At first, a narrow concept of “adultery”

Posted Oct 8, 2019

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This week we are memorizing:

Do not commit adultery.

Daily Scripture

Exodus 20:14

14 Do not commit adultery.

Proverbs 6:23-32

23 The commandment is a lamp and instruction a light;
    corrective teaching is the path of life.
24 They guard you from the evil woman,
    from the flattering tongue of the foreign woman.
25 Don’t desire her beauty in secret;
    don’t let her take you in with her eyelashes,
26         for a prostitute costs a loaf of bread,
        but a married woman hunts for a man’s very life.
27 Can a man scoop fire into his lap
    and his clothes not get burned?
28 If a man walks on hot coals,
    don’t his feet get burned?
29 So is the man who approaches his neighbor’s wife;
    anyone who touches her will be punished.
30 People don’t despise a thief if he steals
    to fill his starving stomach.
31 But if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold;
    he must give all the riches of his house.
32 He who commits adultery is senseless.
    Doing so, he destroys himself.

Reflection Questions

The way that Israel’s sages wrote in Proverbs on living out the seventh commandment was accurate, but relatively narrow. Their focus was on “the man who approaches his neighbor’s wife.” The passage knew that a woman could act seductively (“with her eyelashes”—verse 25), yet in the end it spoke to “he who commits adultery.” Violating someone else’s committed marriage was (and is) clearly a hurtful choice. But this passage seemed to limit the commandment to only one kind of male action.

  • Verse 26 may jolt us. Was Proverbs endorsing prostitution? Scholar John Goldingay clarified: “Proverbs isn’t implying that recourse to a prostitute or having an affair with an unattached woman is simply fine; it’s rather pointing out that an affair with someone else’s wife will cost much more than that kind of dalliance.” How did even that pragmatic warning link sex with the relationships it creates or destroys, rather than just with physical sensations?
  • Leviticus 20:10 also defined adultery only as something a man did with a “married woman.” It said adultery was one of the actions for which ancient Israel executed people. So they enforced the seventh commandment in a way that showed how they limited the application of the sixth commandment. The Proverbs passage we read today didn’t mention execution. What light does that cast on how God’s people’s sense of the right way to deal with those who didn’t keep the commandments shifted over time?


God, you have been so patient with your people as, through the centuries, our insight into your vast love and the lives that grow from it has grown. I’m not “there” yet—keep me growing. Amen.

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Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory is a volunteer for the worship and missions teams at Church of the Resurrection. He helps lead worship at Leawood's modern worship services, as well as at the West and Downtown services, and is involved with the Malawi missions team at home.

I normally try to delve into the day’s scripture passage and give an in-depth and unexpected take on it in my insights, but I don’t know that there’s a lot that’s nuanced about today’s passage. The bible is pretty clear on a pretty black and white issue: intermarital affairs do a lot of damage to families, and individuals. I don’t say this to heap guilt on anyone who’s been involved in one and dealt with the consequences—in fact, those people will probably be the first to tell you about the dangers of doing so. When extramarital affairs are brought into the picture, relationships can get ugly. Ironically, ugly relationships are what we try to avoid in marriage overall, like as a rule, but it’s this avoidance that may be part of the problem.

I don’t have any stats available, but it’s been my experience that most people involved in an affair didn’t really do it because of the tempting forbidden fruit; they did it because they were unhappy in their marriage. The forbidden fruit might always be dangerous, but people will go to greater lengths to get it when they’re malnourished. So please do not here that you have to buckle down and just be happy with your marriage as it is for the rest of your life. It is OK to be unhappy with your marriage, because there are healthy ways to deal with that; it is not OK to use an extramarital affair to cope with an unhappy marriage. 

Giving yourself permission to be unhappy in a marriage can be a vital step in making it better. Without that, we tend to just smolder with quiet rage, wishing things could be different but unable to see a way to make them better. Then we start asking, can I really live with this for my whole life? Can I live with this for another year? Can I live with it once our kids are in school? And if you don’t give yourself permission to be unhappy and express it, these are very tough questions to answer.

It’s OK to want a better relationship, and that takes openness about the relationship’s faults. These can be painful to talk about—in fact, they can introduce marital problems of their own—but no matter how painful, it’s less painful than an affair. Counseling can be a huge help in having these conversations and acting on them. Marriage counseling can save a marriage, and it helps give an even platform for both parties to talk about their frustrations in a safe environment. But beyond that, individual therapy can also be a huge help in some cases, like a woman who struggles with setting boundaries, or a man who didn’t have a healthy family to model and needs guidance. Our church team can talk to you and point you in the direction of a counselor that works best for your situation.

The sad truth is that some problems are beyond counseling, and it has everything to do with the mindset of the people involved. If a spouse is abusive or emotionally controlling and refuses to listen to reason when it’s made clear to him or her, that might be a dead end. I don’t want to condemn these people to horrible marriages with partners who will never get better, and I don’t think God would want to either. Divorce can also be painful, even brutal, but there are cases where it’s less harmful than the marriage. And in many situations, a divorce would still be less harmful than an affair. This can be an even harder choice to make, because going through a divorce can seem an insurmountable task, and you may just want an out. When that happens, an affair can seem like an easy solution. It’s not. Divorce is hard, but it’s the best outcome in these situations.

If your marriage has stagnated and you’ve begun to get frustrated with recurring problems, asking yourself if they’ll be there for the rest of the marriage, it’s worth bringing that up with your partner and possibly suggesting counseling, not as a way to win any argument, but as a way to reach solutions and compromises that make both parties happy. If you’ve done that and there is no chance of anything changing, it may be time for an ultimatum (although that gets into some tricky territory too). I’d talk to a pastor before doing that. But the point is that an affair is not only a harmful thing to do, it’s also a terrible problem-solving tool. If you’re thinking about an affair, think about why, and find other solutions to those problems. It will end up being a better solution to the problem anyway.

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