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Except it be for fornication puzzle

The Bible reminds me of a jigsaw puzzle. As a new Christian, we eagerly open it with anxious desires to see the mind of God. Just like the puzzleteer slits open his latest box and dumps them before anxious hands, so we open the Word of God to find, not a finished picture, but a jumbled mixture of verse that needs patient dividing.

Here and there and yon, we find portions of a variety of subjects which need to be fitly joined together. Often the picture seems incomplete in a area, until finally we come across the piece that makes it fall together. And, oh, it is so clear after all! The image of Christ comes forth, which God then expects us to conform our lives to.

In my younger years, my memory recalls working steadily on a certain puzzle.

The end was falling into place, and it was well nigh finished. But...something did not seem to be right. The last few pieces just did not seem to fit. Obviously, something was amiss. And it was. Someone noticed a certain piece in the wrong place. It was a close fit, but upon a closer examination it was determined to be erroneously positioned. Upon correction, the puzzle quickly fell together.

And so it is often with our Bible “puzzle”. We think we have the full picture on a certain subject, but we are a little bewildered what to do with this piece or two that just does not want to fit. And all too often, we lay them aside… to our own detriment. Or worse yet, we may take out our pen-knife and, persuaded that surely it was a mistake in the manufacturing, trim a little to make things fit.

It is doubtful that too many would blame God when their puzzle does not fit their preconceived beliefs. Yet in a subconscious way this happens. We say, if one scripture seems to contradict our ‘picture’, surely it means something else. Dear friend, may I urge you to rearrange your pieces until they all fit. If we have to leave out a few, of trim here or there, let us reconsider. Please?

My concern in this article is the marriage doctrine, with special emphasis upon the piece so often out of place: "except it be for fornication" mentioned in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9. With this piece in its proper place (and the others also), everything “fits”, with a clear picture of God’s will for our lives.

It is generally recognized amongst professing Christianity that God, in the beginning, set forth the law of marriage. Defined briefly, it could be expressed as a union between one man and one woman that could only be separated by death.

Also commonly understood, is the fact that while under the Law of Moses, a man could divorce his wife. But upon Jesus’ words in Mt 5:32 and 19:9, immediately a real question arises: Under what circumstance of fornication did Jesus find no fault in putting away a wife?

First let us define fornication. In a general sense, it includes any means of sexual activity considered sinful by God. In its stricter sense, it is the coitus of unmarried persons of opposite gender (this use of the word in the Greek NT is rare). At this time, a list of other types of fornication might be profitable:

Polygamy- married to more than one spouse.

Sodomy-copulation between two of the same gender.

Incest-copulation or marriage between two of the same family.

Adultery-copulationn or marriage with another besides the legal spouse

Bestiality-copulation with animals

Masturbation- auto-stimulation of the sexual organs

So, fornication in the broad sense includes any sexual activity other than a God-ordained copulation between a man and his lawful wife.

Where many begin to error, is when they begin to think that Jesus was saying, “If your legal spouse commits the sin of fornication, you may put her away.”

Let us stop right here. Would not it fit with the rest of scripture in one accord if Jesus was saying, “You may separate an adulterous marriage (or from a polygamous, or from a homosexual “marriage”) because it is fornication to continue: But any other divorce is sin”? In other words, the exception clause was given so that men and women who are involved in a marriage or a relationship that would be sinful to continue in, may dissolve that relationship. Below are a couple of examples where a man is “excepted” to put away his wife.

EX. # 1 A man gets involved in fornication by marrying three women at the same time (polygamy). He must put away two (or all three, if none are his true wife) so that he will not be continuing in fornication.

EX. # 2 A man marries, then divorces his first wife, and marries another. To escape his fornication (adultery), he must put away his second wife (if the first is still alive) in accordance with Romans 7:1-3.

EX. # 3 A man is a homosexual and lives with his “spouse” (as some places are beginning to recognize such as equal to a marriage). Or, perhaps he is cohabiting with someone who is not his wife. Either way, such should put away [divorce] their partner so as not to continue in fornication.

EX. #4 The man in 1 Co. 5 had taken his father's wife. This was incest, and therefore he was told to put her away. In this case, since incest is fornication, divorce is acceptable- actually, required.

So, the fornication exception is so that those living in sin have the right to escape from it, not, so that men may find reason to separate from their lawful wife. If you are living in fornication, please get out of it! It is written in the book of Isaiah, chapter 55, verse 7: “Let the wicked forsake his way”. It is not wrong for you to put away your illegitimate wife if you do so to get out of fornication.

A quick overview of 1 Co. 7 could be profitable here, as these verses also get put in the wrong place. Verses 10-16 deal with the Christian married to an unbeliever. Paul reaffirms Jesus’ words not to put such away. In fact he encourages them to try and win the unbelieving one by staying with them. But if the unbeliever departs, the believer is not required to create more problems by trying to follow, if the unbeliever does not want to continue on. The believer is not in bondage to harass the unbeliever that departs, but should remain unmarried or be reconciled.

Verses 25-40 of this chapter deal with Paul’s advice to virgins. Basically he recommends for a man to stay single. If you are married, Paul says stay married. If you are loosed [death of the true spouse is the only "loosing agent"] from the law of marriage, Paul says “seek not a wife”. For the married man to put away his lawful wife is sin. For the man “loosed” from the marriage law by the death of his spouse, or for the virgin to seek another, is not advised because of “trouble in the flesh”. Paul just exhorts them to the single life if they can handle it.

So, it is still the same as from the beginning. One man, one woman, together until death. Are you a virgin? It is not wrong to get married to another who does not have a living spouse. Are you married to your lawful spouse? It is wrong for you to be the cause of a separation, or to marry anyone else as long as your spouse is alive. Are you divorced and not remarried? Remain so unless you can be reconciled to your lawful wife. Are you married to someone you should not be? Christ gave an exception that you may put away your unlawful spouse, so you can separate from your sin. “Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound? God forbid.” Ro. 6:1-2

And so the pieces fit together without trimming of hammering. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Ge. 2:24

Any other marriage or sexual relationship is sin.

—Mike Atnip

The following is included to show that this view of the “exception clause” is not new…

A Quote from the writings of Clement of Alexandria (circa 153-217 A.D.)

(Concerning the "exception clause" found in MT 5:32 and 19:9)

“Now that the Scripture counsels marriage, and allows no release from the union, is expressly contained in the law, “Thou shalt not put away thy wife; except for the cause of fornication;” and it regards as fornication, the marriage of those living while the other is alive.”

Tracts and Articles


Cry From the Heart

The Great Divorce

The Styrofoam Cross


Sitting in the Gates of Sodom

Divine Love

As Jesus Loved

Do You Really Care?

Mine Eye Spared Thee

Not to Please Ourselves

The Unbarred Door

Come See My Zeal for the LORD!


Face the Battle Singing!


Holiness Unto the Lord

Innocent Amusements-Finney

Mark of the Beast



I Don't Want It

The Danger of Riches-Wesley

The Deceitfulness of Riches

Danger of Increasing Riches-Wesley

Kingdom Economics

Through the Eye of a Needle- The Doctrine of Nonaccumulation

Practical issues

Pharmakeia-2000 a.d.

Finney on Dress

The Idolatry of Television

The Full Gospel Beard

The Fornication Puzzle

Enjoyment of the Pleasures of the Present Life- Letter of John Newton

Sustainable Living series

What's Right about Insurance?


Power Through Prayer

The Necessity of Prayer

Purpose In Prayer

Possibilities of Prayer

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood...


Is This That?

Primitive Christianity

The Church Fire

The Revival Spirit

Burning for Jesus

Dead Began to Speak


Jesus Our Scapegoat

The Supreme "IF"