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Jesus’ New Testament teachings on the topic of adultery could be considered by his hearers as rabbinical commentary on Old Testament law—specifically on the seventh commandment found in Exodus 20:14.

As such, at this point in his Sermon on the Mount, Christ helped his audience to understand an important truth: The visible act of sin (adultery) and the invisible origin of sin (adulterous thoughts) are equal to each other. That was a bit of a departure from some other popular opinions in his time. For instance, Jewish historian Josephus said, “The purposing to do a thing, without actually doing it, is not worthy of punishment.”

Additionally, Christ’s commentary on the seventh commandment expanded the definition of adultery that was generally accepted at that time. Noted Bible scholar, F.F. Bruce indicates that, “In the cultural context of the original Decalogue, this commandment forbade a man to have sexual relations with someone else’s wife.” The seventh commandment, however, didn’t address a man having extramarital or premarital sex with an unmarried woman.

Jesus, though, expanded the cultural understanding of sexual sin by citing “a woman” in general (“anyone who looks at a woman lustfully” – as in “any woman”) rather than limiting adultery only to sex with another man’s wife. That was an important distinction at that time, and one which continues to be important today.

Works Cited:

[PC15, 162; HSJ, 52]

 

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