by Keith Hunt

                        CHAPTER FOUR

                   EXCEPT FOR FORNICATION





It is clear from Matthew 19 that Jesus MAGNIFIED the marriage law and swept aside a teaching that was prevalent in His day, that Deuteronomy 24 taught that men could put away their wives for just about ANY reason. Jesus went back Before Moses' economy, showing that whatever was ALLOWED under Moses (because of the people's HARD-HEARTEDNESS) was only temporal Now marriage was to be restored to its original intent. Yet, because this was still the age of Satan's rule on earth, Christ did allow divorce for  "fornication." 


It is now time to make an in-depth study of the Greek word "porneia" (translated here into our English word "fornication").

In our English language we have many words to describe various sexual acts, each conveying SPECIFIC meanings to our mind: FORNICATION - sex before marriage; ADULTERY - sex with someone other than your wife or husband; INCEST - sex between persons of the same family, such as father and daughter; HOMOSEXUALITY - sex between two males; LESBIANISM - sex between two females; BEASTIALITY - sex with an animal; HARLOT - someone who sells her body to another for sexual gratification. But in the Greek New Testament there are but TWO basic words used for all of our specific English words. The Greek word "moicheia" is used for our word "ADULTERY" and carries the same meaning as our English word. We are then left with only the basic Greek word "porneia" used in passages where "moicheia" is not used, or both may be used in the same passage.

The Englishman's Greek Concordance (p.647-648) will give you ALL the passages in the New Testament where this word "porneia" is used. By a careful study of these passages, we can come to understand the meaning of this Greek word and in so doing understand under what situations Jesus was allowing DIVORCE.

In I Corinthians 5:1 Paul was clearly speaking about someone

in the Church who was practicing what our English word "INCEST" describes. He does not say whether the man committing this sin was MARRIED or not - INCEST could be committed by either party in a marriage. True, that would also be adultery. It was adultery as well as incest for the woman of I Corinthians 5. What Paul was saying was that this sin was more than adultery (which is also sin), so he chose not to use the Greek word for adultery, "moicheia," but the Greek word "porneia" which obviously carried a wider meaning than "moicheia," for in this case it carried all the meaning of our words ADULTERY and INCEST (on the woman's part) and FORNICATION and INCEST (on the man's part if he was not


In I Corinthians 7:1-2, Paul is giving his advice on certain sexual matters and under certain "PRESENT distress" (verse 26) of the times. He advised that during those troubled times it was probably better not to marry, but if that meant people would resort to  fornication, then he said they had better marry. Naturally he would not use the Greek word for adultery as he was speaking and giving advice to the UNmarried. He used the only other Greek word he could - the one that conveyed what he meant and that conveys the meaning of our English word "fornication."

Turn to I Corinthians 10. Paul is warning the Corinthians not to practice various forms of evil, as the ancient Israelites did. Verse 8 is a reference to the account in Numbers 25:1-9, of the licentious intercourse of Israelite men with the daughters of Moab. It was common among all idolaters (Corinth was one of the main seats of idol worship) to practice sexual sin. Hence Paul's admonition not to "commit fornication ['porneia' ]."

Are we to suppose that in the account of Numbers 25 ONLY the UNmarried had sexual relations with the daughters of Moab? We could suppose such a thing by our English word "FORNICATION" used in the King James Version. It is unlikely indeed that such was the case. It is much more reasonable to believe that both MARRIED and UNMARRIED men of Israel were indulging in sexual intercourse with the women of Moab. Therefore both ADULTERY and FORNICATION were being committed. The one Greek word "porneia" is used to cover both of our English words. The Corinthians would readily understand, as the temple at Corinth employed a thousand prostitutes which were available to all men - UNmarried and married.

Now turn back to I Corinthians 6:15,16. Paul admonishes them not to give their bodies to a "HARLOT" - "porne" (from

"porneia"). We find in Proverbs 2:16,17 that a HARLOT can be married. If so, she is committing ADULTERY when she sells her body, and the man is committing either FORNICATION or ADULTERY, depending on whether he is married or not.

Can we see now that the Greek word "porneia" can mean ALL that our English words "FORNICATION, ADULTERY, INCEST, HARLOTRY, HOMOSEXUALITY, LESBIANISM" and "BEASTIALITY" mean. It covers any improper sexual activity as defined by God in His Word. 

The Greek lexicons such as Thayer's are quite correct when they define "porneia" as "illicit sexual intercourse in general."

Some of the modern translations convey more clearly the meaning of this word "porneia" than does the King James Version. Such words as "sexual immorality" and "unchastity" are used for "porneia," giving a WIDER connotation, as the Greek word does.

    The AMPLIFIED BIBLE renders Matthew 19:9 as, "I say to you: whoever dismisses (repudiates, divorces) his wife, except for UNCHASTITY, and marries another, commits adultery...."

    Jesus was very deliberate in choosing to use BOTH Greek words - the one that covered all sexual improprieties ("PORNEIA") for the "except," and the other ("MOICHEIA") for adultery (breaking the Seventh Commandment) on the part of a married person who divorced and remarried for any reason other than "PORNEIA."

Adam Clarke in his commentary on Matthew 5:32 says, "As FORNICATION signifies no more than the unlawful connection of UNMARRIED persons, it cannot be used here with propriety, when speaking of those who were married. I have therefore translated ... 'ON ACCOUNT of WHOREDOM' ...."

In both passages of Scripture - Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:3-9, Christ is addressing the common argument of His day among the religious factions, as to the reasons why a man could divorce his wife, (the school of SHAMMAI gave only adultery, while the school of HILLEL gave almost ANY reason). The arguments were about divorces for those MARRIED - married in every sense of the word -- not BETROTHED or ENGAGED couples. Hence, as Adam Clarke recognised, our English word "FORNICATION" is used improperly, as it can only be used concerning the UNmarried. Here we are talking about the MARRIED. The dispute among the schools of SHAMMAI and how to interpret it.

These two passages in Matthew have no direct bearing on a man finding out on his wedding night that his bride was not a virgin, but had committed FORNICATION sometime before their marriage, and then DIVORCING her for this deceit. That circumstance and penalty was clearly given in Deuteronomy 22:13-21. There was no argument among the schools of religion about that FORNICATION law - but there was about those MARRIED and for WHAT reason divorce could be granted in Deuteronomy 24:1-2.

Jesus gave them the answer.  No divorce EXCEPT for UNCHASTITY - "PORNEIA."



Sex was created by God - He designed it - He gave it to be one of the most beautiful experiences and expressions of love between a man and woman IN marriage. It was God who set down the law that our sexual parts were only to be shared with the one chosen to be our wife or husband. It was to be the most private and unique part of our lives. We may share other things in our lives with others, but sexual intercourse was designed to be the loving, intimate, private bond between TWO persons of the opposite sex - something not shared with any other. It is the third major element that brings man and woman together as ONE flesh - as husband and wife.

It may seem hard for some of us in our so-called FEE societies, where sexual intercourse is practiced freely among teenagers, where over 70% of married men indulge in extramarital sex, and over 50% of married women also. To understand what it would be like in a society where everyone was a virgin till his or her wedding day, and where there was no adultery after marriage. It may seem hard for some of us to imagine a society where men and women shared their sexual organs with only one other person at a time in their entire lives - their wife or husband - and where just the thought of it being otherwise would make them sick and disgusted. If we can think of that society - God's society, the way He desires it to be - so pure and holy among the married with their bodies for each other and none else.

With this in mind we can then begin to see what an absolute DISASTER it can be to a marriage when one party discovers the other is sharing his or her body with another in an adulterous relationship, or in homosexuality, lesbianism, incest or beastiality. So abominable are these sins in God's eyes, and so holy is the "two shall become ONE flesh" that He established at creation, that even when He came to this earth as Jesus Christ and was busy MAGNIFYING the law and making it honorable, He allowed DIVORCE and REMARRIAGE for sexual sins - for "PORNEIA" (FORNICATION, ADULTERY, INCEST, etc.), as the bond of "ONE FLESH" was now broken. As Paul was inspired to write, ".....he that is joined to a HARLOT is ONE BODY...." (I Cor. 6:16).

This, of course, does not mean a person MUST divorce an unfaithful mate. If the guilty partner is REPENTANT of his or her sin, then the other can accept this repentance and forgive.

                                 CHAPTER FIVE

                   THE FRAUDULENT MARRIAGE

Does God's Word have anything to say regarding FRAUDULENT marriages?  

If so, is DIVORCE and REMARRIAGE permissible under a    

fraudulent marriage?

These are the questions we shall now address and answer.

Turn to Deuteronomy 22 and read verses 13-21. I will quote from the WYCLIFFE BIBLE COMMENTARY as to the meaning of this passage.


"The case is that in which a husband brings an allegation of unchastity against his bride, whether falsely (vv.13-19) or justly (vv. 20,21). [I might add here, this was very shortly after marriage when intercourse had taken place - Keith Hunt]. In the first instance, the malicious accuser was to suffer corporal punishment (v.18; CF. 25:1-3), pay compensation to his father-in-law for defaming his house (v.19a), and retain his wife without ever being permitted to divorce her (v.19b). In the second case, the guilty bride who had 'wrought folly' was to suffer death by stoning before the disgraced house of her father. In societies where such evidence was legally decisive, it was customary after the consummation of the marriage to keep the tokens of the bride's virginity (v.17)."


The "tokens of virginity" were the underlying BED SHEETS!  If the bride was guilty of unchastity or (as we would say today) FORNICATION before her marriage, and her husband DID NOT KNOW IT till they had intercourse - he supposing his bride to be a virgin because she had led him to believe so - he could  disclose the truth and have her put to death. She had committed "folly" and also FRAUD! 

As I have said earlier, in the days of Jesus' ministry the Jews were no longer applying the death sentence for FORNICATION, ADULTERY, etc. In the case of Deuteronomy 22 above, the man did not HAVE to disclose to the authorities the truth of his bride's misconduct before marriage.  He could have mercy and forgive.

This is shown in the account of Joseph and Mary.

                       JOSEPH AND MARY

Jesus' mother, Mary, was a virgin. She had never engaged in

sexual relations (Luke 1:34). She became espoused - formally

engaged, or betrothed - to Joseph. But, "....BEFORE they CAME TOGETHER, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit" (Mat.1:18).

"Then Joseph her husband, being a just man and not willing to

make her a public example, was minded to put her away  "privily  (verse 19). There were at least two statutes which Joseph could have resorted to in order to put her away. Because as far as he could tell, Mary had engaged in premarital sex - fornication. These statutes are found in Deuteronomy 22:13-21 and Deuteronomy 24:1-4. A just and righteous man like Joseph could have put away a betrothed wife for fornication unknown to him before the betrothal. But the angel came and told Joseph in a dream, "Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit" (Mat.1:20). 


Joseph and Mary were BETROTHED - ENGAGED, as we would call it. But they hadn't yet come together in sexual relations (Mat. 1:18). Now, under Jewish civil law, ENGAGEMENT was a much more serious matter than with us, so much so that LEGALLY they were married, and if they did not consummate the marriage, DIVORCE papers would be needed to terminate the engagement. If an engaged bridegroom was killed or died before consummating the marriage, his bride was regarded as a WIDOW.

Joseph was a just (righteous) man. Suspecting FORNICATION prior to consummating their marriage, he contemplated putting Mary away (divorcing her). He would have been free to marry another woman.

If he had not found out about Mary being pregnant until after consummating their marriage, he would still have been at liberty to have applied Deuteronomy 22:13-21, divorcing her.(Remember, they were not applying the death sentence). If she had been FRAUDULENT with him, claiming to be a virgin when she was not, he would have been able to REmarry and still be within God's law.

I realize some of the above is HYPOTHETICAL (Mary would have been a virgin, as she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and not a man) but it illustrates the point, I hope, to the reader.

God recognises that there will be some who will not be marrying for the right and proper reasons. (See again "What Constitutes Marriage?"). They will be DECEIVING - committing FRAUD to the other party. He allows, when the innocent party discovers this fraud, for that party to DIVORCE and remarry if he or she chooses.

Jesus allowed for this when he used the Greek word "PORNEIA" in His "except" clause of Matthew, as  "PORNEIA"  covers any sexual impropriety. It includes what we have studied in Deuteronomy 22:13-21.


In principle, the law regarding sexual fraud in Moses' economy would extend to all deliberately planned fraudulent marriages: i.e., one person marries another SOLELY for his or her MONEY, and the innocent party finds out after the marriage; or a woman marries a man SOLELY for the purpose of giving her young child a home, but she does not love the man, and he finds out after the wedding. Such marriages would be FRAUD - coming under the FORNICATION law of Deuteronomy 22, and "PORNEIA" in Matthew 19.

The innocent party of a FRAUDULENT marriage would be within God's law to DIVORCE and REmarry when he or she found out the truth.

Deuteronomy 22:13-21 describes the case where SEXUAL fraud (fornication) is discovered on or shortly after the wedding, and action is taken when such fraud is discovered. It would obviously be against the "spirit of the law" for someone to find out the truth, and "sit on it," so to speak, until CONVENIENT (one, five or ten years down the road), and then ask for a divorce under "FRAUD."

                               CHAPTER SIX


There are THREE basic teachings regarding marriage and divorce: (A) There is NO divorce at all (B) There is divorce under certain circumstances - the "except" clause of Jesus (C) There is divorce for all and any reason.

We have seen that teaching "C" was NOT upheld by Jesus. We have seen that Jesus did teach that divorce is permissible under "except for PORNEIA." Now let's examine teaching  "A"  with a hypothetical (but often very real) case.

Mr. Jones has been married to FOUR women. At his time of conversion, he is married to the fourth. He wants to know who is his real wife, in the eyes of God. Let's suppose we could prove that marriage number one was FRAUDULENT - so we eliminate that one. Then we examine his second marriage and find no real God-given reason for that divorce. The teaching of "A" would say that his third and fourth marriages were ADULTEROUS unions - he must break this fourth union and be single.

Now let's see some of the problems with this. His second wife, who we claim is his God-bound wife for life (under teaching "A"), is nowhere to be found; in fact she has emigrated to Hong Kong and died there. But Mr. Jones and his counsellors cannot find out what happened to her. He is really FREE to marry - he is really FREE then (according to teaching "A" that says only DEATH breaks a marriage) to stay married to his fourth wife, but  he is counselled that he must separate, as he's living in adultery.

Can we see the MIND-BENDING problems we could encounter? Now to be sure, as we have seen, people can be bound in marriage BEFORE conversion (as the marriage law is for ALL people at ALL times), and divorce and remarry and be living in ADULTERY -they have SINNED. When they are CONVERTED, they realize they are SINNERS, and have committed SIN in their lives. They have LIED, or taken God's name in vain. They have broken the SABBATH, they have STOLEN and have been guilty of ADULTERY!

The Bible plainly teaches that ONLY the blood of Jesus Christ

can ERASE those sins - we can do NOTHING except REPENT, to eradicate those sins. (Request the study "SAVED BY GRACE - The True Way of Salvation"). To be sure, it might be good to PAY BACK those we have STOLEN from, IF possible, but often it's not possible (someone may have disappeared to the other side of the earth). God does not specifically require it of us. What He wants is REPENTANCE for those sins. Upon our repentance and acceptance of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice - His death in payment of ours, as we have been under the death sentence for sinning, for our breaking of God's laws (I John. 3:4; Rom. 3:23, 6:23) - we are

FORGIVEN. We are set FREE from sin - we are as if we had never sinned. All our sins of LYING are no more. All our sins of COVETING are no more. All our sins of MURDER (if we've murdered someone, who can bring him back to life?) are no more. All our sins of PROFANITY are no more. All our sins of ADULTERY are no more; they have been WASHED AWAY.


We are NO LONGER adulterers! We have been set FREE from that sin. Because of this, Mr. Jones does not have to separate from his fourth wife at his CONVERSION.


History tells us that at the time of the apostles the Jewish and Roman societies were sexually LICENTIOUS - fornication, prostitution, adultery and divorce were commonplace. The early church of the first century would have encountered HUNDREDS of individuals being converted and entering the church with MULTIPLE divorces and remarriages in their past lives - cases such as Mr. Jones! In actuality, we can search the New Testament in vain to find any reference about any minister or group of ministers getting together to try to figure out all these "divorce cases" and decide which woman or man a person was really married to. It is just not there! It is recorded that a conference was called to decide the issue of circumcision (Acts 15) because it became so important a dispute, but we can not find any apostles giving any time to trying to figure out all these jigsaw puzzles of past marriages and divorces of new converts.

There was NO NEED, when we understand that past sins of

adultery were WASHED AWAY at baptism - the individual became "a NEW CREATURE: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become NEW .... God, who has reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ ... not imputing THEIR TRESPASSES unto them ..." (2 Cor. 5:17-19).

Read Romans 6 and 7:1-4. Both chapter 6 and chapter 7 begin

by dealing with the theme of man's DEATH in relationship to the law. Chapter 6 draws on the analogy of baptism while chapter 7 uses the illustration of marriage. It is abundantly clear in these two passages that EVERYTHING is left behind at the waters of baptism. A person has DIED to the law (the law claimed our life because we were sinners). The act of going under the water symbolizes our DEATH to sin. We have DIED then (Jesus died the literal death for us - thus becoming our Saviour) to the law, it has been satisfied when death has taken place. Jesus died for us in our stead, hence all past sins have been washed away (Romans 3:23-26; 5:6-10).

As far as the laws regulating divorce and subsequent remarriage are concerned, a man or a woman dies at the point of baptism, and ALL of his or her past is wiped out in God's eyes.

There is NOTHING about that life following baptism that is not completely new.


End of part two


Written 1984