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"And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." (Gen 2-23-24)

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The Foundation Christadelphian position on Divorce and Remarriage
Divorce and the Mosaic Law

The Exceptive Clause

The Sermon on the Mount and Matt 5:32

The root of much, if not most of the confusion on this subject circles around the word "fornication." The divorce groups generally limit this term to premarital relations. This limitation is absolutely groundless. The more we look into the English (fornication), Greek (porneia) and Hebrew (Zanah), the more we conclusively find --

1. That fornication in all three languages includes all sexual unchastity.

2. It is used principally (in preference to 'adultery' in the Scriptures for the after marriage infidelity of a wife.

Take the trouble to do this: check through all the Scriptural uses in the Old Testestament. of 'zanah' (fornication) and 'naaph' (adultery). This can most easily be done in the Englishman's Hebrew Concordance: Pgs 389 &1344 (zanah & taznuth, a derivative), and pg. 782 (naaph). It can also be done with Strong's or Young's, but not so easily. And check these passages in the Greek of the Septuagint and note that the Septuagint consistently translates zanah by porneia, and naaph by moicheia.

This is one aspect of the subject in which, the more we look into it, the more overwhelming the evidence becomes. If we think this matter is important enough to be concerned about as to fellowship, then let us at least take the time and trouble to thoroughly search it out for ourselves, and get the full picture.

The elaborate case that is built upon the word 'porneia' (fornication) to escape the obvious and simple meaning of Matt. 5:32 & 19:9 falls completely to the ground when the words and their uses are examined. English, Greek & Hebrew all agree, and the Septuagint and the quotations from the Old Testestament in the New Testament tie the Hebrew and Greek inseparably together.

Porneia" (fornication : zanah) includes all sexual sin, including adultery, in English, Greek and Hebrew. "Moicheia" (adultery: naaph) is a more limited term. As soon as we get a true picture of the Scriptural use of these words in connection with this very matter (marital unfaithfulness), we see very clearly why it was much more fitting and expressive and natural for Jesus to use fornication instead of adultery.  Jesus uses it in exactly the same sense and meaning that God repeatedly uses it in Ezek. Ch. 16, 23; Jer. Ch. 3, etc.

Merriam-Websters' 3rd. New International Unabridged (accepted as the basic authority everywhere) defines 'fornication' as --

1. Human sexual intercourse other than between a man and his wife.

2. Sexual intercourse between a spouse and an unmarried person.

3. Sexual intercourse between unmarried people.

Note that the definition on which this theory depends as the only meaning of the word is third in order, after 2 other meanings which destroy the theory. And Hebrew and Greek and Bible usage agree perfectly with this.

In Ezk. Chs. 16 & 23, God uses the word for fornication (zanah) 40 times concerning Israel's unfaithfulness to him, and the word for adultery (naaph) only six times. In these chapter, and in Jer. 3, both words are used for the same offence (which in this case is a woman, Israel, playing the whore against her husband, God), as will be seen from Ezek. 23:43, where both words occur. This clearly shows the fallacy of this article's argument built on an artificial definition of 'fornication' as exclusively non-marital intercourse.

Notice that after she was "old in adulteries" (moicheia), they commit whoredom (porneia) with her, and she with them. Read these two chapters through carefully, and note the continuous and repeated use of zanah (porneia in the Septuagint) for Israel's relations with the Assyrians and Babylonians. In Ezekiel 16, note --

V. 8: "Thou becamest mine (God's)."

V. 20. "Thy sons and thy daughters whom thou hast borne unto me."

Then, after this --

V.. 22. "Thy whoredoms" (porneia).

V. 25. "Multiplied thy whoredoms" (porneia).

V. 28. "Played the whore" (porneia).

V. 29. "Multiplied thy fornication" (porneia).

-- And so on through the chapter, repeatedly using porneia of a married woman.

The Septuagint in these chapters translates consistently, using moicheia for naaph (adultery), and porneia for zanah (fornication). It is inescapable from these 2 chapters that both words are used for the same offence: a wife's unfaithfulness. Note that Strong's says that in Old Testament usage, zanah (the Hebrew equivalent of porneia) more often refers to adultery, less often to "simple" fornication. Why the two words?

In the light of these chapters, and in the use of the words generally in the Scriptures and in ordinary language (Hebrew & Greek), and in their basic root meanings in these languages and in English (all consistent), it is perfectly clear why Christ used porneia (fornication) and not moicheia (adultery) in Matt. 5:32 & 19:9.

This is why: Porneia (fornication, harlotry, whoredom) strongly carries the connotation of a continuous way of life and character. Moicheia (adultery), on the other hand, connotes single acts, and does not necessarily carry the atmosphere of continuance or character.  Distinguished, then, in this sense, Christ appears to be saying, by his choice of words, that single acts of unfaithfulness (moicheia), while a terrible abomination and possibly having terrible consequences for the rest of life that cannot be reversed, can be forgiven by the partner if there is true repentance and forsaking; but that fornication (porneia, harlotry, whoredom) as a fixed way of life makes continuation of a marriage impossible, however loving, Christlike and forgiving a partner may be.

The way of Christ is always for forgiveness and reconciliation where that is possible, and where there is repentance, regardless of how bad a sin may be. The way of Christ, as so faithfully expounded in this matter by brethren Thomas and Roberts and those who followed them, provides a healthy solution to an intolerable condition of corruption, but it is also merciful to temporary weakness and folly.

I believe this is also why, in Ezek. 16 & 23, God almost exclusively uses zanah (fornication) instead of adultery, though He uses the latter also in the same context and for the same offence.

A proper understanding of the meaning and Scriptural uses of adultery/moicheia/naaph and fornication/porneia/zanah completely destroys the false theory built on a false meaning, and beautifully exemplifies the Truth as brethren Thomas and Roberts believed it.

It will be noted with deep interest that bro. Roberts covers this distinction between temporary failure and permanent addiction very beautifully in his remarks on divorce (#8). I had not seen the force of this until someone in controversy grossly misinterpreted him to make him say that one sin by the wife irreparably broke the marriage and there could be no reconciliation. If someone had not just happened to ask him this question in 1888, we would not have this record of his reply, and it would have been difficult to defend him against this terrible accusation.

I would suggest that you go through your Bibles and mark all places where naaph and zanah occur in Hebrew, and moicheia and porneia in Greek. It will give a sound understanding of the true Scriptural use of these words, and show clearly why Christ used porneia and what he meant.

Naaph (& derivatives). are always translated adultery (and derivatives): never anything else (1 exception - 'break wedlock' : same meaning). And every time adultery occurs in the O.T., it is naaph in original (1 exception: Prov. 6:26). The Septuagint always translates naaph by moicheia. And where the N.T.. quotes from the O.T., it always uses moicheia for naaph (as thou shalt not commit adultery).

Zanah (& derivatives). are always translated fornication, whoredom, harlotry (& derivatives): never anything else. And every time fornication occurs in the O.T., it is zanah in the original. The Septuagint always translates zanah by porneia. And when the N.T. quotes from the O.T. it always uses porneia for zanah (as Rahab the harlot).

Likewise, in the N.T., moicheia is always translated adultery, and adultery in the (A.V.) is always moicheia in the original. And porneia is always translated fornication, whoredom, harlotry; and fornication in the A.V. is always porneia in the original.

So we have an unvarying and unbroken chain of usage in English, Greek, Hebrew, O.T., N.T. & the Septuagint version --



Gesenius (the most widely quoted authority on Hebrew) defines zanah: "To commit fornication, whether married or unmarried."

Henry Browne: Dictionary of Scriptural words in Hebrew, Greek and English:--



Davies' Hebrew Lexicon: ZANAH: "fornication" -- used of a married woman, of an unmarried woman, of religious apostasy or unfaithfulness to God, regarded as whoredom or adultery since the covenant between the Eternal and His people Israel was compared to a marriage union."

Robinson Greek-English Lexicon: PORNEIA: : "Fornication, lewdness: used of adultery, of incest, and generally of all such intercourse as Mosaic Law interdicted."

I quote these "authorities", not as final arbiters, but to show that the very limited meaning of porneia and its Hebrew equivalent zanah, upon which this theory depends, is quite unsupported from any direction, and is contrary to the universal understanding of the very meaning of the words.

It is sometimes argued that since Jesus used two different words (porneia for fornication and moicheia for adultery) in the same verse, that he therefore means two different things.

I have shown the complete groundlessness of this argument based on porneia, which is so vital to this theory, and of which it makes so much. I have shown that the word Christ used is the exact equivalent of the word God overwhelmingly used of His unfaithful erring "wife" Israel. I have shown why porneia here is more appropriate than adultery would be, for it connotes a way of life.

A further point to make it even stronger. For simplicity, I have spoken throughout of Christ "using" porneia, meaning that this is the word we find in the Greek of the gospels. However, it is absolutely clear that Jesus spoke Hebrew. It is common to speak of the Palestinian language of that time as 'Aramaic', but it is spoken of as 'Hebrew' in Luke 23:38, John 5:2, Acts 21:40, etc. That Jesus spoke in Hebrew is clear from the fact that several times his actual words are quoted, and then translated, as: talitha cumi; ephphatha; eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani. When he spoke to Paul from heaven, it was 'in the Hebrew tongue' (Acts 26:14).

So Jesus actually did not use porneia at all, but the Hebrew zanah: Exactly the same word as God did in Ezk. 16 & 23 concerning His erring wife Israel. This does not change the picture any, it just binds the bonds even stronger, for zanah we have far more copious usage than porneia.

* * *

Another argument based upon words relates to the term "Put asunder." It is said that the terms 'put asunder' and 'put away' are the same as divorce. Therefore, when Jesus says let no man "put asunder" he is saying that a marriage can never be ended. 

The implication is that they are always the same, which is not correct. It is not quite that simple. There are 3 principle words in the New Testament which are used for the separating of man and wife: chorizo (to separate, put space between), aphiemi (to send away, to cause to go), and apoluo (to loose, to set free). None are used exclusively of divorce. There are also luo and lusis, used once each: they are verb and noun, related to each other and to apoluo. The three principle words are translated inconsistently in the KJV in connection with the marriage relationship, they are variously rendered --

Chorizo: put asunder, depart.

Aphiemi: put away, leave.

Apoluo: put away, divorce.

Paul uses 2 of these words in 1 Cor. 7:10-13, and they are not translated consistently. In vs 10 & 11, depart is chorizo. In vs 11 & 12, put away is aphiemi. In vs 13, leave is aphiemi.

As applied generally, apart from marriage, these words are translated:

Chorizo: depart, separate.

Aphiemi: suffer, leave, forgive, let alone, forsake, omit, yield up, send away.

Apoluo: send away, loose, release, let depart, dismiss, set at liberty, depart.

Christ uses chorizo and apoluo of the marriage relationship, but never aphiemi. But he uses aphiemi very frequently in a general sense (other than of marriage). When I speak of Christ's use, of course, I refer to the rendering of his words in Greek, as we have them in the gospels. Paul uses chorizo and aphiemi and luo and lusis of the marriage relationship, but never apoluo. He uses apoluo in the general sense (other than marriage).

The use of these words in Scripture in connection with this subject appears haphazard, but there must be a basic pattern, for it is the word of God, and "Every word of God is pure" -- that is, true, correct, right, perfectly suited.

In the Old Testament, the picture is similar. There are various words involved, ,and translation is not consistent. In neither language does there appear to be a word specifically and exclusively meaning marital divorce, although one in the Hebrew may be this: kerithuth, cutting off. It is just used four times: twice in Duet. 24:1-3, once where God says he did give Israel (10-tribe kingdom) a bill of divorce (Jer. 3:8), and once where he asks Judah (2-tribe kingdom) to produce her bill of divorce (Isa. 50:1), implying that she had been given none.

Note the context in Jer. 3. The sin for which the bill of divorce was given is described as both fornication (vs 1,2,6) and adultery (v 8), and it is clear it all refers to action after marriage. In translating this word "kerithuth" into Greek, both the Septuagint and the N T (as in Mt. 5:31) use an entirely different word from any of the above considered. It is "apostasion" - a standing away from.

There is another interesting word in the Old Testament. It is gahrash. It is translated "divorce" in Lev. 21:14, 22:13, Num. 30:9. It is also used of a woman "put away" from her husband, in Lv. 21:7, and Ezk. 44:22. It is the word used in Sarah's demand, "Cast out this bondwoman," which God tells Abraham to comply with.

So it is clear that these highly technical arguments built on words, and not on concepts, cannot be sustained when the complete picture behind the words are included. 

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