But I say to you: adultery

sermon-on-the-mountA Teaching About Adultery.  27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28 But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.

Reaffirmation. The Decalogue’s absolute prohibition of “adultery” (moicheia; see Ex 20:14; Deut 5:18) refers specifically to a married woman’s having sexual relations with a man other than her husband, and it is to be distinguished from “fornication” (porneia; illicit sex general). Adultery was considered a violation of the husband’s exclusive right to his wife and the assurance that children born to her were his own. Both the woman and the man involved were considered guilty of adultery, whether or not the man was married. Jesus’ teaching does not abolish the Decalogue’s command against adul­tery, but reaffirms it.

Radicalization. Jesus then goes to the root of the thing: the intent of the Law. He proclaims that every man who looks on the wife of another for the purpose of sexual desire is already an adulterer in his inmost being. Although both men and women can be guilty of adultery, Jesus presup­poses the patriarchal setting of both the original Decalogue and his own time by explicating his own command in terms of the man. This is remarkable, since the woman was often consid­ered the offending party (cf. John 7:53-8:1). Strictly interpreted, this text does not deal with natural sexual desire and its associated fantasy, but with the intentional lustful look at the wife of another. This observation, however, should not be used to domesticate Jesus’ radical demand. As in 5:21-27, not only the physical deed, but the intention of the heart as well makes one guilty before the Law of God.

Situational Application. Jesus exaggerates to make his point with the shocking metaphor of self-mutilation (cf. Mk 9:43, 47; Mt 18:8-9). Matthew likely mentions the eye first since that is the gateway to the sexual objectification that is present in this sin. Beyond that people speculate about associating body parts with specific sins, but the point of the text is likely the comparison of a body part to the whole of the body. Again, it is a pointer to the divine judgment on those whose earthly relationships do not conform to the values of the kingdom of heaven.


Notes

Matthew 5:27 commit adultery: moicheuseis The verse accurately quotes Exodus 20:14 and Deut 5:18 which concerns a man who has sexual relations with a married woman (another man’s wife)

Matthew 5:27 adultery: moicheia is understood to involve married persons

Sources

  • T. France, The Gospel of Matthew in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 2007) 177-217
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