1. Introduction:
    1. Definition of the term:
      1. Some form of the word adultery is found sixty–three times in the Bible with four cognates.
      2. The English definition: “Voluntary sexual intercourse of a married person with someone other than his or her lawful spouse.”
      3. Gesenius' Hebrew–Chaldee Lexicon to the Old testament: “To commit adultery, used both of male and female” (Exodus 20:14).
        1. His definition is quite simple and he gives other Old Testament references (Proverbs 6:32–33; Leviticus 20:10; Jeremiah 29:23).
        2. Gesenius makes other applications of adultery (Deuteronomy 22:22–24; Hosea 2:2–3). Kittel: Genesis 39:10.
    2. A spiritual or metaphorical connotation:
      1. When God's people had made other alliances with other people, it was called adultery (Jeremiah 3:8–9).
      2. Other passages (Ezekiel 23:36-39).
      3. This picture is clearly drawn in that analogy of physical and literal adultery and Israel's adultery with other nations by adopting their religions and worshiping their gods (Jeremiah 19:1–11).
    3. The New Testament use of the word:
      1. Analytical Greek Lexicon: “Adulterer; an adulteress, an adulterous man, faithless, ungodly, lustful significance; to defile a married woman; debauch, to commit spiritual adultery, be guilty of idolatry.”
      2. Kittel: “The right of the man to sexual freedom is denied. Like the wife, the husband is under obligation to fidelity. The wife is exalted to the same dignity as the husband. Marriage is a life–long fellowship of the partners.”
      3. Thayer gives definitions of this word and its cognates: “To have unlawful intercourse with another's wife; to commit adultery with.” Then Thayer uses it figuratively, as do other scholars.
      4. Moulton and Milligan: They give an added definition and say it “is apparently used of sodomy.”
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      6. Jesus gives an additional meaning, or application of the definition: “... whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
  2. Discussion:
    1. Note how the term adultery is applied:
      1. Willful violation of the marriage contract by either partner through sexual intercourse with a third party.
      2. Abandoning the God of heaven and turning to the worship of idols.
      3. Faithlessness—treachery, deceit, dishonesty, manipulation, perfidy or spiritual adultery.
      4. Sodomy.
      5. Lust.
      6. Divorcing one's wife and marrying another woman for some other reason than unchastity.
      7. To marry a divorced woman whose former companion was not guilty of fornication.
    2. The objective of this lesson:
      1. Marriage is an exclusive sexual relationship between husband and wife.
      2. The condition of the Roman world in the days of Christ and the apostles.
      3. The cause of the rapid growth of Christianity in the first century.
    3. Attitude toward marriage in Jesus' day:
      1. Historical sources—very low, base picture.
      2. Quotations from historians.
      3. Temple prostitution among the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Canaan, even among the Jews.
      4. The schools of the Jews and what they taught about marriage and divorce.
    4. Why is adultery so wrong?
      1. Wrong in the sight of God—basically and inherently wrong.
      2. God meant man's sexuality to be a natural impulse toward a deep and personal relationship with a woman he loves.
      3. Because God intended it to be an act that would amalgamate two persons into one.
      4. Because it is a betrayal of an oath and a person.
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      6. The innocent party feels rejected, inadequate, a loss of self–esteem and competency.
      7. Because marriage is the only relationship that can give honorable birth to children.
      8. Adultery is a rejection of God's objective for man's use of his sexuality.
  3. Conclusion: God's plan for marriage and the home is:
    1. Monogamic in form.
    2. United in construction.
    3. Procreative in design.
    4. Indissoluble in nature.



Some form of the word adultery is found sixty–three times in the Bible. The root word in the Old Testament is naaph, while the word in the New Testament, used thirty–five times, is moicheia with some four cognates, i.e., words in the same family or derived from the same root.

Definition of the Term

The English dictionary defines adultery as: “Voluntary sexual intercourse of a married person with someone other than his or her lawful spouse.”

The Old Testament Hebrew uses the word primarily as a sexual relationship. Gesenius' Hebrew–Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament simply renders it: “To commit adultery, used both of male and female.” Then he gives the reference as Exodus 20:14 which says, “You shall not commit adultery.”

The Hebrew lexicon thereafter makes the application: “To commit adultery with a woman,” and gives the following passages: “Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; he who does destroys his own soul. Wounds and dishonor he will get, and his reproach will not be wiped away (Proverbs 6:32–33).” Another reference is given: “he who commits adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus 20:10). Jeremiah sent a letter to the exiles in Babylon and he said to them: “because they have done disgraceful things in Israel, they have committed adultery with their neighbors' wives, and have spoken lying words in My name, which I have not command them” (Jeremiah 29:23).

Gesenius makes other applications of adultery than illicit intercourse. Generally, adultery in the Old Testament under Judaism was “possible only if there is carnal intercourse between a married man and a married or betrothed Israelite woman” (Deuteronomy 22:22–24). “Adultery is the violation of the marriage of another” (Genesis 39:10–18, Kittel).

Gesenius then refers to Hosea 2:2–3: “Bring charges against your mother, bring charges; For she is not My wife, nor am I her Husband! Let her put away her harlotries from her sight, And her adulteries from


between her breasts; Lest I strip her naked And expose her as in the day she was born” This is his comment in defining the term, “ ‘Let her take her adulteries from between her breasts.’ Here the sacred writer speaks of immodestly uncovered breasts as the seat of lust, immodesty, and meretricious solicitation.”

A Spiritual or Metaphorical Connotation

The Hebrew lexicon, under the word naaph (adultery) makes this comment and gives these references: “In the same manner as fornication, it is applied to the turning aside of Israel from the true God to worship idols, (Jeremiah 3:8–9). She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce; yet her false sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the harlot. Because harlotry was so light to her, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree.”

It was rather common to use the term adultery to apply to God's people when they had made alliances with other nations and formed coalitions with them that would involve the worship of their gods. Ezekiel speaks of such a confederation when he said: “Son of man, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Then declare to them their abominations. For they have committed adultery,and blood is on their hands. They have committed adultery with their idols, and even sacrificed their sons whom they bore to Me” (Ezekiel 23:36–37).

In verse 39 the prophet continues: “For after they had slain their children for their idols, on they same day they came into My sanctuary to profane it."” It is difficult to conceive of God's people sacrificing their own children to an idol god!

The intimate affiliation of God with His people Israel was often likened to a marriage; and when Israel formed a coalition with other nations and merged with them in the worship of their idols, they were said to commit adultery or to play the harlot. It was like a man having unlawful intercourse with another man's wife. They had broken their promises to God, betrayed their vows, violated the covenant they had made with Him, and disregarded their obligations, and this was like defiling a married woman—to commit or be guilty of adultery. These references in Ezekiel 23 are allegorical names given to Samaria and Judah.


The two kingdoms are pictured as sisters, both married to Yahweh. They are both charged and condemned with adultery against Yahweh, their husband, by their voluntary political entanglements and alliances with other nations.

In the concept of the time, such alliances implicated them in an association between their gods. All of this was called adultery. It is likely that the literal and figurative are thus used because, in the mind of God, they bore a similar degree of heinousness.

This issue of Israel's adultery was of such grave concern to the God of heaven, He charged Jeremiah: "Go and get a potter's earthen flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests. And go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the Potsherd Gate; and proclaim these words that I will tell you ... Then you shall break the flask in the sight of the men who go with you, and say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts:“Even so I will break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter's vessel, which cannot be made whole again[so that it can never be mended]” ’ ” (Jeremiah 19:1–11).

The purpose of this approach is not only to define the term and show how it is applied, but to point up and emphasize how forbidding and severe is the sin of adultery in the sight of God.

The New Testament Use of the Term

The Analytical Greek Lexicon defines moichos and its cognates: “adulterer; an adulteress, and adulterous mein, lustful significance, faithless, ungodly, to defile a married woman, debauch, to commit spiritual adultery, be guilty of idolatry.”

Kittel has these comments: “The right of the man to sexual freedom is denied. Like the wife, the husband is under obligation of fidelity. The wife is exalted to the same dignity as the husband. Marriage is a life–long fellowship of the partners. Only thus does it actualize the ideal intended in creation ... the full marital fidelity of both spouses is an unconditional divine command.” Kittel's point is that if a man is unfaithful to his wife by having sexual intercourse with another woman, he is an adulterer. And if a wife is unfaithful to her husband by having sexual intercourse with another man, she is an adulteress.


Thayer gives definition to this word and its cognates: “To have unlawful intercourse with another's wife, to commit adultery with.” Then, Thayer uses it, like many other scholars, figuratively: “Hebraistically and figuratively, faithless toward God, ungodly.”

Moulton and Milligan, in The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, define the terms for adultery very much as do the other scholars whose works I have quoted, but they add this thought under moikos: “Ordinary, ‘adulterer’ is apparently used of sodomy.” They give the reference as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri.

Jesus gave us an additional definition of adultery in His sermon on the mount: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27–28).

He also said, “But I say to you whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and who marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32).

In Matthew 19:9 is this statement by Jesus: “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

You are able to see from the passages quoted when the term adultery is applied to different situations:

The Objective of this Lesson

In the lesson before us, we are considering the definition under number one. This has to do with marriage as an exclusive sexual relationship between husband and wife. This is not all marriage is, of course, but it is to point out and emphasize that marriage is the only association in which the physical sexual act between a man and a woman has God's approval. Jesus introduced Christianity into a world of very low moral ethics. The code of conduct was riddled with sexual immorality. Sexual pleasure was taken where one could find it. Demosthenes, the great Athenian statesman and orator who lived about three hundred and fifty years before Christ, said: “We have courtesans for the sake of pleasure, we have concubines for the sake of daily cohabitation; we have wives for the purpose of having children legitimately, and of having a faithful guardian for all our household affairs”.

History tells us that in this time, the Romans' caliber of virtue was despicable and disgusting. They neither admired nor valued virginity or monogamy. The elevated heterosexual love above homosexuality and lesbianism, but it was not because they lauded or honored purity. The dominant mood of the world was easy sex wherever one could find it, whether it was within the confines of marriage or outside it. It really made little difference.

Cicero once said, “If there is anyone who thinks that young men should be absolutely forbidden the love of courtesans, he is


indeed extremely severe. I am not able to deny the principle he states. But he is at variance, not only with the license of his own age, but also from the customs and concessions of our ancestors. When indeed was this not done? When did anyone ever find fault with it? When was permission denied? When was it that that which is now lawful was not lawful?”

What a shock the Christian standard must have been to them when those Gentiles who later embraced it, first heard of its stringent and restrictive measures of conduct! Such discipline must have seemed harsh and inflexible. No such rigid or severe rule had ever been administered to them. Many of them readily embraced the high and noble model which Jesus and the apostles set before them. It was this pattern they emulated and this archetype that became the criterion to which they pointed and asked the world to imitate.

The historian, Edward Gibbon, says this was one of the prime causes of the rapid spread of Christianity across the world in the first century. He called it the pure and austere morals of the early Christians. “The primitive Christian demonstrated his faith by his virtues; and it was very justly supposed that the divine persuasion which enlightened or subdued the understanding must at the same time purify the heart and direct the actions of the believer ... The desire for perfection became the ruling passion of the soul. It was the first, but arduous, duty of the Christian to present himself undefiled.” It was the highest standard of which the world had ever heard. And for thousands across the empire it held an attraction they had never felt before.

Adultery has always been wrong. God's design for man's sexuality was that it be used in an alliance of one man and one woman, married to each other, and committed to each other for a lifetime. The sacredness of marriage and the private, intimate exclusiveness of the marital relationship have always been given special emphasis by God in His word. Marriage was a kind of monopoly, surrounded by some restraints, of those who entered into it.

Listen to some early instructions concerning it: “The man who commits adultery with another man's wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10). That willful


violation of the marriage contract by either of the parties through sexual intercourse with a third party was punishable by death under the law. It was a serious matter! The inviolability of marriage was clearly verbalized in the law God gave to His people.

Attitude Toward Marriage in Jesus' Day

One may read in a number of historical sources that the institution of marriage was at an all–time low about the time Jesus came upon the scene. Due to the Jewish school of thought at that time, divorce was so common at that time that it appeared that almost everybody had been divorced and remarried many times. Some historians believe that divorce and remarriage were far more common in that day than in the time in which we live.

Chandler, in his Trial of Jesus, describes the moral conditions of that day. He told of a woman who married a man and, by him, had several children. She put him away and married another and, by him, bore children. She continued this procedure until she had five husbands.

Juvenal tells of one woman who had eight husbands in five years. Seneca said, “People are getting married to get divorced, and they are getting divorced to get married again.” Does this not sound like a replication from the news columns of the twentieth century? It would be difficult to convince some of us that moral conditions were worse then than now!

Listen to what the Lord said to Moses: “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do’ ” (Leviticus 18:2–3).

The beliefs of the Egyptians gave rise to temple prostitution, as did some of the other fertility religions. The practice of incest was common. The Pharaoh married his own sister, as did others who belonged to nobility.

The religion of Babylon had little linkage with morality. There seemed to be no affiliation between the two! Ishta, the goddess of fertility, was often pictured as a nude female with inviting breasts offered for suck to those who were her devotees. Her love affairs were countless, lively, and stimulating.


History states that Babylon was replete with immorality and the very equivalent of unbridled lust and license. Herodotus, in his history, relates a common custom: “Every native woman is required, once in her life, to sit in the temple of Venus, and have intercourse with some stranger.”

Both male and female concubines were commonplace. Trial marriages were permissible. Eerdman's Handbook of the Bible relates: “In Canaan prostitution and fertility rites were all mixed up in worship.” Whatever form taken by immorality, adultery was the willful violation of the marriage contract by either of the partners through sexual intercourse with a third party. It was not only current and surviving in the first century, it was extensive, even rampant, when Christianity made its debut in the world. In many cultures, it was more than all of that; it was fashionable!

Eleanor Daniel said in her book, What the Bible Says About Sexual Identity, “By the time the New Testament era had been ushered in, the institution of marriage was at an all–time low, even among the Jews. Divorce was common. Seemingly nearly everybody had been divorced and remarried many times. Divorce and remarriage were far more common than in our day.”

One reason that marriage was “at an all–time low” among the Jews was the tremendous influence the school of Hillel had on the nation for forty years. His views prevailed in Jewish theology and dominated religious thought in the time of Jesus. He taught that a man may divorce his wife for any cause.

It is true that there were Jews in that day who held to the teachings of the school of Shammai that one may divorce his wife only on the grounds of sexual infidelity. So, adultery in that day was commonplace and widespread. That did not make it less atrocious and grievous, however, in the sight of God. It was so typical, so ordinary, and so prevalent that the average person certainly did not consider it to be a monstrous sin.

Why is Adultery so Wrong?

There are some things in life that we should do because they are right and there are other things one should abstain from doing


because they are wrong. That is not a very complex or involved philosophy and it is quite understandable.

We taught our children in their growing up that we had a very simple standard—that standard was that there are certain things we do about our home because they are right, and there are certain things we refrain from doing because they are wrong. All of that was based, we believe, upon God's standard of right and wrong. A Christian should not commit adultery because it is wrong! He should be faithful and true to his wife because it is right!

Adultery is wrong because God created man whose sexuality He meant to be a natural impulse toward a deep and personal relationship with another person. While this desire and stimulus is strong, it was never designed to be used promiscuously and indiscriminately. The function of it was to lead to a heterosexual union of a contracted and assured love for that person of the opposite sex. To contravene that standard which God originally set up is an infraction of God's will. It is a violation of His design.

Adultery is wrong because God intended that in the sexual act the two persons become one flesh. Marriage must be a kind of capitulation of one's private identity for the sake of creating an affiliated, corporate makeup. Paul calls this individuality a mystery. “This is a great mystery ...” (Ephesians 5:32).

In this relationship, one relinquishes his personal identity to become coupled in a partnership team with the one whom he promised to love and cherish. If he does not thus forfeit himself to this oneness and God–ordained confederation between two people, the unification of two is not genuine. Their marriage is a farce.

Without this total yielding of self into a synonymousness with the exact counterpart (the wife to whom God has bound him), marriage would be little more than legalized adultery. If that commitment were one that tolerates indiscriminate sexual relations with whoever happens to be available, two people becoming one flesh would be meaningingless. A man cannot become one with more that one woman at the same time. All that I have said here is applicable to the woman as to the man.


Adultery is wrong because it is the betrayal both of an oath and of a person. One's promised word obligates him. It becomes a sacred commitment; and that responsibility cannot be bypassed. It is also the betrayal of a person—what we call in everyday dealings a double cross. This guarantee is made to a partner for life and there are no detours. The terms of the pact made cannot be circumvented. The contract was certified before God and the assurance pledged cannot be evaded or avoided. An Adulterous relationship devastates the wronged partner.

He/she feels plundered because what was thought to exclusively belong to one has now been shared by another and desecrated by the act. A marauder has slipped in and stolen what belonged to the rightful owner. One's rights have been violated; one's territory has been invaded; and ones property has been pillaged. What one once cherished and esteemed has been spoiled and the home has been demolished. Adultery can be branded as stealing—taking unlawfully that which belongs to someone else.

More than all of this, the companion against whom this sin has been committed feels rejected, inadequate, and the loss of self–esteem. The lying and cheating which accompany adultery create a distrust which is difficult, it not impossible, to fully rebuild. To become open and honest with a person again is both challenging and painful.

Adultery is wrong because marriage is the only relationship that can give honorable birth to children. All children need a father and a mother to lead and love them, to shape their plastic and impressionable hearts into what God wants them to be. Mothers are commanded to love their husbands and to love their children. “...speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: ... that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children” (Titus 2:1, 4). These are the kinds of mothers that children need.

Problems that arise could then be solved. In fact, most of them would never occur! The word for love in this passage is a kind, warm, affectionate, understanding, sharing, and sympathetic love. What children are the recipients of this love, and when they see their mother show and shower this love upon their father, the home becomes a haven of peace and bliss and safety and refuge for them.


Paul wrote to Timothy upon this topic: “Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage [rule] the house” (I Timothy 5:14). This word rule comes from a word that means, “to manage the household.” This is what children need. Children born of adultery do not have these blessings and will never know these advantages. Homes broken by adultery twist and warp the minds of children and deprive them of the rewards God intended they enjoy in the home.

These natural endowments God placed in the realm of marriage and the home are exchanged for loneliness, lack of direction, and the temptations of a world without a parent. No wonder God erected such safeguards and issued such warnings. Adultery is the rejection of God's objective for man's use of his sexuality. By engaging in this sin, God's design for marriage and the home is frustrated. His goal for man's happiness is thwarted. Adultery is sin! God's plan for marriage is that it be:

1.  Monogamic in form. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined [joined, cemented, welded] to his wife, and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Jesus quoted this passage in Matthew 19:5 and translated a part of the verse in this way: “and the two shall become one flesh.” When the scriptures discuss this subject, it is always in a one man and one woman relationship.

“In the day that God created man, He made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind [Adam] in the day they were created.” Genesis 5:1–2). The admonition was issued by the Hebrew writer: “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” (Hebrews 13:4).

2.  United in construction. There lives are blended into a unique combination of oneness. It is much more that a physical conjunction of bodies. It is a fusion of lives, an amalgamation of personalities, a merging of identities, and a melding of their very spirits. To infract that relationship by the introduction of adultery is to trespass God's design for the home and to defy His inspired arrangements for the perpetuation of the race. It also infringes His right to the glory which springs from this God–arranged alliance.


3.  Procreative in design. A part of the design of marriage is to have and rear children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It has already been noted in this study that marriage is the only affiliation which affords noble, reputable, and honorable birth to children. That's not just ethical; it's precious.

4.  Indissoluble in nature. We must recognize that God is the Author of marriage. It is He who made it a part of the creative act. It is He who brought and bound them together, and He said, “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband for as long as he lives” (Romans 7:2). It is perpetually binding and obligatory. Man is forbidden to undo it. Adultery works evil against that partnership.

To say that it hurts, harms, and injures it is not quite enough. It wreaks havoc upon that union which God arranged. It is His pattern that man thus damages and destroys. There is prescribed a severe penalty for it in the word of God. May this act as a deterrent to many; but what would be better, far better, would be for Christians to love God and each other immeasurably so that the danger of a broken home through the sin of adultery would be very remote.

“If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15).