Is a criminal connection between persons who are engaged, one or both, to keep themselves wholly to others; and thus it exceeds the guilt of fornication, which is the same intercourse between unmarried persons. As the highest sin of its kind, and son including all other sins of the flesh, it is forbidden in the seventh commandment. Where polygamy was allowed, as among the ancient Jews, illicit intercourse between a married man and a woman who was married, nor betrothed, constituted not adultery, but fornication.
Fornication may be, in some sense, covered by a subsequent marriage of the parties; but adultery cannot be so healed. Hence God often compares himself to a husband jealous of his honor, Jer 31:32; and hence the forsaking of the true God is compared to fornication and adultery of the vilest kind, Jer 3:9; Eze 23:36-49.
By the Law of Moses, both the man and the woman who had committed adultery were punished with death, Le 20:10; 21:9; Joh 8:5. A woman suspected of this crime might, in order to clear herself, drink the "water of jealousy," as prescribed in Nu 5.
conjugal infidelity. An adulterer was a man who had illicit intercourse with a married or a betrothed woman, and such a woman was an adulteress. Intercourse between a married man and an unmarried woman was fornication. Adultery was regarded as a great social wrong, as well as a great sin.
The Mosaic law (Nu 5:11-31) prescribed that the suspected wife should be tried by the ordeal of the "water of jealousy." There is, however, no recorded instance of the application of this law. In subsequent times the Rabbis made various regulations with the view of discovering the guilty party, and of bringing about a divorce. It has been inferred from Joh 8:1-11 that this sin became very common during the age preceding the destruction of Jerusalem.
Idolatry, covetousness, and apostasy are spoken of as adultery spiritually (Jer 3:6,8-9; Eze 16:32; Ho 1:3; Re 2:22). An apostate church is an adulteress (Isa 1:21; Eze 23:4,7,37), and the Jews are styled "an adulterous generation" (Mt 12:39). (Comp. Re 12.)
A married woman cohabiting with a man not her husband. The prevalent polygamy in patriarchal times rendered it impossible to stigmatize as adultery the cohabitation of a married man with another besides his wife. But as Jesus saith, "from the beginning it was not so," for "He which made male and female said, They twain shall be one flesh." So the Samaritan Pentateuch reads Ge 2:24, as it is quoted in Mt 19:5. A fallen world undergoing a gradual course of remedial measures needs anomalies to be pretermitted for a time (Ro 3:25 margin; Ac 17:30), until it becomes fit for a higher stage, in its progress toward its finally perfect state. God sanctions nothing but perfection; but optimism is out of place in governing a fallen world not yet ripe for it. The junction of the two into one flesh when sexual intercourse takes place with a third is dissolved in its original idea.
So also the union of the believer with Christ is utterly incompatible with fornication (1Co 6:13-18; 7:1-13; 1Ti 3:12). The sanctity of marriage in patriarchal times appears from Abraam's fear, not that his wife will be seduced from him, but that he may be killed for her sake. The conduct of Pharaoh and Abimelech (Genesis 12; 20), implies the same reverence for the sacredness of marriage. Death by fire was the penalty of unchastity (Ge 38:24). Under the Mosaic law both the guilty parties (including those only betrothed unless the woman were a slave) were stoned (De 22:22-24; Le 19:20-22). The law of inheritance, which would have been set aside by doubtful offspring, tended to keep up this law as to adultery. But when the territorial system of Moses fell into desuetude, and Gentile example corrupted the Jews, while the law nominally remained it practically became a dead letter.
The Pharisees' object in bringing the adulterous woman (John 8) before Christ was to put Him in a dilemma between declaring for reviving an obsolete penalty, or else sanctioning an infraction of the law. In Mt 5:48 He condemns their usage of divorce except in the case of fornication. In Mt 1:19, Joseph" not willing to make the Virgin a public example (paradeigmatisai) was minded to put her away privily"; i.e., he did not intend to bring her before the local Sanhedrim, but privately to repudiate her. The trial by the waters of jealousy described in Nu 5:11-29 was meant to restrain oriental impulses of jealousy within reasonable bounds. The trial by "red water" in Africa is very different, amidst seeming resemblance's. The Israelite ingredients were harmless; the African, poisonous. The visitation, if the woman was guilty, was from God direct; the innocent escaped: whereas many an innocent African perishes by the poison. No instance is recorded in Scripture; so that the terror of it seems to have operated either to restrain from guilt, or to lead the guilty to confess it without recourse to the ordeal.
The union of God and His one church, in His everlasting purpose, is the archetype and foundation on which rests the union of man and wife (Eph 5:22-33). (See ADAM.) As he ish) gave Eve (isha) his name, signifying her formation from him, so Christ gives a new name to the church (Re 2:17; 3:12). As He is the true Solomon (Prince of peace), so she the Shulamite (Song 6:13). Hence idolatry, covetousness, and apostasy are adultery spiritually (Jer 3:6,8-9; Eze 16:63; Hosea 1; 2; 3; Re 2:22). An apostate church, the daughter of Jerusalem becoming the daughter of Babylon, is an adulteress (Isa 1:21; Eze 23:4,7,37). So Jesus calls the Jews "an adulterous generation" (Mt 12:39).
The woman in Revelation 12, represented as clothed with the Sun (of righteousness), and crowned with the 12 stars (i.e. the 12 patriarchs of the Old Testament and the 12 apostles of New Testament), and persecuted by the dragon, in Revelation 17, excites the wonder of John, because of her transformation into a scarlet arrayed "mother of harlots," with a cup full of abominations, riding upon a "scarlet colored beast"; but the ten horned beast finally turns upon her, "makes her naked, eats her flesh, and burns her with fire." The once faithful church has ceased to be persecuted by conforming to the godless world and resting upon it. But the divine principle is, when the church apostatizes from God to intrigue with the world, the world, the instrument of her sin, shall at last be the instrument of her punishment. Compare as to Israel (Aholah), and Judah (Aholibah), Ezekiel
23. The principle is being illustrated in the church of Rome before our eyes. Let all professing churches beware of spiritual adultery, as they would escape its penalty.
This was forbidden in the ten commandments; but neither there nor anywhere else is the sin defined. It seems clear, that as far as the man was concerned, if he had intercourse with a woman unless it was with a married woman, he would not be charged with adultery, though he himself might be married; indeed how could he be when he was allowed more wives than one, as well as concubines and slaves? If he committed adultery with a married woman or with one betrothed, both were to be put to death. De 22:22-24. With the woman it was stricter, she must have no intercourse with any man but her husband. If a man was jealous of his wife there was the ordeal of the bitter waters provided to test her innocence. Nu 5:11-31. But we do not read that any man or woman was stoned for adultery, nor that any woman drank the bitter waters. We know from the New Testament that Moses had, because of the hardness of their hearts, allowed a certain looseness, and a man could divorce his wife for any cause, which was easier than bringing a suspected wife to trial. It may be that the men themselves had not good consciences, like those who brought the adulterous woman to the Lord in Joh 8:3. We have a dreadful picture of guiltiness in Judges 19: and Jeremiah charges Israel with being "as fed horses in the morning, every one neighed after his neighbour's wife," which loudly called for judgement. Jer 5:8; 13:27. The Lord declared that a man morally committed adultery (or fornication) in his heart if he lusted after a woman. Adultery had also a typical meaning. Israel had been espoused to Jehovah, but instead of being a faithful wife she had sought other lovers. "With their idols have they committed adultery." Eze 23:37. So the false church, who has Jezebel in her midst, the Lord will cast her "and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds." Re 2:22.
The parties to this crime, according to Jewish law, were a married woman and a man who was not her husband. The Mosaic penalty was that both the guilty parties should be stoned, and it applied as well to the betrothed as to the married woman, provided she were free.
A bondwoman so offending was to be scourged, and the man was to make a trespass offering.
At a later time, and when owing, to Gentile example, the marriage tie became a looser bond of union, public feeling in regard to adultery changed, and the penalty of death was seldom or never inflicted. The famous trial by the waters of jealousy,
was probably an ancient custom, which Moses found deeply seated --(But this ordeal was wholly in favor of the innocent, and exactly opposite to most ordeals. For the water which the accused drank was perfectly harmless, and only by a miracle could it produce a bad effect; while in most ordeals the accused must suffer what naturally produces death, and be proved innocent only by a miracle. Symbolically adultery is used to express unfaithfulness to covenant vows to God, who is represented as the husband of his people.)
ADULTERY, the violation of the marriage bed. The law of Moses punished with death both the man and the woman who were guilty of this crime, Le 20:10. If a woman was betrothed to a man, and was guilty of this infamous crime before the marriage was completed, she was, in this case, along with her paramour, to be stoned, De 22:22-24. When any man among the Jews, prompted by jealousy, suspected his wife of the crime of adultery, he brought her first before the judges, and informed them that in consequence of his suspicions, he had privately admonished her, but that she was regardless of his admonitions. If before the judges she asserted her innocency, he required that she should drink the waters of jealousy, that God might by these means discover what she attempted to conceal, Nu 5:12, &c. The man then produced his witnesses, and they were heard. After this, both the man and the woman were conveyed to Jerusalem, and placed before the sanhedrim; the judges of which, by threats and other means, endeavoured to confound the woman, and make her confess. If she persisted in denying the fact, she was led to the eastern gate of the court of Israel, stripped of her own clothes, and dressed in black, before great numbers of her own sex. The priest then told her that if she was really innocent, she had nothing to fear; but if guilty, she might expect to suffer all that the law had denounced against her, to which she answered, "Amen, amen." The priest then wrote the terms of the law in this form: