Author: Ron Graham

Man Woman

What God Says About Adultery
—Adultery defined and the problem discussed

Adultery has a devastating effect on family life and Australian society, yet adultery is not a punishable offence under Australian law. However, God takes a very different view of adultery, and Australians toshould be listening to God.

Australian law even makes adultery “respectable” by allowing, and certifying, divorce and remarriage. One may have got legally divorced and remarried according to Australian law, yet still be an adulterer by God's law. "So then if, while a woman's husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress though she is married to another man" (Romans 7:3, cf Mark 10:12). The same of course is true of a man whose wife still lives but he has married another wife. He will be called an adulterer.

There is only one exception to this (Matthew 5:32). If the divorced wife or husband had committed adultery, giving rise to the divorce, then the one who remarries does not commit adultery. That, however, does not make the divorce right or the remarriage right. But it does show the former marriage was dissolved.

Having clarified those few matters, let's now look at three aspects of this sin of adultery. I know it's not a happy subject, and you may not think it edifying, but we need to understand what God thinks about this scourge on our society.

1 Adultery is Worthy of Death

It comes as a shock to some people to learn how severely God dealt with adultery. When king Abimelech took Sarah (Abraham's wife) into his harem, God appeared to him in a dream and said, "Behold, you are a dead man, because of the woman you have taken, for she is a man's wife." (Genesis 20:3). Fortunately for Abimelech he had not had sex with her yet, so he was able to save his skin.

In Old Testament times, adultery was regarded as a major crime, a capital offence. Convicted adulterers were killed. "And the man who commits adultery with another man's wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death." (Leviticus 20:10)

The book of Proverbs strongly warns against adultery. "Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? ...Whoever commits adultery with his neighbour's wife lacks understanding. He who does so destroys his own soul." (Proverbs 6:23-35)

It is true that God, for a time, let men have more than one wife. He also permitted men to divorce their wives and take new ones. However one fact remains: what the old law did recognize as adultery, it treated as a crime worthy of death.

2 Adulterers Will be Judged

It also comes as a shock to some people, when they learn that God takes a stronger view of adultery now than he did in Old Testament times. "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual immorality, commits adultery, and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery" (Matthew 19:8-9).

The New Testament's stand is clear and strong: "Marriage is honourable among all, and the bed undefiled, but fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4). We had all better make sure that we do not commit adultery. The punishment under Jesus will be much worse for us than it was under Moses. "Anyone who rejected Moses's law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment do you suppose one will be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot...?" (Hebrews 10:28-29).

Fornication, including adultery, is singled out by the Holy Spirit as different to all other sins. It violates your body which belongs to God (1Corinthians 6:18-20). Worse, it is an exceptional sin against a marriage (Matthew 5:32). If, on account of that sin, a divorce takes place, the marriage is destroyed before its time. Nothing but death should destroy a marriage, but adultery usurps the power of death. An adulterer destroys his marriage as surely as though he murdered his wife.

3 Adultery Can be Forgiven

Certainly Jesus will forgive the sin of adultery for the penitent as he will forgive any other sin. Do not think, however, that he has left a loophole in God’s law. Do not imagine that you can repent of adultery, and be forgiven, without a genuine determination never to commit adultery again. "If we go on sinning wilfully after receiving a knowledge of the truth, there remains no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation..." (Hebrews 10:26-27). You need to know this: "Be not deceived. God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption..." (Galatians 6:7-8).

David committed adultery with Bathsheba the wife of one of his loyal soldiers, Uriah the Hittite. Bathsheba became pregnant to David. David tried a deception to make it look as though the baby was Uriah's, but the ruse failed. So then David contrived to get Uriah killed in battle, and that treachery succeeded. Nathan the prophet condemned David. God took the child of the union —the baby boy died in David's stead, even though David had begged God to let the boy live. David was later genuinely and truly sorry for his adultery and its shocking consequences. God showed mercy to David by forgiving him his sin (2Samuel 11 & 12).. David's prayer for forgiveness is recorded in the Psalms (Psalms 51:1-17). If you are genuine like David, God will forgive you too.

If God will forgive adultery, should any man or woman be unwilling to forgive? We are to "forgive those who trespass against us" (Matthew 6:12,14 Knox). Of course some who commit adultery have no remorse or repentance. They have no wish to be forgiven by the husband or wife they have sinned against. On the other hand, some victims of adultery have no mercy. They have no wish to forgive and be reconciled (Ephesians 4:31-32). Instead they divorce the adulterer and assert it was their “right” to do so. Adultery is not easy to forgive. Nevertheless, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration of the marriage, if at all possible, should be one's first aim. Divorce should be the very, very last resort.