The problem with adultery is not that it’s a betrayal of trust, not that it is hurtful or inconsistent with living a good life. These all matter, but the crux is Christ. Marriage, in its fullest meaning, is an image of Christ and His bride. It sets forth who Christ is and His sacrificial love for this world. Adultery disfigures and dishonours that image in an appalling way. It lies about Christ and subjects the adulterer to judgement from God.
While marriage is of this earth, since there is no marrying nor giving in marriage in heaven (Matthew 22:9-30), it nonetheless has reference to, and is governed by, God.
Without biblical faith, the most common sustaining factor in marriage becomes the frail bond of feelings. And where feelings are the basis for marriage rather than a covenant commitment, marriage can soon become robbery with each partner using the other and then departing when there is nothing new to be gained.
Marriage constitutes man’s first family and his first sphere of government and is given in part to fulfill the responsibilities attendant on the birth of godly offspring (Malachi 2:15). Where procreation is not possible in principle, i.e, not the coming together of a man and a woman, no marriage can exist.
This does not mean that a couple who are childless are not truly married. Only that, a true marriage is one in which childbearing is possible in principle. Since the coming together of two dudes excludes the possibility of childbearing in principle, it simply isn’t a marriage.
Moreover, where relationships are reduced to sex, those relationships are soon corrupted by adultery, sexual immorality, anxiety and tremendous emotional and mental health risks.
This has been the predominant fallout of the feminist movement of the last 100 years. Greater risk, greater insecurity, greater infidelity, anxiety and fear, as well as the total breakdown of the institution of the family which was designed by God to protect the women within it.
However, such movements can only ever be considered a symptom and not the true cause of breakdown in marriage. The first and primary cause of all breakdowns in relationship is the fall of Man in the garden of Eden. Here, man’s relationship with God as well as his community broke down through sin.
Therefore, the restoration of biblical marriage means, not only a return to cooperation, mutual honour and respect, provision and protection of both man and woman, but a return to a renewed and restored relationship with God.
That restoration is first pictured and fulfilled in Christ and then within us. In the gospel, Jesus takes a penniless and compromised woman and purifies her through His own death, raising both He and her to new life. A life lived and governed by God.
Within that framework of the gospel, a man and a woman are now empowered by the spirit of God to move out from under the curse where contention and disloyalty abound and live lives patterned after Christ.
Thus, the 7th commandment, “thou shalt not commit adultery”, stands as the God-honouring means of protecting society from a raft of damaging consequences, as well as displaying the beauty, purity and life of Jesus in the gospel.
The early church, with a much clearer head than our own, acted on these terms. Adultery was severely judged and offenders were only admitted back into the fold after full-blooded repentance and the visible fruits of a transformed heart.
Even the world outside the church had a clear enough head to understand the absolute necessity of faithfulness in marriage in order for the proper functioning and cohesion of society.
In pre-christian Poland, for example, an offender was carried to the marketplace and there fastened to a post by the testicles with a nail. A razor was left within his reach and he had the option to execute justice on himself or remain where he was in full public view until he died.
By contrast, the world today sees sexual immorality as a solution to societal problems and tells women that they will miss something in life if they do not engage in adultery1.
The biblical answer however is to re-establish the family and it’s function to protect and nurture it’s members and penalise offenders. In a healthy society, treason is a rare crime. In a truly biblical law-order, adultery will also be rare.
In a faithful church, the sins of sexual immorality are never winked at or dismissed. Faithfulness and sacrificial servanthood in marriage are celebrated and unfaithfulness is rebuked so that sinners may be saved.
1 O Spurgeon English, “Some Married People Should Have Love Affairs”, Pageant, March, 1969, 108-117.