The Seventh Commandment

Exodus 20:14

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
April 2014

For the last three weeks, we have been looking at the Sixth Commandment. Today, we come to the Seventh Commandment. It is a commandment that is very relevant in our day.  It is an extremely important commandment.  The Seventh Commandment is the only one of the Ten Commandments that deals with sex.  It is only four words. “Do not commit adultery”.

Definition of Adultery

What is adultery?  What is the definition? There are different ways to define the term.  I am defining it as cheating on your spouse or having an affair. If you are married and are having sex with anyone other than your husband or wife, you are committing adultery.  It refers to consensual extra marital sex.  It is like the man who says, “I’ve been in love with the same woman for twenty years. If my wife ever finds out, she’ll kill me!”

We see this definition in Hebrews 13:4.  Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage is to be honored by all, and husbands and wives must be faithful to each other. God will judge those who are immoral and those who commit adultery.” (GNB).  Note the two categories of sexual sins.  One category is for the married (adulterers) and one category is for the unmarried (fornication or sexual immorality).

If this is the case, you have to be married to commit this sin. Technically a single person can NOT commit adultery. A single person can cause a married person to commit adultery.  If you are single and have sexual relations it would be called fornication, not adultery, because no marriage covenant has been violated.

The Shift in Attitudes Toward Adultery

Attitudes toward adultery have changed throughout the years.  People feel very differently about adultery than they did in biblical times.  There are several differences.

1) Adultery used to be rare. Now it is common.

Adultery used to be rare, although even Jeremiah said, “the land is full of adulterers” (Jeremiah 23:10). Jesus said that he lived in “an evil and an adulterous generation” (Matthew 16:4; 12:39).  We also live in a day in which sexual immorality and adultery are rampant.  It had become an epidemic.

It is so rampant that even our leaders are guilty of this.  We have had members of Congress[1], governors[2], and Presidents[3] commit adultery. When I was younger, I was aware that JFK had an affair with Marilyn Monroe.  What I did not know was that he had affairs with many women.  JFK was a serial adulterer.  It is not just political leaders who do this.  Some religious leaders do it as well, as we see adultery even in the church.  It is common among some preachers today.

It does not just happen in small churches.  It happens in big churches.  In 2006, it happened to Ted Haggard, the pastor of a 14,000 member church in Colorado Springs which he founded.  He railed against homosexuality and then was caught with a male prostitute.  Within the last year, three mega-church pastors were caught in an adulterous relationship.

2) Adultery used to involve shame. Now it has little shame.

Proverbs 6:32-33 says, “But a man who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does so destroys himself. Blows and disgrace are his lot, and his SHAME will never be wiped away”. It involves some shame when Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter but that attitude is completely gone today.  People are less tolerant today of sexual sin. It is a private matter and, after all, we are told that we are not to judge or criticize people.

It is no longer shocking today to hear about it.  People who do it have no sense of shame or guilt. If you have an affair, there is no social stigma today.  It has lost its stigma.  It is much more socially accepted today.  Most evangelicals believe that if a pastor commits adultery, he can be restored if he follows all of the requirements laid out for restoration.

The Pentecostal preacher Jimmy Swaggart was caught with a prostitute in 1986.  He supposedly repented and his denomination he could return to the pulpit in three month.  That was later changed to two years.  Swaggart refused to follow what his own denomination required that he left the denomination and started a non-denominational church but soon after that happened, he was caught meeting with prostitutes again.

3) Adultery used to be considered wrong.  Now it is considered almost therapeutic.

Adultery used to be a crime.  Today, it is not even considered a sin.  Many say that there is nothing wrong with adultery. The world says that half of all married men do it.  People justify it like they have done nothing wrong.  Proverbs 30:20 says, “This is the way of an adulterous woman: She eats and wipes her mouth and says, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong.’

It is even in some Bibles. There is a Bible called The Adulterers Bible. It also goes by the name The Wicked Bible.  Everyone knows about the King James Version which was published in England in 1611 but few know who published it. 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.  In 1631 he tried to print the King James Version again. 

Barker intended in 1631 to make a reprint of the KJV but it had one mistake in it. It had a typographical error.  It left the word “not” out of the Seventh Commandment.  Instead of saying, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” it says, “Thou shalt commit adultery”. They tried to burn all of the copies of this bible all but about a dozen of them still exist today.  In 2010, one copy was sold online for $89,000.

Today, adultery is not only seen as not wrong, it is glamorized in some movies.  Some even argue that it is good for you and that it can revive a dull marriage.  One website promotes it.[4]  Its motto is “Life is short have an affair”.  What does God say about adultery?  God’s thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).  The way God thinks and the way people think are completely different.  God says that adultery is WRONG.  It made God’s top ten list.  It is a moral absolute. It was wrong in Moses’ day and it is wrong in our day. It is wrong at ALL times and for ALL people. It is condemned in the OT. It is condemned in the NT.  It was not just wrong, it was a crime.

In the OT, it was not just a crime, it was capital crime.  Leviticus 20:10 says, “‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife – with the wife of his neighbor -both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.”  That seems strange to us.  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 very seriously.  The fact that it was a capital crime means that He considers it ultimate evil and demanded the ultimate punishment society can give it.

General Questions

Why is adultery wrong?  Some believe the Bible is primitive.  They believe that this is just an example of male chauvinism.  Many think that adultery is was a crime of property. Bill Maher says, “Adultery is a property crime in the Old Testament, not a sex crime”.  If a man took another man’s wife, he was harming his property.  This is a common view among skeptics and it is based on Exodus 20:17.  “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, OR ANYTHING THAT BELONGS TO YOUR NEIGHBOR.

However, there are some problems with this view.  Adultery is not a property crime.  If that were the case, then only men could commit adultery.  Women could not commit adultery because they would not be stealing the wife’s property.  By that logic, it would NOT be wrong for a woman to seduce a married man.  If that were the case, only men should be punished.  If I take something from my neighbor, I alone should be punished but the Bible says that BOTH the adulterer and adulteress are punished (Leviticus 20:10).

Adultery is wrong because it is a violation of the marriage vows.  You made a vow to your wife that you would remain faithful to her until death and those vows are before God.  It is also wrong because it is an abuse of the sexual relationship.  God created sex exclusively for the marriage relationship.

Can you be forgiven if you commit adultery?  Yes.  Jesus said every kind of sin and blasphemy can be forgiven but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Matthew 12:31).  Usually, we tend to focus on the second half of that verse and miss out on what Jesus says in the first half of the verse.  Jesus says that EVERY KIND of sin and blasphemy can be forgiven.  Every kind of sin includes sexual sins.  It includes adultery.  Now Jesus made an exception.  He said, “except for the blasphemy against the Spirit” but that is a verbal sin.  It is not a sexual sin.  Adultery is a sin that can be forgiven.

There are even people in the Bible who committed adultery and were forgiven.  There is an example in the OT and an example in the NT.  King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and was forgiven by God after he genuinely repented.  You can read about his adultery in II Samuel 11.  It took him a year to repent and God had to send Nathan the prophet to confront him but he finally repented and wrote Psalm 51 afterwards.

In the NT, the woman who was caught in adultery was also forgiven by Jesus in John 8.  He said, “Neither do I condemn you”.  Unfortunately, being forgiven by God is no guarantee that your marriage will survive.  In fact, Jesus said that adultery is grounds for divorce.  He said that sexual immorality is grounds for divorce (Matthew 5:32; 19:9).  To this day, adultery is grounds for divorce in most states.

Sin has consequences.  We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7).  Adultery is a marriage killer.  It hurts spouses, destroys marriages, harms children, breaks up families, ruins reputations, and, in some cases, destroys careers.  Proverbs 6:32 says, “Whoever commits adultery destroys himself” and it destroys a lot of other people as well.

The Steps to Adultery

What steps lead to adultery?  There are several different ways it happens but it usually does not happen overnight. It often doesn’t begin with sex. It begins when you make an emotional connection with a person who is not your spouse.   Someone else besides your spouse begins to meet your emotional needs.  You look forward to meeting that person and make excuses to get together.

You begin to be dishonest with your spouse. You mentally compare that person with your spouse and start flirting with that person, which leads to some type of physical contact which leads to something more serious.  Some time the culprit is Facebook.  People talk about the “Facebook Adulteries” as some try to reconnect with old boyfriends or girl friends.  Many adulterous relationships begin with Facebook.

How to Prevent Adultery

How do you prevent adultery? What are some practical ways to stay faithful to your wife?

1. Recognize the danger

The first step in preventing adultery is to recognize the problem.  Adultery is a sin that anyone can commit.  Even mature Christians and pastors of churches can fall into this sin.  King David, a man after God’s heart, the man who wrote many of the psalms, committed this sin. “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (I Corinthians 10:12).

2. Have a strong marriage

Drink water from your own cistern, and running water from your own well. Should your fountains be dispersed abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be only your own, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; And always be enraptured with her love. For why should you, my son, be enraptured by an immoral woman, and be embraced in the arms of a seductress? For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He ponders all his paths. (Proverbs 5:15-21)

One of the best ways to prevent adultery is to have a strong marriage. That is the best antidote. It is the best prevention.  Spend quality time with your wife.  Be intimate with your wife.  That goes beyond sex.

Solomon was talking to husbands and told them to drink from their own well, not their neighbor’s well (5:15). They are to find pleasure and sexual satisfaction in their wife (5:15), not in some other woman. That is the picture of drinking from a well, quenching your thirst. Find joy and delight in your wife (5:18).  The solution that is given in Proverbs is not just negative (stay away from the prostitute and do not even go near the door of her house) but is positive (find satisfaction in your spouse).

Cisterns were used in the ancient world to store water.  In that culture, a cistern was a private water supply for the household but he is not talking about drinking about water at all.  Solomon describes a wife as a cistern (5:15) and a well (5:15).  She is also described as a deer and a doe (female deer) in 5:19. We have a few of those on our property.  These animals are symbols of gentleness, kindness and beauty.

3. Don’t get close to this sin

For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave. She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it. Now then, my sons, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say. Keep to a path FAR from her, DO NOT GO NEAR THE DOOR OF HER HOUSE” (Proverbs 5:3-8)

Solomon says do not even go near the door of her house. Don’t even get close to the sin. Don’t try to get as close to the sin as you can without committing it. 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. The Bible says to FLEE sexual immorality (I Corinthians 6:18) and that includes adultery. Flee means, not just to resist the sin but to RUN from it.

4. Remove the source of temptation

Jesus said, “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 5:29-30)

The way to have victory over sin is to remove the source of temptation. Deal with the source of the temptation. Cut it off, as Jesus says.  What is offending you? What is causing you to sin? It’s that simple. Avoid any person, any place or anything which might cause us to sin. How are you tempted to sin in this area?

Is it through watching certain movies? Is it by going to certain places? Is it looking at certain magazines? Is it the Internet? If it is the Internet, you can get a filter and keep your computer in a public area at home.  If it is a person, that means avoiding or limiting contact with that person.

Relevance Today

Many of us come to the Seventh Commandment and think we are off the hook for two reasons. First, some of you have never had an affair. You have never cheated on your spouse. Second, some of you are not even married. The point of the Seventh Commandment is sexual purity.  Is that important just for married people?  No.  It is important for singles as well.

The Bible has a lot to say about that topic.  It tells us that this is the will of God for us to abstain from sexual immorality (I Thessalonians 4:3).  It commands us to abstain from sinful desires which wage war against the soul (I Peter 2:11).  It tells us to flee youthful passions (II Timothy 2:22).  It tells us that there should not be even a hint of sexual immorality or any kind of impurity among us (Ephesians 5:3).

Jesus and the Seventh Commandment

What did Jesus say about the Seventh Commandment? Jesus mentioned two other ways that this commandment is broken today.

1. Unbiblical Divorce (Legal Adultery)

We do not normally think of this as adultery. You rarely, if ever, hear this preached from the pulpit but Jesus said that some second marriages can result in adultery (Matthew 5:32; 19:9). This is not the traditional definition of adultery. Most scholars believe that Jesus was referring to 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. What was wrong with his marriage?

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 what did they do? Both Antipas and Herodias got a divorce, so they could get married. It was perfectly legal. It just wasn’t moral. In the eyes of God, Philip and Herodias were still married. What they two of them did was to commit adultery through remarriage. Now all divorce and remarriage is not adultery but in this case it would be.

Getting a divorce WITHOUT BIBLCAL GROUNDS in order to marry someone else you fall in love with is adultery. Do people still do this today? Yes. Even some Christians have done this. They are married to one person and they find their “soul mate”. So they get a divorce and marry that person. That is what Amy Grant did in 1999. She was married to Gary Chapman for sixteen years and had three kids by him. Then she fell in love with a married man who she called her “soul mate”. Both of them got a divorce and married each other less than a year later.

2. Sexual Lust (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.” (Matthew 5:27-28)

Why did Jesus say this?  There are many men who would never commit physical adultery.  In fact, they are proud that they have never broken their marriage vow but that does not stop them from fantasizing about having an affair with another woman. What Jesus says here is very radical.  It is completely counter-cultural.  According to the world, this is completely natural and normal. Fantasies are harmless. At least it is safe sex. You can’t get an STD from impure thoughts. You can’t get anyone pregnant that way.

This is a real problem for most men. Samson was the strongest man in the Bible.  He tore apart a lion apart with his bare hands.  He knocked down pillars of a huge temple by pushing on them but he was extremely weak in this area.  The strongest of men was defeated by the weakest of women.  This is a big problem for men.  It may be that this is why Jesus said, “If a MAN looks at a woman lustfully” because this is a sin that men are more prone to, although this is also a temptation for some women. What does Jesus say about this topic? He makes two completely radical statements.

1) Lust is Adultery

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.  Jesus said that adultery is wrong and thinking about adultery is wrong.  Jesus does NOT just say that lust leads to adultery, although that is true (Matthew 15:19-20). He says that lust IS adultery. Jesus said, “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has ALREADY committed adultery WITH HER in his heart” (5:29). It is a form of adultery.

Now we need to be very careful here.  The natural sex drive is not wrong.  God created it.  Acknowledging someone is physically attractive is not wrong but deliberately looking at someone who is not your spouse and lusting is sin.  That is the very purpose of pornography.  The purpose of pornography is looking at women or men to lust after them.  It is a big business.

The point here is that God is concerned about our heart, not just our body.  God wants our heart.  Many can be pure on the outside and impure on the inside.  We can keep the letter of the law but break the spirit of the law.  That is the Bill Clinton approach.  “I did not have sex with that woman”.  The way he defined sex, he didn’t.  Teens talk about technical virgins.  They miss the whole point.  They are not virgins at all.

2) Adultery sends people to Hell

Jesus warned about the danger of being thrown into Hell over this sin (Matthew 5:29-30). Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage is to be honored by all, and husbands and wives must be faithful to each other. GOD WILL JUDGE those who are immoral and those who commit adultery” (GNB).   Paul said,  “Do you not know that the unrighteous 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)

Matthew 5:20 says, For I tell you that unless your righteousness SURPASSES that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly NOT enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Jesus is giving his disciples the entrance requirements to the kingdom. This would have been a shocking statement to the people who heard this. We have to be more righteous than the Scribes and Pharisees to get into heaven.  Jesus even uses the double negative in Greek for emphasis.  If you do not do this, there is no possible way that you will enter into heaven.

This seemed literally impossible to do. The Pharisees were the most religious people in Jesus’ day.  They said long prayers. They fasted twice a week.  They tithed even down to garden vegetables.  They were the most righteous people on the planet.  Jesus says that it is not enough to be a perfect Pharisee.  He says that you have to surpass them to enter into heaven.

How do you do that?  Fast four times a week instead of two?  Say longer prayers?  No. You have to have a completely different kind of righteousness than the Pharisees had.  It is qualitative, rather than quantitative.  The Pharisees were righteous on the outside but not on the inside (23:27-28).  Their righteousness was external, not internal.

Is Jesus teaching salvation by works?  Do you have to work your way into heaven and work harder than the Pharisees?  No. Jesus was not teaching how to be saved.  He was talking to believers in Matthew 5.  He is talking to his disciples (cf. 5:1).  If you want to find out how to get saved, you have to read about the new birth in John 3 where Jesus explained how to have eternal life.  Jesus is explaining in Matthew 5 who will and who will not be saved.  He is not telling how you get saved.  What He is saying is that, if you are really saved, you have to be different on the inside as well as the outside. If your righteousness is just external and outward (like the Pharisees), you will NOT be in heaven.

[1] E.g., Bob Livingston, David Vitter, John Ensign.

[2] E.g., Mark Sanford, Eliot Spitzer, David Paterson.

[3] E.g., Harding, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Clinton.



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