Do Not Commit Adultery (Seventh Commandment)

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

“And you shall not commit adultery.” (Exod 20:14) [1]

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

At the heart of adultery is almost always a lie. The lie is that our private lives are and should remain private. The truth, however, is that our actions always affect those around us.


Ask King David. He thought that he could have a quiet affair with Bathsheba. When she got pregnant, he tried to hush it up first by calling her husband, Uriah the Hittite, back from service in the army to the palace. The idea was that if Uriah slept with his wife, David’s sin would be covered up. Uriah spoiled this plan by remaining loyal to David and refusing to return home. Unable to cover up his sin, David sent word to Uriah’s commander to place him on the front line in battle and then abandon him to the Amorites. Uriah died in battle (2 Sam 11). Pretty soon everyone heard about David’s sin and attempted cover up. Psalm 30 records David’s distress over his sin. Psalm 51 records David’s confession to God. God forgave David but David’s sin led to the death of his child (2 Sam 12:13–14).


Adultery, divorce, and other forms of immorality are the consequence of yielding to forbidden desires and temptations that threaten to destroy healthy relationships [2] and tear apart our families. They also stand in contrast to God’s intent for human marriage, which is life-long marriage between one man and one woman.

Marriage is not just a romantic idea. If we view our relationships as simply serving our own needs, our children lose out. According to the U.S. Census (2011, 68), the share of children born to unwed mothers rose from 27 percent in 1990 to 40 percent in 2007. This one statistic implies that the prospects for children in America have plummeted in our generation. Think more poverty, more drug use, more suicide. Marriage is not just a romantic idea.

Biblical Context

Jesus deplored divorce, permitting it only in the case of sexual immorality, and relating it to adultery [3]. The covenant of marriage (Mal 2:14) involves for us two parts: both a covenantal sign (physical intimacy) and a covenantal oath (the marriage promise) [4]. Sexual immorality breaks the first part, but not necessarily the second.

Adultery and Murder

Jesus’ teaching about adultery parallels his teaching about murder. Lust leads to immorality so Jesus cautions us to avoid lust and thereby prevent adultery. He then interrupts this discussion of adultery to launch into a bit of hyperbole: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out . . . And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (Matt 5:29–30)  After this aside, he returns to his discussion of adultery. The implication is that the body part in view is not an eye or a hand but something a bit more personal! Jesus clearly deplores divorce and immorality.


[1] Also: Deut 5:18; Matt 5:27; Matt 19:18; Rom 13:9.

[2] My first ministry experience as a young adult arose when my pastor and mentor encouraged me to start a summer youth program. The program was a success and I continued this ministry until I was married some years later. My mentor, however, was discovered by a church member to be having a homosexual affair. The affair cost him his pastorate and his marriage; it cost me an important mentor; and it cost the church a talented pastor.

[3] Matt 5:32; Matt 19:9.

[4] For Adam, we see Adam’s rib being taken out to create Eve (a kind of cutting ceremony) and an oath—“she is bone of my bones.“ (Hugenberger 1994, 342–43; Gen 2:21–23)


Hugenberger, Gordon P. 1994. Marriage as a Covenant: Biblical Law and Ethics as Developed from Malachi. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2011. Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2011. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

Do Not Commit Adultery (Seventh Commandment)

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Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

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