Sin of Adultery: Marriage Does Not Legitimize Adultery


As sexual sins continue to increase in our society, we need to be ready with scriptural answers as to why these activities are indeed sin. A few weeks ago we looked at the sin of fornication. The Bible clearly condemns such sexual activity. The focus of this article will be upon adultery as a sin. Many today simply do not understand what adultery is. There have been others who have been mislead by false teachers as to the definition of adultery. Let’s look at what the Bible has to say about it.

The sin of adultery is first discussed in the ten commandments. Exodus 20:14 says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” The commandment assumes that everyone knows what adultery means, but in looking through the scriptures, we see it defined in several scriptures. Leviticus 20:10 states the following: “And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” From this passage we learn that adultery is something that a man and a woman do together. It is something that is done with someone else’s spouse. Jeremiah 3:8 speaks of adultery in the same context as one who is a harlot. A harlot is a prostitute, someone who commits fornication for money. Jeremiah 29:23 confirms that adultery is something done with another’s spouse: “Because they have committed villany in Israel, and have committed adultery with their neighbours’ wives, and have spoken lying words in my name, which I have not commanded them; even I know, and am a witness, saith the LORD.” Ezekiel 16:32 perhaps gives us the clearest definition, “But as a wife that committeth adultery, which taketh strangers instead of her husband!” So we conclude from these scriptures that adultery is fornication with someone else’s spouse. This is the basic biblical definition of adultery. Other passages that place adultery within the realm of sexual sins are: Proverbs 6:26; Hosea 4:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and Hebrews 13:4.

The Bible clearly teaches that adultery is a sin. 1 Corinthians 6:9 states, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind.” Those who practice it will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, i.e. they will not be saved. Hebrews 13:4 states, “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” In contrast to the honorable state of marriage, adultery is dishonorable and worthy of God’s judgment. As we have seen from Leviticus 20:10, those who were caught engaging in adultery were punishable by death. That it is included in the ten commandments as a prohibition also indicates that adultery is a sin.

Many efforts have been made by many false teachers to change the definition of adultery into something that the Bible simply does not teach. There are those who have suggested that adultery is merely covenant breaking. While committing adultery is certainly being unfaithful to one’s spouse and thereby involves breaking a covenant, adultery is not merely covenant breaking. This argument is set forth in an effort to justify marriage relationships between those who have been put away from their spouses for fornication (see Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9). It is alleged that since adultery is merely covenant breaking all one need to do to repent is to not break any more covenants. Thus, the one guilty of this may remarry without consequence. However, such is not the biblical definition of adultery. As we have seen from the scriptures, adultery involves fornication. How does one conclude that adultery is merely covenant breaking? The argument set forth is from the Old Testament examples of the children of Israel going after idols. God called this adultery and those who claim that adultery is merely covenant breaking suggest that the word adultery as used by God did not contain any concept of fornication or other sexual activity, but that they were merely practicing idolatry. Those who argue for such appeal to Jeremiah 3:6-10 as one of their proof-texts for such a definition. There are several things, however, that we should note regarding God’s use of the word adultery to describe idolatry. First, it is the case that many times in the practice of idolatry, the actual sexual act of adultery was committed. Jeremiah 23:13, 14 shows this to be the case. Second, even if the sexual act is not under consideration in such passages, the use of the term is figurative. Jeremiah 3:6-10 clearly indicates this as it places God in the position of being husband to Israel. Was God literally Israel’s husband? No, there was no literal fleshly relationship. God used the example of husband and wife to illustrate the unfaithfulness of the children of Israel. So it is a figurative usage of the term adultery, not a literal one. To appeal to a figurative usage of the term as a complete definition is simply a misunderstanding of the nature of figures within the Bible.

Another passage that many have used to try to support the idea that adultery is merely covenant breaking is Matthew 5:28 which says, “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” It is alleged that since adultery in this passage is obviously not referring to a physical sexual act, then the word must have a meaning that is beyond that physical act. However, a closer examination of this verse indicates that the word IS referring to the physical act. Notice that Jesus says that adultery has been committed, but it is within the heart. What is the heart? It is the mind. The act is still the sexual act, only, it is not committed with the body, but in the mind. The mind can imagine the physical act itself. That does not take away from the definition of the word. Adultery may involve breaking a covenant, but that is not the full scope of the definition of the word in its most literal sense.

Another way in which man tries to escape from the true definition of adultery is to suggest that Jesus redefined adultery in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9. It is suggested by some that since Jesus said, “…whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” and “…Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery,” that it is not the sexual act that is adultery, but the divorcing and remarrying. Those who suggest such say that as long as one repents of divorcing and remarrying then one may continue to live in marriage with whoever that one is married at the time subsequent to multiple divorces and remarriages. However, this is not consistent with the definition of the word. Jesus specific chose the word adultery to say something regarding the legitimacy of such a marriage. That is, adultery is still the sexual sin of fornication with another’s spouse. That is how it is used in the context of Matthew 5:32. That is how the word was understood in the day of Jesus as well. John 8:1-11 bears out this definition. Those who came to Jesus with the woman caught in adultery said that she had been taken “in the very act.” Was this woman caught divorcing and remarrying someone else? That is obviously not what the Pharisees were accusing her of doing. She was taken in the act of fornication with another’s spouse. Jesus recognized this definition and was not seeking to redefine adultery in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9. What was Jesus point in those passages? His point was that marriage does not legitimize adultery. That is, a person cannot divorce his or her spouse, marry someone else, and then claim legitimacy. That situation, according to Jesus, is still defined as adultery. We find corroboration for this in Romans 7:3. Marriage does not dissolve the situation of adultery. One does not repent of adultery by getting married to the person with whom one is committing adultery. One can only repent of adultery by dissolving the relationship with the one with whom one has been committing adultery.

Adultery is a serious sin and one which will cause one’s soul to be lost eternally if one continues in an impenitent state. Adulterers will not inherit God’s kingdom. Adulterers will be judged by God. Adulterers are guilty of practicing sin. Let us preach and teach the truth on this subject to all who are around us. Our society today is steeped in sexual sins including adultery. But these individuals are not lost yet. The gospel has the power to change them if they will obey it. Let us continue to preach the word to those who need it most.