Biblical Adultery Prohibitions

When I was a Christian Teen™ back in the 80’s, we were drilled (heh) repeatedly with the idea that sex before marriage must be avoided at all costs. There were three reasons for this, in increasing order of importance.

  1. Tangible unwanted results: pregnancy, STD’s, that sort of thing.
  2. Intangible unwanted results: possible damage to the relationship, to self-esteem, to future marriages, etc.
  3. Because the Bible says so.

It’s #3 that I want to discuss. Exodus 20:14 is the Biblical prohibition against adultery (translated in more modern translations as “Be faithful to your spouse” or words to similar effect). My knowledge of Ancient Hebrew is [del]limited[/del] non-existent, so I have no real way of knowing if this was [is] a prohibition against all sex outside of marriage, or just against sex with someone other than your spouse.

Anyone able to comment?

As I understand it, adultery in the Torah is the specific crime of married woman having sex with a man other than her husband. Men and single women may be doing something that the Big Guy doesn’t like, but it’s not adultery.

And so on and so forth.

Not much uncertainty on this point for Christians.

For the Olde Timey Jews, the question doesn’t really make much sense.

A woman was the property of her Father until she was married, and then became the property of her husband. If a man had sex with a married or engaged woman jhe was stoned to death. If a man had sex with an unmarried woman he had to pay her Father a fine, and then marry the woman. If a woman wasn’t a virgin when she was married, her husband could order her to be stoned to death. With those conditions, the issue of extra-marital sex didn’t really exist for most people.

Nonetheless prostitutes were ubiquitous in Israel, and it was often the only way for a widow, divorcee or orphan to survive. Because such women had no male owners, there was nobody to demand that they retain their “honour”. They probably didn’t practice openly in the sense of hanging out a shingle, but the OT makes it clear that every man had ready access to whores if he wanted them.

So there was no direct prohibition against extra-marital sex for single people, but it wasn’t an act women would casually engage in. It would have been either an act of uncontrollable passion or, more often given that most women were engaged at 10 and married at 15, an act of utter desperation.

Not to threadshit, or anything, but why is any Biblical prohibition on sexual activity relevant? If Onan was sinning, does it really matter if you bang the neighbor?

…but you are going to deliberately threadshit. :rolleyes:

What does that even mean?

You know, Onan. Spilling his seed, and all that. If you can’t masturbate, but everyone does, why should anyone be concerned about other prohibitions?


There is nothing whatsoever about masturbation in the Bible.

The sin of Onan was not masturbation.

And that coupled with a blatant undivided middle: if you can’t even record TV shows without breaking copyright law, why should anyone be concerned about importing 30, 000 fake Rolex watches and selling them to buy heroin?

Thank you for your pointless threadshit based upon ignorance and logical fallacies.

Can you now return us to our scheduled thread? :rolleyes:

Blake’s pretty much got it. OT commandments against adultery are sort of besides the point when the NT is full of even more strict guidelines. Paul says it’s better just to be a virgin for your whole life, while Jesus himself had some rather unrealistic expectations - “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

That’s way more limiting than Onan (even if Onan’s story was about masturbation).

Does he say you shouldn’t do this, or just that it is adultery in your heart? There is a difference.

And **Blake’s **Thessalonians quote just begs the question as to what is sexually immoral.

I know there is probably heaps in the Bible on this. Just nitpicking.

Agreed, Blake is right. The sin in question is fornication, not adultery. Notably, fornication (sometimes translated as sexual immorality) is identified in Acts 21:25 as one of a handful of OT proscriptions binding on Gentile Christians. FWIW, I’m an atheist, but the OP asks about the Bible. That’s what it says.

I also would like to add that Jewish law allows for mistresses (pilagesh) and non-married consenting adults (such as widowers) to have sex. Plenty of laws governing such a thing as well…basically, the women have less of a contract of fall on.

Edited to add: This is rather outdated Jewish law.

I think the OP is posing a question at quite an advanced level and the question can’t be answered properly without stating exactly what the word used in the original text meant at the time it was written. PBear42’s cite illustrates the point nicely in that the same piece of text translates the crucial word variously as “sexual immorality”, “sexual sins”, “lewdness” “fornication” and “whoredom”. Given that the first two of these translations just beg the question, the third is so vague as to be useless, the fourth currently just means sex with a married woman (not between unmarried people) and the last currently has to involve payment, there is work to be done.

Since the preceding verse is “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’”, I think it’s clear that Jesus is taking the OT commandment and expanding it to include even impure thoughts about a woman.

And Paul is very clear that, in his understanding of Jesus’ teachings, that it is best for a man to remain unmarried (and thus, a virgin).

Actually some widows had an out in that they became property of the brother of their husband, and he was expected to take care of her and father children for his brother through her. The real sin of Onan was breaking that covenant.

I agree with most of the posters here:

  1. The commandment in Exodus (‘adultery’) refers to having sex with someone other than your spouse; an unmarried person cannot commit adultery. Although as a teenager I was taught that by having pre-marital sex you are cheating on your future spouse.

  2. Jesus made a lot of the old commandments even more restrictive. “You have heard X, but I say to you Y.” Not only don’t commit adultery, but don’t lust. Not only don’t commit murder, but don’t be angry with your brother.

  3. Onan’s sin was cheating his deceased brother and his sister-in-law out of a son and heir, not masturbation.

I remember, from my own teenage years, passages such as the ones Blake quotes being cited as prohibitions against premarital sex. And I remember being dubious as to what the words translated “fornication” or “sexual immorality” really meant. It always seemed to me that Paul was exhorting his readers to avoid doing what they already know is wrong, rather than teaching them exactly what sexual behaviors are prohibited.

Sex between an unattached man and an unattached woman is not prohibited by Torah law, strictly speaking.

I have nothing else to say at this time.

Clearly Jesus was wrong!

Since he said ‘woman’ rather than ‘married woman’, under Jewish law that would be fornication rather than adultery in your heart.

What if the women get’s married afterwards and can’t prove she is a virgin? Aren’t they supposed to kill her?