By Wayne S. Walker
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers…[will inherit the kingdom of God]” (1 Corinthians 6:9). Adulterers are those who have unlawful sexual intercourse with the spouse of another. As we noted in our previous discussion of fornicators, when the two sins are distinguished, fornication refers to sexually immoral people who are unmarried, while adultery refers to sexually immoral people who are married, just “not to each other.” We read, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4). Both sins pervert God’s plan for marriage. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). “Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). However, adultery is in a special way a violation of one’s marriage vows.
God has always condemned adultery. It was serious enough in His sight that one of the Ten Commandments given to the nation of Israel was, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). As an aside, one early printing of the English Bible (1631) was called the “Wicked Bible” because it accidentally left out the word “not” in this commandment—“Thou shalt commit adultery.” God’s general attitude towards adultery can be seen in the punishment that He attached to it. “The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10). One notable example of adultery in the Scriptures was that of David and Bathsheba. Because of his repentance, David was forgiven and not put to death, but he suffered consequences from his sin for the rest of his life.
God’s attitude regarding adultery has not changed. “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). As Paul lists some of the sinful works of the flesh, for which he again says “that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God,” the very first one that he mentions is adultery.
Yet, in spite of the fact that the Bible clearly teaches that adultery is a sinful work of the flesh and is condemned by God, in a 1984 report of a survey of college religion teachers and “pastoral counselors,” sixteen percent did not think that adultery was wrong. Closer to our time, according to a report by Bloomberg Businessweek, the most recent data from the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey show that women have had more affairs in the past two decades than in previous years. The percentage of men who admitted to infidelity “held constant at 21 percent,” while “the percentage of wives having affairs rose to 14.7 percent in 2010.” These numbers may not seem overly large, but given the fact that God’s word is so plain on the subject, they are still somewhat surprising.
Adultery may take different forms. We usually think of adultery as breaking one’s marriage vows by cheating on one’s spouse, such as the “woman caught in adultery…in the very act” (John 8:1-5). Of course, since a person cannot commit adultery by oneself and she was found in the very act, we are made to wonder where the man was and why he was not taken too. Then, Jesus said that for a man to look at a woman to lust for her is equivalent to committing adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28). And the Bible tells us that unscriptural divorce and remarriage causes one to be guilty of adultery (Matthew 19:9, Romans 7:2-3). What does God say about all this? “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). In spite of the world’s loose and carefree attitude towards this sin, it is enmity with God and anyone who does it “will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
—in Search for Truth, May 24, 2015 (Vol. VI, No. 42)