God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Adultery in Matthew 5:32

Adultery and Matthew 5:32

According to Matthew 5:32, divorcing a woman causes her to commit adultery.

But Peter Kirk notices that the new NIV (“NIV 2011”) translation has a new take on the verse. Peter writes:

One rather odd change I noticed, which some might attribute to political correctness: in Matthew 5:32 the “adulteress” (1984, TNIV) is no longer a wrongdoer but has become “the victim of adultery” (2011).

More specifically, the NIV 2011 translates:

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

It’s a fascinating and complicated issue.

What Victim?

At first glance, the introduction of “victim” seems uncalled for. The NRSV, for example, representing the usual translation of the verse, goes with (my emphasis):

I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife … causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

The usual translation makes the case look entirely parallel. A divorcee does the same thing as the man who marries a divorcee. They both “commit adultery.”

But the original is more nuanced.

Active and Passive Adultery

The original Greek uses the verb moicheuo (“commit adultery”) twice. It’s true that marrying a divorcee is moicheuo-ing, that is, committing adultery. But divorcing a woman is to cause her to be moicheuo-ed, or to have adultery committed against her. That is, the first verb is passive and the second is active. The man and the woman here do not do the same thing, according to the Greek.
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November 28, 2010 Posted by | translation practice | , , , , , , | 336 Comments