The purpose of the commandment is to positively promote the purity of the heart, especially in regard to the marriage relationship. In the 7th Commandment we have the valuing of our and our neighbor’s marriage. The commandment specifically addresses adultery or marital infidelity. As the 6th Commandment protected Divine Institution #1, freedom of Volition, and the 5the Commandment protected Divine Institution # 3, Family, this particular commandment is for the protection of the privacy and the freedom of the relationship between the right man and the right woman, Divine Institution #2, Marriage.
The Hebrew reads, LO NA’APH in the Qal Imperfect for the ongoing negation of this act. NA’APH, נאַף is used 34 times in the OT and means, “to commit adultery,” which is voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than their spouse, also called infidelity. This word is unique to the Hebrew language among other Semitic languages. Other derivatives that also mean “adultery” include, NI’UP, Ezek 23:43; Jer 13:27; and NA’APUP, Hosea 2:4.
Being addressed to men first, it is defined as having sexual intercourse with a woman who was either married to a man or betrothed, that is, who had already begun the legal exchanges which preceded marriage, what we call today the “engagement.” Deut 22:23f. Sexual relations are the virtual seal of a marriage covenant, and adultery betrays the emotional-psychological intimacy that specially connects adult men and women within marriage.
Being the 3rd of the horizontal Commandments, adultery was seen as a serious sin in Israelite society. The family was the basic unit of the nation, and faithfulness to the marriage contract is the foundation for the family. The protection of the marriage protected the integrity of the family unit that was important because the family was the foundation of society and the nation. Compromise or collapse of the family meant compromise or collapse of society. Sex outside marriage involving married people is especially threatening to the marriage, family, and nation, and thus receives special focus among the 10 Commandments. Therefore, no one is allowed to have sex with any married person except his or her spouse, and no married person is allowed to have sex with anyone other than his or her spouse.
One who broke that contract was worthy of death through capital punishment for both the man and woman guilty of this act, Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22; cf, Lev 19:20, whereas fornication (cf. ZANA) did not carry this penalty. The method of death was in some cases, burning, Gen 38:24, and more generally stoning, Deut 22:23f.; Ezek 16:38-40; cf. John 8:5.
The rest of the ancient Near Eastern cultures surrounding the Israelites likewise had laws prohibiting adultery. Hittite laws, Middle Assyrian laws, and the Code of Hammurabi all contain legislation against adultery. Their law codes prescribed execution as the penalty for adultery, although the adulteress’ husband could cancel the punishment. But this is not the case of the Israelite law. The prime reason in those notations regulating the sexual activity of women had to do with patrilineal, (along the father’s line), inheritance, where genetic lines and birth order dictate who receives what upon the devolving of property after the death of a father. Thus, protecting the lineage against non-family members was of paramount importance.
In addition, as in many other societies, a woman belonged to the house of her father until marriage, and then became part of her husband’s estate. On one level, having sexual relations with a married or betrothed woman was seen as a form of stealing. The rape of a betrothed woman, for example, lowered the value of her bride price. Accordingly, the ravager of an unbetrothed virgin was liable for her bride price and to marry her, but if the father refused him, the dowry was to be paid likewise, Ex 22:16-17. Therefore, in these other cultures, the wife was considered property, and this would merely have been a case of damaged goods. Nonetheless, in Egypt (marriage contracts), Mesopotamia (hymns to Ninurta and Shamash) and Canaan (king of Ugarit extradites and executes his wife), adultery was regularly referred to as “the great sin,” Gen 20:9; 39:9, and was considered extremely detrimental to society in that it was characteristic of anarchy.
Indeed, the sin of adultery was among the reasons that the inhabitants of Canaan were judged by YHWH, Lev 18:20, 24-25; Cf. Lev 20:23; Deut 9:5; 18:12.
The sin was viewed on other levels in the Hebrew Bible as well. Adultery was understood beyond its economic ramifications. Being the third of the horizontal commandments, it was understood as a moral sin, an act which caused defilement and an offense against fellow Israelites and God, Job 24:15; Prov 6:32; 30:20; Jer 29:23; Hosea 4:2; Mal 3:5.
Job 24:15, “And the eye of the adulterer waits for the twilight, Saying, ‘No eye will see me.’ and he disguises his face.”
Prov 6:32, “The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense; he who would destroy himself does it.”
Prov 30:20, “This is the way of an adulterous woman: she eats and wipes her mouth, and says, “I have done no wrong.”
Jer 7:9, “Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal, and walk after other gods that you have not known.”
Regarding the heart of the wicked, God says in Psa 50:18, “When you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you associate with adulterers.”
Therefore, we are to be leery of the adulterer or adulteress as noted in Prov 2:16; 5:3, 20; 6:24, 26; 7:5; 22:14.
Under the Mosaic Law, a woman suspected of adultery had to face a trial before God via the Priest, cf. Num 5:11-31, under the “Law of Jealousy,” QANA. This was similar, but unlike the Assyrian practice of throwing an accused person into the river to see if he would survive to prove his innocence. For the Israelite woman, there was no current physical danger in this OT ritual. There was a solemn oath in the holy place by the woman accused, which would be a severe psychological test for a guilty woman, and there was also threatened a visitation of God’s providence. This law of jealousy was both an act of mercy, (she could be vindicated of a false accusation), and an institutionalization of a woman’s commanded submission to her husband.
The reason it is a crime is that:
- It is a breach of the marriage contract before God, and a dishonor done to God by placing man’s will above God’s, cf. Gen 2:24.
- It is a rebellious act done with forethought and planning, needless to say, the highest sort of theft, i.e. stealing a neighbor’s flesh.
- It is a debasing of the adulterer, making him a senseless wild ass, Jer 5:8.
- It is a means of destroying one’s reputation, Prov 6:32-33.
- It is a means of impairing one’s mind, Hosea 4:11-14, etc.
The 7th Commandment has been given to protect every right man and right woman, even before they meet, and to protect their relationship after they marry. It is the only sexual sin stated in the 10 Commandments, yet is part of the greater list of sexual sins that are likewise forbidden under the Law of Moses. Therefore, all sex outside of marriage, whether before, during, or after you are married, or sex with someone or something instead of your actual legal spouse of the opposite sex, would be a violation of the Divine covenant. For example: Prostitution was forbidden, Lev 19:29. Priests were commanded not to marry a prostitute, Lev 21:7. If their daughters turned prostitutes, (presumably temple prostitutes), they were to be executed, Lev 21:9. Other sexual sins, whether part of pagan worship or not, included: homosexuality, Lev 18:22; 20:13, bestiality, Ex 22:19; Lev 18:23; 20:15-16; Deut 27:21, and transvestism, Deut 22:5, that were all forbidden as violations of the sanctity of marriage and transgress God’s law.
Therefore, adultery is used in the Decalogue as representative of all sexual immorality defined throughout the Mosaic Law.
Why are people tempted by adultery? Because, sexuality makes promises, on which it can never deliver. Why do we fall prey, men and women alike, to impossible sexual or romantic fantasies? Because we have deep needs, and we have been duped into believing that sex can supply those needs, when in fact it is only God who can.
The issue here is the surrender of one’s own needs and desires into God’s hands. Given the nature and the complexity of sexual desire, encompassing so much of body, mind, and spirit, it has great power over us. Therefore, once again, this command calls us to surrender our needs to our covenant Lord and to find deep satisfaction in His all-encompassing provisions that mere sex could never provide.
Having surrendered our needs to God, we should be able to value what our neighbor has for his or her sake, in this case a desirable spouse. But the “neighbor” to be valued here is not only the other married couple; it is also our own spouse.
By what right do we break faith with our “neighbor,” which Mal 2:16, characterizes as “violence?” What right do we have to break promises explicit and implicit in the marriage contract because they are not meeting some supposed need of ours? Those who are in covenant with the God of truth, that is, the God of faithfulness, show it by the way they keep covenant with their “neighbors,” especially in their sexuality.
Therefore, the 7th Commandment required sexual purity in contrasts with the infidelity and promiscuity sanctioned and practiced by the official cults of the rest of the ancient near east. Yet, the religion of YHWH represents adultery as a heinous crime against God, man, and society. Cf. Job 31:9-11, where “lustful crime” is used.
Job 31:9, 11, “If my heart has been enticed by a woman, or I have lurked at my neighbor’s doorway, 11For that would be a lustful crime; moreover, it would be an iniquity punishable by judges.”
The Bible declares that any sexual activity outside exclusive, com-mitted heterosexual marriage is contrary to God’s plan. As such, the value of faithfulness in personal commitments is stressed.
Sex is not an “animal function,” but an expression of deep, personal commitment between one man and one woman. By choosing adultery in the 10 Commandments to represent all the sexual sins later listed, God is underscoring that point. Sexual behavior that destroys marriage is the antithesis of what sexuality was designed for. Furthermore, sexual behavior that undermines and denies covenant faithfulness, flies squarely in the face of what sexual behavior was designed to do.
This commandment also argues, implicitly, against divorce. Divorce except for unfaithfulness, Hosea 2:5, 11-12; Ezek 16:37-38; 23:29, was hated by God, Mal 2:16, and in some circumstances expressly forbidden, Deut 22:19, 29. However, out of concern for Israel’s hardness of heart, this was mitigated, Deut 24:1-4; Mat 5:31; 19:8.
If marriage is so important that it must be protected against adulteration, even the sort of adulteration that might occur in brief interludes, it certainly is important enough to protect against dissolution altogether. From the time of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden onward, a sacred sanction has been attached to marriage expressed in Gen 2:24. In Mat 19:5, our Lord Jesus Christ reaffirmed the sanctity of the marriage relationship and limited the grounds for divorce to adultery alone, with the clear implication that only the innocent member of the wedded couple was free to terminate the relationship without guilt. The wording of 1 Cor 7:11 seems quite explicit that while separation is allowed, the innocent wife is not to marry any other man, but be reconciled, if possible, to her husband, cf. Mat 5:32. If, however, the errant spouse is guilty of adultery, the release of obligation is made possible Mat 19:8-9.
In addition, adultery has a vertical relation in that it is the ultimate metaphor of infidelity to YHWH. When the Israelites followed and worshipped other god’s, called idolatry, it was considered adultery towards God, cf. Isa 57:3; Jer 3:9; 5:7; 7:9-10f; 23:14; Ezek 16:38; 23:37, 45; Hosea 7:4.
Jer 3:9, “And it came about because of the lightness of her harlotry, that she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees.”
As we noted idolatry under the 2nd Commandment, it was interesting to see how many of the pagan false god worship rites and rituals under the fertility or phallic cults involved all of the sexual sins noted in the Mosaic Law. Therefore, one’s participation in false god worship included adultery on both the vertical and horizontal level, that is, adultery against God, and adultery against one’s spouse.
As noted above, adultery, even in the form of idolatry, was called “the great sin” in, Gen 20:9; 39:9; cf. Ex 32:21, 30-31; 2 Kings 17:21.
Ex 32:21, “Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘What did this people do to you, that you have brought such great sin upon them?’”
Ex 32:31, “Then Moses returned to the LORD, and said, ‘Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves’.”
With the punishment for adultery between a man and woman being death, you can imagine that idolatry by the Israelites would call for their death or destruction too, Ezek 16:37-38.
Ezek 16:38, “Thus I will judge you like women who commit adultery or shed blood are judged; and I will bring on you the blood of wrath and jealousy.”
Because, idolatry was a continual problem for Israel and Judah before the exile, YHWH commanded the prophet Hosea to marry an adulterous woman as an object lesson to the people of Israel, who were committing adultery against YHWH by worshiping other gods, Hosea 3:1.
Hosea 3:1, “Then the LORD said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes’.”
Dried raisins or cakes were used in idolatry, cf. Jer 7:18; 44:19. The cakes denote the sweetness and lusciousness, yet still the dryness, of any gratification apart from God, which is preferred to Him. In addition, this tells us of the lustfulness and dryness of relationships in adultery, over opposed to the gratifying relationship God has designed for us with our right man and right woman.
Therefore, whether horizontally in the 7th Commandment or vertically in the 2nd Commandment, we are not to commit adultery.
New Testament Usage:
Even in the times of our generation with the so called “sexual revolution,” man may think he has changed this commandment, but he has not. This commandment still stands today.
The first time “adultery” is used in the NT is by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, Mat 5:27-28. There Jesus told us that anyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Cf. Mat 15:19; James 1:14-15. This tells of the genesis of the sin being in the mentality of your soul. When David entered into the physical sin with Bathsheba, it first began in the mentality of his soul, 2 Sam 11:2-5, which also led to murder.
Mat 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.”
James 1:14-15, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”
Therefore, mental adultery is condemned, where the underlying principle is to have a pure heart before God, as you walk by means of the filling of the Holy Spirit with the Word of God cycling through your soul.
This commandment uses the Greek Verb MOICHEUO, μοιχεύω that means, “to commit adultery,” which is used 14 times in the NT, Mat 5:27-28, 32; 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 16:18, (twice); 18:20; John 8:4; Rom 2:22, (twice); James 2:11, (twice); Rev 2:22.
In Mat 5:32; Luke 16:18, Jesus taught on divorce where adultery is a bona fide basis for divorce.
Mat 5:31-32, “It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; 32but 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.”
As noted, if adultery is committed in the marriage, (“unchastity” – PORNEIA, “fornication, prostitu-tion, adultery, etc.), it is lawful for a man or woman to divorce their spouse who committed the act and be married to another. And, in the new marriage, they are NOT committing adultery. The committing of adultery in a new marriage only occurs when someone is divorced for other reasons than adultery. Cf. Mat 19:9; Mark 10:11-12.
In Mat 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20, we have the episode of the rich young ruler who wanted salvation based on his works. As we have previously noted, Jesus gave him a list of commandments to keep including “adultery.” Yet, as Jesus noted, keeping the Law does not save, only faith in Him does, i.e., “come follow Me.”
Likewise, in James 2:11, “adultery” is used to tell us that if we are trying to keep the Law for salvation, (which cannot be done), and transgress any one of the commandments, we have broken them all and are liable to the law for condemnation. Salvation is found only through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, Eph 2:8-9; John 3:16; Acts 16:31.
In John 8:3-4, Jesus taught about love and forgiveness, as well as the sin of self-righteous arrogance, when the Pharisees were trying to entrap Him using the Law regarding adultery. This is when Jesus responded, “he who is without sin cast the first stone.” MOICHEUO is used in vs. 4, where the cognate Noun MOICHEIA, “adultery,” is used in vs. 3.
In Rom 2:22 and forward, Paul is giving a discourse and uses adultery to state we are not saved on the basis of keeping the Law.
In Rom 13:9, we see the listing of several commandments including, “do not commit adultery,” where we are taught that when we have AGAPE Love towards our neighbor, we fulfill the whole Law.
In Rev 2:22, we have the warning to the church at Thyatira. It tells us that following false religions is committing adultery against God, i.e., idolatry, cf. Rev 17:2; 18:9. The examples given are the Nicolaitans and Balaamites. These false teachings where preaching a doctrine of licentiousness, a supposed “liberty,” that believers could enjoy with respect to carnality and lewdness. We see this today too, and therefore, it has always been a threat to the people of God.
The “deeds of the Nicolaitans,” Rev 2:6, and the so-called “doctrine of Balaam,” Rev 2:14, sought to promote the toleration of the sin of adultery so prevalent in that day, while encouraging Christians to adapt their own life-styles to that of the surrounding world. This doctrine was particularly seductive in Thyatira where it appeared in a spiritual disguise. In each of these contexts, the message was “Repent!” However, it is clear from the later chapters of the Book of Revelation that even the horrific judgments poured out in the “last days,” will not cause men to repent of such sins, Rev 9:21. As a result, immoral men will be excluded from God’s eternal realm, Rev 21:8, 27; 22:14-15. Therefore, adultery is used in the Bible to describe both apostasy and negative volition toward Bible doctrine, Rev 17:1-5; cf. Jer 3:8-10; Ezek 16:23-43; 23:24-28.
Other cognates of MOICHEUO include:
- The verb MOICHAOMAI μοιχάομαι that also means, “commit adultery,” which is used 4 times in the NT, Mat 5:32, (at the end); 19:9; Mark 10:11-12. These all have to do with Jesus’ teaching on Divorce as noted above.
- The Adjective MOICHALIS, μοιχαλίς that means, “adulteress or adulterous,” is used 7 times in 6 passages the NT in Mat 12:39; 16:4; Mark 8:38; Rom 7:3 (twice); James 4:4; 2 Peter 2:14.
In Mat 12:39; 16:4, our Lord rebukes the Pharisees who were looking for Him to perform a sign or miracle. Because they did not believe in Him through faith, they are classed, “an evil and adulterous generation,” meaning they trusted in other things, (their eyes, their emotions, etc.) rather than God, which made them idolaters.
In Mark 8:38, Jesus commanded that we put aside the things of this world and take up our Cross and follow Him. If we do not, we are an adulterer towards God, (idolater).
James tells us, once again, of adultery towards God, (i.e., idolatry), being when we are more concerned with the things of this world, (Satan’s cosmic system), than we are with God.
James 4:4, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
In a similar way, Peter uses it regarding the lustful heart of the false teachers of false doctrines, in 2 Peter 2:14. Those who lead people away from a true relationship with God, which is the dissemination of idolatry, are adulterers towards God.
2 Peter 2:14, “Having eyes full of adultery and that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children.
In Rom 7:3, “adulteress” is used by Paul in the analogy of marriage, “till death do they part,” regarding our freedom to be joined to Christ because we have died to sin through faith in Him, vs. 4.
- The Noun MOICHEIA, μοιχεία that means, “adultery” is used 4 times in Mat 15:19; Mark 7:21; John 8:3; Gal 5:19.
In Mat 15:19; Mark 7:21, as noted above, the overt physical sin of adultery germinates from evil being in the heart first.
In John 8:3, we have the object lesson of Jesus’ forgiveness of the adulterous woman, as noted above under MOICHEUO.
In Gal 5:19, the KJV includes adultery, as some Greek manuscripts have MOICHEIA in the list of the “deeds of the flesh,” (i.e., sins that emanate from our Old Sin Nature). The NASB does not, but clearly adultery is included under “sexual immorality, impurity, and sensuality.”
Gal 5:19, (NASB77), “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality.” Vs. 20, then continues the list beginning with “idolatry.”
- The Noun MOICHOS, μοιχός that means, “adulterer, the one who commits adultery,” is used 3 times in Luke 18:11; 1 Cor 6:9; Heb 13:4.
In Luke 18:11, Jesus told a parable about a self-righteous Pharisee who thanked God in his prayer at the Temple that he was not a MOICHOS like all the others, yet his pride caused God to reject him.
Likewise, in 1 Cor 6:9, the unbeliever is excluded from inheriting the kingdom of God, including the MOICHOS, “the violator of the marriage bond.”
1 Cor 6:9, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals.”
And finally, in Heb 13:4, marriage must be held in high honor, “and the marriage bed undefiled,” lest one be judged by God.
Heb 13:4, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”
This commandment is directed toward protecting the sanctity of the home, the fundamental building block of society. The marital vow is a holy commitment that should not be violated by sexual unfaithfulness under any circumstances. In 1 Cor 7:2-5 and 1 Thes 4:1-8, the word adultery is not used but clearly meant for the protection against adultery and to keep the sanctity of the individual and home intact.
1 Cor 7:2-5, “But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 3The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
1 Thes 4:1-8, “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. 2For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. 7For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. 8So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”
This may come as a shock to some, but God is the author of sex, and as such, He has laid down rules to protect the happiness for which it was designed. Yet, if we abuse our freedom of volition and disregard God’s design, there are consequences as a result.
Adultery has a destructive effect on the body of both male and female, as well as on the soul, 1 Cor 6:13-18. Promiscuity results in male impotence and inability to enjoy fully the right woman for whom he was designed. Promiscuity results in female frigidity, or the antithesis, nymphomania, and destroys the woman’s ability to respond to the right man and to receive from him the fulfillment for which she was designed.
Adultery produces “scar tissue” on the right lobe (heart) of the soul, Eph 4:19; cf. Prov. 6:32. As such, adultery carries certain laws of punishment, such as frustration, and leads to certain forms of slavery. It is one of the manifestations of both sublimation and emotional revolt of the soul. This principle is taught by the use of the Greek noun translated “greediness” in Eph 4:19 and “greed” in Eph 5:3, which we have noted in our study of Ephesians, and means a “frantic search for happiness.” It indicates the built-in punishment that goes with adultery.
Prov 6:32, “The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense; He who would destroy himself does it.”
While the Lord can forgive the sin of adultery, 1 Cor 6:9-11; John 8:1-11, like David, the adulterer and adulteress must live with the sad consequences of forgiven sin, 2 Sam 12:13-14; Psa 51.
What does this command teach us about God? It reminds us of God’s faithfulness and holiness. God is holy and He commands His people to be holy, 1 Peter 1:15-16. God expects His people to faithfully follow His word in regard to relationships. God is not trying to spoil your fun. Inside the covenant of marriage there is great enjoyment and intimacy in a one-flesh union. God’s commandments are for your good, as well as the good of others.
1 Peter 1:15-16, “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” Cf. Lev 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7.