Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, immorality, impurity, sensuality, . . Galatians 5:19
Adultery – Yesterday we looked at this same verse. Only yesterday the verse did not contain the word “adultery.” That’s because the current best scholarly edition of the Greek text from the oldest manuscripts does not have the word moicheia in it. That word is found in the Textus Receptus, the Greek text available when the King James Bible was translated. So, if you compare the King James to modern translations, you will see this difference. In King James, the deeds of the flesh include adultery. In modern translations, they do not. Isn’t that convenient? In 1611 those who committed adultery would not inherit the Kingdom. Apparently today they don’t have to worry about it.
Not quite! Even if it is added to the text, it has quite an important history. It is the same word Jesus uses when he speaks of the evil that proceeds from a man’s heart. In the Greek translation of the Tanakh, it is the word found in Jeremiah and Hosea when the prophets tell the people of God that they have whored after other gods. It is a very strong and fairly clear word. It means exactly what we think it means – illicit sex with someone who is married to another. However, the range of this word is a little bigger than the act of intercourse. It also means “to seduce” or “to be seduced” and it carries the sense of using deception and cunning to get control of someone. Here the word describes one of the actions of a larger class of actions called porneias. This larger group of actions is the next word in the list.
In order to understand why Jesus and Paul include adultery in the list of sins that separate us from God, we have to know a bit more about the contemporary culture of the first Century. The Greeks viewed adultery as a one-sided affair (pun intended). The prohibition against illicit sex with a married person applied basically only to women. Men were more or less expected to have sex with other single women and these actions were commonplace in the Greek and Roman world. In fact, the proliferation of sexual relations outside marriage became so great that one of the Roman Emperors actually passed a law against it – a law that had almost no effect on curbing the practice.
The Tanakh has a lot to say about adultery. God’s commandment against adultery establishes the commitment of both partners in marriage as one of the most important foundations of community life. Yeshua refers to God’s intention when He is confronted by the Pharisees on the issue of divorce. The reason for demanding fidelity in marriage is not only to protect the family. Marital fidelity is also a symbolic representation of exclusive loyalty to God. How we respect our vows with another person is a reflection of how we respect our commitments to God. This is the reason that prophets use the symbols of fidelity and adultery to point out the apostasy of Israel.
In the Tanakh, the focus of adultery is still on the adulterous woman. Obligation for fidelity seems to rest on her. However, when Yeshua and Paul used this word, they made it clear that the proper context involved both male and female partners in a marriage. For the first time in thousands of years, women were granted the same responsibility and the same respect as men. Neither party had license to pursue sexual relations with another person. God’s ideal of monogamous commitment was re-instated. In addition, Jesus amplified the requirement by teaching that the lustful desire for another was equivalent to the act of sexual exploitation. Adultery was not confined to the physical sexual act. It was a matter of the heart. In a culture that regarded sexual relations as commonplace as any other physical pleasure, this requirement radically separated early Christian believers from their contemporaries. Women were to be no less respected than men when it came to the unconditional divine command to love as Christ has loved. Women were not property and were not to be treated as such. Men were called to exhibit the same exclusive loyalty to their spouses that they would show to their God. The consequences for violating God’s intention were clear:
Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge (Heb. 13:4)
Now that adultery is no longer the special burden of women alone, believers are told quite clearly that engaging in seduction, being seduced, considering and contemplating seduction and, of course, completing the act of seduction is a direct affront to the God who created us male and female. It circumvents His sovereignty by proclaiming (usually in secret) that I have the right to do what I wish with my body. That, says Paul, is entirely wrong. God gave you your body. It is His right to tell you how you are to treat it.
King David seduced Bathsheba. He violated God’s sacred intention. When he was confronted and he repented, he did not go first to Bathsheba to ask forgiveness. He went to God. He knew that his sin was in God’s face. Adultery is about our desire to dictate to God how we will use our bodies. That is a “right” we do not have.
Topical Index: adultery, moicheia, marriage, Galatians 5:19
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