Properly understanding (or harmonizing) certain portions of Scripture can be very difficult. Take the gospel passages on Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage (“MDR”). Matthew 5:31-32, 19:3-12, Mark 10:2-12, and Luke 16:18 are the four gospel passages that contain the Lord’s teaching on the subject.

          The Luke passage is the easiest—it is very straightforward and contains almost no textual variants (occasions in which different Greek manuscripts contain variations of the text): “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery” (KJV). Mark 10:11 is also very straightforward and “stable” (few textual variants): “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her” (KJV).

          The challenge arises when Matthew’s renditions of the Lord’s saying on MDR are considered. Matthew 5:32 says, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication…. (KJV, emphasis added). Matthew recites this saying again at 19:9 and says virtually the same thing. The pressing question is: what are we to do with the so-called “exception clause” that only Matthew recites (twice)?

          Scholars tend to focus on the individual units of the texts. Using this approach leaves us with two prohibitions: (1) divorce is prohibited because the marriage bond is indissoluble-divorce does not affect dissolution of a bond that God has created; and (2) remarriage is prohibited—marrying another results in adultery. There are no exceptions in Mark or Luke.

          Popular approaches (what us “laymen” do with the four passages) tend to conflate the four verses. All four passages are interpreted as containing the Matthean “exception clause.” Using this approach, the differences in the four texts are not really differences at all; the “exception clause” of Matthew becomes a key feature for the other texts that do not explicitly contain the exception clause.

          But, the real question is, “Which approach should we take? How do we know for sure what the real answer is?”

          Either approach has its strengths and weaknesses. But which one is correct? Therein lies the challenge of carefully studying Scripture.