Adultery: How and why has one of the Ten Commandments somehow lost its sinful edge in America? If you want to review and be reminded of what happens to an unfaithful spouse, this one is a must read.



Greek: moicheuo \moy-khyoo'-o\
Hebrew: na'aph \naw-af'\

1. Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married man and someone other than his wife or between a married woman and someone other than her husband.
Translated: always “adultery” (KJV, NKJV, NASV, ESV, NIV, NLT, NCV, GNT, ASV, RSV, The Message)

Seriously, it’s a commandment!

You shall not commit adultery. Ex 20:14; Dt 5:18

God’s design and intent for marriage is that it be a joyful, fulfilling, and lasting covenant relationship between one man and one woman. On their wedding day, the bride and groom pledge (among a host of other things like love, cherish, care for, and respect) that they will “forsake all others,” meaning that they will remain sexually faithful to each other “till death do them part.” When one of them breaks that sacred, exclusive, and serious arrangement by having sex with someone who is not their spouse, they have broken the covenant (and the seventh commandment) by committing the sin of adultery.

Sadly, in our current culture, adultery is so common that we often dumb down the word so it doesn’t seem as harsh, ugly, or sinful. Words and phrases like “extramarital affair,” “romantic affair,” “cheating,” “extracurricular activity,” “infidelity,” “playing around,” “hanky-panky,” or even “two-timing” seem to lessen the blame, responsibility, and shame of wearing the true label of an adulterer. The reality is that no matter what word you use, committing the act of adultery is blatant unfaithfulness to the spouse as well as a clear sin against God.

A short history: “Almost, close, and the very act”

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Heb 13:4

The following three biblical accounts concerning adultery make it clear that adultery was (and still is) not only a breaking of a marriage covenant, but even more importantly, a sin against God. It is described as evil, displeasing, and worthy of death. Let these act as warnings to anyone contemplating being sexually unfaithful to their spouse.

Restrained Adultery: In a most unusual move to protect his own life, Abraham while journeying in the land of Gerar, passed off his wife Sarah as his sister to Abimelech, King of Gerar (Gen 20). Before the king has time or occasion to commit adultery with Sarah, the LORD confronts Abimelech in a dream telling him that he was a dead man for taking another man’s wife. In a clear display of God’s restraining grace, God keeps Abimelech from committing adultery with Sarah. To point this out, God tells the king, “It was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her (Gen 20:6).” The end result is, “no harm, no foul:” Abraham gets his wife back and continues on with his journey.

Attempted Adultery: While Joseph is working for an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh named Potiphar, he has a very close encounter with adultery. One day, Potiphar’s wife casts her eyes on Joseph (who is described as “handsome in form and appearance”) and tries to seduce him to “lie with her” while her servants and husband were out of the house (Gen 39:6-23). As the story goes, she then tempted him to commit adultery “day after day.” In response, Joseph replies: “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God (Gen 39:9)?” Eventually, the wife gets quite frustrated and tells her husband that Joseph tried to assault her, which results in him getting tossed into prison.

The Very Act of Adultery: The next episode of interest is the classic biblical account of the very act of adultery between King David and Bathsheba, Uriah the Hittite’s wife (2 Sam 12). While Uriah is off at war, David is enticed by the beauty of Bathsheba while she is taking a bath (!) and calls for her and sleeps with her. To make matters worse, as a cover up, David has Uriah murdered on the battlefield. Not unexpectedly, God sends the prophet Nathan to say to David, “Why have you despised the word of the LORD to do what is evil in his sight?” David, confronted with his sin of adultery (and now murder), responds to Nathan’s admonishment with the repentant, “I have sinned against the LORD.” The result is that David is forgiven but he also hears the judgment on his sin, “Because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.” Shortly thereafter, the child in fact, dies.

Do you “mind?”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus not only affirms the Old Testament commandment on adultery, but actually expands upon and gives greater weight to it. His “But I say to you” revelation is that lust is really the same as adultery. Who could have seen that one coming? What he makes clear in his teaching is that lust – that longing, thinking, dwelling, fantasizing, and/or imagining about committing adultery in our minds – is (in the eyes of God) the very same as committing the physical act of adultery. In a nutshell, Jesus is warning us, “Don’t even think about it!”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. Mt 5:27-30

To follow this up, Jesus goes on to teach that adultery is the grounds for divorce. He explains that those who divorce their wives for anything except the grounds of sexual immorality make her commit adultery, and further, that those who marry a divorced woman (while her former husband is still alive) also commits adultery. (NOTE: Although adultery is in fact the grounds for divorce, it does not follow that a divorce must occur since adultery has been committed.)

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Mt 5:31-32

For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Rom 7:2-4 (The Apostle Paul)

Heed the warning signs

In the Book of Proverbs, King Solomon cautions his sons about the sin of adultery by giving them six different warning signs for them to heed. Since he is writing to his sons, they seem to our modern (and politically correct) ears a bit gender biased. However, please keep in mind both the husband and the wife need to be keenly aware of anyone who would seek to tempt and trap either him or her into committing adultery.

Keep your distance

And now, O sons, listen to me,
 and do not depart from the words of my mouth. Keep your way far from her,
 and do not go near the door of her house. Prv 5:7-8

And now, O sons, listen to me,
 and be attentive to the words of my mouth.
 Let not your heart turn aside to her ways;
 do not stray into her paths. Prv 7:24-25

For at the window of my house
 I have looked out through my lattice,
 and I have seen among the simple,
 I have perceived among the youths,
 a young man lacking sense,
 passing along the street near her corner,
 taking the road to her house
 in the twilight, in the evening,
 at the time of night and darkness. Prv 7:6-9

Do not make prolonged eye contact

Do not let her capture you with her eyelashes. Prv 6:25

My son, give me your heart,
 and let your eyes observe my ways.
 Prv 23:26

Keep her (him) out of your thoughts

Do not desire her beauty in your heart. Prv 6:25

Keep your distance and don’t fall for her (him)

For a prostitute is a deep pit;
 an adulteress is a narrow well. Prv 23:27

The mouth of forbidden women is a deep pit;
 he with whom the LORD is angry will fall into it. Prv 22:14

Be satisfied with your own wife (husband)

Drink water from your own cistern,
 flowing water from your own well.
 Should your springs be scattered abroad,
 streams of water in the streets?
 Let them be for yourself alone,
 and not for strangers with you.
 Let your fountain be blessed,
 and rejoice in the wife of your youth,

 a lovely deer, a graceful doe. 
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
 be intoxicated always in her love.
 Prv 5:15-19

Always remember God is watching you

For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD,
 and he ponders all his paths.
 Prv 5:21

“What say ye the sentence?”

The LORD is slow to anger and great in power,
and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. Nah 1:3

Don’t think for an instant that adultery is something you can get away with. While you may (or may not) keep it a secret from your spouse, you will never conceal it from God (Job 24:15; Prv 15:3). To those who commit adultery, the verdict is always, “guilty!” As you can probably guess, there are consequences to our sinful behavior. What is God’s verdict upon those who commit adultery? For a start, under the Mosaic Law, the penalty for adultery was, in a word, death.

If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
 Lev 20:10

But if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father's house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. Deut 22:20-21

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” Jn 8:3-5

However, if one considers the entire counsel of the Scriptures, it’s easy to see that there are numerous consequences for committing the act of adultery. Here’s a brief list of God and man’s judgments upon those who are sexually unfaithful to his or her spouse:

Deep regret

And at the end of your life you groan,
 when your flesh and body are consumed,
 and you say, "How I hated discipline,
 and my heart despised reproof!
 I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
 or incline my ear to my instructors.
” Prv 5:11-12

Dishonor and disgrace

He will get wounds and dishonor,
 and his disgrace will not be wiped away.
 Prv 6:33


For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. Mt 5:19-20

The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
 and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
 Prv 5:22

Joins a long list of traitorous adulterers

Do not stray into her paths,
 for many a victim has she laid low,
 and all her slain are a mighty throng.
 Prv 7:25-26

She lies in wait like a robber and increases the traitors among mankind. Prv 23:28

The rising of a life-long enemy

For jealousy makes a man furious,
 and he will not spare when he takes revenge.
 He will accept no compensation;
 he will refuse though you multiply gifts. 6:34-35

Prospect of financial ruin

Keep your way far from her,
 and do not go near the door of her house,
 lest you give your honor to others
 and your years to the merciless,
 lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
 and your labors go to the house of a foreigner Prv 5:8-10

People do not despise a thief if he steals
 to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry,
 but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold;
 he will give all the goods of his house.
 Prv 6:30-31

He who loves wisdom makes his father glad, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth. Prv 29:3

Ruin & destruction

But the wicked will be cut off from the land,
 and the treacherous will be rooted out of it. Prv 2:22

“I am at the brink of utter ruin
 in the assembled congregation." Prv 5:14

He who commits adultery lacks sense;
 he who does it destroys himself.
 Prv 6:32

What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb?
 What are you doing, son of my vows?
 Do not give your strength to women,
 your ways to those who destroy kings. Prv 31:2-3

Certain punishment

Can a man carry fire next to his chest
 and his clothes not be burned?
 Or can one walk on hot coals
 and his feet not be scorched?
 So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife;
 none who touches her will go unpunished.
 Prv 6:27-29

Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works. Rev 2:22

Eventual death

For her house sinks down to death, and her paths to the departed; none who go to her come back, nor do they regain the paths of life. Prv 2:18-19

But in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol. Prv 5:4-5

He dies for lack of discipline,
 and because of his great folly he is led astray. Prv 5:23

Loss of eternal life

If you would enter life, keep the commandments." He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Mt 19:17-19

Or 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 practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Cor 6:9-10

Hope & Forgiveness

If you have committed adultery, you would do well to fall on your knees, repent, and ask God’s forgiveness – just like King David did when he wrote Psalm 51 in response to his act of adultery. It’s good to know that like King David, you too can find God’s full forgiveness, tender mercy, and steadfast love that will renew, refresh, restore, and reenergize you to remain faithful to the bride of your youth (Prv 5:18).

Have mercy on me, O God,
 according to your steadfast love;
 according to your abundant mercy
 blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
 and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions,
 and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned
 and done what is evil in your sight, 
so that you may be justified in your words
 and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
 and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
 and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
 wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness;
 let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins,
 and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God,
 and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence,
 and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
 and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
 and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
 O God of my salvation,
 and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips,
 and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
 you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
 a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
 build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices,
 in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
 then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Psalm 51