The Ten Commandments, For a Blessed Life – Kerygma Materials Commandment 7, Adultery – The Old Testament

  1. The Commandment. “You shall not commit adultery.” Exodus 20, 14; Deuteronomy 5, 18


  1. Things covered by the term “adultery” is not the full picture regarding sexuality in the Bible.


  1. As often with the Ten Commandments, the meaning of the word in the commandment is often interpreted in other passages. Adultery in the Pentateuch is between one man and another man’s wife. Leviticus 20, 10; Deuteronomy, 22, 22.
    1. Other terms are translated “uncovering the nakedness.” These often describe sex between a man and a wide array of extended relatives as forbidden. Leviticus 18, 6-24.
    2. Leviticus 19, describes another situation of the time. “20 If a man has sexual relations with a woman who is a slave, designated for another man but not ransomed or given her freedom, an inquiry shall be held. They shall not be put to death, since she has not been freed; 21 but he shall bring a guilt offering for himself to the Lord”
    3. Other sexual situations of the time are described in Genesis 38, Exodus 22,16, Deuteronomy 22, 13-22 and Numbers 5, 11-31.
    4. Homosexuality between men is also on this list of unlawful sex, Leviticus 20, 13 as is sex with animals Leviticus 20, 15 and 16, and one sex wearing the clothes of the other, Deuteronomy 22, 5. “Uncovering nakedness” during a woman’s “menstrual uncleanness” is also forbidden, reflecting attitudes toward blood. Leviticus 18, 19.
    5. “Marrying” female captives of war was permitted. Deuteronomy 21,15
    6. Sexual misconduct is also described by words translated as “defiling” or as “harlotry.” Leviticus 18, 24. This comes within the general framing of being clean or pure, versus impure or defiled. See Leviticus 15, 20-12.


  1. Issues of sexuality are among the most controversial issues facing people today and have been so often in the past. Sexual mores are highly contested and controversial within politics in general, and within and between churches. They intersect with numerous issues; intense personal feelings, creation of children and families and their role in society, interpersonal love (“eros”, “filia” and “agape” in Greek) and anxiety over its absence, manipulation, abuse, issues of personal adequacy and attractiveness which can be used to sell products or create personal domination, art, pornography, gender roles and particularly male domination and patriarchy, gender identity involving same sex and transgender people, racial stereotypes (in America, slaveowners had their way sexually with the people they enslaved, creating more slaves as their property. At the same time racist stereotypes were that African Americans lacked sexual self control and were threats to rape white women) as well as issues of self control, social class, premature parenting, sinfulness, “the flesh” as opposed to “the spirit, ”purity”, virginity, celibacy.


  1. The Adam and Eve story introduces the topics.
    1. In the first of the two creation stories, in Genesis 1 “27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it;   And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”
    2. In the second creation story in Genesis 2, God creates Adam, puts him in the Garden of Eden and tells him not to eat the forbidden fruit. Then God declares “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” After various animals prove unsatisfactory “ God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” 24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.”

After Eve and Adam eat the fruit, they become ashamed of their nakedness. This tips off God who expels them from the garden. God tells Eve “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Adam then “knows” Eve who bears Cain.

The main story seems to be about obedience, wanting to be God and “knowledge of good and evil” more than sex. However this story has much to say about sexuality, gender roles and marriage which is explained as male and female becoming one flesh. Men and women are ashamed of their nakedness. Eve is the source of “the Fall” so that the “temptations of Eve” are associated with human sin, being sex as much as “falling short”. Eve’s desire is part of the consequences of this first sin, and her husband is to rule over her.


  1. Another Old Testament sexuality issue regarding the “set aside, sanctified, or consecrated” persons, who scholars believe were “temple prostitutes” for cults worshipping pagan fertility gods. Deuteronomy 23, 17-18 and 24, 1-4;   1 Kings, 14, 21-24. This was a violation of the commandment to worship God alone.


  1. Adultery thus became a metaphor for unfaithfulness to God. Similarly prostitution and harlotry were signs of a generally sinful Israel facing God’s judgment and punishment, Jeremiah 3, 1-20; Ezekiel 23, 27-49; Hosea 2-3; Proverbs 6, 20-29. Isaiah 23, 16-17. And in the Book of Revelation, which ends the New Testament, the “Great Whore of Babylon” is overthrown Revelation 17- 19.


  1. Other passages in the Old Testament suggest that sexuality was not so bad.
    1. Sarah asks “shall I have pleasure” when told about potential birth of a child in old age. Genesis, 18: 9-12.
    2. The Song of Songs is a collection of love poems between two young people, told in surprisingly physical terms. See Song of Songs 1, 1-17; 7, 6-13. Such poems were well known in ancient cultures, but this one is unusual for the Bible and is often ignored today. It is mentions Solomon but not God or other common religious themes. Some say it is a metaphor for God’s love for Israel or Jesus’ love for the church. Others that it is a celebration of love, perhaps sung at weddings Jews group it with the “writings” and read it at the Passover festival.


  1. Divorce was permitted under Deuteronomy 24 “Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house 2 and goes off to become another man’s wife. 3 Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); 4 her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession.”


  1. The best known adultery in the Bible involves King David and Bathsheba, the wife of his general Uriah. 2 Samuel, 11-12. David sees Bathsheba bathing, summons her to the palace and has sex with her. When she becomes pregnant, he summons Uriah home to sleep with her, but Uriah refuses a privilege not allowed the other soldiers in the field. David then arranges for Uriah to be killed in battle, and marries Bathsheba. The prophet Nathan denounces David and announces that their child will die. David repents, the child does die but David and Bathsheba’s next child becomes King Solomon. David’s future is marked by violence in his family. One tradition is that David wrote Psalm 51 a result of this incident.


  1. Jesus’ genealogy that begins Matthew’s gospel has four women from the Old Testament whose sexual behavior does not comply with Old Testament standards of piety and purity. Including women at all is unusual for a Jewish genealogy, but these are Tamar, who seduced her father-in-law, Genesis 38, Rahab, a prostitute who helped Joshua’s spies escape from Jericho, Ruth, who slept next to Boaz to win his heart, Joshua 2:1-24, and “the wife of Uriah” (Bathsheba) who committed adultery with David and eventually gave birth to Solomon. 2 Samuel, 11-12Most or all these women were Gentiles as well. What messages might Matthew be giving to his Jewish audience?