Is it possible that Matthew's exception clause in ch 5 and 19 has something to do with originally being written in Hebrew?


After some study about the meaning of “porneia” in the Greek version of the Gospel of Matthew, I thought that maybe part of the reason for Matthew being the only Gospel (or NT Scripture) to reference an exception regarding valid divorce, is because it was originally written in Hebrew. I know that the Greek versions are canonical, so the term “porneia” is technically canonical. But since the dispute among Christians is the interpretation of the contextual use of the term, maybe part of understanding how we have this unique “exception clause” is related to how Matthew wrote this passage in Hebrew???


Matthew may have written his Gospel in Aramaic (not Hebrew, altho sometimes Aramaic is called Hebrew in the New Testament), but I have to believe that God knew from before the foundation of the world that the authoritative version of this Gospel would be in Greek, and that the operative word would be “porneia” = “fornication”.

(Personally, I would like for the Church to abandon the very narrow definition “unlawful marriage” and to expand the meaning of that word in Matthew back to what it meant to the Greeks and what it means in the rest of the New Testament, which is sexual misconduct of all types. But that’s just me.)


I realize the tradition that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew first is disputed by some (perhaps many) scholars. But my question might also give some validity to the possibility of there being a Hebrew version originally.

It makes me wonder how a possible first version in Hebrew would have have been phrased. But then again, it would still need to be translated into english.

On a side note, I think this passage from St Paul gives a very good example of something Jesus was speaking about, when He allowed for a valid divorce:

1 Cor. 6

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!*Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two shall become one.”But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.

This would be an unlawful union. So God has not joined the two, but only the desires of the two.

  • [5:31–32] See Dt 24:1–5. The Old Testament commandment that a bill of divorce be given to the woman assumes the legitimacy of divorce itself. It is this that Jesus denies. (Unless the marriage is unlawful): this “exceptive clause,” as it is often called, occurs also in Mt 19:9, where the Greek is slightly different. There are other sayings of Jesus about divorce that prohibit it absolutely (see Mk 10:11–12; Lk 16:18; cf. 1 Cor 7:10, 11b), and most scholars agree that they represent the stand of Jesus. Matthew’s “exceptive clauses” are understood by some as a modification of the absolute prohibition. It seems, however, that the unlawfulness that Matthew gives as a reason why a marriage must be broken refers to a situation peculiar to his community: the violation of Mosaic law forbidding marriage between persons of certain blood and/or legal relationship (Lv 18:6–18). Marriages of that sort were regarded as incest (porneia), but some rabbis allowed Gentile converts to Judaism who had contracted such marriages to remain in them. Matthew’s “exceptive clause” is against such permissiveness for Gentile converts to Christianity; cf. the similar prohibition of porneia in Acts 15:20, 29. In this interpretation, the clause constitutes no exception to the absolute prohibition of divorce when the marriage is lawful.


Ok, thank you.

(Personally, I would like for the Church to abandon the very narrow definition “unlawful marriage” and to expand the meaning of that word in Matthew back to what it meant to the Greeks and what it means in the rest of the New Testament, which is sexual misconduct of all types. But that’s just me.)

I think the point of Jesus (taking the way the Catholic Church believes) is not that a valid, lawful marriage can be divorced, but unlawful unions that don’t involve the laws of God. That’s why we believe that even if there is sexual immorality after a Christian marriage, it is still not lawful, or possible, to divorce.


It is all right to separate, and it is all right to divorce civilly, especially to protect the family. However, neither of these puts a person into an “unmarried” state which would allow a spouse to marry another.


It’s not necessarily always “alright” to separate or civilly divorce. We are called to reconcile if possible. But I agree with you here.

So, do you think the fact that Matthew is the only writer of the NT to offer this exception, might have something to do with his Gospel possibly being written in Aramaic, to the Hebrews?


The exception clause might have been included in Matthew to address an issue particularly affecting the Jews of his day, namely, the discovery of adultery before the consummation of a marriage. I’m guessing that marriages today are usually consummated the same day the marriage vows are exchanged and so this would not be much of a concern. However, back then, I understand, Jewish couples typically waited a whole year after they exchanged marriage vows before they started living together and consummated their marriage. Matthew alone tells us that it was during this extended period between the exchange of marriage vows and the consummation of their marriage that St Joseph discovered that his wife, the Virgin Mary, was pregnant and he decided to divorce her. Matthew’s portrayal of Joseph as a righteous man precludes Joseph from doing anything against the teachings of Jesus. Thus, there was a need for Matthew to include the exception clause to reconcile Joseph’s decision to divorce his wife and end their unconsummated marriage with Jesus’ teaching against divorce of consummated marriages.

The current Code of Canon Law has a similar provision, permitting, for a just reason and with the pope’s approval, the dissolution of a valid marriage between Catholics, if their marriage has not yet been consummated:
Canon 1142. A non-consummated marriage between baptised persons or between a baptised party and an unbaptised party can be dissolved by the Roman Pontiff for a just reason, at the request of both parties or of either party, even if the other is unwilling.


Did God also know that the original versions of the gospels would eventually be lost and that we would be left with copies of copies of copies?


Yes. I agree that Matthew likely felt compelled to add the exception clause which justified what Joseph was attempting. This would have been a just reason to divorce from the “process” of an actual binding marriage.

But we also need to keep in mind that the Catholic faith applies a greater range of factors which would render a marriage null. So while Joseph’s choice is an example. St Paul also mentions being with a prostitute is also becoming “one flesh”, yet that does not seem to be binding from God either. So certain “unions” may have elements of marriage, but lack God’s binding law (which no man can change).

I think that if Matthew’s Gospel was originally written in Aramaic, then maybe it helps provide some understanding as to the difficult term “porneia” being used, and maybe the Hebrew audience would better understand what was intended by an exception clause.


Umm, yes.


I am finding your thread very interesting. When you use the term “valid, lawful marriage”, is that meaning both civil and Church approved validity? What is an union that doesnt involve the laws of God?


I am just going to discuss the idea that it is originally written in Hebrew. First, Aramaic would have been more likely, as it was the common tongue. The Church of the East maintains it WAS written in Aramaic and then translated into Greek.Their name for it is the Peshitta. Maybe they are right.

However, there is an assumption people make that an original can only be written in one language. If you are fluent in two languages, you can actually write two originals side by side in both languages. More than likely Aramaic was used among the Jews and other, uh, Aramaic speakers and Greek was used with foreigners, so it would be reasonable for him to write two originals, one in each language for each group.

Now I get to bring up Calvin, just because. Rather, he wrote his Institutes in French and Latin, and some people (not me) love to dig into the nuances of having two originals that theoretically express the same thing and what the word choices in both languages imply about atmospherically subtle nuances.

So IMHO you should not go digging around for things in one language that are not visible in the other, because if the author intended it for both, it would have been there. I think we would have to view both the Greek and the Aramaic (or Hebrew) autographs as authoritative and inspired. If there were three, including Hebrew, that would complicate things nicely.

Aside from that, I am probably not going to get into this. Yeah, right. :slight_smile:


Hey W,

Well, in post #3, I provided what I think is a huge example. Paul writes (in 1 Cor. 6) about the union between a man and a prostitute. This is “becoming one flesh” as he asserts.

The Catholic Church recognizes other reasons that don’t necessarily involve God. Incest, closed to children, a Catholic seeking only a civil marriage, etc.

I think the difference in interpreting Jesus’ exception is that when He gives the exception, it’s not that a valid marriage can be divorced, but that the marriage was never ligitimate in God’s eyes to begin with. So to say adultery fits the bill, is not understanding what He meant. If we put the case of a prostitute (like Paul mentioned) in the context, it could read like this:
He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for a person who sleeps with a prostitute, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery.”

So instead of looking at it like “the married man who sleeps with a prostitute gives his wife a valid reason to divorce” it is rather “the man who sleeps with a prostitute is not bound by God to remain with her”.

But since "a prostitute is one example of several iligitimate unions, the term “porneia” seemed suitable to the Spirit.


I think some unlawful marriages could be things like threesomes, open marriages, just cohabitating for an undefined length of time without commitment or intent of ever committing, a single man keeping a mistress but not marrying her (I mean in the sense of providing for all her needs, and she reciprocates physically, but never appears socially, or that’s how it used to be), bigamy.


So all the fun stuff? :shrug: … :smiley:


I don’t think you necessarily have to argue for this being due to Matthew being written in ‘Hebrew’. IMHO you could also just propose that this is due to Matthew writing for an audience with a Jewish background.


Yes, point taken. I guess I just thought that maybe the two things are a little related. The fact that there is substantial testimony that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Aramaic combined with his Gospel being the only Scripture to make such an “exception” regarding divorce.

Your point is the same basic principle, but perhaps looking at that passage, as one example, can give credence to the Aramaic origin tradition. That Matthew used something in Aramaic that gave the Teaching a clearer understanding to the Jewish nation. Then, the best Greek term to use in that place (porneia) was not necessarily as fitting as the Aramaic.

Are you aware of how modern Jewish scholars have interpreted these passages? And have any proposed an equivalent Aramaic translation/interpretation?


Hi, RC!

Jesus is not offering a clause for a “valid” divorce. Jesus is speaking to those invalid marriages where the culture practiced incest (and other practices) in order to keep the wealth, power, status centralized (in the hands of the few). Such unions (not valid marriages) can be dissolved.

I find it interesting that “Christians” seek shortcuts/clauses that would make void the Word of God (much like the Jewish religious during Jesus times) instead of obeying Christ’s Command:

[FONT=“Garamond”][size=]2 And the Pharisees coming to him asked him: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. 3 But he answering, saith to them: What did Moses command you? 4 Who said: Moses permitted to write a bill of divorce, and to put her away. 5 To whom Jesus answering, said: Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you that precept. 6 But** from the beginning **

of the creation, God made them male and female. 7 For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother; and shall cleave to his wife. 8 And they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. 9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 10 And in the house again his disciples asked him concerning the same thing. 11 And he saith to them: Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12 And if the wife shall** put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery**. (St. Mark 10:2-12)
…there would be those who would argue… seeking the “clause” validation… but are they correct? Did Jesus mean to say: ‘well, just make sure you commit adultery before you remarry.’?

Let’s look at the context in St. Matthew’s:

9 And I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery. 10 His disciples say unto him: If the case of a man with his wife be so, it is not expedient to marry

. (St. Matthew 19:9-10)
Did Jesus’ disciples discern a clause for a “valid divorce?”


They actually understood His insistence in the indissolubility of marriage as they then exclaim that it is better not to get married (since one would be stuck in it for life)!

Maran atha!




Hi, RC!

…yet, St. Paul is not speaking to divorce but to the practice of frequenting prostitutes… St. Paul is warning the Believers that to engage in immoral acts makes one part of that act: a Christian that lies with a prostitute becomes one flesh with the prostitute and we cannot partake of the Cup of the Lord and the cup of the world.

Maran atha!


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