Exodus 20:14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.

The virtues of purity are the basis of the domestic relations, and as the family is the foundation of human society, the class of duties here involved are second only to those which preserve man's existence. Hence it is that immediately following the Commandment which declares the sacredness of human life, there is that which is a hedge about the highest relationship of creaturehood—safeguarding the holy function of the procreation of life. Nothing is more essential for the social order than that the relationship upon which all others are subsequently based should be jealously protected against every form of attack. The Commandment is a simple, unqualified, irrevocable negative: "thou shalt not." No argument is used, no reason is given, because none is required. This sin is so destructive and damning that it is in itself sufficient cause for the stern forbidding.

The Body Belongs to God

This Commandment plainly intimates that God claims the body as well as the soul for His service:

Romans 12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

Romans 6:12; 8:13 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof … if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

1 Corinthians 6:13, 15, 20 The body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body … Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid … glorify God in your body, and in your spirit.

For a Christian, this foul sin is sacrilege: "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you!" (1 Corinthians 6:19). If Christ was indignant when He saw the house of God turned into a den of thieves, how much more heinous in His sight must be that wickedness which debases the temple of the Holy Spirit into a filthy sty!

The Prohibition

"Thou shalt not commit adultery." This prohibition is designed to guard the sanctity of the home, for strictly speaking, "adultery" is a crime which none but a married person can commit; "fornication" being the name of it when done by one who is single. As the One with whom we have to do is ineffably pure and holy, He requires us to depart from all uncleanness. This Commandment respects more especially the government of the affections and passions, the keeping of our minds and bodies in such a chaste frame that nothing impure or immodest may defile us. It requires the proper discipline of those inclinations which God has implanted in order to the increase of the human species. Therefore are we to avoid everything that may be an occasion of this sin, using all proper means and methods to prevent all temptations thereto.

How God regards sins of uncleanness has been made clear by many passages in His Word. This sin, even on the part of an unmarried man, is called "great wickedness against God" (Genesis 39:9); how much more inexcusable and intolerable is it, then, on the part of a married person! The temporal punishment meted out to it under the civil law of Israel was no less than death—the same that was meted out to murder. Job calls it "a heinous crime, a fire that consumeth to destruction" (Job 31:11-12). Much of this wickedness is practiced in secret, but though its perpetrators may escape the judgment of man, they shall not escape the judgment of heaven, for it is written, "whoremongers and adulterers God shall judge" (Hebrews 13:4).

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers shall inherit the kingdom of God.
The sin of adultery is scarcely less enormous than that of murder. The latter destroys man's temporal existence, the former destroys all that makes existence a boon. Were all to take the license of the adulterer, men would, in due time, be reduced to the degradation of wild beasts.1


To prevent this sin, God has instituted the ordinance of marriage: "to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband" (1 Corinthians 7:2). The sin of adultery is therefore the violation of the marriage covenant and vow, and so adds perjury to infidelity. Immorality is a sin against the body (1 Corinthians 6:18). God's displeasure against this sin is seen in the fact He has so ordered it that nature itself visits the same with heavy penalties in every part of man's complex being:

Galatians 6:7-8 Be not deceived: God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption.

Though marriage be the Divinely appointed remedy for the sin of sexual uncleanness, that does not grant man the license to make a beast of himself.

Let it not be supposed by married persons that all things are lawful to them. Every man should observe sobriety towards his wife, and every wife, reciprocally, towards her husband; conducting themselves in such a manner as to do nothing unbecoming the decorum and temperance of marriage. For thus ought marriage contracted in the Lord to be regulated by moderation and modesty, and not to break out into the vilest lasciviousness. Such sensuality has been stigmatized by Ambrose with a severe but not unmerited censure, when he calls those who in their conjugal intercourse have no regard to modesty, the adulterers of their own wives.2

Adultery of the Heart and Mind

Let no man flatter himself with the idea that he cannot be charged with unchastity because he has abstained from the actual deed while his heart is a cesspool of defiling imaginations and desires. Because God's Law is "spiritual" (Romans 7:14), it not only forbids the gross outward acts of filthiness, but prohibits and condemns unchastity of heart as well—all unlawful imaginations and contemplations. As there is such a thing as heart murder, so there is heart adultery, and he who commits speculative uncleanness and prostitutes his thoughts and imaginations to the impure embraces of lust is guilty of transgressing this Commandment:

Matthew 5:28 Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Therefore we find the Apostle did not content himself with saying that it is better for a man to marry than pollute himself with a harlot, but "it is better to marry than to burn" (1 Corinthians 7:9)—harbor consuming passion.

All Kinds of Uncleanness are Forbidden

Although the sin of "adultery" is alone specifically mentioned in this precept, the rule by which these Commandments are to be interpreted obliges us to understand that all other kinds of uncleanness are prohibited under that of this one gross sin. Everything that defiles the body is here forbidden; adultery is expressly mentioned because all other moral pollutions tend thereto. By the wickedness of that which all men know to be wrong, we are exhorted to abominate every unlawful passion. As all manner of chastity in our thoughts, words, and actions is enjoined by the perfect rule of God, so whatever is in the least contrary and prejudicial to spotless chastity and modesty is here prohibited. Every other sexual union save that of marriage is accursed in God's sight.

This Commandment forbids all degrees or approaches to the sin prohibited, as looking in order to lust. Its force is, "You shall in no way injure your neighbor's chastity or tempt to uncleanness." It requires that we abstain from:

  • Immodest apparel
  • Indelicate speech
  • Intemperance in food and drink which excites the passions
  • Everything which has any tendency to induce unchastity in ourselves or others

Let young people especially fix it in mind that all unclean conduct before marriage on the part of man or woman is a wrong done against the marriage to be.

Though this commandment be expressed in the form of a negative prohibition, yet positively it enjoins all the opposite duties, such as cleanliness of the body, filling the mind with holy objects, setting our affection on things above, spending our time in profitable occupations.

Rules and Helps for Avoiding Such Sins

  1. Cultivate a habitual sense of the Divine presence, realizing that, "The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good" (Proverbs 15:3).

  2. Keep a strict watch over the senses: these are the avenues which instead of letting in pleasant streams to refresh, only too often let in mud and mire to pollute the soul. Make a covenant with the eyes (Job 31:1). Stop the ears against all filthy conversation. Read nothing which defiles. Watch your thoughts, and labor to promptly expel evil ones.

  3. Practice sobriety and temperance (1 Corinthians 9:27). They who indulge in gluttony and drunkenness generally find their excess froth and foam turn into lust.

  4. Exercise yourself in honest and lawful employment, for idleness proves as fatal to many as intemperance to others.

  5. Avoid the company of the wicked.

  6. Be much in earnest prayer, begging God to cleanse your heart (Psalm 119:36).

Spiritual Adultery

James 4:4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?

This refers to the sin of spiritual adultery—it is love of the world estranging the heart from God, carnal lusts enticing the soul and drawing it away from Him. There is more than enough in God Himself to satisfy, but there is still that in the believer which desires to find his happiness in the creature. There are degrees of this sin, as of the natural: as there may be physical adultery in thought and longing which terminates not in the overt act, so the Christian may secretly hanker after the world though he become not an utter worldling. We must check such inclinations when our hearts are unduly drawn forth to material comforts and contentment. God is a jealous God, and nothing provokes Him more that that we should prefer base things before Himself, or give to others that affection or esteem which belongs to Him alone. Leave not your "first love" (Revelation 2:4), nor forsake Him to whom you are "espoused" (2 Corinthians 11:2).

Taken from Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 20, No. 9, September 1941.


  1. ^R.L. Dabney.
  2. ^John Calvin.

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