What is adultery in the bible and other discourses on the subject. This was an interesting exchange so have included several of the e-mails. The following gives a little of the flavor of the interaction between the inquirer and myself.
Maybe I can make the biblical definition of adultery in the Old Testament a little clearer. The Bible’s definition of adultery is not the same and that used in contemporary society. According to Biblical law, whether or not adultery has occurred depends exclusively on the woman’s marital status. A married woman who has sexual relations with anyone other than her husband is regarding as having committed adultery, as is her lover. However, an unmarried woman who has sex with a married man has not committed adultery, nor has her lover. Biblical law permits a man to have more than one wide, therefore having sex with a woman other than one’s wife is not viewed LEGALLY as a betrayal of one’s spouse. However, since a woman is forbidden to have no more than one husband, sex with anyone other than her husband is always regarded as adultery. In the ancient world in which the biblical definition of adultery was generally considered to be a crime against the husband alone. He had the right to insist upon punishment for the adulterous couple, or to forgive them. Take the case of Joseph and Mary. When he learned she was with child he was want to put her away privately and not cause her to suffer under the law. Of course, he was informed that the pregnancy was of the Ruach (Holy Spirit) and he married her. Marriage is not considered consummated until there is sexual union. Remember, betrothal had the same restrictions on sexual conduct as a marriage. In the biblical view, adultery is also regarded as a crime against G-d; therefore, it is not within the purview of the cuckolded spouse to forgive the betrayal. According to rabbinic law, if a woman commits adultery, she is subsequently forbidden to both her husband and to her lover. Yet we see in Scripture that David marries Bathsheba with whom he had an earlier adulterous relationship (and G-d allows it) and Hosea takes back a wife who had betrayed him. Traditional Jewish law forbids a man from acting as Hosea did for his wife committed adultery, and was a prostitute in the common understanding of the word. In Jeremiah 3:1 we read: Jer 3:1 They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man’s, shall he return unto her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD. In the case of Hosea G-d is giving Israel an object lesson that he has taken her back many times for her spiritual adulteries but He will no longer do so.
As to the difference between Adultery (see above) and fornication the terms are interchangeable and you have to look to the context of the Hebrew passages where you encounter the word. Now, to try to answer your questions below. I have answered in bold print in the section where you have asked the question. Apply the rules above.
Also, as the Jewish sages said when the Messiah comes (He came) He would interpret the Torah (Law) for us. Since Yahshua’s advent He has clearly stated that G-d intended for us the be the husband and wife of one person. Therefore, any outside sexual activity a part from marriage would constitute adultery.
Thanks for your time and knowledge of the scriptures. I have a few more questions. I know you are a busy man but if you could help with this, I would greatly appreciate it. I could call you if it would be quicker and easier than email.
1. married man with unbetrothed virgin equals a marriage but is it considered fornication? Could a man have 2 wives legally?
Yes, a man could have more than one wife legally in that time, therefore if it is not rape a woman taken becomes his wife and neither are guilty of adultery and has no legal standing. Fornication is sexual knowledge or knowing meaning sexual intercourse and would be levied against a woman more than a man to stigmatize her as an unclean woman of ill repute who is not available for marriage to an observant man.
2. married man with unmarried woman not a virgin is prostitution, what penalties apply?
Prostitutes were considered ritually unclean but tolerated, and if a man was found to be with one no penalty was exacted, but he was considered ritually impure and had to perform ritual absolution. Read the story of Judah and Tamar in Gen 38: 1-26. I did not mean to imply that because a man had sex with a woman not married she is a prostitute. This might not be the case. She may have sex with him because she loves him and takes no money for her favors. In any case, it is not adultery for the reasons above on either side according to biblical law .
3. unmarried man with unbetrothed virgin is a marriage but is it considered fornication?
Only in the sense that fornication implies sexual union. Fornication had no legal validity.
4. unmarried man and unmarried woman not a virgin is prostitution, what penalties apply?
Two unmarried people do not necessarily mean the woman is a prostitute even though she is not a virgin. She may be promiscuous but takes no money for her favors. What I recall is I gave you three examples and listed a “prostitute” as one but did not mean all sexual unions with women who are not virgins makes her a prostitute. See the bible reference above concerning Judah and Tamar.
10 And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
This confused me because if the definition of adultrey only meant a man being with a married woman why would it specify the type of adultery – “adultrey with another man’s wife”. Am I reading this correctly that it implies that there are other types of adultery besides a man being with another man’s wife?
See the above. Any sexual union with a married woman by an unmarried or married man constitutes adultery.
This alludes to a man not married having sexual relations with a woman who is and that is adultery. The woman’s husband is offended and he can exact the full measure of the law, death, or he can forgive them although this action is outside G-d’s law. I have given you three examples above. Chesed “loving kindness.” It was grace extended by the husband over and above the Law. Yahshua extends us grace through His faithfulness when the Law demands death by forgiving us of past sins (Romans 3:25) if we trust His faithfulness.
There are two kinds of adultery. Betraying the bonds of marriage legally only applied to the woman in biblical times and that of Spiritual Adultery.
3 But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore.
Is this refering to children of a married man and an unmarried woman that is not a virgin? Or does this mean idolotry?
It is a metaphor of Idolatry
Your statement “the penalty of death which is adultery.” Are you saying that “adultery” also refers to the punishment and not just the act?
Penalty of death was enacted against adulterers but not fornicators when the meaning is sexual union not constituting adultery as in the cases cited above in the opening. I don’t remember how I used the above term in context, but the meaning is that the act that constitutes legal adultery results in the punishment of death.
Could you tell me why you are interested in this subject? Is there something specific that is bothering you? I do not mean to get personal, but it is obvious that you have given it a lot of thought. I’m curious because I get all kinds of questions I get inquiries from many people who are writing a thesis or essay on biblical subjects, preparing bible classes for their church, etc., and I was wondering if this is the reason for the interest. Many of the inquiries are from religious institutions and professors of Bible and religion. Some for bible students attending college. Your e-mail address suggests to me the Virginia Military Institute. Am I correct? With a little more information, I might be better able to address your concern if the above is not sufficient. There is such a body of information on the subject it requires “whittling” down a little.