Bible reference – Exodus 20:14
Thou shalt not commit adultery.KJV
What I thought this meant: Do not have sex with someone you are not married to.
What I think this really means: Honor your commitments. Do not scar someone physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. Do not defile a person.
When I think of the bible, I don’t immediately think of sex. However, the only reason I know the word “adultery” is because of the bible. And I only “know” the word in the loosest sense, seeing as up until now I thought adultery and adult were related. They are not. Adultery comes from the Latin for “pollute or defile”, whereas adult comes from the Latin for “completing adolescence.”
The term adultery refers specifically to sex, as opposed to infidelity, which includes any sort of unfaithful acts. Therefore, this Commandment deals specifically with sex, and specifically with marriage.
In modern society, we are sold 2 fundamental lies about marriages:
LIE #1: You will marry your “soul mate”. People have been trained to look for their version of perfection in others. Regardless, compatibility relies on a lot of traits matching up. Not only that, but people often have “deal-breakers” in relationships. When I was dating, I loved cranking the AC all night. Some gals could not stand the cold. This might sound incredibly stupid, but we spend about 1/3 of our lives sleeping. What about a compromise? Even the best compromise is a mitigation. A tiny pebble in your shoe seems like a mere annoyance, but we are talking about a lifetime of wearing this shoe. After a while, it will bore a bloody hole in your foot. It only takes 1 true deal-breaker to undermine a relationship. And the deal breakers may not have anything to do with the person’s character. What if your soul mate’s parents are racist? What if your soul mate is 20 years older or younger than you? What if your soul mate loves the city, and you love the country? There are a lot of potential ways that a relationship could be scuttled.
This is assuming you even know what all your deal-breakers are. Here’s the other thing: we often approach relationships as a way to complete ourselves, or to fix ourselves. We are told to look for our “perfect match”, our “other half,” or our “better half”. Why not figure yourself out first? Otherwise, why inflict your neediness or wanting on someone else? That just multiplies the things that could go wrong. What if you only discover something is a deal-breaker after you are married? Now you have to navigate a minefield, where any misstep could lead to a slow grind toward misery.
Now, let’s say this person manages to hit all your compatibility check-marks, and tip-toes past all of your known and unknown deal-breakers. That is literally like winning the lottery. Now… it’s your turn to check their compatibility marks and tiptoe past all of their deal-breakers. That’s something we easily forget: the person of our dreams has to also think we are the person of their dreams. That’s like winning the powerball. What are the statistics on this? A billion to one?
Here is the kicker: We act like this is supposed to happen. Easily. A soul mate is such a rare thing – statistically ridiculous – yet growing up I kept hearing about “finding Ms. Right or Mr. Perfect.” We literally expect perfection. Was I the only one? Whenever we hear about our “soul mate”, we are telling everyone to expect an impossible thing with absolute certainty.
LIE #2: You’re going to find your soul mate in your prime dating years. When do people start getting pressured to get married? Late-teens – almost immediately after someone becomes an adult? Twenties – when many other people are entering bad marriages? Thirties – feeling pressure to make babies? Forties – when you can score a rebound from a fresh divorce, because surely this time they will know better?
Let’s look back at the statistics. Let’s say finding your soul mate is possible, and you have a billion to 1 shot. At present there are about 7.5 billion people on the planet. Let’s assume you are willing to date someone around your age, so we cut that population into 1/3 (no kids, no old people). That gives about 2.5 billion people. Let’s assume you prefer a partner that you can have a biological child with through sexual intercourse. Let’s cut that number in half – roughly 1.25 billion. So, assuming your soul mate is literally 1 in a billion, you have 1.25 soul mates on the entire planet! So good news! Statistically, you should have at least one. Bad news… that person could live anywhere on the planet.
Now, how long will it take to find that person? If your dating life is 30 years, and you were willing to date every single day, you would have about 11,000 days to get through 1.25 billion people. So assuming it took 1 date to know your soul mate was the one, you would have to go on about 114,000 dates… a day.
We are sold this incredible paradox: Here’s this impossible task… why haven’t you done it yet? And people just pretend like that’s normal. It’s no wonder people have a distorted view of marriage.
With that cognitive dissonance, how could you take marriage seriously? How can a young person, a kid in many cases, possibly understand the magnitude of making a lifelong decision, when people underplay the difficulty and then apply constant pressure to get it done?
What’s the longest time you have kept a promise? Most people’s decisions last a few months or years: a hair style, a TV show, a hobby , a job. Maybe you drive a car for 8 years. Maybe you live in the same town for 20 years. Do you have any regrets? If you had to live with a decision your whole life, do you trust yourself to make that decision?
Now consider that your decision involves another person. You go through a process. You get married. You commit yourself for life. Then, you change your mind? You will wreck that other person’s life. It’s not the same as murdering them, but they’ve been damaged, defiled. That is the crime.
What about sex?
I remember a heated exchange with a friend in college. She and I tended to agree on things, but I had mentioned that anyone who has sex needs to be prepared to have children. At the time, it didn’t seem like a controversial statement. Her look make me feel like my face suddenly pinched into a full butt. She thought I was insane. From her perspective, of course she was not ready to have children, but why should that prevent her from having sex, as long as she was being responsible about it (i.e. avoid having children)?
According to the UN, there were 33 million “unintended” pregnancies in 2010. That figure is specifically from contraception failures or misuse. Who knows how many drunken hook-up pregnancies are out there? How many are results of uncontrolled moments of passion? How many accidental parents are willing to admit it to the UN? If a child is born to parents that are not ready to have one for one reason or another… then that kid’s life is damaged, probably ruined. Forever. That is the crime.
Does that mean I avoid driving cars altogether because of the slim chance I could murder or maim someone?
I practiced driving for years. I studied for multiple driving exams in multiple countries. I regularly renew my licenses. I make a commitment. And when I do, I hold myself accountable. Did I take it as seriously as a kid? Of course not, which is why I think the driving tests should be harder. Some driving tests are a joke in the US, but once you have one, you can just get handed an international license. I got one easily to drive in Japan, even though I was totally not comfortable driving on the other side of the road in a car with a wheel on the other side of it. I was a threat to the population of Japan.
By having sex with another person, you invite the possibility of having illegitimate children. You rob those children of agency, and through no fault of their own, their life is damaged, and the effects potentially radiate through generations and generations. As a child of divorce, I know it damaged me. It damaged my mom. It likely contributed to my sister’s suicide. I wonder if my damage will pass to my son, so much so that before he was born I was reluctant to have children.
So is it just the pregnancy aspect that makes this a big deal?
Does that mean butt stuff is ok? If you agree to marry someone, you are making a promise for all time, and your spouse is making a promise to you for all time. The bible describes it as being one flesh. This could mean just sex, like putting squishy parts together, or it could also mean becoming one entity, one being. If you betray that commitment… like with butt stuff with someone else, are you acting on behalf of your new shared being or your old single self? Your old single self should not exist anymore. That is the commitment. If you break the covenant of being one flesh, your new shared being is ruined. That is defilement of life. You could lie about it, which is another sin… but regardless, your spouse will find out. They usually do, especially over a lifetime. And even if they don’t, if you are willing to betray your spouse and subsequently lie about it… then does that sound like you were ready to commit to being one flesh in the first place? I suspect that ought to be part of the homework for a lifelong decision.
What if your spouse is into polyamory? I think the loophole here is if your commitment is not broken (because of a different type of marriage), there is no defilement. That seems reasonable… but if getting 1 soul mate is statistically ridiculous, I don’t envy the prospect of getting multiple sexual partners all on the same page, as well as having children that are ok having multiple “moms” and “dads”. This situation, however, may slip into the sanctity, or sacredness, of marriage itself as an institution.
George Bush says two gay people getting married would violate the sanctity of marriage. The sanctity of marriage. The sanctity. Is anybody here married? Does it feel like a gift from God to you?Greg Giraldo
Does marriage have to be between one man and one woman? I think that is for another time.
What about just thinking about it?
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.Jesus Christ, Matthew 5:27-28
Wait. Did Jesus say we cannot even think about having sex with someone outside of marriage? That seems to contradict the Third Commandment in Context. However, the difference is the phrase “to lust after”. That indicates intention. That indicates a willingness to betray. Being married means you have already committed to being one unit, one life, one flesh. And now, you are willing to betray that commitment. That’s like saying, “I would really consider cutting off my arm to bang that person” – it’s a big deal. I don’t think it means acknowledging good qualities in other people, or having elaborate fantasies. If you’re seriously considering betraying your commitment, then a lot of things must have already gone wrong. So it makes sense that Jesus says – if you are at that point… you’re already at least coveting anyway… you might as well consider your marriage over. This article has a interesting breakdown of this passage.
You’ve made a promise. Now keep it.
Does this pass the Ricky Gervais Test? Yes. Assuming the concept of marriage exists, then this rule will surely follow. Societies are built on trust.
Does it make sense at #7? If it were just about sex, it would make no sense to have this Commandment directly after murder. The 6th Commandment is about literally taking life, and the opportunity to find peace, joy, or purpose. Looking at adultery as the crime of savagely curtailing others’ ability to do that seems fitting.
According to a source describing how adultery is interpreted in contemporary society, one angle is public health – limiting extra-marital sex reduces sexually transmitted diseases. Another angle is public welfare – fewer illegitimate children means fewer pressures on society for their care and consequences. Then there is the moral angle – less extra-marital sex favors a “good” society. Finally, there is the function of preserving the institution of marriage.
By extension, I think this can be extrapolated to any form of sexual defilement: molestation, incest, rape. It could also be extrapolated to any form of physical, mental, or spiritual defilement, including torture or slavery. There are a lot of crimes that people point to as not being explicitly mentioned as Commandments. This could refer to all of them.
Crimes of sexual defilement violate a person’s potential. Those affected are cast in a permanent shadow that takes time and effort to overcome. In some cases, those things will never be overcome. Innocence cannot be replaced. Trust is not easily replaced. Adultery is a type of theft – an abstract theft, where you are stealing a part of someone’s psyche or sanity, which tends to cause permanent damage, as opposed to the 8th Commandment, which can be seen as more of a theft of goods or material.
It seems to make sense in the progression.