• johned@aibi.ph

Adultery Of The Heart


(Mat 5:27-32 NKJV) "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' {28} "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. {29} "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. {30} "And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. {31} "Furthermore it has been said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' {32} "But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.

The Background Scenario

Under the Law a cunning legalist could steal someone's wife and marry her without actually committing adultery. You just wooed her, reduced her affections for her husband until her husband got fed up and divorced her and then you could marry her. Jesus called this adultery of the heart. There seem to be a number of stages involved.

  • Verse 27 - the injunction concerning adultery.

  • Verse 28 - the attraction of a man to a married woman
  • Verses 29,30 - the command to sever the inappropriate relationship.
  • Verse 31 - the lax divorce customs of the day.
  • Verse 32 - the divorce which drives the woman into her lover's arms so that she becomes an adulteress.
  • Verse 32 - the inappropriate remarriage.

Jesus may have had an incident like the following in His mind when He spoke. In verse 29 a man sees the woman and lusts after her, she is a married woman (gunaika) not a virgin (parthenos) he thus commits adultery with her in his heart. In verses 29& 30 He is told to sever this relationship even though it seems like it is "cutting himself in pieces". The man is warned that it is better to sever an inappropriate relationship than wind up in Hell. However he continues the illicit liaison. He woos her with the intention of getting her to leave her husband for him. He reduces her affections for her husband. Since women generally did not divorce men in those days he has to wait until the husband divorces her.

In verse 31 the husband notices the attraction and using the lax divorce laws of those days angrily divorces her -even though actual adultery had not yet occurred. Jesus does not see this divorce as legitimate because she has not actually yet had sex with the person who is courting her. It is also unwise because the divorce causes the woman to run into her lovers arms and become an adulteress. The two lovers quickly remarry and consummate their union but their consummation is in fact adultery. The context of both the "divorce" verses and the "lusting with one's heart" verses is fleshly enticement to go beyond the boundaries of emotional faithfulness to one's partner. What is being breached in all three cases - lust, divorce and remarriage are the emotional bonds of the marriage.

The Reasoning

Now to explain some of my reasoning behind this conclusion....

I believe that verse 32 has been mistranslated in most (if not all) English translations. The Greek is difficult to translate because it ends the sentence with a participle and two verbs in a row. The construction is extremely unusual. Its a bit like saying "The dog jumping bites runs" then stopping right there! Here is the Greek sentence .."kai os eav apolelumenen gamese moichatai" its literal translation is "and whoever a being divorced marries commits adultery" (commits adultery is one word in Greek). This is NOTHING like the current English translations. The long translation is probably "he who ensures that a marriage breaks down so that he can marry the woman as soon as she is divorced commits adultery." Now I will explain how I arrive at that conclusion.

The word "gamese" for marriage is used for a man marrying. So it is the man at fault here. Therefore the person he is marrying is a woman (same sex marriages were not recognized in Jesus day), it is the woman who is "being divorced". So the prohibition is against serial monogamy -jumping out of one marriage into the next. Notice it is the man, not the woman who commits adultery...but he is not the one jumping out of one marriage into the next - the woman is doing that! So how is he at fault? Her husband could have divorced her for all sorts of reasons! He could be dumping her in order to take up with a younger woman! So how is husband number 2 an adulterer? What has he done wrong if he is just loving what someone else has rejected? He can only be an adulterer if he has acted in some way contrary to the original marriage bond.

Husband No.2 wants the woman but does not want to risk getting caught in adultery. He doesn't have an actual sexual affair but he woos her off her husband by reducing her "marital affections" until the marriage bond snaps and he takes her for his own. Though not "legally adultery" it is adultery in every other sense. It is adultery of the heart. Jesus quite rightly prohibits this. This is consistent with his prohibitions on "serial monogamy" - hopping from partner to partner with very little gap in between. This fits in with the context of lusting after a woman in your heart.

Jesus Teaching On Divorce

Theses verses help complete the picture of Jesus teaching on divorce. Lets summarize it quickly:

1. You cannot divorce your partner except for sexual unfaithfulness. (Matthew 5:31,32, Matthew 19:9)

2. You may not divorce your wife in order to marry a newer model. (Matthew 19:9)

3. Conversely if you were unfaithful and thus were kicked out of the original marriage then remarriage to your lover is just a continuation of the adultery. (Matthew 19:9)

4. If you entice a woman off her husband then marry her it is adultery even if you waited until marriage before you have sex with her. (Matthew 5:32)

In my view Jesus' teaching on divorce says NOTHING about people who are divorced then, sometime later -say at least two to three years, meet someone and marry them. By that time the marriage is irretrievably finished and the person has not left their marriage simply in order to have a sexual relationship with someone else. They have not diminished the affections of the original marriage bond by physical or emotional association with another person therefore they have not committed adultery. I see them as in the much the same position as the "young widows" that Paul strongly advises to marry again.(1 Tim 5:14 NIV) So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.

 It is my observation that divorced but not remarried Christians occasionally fall into sexual sin and some lead disgraceful lives, unable to marry because of their churches teaching on one hand and yet unable to resist their own sinful weakness on the other. It is indeed better to marry than to burn and I think some churches need to rework their teaching on divorce so that remarriage is permitted but after a suitable period of time (say 3 years) so that people do not just hop from one partner to the next. I suggest three years because statistics indicate that the failure rate of marriages contracted in the first two years after death or divorce is very high. It also ensures that the second marriage is not an adulterous liaison i.e. that they are not marrying the lover that broke up the first marriage etc.

The reason for the remarriage of widows (and if I am right - divorceses) has nothing to do with them being happy. Paul's language actually carries a moderate degree of force "I will that they should marry" or "I desire that they should marry". It is not an imperative command but rather a firm request. The concern that younger widows remarry is twofold 1. That they avoid the shame and accusation of sexual sin. 2. That they avoid the welfare mentality and an idle lifestyle where they went house to house gossiping. Paul, Jewish tradition and the OT concur in that productivity from both men and women was held as a high virtue. Idleness and promiscuity give huge amounts of ground for the Devil to accuse God's people - and none more so than today. The Devil will have far less grounds for accusation if "younger widows" remarry, get off welfare, and live productive lives.

Pastoral Application

Churches need to be able to say to people "This is an inappropriate friendship we know you have not slept with each other but you are too close, back off, this is adultery of the heart." Many marriages would be saved if we gave stern straight teaching on inappropriate relationships. If a friendship is reducing your affections for your partner or coming into the emotional space you normally reserve for your partner then it is an inappropriate friendship - even if it is with your pastor, Sunday School teacher or counselor. If you start to get a "zing" when you are near that person, or you look forward to meeting them more than you do your own spouse, or you have sexual fantasies about them - then run. It is better to break off a wrong relationship than to wind up in Hell.

Secondly, churches should not sanction those remarriages that have resulted from affairs or from "adultery of the heart" . Churches must protect the sanctity of marriage. Let the State marry those people.

Thirdly, churches should remarry, with a clear conscience, people who after a suitable period of time on their own (and chaste while single) have found a partner.

The first two recommendations may seem overly harsh while the last may be contentious for some. I think I have the interpretation right - so that it makes moral, pastoral and exegetical sense, but I leave it with you for consideration, well aware that differences of opinion will exist.

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