New Covenant Patriarchy

Monday, April 01, 2013

What is the BIBLICAL definition of Adultery?

What is the BIBLICAL definition of adultery?

As Christians, we believe that the Bible is the inerrant, all-sufficient Word of God. God’s Word is the arbiter of all truth. It is the ultimate DEFINER of all things. We should not be deriving our definitions of biblical subjects from popular dictionaries. I once was discussing this topic (as it relates to polygyny) with a Christian lady who actually pulled out a Webster’s dictionary trying to prove to me that the definition of adultery I was explaining to her from the Bible was erroneous. She actually threw her grandmother’s heirloom Bible at me in frustration because she could not abide hearing the Biblical passages I was quoting to her proving the legitimacy of polygyny and the biblical definition of adultery. Biblical exposition does not begin with Webster’s dictionary--to say nothing of finishing with it. When you throw in Webster’s dictionary as the arbiter of biblical truth, you throw out the Bible—or at least throw it.

The biblical answer to the question is: adultery is the violation of the one flesh bond between a man and his woman. You will not find a more accurate and succinct definition than this. I have enunciated this definition with a view both to the content of Scripture, the context of Scripture, and the specific wording of Scripture in the original languages.

Those of you who have read and absorbed both of my books, Man and Woman in Biblical Law and They Shall Be One Flesh should have no problem here.

A couple basic considerations have gone into this definition. The first is the one flesh teaching of the Bible as constitutive of what we in English call “marriage.” This is our foundation. As many of you on this list are aware, there is no counterpart in the Hebrew of the Old Testament to our English word “marriage.” The act of becoming what we call “married” in English is denoted in Scripture in the Old Testament by the verb “to take.” In Scriptural terminology a man “takes” a woman and she becomes “his woman.” As those of you who have carefully studied your Bibles know, a man “takes” a woman by becoming one flesh with her; he “takes” her by “knowing” her through sexual intercourse. A one flesh relationship is thereby created and this one flesh is constitutive of a Divinely ordained covenant. In other places in the Old Testament the word we translate as “married” or “to marry” is “baal” (lord). A man “baals” a woman; he lords her, clearly denoting a patriarchal understanding of marriage.

In Scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments, the words we translate as “husband” and “wife,” are simply the generic words “man” and “woman.” The one flesh relationship constitutive of a covenant before God is denoted by the possessive, i.e., "his woman" and "her man." This is the actual language, the raw data of Scripture.

Christians who want to truly understand their Bibles are urged to meditate upon these facts at length.

A second biblical consideration that defines the boundaries of adultery is that the man-woman relationship is a hierarchical relationship. We Christians, especially in the West, have a profoundly horizontal and egalitarian perspective regarding the man-woman relation. This is culturally induced. This is also alien to Scripture. Scripture views all of life in a profoundly vertical perspective in which there is God at the zenith of the hierarchy who is the head of all things. In the words of I Corinthians 5, “the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God…neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”

These hierarchical facts have necessary implications concerning what specifically constitutes adultery on the part of the man and on the part of the woman. What specifically violates the one flesh bond between a man and his woman is not necessarily the same for the man as it is for the woman because of this hierarchy. We see this most profoundly regarding polygyny in the Bible where men may have more than one woman but a woman may not have more than one man. This direct connection between hierarchy and polygyny is difficult to perceive if one is mired down in culturally induced horizontal, egalitarian delusions about the nature of reality. I run across this effect of our culturally ingrained horizontal perspective commonly even among those who accept the validity of polygyny. I am told often that there is no necessary connection between the man’s headship over the woman and the lawfulness of polygyny in the Law of God. They are wrong. The connection is direct and immediate.

St. Augustine grasped this:

“For by a secret law of nature, things that stand chief love to be singular; but things that are subject are set under, not only one under one, but, if the system of nature or society allow, even several under one, not without becoming beauty. For neither hath one slave so several masters, in the way that several slaves have one master. Thus we read not that any of the holy women served two or more living husbands; but we read that many females served one husband, when the social state of the nation allowed it, and the purpose of the time persuaded it: for neither is it contrary to the nature of marriage. For several females can conceive from one man: but one female cannot from several men (such is the power of things principal) as many souls are rightly made subject to one God.” —from “A Selected Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church,” Ed. by Philip Schaff, Vol. III, pg. 407-408

Patriarchy, the headship of the man, logically infers polygyny. This is why the biblical definition of adultery cannot be simply the act of either spouse having sexual relations with someone else, the man having sexual relations with another woman or the woman having sexual relations with another man. The biblical definition of adultery focuses on the violation of the actual bond between the man and the woman, the one flesh bond. For a woman to have sexual relations with another man violates the hierarchy of the one flesh bond and hence violates the bond itself. The reverse is not true. When a man has sexual relations with another (unmarried) woman, there is no violation of the hierarchy of the one flesh bond, and a second one flesh bond is created.

The passage of Scripture which exemplifies this most clearly is Exodus 21:10-11, “If he take him another wife, her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage he shall not diminish. And if he do not these three unto her, then she shall go out free without money.” That is, adultery is committed IF the husband here ceases cohabitation with the first wife, but there is no adultery if he continues her cohabitation. The first wife, the concubine, may “go out free” from the marriage (divorce him) if he ceases cohabitation, but she does not have this right merely on the basis of the man taking a second wife.

This forces us to refine our definition of adultery more generally to: “Adultery is the violation of the one flesh bond.” It is not precisely having sexual relations with another man’s wife. Having sexual relations with another man’s wife is, indeed, an act of adultery, or an example of adultery, but it does not define adultery. The essence of adultery is the violation of the one flesh bond. Therefore, capricious divorce, by itself, constitutes adultery (e.g., Matthew 19:8-9).Ceasing to have sexual relations with one of multiple wives is adultery (e.g, Exo. 21:10-11). In both of these cases, adultery is not the commission of behavior but the omission of behavior. I would go so far as to say that serious abuse of the wife so that the marital relation becomes untenable also constitutes adultery—because it violates the one flesh bond.

This definition of adultery obviously does not comport well with the common more narrow definition ascribed to it, but it conforms to the biblical text. More precisely this definition is framed by the biblical text and incorporates the relevant biblical passages and also explains passages that otherwise remain inscrutable without resorting to explanations that propose radical contradictions in the biblical text. In most instances, explaining adultery as sexual relations with another man’s wife is sufficient for the immediate cause at hand, but it will not do as a definition that explains ALL the biblical data. I believe ALL the biblical data is best accounted for by defining adultery as “the violation of the one flesh bond between a man and his woman.”--Tom Shipley

Posted by Tom Shipley on 04/01 at 11:18 AM
(0) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink
Page 1 of 1 pages