"Nothing more impressive than an intellectual and spiritual approach to seeking truth and a willingness to embrace it unconditionally."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Matthew 19:9: Espoused or Married Wife

Matthew 19:3-9 KJV

3 The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?

The question that Jesus is being asked by the Pharisees is, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" To put away one's wife for every cause was the view espoused by the liberal Rabbi Hillell and his students. They believed that a man could put away his wife for something as small as burning a meal. They held to the right of the man to put away his wife at his pleasure.

So, they are asking this question in light of their understanding of Deuteronomy 24. This is where Moses gives the regulations for putting away wives. So, the point I want to establish from this verse, and the following verses, is the kind of wife that is being discussed in this context. Is it only the espoused wife (Matthew 1: 18-20), or is it a married wife? The kind of wife being discussed in these verses, especially verse 9, has much to do with how one understands the teaching of Jesus on marriage, divorce and remarriage.

I think that it will become abundantly clear that the kind of wife that is being discussed in this text is the married wife, and not the espoused wife. Beginning with the question under consideration here in verse 3, we immediately realize that the premise of the question is Deuteronomy 24. So, if we can determine what kind of wife is under consideration in the question, then we will know the kind of wife that is under consideration in Jesus' answer. What kind of wife is being asked about by the Pharisees?

When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. 2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife.Deuteronomy 24:1-2 KJV

Clearly from this text the wife under consideration is the married wife, for she will depart out of his house and go be another man’s wife. She must be a married wife, and not merely an espoused wife, for she is cohabitating with him.

So, the wife of the Pharisees’ question is the married wife, and therefore the wife of Jesus’ answer must also be the married wife. If she is not, then Jesus is answering a question that was not asked. It is impossible to understand Matthew 19 apart from the backdrop of Moses (Deut 24).

4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

In verses 4-6 Jesus answers the question of verse 3 on the premise of the first husband and wife. Jesus appeals to the beginning. He states that the man is to leave his parents and cleave to his wife. Again, this tells us the kind of wife that is being discussed; the wife of this text is the cohabitating wife. This is exactly parallel with Deuteronomy 24.

Jesus further proves that the kind of wife that He is addressing is the married wife by saying, “they shall be one flesh.” The phrase “one flesh” refers to the sexual union (1 Corinthians 6:16). So, the husband-wife that Jesus is addressing is the sexually joined husband-wife.

This “one flesh” husband and wife are married because Jesus says, “what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” It must be understood that Jesus is addressing regulations concerning marriage and not espousal.

7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?

This proves my initial premise correct that the Pharisees were asking about Deuteronomy 24, and the next couple verses are going to prove that is what Jesus is responding to as well. What are the Pharisees quoting here? It can only be Deuteronomy 24, and Deuteronomy 24 is addressing the marred wife and not the espoused wife.

8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

So, Jesus responds to their appeal to Deuteronomy 24 by saying that Moses allowed divorce for uncleaness, because of the hardness of your heart, but I say from the beginning it was not so. When Jesus says, “Moses said, but I say,” He is giving His teaching concerning the same topic as Moses addressing, namely the divorcing of married, cohabitating wives.

This proves that the instructions that Jesus is giving here is God’s will concerning what Moses gave in Deuteronomy 24. Moses said, but I say, is contrasting two opinions about the same subject.

9 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.

“And I say unto you,” is Jesus contrasting His teaching with Moses in Deuteronomy 24 concerning married wives. “And I say unto you,” is Jesus giving what is to be taught by the Church. If Jesus is not addressing married wives Matthew 19:9 it makes gobbledygook out of the flow of this text. If this is not what Jesus is addressing it makes no sense whatsoever.

Jesus clearly, by the context and backdrop of Deuteronomy 24, is addressing married wives in verse 9. Jesus’ plain teaching is, if a person divorces their spouse and marries another, except for fornication (See Fornication: What Does It Mean Parts 1 & 2), they commit adultery. So, marital unfaithfulness is an exception to the rule: Whosoever divorces his spouse and marries another commits adultery.


  1. Is Matthew 19:9 referring to "married" or "espoused" couples? I have commented on this question several times before, and I will start out again by saying that the question is superfluous.

    There seems to be a misconception among Pentecostals as to what "Espoused" or "Betrothed" means. Being "espoused" in Bible times IS NOT comparable to "engagement" today. In Biblical times, a betrothal was a formal contract which was as binding as marriage, and divorce was necessary to terminate the union. Betrothed couples were legally regarded as husband and wife - even without physical union (cf. Deut. 22:23-27; Matt. 1:18 Mary "espoused" to Joseph; Matt. 1:19 Joseph "her husband", etc.).

    Typically, the man would pay a payment (dowry) to the father (and possibly the future wife) in order to be "espoused" to the woman. At this point, she was in all terms legally his wife. The husband would go away for an extended period of time to prepare a place for them to live (cf. John 14:1f). This time period was also to determine whether or not the "espoused" bride was already pregnant. The espoused bride was to remain pure and faithful awaiting the return of her husband. Once the bridegroom returned, the cry would be made, "Behold the bridegroom cometh, go you out to meet him." There would be a great feast, and later the couple would consumate the marriage with a sexual union.

    The technical difference between marriage customs of old, and the marriage ceremony of today is TIME. Suppose Jack and Jill's marriage takes place at 10 o'clock a.m. on a Saturday. By 10:30 all the songs have been played, the marriage license is signed, they have said their vows, and Jack now kisses the bride. They are now legally married - correct? At 10:30 no sexual intercourse has taken place. After the ceremony, Jack and Jill attend their "wedding reception" (aka wedding feast), and sometime after the wedding feast the couple consumates the marriage with the much anticipated sexual union (let's be honest that's why we all got married!!). Now, even though Jack & Jill were not "one flesh" until much later that night, no one would dare say that at 10:30 that morning they were not legally married. The time period between the legal union (saying the "I do's) and the sexual consumation of the marriage (one flesh) would technically be the "espousal period" similar to the Old/New Testament times.


  2. So, eve IF Matthew 19:9 was talking about "espousal" it would still be talking about legal marriage. However, the context of the passages indicates that Matthew 19:9 is in fact talking about fully (sexual) consumated marriage.

    Matthew 19:3, The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?

    The question of the Pharisees was concerning what the Law said about marriage and divorce. When you look back at the law (Deut. 24:1f) it deals with the laws of a man and woman who are bound by a sexual union.

    Also notice Jesus' reply to the Pharisees

    Matthew 19:4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
    5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
    6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

    Thus Jesus established at the outset of his answer that the union that is under consideration is a union of "ONE FLESH." Thus, the context is not dealing with simply an "espousal period" but to a "fully (sexual) consumated marriage."

    Thus Jesus DID allow for divorce and remarriage. I would caution everyone though not to label Matt. 19:9 as simply the "exception clause" as often is done. Understand the Pharisees' question was not a legitimate, sincere question; rather it was a question of deceit i.e. "tempting" Him. Thus, Jesus' answer must be taken in light of this, and should also be understood in light that Jesus was dealing with Jewish issue i.e. what was "lawful." Thus "except for fornication" shouldn't be taken to an extreme to be the ONLY exception, as Paul will further expound on in 1 Corinthians chapter 7.

    I will not even begin to get into the definition of "fornication" as I hope all to whom this message is sent are educated enough to know that porneia is a generic Greek word which simply means "unlawful sex." "Fornication" does not have anything to do with whether a person is married or single. I thought I had a file on my work computer on this subject, but it is not here; so I will email another message later today with an attachment about Divorce and Remarriage and give you something to consider.

  3. Very thought provoking-as usual. Bringing Deuteronomy 24 into Matthew 19 is something I've never thought of.

  4. Greetings Brother Carol!you touched on matthew 19 not being the espoused(i do agree with youre teaching).but how about matthew 5?many have and will say he is talking about the espousedin this chapter. How can we bring these two scriptures in harmony?If you mentioned this please forgive me.also it seems when many teach on marriage and divorce doctrinne they seem to be talking to the church.If those not saved divorced other reasons then fornacation-adultry,
    Then is there divorce not valid.?if they come into the church after the divorce? Do we apply the scripture"judgement starts at the house of the Lord"? I look foward to youre reply

  5. Matthew 5 and 19 are both contrasting Jesus teaching with that of Moses in Deuteronomy 24 concerning the married wife. The wife under consideration in Deuteronomy MUST be a married wife, because when she is given a bill of divorcement she must "depart out of his house." An espoused couple does not live together.

    Mark 10:2-13, Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:3-11 are parallel text that are all discussing the same thing.

  6. Good blog post, quite rightly using the very Scripture in question (Deuteronomy 24).