Adultery Defined

Return To Index
 Ex 20:1 And God spoke all these words, saying:
 2 "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
 3 "You shall have no other gods before Me.
 4 "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;
 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me,
 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
 7 "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
 8 "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.
 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
 12 "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.
 13 "You shall not murder.
 14 "You shall not commit adultery.
 15 "You shall not steal.
 16 "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
 17 "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's."
 Jas 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well;
 9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
 10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.
 11 For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
 12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.
 13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
 14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,
 16 and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?
 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
 Mt 5:27 "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.'
 28 "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
 29 "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
 30 "And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
 31 "Furthermore it has been said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.'
 32 "But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.
 33 "Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.'
 34 "But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne;
 35 "nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
 36 "Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.
 37 "But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.


Part of our Lutheran heritage is the emphasis we typically put on preaching both Law and Gospel.  Well, we shouldn’t have any trouble bringing the Law into our message this morning. I mean we all should’ve recognized our OT reading as the Ten Commandments.

But what about the Gospel? Where was the Gospel in our readings today? Sometimes we have the erroneous impression that the Law is found in the OT and the Gospel only in the New, but that’s not true. The Law is in both the Old and the New as is the Gospel.

Tell me, did you find any Gospel in our reading from James, where we are told “Thou shalt not play favorites? That’s the Law! Did you find any Gospel in Matthew, as Jesus laid down the Law and further defined adultery?

Actually it doesn’t take us very long to find the Gospel in the OT lesson today. It’s right there in Ex. 20:2, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”

The Gospel is what God does for us as it relates to our salvation. It is what He does to release us from the bondage to sin. The Israelites did not earn their deliverance, there was nothing they could do in their own power to escape their bondage to the powerful Egyptians,  it was all God’s doing.  God simply heard their cry and in His mercy, He responded.

And another way we could look at this passage is as follows: I am the One who delivered you from your bondage to sin, and because I am the Lord your God, and because I delivered you,  “You shall not do the following things” .... and God tells them what their response to His love should look like

God delivered each and every one of you here this morning from your slavery to sin, in a similar way, when you were baptized.  And He says to each and every one of us, “I am the Lord your God who brought you ought of slavery when you were baptized,  and your response to My deliverance should be as follows.....”Thou shalt not”........and then He gives us the Ten Commandments.

 Any variance on our part as it concerns these commands is called sin. It is a stain on our slate that had been perfectly cleansed at baptism and it needs to be taken care of. In God’s mercy and grace he has provided a way for us to have our stains removed and our spotlessness restored on a perpetual basis. It is called confession.

 1Jo 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

But remember, our baptism and confession of sin is effective only because of our faith in what Christ did for us on the cross. It is His shed blood that provides for our forgiveness.
  Heb 9:22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Good thing for us that God loved us so much that He was willing to shed the blood of His Son for our forgiveness! We need that initial deliverance from original sin, (through baptism) and it’s not long before we realize that we are all Law-breakers and in need of confession and forgiveness of the sins we commit in our daily living.

James makes the point strongly in James 2:10, if you stumble in just one point, you are guilty of it all! Paul wrote in  Ro 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
And Isaiah said

 Isa 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Sometimes we can look at the ten commandments and think we aren’t so bad. We can become like the rich young ruler who came to Jesus and asked what he must do to have eternal life, and boldly told Jesus that he had kept the ten commandments from his youth.  Jesus of course exposed him as a law-breaker who was guilty of covetousness.

In our gospel lesson today from Matthew, Jesus exposes those who might think that they are not guilty of adultery. The letter of the Law states, You shall not commit adultery.” You shall not be sexually unfaithful to your spouse.

Many in His audience could likely make the claim that they were never guilty of such a detestable thing, such a crass breach of trust, such a blatant disregard for a promise made before God in the wedding vow!  But then Jesus sets us all straight as He goes on to define adultery in the eyes of God.

His words, “But I say to you,” are strong words. They are spoken with great authority. And in effect He says, If any spouse just looks at another person in a deliberate, conscious, and persistent way that feeds an unholy sexual desire that violates the purity of what marriage is intended to be, is guilty of adultery.

What does that tell you about viewing pornography?  It is adultery! And without going into a great deal of detail, what do verses 29, and 30 tell you about the matter of self-gratification? It is also equated with adultery.

The sex act in marriage is to begin as, and remain as, the pure union of two flesh into one because it is the physical expression of  what God has done in marriage, namely made the

But that’s not all that Jesus wants to say about adultery. In verses 31 and 32 He brings up the matter of divorce and how it plays into adultery. Now to understand His comments here, you need to understand something of the wedding customs of His day, and the divorce customs of His day.

First of all, there were two schools of thought concerning divorce. One was basically no-fault divorce, and the other granted divorce only in the case of sexual unfaithfulness.  Jesus pulls the rug out on both schools as He says, I’ll tell you what divorce is adultery.

Now how can He say that? People get divorced for all sorts of reasons, how can He call the very act of divorce....adultery? How can the victim of a divorce be called an adulteress?

Divorce is adultery, because it defiles the purity of the marriage bed. And this is no small thing! The writer of Hebrews reminds us:

 Heb 13:4 Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.

In divorce, the purity of the marriage bed which was meant for man and wife has been ripped in two...separated.  What was meant to be seamless and undefiled has now been violently  ripped in two.  It is no longer the purity of the bonded two, now it is split into two is separated, defiled, impure, adulterous.  
Even the innocent party is a part of this adultery, because the marriage bed which was part and parcel of the innocent party has been defiled.

Ah, but wait, what about the exception that Jesus makes? In verse 32 we have what is called the exception clause. Most people take that to mean that divorce is an option in cases of adultery. But just think that through.

If that is the case, then we might as well go to no-fault divorce because as Jesus has just pointed out, just one wrong glance or thought constitutes adultery, and that makes most everyone guilty of adultery. Every wayward glance, every pornographic glimpse would be grounds.

Furthermore, Jesus uses words very carefully, and the word that He uses for the exception is not adultery (illicit sex while married) but “sexual immorality” or as the King James rightly puts it fornication, which is defined as sex before marriage. So the exception is only for the discovery of illicit sexual activity  before marriage.

In the days of Jesus, a couple was considered married at the time of betrothal.  This was like our engagement period. After the betrothal, the husband would go away and build a place for his bride. When the place was ready, he would come for his bride, and their would be a feast and eventually the bride and groom would slip away to consummate the marriage.

If it was found out that the bride was not a virgin, that she had been a fornicator,  the groom was allowed to call the marriage off (divorce her). He was not bound to her. By the way, this was not good news for her, because she was stoned to death for her sin of fornication. Upon her death, the man was then free to marry in accordance with Romans 7:2.

  Ro 7:2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband.

You see, it really is, “till death do us part!”

The reason a bill of divorcement could be granted under Moses,  was to spare the life of the woman. Divorce was a literal death sentence for her. So the man would state that his wife was not guilty of fornication...he just didn’t want to be married to her anymore. This is what Joseph decided to do for Mary, when she was found to be pregnant with Jesus.

So there was  no exception...except damaged goods.  And it’s interesting to read in Dt 22:19 that if a man falsely accused his bride of illicit pre-marital sexual activity, he was fined heavily and commanded to remain married to her as long as they both shall live..

“And she shall be his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days.” (Dt 22:19)

Now, while Jesus is defining adultery here, I think it would be wise to see what He had to say about the permanence of marriage and His complete prohibition against divorce, because that’s the crux of the matter.  For that discussion, we need to turn to

 Mt 19:3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?"
 4 And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,'
 5 "and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?
 6 "So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."
 7 They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?"
 8 He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.
 9 "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery."
 10 His disciples said to Him, "If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry."

The Pharisees were trying to pin Jesus down as to what school of divorce He was from. His answer: “Neither! I’m from the school of permanent marriage! “What God has joined together let not man separate.”

This one sentence says it all. “Let not! Don’t allow it to happen.” “Let not marriages end!”  Marriages are not to be ended by anyone but God. Our times are in His hands. He knows the number of our days. And marriages, in His eyes,  are only ended by the death of a spouse as we have seen in Rom. 7:2

Understand the permanence of marriage in God’s eyes! Man may think he can separate the two made one,  back into two again, but that’s not the way God sees it. And when we realize that truth, we will begin to understand what our world considers to be these “strong words” of Jesus.

“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, (fornication, sex before marriage) and MARRIES another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced (the innocent party!) Commits adultery.”

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus uses the word adultery here as opposed to fornication? Adultery is defined as illicit sex, (unfaithfulness)  while married. What does that tell us then about the state of the divorcee in the eyes of God? It tells us that He still considers them to be married.

By using the word adultery Jesus is in effect saying, even though you have been divorced by men, God does not recognize it, therefore you are still attached to your first spouse and in marrying someone else, you are having an affair, you are in fact committing adultery, and bringing the innocent spouse into it as well. Because in God’s eyes the two of you are still one!

Oh what a mess we have made of things!  

I know, there are not many in this world or in the church  who want to receive this teaching. That shouldn’t surprise us. Check out the disciples reaction! They lived in a world of two schools of thought just as we do today. No-fault divorce, and divorce because of marital unfaithfulness.  Both schools are in error.....because according to Jesus marriage is permanent!

And the disciples lamented,  “If that’s the’s better not to marry.”  They didn’t like this teaching either. Why you may get stuck with someone who will make your life miserable! And You’re telling us we have no option to get rid of them? I mean, just think of all the possible faults of a spouse. Yet, God tells us to work through all of them!

Now, think of your own faults and know that in spite of them all,  God will never divorce you. You may walk away from the salvation marriage to Him in sin and disbelief, but He will never walk away from you, and He will leave the 99 other sheep to look for you. He made a covenant with you and will not break it. And our earthly marriages are to be a picture of that covenant to the rest of the world.
And that’s why God hates divorce. He says in  Mal 2:16 "For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one's garment with violence," It defiles or violates (causes violence to) the purity of the marriage bed. It defiles the picture of purity and faithfulness and submission that He designed it to portray.

What about abuse and desertion? Well, God has provided the state to protect you in these matters. Take advantage of the protection they offer you, but never forget the permanence of your marriage.

And if you have forgotten, what do you do now?  You’re divorced. Or your divorced and remarried. Or you married a divorcee. Or  you’ve viewed pornography, or leered at someone on the beach, or engaged in sexual self-gratification. Or you’ve had an affair. Now what? Well, you can now name your sin. It’s adultery.

What can you do about it? The same thing the woman caught in adultery was told to do. Go and don’t commit this sin anymore. What do you do with every other sin you commit?  Confess it, put it under the blood of Jesus and receive God’s forgiveness and move on.

If remarried....stay remarried. Don’t complicate the mess by making another one. If not remarried  pray for and work for reconciliation with your spouse. If that’s not possible, remain single and concentrate on your marital relationship with Christ.

Is adultery an unforgivable sin? A thousand times no! Is it a damaging sin? A thousand times yes! But by calling on the grace of God, you can work through it! Work through all your marital difficulties. And understand, going in to a marriage, that you are entering an unbreakable bond!

That attitude will go a long way in preserving the marriage as God intended.

And now, may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.