are currently remarried who have a living spouse from a previous lawful1 marriage are in the state of adultery, and copulation in that union is adultery.
Those that are in an adulterous remarriage need to repent of this sin and separate and seek restoration with their rightful spouse, or remain single.
It would also be good if you bring this up with the leaders in the congregation you attend. When God shows us light and understanding from his Word, we are responsible to share it with others around us.
1The use of lawful is in respect to the New Covenant law (the law of liberty, the royal law), and is not referring to the law of Moses or the current marriage laws of any nation.
2Written on November 15, 2008.