If there is one word in the Bible that modern day Christians can be said to discuss most but understand least, it is the word adultery as it pertains to marriage.
If I were a betting man, I’d bet that 99% of you cannot properly define the word adultery.
Here’s a simple test:
If a married man has sexual intercourse with his single secretary, has he committed adultery?
If you answered yes then you don’t know the definition of adultery.
The fact is that anyone who has sexual intercourse outside of marriage has indeed committed a sin (harlotry*) but if the woman involved is not a married woman then it is not called adultery.
It is impossible for a single woman to commit adultery.
Adultery refers to a specific kind of sexual sin; Sexual intercourse with another man’s wife or a woman betrothed to another man.
That’s it. Nothing else.
This is the definition provided by Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance which is the concordance favored by theologians.
But even without the Strong’s Concordance we can understand the definition of adultery by the dozens of verses referring to it in the Old Testament, the Bible that Jesus quoted.
The first reference to the word* adultery is found in the 7th commandment.
Thou shalt not commit adultery. Exodus 20:14
The second reference to adultery defines it and gives the penalty for it.
And the man that committeth adultery with [another] man’s wife, [even he] that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.Leviticus 20:10
The verse above is word for word and bracket for bracket what is written in the King James Bible.
Every reference to adultery in the entire Bible concerns sexual intercourse between a married or betrothed woman and a man other than the one to whom she is married or betrothed.
Solomon clarifies that adultery is a crime against men in Proverbs 6:32-35
But] whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he [that] doeth it destroyeth his own soul. A wound and dishonour shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away. For jealousy [is] the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance. He will not regard any ransom; neither will he rest content, though thou givest many gifts.Proverbs 6:32-35
The Bible is gender specific when it comes to marriage. It does not use the word spouse except in the Song of Songs where in fact it is not gender neutral, it refers to the writer’s bride and is translated in all other places in the Bible as daughter-in-law or bride.
The rights of women and the rights of men are very different in the Bible. Women have some rights that men don’t have and men have some rights that women don’t have.
We can now more easily understand Matthew 5:27&28, the verses that speak of “adultery in the heart,” but there are two more words that we must define in order to fully understand it:
Lust: to desire something forbidden
Romans 7:7b – “for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.”
Woman: both the Hebrew word and the Greek word for woman can also be translated as wife.
Now that you know the meanings of the words let’s go to the context.
Let’s start with the first verses found in Matthew 5 that have a similar structure to the ones we’re studying, namely, they begin with “Ye have heard” and are followed by “But I say unto you.”
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Matthew 5:21&22
Notice that Jesus is referring to the 9th & 6th commandments:
Exd 20:16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Exd 20:13 Thou shalt not kill.
Jesus shows here that there is a sequence of events that leads up to murder. First; unjustified anger, second; bearing false witness, and third; murder.
Jesus uses the same method to explain the steps that lead to adultery in Matthew 5:27&28
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.Matthew 5:27&28
Notice that he’s referring to the 10th & 7th commandments:
Exd 20:17 …thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife…
Exd 20:14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Jesus shows here that there is a sequence of events that leads up to adultery. First; Looking upon another man’s wife; second; lusting after her, third; committing adultery with her.
What is often not perceived by modern readers in our modern culture is that the admonition not to “looketh on a woman to lust after her” is an admonition not to break the 10th commandment; not to covet thy neighbor’s wife because that will lead to adultery, the crime of having sexual intercourse with another man’s wife.
In the two cases above, murder & adultery, Jesus explains the importance of not speaking ill of others and of not desiring forbidden things because doing so will lead to murder and adultery.
Jesus did not give a new command here to deny your sexuality. It is natural for men to desire women and for women to desire men otherwise nobody would ever get married. Properly directed sexual desire is God given, it is good. It shows that you’re healthy.
Jesus words must be understood in the context of the meaning of each word as well as the context of each paragraph. A man or woman who has a strong sexual desire for the person they expect to marry or would like to marry is not sinning.
Here is Matthew 5:27&28 with the meanings of the words inserted for greater clarity:
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery [with thy neighbor’s wife] but I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a [married] woman to [covet] her hath committed adultery with [another man’s wife] already in his heart.
Finally, I am saddened at the number of times that I have seen Kirk Cameron on his T.V. show, “Way of the Master” improperly training the Christian audience on how to witness to unbelievers. I wrote Kirk Cameron complaining about his sin and I was responded to by Judy Notchick who sent a copy of her response to S.G. Scott. The accusation has been made therefore, to the man, Kirk, and before two or three Witnesses, S.G. Scott & Judy Notchick. So now it’s time to bring it before the Christian community.
Here is the sin that is repeated over and over again on Kirk Cameron’s The Way of the Master Television show. With the T.V. cameras taping, Kirk or his sidekick Ray Comfort says to a woman:
“Jesus said, If you look with lust.You have already commited adultery in your heart.”
“Have you ever looked with lust?”
The unsuspecting woman says, “Yes, of course.”
The average person on the street will think that the Bible meaning of the word lust is the same as the common English usage of the word, so they say yes. Yet the Bible’s usage means to desire something forbidden. If the single woman is desiring the man she is hoping to marry someday then certainly she hasn’t sinned. But Kirk or Ray continue without explanation.
“Then you’ve committed adultery in your heart. Do you know what the penalty for adultery is?”
The unsuspecting woman says, “No.”
The response is, “Death.”
This is supposed to lead people to Christ? It’s disgusting. It’s a lie first of all. Sexual desire does not equal lust. Lust is to desire something forbidden, to covet. The sin Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:27&28 is to look upon a married woman with lust in your heart as you have learned in this study since the definition of “lust” is to desire something forbidden and the definition of “adultery” is sexual intercourse with another man’s wife. In fact, it is impossible for a single woman to commit adultery!
THE PROBLEM with calling normal, healthy desires adultery is that it is a LIE!
Secondly, those who are not Christians will believe that it is impossible to be alive without continually committing adultery in the heart when in fact it is quite easy. Many men do live without committing adultery in the heart. They don’t look at other men’s wives with lust. They have the entire world of available women to look at. They don’t need to look at other men’s wives. Furthermore, non-Christians will believe that when they become Christians they’ll be expected to pretend that they have no desires because Kirk and Ray have labeled most normal sexual desires, (as opposed to the forbidden sexual desire for another man’s wife) adultery! Is it any wonder that young men are not to be found in the churches?
Yes, nearly everyone has committed some kind of sexual sin in their heart but let’s at least get our definitions right. If we’re going to be godly witnesses then we must tell the truth. Becoming a Christian does not mean that we are to pretend that we do not thirst for water. Why should we teach that it means that we do not desire the “bone of my bones” as Adam so poetically stated and as the pages of the Song of Songs so wonderfully describe?
Some of you may not have paid any attention to what I have just explained and are asking, “Then why didn’t Jesus just say wife?” For you, I must say please please, read and understand. We have already discussed how the “Greek” attributed to Jesus in this passage was NOT the English word wife but a “Greek” word that can be translated both as wife and as woman. This Greek word, “gune”, was translated in 92 other places in the New Testament as wife or wives. Had Jesus specifically defined woman in this context (lust) he would had to have said, “whosoever looketh on another man’s wife or a woman betrothed to another man to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” That would have been redundant since He had already used the word “lust” which specifies a forbidden woman and adultery which specifies the type of forbidden woman; the wife of another man or a woman betrothed to another man. There is no Greek word used in the New Testament that always means wife and never means woman. Greek is not English. The one word, gune, means either wife or woman but never means exclusively one of those except as determined by the context.
Now your final test question:
If a married woman or a woman who is betrothed has sexual intercourse with with her administrative assistant, has she committed adultery?
If you said no then you still don’t get it.
The definition of adultery is simple.
Sexual intercourse between a married or betrothed woman and any man other than her one and only.
Note: The word* adultery:Even though the first reference to the “word” adultery is found in Exodus 20:14God made reference to adultery as far back as Genesis 20:3
Click Here to Read: Who was Rahab
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