Adultery

Preaching and Worship Resources about Adultery

Adultery is, at minimum, unchastity within marriage, a violation of the marital vow of sexual exclusivity or fidelity.

In Scripture

Commands "You shall not commit adultery" (Ex. 20:14). "If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death" (Lev. 20:10).

Forsaking Covenant "You will be saved from the loose woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words, who forsakes the partner of her youth and forgets her sacred covenant; for her way leads down to death, and her paths to the shades; those who go to her never come back, nor do they regain the paths of life" (Prov. 2:16 - 19).

In the heart "`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 has already committed adultery with her in his heart'" (Matt. 5:27 - 28).

Divorce "`It was also said, "Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce." But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery'" (Matt. 5:31 - 32).

Jesus refuses to Condemn "[T]hey said to him, `Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?' They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, `Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.' And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, `Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?' She said, `No one, sir.' And Jesus said, `Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again'" (John 8:4-11).

Love your neighbor as yourself "The commandments, `You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet'; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, `Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Rom. 13:9).

Authority over one another "For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does" (1 Cor. 7:4).

Inheriting the kingdom of God "Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (Eph. 5:5).

Marriage honored "Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers" (Heb. 13:4).

Points to Ponder

Form of pollution Theologically, adultery is a form of pollution or defilement. (Pollution, along with perversion and disintegration, are prime examples of corruption.) To pollute an entity is to introduce a foreign element into it, thereby weakening it. Idolatry pollutes our relationship to God and adultery our relationship to our spouse. The book of Hosea suggests strongly that idolatry and adultery are emblems of each other. Each introduces a rival into an exclusive relationship.

Form of injustice 1 Corinthians 7:4 states that married people have conjugal rights, suggesting that adultery, besides all else, is a form of injustice. Each partner has exclusive sexual rights to the other; adultery violates those rights.

Fantasizing All sin is equally wrong, but not all sin is equally bad. Acts are either right or wrong, either consonant with God's will or not. But, according to both Protestant and Catholic confessions, among right acts some are better than others and among wrong acts some are worse than others. Following Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:27-28, Christians believe that fantasizing about adultery is just as wrong as committing it and not a different offense in kind. But Christians also know that adultery in one's heart damages others less, at least for the short term, than does adultery in a motel room and may therefore rank as less serious on the badness spectrum.

Inciting unchastity In Q&A 111, the Heidelberg Catechism makes a move common to many Protestant and Catholic confessions: It interprets adultery more broadly than a married person's sexual intercourse with someone other than his or her spouse. The Catechism interprets the commandment "Do not commit adultery" as forbidding all unchastity, whether in marriage or not, and, further, everything that incites unchastity, "whether it be actions, looks, talk, thoughts, or desires." Here, of course, Christians will want to indict the multibillion-dollar pornography industry, whose very purpose is to make big money by inciting unchastity.

Any rival to the spouse's good In his searching study titled "Sex for Christians," Lewis Smedes makes the case for creative, whole-person fidelity within marriage, a kind of mutual enthusiasm for the other person's good. In this picture, adultery isn't just genital contact with persons outside the marriage. It's the introduction of any rival to the spouse's good. Workaholism or some other addiction, constant outings with buddies, emotional coldness, continuous griping — anything that gets in between the two spouses and blocks enthusiasm for the other's good qualifies as a kind of adultery, even if it is non-sexual.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.