The 10 Commandments: The 7th Commandment

Thou shalt not commit adultery.

~ Ex 20:14

The word for “adultery” is “na’aph”. It usually refers to an act by a man. It always refers to adultery with another’s spouse, while the English word can also mean cheating on your own spouse.

This commandment is right between killing and stealing. By committing this act, you are killing a family relationship and stealing what belongs to another. The family is the basic building block of society. By affecting the family, you are affecting future generations (cf. 1Co 7:14) and thus the whole society.

In the strictest possible interpretation, this Commandment doesn’t refer to fornication, but it is evident throughout Scripture that fornication is also in violation of God’s Law. Consider then why, in spite of the emphasis on sexual purity in the Bible, that “adultery” would make it to the 10 Commandments but not “fornication”. Adultery is worse than fornication for the following reasons:

  • Adultery is stealing something that belongs to another.

  • Adultery is breaking of an oath and a covenant with another human being.

  • Adultery is breaking a covenant made before and with God.

  • Adultery disrupts an existing family unit, the basic building block of a society.

Having said that, let’s cut to the heart of the matter. In the end, fornication really is adultery against your future spouse.

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.

The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.

She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.

~ Pr 31:10-12

The phrase “all the days of her life” refer to not just after they wed but even before. This wise woman prepares for her marriage and keeps pure before she even meets her future husband.

Going beyond actions, Jesus magnified this particular law. He compared lusting after a person for sexual reasons is breaking the spirit of this Commandment (Mt 5:28).

Paul makes even sterner statements about adultery and fornication both by stating that both would cause you to be excluded from the Kingdom of God (1Co 6:9). In the same chapter, he then zeroes in on fornication:

Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid.

What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.

But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.

Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.>

~ 1Co 6:15-18

The word “fornication” is translated from “porneia”, which covers much more than just fornication. It is where we get the word “porn” from. It includes all sorts of sexually deviant behavior and is sometimes translated “sexual immorality” in modern versions.

This actually is the 2nd commandment to hearken back to creation. Marriage was instituted in the very beginning (Ge 2:18, 21-24). God officiated at the very first wedding ceremony! It is fundamental enough for the well being of human beings to be instituted from the very beginning. Jesus said that people were to be married for life, one man and one woman, even from the very beginning.

And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

~ Mt 19:4-6

This exchange took place with the Pharisees who asked Him it it was “lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause” (v3, ESV). Jesus’ answer is that to divorce and remarry for any reason other than fornication, porneia, is to commit adultery. This seemed shocking to those at that time. Even His disciples concluded that if that was the case, then “it is not good to marry.” Jesus answered that not all could receive that saying.

While it is outside the scope of this article to explore “any cause”, the Hillelites taught that it was legal for a man to divorce his wife for “any cause” based upon the “cause” statement in Dt 24:1, which seemed to them to introduce a reason besides sexual immorality.1 Jesus was telling them in effect, “No, you cannot divorce for ‘any cause’.” This distinction is important because the Law does provide for divorce under other reasons, to include neglect and abuse.

The marriage is a covenant relationship. However, it is much more than a contract. Jesus points out that God joins man and woman together in marriage. God instituted marriage, making it a religious institution. The contract is not just between the man and the woman but with God!

The 7th Commandment creates a safe environment for the husband and wife. It creates a safe environment in order to have and raise children. Divorce and strife in marriage creates scars in children.

Marriage also is a type for the relationship of Christ and the Church. The Church makes a promise, a vow, a covenant, with her betrothed. Individually, we have all made a vow of permanence when we were baptized. We show our faithfulness by abiding by all of our vows, including the marriage vow. We show ourselves to be trustworthy, truthful and honest. In doing so, we show the character of God.


  1. Instone-Brewer, David. (5 October 2007). What God Has Joined: What Does the Bible Really Teach About Divorce? Christianity Today. Retrieved 2 May 2009 from

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