The Ten Commandments, For a Blessed Life – Kerygma Materials Commandment 7, Adultery – What it means for today


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


  1. Biblical material related to sexuality also includes the Adam and Eve story, various stories of relationships in Old Testament times, codes of the law, adultery as a metaphor for unfaithfulness to God, Jesus’ views on adultery, divorce, lust, love and purity, and Paul’s writings on sexuality, marriage, celibacy, gender roles, and flesh and sprit. The concept of sin, or falling short, is always present. What message does this material give to you?


  1. Some argue that cultural norms, including about sexuality, change in societies, both within the Bible and since. For example Jacob, David and Solomon, among others, were polygamous in their times, while later biblical societies were not, reflecting significant changes during the ~1700 years described. How should we view changes in social norms, and how should we try to influence them?


  1. People today often look to the Bible for how to relate to “modernity,” developments over the last three hundred years or so when technology, ideas and social relationships have been much different than they were in Biblical times. Does God want to preserve the structures of past societies, particularly controversial elements such as male domination and patriarchy? Does God want people of all societies to treat each other in positive ways and avoid abuses? If men and women are to be equal in society, how are they to relate to each other, both in marriage and out? Does God want people to love each other and if so, how?


  1. In Biblical times, widows faced destitution because they were not attached to a man to support them. Thus men might have an obligation to marry a brother’s widow, Deuteronomy 25:5-10, or the community to support widows. Deuteronomy 14: 28-29. A divorced woman might face a similar fate.


  1. In American families before the late 1960s, men were expected to work outside the home and earn money while women were to be wives, mothers and homemakers. Many believe this was the best way, perhaps established by God, to raise families and provide the best chance for stability and happiness. An exception was World War II when many men were in the military and women did many of the jobs back home. Also African American women often worked and might find employment more easily than men.


  1. Today there are laws against discriminating in pay against women. However women are often paid less within the same occupation, “glass ceilings” and childcare duties limit their ability to advance to higher paying positions, and occupations traditionally dominated by women are also paid less.


  1. Today’s family norms are different than even a generation or two ago, let alone Biblical times. Prior to the 1960’s, divorce in the US required proving that the spouse had created “grounds for divorce.” Adultery was universally grounds for divorce but there were others, such as physical and mental cruelty. Divorce was also frowned upon socially.


  1. Divorce was more common among wealthy people and particularly movie stars, who could afford to spend time in Nevada where there were easier divorce laws, or to go overseas. Eventually long separation became grounds for divorce in many states, essentially legalizing “no fault” divorce. Later divorce laws modeled themselves after dissolution of a business partnerships, with no grounds or fault required. Divorce became very common, with perhaps half of marriages ending in divorce. This was challenging for children of divorced parents. Remarriage and the creation of “blended families” also became common. People often had to sort out the relative benefits to themselves and their children of divorcing or staying in marriages that were negative, perhaps emotionally or even physically abusive. Christians grappled with Jesus’ teachings on divorce. While Roman Catholic officials continue to discourage divorce and remarriage, Catholics and conservative Protestants divorce at rates comparable to others.


  1. The increase of divorce was accompanied by postponing marriage, an increase in premarital sex and unmarried cohabitation. Legal and social barriers against it weakened. People struggled with issues of love, consent, vulnerability, abuse and how to live intimately with others. This situation might not constitute adultery, but many felt the institution of the nuclear family, under pressure from numerous social changes, was threatened.


  1. Feminism and “women’s’ liberation” were civil rights movements that proclaimed that traditions of male dominance and patriarchy should end, including within relationships. Many traditionally male job classifications became more equally available. Christian patriarchy, including the maleness of God and the domination of male clergy, have been challenged.


  1. Today one unmarried mother, whether never married, widowed or divorced, might have an upscale professional job, while others may have irregular low paying jobs or be chronically unemployed, or caregivers. Some women wait until their thirties before marriage and children while they work on careers, while others may have children in their teens which interferes with their educations and careers. Some women prefer to avoid permanent connection to unemployed or abusive men. As the #MeToo movement has made clear, powerful men can seek to have their way sexually with women. Birth control can prevent unwanted children. Sexually transmitted diseases do great harm.


  1. Birth control and particularly abortion have been political and denominational flashpoints. People struggle over when human life really begins and who decides. In addition to personal and moral elements, there may be limits on the number of people the earth can support, how resources must have to be divided and what should the age mix be as people live longer and work less.


  1. Domestic violence, usually by men, has become less acceptable and less legal, as did verbal abuse and insensitivity. The limits remain controversial, particularly when high profile men, such as athletes and politicians, are involved.


  1. Attitudes toward homosexuality have changed radically in some circles but not in others. This has been very controversial in Christian denominations, threatening splits in many mainline denominations.


    1. Leviticus, 18, 22 and 20, 13, Romans 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:8-10 are given great weight, particularly when compared to surrounding passages.
    2. In the Sodom and Gomorrah story, Genesis 18-19, God destroys these cities because Abraham could not produce ten righteous men. When two angels stay with Lot, the men of Sodom demand to have sex with them, refusing Lot’s offer to substitute his virgin daughters. God then rains fire on the cities. Shortly thereafter Lot’s daughters get him drunk, have sex with him and bear children. Some interpret to say that God will destroy our society if we are accepting of homosexuality. Others say the story is about the need for hospitality. Ezekiel 16, 48-50 says Sodom was “overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me.”
    3. Others argue that the treatment of homosexuals is contrary to how Jesus treats outsiders, that Jesus does not condemn homosexuals or even mention them, and that today’s knowledge indicates that homosexuality is how God made some people, rather than a personal choice to do evil.
16. Expression about sexuality was limited in the West by social mores, as in Victorian times, and by private and public censorship. Over the years courts tried to distinguish between pornography and obscenity, and the work of artists like DH Lawrence and James Joyce, which might have “redeeming social merit.” Famously Justice Potter Stewart said “I can’t define obscenity but I know it when I see it.” Today there are a mix of ratings and barriers to the wide range of sexual material that exist on cable tv and the internet.


  1. Class, racial and ethnic divisions are often influential in feelings about and discussions about sexual issues. Age is also an issue. In particular, teens are seen as emotionally vulnerable, may have more “raging hormones”, have less developed reason and maturity, and are often responsive to peer pressure, including via the internet. Adolescence as we know it is emotionally challenging and did not exist in Biblical times. Very young people today may feel inadequate about their appearance and place in the world, be vulnerable to exploitation and have their lives set back by early childbirth. How best to teach adolescents about sexuality remains a challenge. Some advocate teaching abstinence and purity, others a mix of embracing positives and avoiding negatives. What would you consider in meeting the challenge?


  1. Sexuality issues are also tied to larger issues that raise anxiety about modern society in other ways. Modern society can feel chaotic and threatening to self-worth, with changes in gender roles being intensely challenging. Rapid change may exceed our ability to cope emotionally. War technology, ecological damage and the inability to accept social differences can threaten our survival. Certainty and authority, including God’s authority, can feel reassuring. On the other hand, some believe that churches are having trouble reaching younger people in part because of their approach to sexuality.


  1. There are several ways to view the 7th To what extent do any of them resonate with you?
    1. The commandment is about sexuality and regulating it, preventing it from allowing the flesh to undermine the sprit, as well as preventing it from tearing families and society apart.
    2. The commandment is about preserving and keeping faith with covenants that people make, in this case the marriage covenant. As God and his followers, first Israel and then later the church, make covenants to each other and people must follow them, often people violate their covenants. The Old Testament can be seen as a recurring history of God’s people violating God’s covenant, being punished, returning and being saved. God is faithful while people often aren’t. Similarly people who make a marriage covenant must keep it despite the temptations not to.
    3. The commandment is about preventing selfish behavior from disrupting the way people live together. This is true not just about marriage but about all norms by which people live together decently and in order.


  1. If the greatest commandment about social living is to love others, what does that say about sexuality, divorce and adultery?


  1. Have people today figured out relationships and sexuality? If not, what might help us do so?
  Art – Jacob and Rachel by William Dyce