All sins are not the same. Under the Mosaic law, Some sins would require a sacrifice to be presented on the altar and the sinner would be atoned. However, others were considered capital offenses and the sinner was to be killed. Adultery was one of the capital offenses. In Leviticus 20:10, Moses prescribes that both the adulterer and adultress were to be put to death.
Adultery, in the Bible, refers to any sexual relations that are done outside the confines of marriage. Adultery is a violation of the marital covenant and a breach of the covenant that God established between a man and his wife. The Bible teaches the sanctity of marriage and unequivocally condemns the sin of adultery.
The 7th commandment offers the foundation of Biblical teaching on adultery. This commandment states, “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14). Throughout the Old Testament, the sin of adultery is expounded on including the penalties for the same. Jesus and the Apostles also emphasize the importance of fidelity in their New Testament teachings.
Adultery in Greek and Hebrew
The Hebrew term for adultery in the Old Testament is “na’aph.” According to Strongs (#5003), this word refers to the act of adultery involving a man and someone else’s wife. In some instances, the word is also used figuratively to refer to idolatrous worship.
The Greek word for adultery (as used in the New Testament) is “moicheia” (Strongs G3430). Even though the word is also used to refer to extramarital relations, it may take a broader scope than its Hebrew variant because it is also used to refer to incest and any other kind of relation between a man and a woman who is not his wife.
Adultery in the Old Testament
As we have already established, one of the most prolific references to adultery in the Old Testament is in the 7th commandment which states, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” The inclusion of the law on adultery in the 10 commandments underscores the importance that God places on fidelity in the family. The severity of punishment is another illustration of how God values fidelity. According to Leviticus 20, those caught in adultery were to be put to death by stoning.
Adultery was considered a breach of the marital covenant and that may be the reason why it attracted such severe consequences. The severe punishment had far-reaching implications on societal norms and values. For starters, the importance of fidelity was reinforced and adultery was not as commonplace as it is in modern society. The law not only served as a direction but as a deterrent as well.
While the Old Testament punishments may appear harsh by today’s standards, it’s important to consider the historical and cultural context. Society was organized around strong communal bonds, and the stability of families and the community was of utmost importance. The punishments were intended to protect these foundational elements and maintain the moral order.
Jesus’ Perspective on Adultery
The teaching of Jesus on adultery sheds light on the New Testament view of fidelity and marriage. One of the most prolific teachings of Jesus on adultery is from his famous sermon on the mountain (Matthew 5:27-30). In this teaching, Jesus offers a more extensive outlook on adultery by suggesting that even looking at a person lustfully counts as committing the sin of adultery. The standard of fidelity under the new covenant is therefore higher because in the Old Testament, one had to be caught in the act for them to be guilty.
The emphasis on purity in action and thought emphasizes the importance of inner transformation that is needed for righteousness. Jesus’ view on adultery makes it clear that God was not just looking for a superficial observance of the law but for a truly transformed heart. James made it even clearer by suggesting that if one broke only one law, they would be guilty of breaking all of the laws (James 2:10). In other words if you looked at a person lustfully, you would not only have broken the law of adultery but by extension, all other laws.
This profound teaching emphasizes the importance of purity not only in actions but also in the intentions of the heart. By doing so, Jesus underscores the inner transformation required for righteous living. This teaching resonates with the broader New Testament theme of focusing on the state of one’s heart and motives, rather than merely adhering to external rules.
Paul’s Perspective on Adultery
Apostle Paul also tackles the issue of adultery along with other sexual sins in his epistles. For instance, Paul condemns adultery in 1 Cor.6:18 by juxtaposing it to other sins which Paul argues are done outside the body, unlike sexual sin which is done inside the body. In Ephesians 5:3, Paul continues to crusade against adultery by saying that any kind of sexual sin should not be witnessed in the church. Paul reminds the Church that they are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) and they should therefore lead a life worthy of their calling by fleeing adultery and other kinds of sin.
Unlike most other scriptures on adultery, the writings of Paul not only condemn adultery but also offer a solution. For instance, he reminds the church to walk in the Spirit so as not to gratify the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:16; 25). Paul, Just like Jesus, believes the focus should be on the transformative power of the Holy Spirit which can change the believer from within and make them lead a righteous life. Additionally, Paul recommends that married people fulfill each other’s sexual needs. As he explains in 1 Corinthians 7, there should be mutual consent between husband and wife to ensure they are fulfilled sexually so as to avoid adultery.
To wrap it up, both the Old Testament and New Testament have a similar definition of adultery because they agree that adultery is any extramarital relationship. However, the New Testament goes deeper by proposing (through the teachings of Jesus) that even looking at a person with lustful intent is adultery. THis means that adultery begins from the heart before it manifests in the flesh.