Mark 10:11-12


By Maurice Barnett


Response to this Article by Bill Reeves

Response to this Article by Jeff Smelser


“Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her:  and if she herself shall put away her husband, and marry another, she committeth adultery.”

Though reading a little differently from other passages on this same subject, there is no contradiction between any of them.  There is no “exception clause” here as we find in Matthew 5:32 or 19:9, but neither is such a clause in Luke 16:18, nor other passages on marriage and remarriage.  Each of the places on the subject, Matthew 5:32, 19:9, Mark 10:11-12, Luke 16:18, Romans 7:2-3, I Corinthians 7:10-11, gives us something different. This is in the same way that Matthew 28, Mark 16 and Luke 24 on the “great commission,” though varying in details, are in complete harmony.  Each gives us information not found in the others.  This is true on any number of subjects and in many passages.

The controversy on Mark 10 centers on the application of the personal pronoun “her.”  A personal pronoun is a word that stands in the place of a noun.  But, who is the antecedent of the personal pronoun, her, in verse 11?   Who is the person that “her” refers to?  Does the personal pronoun apply to the wife who has been put away or the second woman the man has married?  Because controversy has existed relative to the grammar and construction of these passages, it will be necessary to be technical and detailed in taking apart their structure.

First, the antecedent of pronouns.  There are three clauses in verse 11.  The first clause says, “Whosoever shall put away his wife.” The subject of the clause is a man, though the word “man” is not stated in the text.  It is understood from the gender of the pronoun “his” and the relationship indicated in the clause.  The verb is “shall put away.”  The direct object of the verb is the word “wife” (Greek, gune).  Gune may mean just a woman or it may refer to a woman who is a wife.  It is feminine gender and singular in number.  Its case is accusative which only indicates that it is the object of the verb, “put away.”  This clause is joined to the next clause by a coordinate conjunction, “and” (kai).

The second clause is “marry another.”  The unstated subject is the same “man” of the first clause.  The verb is “marry.”  The object of the verb is the word “another.”  An assertion has been made that this second clause is subordinate to the first clause, amounting to nothing but a parenthesis.  This is said in order to, somehow, push it out of the way and tie the third clause, “(he) commits adultery against her” to the first clause so that “her” refers to the put away woman.  But, that is not possible.  First, kai (and) is a coordinate conjunction.  Daniel Wallace in his book, Greek Grammar Beyond Basics, page 667, says, “The coordinate conjunction links equal elements together, e.g., a subject (or other part of speech) to a subject (or other part of speech), sentence to sentence, or paragraph to paragraph.”   Most any Greek Grammar will say the same thing.  It means that (kai/and) joins words or phrases of equal status.  “(He) marries another” cannot be subordinate to the first clause; it cannot be a parenthesis.  The action in the third clause depends on that of both the first and second clauses.  It takes the process of putting away one person followed by remarrying someone else to result in “commits adultery against her” in this verse.

Is it not interesting that Baptist preachers make the same argument on Acts 2:38 regarding the conjunction kai?  They insist that “and (kai) be baptized” is a parenthesis and thus “for the remission of sins” has application only to “repent.”  That is just as valid as the assertion on Mark 10:11.

The word, “another” in the second clause is from the Greek word allos.  Allos is an indefinite pronoun.  It is indefinite because it does not name a specific person.  Though the word “woman” is not specifically stated in the text, it is a noun that is included in allos.  “Woman” is a part of the word itself because the form of the word, allein, is feminine gender.  The significance of that meaning in grammatical structure is common in Greek.  Allein is singular in number because only one woman is being considered.  It is accusative case because it is the direct object of the verb “marry.”

It has been insisted by some that allein in this passage is an adjective and can thus be dismissed as an antecedent of the personal pronoun, her.  By saying that, some hope to prove that only the put away wife can be the antecedent and thus, in some way, the adultery is actually committed against the put away wife.

An adjective modifies a noun in that it changes or describes a noun, but what noun does allein (another) modify?  There is nothing about allein that changes or describes the word gune, the put away woman.  “Another” does not change nor describe “wife.”  And, it could not modify the man because neither pronoun nor adjective in the female gender could modify the male gender.  When the pronoun, allos, stands alone, answering to a who that must be supplied from allos itself, then it is an indefinite pronoun and identifies the person contained in it, a woman.  Perhaps we can illustrate this from Matthew 26:69-71 -

“Now Peter was sitting without in the court: and a maid came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus the Galilaean.  But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest.  And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and saith unto them that were there, This man also was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

There are two maids in these passages.  In verse 71, the translators have added the word “maid” in italics in order to indicate the word is not in the Greek text.  The word that is there is allei, feminine, singular of allos.  The second woman is a maid like the one stated in verse 69 is a maid.  But, the second maid (allei) does not modify, change nor describe the first maid at all.  Allei only introduces a second maid to the story.

Likewise, allein, in Mark 10:11, is introducing a second woman to the reader.  Since the word for “woman” in Greek is the noun gune, as in the first clause, allein is introducing a second gune to the reader just as allei in Matthew 26 introduces a second maid.  Allein identifies her as another woman numerically different from the first one.  And, as with gune in the first clause, the second gune is feminine, singular.

The phrase in Mark 10:11 is grammatically identical to Matthew 19:9.  It is kai gamese allein moixatai in both places.  Has anyone really had a problem in Matthew 19:9 with understanding that the man is putting away his wife and marrying another woman?  In Matthew 19:9, how does allein change or describe the wife who has been put away?  It doesn’t.  Mark 10:12 gives us the perspective of a woman doing what the man does in verse 11.  If she puts away her husband and marries another (allon, masculine, singular), she commits adultery.  Is there any doubt that allon here means she married another man?  Luke 16:18 has different grammatical forms of the terms from that of Mark, while the meaning is the same.  Whereas, Matthew and Mark use allos, Luke uses heteros (feminine, singular, accusative) which is translated as another, both words referring to a woman other than the put away wife.  Allos and heteros mean the same thing in these passages and the switch in terms would only refer to a perspective about the second woman.

The general meaning of allos is another numerically of the same kind.  Heteros ordinarily means another numerically of a different kind (see Galatians 1:6-7), though there are exceptions so that both words are used at times as synonyms.  If there is any difference between Matthew/Mark and Luke on allos or heteros, it is this: Luke may be indicating by using heteros that the second woman is a woman but is not a “wife” as is the first woman, a difference in relationship with the man.  This can be illustrated by Herod and Herodias, Mark 6.  Though they had married, she was still considered to be the wife of Philip.  Herod was the “other man” in this instance but did not stand in relationship with Herodias as did Philip.  Regardless, both allos and heteros in these verses are pronouns that identify the noun contained within the words. 

But, just for the sake of argument, let’s say for the moment that allein here is an adjective. We can let an expert tell us about Adjectives.  The following is from A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament by Dana and Mantey, page 117.

“The genius of the adjective is description.  It denotes some fact which distinguishes or qualifies a noun.  Thus in the expression ‘beautiful garden’ the adjective simply points to the fact of beauty as it relates to the garden.  But note that the adjective designates a state of being, beauty, just as the noun designates an object, garden.  So the fundamental sense of the expression might be represented ‘beauty-garden’ (a garden of beauty).  Thus, in its function, we see that the adjective is at heart a substantive, being the outgrowth of a noun used in qualifying relationship with another noun.”

The significance of allein is “second-woman.”  Those two words cannot be separated in meaning with the emphasis on “woman,” a noun.  Notice that Dana and Mantey say that the function of an adjective is at heart a substantive.  But, whether we view allein as a pronoun or an adjective, it is still a substantive.  Being a substantive, it can be the antecedent of a personal pronoun, as is true in Mark 10:11.   

The prepositional phrase in Mark 10:11, “against her,” is epautein.  “Her,” autein, is a personal pronoun that is feminine, singular, accusative.  The rule of Greek grammar is that a personal pronoun must agree with its antecedent in gender and number.  It may also agree in case but not necessarily.  But, seeing that both gune and allein (gune) are singular, feminine, accusative, either one, by the rule of grammar, may be the antecedent of “her.”  However, it cannot be said, by the rule of grammar alone, that the antecedent of the personal pronoun is definitely the first woman, the one who was “put away.”

To draw this more exactly, a second rule of grammar for antecedent qualification must be applied.  The closest substantive that agrees with the personal pronoun in gender and number is the antecedent.  In this instance, it is allein (gune), the woman in the remarriage, the second woman that is in the clause immediately before epautein.  This means that the second woman, the one of the remarriage, is the antecedent of the personal pronoun, “her.”

Second, the meaning of “commits adultery.”  There are several word forms that refer to adultery.  From moikuomai comes the verb form in Mark 10, moikatai.  This term in this form, moikatai, is found in only five places in the New Testament and not once in the Septuagint.  It refers to the literal action of unlawful sexual intercourse in these passages.  The verses are -

Matthew 5:32 - “Whoever marries her when she is put away commits adultery.”

Matthew 19:9 - “Whosoever shall put away his wife ..... and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery.”

Mark 10:11 - “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.”

Mark 10:12 - “...and if she herself shall put away her husband, and marry another, she committeth adultery.”

Of course, Luke 16:18 belongs here but it must be noted that “commiteth adultery” is a different grammatical form than in these other passages.  Luke 16:18 says - “Every one that putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth one that is put away from a husband committeth adultery.”  “Committeth adultery” appears twice in this passage and comes from moikeuei.  Unlawful sexual relations is still the meaning.

Further, “commits adultery” is not figurative but literal.  This should be clear on the flip side of the context, Mark 10:12 - “and if she herself shall put away her husband, and marry another, she committeth adultery.”  Whereas verse 11 looks at the process from the standpoint of the man, verse 12 turns it around to show that the same rules apply if the woman is the one who puts away her husband and marries another man.  By putting away and then remarrying, she commits adultery.  The meaning of adultery is the same in both verses.  The man who marries “another” is guilty of unlawful sexual relations against....whom?  Not the wife he put away.  He can only be having unlawful sexual relations with the woman he marries, the second woman.  In doing this, the man is involving the second woman in sinful sexual intercourse.

Let’s look at Matthew 5:32.  The exception clause is a true parenthesis and we will leave it out for the moment.  It thus says that “...every one that putteth away his wife ... maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery.”  This emphasizes the accountability of the man who puts away his wife unlawfully.  He “causes her to commit adultery,” so says another translation.  This is said on the assumption that the put away woman will not remain celibate.  This is seen in the clause about the one who marries her when she is put away.  They both commit adultery in that case.  Putting away a spouse, just the act itself, does not make anyone an adulteress.  What if the man of Matthew 5:32 remains celibate?  In that case it would still be true that he causes her to commit adultery, if she remarried. 

Whereas, Matthew 5:32 looks at the subject from the point of view of the effect that putting away has on the woman who is put away, Mark 10:11 is looking at the subject from the point of view of the man who does the putting away and the effect on the woman he then marries.

Third, the meaning of “against her,” epautein.  The third clause in Mark 10:11 tells us that in putting away and remarrying “(he) commits adultery against her.”  Again, the “he” is understood without its being stated.  “Against her” is a prepositional phrase that is the object of the verb, “commits adultery.”  The translation of the preposition, epi, as meaning “against” is ambiguous.  Greek Grammarian, Nigel Turner, points out - “On the other hand, this is not Mark’s usual employment of epi with accusative, and when he does use it for against, he does not mean it in a sense like sinning against, but always of violence against (Satan divided and rising against his own kingdom; nation rising against nation; children rising against their parents; with swords and staves against a robber).” The Bible Translator, Oct. 1956, pages 151-152.  See also Gingrich & Danker, page 288, who use the expression “hostile intent” when “against” is the meaning.  Thayer, page 135, says that in using “against” as the meaning of epi with the accusative, it refers to “things done with hostility.”  However, other Lexicons, as do Thayer and Gingrich & Danker, give several terms as possible meanings of epi with the accusative.  Its most basic meaning is “upon” but it may mean to, toward, concerning, with respect to.  A Critical Lexicon by Bullinger, page 35, says of epi with the accusative, “(wither) upon, by direction towards; to, implying an intention (for, against).”

The conclusion in the article by Nigel Turner mentioned above is that epi with the accusative should be translated “with.”  He is not alone in this.  The Greek/English Interlinear by Alfred Marshall, page 182, translates it “with.”  A Grammatical Aid to the Greek New Testament by Robert Hanna, page 77, says, “The preposition epi has the sense of ‘with’ after the verb moikatai.”  Hanna’s work is a compendium of major Greek grammars.  Robinson’s Greek And English Lexicon, page 245, says, “after verbs which include the idea of alliance, etc. with...”   Parkhurst’s Greek and English Lexicon, page 197, Bass’s Greek and English Manual Lexicon, page 84 and Laing’s A New Greek And English Lexicon, page 154, also include “with” as an optional translation of epi with the accusative.  These comments cannot be simply brushed aside as of no consequence.

From the above information, the phrase could as well be translated, commits adultery with respect to her, commits adultery with her, commits adultery upon her, commits adultery concerning her or commits adultery toward her.  In keeping with Bullinger and others, who say it could imply an intention either for or against, it could be translated as “commits adultery for her,” that is, commits adultery in order to have her.  With other possible meanings of epi with the accusative, to insist on translating it as “against” sounds more like forced interpretation by translation.  The text does not require “against” as the proper translation.

However, let’s go with the word, “against” and see where it takes us.  We have already seen Lexicographers and Greek Grammarians who uniformly say that when epi with the accusative means “against,” it refers to hostility or violence toward someone.  A person is thus harmed by the action under consideration.  However, any violence or hostility toward the put away wife was already done when the man put her away.  After all, Matthew 5:32 says that the man who puts away his wife causes her to commit adultery, or, makes her an adulteress; that does indeed harm her.  But, by the act of marrying another woman, the man does not do violence to nor commit a hostile act toward the put away wife; he does not harm her by this.  If the put away wife is indeed the antecedent of “her” by which it somehow gives her the right to remarry, it would not do harm to her but would be a joyous event; she would be pleased by it!  It would free her. 

However, he does do violence to the second woman by marrying her.  It harms her because he includes her in his adultery.  He makes her an adulteress and that places her soul in danger.  Going with the translation “against” here still does not establish any violence committed against the put away woman.

        The evidence is clear.  The personal pronoun in the third clause of Mark 10:11 refers to the second woman he marries, not to the put away woman of the first clause.  The man does not “commit adultery against” the put away woman, but rather the second woman.