The 7th Word of God to not commit adultery is often and mistakenly interpreted as a sweeping statement about sexual morality.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is an extreme example testifying to this.
In addition to adultery, they use the 7th Word of God to forbid masturbation, pornography, prostitution, rape, homosexuality, contraception, artificial insemination, divorce, polygamy and incest.
While it is true that some of these things are condemned by God, some of these so-called “offenses” are actually sanctioned such as polygamy and divorce.
However, where the church and most people go wrong is in not understanding that the scope of this 7th commandment is actually very narrow.
It is NOT a general prohibition of sexual activity outside of marriage.
The New Testament Greek word for “adultery” is MOICHOS.
And in order to fully comprehend what God means when He uses this word, it must be understood in its Old Testament Hebrew sense.
The truth is and this may seem unseemly to some is that during Biblical times, adultery was considered ONLY a female crime and sin.
Men were NOT subject to it.
Understand that the Decalogue or these 10 Words of God were addressed to Israelite men.
The truth is this commandment was just as much about the property rights of men as it was in protecting the sanctity of the sexual relationship between a man and his wife or wives.
According to Biblical law, a “wife” and a “fiancee” were pretty much one and the same.
In other words, a “fiancee” was a woman over whom legal possession had been transferred from her father to her husband-to-be.
So if a man had sex with a woman who was betrothed to another man, this violated the EXCLUSIVE sexual rights that her husband (or husband-to-be) had over the woman.
In my last post, I went over the spiritual meaning and implications of adultery but here we can see God’s wisdom working itself out through this commandment in a very practical way as well.
Adultery had severe social consequences, especially with regards to paternity and inheritance.
The truth is other than the prohibition against a man having sex with another man’s wife, this commandment simply does not address other types of sexual activity by males.
Probably one of the biggest points which would differ from the modern Western understanding (actually maybe only Western), is that if a married man had sex with an unmarried woman, it was NOT considered adultery.
Yeah, you read that right.
If a married man had sex with an unmarried woman, it was NOT considered adultery.
I actually picked up a few interesting quotes from a couple of female members of a Bible forum talking about this very topic.
“As offensive as it is to our sensibilities these days, the bible does not describe an unmarried woman with a married man as adultery. She either becomes a second wife, or she is a prostitute (if he paid for it) or she is his concubine. Only if the *woman* is married, is it called adultery. I don’t like it any more than you do, but that’s what it says.”
“As mentioned, the intention of God was one man and one woman for a marriage. Abraham had Hagar, Jacob had Leah, Rachel, Bilha and Zilpah. None of these were called adultery or sin. But, of course they turned out badly, too. That’s all I’m saying. I don’t condone “shacking up”; I don’t condone polygamy. But the bible doesn’t specifically forbid it.”
“And yes, as far as I know, no one on this group promotes polygamy or concubines. We all understand it is NOT YHVH’s perfect will. Which is one man, one woman. I will state again, our western minds sometimes shy back from things we don’t culturally and historically understand, but none the less, they are in there, and it says what it says. But again…just because something is ‘allowed’, does not mean we have to, or that we should.”
In protest, some may ask what about the prohibition in the Bible against having sex with an unmarried and unengaged virgin?
Again, in the narrow legal sense of this commandment, this was not adultery but a violation of a father’s property rights rather than a husband’s.
The penalty in this case is that the man had to marry the woman or pay a fine.
“But if her father refuses to give her to him, he must pay a sum equivalent to the bride-price for virgins.”-Exodus 22:16
Another sexual act that is not covered by this 7th Word of God is prostitution.
Don’t get me wrong.
The Bible definitely discourages prostitution but it’s not what we’re dealing with here.
For example, the following proverb from the Book of Sirach, which is part of the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical scripture makes a clear distinction between the seriousness of sleeping with a prostitute versus another man’s wife.
“A prostitute is regarded as spit,
but a married woman is a deadly tower
for those who embrace her.”
-Sirach 26: 22
The required evidence and punishments for adultery changed over time.
During the time of the Patriarchs, no proof other than the husband’s suspicions were needed, and he himself had the right to put his wife to death.
Once the Laws of Moses came into effect, the requirement for a conviction had to be a minimum of two witnesses.
However, not long after the death of Yeshua, the death penalty for the sin of adultery was removed because its practice had become so rampant that the number of women who would have to be executed had reached unthinkable numbers.