eMeditation on the Bible
Question: What is the context of the seventh commandment, “Do not commit adultery”?
In the Bible, the term “adultery” refers to a sexual relationship in which at least one of the persons is married or engaged to another person.
In the ancient world, laws that regulated sex and marriage served the purpose of maintaining order within society based upon a particular society’s culture and worldview. Since there were a wide variety of cultures, there were a wide variety of arrangements and prohibitions related to sex and marriage. Polygamy – one man married to multiple wives at the same time – was common. Fathers often had exclusive authority to select a spouse for a child, especially a daughter. The purpose of marriages was often to enlarge the family group or tribe, or make it stronger or wealthier by combining with a more powerful or richer group. Many laws regulating sex and marriage were based on low status attitudes toward women; thus, women were treated as the property of men or existing only to give birth to the husband’s children, raise them and manage the household. Under these types of arrangements, marriage was often not based on love between the husband and wife; and it was acceptable for men to have lovers outside of their marriage. Thus, there were many different regulations for sex and marriage in the ancient world.
The Bible rejects cultural arrangements and regulations for sex and marriage that are based on a low status view of women as well as views of marriage that are not based on mutual love and respect between the husband and wife. Although there are elements of ancient marriage practices in the oldest parts of the Bible, the low status of women and marriage apart from love are never explicitly endorsed by God in the Bible. Whenever the Bible clearly presents God’s design for sex and marriage, it is based on a reciprocal relationship of love and loyalty. This is the principle expressed by the seventh command: “Do not commit adultery.” The command does not pertain to property rights or expanding a tribe or many of the other concerns of ancient people. The command is based on God’s core values for marriage: love, kindness, respect, loyalty and commitment to one’s promises.
Loyalty and commitment to promises are key values of the seventh commandment. However, sometimes we are tempted to only keep our promises as long as it is convenient or beneficial to us. Sometimes we are told that our ultimate loyalty should be to ourselves. However, true character and integrity as a son/daughter in God’s family involves growing in our commitment to faithfulness to our promises and loyal to those to whom we have committed ourselves. Unless we have been abused or abandoned by our spouse, marriage is the ultimate test of character as it relates to loyalty and promise-keeping.
Respond by Growing
The prohibition on adultery is a fence around your marriage that reminds you to focus on growing in your capacity to love, respect and be supportive to your spouse. Growing in this kind of love is an important aspect of your overall spiritual growth, development and maturity.