The Seventh Commandment

Exodus 20:14

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
November 2016

“You shall not commit adultery”

We have been studying the Ten Commandments. God spoke these commandments on a mountain audibly to over two million people.  It was an incredible theophany.  These commandments are divided into two parts.  The first part of the Ten Commandments deal with our relationship to God.

The second part deal with our relationship to people.  We are in the second part of the Ten Commandments.  Last week, we looked at the Sixth Commandment.  Today, we will be looking at the Seventh Commandment.

In the Sixth Commandment, we learned that life is sacred.  Every life has value.  In the Seventh Commandment, we learn that marriage is sacred.  It was created by God.  In the Sixth Commandment, we learned that we need to respect our neighbor’s life.  In the Seventh Commandment, we learned that we need to respect our neighbor’s wife.

In the Fifth Commandment, we learned that we need to honor our father and mother. In this commandment we learn that we need to honor our spouse.  This commandment is all about faithfulness.  Apparently, God takes faithfulness seriously.  We are to be faithful to God (the first four commandments).  We also need to be faithful to our spouse.

Marriage Under Attack

The institution of marriage is under attack in our country and has been for some time.  Marriage is in a state of decline.  There is a war on traditional marriage in our culture.   The Supreme Court has changed the definition of who can even get married.

Less people are getting married today compared to fifty years ago.   Some see it as obsolete.  Why get married when you can shack up with someone? People today are having sex without getting married.  They are having kids without getting married.

Less people are getting married and few are staying married.  Divorce rates are high.  Less people these days seem to be staying faithful in marriage.  This command is timeless.  It has never been more relevant than in our own day.

The Seventh Commandment is unique. It is the only one of the Ten Commandments that deals with sexual expression. It deals with sex.  That should get our attention.  Many people feel uncomfortable talking about sex, especially in a church but God was the one who put this on his special list of top ten sins, not me.

It deals with adultery.  God says something here about extra-marital affairs.  He says something to married people who have an intimate relationship with anyone other than his husband or wife.

This is a sin that is not only common today; it was common in the ancient world.  Jeremiah said “the land is full of adulterers” (Jeremiah 23:10) and he lived six hundred years before the time of Jesus.  Jesus said that he lived in “an evil and an adulterous generation.

We see that phrase in Matthew, Mark and Luke (Matthew 12:39; 16:4; Mark 8:38; Luke 11:29). Jesus lived in an adulterous generation two thousand years ago and that was before the age of the internet and the prevalence of pornography.  If His generation was adulterous, what would he calls ours, which is much worse.  We live in a society that is obsessed with sex.

The reason God gave this commandment in the first place is that we are sinners.  We all have a natural tendency to do the things God prohibited.  If these were all things that no one was ever tempted to do, there would be no reason to make it a law.

There is no point in making a law that it is illegal to swim fifty-five miles per hour, as one person put it.  There is no point in making it illegal to eat fifty pounds of beets with each meal.

Since this is such a big problem, God didn’t give this command just once.  He said it over and over again.  He knows that people do not listen too well.  My wife says that husbands do not listen well.  She has to repeat things.  God also repeats some things, so we get the point.

This command is not just in the OT.  It is in the NT as well.  Jesus quotes this commandment word for word in Matthew, in Mark and in Luke (Mark 10:19, Matthew 19:18; Luke 18:20).   Paul quotes it word for word in Romans (Romans 13:9).  It is also quoted in the Book of James (2:11). This is the will of God for your life.

You may be both consenting adults.  God says, “Do not commit adultery.” The person you married may have turned out to be a real loser and a complete moron. God says, “Do not commit adultery.”  Since you got married, you may have met someone you like better who is “your soul mate”.

You hear of that happening all of the time.  God says, “Do not commit adultery.” This is a moral absolute.  It is wrong.  It is always wrong. It was wrong in Moses’ day and it is wrong in our day.  It is wrong at all times and in all places.  There are no exceptions.

Modern Views of Adultery

What God says in this commandment is completely counter-cultural.  What the world says and what God says are two completely different things. Adultery used to be a crime.  Today, it is not even considered a sin.  In our day, adultery is not only seen as not wrong, it is glamorized by Hollywood.

The world sees it as completely harmless.  Some even argue that it is good for you and that it can revive a dull or boring marriage.  The Ashley Madison website glorifies it.  Their motto is “Life is short have an affair.”  Many say that there is nothing wrong with adultery.

One Bible even tells us to do it.  Instead of saying, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” it actually says, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” This Bible is called The Adulterers Bible or The Wicked Bible. It came out in 1631.  It was a misprint.  It was published by a man who worked for the King of England named Robert Barker. This is a different Bob Barker than the TV game show host that we know.

He tried to print another copy of the King James Version, which came out in 1611 but it had this typographical error.  There are many other bibles with similar typos.[1] They tried to destroy all of the copies of this bible all but about a dozen of them still exist today. It is a rare book.  It is a collector’s item today. In 2010, one copy was sold online for $89,000.  One copy is in the collection of the New York Public Library.

Answering the Critics

The world looks at this command very different.  Skeptics do not like it.  They think He is against sex and that He is against people having fun.  There is an old joke about the Ten Commandments.

Moses went up on the mountain and talked to God and came down with two stone tablets.  He said, “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.  The good news is that I finally got them whittled down to ten.  The bad news is that the adultery clause stayed in.

Let’s be honest.  Many people do not like some of the commands in the Bible about sex.  They condemn some of the activities done by consenting adults in private.  Some think that they should have the right to do anything they want with our bodies at any time with anybody they want.  It is no one else’s business what people do behind closed doors.  How do we answer them?

There are several problems with this argument.  It contains one truth but several fallacies.  First, God isn’t against sex.  He created it.  God is pro sex.  He was the one who came up with the idea but He created it exclusively for marriage.  Since He invented it, He has the right to regulate it.  Second, God’s regulations are for our good.  They are meant to help us, not hurt us.  Adultery does not revive a marriage; it kills it.

Adultery is not a victimless crime. The truth is that adultery hurts spouses, destroys marriages, harms children, breaks up families, ruins reputations, and destroys careers. Adultery is not only a problem for individuals; it is a problem for society.  It destroys families and healthy society need healthy families.

Now it is true that, if you have an affair, you can be forgiven, if you repent.  There are two people in the Bible who committed adultery, repented and were forgiven by God. One was in the OT and one was on the NT.  One case involved a man (King David) and one involved a woman (the woman taken in adultery in John 8).

Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you,” even though the woman surrounded by people who condemned her.  Jesus didn’t.  There are plenty of examples of this sin being forgiven.  God can forgive you but that does not mean that your spouse will.  Affairs are the main cause of divorce.  Nothing will destroy a marriage faster.

God’s Attitude toward Adultery

God’s attitudes are completely different.  Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (NIV).

God does not do things the way we do them.  He does not even think the way we do.  The world may approve, justify and even glamorize adultery but in this commandment we see what God’s thoughts on the subject are.

1) Adultery is sin

It is a sin against God.  He gave this commandment.  When Potiphar’s wife gave Joseph an opportunity to sleep with her (an opportunity most young men would not turn down), he said, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”  How did he know this?  He did not just call it wickedness, he called it “GREAT wickedness” He called it “sin against God” (Genesis 39:9 KJV).

It is a form of rebellion.  That is the way sexual sin is today.  Modern man thinks it is a form of progress and liberation.  We are finally throwing off all of these restrictive rules.  We have supposedly evolved as a society.  That does not make people progressive; it just makes them sinful.  Paul dealt with sexual sin in the NT and said, “Anyone, then, who rejects this command does not reject man but God, the very One who gives you His Holy Spirit” (I Thessalonians 4:8 BSB).

That is a perfect description of gay marriage and homosexuality today.  God says one thing.  People do the exact opposite on purpose.  It is rebellion and rebellion is one of the worst sins on the planet.  We know how bad it is when a child rebels against a parent or a student rebels against a teacher.  God says that rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft (I Samuel 15:23).

Adultery is not just a sin against God; it is a sin against your spouse. At marriage, you make a promise to stay married until death.  Adultery breaks that promise.  It is also a sin against your own body.

Paul says, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body” (I Corinthians 6:18 NIV).  That is a radical concept today.  We think if you take drugs or eat too much, you might harm your body.  Paul says that sexual sin is also a sin against the body.

2) Adultery is a major sin

Not only was this was wrong, it was a big deal to God.  Adultery breaks the marriage bond.  It is biblical grounds for divorce (Matthew 5:32; 19:9).  It dissolves the marriage.  In the OT, it was not only a sin, it was a crime.  It was a capital crime.  The Seventh Commandment came right after the sixth commandment (“You shall not murder”).  In fact, the punishment for breaking the Sixth Commandment was death.  That was the same punishment for breaking the Seventh Commandment.

That seems strange to us to have the death penalty for sexual sin.  It seems to make perfect sense to execute rapists and child molesters.  God said that adulterers were to die.  That was a sin done by consenting adults in private.  Apparently, God takes this sin seriously and far more seriously than we do today.

What the NT says is even worse.  The NT says that adulterers will not enter the kingdom.  They will not go to heaven.  Adultery sends people to Hell, if it is not repented.  It says that this is a sin that God will judge.  Society may not judge you.  They may even praise you but Scripture says that this is something that God judges.  The sexually immoral will be confined to the lake of fire.

Paul says, “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters NOR ADULTERERS nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 6:9-10 NIV).

Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge THE ADULTERER and all the sexually immoral” (NIV). In this verse, there are two categories of sexual sins that God is said to judge.  One involves sexual sins committed by married couples (adultery); the other involves sexual sins committed by single people (immorality).

Revelation 21:8 says, “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, THE SEXUALLY IMMORAL, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (NIV).

Many Forms of Adultery

There are many men who have never committed physical adultery.  They have never broken their marriage vow.  They are like the Pharisee who prayed ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, ADULTERERS—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get’ (Luke 18:11 NIV).

The Bible mentions several different kinds of adultery.  Some forms of adultery have absolutely nothing to do with sex and yet if you do it, you are an adulterer in God’s eyes.  Other forms are perfectly legal.  In addition to physical adultery, let’s look at three more.

Spiritual Adultery

This adultery is non-sexual.  Instead of unfaithfulness to your spouse, it is unfaithfulness to God.  Jeremiah 3:20 says, “But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me” declares the LORD” (NIV)  The church is called the bride of Christ.  When James wrote to the church, he called them adulterers and adulteresses (James 4:4).  James called church people adulterers.  When we love the world more than we love Christ, we are spiritual adulterers.  Are we guilty of spiritual adultery?

Mental Adultery

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:27-30)

Jesus said that you can commit adultery on the inside.  You can commit mental adultery. You can commit adultery with your mind, not your body.  You may not have done anything at all but you thought about it.  Jesus does not just say that lust leads to adultery, although that is true. He says that IS adultery. It is a form of adultery.

That doesn’t mean that thoughts are as bad as actions.  All sins are not equal.  Some sins are far worse than other sins.  The Tenth Commandment is the only one that deals with thoughts. “Thou shalt not covet”.  If you broke that commandment, there was no punishment but if you broke the Seventh Commandment, you were to be executed.

Jesus was dealing with the spirit of the law, rather than the letter of the law.  His point is that God wants us to be pure on the inside.  He does not just want us to be pure on the outside.  God is concerned about our heart, not just our body.

We try to get as close to the sin as you can without committing it. Teens today talk about technical virgins.  That is like trying to get as close as you can to fire without being burned or getting as close as you can to the edge of the Grand Canyon without falling over the cliff.  That is the Bill Clinton philosophy.

When Solomon gives advice to young men about prostitutes, he says, “Keep to a path far from her; Do not even go near the door of her house” Proverbs 5:8 NIV). Don’t even get close to the sin.  Paul says, “FLEE sexual immorality” (I Corinthians 6:18). Don’t just resist the sin; RUN from it.

Unbiblical Marriages

We do not normally think of this as adultery. Some second marriages can result in adultery.  Jesus said in Matthew 19:9 NIV, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (cf. Matthew 5:32). You rarely, if ever, hear this preached from the pulpit but some marriages are just legal adultery.  How does that happen?  You fall in love with someone, get tired of them and fall out of love with them.  You find someone else you like better, get a divorce and marry the other person.

Many people have done that.  The singer Amy Grant did that.  It is perfectly legal.  You may not have had an affair or slept with anyone before remarrying.  What’s the problem?  In God’s eyes, you were still married to the first person.  Your divorce and remarriage may have been perfectly legal but it was not moral.[2]


[2] The background to Jesus’ comments was the marriage of Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, the one who ruled the whole area of Galilee during the ministry of Jesus. John the Baptist preached against his marriage and got his head cut off.

Josephus tells us that one day Antipas visited his brother Philip in Rome. Both were married at the time but, while he was there, Antipas fell in love with Philip’s wife Herodias, so both Antipas and Herodias got a divorce, so they could get married.  That is what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 5:32; 19:9.

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