By Maurice Barnett


Response to this Article by Jeff Smelser


“Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.”

I feel compelled to apologize to the reader for the need to be so technical in this discussion.  But, when differences go “deep,” it is most times necessary to go just as deep in order to make a reply.   There will be words and rules of grammar in this article that may not be familiar to many readers.  This may only be because it has been many years since the readers studied these things in school.  The discussion on Mark 10:11-12 has focused on substantives, pronouns and antecedents.  A “substantive” may be a noun, pronoun, adjective or other word that functions as a noun.   An “antecedent (‘going before’)” is a substantive that is replaced by a pronoun later in a sentence.  But, even a preposition can have an antecedent.  I have contended that in Mark 10:11, “another,” one of the substantives in the verse, is the antecedent of the pronoun, “her.” 

My two recent articles in Gospel Truths responded to a position now being advanced which claims that the put away woman is the only substantive in the verse.  Thus, the pronoun, “her,” absolutely must refer to the put away woman and cannot possibly refer to the woman the man marries.  It is further claimed that “against her” is the correct and unchangeable translation of the prepositional phrase.  From these assertions comes yet another assertion saying that the adultery, which is somehow committed “against” the put away wife, gives her the right, in some sense, to “put away” the man who put her away and marry again without sin.  The proponents of this hypothesis must have Mark 10:11 teach their assertions as it is vital to their conclusion.  It is not clear just how far brother Smelser goes along with this position but he clearly supports some of its premises.

I said in my last article that there was more evidence on this verse than I had covered to that point.  Before learning that brother Smelser was responding to me, I had started on a third article on this passage.  Brother Smelser has provided subjects and passages that I had planned to cover in that article and an opportunity to discuss the subject further.


Brother Smelser thinks that my articles were too rigid an application of the nearest antecedent principle, that I overstated the case.  Yet, he says:

“It is true that we will tend to look first to the closest eligible substantive as the antecedent.”

Why do we do that?  We do that because it is a basic rule of grammar regarding antecedents.  But, notice the key word in brother Smelser’s statement: “eligible.”  In the passages he gives us, the closest substantive is not “eligible” because the context shows that to be the case.  His passages are not parallel to Mark 10:11.  The context may require, as in Matthew 1:20, that the nearest substantive cannot be the antecedent.  Yet, in some New Testament passages the context requires that the nearest substantive must be the antecedent.  Notice again what brother Smelser says:

“Factors other than relative proximity and agreement in number and gender help to identify the antecedent of a pronoun, and in fact a more remote substantive may be the antecedent.”

What he is saying is that the context determines how we take the passage.  However, when there is a context such as Mark 10:11 where there are two eligible substantives that can qualify as antecedents, then we take the nearest one.  That is where the rule of antecedents applies and is what I was referring to in my articles.  I do appreciate brother Smelser’s admitting that allein (another) functions as a substantive in Mark 10:11, a fact that some emphatically deny. 

Brother Smelser thinks he has a parallel to Mark 10:11 in John 9:16, which is supposed to show a remote antecedent.  He thinks the passages are “very similar.”  However, “similar” does not mean identical.  John 9:16 says:

“Some therefore of the Pharisees said, This man is not from God, because he keepeth not the sabbath. But others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such signs? And there was division among them.”

It is true that the three terms, “some,” “Pharisees,” and “others” are all masculine plural, as is the pronoun, “them.”  All of those involved here are in a single class, the Pharisees.  Some Pharisees thought one thing and other Pharisees something else and thus the Pharisees were divided.  Both the “some” and the “others” modify and are part of the class: “Pharisees.”  The Pharisees are stated in the first clause and implied in the second.  Contextually, the “some” Pharisees were divided from the “other Pharisees.”   The only “eligible” antecedent is the Pharisees.  Notice that the pronoun, “them,” is plural and not singular as in Mark 10:11.  I said in my first article:

“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.’”

Let’s add to our information on this some comments from two well known Greek scholars.  The first is from Samuel Bloomfield in his work, The Greek Testament With English Notes, Vol. 1, p. 229.  The second is W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Vol. 1, p. 409:

“The authn is by some referred to the repudiated wife; by others, to the newly married one.  Either may be admitted; but in the former case the sense of epi will be ‘to the injury of,’ in the latter, ‘in respect of;’ i.e. in his connection with.”

“The ep’authn at the end of ver. 11 may mean either against, to the prejudice of, her (the first wife), or with her (the second).  The former view is taken by the leading modern exegetes, the latter by Victor Ant., Euthy., Theophy, and, among moderns, Ewald and Bleek.”

Notice that the understanding with these men is either/or, the first or second woman, but not both.  Brother Smelser admits that there are two substantives in Mark 10:11 that agree with the pronoun in gender and number.  He insists that the put away woman is the antecedent, though he only asserts that.  But, let’s look at it another way, analyzing the clause, “(he) commits adultery against her.”  The Greek phrase is moichatai ep’ autein.  Moichatai is the verb, meaning “commits adultery,”  Ep’ (epi) is the preposition, translated “against.”  Autein is the feminine, singular pronoun meaning “her.” 

I ask the reader to bear with me in a little journey into grammar.  I’ll not take the space to quote grammatical authorities on this, but they are readily available.  Also, this point of grammar is equally true in both Greek and English.  In contexts such as Mark 10:11, a preposition is a relation word, showing how the verb connects to an object.  Epi looks two ways, having both an object and an antecedent.  The antecedent of a preposition can be a verb, noun, or pronoun.  In the clause we are looking at, the object of the preposition is autein, “her.”  The antecedent of the preposition is the verb, moichatai, “commits adultery.”  The preposition, epi, joins the object and the antecedent together.  Moichatai is here a transitive verb, transferring the action of the verb to the object of the preposition epi, which is “her.”  This forms an inseparable connection between the verb, “commits adultery,” and the object, “her.”  Whatever moichatai means, it refers to only one person, the feminine, singular, autein.  If it referred to both women, then the pronoun would have to be plural, but it is not.  The prepositional phrase cannot be split from the verb to mean something other than what the verb means because it is connected to and identifies the object of the action of the verb.  

Grammatically, “commits adultery” cannot refer to both the first and second woman of the passage.  If the pronoun, her, refers to the put away woman, then moichatai is figurative and has nothing at all to do with sexual relations nor with the second woman.  The grammar won’t allow that.  If moichatai means literal sexual relations then it must refer to the woman the man marries and cannot refer to the put away woman.  It cannot be both literal and figurative at the same time, regardless of the assertion of some theorists and the position of some commentaries.  Moichatai means continuing unlawful sexual relations; it is durative.  Continuing sexual relations is connected with the “her” of the clause.  That being the case, the woman he marries is the only one to whom “her” can apply.

The current view, as we previously noted, is that “commits adultery” is both with the second woman and against the first one all at the same time.  Actually, the current theory defines each word in Mark 10:11—divorce, marriage, adultery, her—two different ways, depending on what situation they want to justify.  Brother Smelser says:

“It ought also to be noted that if we understand the second wife to be the one against whom the man commits adultery, we have a problem. By taking the her to refer to the second wife, we make the reference to putting away the first wife merely an explanation of the occasion of marrying and adulterating the second woman. The first wife disappears from view and the second woman comes into focus as the primary object, the object of both the verb translated marries and the preposition epi.”

That quote is classic human opinion, tentatively stated.  Matthew 5:32 tells us what happens to the woman if he puts her away. Both Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 tell us that the one who marries the put away woman also commits adultery.   When we put the details of Matthew 5:32, 19:9, Luke 16:18 and Mark 10:11-12 together, we get the complete picture about all four people involved.  The Holy Spirit adds more information, specifying what happens to the woman, in Romans 7:2-3.  If the divorce is not for the cause of fornication, any remarriage on the part of either the man or woman, including those who marry them, is continuing unlawful sexual relations.  In the quotation above, brother Smelser lifts Mark 10:11 out of the overall context of the other passages on the subject and draws a conclusion from limited premises.  Jesus said more on the subject on that very occasion than is recorded in Mark 10.  When all is put together, Jesus said everything that needed to be said about both the man and woman as well as the people who marry them.

Brother Smelser attempts to create a dilemma for me with Mark 10:11-12   He says:

“The herself functions to call attention to the fact that the woman who was the object in the preceding clause is now the subject of the action, in contrast to the man who had previously been the subject of the action.” 

He also says that I “end up unwittingly making Jesus teach that the woman in the adulterous second marriage must stay in it.”  My, that really does make me look bad, provided we accept his assertions.   

Brother Smelser’s argument centers on the identification of the antecedent of “She, herself.”  There is here a variation in the Greek texts to be considered.  Both the Receptus, on which the King James is based, and the Majority text have the noun, “gune” (wife, woman), just as it is in the first clause of verse 11, instead of the pronoun.  So, the King James says, “And if a woman shall put away her husband...”  That is certainly correct because the pronoun in the Nestle text is referring to the wife of the first clause of verse 11.

But, brother Smelser’s mistake is that he imagines that verse 12 continues the thought of verse 11.  Rather, verse 12 is a parallel to verse 11.  It is stated from the point of view of what happens if the woman divorces the husband and marries another man.

So, brother Smelser’s assertion is that, according to my reasoning, I must apply the “she, herself” in verse 12 to the second woman the man married in verse 11.  That is a false assertion for two reasons.

First, recall our discussion about “eligible” substantives?  The context of Mark 10:11-12 requires that we understand that if the wife does what the husband does, she suffers the same consequences.  Second, and we will discuss this point in more detail shortly, in accounts of this overall subject that are parallel, we must transfer details of one account to the parallel.  Brother Smelser, as he does throughout, is isolating Mark 10:11-12 from the other marriage, divorce and remarriage passages and thus misapplies the true context of what Jesus is saying.  When combined with one another, the full statement of Jesus on the very occasion recorded in Mark 10:11-12 is:

“Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for the cause of fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery against her, and whosoever shall marry (the wife) when she is put away commits adultery against (the wife).  And, if (the wife) shall put away her husband, except for the cause of fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery against him, and whosoever shall marry (the husband) when he is put away commits adultery against (the husband).”

That is the context of Mark 10:11-12.  Now, what is the “nearest substantive” to “she, herself” in the verse?  It is the same woman of the first clause of Mark 10:11, the gune of the Receptus and Majority Texts.

 I have asked the question before and it is still on the board.  What is there in the context of Mark 10:11 that requires us to take the remote substantive, the put away woman, to be the antecedent of the pronoun?  To reach that conclusion, a principle with which brother Smelser agrees, there must be something in the context that demands it!   Otherwise, the nearest substantive is the antecedent, the second woman.

Nigel Turner

Brother Smelser wrote in his original email to brother Smith that I was leaning “on a bruised reed” in referring to Greek grammarian Nigel Turner.  That seems very strange in light of his own multiple use of Turner in the article on his website discussing Matthew 19:9.   Apparently, he thinks that I had based my entire case on Turner.  If he could discredit Turner, then my articles were also discredited.   It didn’t work.  He disagrees with Turner’s paper on this and he is welcome to do so.  I don’t agree with some of the things other grammarians say on the subject.  What we must do is be certain we have all the facts before reaching a conclusion.

The first reference I made to Turner was to present his comments on the meaning of “against” in this passage.  When used in translation of some verses where the context clearly requires “against,” it means something done with hostility or violence.  All grammatical and lexical authorities who comment on it say the same thing.  Many could be cited.  Brother Smelser quoted A.T. Robertson on this, but here is what else Robertson says, page 602:

 “In personal relations hostility is sometimes suggested though epi in itself does not mean ‘against.’”

And, how does one determine if “against” is the proper term in a verse if it is not inherent in epi?  The context will require its use.  I ask again, where does the context of Mark 10:11 require it?

The second reference I made to Turner was to show his conclusion that “with” should be the proper understanding of epi with the pronoun.  But, Turner was only one of several grammatical authorities that I referred to and I clearly said that Turner “was not alone in this” position.  I don’t feel any necessity to defend Turner.  However, under the circumstances, I think some more information concerning him is appropriate.   

In A Grammatical Aid To The Greek New Testament by Robert Hanna, p. 77, his only comment on Mark 10:11 is as follows—“The preposition epi has the sense of ‘with’ after the verb moikatai.”  Hanna cites Turner’s Grammar of New Testament Greek, Vol. III, page 272, where Turner says: “moikaomai with Mk. 10:11.”

Zondervan’s Parallel Greek/English Testament translates epi, with.  This work was done by Alfred Marshall.  On page xxxv, in the preface, the first comment under the heading of Notes On Particular Passages, Marshall says:

“Mark chp. 10, vs. 11 - An article by Dr. Nigel Turner in The Bible Translator for October 1956, gives good reasons for understanding the verse thus, autein referring to the last woman mentioned (allein).”

In the Gingrich and Danker Lexicon, page 526, under the word, moichao, the authors give their opinion, and nothing more than their opinion, supporting the first woman as the antecedent.  Yet, immediately following that comment, they consider Nigel Turner to be important enough to make reference to his 1956 article.  They obviously did not consider that Turner should just be ignored.

It should also be clear that where there are several noted linguists who agree with what Turner said, there are many others who also agree with him but have not put anything into print that we can reference.  Brother Smelser may consider Turner a bruised reed but there are grammatical authorities who do not.

But, let’s look at others who also agree with Turner on the meaning of epi in this passage but do not make reference to him.  We have already seen Bloomfield who says that if this refers to the second woman it means “with” and Nicoll who points out others who insist that “with” is the proper understanding, among whom he lists Ewald and Bleek.  The Greek-English Interlinear New Testament by Brown and Comfort translate this as “with her.”  We have already noted Marshall’s Interlinear and Hanna’s grammatical aid that are specific about it as well.  Should we consider all of these to be “bruised reeds?”

Further, there are many authorities that list “with” as one meaning of epi with the accusative.  Robinson’s Greek And English Lexicon, 1825, p. 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.  Bullinger’s A Critical Lexicon, page 28, says “2. moikaomai, to commit adultery, to be guilty of adultery by causing another to commit it....Mark 10:11-12.”  I said before, and it is still true, that these authorities cannot be simply brushed aside as of no consequence.  Turner was just one of several that I referred to on this subject!

Now, brother Smelser insists that there is not a single place where epi with accusative is translated or means, “with.”  Here is what he says:

“What context could we imagine wherein the root idea upon would in effect end up meaning with, i.e., in concert with? In fact, there is no other NT passage where epi is understood to mean such a thing.”  

That’s quite a bold statement.  Of course, if there were no other place in the New Testament where epi means “with,” it could still be true that it means that in Mark 10.  However, let’s take a look at Hebrews 8:8:

“For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, That I will make a new covenant with (epi) the house of Israel and with (epi) the house of Judah;” ASV

Twice in this passage, epi with the accusative is properly translated “with.”  But, let’s add  I Corinthians 7:5.  In the phrase, “may be together again,” “together” is from epi to auto.  It is epi with the pronoun, autos, both in the accusative case.  It refers in this passage to the man and his wife being back together, one with the other.  The same construction is also found in nine other places.  That makes one verse where “with” is the translation twice and ten verses where epi with the accusative means, using brother Smelser’s phrase, “in concert with.”  But, Brother Smelser says this is not possible!

Just how would brother Smelser have Mark 10:11 to read?  Given his explanation of what it means, it would be thus: “Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another betrays his wife and causes her deep distress.”  Talk about changing the translation and injecting an hypothesis!  I said in my first article that if some insisted on keeping “against” as the translation, it still wouldn’t mean the put away woman was the antecedent.  Using brother Smelser’s language, does the man not “betray” and perpetrate a “fraud” on the woman he marries seeing that she thinks she has a right to be married to him when she does not?  And, does the man not harm her by putting her soul in danger?  As Bullinger said, in the quote above, “to be guilty of adultery by causing another to commit it.”

Commits Adultery

Brother Smelser says the following at the beginning of his article:

“There’s no denying the man commits adultery with the second wife.  But is that really what this passage is saying?” 

He then spends his entire article trying to deny what he says is undeniable, and implies in his statement here that Mark 10:11 is not saying that a man commits adultery with the second woman.  In his website article on Matthew 19:9, brother Smelser agrees that moichatai in that verse is continuous sexual relations.  After quoting Nigel Turner as his authority, he says:

“...there is nothing left for the adultery to be other than the continuing sexual relationship with the second woman.” 

Mark that statement well!  I won’t take time and space to present the evidence that moichatai is durative, a continuing in adultery.  That is not an issue in this discussion seeing that brother Smelser accepts that to begin with.  But, here is something else he says on his website about Matthew 19:9 that’s very interesting:

It is quite petty to argue that ‘commits adultery’ cannot be referring to the relationship between the man and the second woman because Jesus said the man ‘marries’ her. This, however, has been the claim of some who wish to liberalize Matthew 19:9.”

Keep that quotation in mind!  Just substitute Mark 10:11 for Matthew 19:9 in it.  Note also that he uses the word “with” as well as the phrase “relationship between the man and the second woman” to explain his point.  Isn’t that interesting?  Surely he wouldn’t liberalize Mark 10:11!  Let’s now move on to some facts about moichatai that are pertinent to this discussion.

First,  Moichao, from moichaomai, is the verb translated “commits adultery” in Mark 10:11-12, Matthew 5:32b and twice in Matthew 19:9.  These are the only places in the New Testament where moichao it is found and in each place it is the same exact grammatical form, moichatai.

“Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: (moichatai) and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery (moichatai).”  Matthew 19:9.

It should be obvious to everyone that moichatai means exactly the same thing in both parts of the verse.  Brother Smelser has told us on his website that it means in the first part of the verse, “continuing sexual relations with the second woman.”  It also must mean that the man who marries the put away woman is guilty of “continuing sexual relations” with the put away woman he marries.  The same applies to Luke 16:18.

Second,  Mark 10:2-12 is the exact same occasion as Matthew 19:3-9 and they are parallel accounts.  It is quite common in parallel reporting of the same events or subjects to find one account giving details not found in the other.  Notice:

hós án apolúsee teén gunaíka autoú kaí gameésee álleen moichátai, Mark 10:11.

hós án apolúsee teén gunaíka autoú kaí gameésee álleen moichátai, Matthew 19:9.

No one has to know Greek grammar in order to see that they are identical.  I have left out the exception clause in Matthew 19:9 and the prepositional phrase in Mark 10:11 to demonstrate that not only the context of both passages shows a parallel event but the very structure of the language of Jesus is the same.  We are viewing the same event, the same occasion, the same speaker, the same subject and the same language in both Matthew and Mark.  Therefore, whatever moichatai means in Matthew 19:9 it means in Mark 10:11 and whatever it means in Mark 10:11 it means in Matthew 19:9.  If it is “continuing sexual relations with the second woman.” in Matthew 19:9, it means the same thing in Mark 10:11

Third, whatever differing details are in one account must be supplied in the other to get the complete picture.  Certainly, the exception clause in Matthew 19:9 must be injected into Mark 10:11.  But, we must also insert the prepositional phrase from Mark 10:11 into Matthew 19:9.  Thus, “whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery against her.”  Matthew 19:9 and Mark 10:11 are exactly the same.

Further, the second part of Matthew 19:9 does not appear in Mark 10:11, either.  That second part also has moichatai.  The conjunction “and” between the first and second parts, along with the language used, shows that moichatai in the second part means exactly the same thing it does in the first part.  Meaning the same thing, we must also supply the prepositional phrase to the second part.  So, it should read:

 “whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery against her; and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery against her.”

So, whatever meaning we attach to Mark 10:11 must also apply to verse 12 and to Matthew 19:9.  Further, it must also be supplied in Luke 16:18.

Fourth, “Maketh her an adulteress,” ASV, in Matthew 5:32 is from moicheuo.  Moicheuo is the verb found twice in Luke 16:18.  In the New American Standard, King James, Revised Standard and others, it is translated “makes her commit adultery.” The second part of Matthew 5:32 says, as in Matthew 19:9, “and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery (moichatai).”  The conjunction “and” along with the language shows that moichatai means the same thing moicheuo does in the first part of Matthew 5:32.  The exception clause is in Matthew 5:32 as in 19:9, so now add the prepositional phrase to these clauses just as we have in the other passages.

Whatever, moichatai and moicheuo mean in one of these pertinent passages, they mean in each of them.  It means continuing unlawful sexual relations with someone that a person has no right to.  This fact of continual sexual relations is readily seen in Romans 7:2-3.  As long as the first man is alive and the woman is married to another man, she is an adulteress.  If that situation exists for fifty years, then she is an adulteress for fifty years.  That is what the durative present tense means in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Fifth, words and phrases are to be taken in their literal sense unless something in the context requires that we understand a figurative meaning. Theorists have for a long time on many subjects, including this one, changed the literal into figurative and figurative into literal to suit them.  Where in the context of Mark 10:11 are we required to understand that mochatai  is figurative?

Sixth, in every single instance of the man putting away his wife without the cause of fornication and then marrying another woman, he continues in unlawful sexual relations with her.  There are no exceptions to that.  Mark that well.  There are no exceptions!  Now, brother Smelser says that the clause means the put away woman is distressed by the man’s adultery and that is what Mark is talking about.  He defines moichatai ep’ autein as betrayal/distress. 

If brother Smelser is correct, in every single case of a man putting away his wife and marrying another woman, he is causing the put away woman emotional distress for as long as she lives and the second marriage exists.  If that is fifty years, then the man is causing her the same kind and level of emotional distress for fifty years.  But, I deny that in every single instance of divorce and remarriage that the put away party feels emotional distress.  I personally know of some instances of divorce and remarriage where the put away party was relieved at being put away and cared nothing about whether or not the man remarried.  And, if there is any emotional distress it would be when the woman was put away whether there was a remarriage on his part or not.  Further, does not the man who puts her away “betray” her by breaking his vows to her?  At the same time, with the current view that the remarriage of the man releases the put away woman so she can remarry without sin, she would more likely be really elated over his remarriage; she would be free to marry

The position I mentioned at the beginning continues its evolution.  It frequently changes as arguments are posted against it.  Will its proponents eventually contend that “commits adultery” is a single act and not durative?  That would remove their problem about the man’s continuing to commit adultery “against” the put away woman for as long as his new marriage lasts.  The next step after that, which some have taken in the past, would then be that all the man must do is repent of the single act of adultery and once forgiven can then be married without sin.  After all, the first marriage is gone, the bond is broken and he is forgiven of his single act of adultery.  What is to hinder him from being married to another?  Consider the consequences of that.


So, “Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, continues in unlawful sexual relations with her.”  That is simple, direct, understandable without human additions, hypotheses or speculations.  And, first and foremost, it is the truth!  Why don’t we leave it there?