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Bible Topic Study Mt 5:28- "Lust & Adultery"
I decided to write an article on this verse, as I have found it to be one of those Bible passages that many seem to misinterpret. It is one of the few Bible passages out there that is quoted regularly, yet is very misunderstood. So, I figured why not write an article to clear up the misunderstandings people often have with this scripture.
First thing I would like to point out is that there are some terms that are within scripture that are often defined poorly. For instance, the term adultery. Webster's dictionary says adultery is: "voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than his or her lawful spouse." Now, that is the secular definition of the term "adultery". What is the Bible's definition of adultery? Well, according to Strong's Concordance (along with virtually all others), it means: "to have unlawful intercourse with another's wife."
Since adultery was first defined in the Old Testament and seeing there were times and situations, where men in the Old Testament had more than one wife(though God's ideal is one wife), it makes sense that the original hebrew word for adultery is defined in this way. Although women are equal to men, they are created differently and have a different role in the marriage family structure. It is clear in scripture that man is to be the head of the family (refer to the 10th of the 10 Commandments). So, since man was head, it would make sense that the definition would flow with the family structure, that a man can not steal another man's wife. Of course, in Genesis, God makes it clear that man and woman are created equal and that this headship is similar to a positional role. Not that one position has more relevance than the other, but rather, this is God's design and both have a relevant position. Similar to how Jesus is in subjection to God the Father. Does this mean the Father has more value than Jesus? So we are to be under His Lordship and follow His design.
Back to the term "adultery". It is clear, there is a difference between the common legal understanding of adultery today and the Bible's definition of adultery. If we take the Bible's definition of the term adultery and apply it to Jesus' quote, we find that it says:
One day, about five years ago, I realized, that it is very possible to change the whole meaning of scripture simply by defining the words incorrectly. So, from this realization, I noticed, that many Christians, often unwittingly, understand some scriptures incorrectly, due to the fact they are using society's definition of certain words, rather than the Bible's definition. And, I believe some, over the decades, have intentionally or unintentially, imposed doctrine onto scripture by putting their theological spin on certain english words.. This realization led me to study various topics to see if maybe, I had been "indoctrinated" by word changes. Yes, I know, it sounds conspiratorial, however, you will find, this is actually quite serious once you think about it.
Considering that adultery is defined unlawful intercourse with another's wife, it would logically have to mean "wife" or atleast have the ability to mean "wife" on the term "woman" within the passage. So, I did some investigating and not long after, I realized that the term as understood in greek, applies as either "young wife", "woman" or "wife" as you can see within Strong's Concordance again: King James Word Usage - Total: 221 women 129, wife 92. So, it is saying that almost 50% of the time, the greek term is denoted as "wife" instead of "woman". And, logically, the verse would only make sense if it meant "wife", seeing that the term adultery means: "stealing another man's wife, be it through sex or some other means". You see, adultery doesn't just mean sex, it can mean also stealing someone else's wife. Could be you think she is ideal in many other ways other than sexually and you 'covet' her and bring forth the sin by taking her (something not rightfully yours).
I am hoping this logical progression is starting to make some sense. Well, believe it or not, we are just starting, and there is more.
Interestingly, I have discovered through my studies, that I am not the only one who has understood this passage of the Bible to say this. Theophilus of Antioch (A.D. 180) has the very same understanding of Matthew 5:27-28:
Ok, again, lets do some textual analysis, as this was written in greek originally. He cites Solomon regarding "lust of the eyes". Is it just me, or would that be a terrible example of a person to cite, if he was implying you can not lust after any woman? King Solomon had 1000 wives total. To say he never lusted after any woman other than one of his wives is quite a rediculous statement. It is like implying Hitler was a good human being. So, it is clear, within this logic, that he is refering to the sin of King David, of seeing a married woman and then desiring to take her (not women in general). Second, notice how his quote of Jesus in Matthew 5:27-28 was translated into English differently than how we read in our Bible. The translator adds this additional wording, "woman who is not his own wife". Well, I just checked the greek version of this passage of Theophilus to Autolycus, Book III, Chapter 3, and it appears that Theophilus did indeed word it slightly different than Jesus' words. However, I think I will have to disagree with the transcribers translation, as I just did a bit of study on these greek words here and it should actually read this way, "Whosoever looketh on a woman who belongs to another, to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."
Here is the quote from Matthew 5:28 in greek, and the quote from Theophilus to Autolycus, Book III, Chapter 3, quoting Jesus, in greek:
The term, "ἀλλοτρίαν" means, "belongeth to another", not "who is not yours". You can see I am correct here: G245, thus proving that one of the earliest Christian apologists agrees with me on the interpretation of Matthew 5:27-28.
What does it also demonstrate? That the transcriber had to impress his viewpoint on the verse into the translation. It is almost as if, he could not accept what it actually said, and had to correct Theophilus.
OK, I have something else for you to ponder.
What is "lusting"? Most of you have this definition coming to mind "any sexual thought for the opposite sex". And yes, I used to have the same definition, until, again, I actually studied scripture and greek to decipher what the term actually meant fully.
The term means to "covet" or "desire with intent to steal" plain and simple. This greek word (1937) has no "sexual" connotation to it, as the very same word is used as "desire" in other passages, such as "desire the Office of Bishop.. desireth a good work" - 1 Timothy 3:1. Now, do you remember which of the Ten Commandments mentions this type of desire or coveting? Yes, it is the 10th commandment. So, Jesus was quoting the "thou shalt not covet .. thy neighbor's wife". Why haven't you ever heard that before? Doesn't that make a lot of sense, seeing God is the same, yesterday, today and forever? So, quite literally, Jesus first stated the 7th commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery", then he explained the theology behind the 7th commandment with the 10th commandment, "Thou shalt not covet .. thy neighbor's wife". He was showing how the people of the day were not looking at the intent behind the 7th commandment.
Here is further proof that Jesus was quoting the 10th of the 10 Commandments:
Note the same key terms for "woman" and "lust" are present within both passages, showing Christ was paraphrasing the 10th Commandment. The IVP Bible Background Commentary explains:
How do we know that the common viewpoint on Matthew 5:27-28 is irreparably in error? Well, if the greek term "gunh" meant "any woman" and we take the greek meaning of the term "lust" (which means any desire in general), we discover the passage to be saying literally, "whosoever looks at a woman and desires her has committed adultery in her heart". Which means you literally can not desire any woman in general and would have to conclude that all men have sinned being in any relationship with a woman, even if they had the most innocent of "desires".
So, revisiting Jesus' statement, we see that woman is "wife", lust is "covet" and adultery is "unlawful intercourse with another man's wife". It makes it very clear, he is quoting the 7th and 10th commandment and if you think about it, this makes sense. Jesus did not just make up commandments randomly. He quoted the only scripture of his time, namely, the Old Testament. We seem to forget such things:
This is the viewpoint I have come to after years of careful study on this topic and many others related. I wanted to have a viewpoint that was square with scripture. Before, I found the common viewpoint on this passage to be incorrect, yet I just couldn't untangle what was wrong with it. For many years, I just believed the popular viewpoint on the passage, but was never fully convinced it was correct.
The "gist" of the term adultery, if you research the Greek and Hebrew is that it has to do with a "contractual agreement" between you and your wife(wives) or between you and God. This is why adultery can also refer to idolatry (same also with the term "fornication"), as idolatry is a form of cheating on God, by worshipping a false god. So, even though adultery's original definition takes into consideration polygamy, in the case where you commit yourself only to one woman, you make a contractual agreement with her. So, this means, going out and cheating is equivelant to adultery, even though, technically, it does not fall directly under the definition of adultery. It is the Spirit of the Law, as you can see and the point is, you made a contract with your wife and you are to abide in the contract. However, noticing a woman's beauty is not the same as adultery. Rather, desiring in your heart to take another man's wife or desiring to break your own marriage contract by finding another woman, that is where adultery is. And you can see this in Jesus' logic, where he says that if you divorce a woman unjustly and marry another you commit adultery (Matthew 19:9 - because your first marriage was not properly ended). In the case where you had a polygamous mindset and married two woman, what Jesus said here would not apply, as the man is not "defrauding" his first wife of her position, by merely adding another wife (only if he divorced her unjustly). So marriage is seen as a binding contractual agreement for life (until one is dead) and the only other "out" is if one commits "uncleaness/fornication" against the other. So, there are only two ways a divorce can occur: death or uncleaness/fornication. Like the old saying, "There are only two guarantees in life: death and taxes".
Now, this will probably shock you, but I am going to prove right now that "coveting" is not a sin, unless there is an decision component to it. I will prove it without a shadow of a doubt.
According to James 1:15 in the New Testament, "1:14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 1:15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." As you can see here, it is clear that lust has to "conceive" to bring forth sin. If it was "lust" alone that was the sin, the scripture would have likely said this instead: Lust bringeth forth sin and when it is finished, brings forth death. But, it doesn't say that, does it?
If you look at the greek term in Matthew 5:27-28 for "lust" you will discover that the term requires a "decision" to be a component of it, as seen in James 1:15. And, I am guessing you have heard this definition, but really have not considered its true meaning. Lust most properly translated in the verse means to "earnestly desire". Now, here's something you might not have thought about. What does "earnestly" mean? Well, if you look it up in the dictionary, you will discover it means: 1. serious in intention, purpose, or effort; sincerely zealous: an earnest worker. 4 full seriousness, as of intention or purpose: to speak in earnest." Now, ask yourself, are you being serious in intention to desire a woman when you look at her walking down the road? The answer to that is no. When are you serious in your desire? It would be when you are wanting to act on that desire and take her for yourself. So, to sum it up, Jesus is saying, if you are thinking about stealing someones wife or seriously thinking about trying to get her in bed, you have already sinned. Meaning, you literally make a decision in your heart to be in her life in some way, shape, or form. That leaves a wide gap doesn't it? Now, you don't feel like you are a slave to your "nature" anymore. Isn't it interesting, as Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden is light. And if you are guy, you know it is not exactly easy not to notice beautiful women.
In the Old Testament, it is made clear that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins. Hebrews 9:22 & Leviticus 17:11. So, obviously, if something is a sin, God will require shedding of blood within the Old Testament to cleanse the person of their sin. And likewise, if no shedding of blood is required, it is not a sin. Of ALL the Ten Commandments, only one of them does not require shedding of blood. The Tenth Commandment (Thou shalt not covet/desire/lust...). All the other commandments have examples in scripture where the person was either stoned to death or had to have some sort of sacrifice to pay for his sin. If you think you know of a place in the Old Testament where someone was stoned or had to make an offering to the Lord for coveting, please write me and show me where. You will find I am correct.
Back to the topic of "lust", or better translated "covet". I want to give you a few examples to show you how distorted the church's understanding of "lust" is. These will show you through internal inspection a contradiction within the common understanding of the term lust. Look at Exodus 20 again. Now, notice the 10th Commandment again. Remember, God is the same yesterday, today and forever, yes? Also, remember that Jesus is paraphrasing this commandment in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:27-28. OK, notice in the 10th Commandment all the other items mentioned other than another man's wife. The total list includes: house, wife, manservant, maidservant, ox and ass. What is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of all of these things? Materialism? Keeping up with the Joneses?
Isn't it interesting when you look at that, you do not think that it is talking about sex, do you? You think, rather, of people being selfish, being jealous and wanting more and taking what belongs to others. Atleast, that is the first thing that comes to my mind. Yet, those things are often OK in our society. On the flip side, I am not detracting from the seriousness of this topic, but clarifying how people ignore materialism, but then axe anything erotic, which is a double standard.
Now, lets take the common idea of "lust" and apply it to all the OTHER things on this list. Lets see if this definition changes when it comes to your neighbor's house, property, etc. Now, ask yourself, do you consider it a sin to "look" at your neighbor's house and think it looks nice? Is it a sin to go over to his house and watch the ball game? They sound like pretty silly questions, wouldn't you say? Yes, but that is how you view the term covet when it comes to another man's wife, isn't it? So the moral is it is not the look, it is the look with intent to take.
OK, so what am I saying? I think its as simple as this. Jezebel, counseled her husband (King Ahab) to steal another man's garden, because he wanted it and the man would not sell it to him. Remember that episode in the Old Testament? I believe that is a perfect example of coveting your neighbor's property. He wanted the property and he tried to buy it, but the man refused to sell it. His wife, being devious, came up with a plan to get the man killed so he could take the property. When King Ahab agreed to this, at that moment, he had sinned in his heart. However, before that, he was just tempted. Do you see the difference? Now, what if he would have just admired the other man's garden and had asked him if he could sometimes walk through it. Do you think that would be a sin? The sin was in the theft of the other man's property, not in admiring his property.
Or, a more close to home example. How about the most famous adultery example in the whole Bible? King David taking Bathesheba from another man. Where was it that King David, sinned in his heart? Was it when he saw Bathesheba nude washing herself, while he was on the roof of his palace? Or could it be when he decided to go down to her and take her to have sex with her? Do you think if he would have decided not to go down, he would have been free from sin? I believe he would be. If he would have restrained himself and weighed his motives, he could have avoided the sin. If it required for him to never go to his roof, then so be it. He was obviously tempted to take her, however, he could have also just made a decision not to go down to her. Now, ask yourself, if David would have just admired her beauty and not have stolen her and had sex with her, do you think he would have sinned? Isn't that the same as admiring the beauty of your friends car or house? Just because you like it, doesn't mean you want to steal it. You have to weigh your self control, of course. Also, you need to ask yourself if she would approve of you looking at her? Love your neighbor as yourself is king in all situations.
Another factor to all of this is understanding that there is good lust and bad lust. Good lust is a desire that does not violate God's commandments. And yes, the exact term that is used to represent bad lust in the Old Testament is also used for situations where good lust is condoned. Here are just a few passages where the Hebrew words for lust are used in a good way (#8378 ta'avah, #0185 avvah & #0183 'avah): Psalm 21:2, Psalm 132:13, Proverbs 10:24, etc. A bad lust, obviously, is a desire that does violate one of God's Commandments. So, if you desire to take your neighbor's property, you are obviously sinning at heart. However, if you are admiring a new sports car your friend bought, you are not sinning (same goes with his girl, business, etc). But, lets say you really liked something he owned and you fantasized about it. Couldn't that lead you to sinning? Stealing it in some manner? So, God doesn't want you to go down that road of fantasizing about your neighbor's wife or property, as it will lead you to the sin eventually. And since you love God and want God's will, it would follow you should not allow yourself to go down that road.
OK, so what is a sexual sin. I will give it to you competely, laid out below. If you want to know if you are sinning sexually, you do not need to look any further than the Old Testament, where all the basics are defined and laid out:
I am sure a few of you would like to add a few more to the list, but this is God's list and we should not be adding to God's Commandments. This is where sin was defined by God and the New Testament's foundation is based on the Old Testament. If you want to know the definition of a word such as "fornication", you need not look further than the above(as this the entire list of direct sexual sin in the Old Testament). There are a few other rules mentioned in other Old Testament passages, but they are indirectly related. Such as sex with man's virgin daughter (without wedlock, because of family honor, dowry, etc). This one is against God's will, but no sacrifice or blood shed is required (unlike the direct sexual sins mentioned above). Another one is you are not allowed to prostitute your daughter. A few others, such as temple prostitution (male or female) being forbidden (see term "whore" and "sodomite" in Hebrew). Or money from prostitution being given to the temple (Deuteronomy 23:18).. And I recall maybe a couple more related type prohibitions total. They basically have to do with keeping prostitution out of religious activity (unlike the heathen nations) and not using your neighbor or family members for filthy lucre and monetary gain (slavery, prostituting women, usury, unethical wages, standards, etc). This is why you see in the New Testament people who commit sorcery (drug dealers, witchcraft - greek term "pharmakia", where we get pharmacy from) and those who are pimps (who enslave prostitutes - See 1 Timothy 1:10) are directly mentioned as going to Hell, as they are abusing and using people for monetary gain. Now, with the term pharmakia, it should be evident, it includes drug dealers, because it was considered sorcery in ancient times (intertwined, unlike today).
If you are looking for God's model for your life, I would recommend you ask God to guide you in finding your true love. As Apostle Paul said, "Marriage [is] honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge." Hebrews 13:4. This scripture on the surface may appear to contradict some of what I am saying here, however, it actually does not. Again, to back up argumentation from above, a 'whoremonger' is a man who is "habitually sexually immoral" or a "male prositute" (perhaps sleeps indiscrimantly with anyone(including married women and potentially men)). If you step back and think about it, it makes sense that an adulterer or a male prostitute(sleeping with married woman) would be breaking up and defiling marriages and seems to logically flow with the first statement in the passage. We should always be open in our mind when reading scripture and not paint our viewpoints on scripture, but let the whole of scripture reveal itself to us. And, as I mentioned before, simply look at the list above of sexual sins to know if you are being "habitually sexually immoral" (Strongs). With alcohol, money and sex, there is always the potential sin to be borne from such actions and lifestyles. And, as we know, not everyone has self control. For some, staying as far away as possible from alcohol is the only thing they can do to save their souls. And for others, spending endless hours trying to get rich or gambling at the casino means loosing their bank account and serious tragedy. And for some, sexual addiction can be a serious problem, where money, time and more is lost to the hands of strippers, prostitutes, etc, so avoiding certain places or activities keeps their feet on God's path. As Jesus said, if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off..
Many of the "newer" resources that have been created, such as the revised strong's concordance have many commonly held theological viewpoints engrained and expanded into its definitions. In other words, theology has crept into the interpretation of greek and hebrew on a large level, rather than actually discerning what the words originally meant. A good way to see such a difference is to click on these two links: old strongs (fornication). new strongs (fornication).
Maybe that is why it is so difficult to actually make sense of this topic for so many people. Terms are put into "circular reasoning" by defining them by your own doctrine and then interpreting doctrine off those terms. And anyone who knows apologetics and philosophy knows that circular reasoning is not a good foundation for proving anything. Rather, it should be the terms are defined by what it meant at the time scripture was actually written and then from there, make sense with it theologically.