What is the adultery of fornication

According to Mt 19.9, Jesus accepts a divorce in the event of fornication. How does the church feel about this statement of Jesus? (V.W.)

Dear Mr. W.,

In the following, I will initially reproduce the requested text synoptically, i.e. in a direct comparison of the evangelists Matthew, Mark and Luke:

Mt 19.3

So Pharisees came to him to try him and asked: Can you dismiss your wife for any reason? 4 He replied: Have you not read that the Creator made them male and female in the beginning 5 and that he said, Therefore will the man leave his father and mother and be bound to his wife, and the two will be one flesh? 6 So you are no longer two, but one meat. But what God has connected, man must not separate. 7 They said to him, "Then why did Moses prescribe that the woman be given a certificate of divorce and that she be released from the marriage?" 8 He replied, It was only because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives. In the beginning it wasn't like that. 9 I tell you, anyone who dismisses his wife when there is no case of fornication and marries someone else commits adultery.

Mk 10.2
Pharisees came to him and asked: Is it permissible for a man to divorce his wife? So they wanted to try him. 3 He answered them, What did Moses prescribe for you? 4 They said, Moses allowed a certificate of divorce to be drawn up and the woman to be dismissed. 5 Jesus replied: It was only because you were so hard-hearted that he gave you this commandment. 6 But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female. 7 That is why the man will forsake his father and mother 8 and the two will be one flesh. So you are no longer two, but one meat. 9 But what God has connected, man must not separate. 10 At home the disciples asked him again about it. 11 He replied: Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another is committing adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery.

Luke 16:18
Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; anyone who marries a woman who has been dismissed by her husband also commits adultery.

In my opinion, at least two things become clear here: On the one hand, the comparison of the evangelists shows that only Matthew passed on the "fornication clause"; Apparently Markus and Lukas don't know them. On the other hand, reading the Matthew version shows that this exception basically does not fit into Jesus' line of argument at all. "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. But what God has united, man must not separate" (19.6): How should a "case of fornication" (19.9) be able to do this to override God's creative will, which Jesus names and defends in his usual committed manner? Why is there not even a distinction between whether the woman is ready to cease the fornication or whether she persists? Could that be the will of Christ, who according to Mt 18 already commands seventy-seven - that is, in fact limitless - forgiveness in the community? Shouldn't that apply even more to marriage and its crisis?

So in the end the question arises, what is this fornication (porneĆ­a) that Jesus speaks of in the Gospel of Matthew. The renowned "Dictionary of the New Testament" by Bauer and Aland generally defines it as "any kind of illegitimate sexual intercourse" (also translated as idolatry, which is not completely excluded here, but is not obvious either) and for the case of Mt 19.9 as "wife's infidelity". Although this translation reflects the broad tradition of interpretation, it does not help us over the above-mentioned break in the argument in Matthew.

We will probably never be able to solve the problem with absolute certainty. However, I would like to emphasize a parallel that can be found in the so-called "Damascus script", which belongs to the Qumran scripts. There, in the 7th chapter, there is talk of men who "are convicted of fornication because they take two wives in their lives" (verse 1). "Fornication" is not understood here as adultery as "illegitimate sexual intercourse", but rather polygamy, which is still taken for granted in the Torah! It should not be underestimated that the Damascus script justifies its attitude just like Jesus with the will of the Creator: "And yet it is the principle of creation:" As male and female He created them "(Gen 1:27)" (7.2) . If we apply this background of understanding to the prohibition of divorce in Matthew, then the fornication clause would only say that the man only a Wife should have and each additional may dismiss, yes should. Incidentally, in the world of that time that did not mean depriving the affected women of all protection and livelihood because they were returning to the association of their former extended family. In this way the unity of marriage would not be shaken, but on the contrary underlined again; Jesus' argument with the will of the Creator would remain conclusive. So I think this is the most likely explanation.

I do not want to close without giving the answer to the much simpler part of your question, namely how the church feels about the fornication clause: The magisterial and canonical decisions also represent the uncompromising consistency with which Jesus argues against divorce about the (supposed? ) Exception. The binding catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "Jesus emphasized the original intention of the Creator, who wanted marriage to be indissoluble. He abolished the tolerances that had crept into the old law [cf. Mt 19: 7]." The validly concluded and consummated marriage "between baptized Catholics" cannot be dissolved by any human violence or for any reason except death "(CIC, can. 1141)" (n. 2382, cf. 2383-2386).

I warmly reciprocate your blessings and remain

best regards

+ Dominikus Schwaderlapp