Monday, September 7, 2015

Sarcastic Exceptions? The Gospel in Betrothal

 John 6:42 And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven?

I have often wondered why there is very little information or discussion on the events of Christ’s incarnation and the fact that He was conceived by the Holy Spirit DURING Joseph’s betrothal to Mary. Why did God choose Mary, and why did the Holy Spirit impregnate Mary while she was betrothed to Joseph? Would this timing conflict with what evangelicals believe about divorce and remarriage, especially as this pertains to Matthew’s “exception clause” (Matthew 5:32 and 19:9)?

The evangelical church believes that the exception clause refers to unrepentant sexual immorality. The Greek word in this text, “except for Porneia”, refers to the fornication. Evangelicals insist that this word, porneia, refers to all kinds of sexual immorality. This exegete of this word is significant in what the evangelicals believe about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. There is a minority of scholars who believe that since this exception clause is only found in Matthew’s account, the word porneia is specific to fornication of the woman during the betrothal period of marriage.  

Betrothal marriage is significant to Jewish culture that calls for a man to marry his wife by contractual agreement, and the after a year of “betrothal”, the husband and wife would consummate the marriage. This year of betrothal is not unlike engagement, the difference is that they have already committed to being husband and wife, and the husband had to hand his wife a paper of divorce if he found her not to be a virgin on the consummation night. 

In the case of Mary and Joseph, the Holy Spirit comes to Mary during this period of betrothal. 
Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

Perhaps we could conclude that the Holy Spirit conceived the child “before” Joseph took Mary to be his wife; scripture tells us otherwise.

 Luke 1:26 -28 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

There should be very little argument against the Holy Spirit conceiving the Lord during the betrothal period. What seems to be lacking is any commentary as to this timing and how this timing corresponds with what the Lord has to say on divorce. If the Lord chose Mary, why did He choose her when she was betrothed to Joseph? Did the Pharisees of this time know that Joseph was betrothed to a pregnant woman? Did the Pharisees believe that the Lord was a bastard child? What was adoption like in the Old Testament?

Question: Why did the Lord choose Mary and Joseph?

Both Mary and Joseph are direct descendants of David of the tribe of Judah. Fulfilling prophesy was one part of this timing. Also, Mary was a virgin and not yet consummated through Joseph. This is very important to note as I believe this may be why the Lord answers the Pharisees when they ask Him about divorce. I believe it is very ironic that the Lord would tell the Pharisees that the ONLY exception for allowing divorce was “fornication”. The evangelical church believe that the Lord allowed divorce and remarriage if there was unrepentant fornication. What if the Lord was being sarcastic in dealing with the Pharisees?     

Matthew 19:3 The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?

And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

If the Lord was conceived in what appears to be fornication, would the Lord’s words appear to be sarcastic in nature? There seems to be no indication from scripture that the Pharisees believed the Lord was conceived in fornication, unless it was obvious Joseph adopted the Lord Jesus. If it was understood that Joseph adopted Jesus as his own, would the Pharisees believe that perhaps Jesus was the Messiah?  

Question: Was the Holy Spirit sinning by conceiving through Mary while she was betrothed to Joseph? 

We know that Joseph believed that Mary’s pregnancy was why he wanted to put her away quietly. Joseph was a just man, and though he was upset about the nature of Mary’s pregnancy, he did not want her to be unjustly exposed. There is no indication from scripture that anyone other than Mary’s relatives knew of the pregnancy, or that there was backlash from the community. The later writings in the Jewish Talmud make a bold statement that Mary was raped by a Roman soldier. However, there is no indication in the New Testament writings that the Jews believed Jesus was conceived by rape.

We could consider that Joseph adopted Jesus, and that even if Mary was raped, Joseph showed compassion, and married Mary anyway. This would be applicable to the law as Deut 22:25-27 makes it clear that a woman is not found at fault if she was raped in the wilderness. We know that Mary was not raped, but was willing to be obedient to the Lord. She was chosen by God to birth the Savior of the world, just as Joseph was chosen by God to adopt and raise the Messiah as his own. 

The significance of the timing shows the love of God by Mary, and the compassion and humility of the man Joseph. All the while, God did this all within the framework of the law, and most importantly, the spirit of the law. Joseph was more than willing to accept that birth of Christ during his betrothal to Mary, and he understood the significance of the coming of the Messiah.

As mentioned previously, there is evidence that others knew of Mary’s pregnancy. Both Elizabeth and Zacharias knew that Mary was blessed among women because they knew that their son, John, would be the voice crying out in the wilderness to the coming of the Messiah. 

Question: Was adoption mentioned in the Bible? 

We know that Moses was adopted by Pharaohs’ (Exodus 2:10) daughter and Mordecai raised Esther as his own. (Esther 2:7) The idea that we as Christians are to take care of the widow and the orphan has significance to the idea that Joseph raised the Lord Jesus as his own. 

Question: Why is there very little information on the timing of this conception and how it relates to Matthew’s “exception clause” (Matthew 5:32 and 19:9)? 

I have no idea. What I do know is that all of these instances, the timing of the birth during betrothal, Joseph’s reaction, the exception clause, and the Lord’s view of marriage, the response of the Pharisees, are all related and intertwined in Matthew’s Gospel. I certainly believe the timing of the Lord’s birth during the betrothal adds to the significance of marriage and the very nature of the Gospel.

What the timing shows me is that the Lord Jesus Christ was conceived during a betrothal and that the husband of that betrothal accepted and believed what his dreams told him. Mary’s reaction was to tell her husband the truth. Joseph had two choices, believe the dream and accept the role the Lord gave him, or divorce Mary. He chose the former.

If the exception clause is God’s way of being sarcastic to a people (Pharisees) who added unto the law, then “except for fornication” is not a valid excuse to divorce and remarry. If the Pharisees believed that the Lord Jesus was a bastard child, adopted by the compassion of Joseph, then they had no foundation to issue a divorce decree for any reason.  
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. Mt 19:9

Joseph did not put Mary away even though many would have believed that Mary “committed” fornication. The spirit of the law is mercy and grace. Joseph was one who believed Mary, believed the angel in the dream, and believed that “divorce” is only for those who have hard hearts. Joseph was willing to go against the Pharisees and the people who would make the claim that he should have divorced Mary, and she should have been stoned. 

In conclusion, we must consider the context of the scripture in the manner in which it was written, and who it was written to. I am beginning to see that the “exception clause” not only historically points to “fornication” during betrothal, I am beginning to see this clause as a sarcastic reminder from the Lord that the Pharisees not only have hard hearts, they are unwilling to see that Mary’s child of fornication would save them from both sin and death.  

If you believe that you can divorce for certain “instances”, then you must believe that God is not capable to defend what He has joined together. Christians will say once they believed the Gospel they came to understand that marriage between one man and one woman is a holy and sacred covenant. The Bible says that marriage was ALWAYS holy and sacred, and to believe otherwise is folly. The law of marriage came BEFORE the fall of man into sin. If you divorced and remarried on any grounds, consider that your first covenant marriage was recognized in heaven and that breaking this vow before God will have consequences.

The Pharisees believed in both divorce and remarriage, but the Lord calls one hardheartedness, and the other adultery. Consider the words of our Lord and make the right decision today. Trusting Him in the most difficult of situations is a sign of weakness, it is a sign that when we are weak, he is strong. Joseph wanted to put away Mary privately…instead, he denied himself and trusted the Lord. I have truly come to believe that the “exception clause” should never point to our desires, it should point us to a Savior. It is not about us, it is always about Him.

Luke 1:47 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

In Christ’s love,



Unilateral Divorce Is Unconstitutional said...

Neil, this is an absolute masterpiece! SIFC is going to queue it up in advance for posting during the holiday season. Thanks for your work and thought on this.

Neil Novotnak said...

I thank you for the comment, UDIU. I thank you for your continuous dedication in defending the truth that marriage as one man and one woman for life. As always, it is my prayer that evangelicals would consider the Lord's words on marriage. I am also confident that the Holy Spirit is working in these dark days and that our work in the Lord is not in vain. God be the glory!