By J. T. Smith
In order for us to have a clear understanding of the subject, we need to define the word “adultery,” find out from the Scriptures what conditions constitute an adulterous situation, and how one may “live in adultery.”
The word “adultery”is from the Greek word moicheuo and its basic meaning is “to have unlawful intercourse with another’s wife, to commit adultery with” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, p. 417). However, in the Old Testament, the word “adultery” was used to describe every kind of illicit sexual act, as the word was used in “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” in the ten commandment law. According to Young’s Analytical Concordance (p. 368), the word “fornication” is used only five times (Ezek. 16:15, 26, 29; 2 Chron. 21:11; Isa. 23:17) in the Old Testament. In every one of these cases, the word was used to describe a spiritual condition.
Unless we are going to take the position that a single man cannot look upon a single woman to lust after her, and commit adultery with her in his heart, we are forced to the conclusion that the word “adultery” is used in the New Testament to describe those who are unmarried as well as those who are married. Jesus said in Matt. 5:28, “But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Also, in 2 Pet. 2:14 Peter said, “Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin . . .”
In an effort to answer this argument, one of the respondents in a discussion I had on the West Coast took the position that “the definition of a word determines the meaning, not its usage in the context.” I will allow you, the readers, to determine whether or not this person’s conclusion is valid.
There are a number of passages I would like for us to consider in our discussion of this subject. In Matt. 5:32 Jesus said, “But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, Causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” Again, “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Mat. 19:9). Then in Mark 10:11-12 we read, “And he said unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.” Finally, in Luke 16:18 Jesus’ statement is recorded, “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.”
In all of these passages, Jesus plainly points out that if one puts away (divorces) his spouse, for any reason other than fornication, and marries another, he commits adultery. And the one who marries the “put away one” (whether she is “put away” for fornication, a word which includes every kind of illicit sexual act, or for some other reason) commits adultery.
Another passage of scripture that I would like for us to consider that mentions one being in adultery is Rom. 7:2-3. Paul said, “For the woman which hath an husband is bound-by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.”
The word “commits adultery” is a present active indicative word in the Greek language that describes continuous action. Thus, since Jesus allows freedom from the “marriage bond” with the right to remarry for only two reasons (fornication, Matt. 19:9; death, Rom. 7:2-3), then those who divorce and remarry for any other reason “commit adultery.” And as we noted above, this is not just a “one time act.” It involves continuous action. Every opponent that I have met in debate on the subject of divorce and remarriage freely admits that those who divorce, without the cause of fornication being involved in the divorce, when they remarry are nothing more than “legalized adulterers.”
In commenting on the expression “called an adulteress,” in Romans 7:2-3, Moses E. Lard said, “To render it, as in the E.V., `she shall be called an adulterous’ is without warrant. The apostle does not mean to tell what the woman shall be called, but what business she is in. She will act the adulteress.” Hence, as long as she continues to commit the act of adultery, she is living in that condition.
Sometimes the question arises, “Why would the guilty party, the one put away for fornication, commit adultery when she remarries? Isn’t the marriage bond broken when adultery is committed and one is put away for fornication – thus the guilty party loosed also? If so, the guilty party would not be ‘living in adultery’ when she remarried. Although this human reasoning may sound good, there are a number of things wrong with it.
In the first place, the-word “marry” is being equated with the word “bound.” But they are not equal. The word “bound” is from the Greed word dedesai and means, “to bind by a legal or moral tie, as marriage, Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:27, 39” (Bagster’s Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 89). One can be bound and not married, or he can be married and not bound. Herod’s case is an example of one being “married” (according to the laws of the land) but not “bound” by God (Mark 6:17-18). In Rom. 7:2-3, we find an example of one who was “married” to another but was still “bound” to her first husband. Thus, according to the above definitions, the antithesis of “bound” is “loosed,” and the antithesis of “married” is “divorced.” Therefore, I can tell a person who has “put away” his mate for the cause of fornication that the Lord has “loosed” him so that he is free to remarry without committing sin. However, Christ nowhere indicates that the wife is released form “her obligation” to the law of her husband.
Christ’s teaching in Matt. 19:5-9 points out that there is both an “obligation” to “leave father and mother and cleave unto his wife” and both are “restricted” from having any sexual relations with anyone else. Thus the one who is put away for fornication is loosed from the obligation of “leaving and cleaving,” but is not released from the restriction of having sexual relations with another. If so, where is the passage that shows that release. I know she is released from the leaving and cleaving to the one to whom she was married. For, the Lord granted him, because of her fornication, the right to remarry. Thus, their mutual agreement to “leave and cleave” is dissolved by God with the God-given right of the one doing the puttting away to have a wife.
Again somene may ask, “What about 1 Cor. 7:27-28 which says, ‘Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned . . . ! Who are those who are loosed?” Yes, Paul said those who are “loosed” may be married. But who is loosed? The one who has never been married, or one whom God, not man, has loosed. As we have already noted, God only looses the one who puts his (her) spouse away for fornication, and the one whose spouse has died. All others are “loosed” by man and not by God; and if they marry they sin.
In Col. 3:5-7 we read, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupicence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: in which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.” The word “fornication” in verse 5 is the general word for illicit sexual acts and when used by itself in a context would include adultery. Thus, we learn from the above passages that anyone, whether alien sinner or Christian, can “live in adultery.” To deny this is to deny what the Apostle said, Who, then, is willing to do it?
- What is the basic meaning of the word “adultery”?
- Is the word “adultery” ever used in the Scriptures in a way different from the basic meaning given by lexicographers?
- How do you determine the meaning of a word?
- What are to two reasons given in the Scriptures for one being “loosed” so that he may remarry without sin?
- What kind of action is involved in the Greek language for present active indicative?
- What was Moses E. Lard’s comment on the expres sion “called an adulteress” in Rom. 7:2-3?
- If the innocent party is “loosed” to be remarried without sin, why isn’t the guilty party “loosed” to remarry without committing sin?
- What is the antithesis of the words “marry” and “bound”?
- What two things are imposed on those who decide to contract a lawful marriage?
- Which one of the two things mentioned in answer to question no. 9 does God release the “guilty party” from, and which one does He retain?
- How would you answer the question, is it possible for one to “live in adultery”?
Truth Magazine XXIII: 23, pp. 376-377
June 7, 1979