Dan Popp
Adultery
Written in stone: Thoughts on the Ten Commandments
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By Dan Popp
October 23, 2012

You shall not commit adultery. (Exodus 20:14, NASB)

The Seventh Commandment reminds us that God's gift of marriage comes with the responsibility of lifelong fidelity to one spouse. As many teachers have pointed out, the brief sentence You shall not commit adultery encapsulates all the other biblical laws on human sexuality. Fornication, homosexual acts, bestiality, incest and other kinds of misuses cannot be permitted if adultery is forbidden. "Two consenting adults" don't have the votes to override God's veto.

When Jesus walked among us, He taught on this Commandment and its broader implications.
    "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. It was said, 'Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce'; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." (Matthew 5:27-32)
I think I speak for a lot of adult males when I say that I could almost wish this passage were not in the Bible! Even the Disciples thought Christ's teaching on marriage was tough stuff (see Matthew 19). But, since we are those who want to not only walk but run in the way of God's commands, let's go through this section. It's actually part of the Sermon on the Mount — the one with the Beatitudes.

...but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Oh, my. So it's not "OK just to look," even if the culture is saturated with sensual messages and images, even if the woman provokes the leer, even if anything. Just before this, Jesus had linked rage to murder. Here He again says that the physical act is only the blossom of a poisonous plant.

If your right eye causes you to stumble, tear it out.... Ladies, you may not be aware of how we guys hear this. Jesus is talking about eyes and hands, and we're thinking He's going to keep going until He gets to the organ that's the real culprit! But upon further reflection (if we dare to reflect further) we realize that the problem isn't any physical part of us, but our metaphorical heart. Jesus echoes the book of Proverbs in His warning to exit the road to the adulteress' house now, whatever it takes.

...but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Here we see that the civil recognition of a marriage may not line up with reality. To put it another way, in God's eyes there has never been a "no-fault divorce." Either there has been a fault and a divorce, or no fault and no divorce. Serial monogamy is not what God gave Adam when he took a rib and made Eve "bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh." Marriage is a covenant, not a contract.

I think I see in these three aspects of adultery the three types of sin: the "lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life" (see 1 John 2:16). There is the temptation to commit the physical act; the visual enticement to savor impure thoughts; and the appeal to our arrogance to imagine that we can "trade up" spouses, or even redefine marriage.

If you doubt that we're living in a post-Christian culture, look at this passage from Matthew 5 again and ask whether our laws and our attitudes reflect Jesus' teachings on the difficult but essential Commandment, You shall not commit adultery.

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Previous articles in this series: God, Images, Name, Rest, Parents, Murder.

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© Dan Popp

 

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