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: Consider your lifelong commitments. Do not defile a person (e.g. Do not scar someone physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually).
The only reason I know the word “adultery” is because of the bible. And by “know” I mean “skimmed past while reading”, 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 concept of avoiding corruption fits well as a Commandment in a broad sense… and it seems to open the door to having all kinds of sex outside of marriage. Great! People love sex! However, the term adultery refers specifically to sexual indiscretion, as opposed to infidelity, which refers to unfaithful acts in general. Therefore it seems that the bible is pretty strict regarding sex and marriage. Boo.
Why does the bible have to be so lame about sex?
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 even 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… what happens?
“Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.”William Makepeace Thackeray, though I remember it from “The Crow” with Brandon Lee
To a child, parents are everything. As the world emerges around the kid in a riot of burgeoning senses, parents should be there to ease the transitions. My parents divorced. Growing up without a dad made me question how I failed him and made me wonder why he did not love us enough to stay. A gaping sense of inadequacy plagued me throughout my life, and shadows of it still spill out from time to time even now. That is an irreparable scar on my soul.
Aren’t there kids that come out of it ok? I mean, if a parent is gone from the beginning, the kid won’t know to miss it… right? It’s true. Whatever you grow up with is normal. Poor kids don’t know they’re poor. Chinese kids don’t know they’re Chinese. And if you don’t have a parent… that is just what life is. However, parents also serve as models for humanity. I was not old enough when my dad left to have a sense of what a man was. My sister taught me to shave. My mom bought all my clothes. Even though I inevitably grew past boyhood, did that mean I was a man? I struggle today to understand how a man should behave because I had no model for it. As a dad now, I drift in uncharted waters. See my kid emulating me shocks me in how influential I am. My genetics, my behavior, my speech all seem to manifest in him, unfiltered and unapologetically. If was never in his life, I suspect he would wonder where his skin tone came from. If I disappeared today, I suspect he would wonder why he is so into Batman. If I leave 10 years from now… I suspect he would grow up like I did. At best, he would have an abstract sense of longing. At worst, he may spiral into a sucking depression.
By having sex with another person, you invite the possibility of having illegitimate children. You rob those children of agency. Through no fault of their own, their life is polluted. The stain runs the length their life, and contaminates (potential) generations and generations. As a child of divorce, I know it damaged me. It damaged my mom. My sister revealed that she didn’t have kids because she didn’t want to put them through the darkness we endured. She killed herself shortly afterward.
Having a child is a lifetime commitment. Incidentally, so is marriage. Whereas having a kid is inherently a lifetime commitment (most obviously by virtue of inherited DNA), marriage is a lifetime commitment that one chooses.
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. If you had to choose a hairstyle/TV show/hobby/job/car/town today that you would have to live with for the rest of your life, how confident would you be? How would you go about making that decision? How confident would you be that you would NEVER change your mind?
Now consider that your decision involves another person. You both go through a process. You check all your boxes. The other person checks all their boxes. You weigh all your options. The other person weighs all their options. Then you take the leap. You get married! You commit yourself for life. You live together. You eat together. You have fun together. You talk about everything. You share everything. Then some time later, you find your spouse having sex with someone else. You (plural) suddenly becomes you (singular). How would that feel? Probably quite not as bad as being murdered, but you (plural) have been defiled and you (singular) have been damaged.
It turns out marriage is serious. Having children is serious. Having sex is serious. The bible takes it all seriously.
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 flesh, one shared life. Betraying that commitment would be like saying, “I would literally cut off my arm to bang that person.” Seems like a big deal. I don’t think it just means acknowledging good qualities in other people, or having elaborate fantasies. If that is a serious consideration, then you (singular) are not thinking of you (plural). So it makes sense that Jesus says – at that point, the marriage over. This article has a interesting breakdown of this verse.
Does this pass the Ricky Gervais Test? Yes. Humping and scattering progeny across the land is for nomads, not for a stable society. Monogamy has persisted. Children born with intact parents seem to have the best quality of life.
Does it make sense at #7? On the surface, sex seems like an unlikely follow-up to murder. 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.
Adultery is a serious betrayal. Trust cannot easily be replaced. Innocence is not easily replaced. Childhood is not easily replaced. Adultery can be interpreted as a type of theft – an abstract theft, where a part of someone’s psyche, sanity, or soul is stolen permanently.
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 in the Commandments. In this context, it accounts for them all.
Marriage is a lifelong commitment – the transformation of you (singular) to you (plural), creating family. Spouses are the family you choose. Children are the family you make. Adultery shatters what should be foundational, the closest to real permanence as humans can muster. The 6th Commandment is about literally taking life, and the opportunity to find peace, joy, or purpose. Adultery selfishly curtails others’ ability to do the same. It does not end lives literally, but it often does figuratively, which seems fitting in this position.