Nightline is doing a series on the Ten Commandments. The first show, which was last Thursday, was about adultery, the Seventh Commandment.
We think Jesus shifted the focus of the 7th Commandment to the violation of love and made fidelity radical and essentially relational. What do you think?
The Seventh Commandment is as simple as it is clear: “Do not commit adultery!” Instances of adultery evoke some of the fiercest comments in the whole Bible: it can be called the “great sin” and “wickedness and sin against God.” No one can forget the horrendous adultery of David with Bathsheba. No one who has been violated by an adulterous spouse forgets it either. The relational trauma haunts the lonely evening and provokes anger at its deepest level. Adultery violates.
But adultery is taken to a new level by Jesus because Jesus divides all the commandments (the mitzvot) into two kinds. A religious expert once asked Jesus to declare where he stood in a debate about which laws were most important. Jesus made it clear: he said all of the commands can be divided into “love God commands” and “love others commands.” I have called this teaching of Jesus “The Jesus Creed,” but what is often forgotten is the impact of the Jesus Creed on the laws of Israel. Everything is changed.
For Jesus, the fundamental relation in life was love. For Jesus, the fundamental relation to God was to love God. For Jesus, the fundamental relation to all other humans was to love “the neighbor as yourself.” Therefore, for Jesus the fundamental relation of a married woman and man was love.
The implication of making love so fundamental for the Ten Commandments is enormous. It is too easy for Christians to say it is wrong to commit adultery because it is a law or because God said so — and they can trot out Exodus 20:14 and clinch their argument. But Jesus went further. At the deepest level, adultery violates the love of woman for her husband and a husband for his wife, and it intrudes with violence on the love of another woman for her husband and another man for his wife. Adultery is wrong because it violates the most sacred of all relations and trusts: love.
But Jesus didn’t stop there. For Jesus, adultery was a matter of the heart and the eye and the mind. He said that if a married man looked at woman in order to ravish her, he had already committed adultery in the heart. It is far too easy for men and women to make the claim that they have not committed adultery because they have not violated their spouse or someone else’s spouse — physically. But for Jesus, since this was a matter of love and relationship and not just two bodies in one place, adultery begins when a married man or woman violates the relationship in the heart and mind. Jesus lets the Jesus Creed drive humans back to the origins of sin: to desire.
Jesus made love central and, because of its centrality, he explored depths of marital love that few had, have, or ever will explore more deeply.