So here comes the fruit of my labors. For the next several weeks I will be posting sections from my study done Matthew’s usage of Porneia (sexual immorality) and Moicheia (adultery). I will break it up so that one does not have to read a +25,000 word blog post. But if you want to go ahead and read it in full you can go here.
Why go through all this work (and probably rework as people interact with it)? Primarily because this is an important issue in the church. Many people are not only asking, but living in the situation, of wanting to know what the Bible says about divorce and remarriage. So I thought this would be a worth while topic to pursue. Especially, also, in light of the rising position of Permanence.
The Permanence position has really came into the discussion through John Piper, though it is has been held by others before him. Permanence, in essence teaches that there is no biblical exception to get a divorce and remarry. Once a person enters into a marriage it is for life, no matter what—literally. Nothing but death breaks the bond. If the other person is not dead then you cannot remarry no matter what.
Now, the only problem with this stance, thought it seems very good, are several biblical passages that at first glance don’t seem to carry this same resolve. 1 Corinthians 7:15, Matthew 5:32, and Matthew 19:9 seem to give allowances for divorce and remarriage.
Because of this Permanence holders have gone to work on trying to show how these verses fit into their reading of the biblical text. Particular to the paper I wrote, they have presented an interpretation of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 that does not have Jesus giving an exception for the consequences of divorcing a spouse. I will not go into detail here, you can read Piper’s article for that. But suffice to say that part of their arguments for why there are no exceptions in those verses is a linguistic argument. Meaning that Matthew is writing in a way which should cause us to not read exceptions. The argument is about Matthew’s usage of Porneia (normally translated in your bibles as “sexual immorality”) and Moicheia (normally translated “adultery”). The details are in my paper, but they argue that Porneia and Moicheia are not referring to the same sin, “adultery,” in those passages. Instead, they are referring to two separate sins. They then gives some arguments as to why this is the correct way to read these two words. My paper looks are those arguments and puts them to the test.
In light of the rising arguments from this position I believe that it is good for us to go back and test positions once held and see again what the Bible is saying. So this article attempts to fulfill that endeavor. I define what I am doing in the paper itself in terms of the testing I am doing. This is in no way an exhaustive response to the Permanence position. Instead it is detailed look at an important part of the argument. Namely, what is the most probable way Matthew used the terms Porneia (sexual immorality) and Moicheia (adultery). Arguments by the Permanence position are put to the test to see if they hold up under scrutiny. Hopefully what I have written will further the discussion as we strive for faithfulness to the Bible.
Permanence’s reading of Porneia and Moicheia in Matthew
By Charlie Albright
In this article I want to explore the claims made by Permanence holders about Matthew’s usage of Porneia and Moicheia. The reason for this is because this is a very important part of the discussion on divorce and remarriage. Is Matthew giving exceptions which allow divorce and remarriage or is he not? The answer has big ramifications about how Christians think and teach about this pertinent issue with real people in our churches.
Let me define the discussion which is going on. The traditional evangelical under standing of divorce and remarriage is that there is no legitimate divorce and remarriage except in two conditions. Number one, that the person committed adultery and number two, if the person wanting out of the marriage is an unbeliever. Outside of these there are no biblical reasons for a divorce. Now there is a more conservative take that is coming up into the discussion. What has been called the Permanence view holds to the belief that there are no reasons for divorce and one cannot get remarried—no exceptions.
This is not going to be a full on discussion about the two views. Instead this is going to be a focus on one particular part of the discussion. We are going to be focusing on Matthew’s usage of two Greek words Porneia (πορνεία) and Moicheia (μοιχεία). Even more specifically we are going to be looking at particular claims about how we are to understand these words in Matthew.
The full arguments are going to be given below but sufficient for now to say now that the possible exception clauses in Matthew are important verses in the discussion. Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 can seem to state that there are exceptions to the condemnation of divorce that allow situational divorces and remarriages. We translate the Greek word for Porneia as sexual immorality and the word Moicheia as adultery. So in these two verses the interpretation of those two words is important. If one finds that the words mean something different then it would affect how we read Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage. So there is a big discussion about those two verses.
Before we get into that I do want to say a word about working in the Greek language for those that don’t really know a lot about linguistic studies. When we enter the world of Greek we should not think that we are entering into a mysterious world of enchantment. The language of Greek has consistent patterns just like we do in English. It is just that we don’t think how we use the English language most of the time. We just do what we have absorbed from the use of the language around us without thinking about it. But when we enter into the Greek world we have to think about why people did what they did with the language. That is the difference. Now they were consistent in the use of their language in different ways than we are consistent with ours. But the principle of needing to understand the consistency applies for both.
This is not, as I stated before, some grand adventure into the mystical world of the Greek language. It is looking at the language to find consistent uses of words and grammar so we can get the most probable meaning from the author we are studying. It is like in English where you may come across a word or phrase that you don’t understand. If you don’t have a dictionary to explain it to you, you can go through the author’s work and see how he uses it. And you can then think about how the word is used in other books you have read such far. If the word is used frequently in books written during the same time or around you can get a good guess at how the author probably uses it. This is what we are doing with the Greek language. We do not have a Greek dictionary to simply look up how people used words. We have to study other usages of it and use that information to get the most probable meaning.
With all that said let use dive into the discussion at hand. We are going to be looking into how we should interpret the word meanings of Porneia (πορνεία) and Moicheia (μοιχεία) in the book of Matthew. More specifically, we are going to be looking at claims made by the Permanence holders about consistence patterns which shape our understanding of how the words are used. So, by looking at the Greek language we can ask the question, “are there patterns to how we see the words used which gives us a picture of how Matthew used the words?”
It does need to be stated that these are not “unclear verses.” Just because people have written a lot about them doesn’t mean that the verses are confusing to understand like Paul’s mention the Corinthians baptizing for the dead (1 Corinthians 15:29). Paul, here, mentions something in passing where there is no way to determine what exactly he meant. Unlike that, the verses in Matthew are clear in what they communicate. The problem comes is the difficultly in fitting them in one’s views. Thus the problem is in the interpreters, not the verse.
 This is not to deny that an author can have a special usage that goes against the consistent pattern of what we would find else where. But, for the most part people are consistent with the language.