The church is made of up individuals who have left the world and its various allurements behind, so that God may create them to be a new creation (2 Cor. 5.17). Other biblical passages indicate that in Christ we are made “one new man” members of “the household of God” (Eph. 2.19).
The Corinthian church was made up of such individuals. They had heard Paul’s message of the Gospel: “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2.2, 1.22-23-4; 15.1-11). They accepted the claims of this message, and live Christian lives of service to the living and true God, with a daily anticipation of the coming of Jesus (1 Thess. 1.9-10).
Within this thought background we find Paul’s sobering and encouraging words in 1 Corinthians 6.9-11: “such were some of you.” The Corinthians enjoyed the Lord’s washing, sanctification, and justification. If they wish to continue to experience these blessings in its final eternal expression – heaven, they must not return to living ungodly.
In this piece we will be briefly examining another sin listed by the apostle Paul in this passage: the one who commits adultery.
Adultery, an Attack on Marriage
To appreciate the nature of adultery, it is vital to reflect on the fact that it is a sin which attacks God’s design of marriage for the human race. When Moses documents the inaugural marriage of Adam and Eve, he writes, “therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2.24).
Jesus Christ, speaking on this passage expands upon the phrase “one flesh” by saying: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19.6). Also, Malachi speaks of this union, affirming, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?” (2.15).
The Bible presents marriage as a permanent “covenant” made before God between man and woman, wherein they live as one single, fully shared human experience as united by God. Such a union is not to be disrupted or severed by anyone. The sin of adultery is, however, an attack upon the marriage, and against God who designed it.
Adultery, its Nature
Adultery in the biblical record is a sexual sin by a married or betrothed person. This is the basic literal meaning in the Hebrew (na’aph) and the Greek (moicheia), and as such are specific examples of “fornication” more accurately translated as “sexual immorality” in the NT (porneia).
The Old Testament is quite explicitly candid in its treatment of adultery. In the Ten Commandments, God told Israel, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exod. 20.13), implicitly touching on it again in verse 17, “you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (20.17). The connection between greed and adultery here must not be ignored (cf. Psa. 50.18).
Moses declares, “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel” (Deut. 22.22; Lev. 18.20, 20.10). The penalty in Israel was death for both transgressors, no distinction is made. Adultery is an equal opportunity destroyer.
On one occasion, Jesus is apparently being baited with a dilemma as to how to treat a woman “caught in the act of adultery” (John 8.4, 6). The case is problematic because Moses required “both of them” (man and woman) to be condemned and “purged”. The fact that they could not stone her, demonstrates their complicity in this “sin” designed to “test” Jesus (John 8.7-8). Where was the man, for she could not be “caught in the act” alone.
In summary, adultery is the sexual sin that a married, or even betrothed, person commits with another person not their rightful spouse (Heb. 13.4); and in so doing, (1) sins against God morally and spiritually by satisfying that passion outside the bounds of marriage He ordained, (2) sins against his/her spouse sexually, emotionally and spiritually; not to mention their children.
Moreover, the adulterer (3) sins against the new partner by empowering them to live in sin and rob them of a genuine and moral relationship, and (4) sins against their very selves, as they push themselves away from God and create a world of lies and betrayal, and rob themselves of peace.
Jesus on Adultery
Jesus spoke on adultery, establishing the timeless fact that “sexual immorality” is the only basis for a legitimate divorce and remarriage:
And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery. (Matt. 19.9)
This demonstrates that divorce and a subsequent new marriage on any other grounds than “sexual immorality”, is also adultery.
The verb “commits adultery” (moichatai) needs some explanation. It is a present tense verb in the indicative mood. This means that the adultery is an ongoing reality. It is in the middle voice, which suggests that the person is “participating in the results of the action” (Brooks and Winbery 111). In other words, the consequences they face are of their own doing.
For this reason, despite civil law allowing for “no fault” divorces, Jesus teaches that those who “divorce and remarry” at will, as is so common in our society, face consequences. They have forfeited their right to remarry, because one cannot live in an adulterous relationship and expect entrance into the eternal blessings of heaven.
This issue is not insurmountable, but it does show that while the guilt of sin can be forgiven, nevertheless sin has consequences (Matt. 19.11-12). As Paul would affirm, “such were some of you”, but you have been saved.