The adultery commandment of Exodus 20:14 seems like a pretty good idea at first blush. Marriage is a contract in which two people commit their lives to each other, and if they’re screwing around behind each other’s backs, nothing good can come out of that. Thus, it should be made illegal. Well, like every other commandment we’ve discussed, the bible is horribly vague. First of all, God hasn’t made any attempt to even define adultery, and, as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details.
We can use the colloquial definition, which means, “having sex with someone who isn’t your spouse,” a rule that applies equally to husband and wife. But as believers point out, it doesn’t matter how modern society views the law, it matters how God views the law. Which means, that we need to know what adultery means in the context of the bible.
We’ll soon learn, that, according to the bible, if a married women has sex with anyone except her husband, she has committed adultery. Okay, so far the bible is in harmony with our modern definition. Now surely that same rule applies to married men, right? Well, don’t forget that this is a time when women are considered a liability. Fathers had to pay a dowry to the men who would take them off their hands and assume ownership.
Regarding men, it’s only adultery if they have sex with another married women. Married men are allowed to have have sex with prostitutes, concubines, and their other wives without the act being considered adultery. Also, unmarried men can have sex with other unmarried women as long as they’re not virgins (more on that later). Furthermore, women are not allowed to have multiple husbands, concubines, or visit male-prostitutes.
In case you’re wondering, fornication (premarital sex) is mentioned in a negative light in the Old Testament, but it is never once considered a crime. Although, like the word adultery, the definition of fornicate has changed since the bible was translated.
We know about these unfair advantages for men, not just from our understanding of ancient Middle-Eastern cultures, but also from the bible itself (remember Judah shagging his daughter-in-law?).
This is how adultery is defined in the Old Testament, but we know that God changes his unchanging mind in the New Testament because Jesus tells us that looking at a woman lustfully or getting a divorce is considered adultery (Matthew 5:27-32).
I’ve never been married, so I can’t have committed adultery using the Old Testament’s definition. However, when it comes to Jesus’ definition of looking at women lustfully, I cheerfully break that sucker every day!