The Expository Files.


Defining Adultery: Beware of Self-serving Definitions

It has been reported that the Chief Executive of the United States has suggested that there is considerable sexual latitude and permission that does not fall under the biblical condemnation of adultery. According to these allegations, time was spent in bible study, leading to this conclusion: a man can engage in sexual activity for his own pleasure with someone other than his spouse, and it is not adultery until there is actual consummation.

This kind of thinking...

(1) ...Is typical of adolescent reasoning offered to justify lasciviousness. This is not new. For generations teenage boys deceive themselves and their female partners into thinking that everything is all right, "as long as we don't go 'all the way'." Some of these teenage boys grow up and admit that their earlier indiscretions were unwise and morally wrong. As adults they acknowledge that their adolescent arguments and excuses were based on nothing but their desire to serve their own carnal craving. Behold, some never grow up.

(2) ...Is a classic case of subjective "interpretation" in defense of a previous choice. This reminds me of those who steadfastly maintain their belief in Matt. 19:9 and related passages, until they find themselves in a personal circumstance where there is pressure to violate this teaching. At this point, they claim they have "re-studied" the marriage question. The order of events is to be noted: a desire is not conquered, a choice is made, and then this "re-study" of the question occurs. Likewise, one's re-interpretation of what constitutes adultery can conveniently fall after desire has led to a immoral choice.

(3) ...Ignores both the spirit and letter of God's Word against adultery. There is certainly no evidence, no passage or anything in God's Word which condones lewd, lascivious behavior that violates marital commitment, as long as it falls short of the consummating act. In fact, Jesus said: "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart," (Matt. 5:28). Now think: if the lustful look incurs guilt equal to an act of adultery, lustful acts beyond looking would certainly be at least as wrong! Impulsive and uncontrolled desire for someone you have no right to have is wrong, according to Jesus. A comprehensive and objective study of the Bible, on the subject of adultery, uncleanness, lascivious and marital fidelity, will not yield any support for the narrow and self-serving view of adultery.

(4) ...Reflects unfavorably against one's fidelity to his spouse. Aside from any academic research into legal definitions, there is another dimension that should carry weight: How would my spouse regard this lascivious behavior? If I have proper and pure regard for my marriage and serious commitment to my vows, will I feel free to engage in this behavior with another? Any attempt to study what the Bible says about adultery should also include what the Bible says about the love, respect and trust there should be between husband and wife; and the general attitudes and cautions which ought to characterize a godly person.

(5) ...Ignores the need of discretion and the danger of temptation. "My son, pay attention to my wisdom, listen well to my words of insight, that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge," (Prov. 5:1,2). Discretion has to do with sober consideration, moral care and deliberation. It is clear, not only in Proverbs five but all through Scripture, that we must never take temptation lightly. It is foolish and reflects upon our whole attitude toward God, when we try to walk as close to sin as we can. Those with mature and devout respect for God will shun all influences and indiscretions that move us in the wrong direction. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight," (Prov. 3:5,6).

"Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge." (Heb. 13:4). We must beware of definitions which are calculated to deceive us into thinking we are permitted to do what we have already decided we want!


By Warren E. Berkley
The Front Page
From Expository Files 5.3; March 1998