The topic of adultery is definitely addressed in the Bible, and it’s always presented as a negative thing. There is no passage or verse in the Bible that authorizes or justifies adultery. It’s a sin, and as anyone who’s been on the other end of it will tell you, it’s a devastatingly painful one.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what the Bible says about adultery in the Old and New Testaments. The context of these passages will help us glean some useful information, and in the process, we’ll take a special look at what Jesus says about this subject.
What the Old Testament Says about Adultery
The Old Testament serves as an original standard for how to understand adultery. It describes the characteristics of this sin and those who commit it. It reveals the seriousness of this sin to God and provides us a window into how the culture of ancient Israel dealt with it. Each aspect is worth discussing.
Unsurprisingly, adultery and those perpetrating it are painted with unflattering features. The poetic wisdom literature of Proverbs and Job describes those who commit adultery as foolish, self-destructive, deceptive, and friends with darkness (Pr. 6:32-33; Jb. 24:15-17). Most notably, using a courtroom analogy in Malachi 3:5, God says that He Himself will judge adulterers by His own eyewitness testimony. The omniscience and omnipotence of God are displayed in this verse.
Exodus 20:14 is perhaps the most popular verse about adultery. Here adultery is strictly forbidden and included as one of the Ten Commandments. The significance of this is worth considering for a moment. The Ten Commandments are not simply manmade rules; they are directions from the mouth of God Himself (Ex. 20:1). As such, they are divine laws with divine repercussions. Thus, in addition to whatever manmade consequences may come, breaking these laws also subjects the perpetrator to a divine penalty; therefore, it’s of theological importance too.
God is deathly serious about sin, and in passages like Leviticus 20:10 or Deuteronomy 22:22, the crime of adultery warrants the death penalty for both people involved. This penalty was only for ancient Israel and is thankfully not applicable today, especially in light of the gospel message about Jesus. However, we can still recognize that punishment as a physical example of a spiritual reality; namely, the payment for sin is death (Rm. 6:23).
What the New Testament Says about Adultery
The New Testament is no less resolute about the outcome of adultery. Outside of the Gospels, most of the information about the subject is relayed to us by the Apostle Paul. Through his various letters to the early churches, Paul records some important understandings about it.
Alongside other contemptible sins, Paul notes adultery to be a “work of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21. That phrase can be loosely interpreted to mean “an immoral inclination because of our sinful nature as humans.” Additionally, this passage and 1Corinthians 6:9-11 both agree that unrepentant adulterers won’t inherit the kingdom of God. This assertion gives us some startling theological insight about the people engaged in adultery; when those actions are ongoing, it’s an indication that the people involved are not currently saved. But thank God for verse eleven!
Hebrews 13:4 extols marriage as a holy union and removes any lingering doubts about adultery. It upholds the Old Testament’s claim as to the spiritual outcome of unrepentant adultery; divine judgment is still coming to adulterers. However, as you’re about to read, a person’s level of judgment is directly tied to their relationship with Jesus.
What Jesus Says about Adultery
Jesus radically alters our perception of adultery but probably not in the way you’re expecting. Instead of loosening the criteria for a guilty verdict, He ratchets it tighter and puts us all in danger!
In Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus reminds the world that almost everyone is guilty of adultery. Even if you haven’t committed the explicit act itself, everyone beyond the age of puberty has likely looked at someone with sexual desire in mind. We are almost all guilty of lust and, therefore, adultery in our heart.
However, just as important as what Jesus said about adultery is what He purportedly did about it. In John 7:53-8:11, Jesus was brought a woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery. Those bringing her asked Him what should be done while noting that the Old Testament penalty was death by stoning. What Jesus said is a jaw-dropping example of wisdom.
Jesus simultaneously affirmed the Old Testament penalty of death but forever reappropriated who could enforce it. He said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn. 8:7, ESV). Since no one but Jesus was sinless, the woman’s accusers left one by one until only she remained. He then notes their absence and how no one is around to condemn her anymore. Though He could have thrown the first stone, Jesus speaks to her words of salvific mercy, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (Jn. 8:11, ESV).
Where Do I Go from Here?
If you were here just looking for information about adultery, I hope this article has helped you understand more about the subject from a biblical perspective. But maybe you’ve committed adultery, or perhaps you’ve been affected by a partner who did. If seeking true forgiveness, both groups of people will be going to the same place. More specifically, they’re going to the same person: Jesus.
Forgiveness is found through the love of Jesus and made possible by His payment of your death penalty on the cross. Bring your shame, hurt, or heartache to Him because He is willing and able to forgive. Much like the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery, Jesus will not condemn you if you come to Him in repentance. Though deserving of divine judgment, He will show you mercy. Place your trust in Him as Savior and follow Him as Lord then heed His universal command to go and sin no more.
May God bless you and give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).
Written By: Nicholas Lakin
Nick is an academic scholar, budding theologian, and thoughtful teacher of the Bible. He has a passion to see others grow in their knowledge of God for the purpose of glorifying Christ. He’s also a graduate of Liberty University and a former United States Army soldier.
His academic works range from commentaries and exegetical analyses to nuanced details regarding the Hebrew and Greek languages of the Bible. His future endeavors include Chaplaincy and founding a nonprofit organization that’s conducive to ecumenical orthodoxy across Protestantism.