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Holman Bible Dictionary

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is the act of unfaithfulness in marriage that occurs when one of the marriage partners voluntarily engages in sexual intercourse with a person of the opposite sex other than the marriage partner.

Old Testament Israel's covenant law prohibited adultery (Exodus 20:14 ) and thereby made faithfulness to the marriage relationship central in the divine will for human relationships. Many Old Testament regulations deal with adultery as the adulterous man's offense against the husband of the adulterous wife. Yet both the adulterous man and woman were viewed as guilty, and the punishment of death was prescribed for both (Leviticus 20:10 ). The severity of the punishment indicates the serious consequences adultery has for the divine-human relationship (Psalm 51:4 ) as well as for marriage, family, and community relationships.

Several Old Testament prophets used adultery as a metaphor to describe unfaithfulness to God. Idolatry (Ezekiel 23:27 ) and other pagan religious practices (Jeremiah 3:6-10 ) were viewed as adulterous unfaithfulness to the exclusive covenant that God established with His people. To engage in such was to play the harlot (Hosea 4:11-14 ).

New Testament Jesus' teachings expanded the Old Testament law to address matters of the heart. Adultery has its origins within (Matthew 15:19 ), and lust is as much a violation of the law's intent as is illicit sexual intercourse (Matthew 5:27-28 ). Adultery is one of the “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19 ). It creates enmity with God (James 4:4 ), and adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9 ).

The New Testament associates remarriage after divorce and adultery. Marriage is a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman. Divorce does not break the bond, so remarriage is viewed as adultery except in cases where unfaithfulness was the reason for the divorce (Matthew 5:32; Mark 10:11-12 ). The marriage bond is broken by death (Romans 7:3; 1 Corinthians 7:39 ).

Adulterers can be forgiven (John 8:3-11 ); and once sanctified through repentance, faith, and God's grace, they are included among God's people (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ). See Divorce , Marriage .

Michael Fink

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Adultery'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​a/adultery.html. 1991.
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