Tag Archives: Fornication

The Sermon, part 8: Second Antithesis

Read Matthew 5:27-30


“You must not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14 NLT)

  Here, once again, Jesus starts off by affirming the law, “You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14 NLT). Before we go any further than the law itself, it is vital that people understand what is meant by adultery. Typically, adultery is defined in modern culture as being any extramarital, sexual realtionship. In other words, if someone is married and has sex with someone other than his or her spouse, that person is committing adultery. Thus, this Biblical law is often interpreted as meaning, “you must not have extramarital sex.”

While that understanding is not entirely incorrect, it is also lacking in what is fully meant by the term “adultery”. What’s more, without the fullest understanding of the term adultery, one misses the significance of Jesus’ antithesis to this Biblical law. I have heard some Christians, most famously Kirk Cameron, use Jesus’ antithesis to show that ALL humans are adulterers; however, that is not what Jesus is doing at all and such an understanding betrays a MISUNDERSTANDING of context and Biblical Law.

In the Torah, and in the ancient Jewish context, adultery (μοιχεύω, see Matthew 5:27) should not be confused with fornication ( πορνεία, see ). The latter is reference to any and all illicit sex outside of the marital covenant. Fornication is most definitely considered to be immoral, and those who commit adultery are fornicating (by definition); however, not all fornicators are committing adultery. Fornication does not equal adultery.

In ancient Jewish Law, adultery was the act of a man having sex with a woman married to another man. To do so was to strip the married man of his exclusive sexual right to his wife, as well as it was to deny him of the assurance that his children were his own. Thus, if a man (married or not) had sex with a woman married to another man), that act was considered to be adultery and both the man and the woman involved would be guilty of being adulterers. It was a crime punishable by death. Again, adultery hinges on the married woman. Thus, a married man having sex with an unmarried woman WOULD NOT be guilty of adultery. Conversely, and unmarried woman having sex with another man (married or not), WOULD NOT be guilty of committing adultery. They would considered immoral (which carried its own social consequences), but they would not be considered adulterers and necessarily subject to the penalty of death.

This law, obviously, comes out of a patriarchal society where a man has “rights” over a woman, but the woman does not have rights over the man. So a married man who has sex with another person is not guilty of committing adulter, whereas, a married woman fornicating with another person is. This may not sound like a just law to our twenty-first century ears; however, it is important to understand that law (without our own biased judgment upon it) in order to understand what Jesus does next.

Following affirming the law as it stands in the Torah, Jesus presents it’s antithesis (or it’s direct opposite). “But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 NLT). Notice what Jesus does here? He takes a patriarchal law and flips it on its proverbial head. Instead of it being focused on the woman (as the physical law is), Jesus focuses on the man who will face an eschatological (end time) judgment by God.

Again, Jesus affirms the Torah in that a woman or a man found to be adulterers will be subject to judgment (as a matter of fact in that ancient world); however, Jesus flips his command on men (as women were often considered to be the offenders in the ancient world). This is a remarkable and scandalous thing Jesus does here and, in doing so, he is letting men know that if they look at a married woman lustfully, they are guilty of committing adultery in their hearts (even though the woman is guilty of absolutely nothing).

To conclude, this antithesis should once again remind us that God is looking at our hearts. Are our hearts filled with love, or are we predators in our hearts? While humans can judge upon appearances, upon evidence, and upon circumstances, only God knows the hearts. It is the heart that God judges and none of us can hide our hearts from God. This dire reminder is not meant to scare us, but to humble us. This should give us a new understanding of Jesus’ words, which are to come a bit later in this sermon (Matthew 7:1-2). Let us avoid taking the judgment throne, which is God’s alone; rather, let us reconcile our own hearts with God so that we may be filled with mercy and righteousness.


“Love is not predatory.” – The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Volume VIII, pg. 190).


Lord, remove judgment from my heart and fill it with contrition and love. Love is not predatory in judgment or in any other manner. Steer me from being predatory as well. Amen.


Read Galatians 5:13-21

“Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).” (Colossians 3:5 NRSV)

realistic-fiery-letters-and--numbers--fiery-font-letter-f--burning-aphabets--az--pictures-wallpapers-74110In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

THE WORKS OF THE FLESH: Fornication. Oh boy, nothing like starting off the list of sinful works than with the biggie of fornication! Hey Paul, why don’t you just cut to the chase! We all know, or should know, what fornication is. It is the act of having a sexual relationship with someone outside of a marital covenant. Fornication is an umbrella word that houses more specific words underneath it; words such as adultery and promiscuity. For Paul, the idea of having sex in any context outside of the marital covenant was against his Jewish sensibilities; however, it was not necessarily outside the sensibilities of his Gentile audience. Paul was adamant that sex was meant to be shared between a LOVING and MARRIED couple.

In light of past history, as well as a more scientific understanding of human sexuality, fornication has become a loaded word for us in the twenty-first century. Since the time of Paul, we have 2,000 years of history that we need to be aware of. While we certainly want to honor and respect Paul’s warning against fornication, we also don’t want to fall into the trap of becoming like one of the Puritanical finger pointers of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” What’s more, while sexual immorality (aka promiscuity and adultery) is certainly what Paul is referring to, we all have participated in a fornication of a different kind at one point or another. And that is what I would like to focus on.

According to Christian theology, we Christians are in union (aka marriage) with Christ our Lord. What this means is that we are joined in a spiritually intimate relationship with Christ and, as it is within a marital covenant, we are called to remain faithful to Christ just as he is faithful to us. Faithfulness means that we will give of ourselves wholly to Christ just as spouses give of themselves to each other…meaning that we will live and breathe the risen Christ in all we do and/or say. We will feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, take care of the “least of these,” avoid judgment, seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. When we fail to do these things, and are pulled away by the attitudes and behaviors of this world, we are d in a spiritual sense.

Just as God has been faithful to us, so to we are being called to remain faithful to God. Straying from our purpose of serving others to self-centered living is but one of the ways we end up fornicating in a world set on fornication. The word fornicate, I am sure, makes most of us squirm around uncomfortably…and it should. Let us strive to remain faithful to God and what God is calling us to do. Let us strive to model our lives after that of Jesus’ life. Let us all model a life of bold compassion, love, peacemaking, service, respect, stewardship, radical hospitality, and self-sacrifice. Then we will be sure to steer clear of the pitfall of spiritual fornication.

“The essence of immorality is the tendency to make an exception of myself.” – Jane Addams

Lord, purify and sanctify me. Keep me from straying from your all-encompassing love. Amen.