Scripture: “You shall not commit adultery.” Exodus 20:14 ESV
Observation: As scholars Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton contend in their Bible Background Commentary, this seventh commandment focuses on familial (not marital) integrity to protect the husband’s name (assuring his children would be his own). Hence, when a married man had an affair with an unmarried woman, the Mosaic law did not deem his actions adulterous—the offender merely paid damages to the father (22:16–17). Nevertheless, the law prohibited promiscuous behavior (Deut 22:21; 23:2).
In contrast to Israel, many neighboring cultures viewed wives as the husband’s possession and adulterous wives as damaged goods. However, Egypt and a few other kingdoms of the Ancient Near East forbade adultery as “the great sin” characteristic of anarchy (similarly focusing on civil stability). Still, only Israel held wives in high esteem as one flesh with their husbands.
Takeaway: As with the sixth commandment that prohibited murder, Jesus upped the stakes for the seventh and confronted adultery as a matter of the heart. He declared that anyone looking upon a woman with “lustful intent had already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-29). He also leveled the playing field by making no distinction between men and women who commit adultery, as evidenced by his response to the Pharisees when they attempted to entrap him on the issue of a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11).
So is the Old Testament view of adultery in conflict with Christ’s teaching? No, Jesus was just as concerned about the stability of the family and society. But he was more concerned about our relationship with our Creator. As ancient Israel compromised the integrity of Yahweh’s holiness code and followed the idolatrous ways of their pagan neighbors, the Lord spoke through the prophets (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea in particular) in calling Israel an adulterous nation. And Jesus referred to those who were ashamed of him and his teachings as adulterous (Mark 8:38).
So what are we to glean from this biblical and extra-biblical information? Infidelity, first and foremost, is a sin against God. When we violate the trust of our spouses, we breach the covenant we made with our Creator. Secondly, it begins with lustful thoughts that develop into emotional and physical affairs if left unchecked. And in this internet age, acting out with pornography is tantamount to infidelity. Sadly, surveys have shown that the percentage of adults who engage in pornography is the same as that in the secular culture.
So how do we make a course correction? The goal is not to “abstain” (resist) but to “obtain” (seek) purity of life. We will lose the battle if we focus solely on resisting sexual temptations. Instead, we need to fill the holes of our deepest longings with more of Christ through worship, his Word, prayer, godly fellowship, and serving others. And his grace and mercy will shore us up each step of the way because our gracious Father has imputed his Son’s purity of life into us so that we might hunger for righteousness and be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for crediting your Son’s righteousness to us through his purity of life—always seeking and doing your will—even unto death. Would you please help us follow a similar pursuit, relying on your mercy and grace to obtain a life of fidelity that honors you? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling