Welcome to Carnivorous Caribou

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Who has Committed Adultery?

Continuing to explore the meaning behind Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 (what many have taken to assume is their permission to divorce), I want to begin by looking at two contextual issues. If you haven’t been keeping up with the series, I encourage you to first read an introduction to the issue as well as an explanation why our reaction to those divorced and those considering divorce must be different.

Before I begin, I would also like to explain that these next few posts (and my theological understanding of these passages) have been greatly influenced by my father. As long I can remember, I have been encouraged to look at these two passages carefully, understanding that diligence must be exercised to attain their genuine meaning. I share about my father’s influence for two reasons:
    a. He is untrained in theology as far as academia is concerned. My father holds no degree in Bible, yet he is one of the greatest systematic theologians I know. His study is proof what the Holy Spirit can do as a person yields his life to His illumination and works hard to show oneself approved.
    b. Possibly more impressive, he’d have personal reason to approach these texts differently. Before coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, my father married, divorced and remarried. If ever there would be a temptation for eisigesis, he certainly felt it. However, he’s been faithful to engage the text accurately, falling upon the grace of God for His redemption.

Context Argument A—Matthew 5:28

Just before Matthew 5:32 (which some mistakenly believe gives them a right to consider divorce), Jesus makes this statement, “but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus makes a pretty clear statement here. Flirtation, a stolen kiss, fantasizing, imaging yourself intimate (sexual or not) with someone else, and pornography are all acts of adultery. Each is an act of infidelity to our spouse.

If He then, just four verses later, desires to say (as some suppose) “You may not divorce your spouse unless he/she has committed adultery,” who remains exempt from this? What marriage stands at this point? Proper Biblical instruction is not to move the bar that determines adultery. It is not our place to say, “Well, everyone commits some acts of infidelity, but it is sexual intercourse alone that can be considered adultery.” For that is not at all what Jesus said.

Quite honestly, at this point most men are pointed at. And at this point, I must confess I do not know a man who has mastered the issue of lust (myself included). However, to see the depth of these words, means a woman is not excluded either. I think it is fair to say that though a woman may not be as visually stimulated as a man (generalization), many women entertain thoughts of being rescued by their “knight in shining armor” and typically that knight is not the man with a potbelly and receding hairline sleeping beside them.

Jesus obviously holds to the sanctity of marriage. Again, do not miss the context that after speaking of divorce He immediately refers to the oath keeping. Yet if every act of infidelity is adultery, and every act of adultery breaks the oath, what is the strength of the oath?

Before we would dig any further into the text, we must see two obvious realities:
    1. Any honest person must realize they have not been faithful to their spouse. We have all committed acts of adultery.
    2. If marriage can be severed simply by these acts of adultery, then none of us have any security in our relationships and our vows are in vain.

No, we must continue to search the text (and we will) for the context suggests what is typically our initial reading must not be accurate.


  • At 5:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm not sure where you are going with this, but please don't use this verse to say that all sins are equal, that the look of adultery is the same in God's eyes as the act of adultery. While both make us guilty as sinners, one carries far greater consquences than the other. (I Cor 6:18)

  • At 9:01 PM, Blogger Lauren Reifsnider said…

    i just want you to post them all at once. i'm not a patient person, danny.


  • At 10:22 PM, Blogger ~d said…

    i have, in the past couple of months, been studying this same passage because one of my friends is struggling mightily with it. i don't know that i have more answers after repeated reading and studying, but i did note that the passage really begins back in verse 20 where Jesus basically says one must be more righteous than the pharisees and teachers of the law to enter heaven. He then seems to proceed to compare what they've been taught in the law with God's absolute righteousness - to show them how far short they still fall. this divorce passage lands in the middle of all of it. you can tell me if i'm way off base, danny, but when you look at it all together, it appears to be an overall picture of how God views human righteousness vs. his righteousness. i don't say that to diminish God's view of divorce; it's simply an observation....and i'm certainly interested in reading more of your posts regarding this issue.

  • At 9:51 AM, Blogger danny2 said…


    i don't believe i stated that all sins are equal in their offense, but i think Jesus did establish that lust = adultery.

    therefore those who want to say that adultery = permission to divorce their spouse are forced to wrestle with the issue!

    afterall, the greek word for adultery in verse 28 is the same greek word for adultery in verse 32 (but we'll be digging into the original languages soon enough!)

  • At 10:18 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    i think you've hit the nail on the head d.

    and it is when we see that human righteousness is NO RIGHTEOUSNESS AT ALL, that we realize our depravity and guilt.

    when i see my guilt in my own marriage, it should change the way i would view my spouse's guilt. and that should have an influence whether i think my spouse has committed an offense worthy of breaking our vows.

  • At 3:09 PM, Anonymous peppo said…


    Based on this logic, the following should also be true:

    The state is justified in putting murderers to death. Everyone who hates his brother has committed murder. Everyone has hated his brother. Therefore, the state has the right to put everyone to death.

  • At 8:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Lust may equal adultery, but the reciprical property does not apply. Adultery does not equal lust. It is worse. Otherwise what is the argument against, "I already looked and lusted, so I'm guilty of adultery, why not do the act?

    On the divorce issue, I think Jesus provides His own answer to the divorce question. Why did God "permit" it? Because of "hardness of heart." Anytime there is a divorce there is at least one hard heart. And when God says in Malachi that He hates divorce, I don't see an exception clause there.

    I'll be following your series with interest.

  • At 9:44 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    brad and steve,

    somehow it seems things got distorted slightly in this evaluation. Jesus says, "lust is adultery." Obviously, this does not mean a person has permission to act upon their lust, for that is just adding sin upon sin.

    to follow you logic, a person should not be punished more for murdering several individuals, because they became a murderer after the first killing. no one believes that.

    but if you draw a second line, is it just as sexual intercourse? and if so, what type? you see, it's critical we keep the line where Jesus kept it (and i know you two do, but your clouding the argument when you worry that this is a green light to have sexual escapades). adultery occurs when lust occurs. Jesus uses the exact same word for adultery in 5:28 and 5:32.

    now as a person continues to pursue their sin, other sins multiply on top of it.

    but i would challenge each of you to consider, at what point you would counsel someone that adultery has taken place: emotional attachment, spending significant time alone with someone, pornography, kissing, sexual intercourse, or something in between.

    the clearer line is from Christ. if you have lusted, you have commited adultery. again, i think the trouble comes when we think 5:32 and 19:9 gives people permission to divorce because of adultery and adultery began at lust, then we're back to the same argument...then all have a right to divorce.

    unless, Jesus isn't giving up permission to divorce.

    (by the way steve, i too have used the "hardness of your heart" argument...and have sadly found people who don't mind saying to me, "yes, my heart is hardened, i've been hurt, this probably isn't the best for me, but i do believe God has given me permission." despite their aweful theology there, the answer truly lies in explaining to them that God does not give them permission, even if their spouse has had sex with someone else, to divorce...and that is the case i am trying to present.)

  • At 11:36 AM, Anonymous peppo said…

    As far as where the line for the exception is to be drawn, Jesus(at least according to Matthew)used the word "porneia" which includes only illicit sexual intercourse. The Old Testament defines these kinds of sins fairly clearly.

    Furthermore, it was only this kind of sexual misconduct that, despite the misinterpretation by the Pharisees, was recognized by God in the Old Testament as a valid grounds for divorce. Even if Jesus hadn't added this exception, it was already clearly taught in scripture.

    I know that you're not planning to discipline all the men and women in your congregation for adultery. But I do believe that you would discipline someone who was out openly fornicating. But why the distinction? After all, you know that according to Jesus, all the members of your church are adulterers.

    Obviously, you recognize the difference between sins of the heart, and sins that have civil or ecclesiastical consequences; lust is one of the former, and fornication is clearly one of the latter. That is why fornication can trigger the dissolution of the civil/ecclesiastical relationship of marriage, and mere lust cannot.

    Of course, Steve isn't worrying that lust gives the green light for fornication, he's just pointing out an inconsistency, the same one I was trying to point out in my comment about hate=murder (which I would be pleased to see you address).


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home