Mark 10:11,12:
Greek Text, Pronouns and Antecedents

by Tim Haile

November 10, 2003

   Mark 10:11,12 has become a controversial passage in the present discussion of the rights of the innocent put-away party. Since I will be making repeated references to this text, I think it wise to remind the reader of what Jesus said in this passage. Jesus had already been questioned by the Pharisees, but later, "in the house His disciples asked Him about the same matter" (Mk. 10:10). Responding to these disciples Jesus said:

{11} "And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her:
{12} "and if she herself shall put away her husband, and marry another, she committeth adultery." (ASV, 1901)

{11} "And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.
{12} "And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery." (KJV)

   It is easy to see why this passage has become a battle ground in this controversy. My opponents cannot maintain their position if Mark 10:11 is correctly translated in the ASV, NASB, KJV, NKJV, RSV, NIV and other common translations. Their position makes fornication irrelevant when it is committed by one who has already departed from his mate. According to these widely used and accepted translations, the man in verse 11 commits adultery "against" his wife even though he has already rejected her as a mate. But, who is the "her" in this passage? If the above translations are correct, the "her" cannot be the other woman ("another"); it must refer to the man's bound wife. Thus, the man's adultery is said to be against his wife even though it was committed after he had put her away.

MARK 10:11

1. A MAN PUTS AWAY HIS BOUND WIFE
2. HE LATER MARRIES ANOTHER WOMAN
3. HIS ADULTERY IS AGAINST HIS WIFE

   It is important to note that Jesus here used the Greek moichao (adultery), not porneia (fornication), to describe what the man was guilty of in Mark 10:11. Porneia includes all kinds of illicit sexual relations. Moicheia (adultery) describes illicit sexual relations involving at least one married person. Why is there a distinction in terms? Moicheia describes illicit sexual activity that violates a covenant, whereas, "porneia" involves illicit sexual activity - period, without respect to any covenant. The exception clause passages of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 prohibit divorce and remarriage "except for fornication" (porneia). Why "porneia" and not "moicheia?" Jesus used the broader term (fornication) to indicate that any kind of sexual immorality serves as a legitimate reason for divorce and remarriage by the innocent party. In Mark 10:11, Jesus used the word "adultery" because, by initiating a sexual relationship with another woman, the man's actions violated the covenant that he had made with his wife. Jesus was earlier asked, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?" In answering this question, Jesus taught that by putting away one's wife (not for fornication) the man violates the covenant that he had made with his wife. The "another" (woman) is no part of the issue raised by the Pharisees.

Adultery Is "Against" One's Mate

   Is it lawful for one to put away his wife (for every cause, Matt. 19:3)? No, it is not lawful. It is only lawful for one to put away his mate for the cause of fornication (Matthew 5:32; 19:9). In all other cases it is adulterous for one to put away his wife and marry another. By putting away his wife and marrying another, a man does something against his wife. Some will argue that adultery is with someone , not against someone. Would these people say that adultery is committed for one's mate? Did the man in Mark 10:11 commit adultery in favor of his mate? If adultery is not against one's mate, then what in the world would he have to do that would be against her? Regardless of what men may say in order to prop up their specious views, the Bible says a man commits adultery against his wife. He wrongs her by committing adultery; his adultery is a breach of his contract with her.

   Jeremiah 3 and Ezekiel 16 are very beneficial in defining adultery. Ezekiel 16:8 describes God's covenant with Israel:

   "When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore and oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine, says the Lord God."

   God had "married" Israel (Jer. 3:14); He was her husband. But sadly, Israel did not remain faithful to God. She turned against Him, violating her covenant with Him. She disobeyed Him (Jer. 3:25). She took strangers instead of her husband. She became an "adulterous wife" (Ezek. 16:32). "Surely, as a wife treacherously departs from her husband, so you have dealt with Me, O house of Israel, says the Lord" (Jer. 3:20, remember the language of Malachi 2:14-16). "Backsliding Israel had committed adultery" (Jer. 3:8). Notice that by committing adultery, Israel slid back from God. She rejected God and served idols (Ezek. 16:15-21). She "committed adultery with stones and with trees" (Jer. 3:9). Some say that adultery is not "against" anyone or anything. They are wrong. Adultery is a sexual sin committed with another person and against one's mate! The above passages use the word adultery in a figurative sense. However, this in no way detracts from, or changes the word's basic meaning.

   Some brethren are teaching that a man's adultery is rendered totally irrelevant if it is committed after his departure from his wife or after he has taken some ungodly civil divorce action against her. Not so! According to Mark 10:11, the man's adultery is still against his bound wife even when it is committed after he puts her away. According to Matthew 19:9a, fornication provides the scriptural cause that allows the innocent spouse the right to put away his guilty mate with God's approval. Thus, the put-away wife of Mark 10:11 has the God-given right to put away her adulterous husband and marry another without committing adultery. The right of remarriage for the innocent party is not conditioned upon whether or not he was the first to do the putting away, but upon his putting away his mate for fornication.

   Some have cited part B of Matthew 19:9 to suggest that adultery is not against one's spouse, but that it is only with another person. The passage says, "...and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery." We are asked, "Who did this man commit adultery against?" This objection is based entirely upon an assumption. To have even the appearance of an argument, the questioner must assume that this second man was not bound to a wife. This cannot be demonstrated from the text. Of course, neither can the converse be demonstrated from this text. This brings me to my second point. The argument also ignores the fact that I do not deny that adultery is a sexual sin. Indeed, adultery is a sexual sin. The word does not necessarily emphasize the covenant breaching that occurs when one engages in sexual relations with another.

   Those who defy the translations must argue that the Greek word "epi", in Mark 10:11, should be translated with, rather than against, and that the man's adultery is not against his wife, but is with the other woman. This requires them to argue that the antecedent of "her," in verse 11, is the pronoun "another" and not the noun "wife" (woman) that was mentioned earlier. One brother did write that epi should be translated "against," but that the "her" is the other woman, not his bound wife. He claimed that the husband commits adultery against the other woman by marrying her. Like the position that prefers the adultery to be "with her," this position ignores the context. Jesus was asked about a man putting away his wife, not about what happens when he marries another woman. The other woman is mentioned only for the purpose of showing the consequences of the man's unlawful actions.

TEXTUAL DIFFERENCES IN MARK 10:12

   Notice the difference in the wording of Mark 10:12 between the ASV and the KJV:

KJV: "And if a woman (guné) shall put away her husbandů"

ASV: "And if she (auté) herself shall put away her husbandů"

   The King James has the noun, "woman," and the American Standard has the pronoun, "she." Why is there a difference in the wording? It is because the translators of the ASV used a different Greek Text than translators of the KJV used. The ASV follows the Westcott and Hort text, so it has "she." The KJV follows the Textus Receptus, or "Received Text," so it has "woman."

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

   If the Westcott and Hort (and Nestle's) Text is correct, then the word "she," in Mark 10:12, has an antecedent somewhere earlier in the text. What is that antecedent? As we noted above, some insist that the word "another" is the antecedent of "her" in verse 11. If this is true, then "another" is also the antecedent of "she" in verse 12. Of course, this presents an obvious problem. This would mean that the adulteress of verse 11 commits adultery (again) by putting her husband away and marrying another. But, she was already in adultery! Will those who accept the Westcott and Hort and the Nestle Texts be consistent and demand that "another" is the antecedent of "she" just as it is of the "her?" Honesty demands this conclusion.

   Some think to avoid this conclusion by insisting that the pronoun "she" is not in the original text in Mark 10:12. They say it says "woman." By so insisting, not only must they use the Received Text and reject the others, they must also insist that the Received Text (KJV) is reliable and that all others are wrong. Some appear to see themselves as qualified to tell us, with absolute certainty, which Greek Text is the most reliable, and which ones are wrong!> Of course, if they are going to insist upon the Textus Receptus in Mark 10:12, it seems reasonable to me that they should insist upon that same text in all other places! They cannot just pick and choose a text that suits them in one place, and then reject it in other places.

   The following observations are not for the purpose of settling the issue of which Greek Text is right and which ones are wrong. I am not qualified to say which Text is correct, and I know of no one else who is so qualified. There are, however, some rules of honesty and consistency by which we should abide, regardless of which Text we use. (Incidentally, my position is unaffected by the textual variance. Whether "she" or "woman," I maintain that Jesus was speaking suppositionally of what a husband might do to a wife, verse 11, and what a wife might do to her husband, verse 12.)

  1. If one appeals to Marshall's Interlinear with his one-man interpretation for support for the Mark 10:11 adultery being "with her" rather than "against her," then let him be consistent and also accept Marshall's use of the Westcott and Hort text that has "she," in verse 12! And let him also accept that if the "her" in verse 11 refers to "another" (woman), and not to the man's wife, then the "she" in verse 12 also refers to the other woman, and not to the man's wife! This makes utter nonsense out of the passage, but brethren will be forced to this conclusion if they insist that "another" is the antecedent of "her" in verse 11.
  2. If one uses the Received Text in order to have the noun "woman" in Mark 10:12, let him use that text everywhere else. Let him not jump back and forth between different Greek Texts in order to buttress a particular position. Too, if some are so certain that the Textus Receptus is right and all others are wrong, let them list their credentials and expertise that qualifies them to refute Greek scholars and make such bold assertions. Let them provide the rest of us with their clear reasons for favoring the Received Text over others. Let them give us the facts - we are not interested in their opinions. My opinions in this matter are every bit as good as theirs!
  3. If one does accept the Westcott and Hort Text in Mark 10:12, then let him not insist that the antecedent of "her" (verse 11) is the other woman. He should join me in teaching that the antecedent of "her" is the noun (woman), not the pronoun (another).

Conclusion

   So, following the Textus Receptus, Jesus is talking about what a husband or a wife might do, and in so doing, become guilty of adultery. The Westcott and Hort text has Jesus talking about what a husband and his wife might do, and in so doing, become guilty of adultery. In neither text is Jesus referring to a particular man and his particular wife. He is speaking suppositionally to show what a certain scenario produces.  So, there is no contradiction between the texts, and no need to insist on one over the other.  There is no need to decide categorically between the two. Both address the consequence of a husband's or a wife's putting-away action. If he does it, he does it against her. If she does it, she does it against him (God is no respecter of persons! Acts 10:34). Husbands commit adultery against their wives, and wives against their husbands, when they put them away not for fornication, and remarry.  This is the issue Jesus treats, for the simple reason that this is the issue raised by the Pharisees' question.

   The marital rights of the innocent put-away party do not hinge upon Mark 10:11,12. If Mark 10:11 is correctly translated, it does help to confirm my understanding and position. However, if it is incorrectly translated, and the adultery is "with" the "another," rather than "against" the "wife," it does not detract from my position. Matthew 19:9a teaches that an innocent person has the God-given right to put away his sexually immoral mate and marry another. Jesus added none of the provisos and restrictions that are added by some of our brethren. Regardless of the Greek Text and interpretation of Mark 10:11,12, it does not contradict or negate Matthew 19:9. The Scripture cannot be broken (Jn. 10:35).

Tim Haile
7693 Russellville Rd.
Bowling Green, KY 42101
timhaile@insightbb.com

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