Tuesday, September 27, 2005

NT Passages on Marriage

(Part II of tomorrow's test)

Matthew 19:3-9
Perhaps the most important of all NT passages on marriage since here we have Jesus' own words addressing it. So what does He say when the Pharisees ask Him about divorce?

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?"

Note here that the Pharisees presuppose the lawfulness of divorce. They see marriage as a contract that is subject to the husband's will. The question, in their minds, is whether Jesus has a strict or loose interpretation of the law (for any cause).

He answered, "Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?

Here, Jesus puts together the two key texts from the two accounts of Creation- Genesis 1:27 and 2:24. The first highlights the equal dignity of man and woman, and in the passage it highlights fecundity (be fertile and multiply). The equal dignity excludes dominion by man. The second account highlights the love between man and woman, and explains the existential change that occurs when the two are joined together.

So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder."

This causal link between passages is original with Jesus. He also reveals the biggest refute to the Pharisees: it is not man's fickle will which joins two persons in marriage, but God Himself. The marriage relationship thus affects man's relationship with God as well. Therefore, all divorce is illicit. All!

They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?"

Jesus has answered the Pharisees with texts that they had not anticipated. They did not link Genesis to marriage, especially since they had other texts to use to justify their current practice of divorce. What they refer to here is probably Dt. 24:1. When read in its context, however, Dt. 24:1 does not really sanction divorce the way the Pharisees have read it.

He said to them, "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.

Jesus directs the Pharisees to the beginning, suggesting that it is possible to live in faithful love. Hardness of heart, sklerokardia, signifies a lack of love, a lack of faithfulness to the covenant. It is the breaking off of it, or the false performance of it. Hesed is the word for mercy & faithfulness. It is lacking in anyone willing to divorce his wife.

And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for porneia, and marries another, commits adultery."

Here we go. What some people call "the exception clause" Now it gets interesting! What is Jesus saying here? Many translations are "unchastity" but that isn't very illuminating. It's best to leave it in Greek and deal with it that way. Let's write it this way-- I say to you: whoever divorces his wife (except for porneia), and marries another, commits adultery. Porneia literally means prostitution. In this case, it seems to mean an illicit sexual relationship which cannot be a true marriage- an impediment, if you will. Fr. Sanchez explains it like this, "Whoever divorces his wife, and I'm not talking here about porneia, in which a true marriage doesn't even exist..." Hm! Some translations make the word "adultery." There are 3 good reasons that porneia cannot mean adultery. 1.) The Greek word for adultery, which Matthew uses in other places, is moikheia. If he wanted to say adultery, he would have written adultery. Duh. 2.) In the context, it would not make sense. The disciples' shock at this, and statement: "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry" shows that they get it. 3.) If Jesus did mean unchastity or adultery, it would basically mean that He agreed with the Shammai school of strict interpretation-- which would not be all that surprising and the Pharisees would have been satisfied that they got what they wanted to hear- which never happens of course.

Wow! I have two more passages to go over still. There is just so muchhhhhh!


Theo C said...

You are quite right that porneia (pornea) is not really lewd conduct or adultery (morkea). However, and forgive the correction, neither is it prostitution. The current lectionary simply speaks of it as a marriage which is unlawful. It deviates somewhat from a literal translation for the sake of children in the pews. The so-called exception clause for divorce in Matthew is for pornea, which bluntly means INCEST. Similarly today the Church declares invalid and annulls marriages which are proven incestuous. It is a violation of natural law. Check the footnotes and commentary to the revised NEW AMERICAN translation. You can also confirm this revised translation in the writings of Dr. Germaine Grisez (Mount St. Mary's in Emmitsburg, MD) and Dr. William May (John Paul II Institute on Marriage at Dominican House of Studies, Wash. DC).

The discernment of the true meaning of pornea has put the evangical Christian world into confusion because they realize now that there are no grounds for divorce if a marriage is true.


Theo C said...

Correction - That should have read "evangelical" Christian world into confusion.

Hey I just noticed from your profile that you are at the JP II Institute. Is Dr. William May still there? I love his books!


earthie said...

Yes indeed, I actually work for Dr. May. Not to be a stickler, but the word literally does mean prostitution in Greek,(at least according to the greek scholar teaching us) but it has various other meanings according to context. As I said, in this context it means an illicit relationship like you mentioned. My prof cites Lev 17-18 as the section directly related to porneia, and that indeed is focused on incestuous relationships. Thanks for helping clarify!

Theo C said...

Thanks for the clarification, I meant precisely that it is in the given context of the Gospel that porneia (pornea) points to incest and not to a host of other illicit activities that might be implied given different contexts, like harlotry, beastiality, homosexuality, and concubinage.

I really enjoy your blog and find your articles, light and heavy, as immensely interesting.

I am increasinly filled with hope as I find blogs by young Catholic adults who are strong in the Catholic faith and desiring to make a difference.

You do not know me, although I am only across town from you, but I will keep you and your studies in my prayers.

And, forgive me for being forward, but having seen your picture, I can safely say you are not only smart but not too hard on the eyes too.

Take care,