I love the way Christians get bent out of shape over basic things because they don’t know the definitions of words the Bible uses. This is combined with their unconscious internalization of cultural norms which effects the way they perceive what the Bible says. Usually in error. So, let’s take a look at words. Keep in mind, when it comes to Christianity the Law forms the skeleton and grace fleshes it out.
Lust. There isn’t anything really on point as to what lust is, but we can logically deduce what lust isn’t by looking at God’s various prohibitions. Lust is contextually defined as a sin and is closely related to coveting, but a good basic definition of lust is it’s a desire that cannot be legitimately fulfilled. The problem with this word is it falls afoul of the Biblical double standard between men and women. The cultural norms say we’re “equal” but this just isn’t so in the way that most Americans want to define equality. Yes, we’re equal in value but not in status because of the authority structure that God ordained for everyone.
Can a man or woman lust after their spouse? No. The question is ridiculous, because a desire for one’s spouse is natural, normal and healthy. Then come the ankle-biters who want to reframe the issue saying “but what about an unhealthy fixation or infatuation with the spouse? Isn’t it a problem when a person is so focused on their desire for their spouse that they ignore God?” See how they do that? Gosh, if I said it was natural, normal and healthy to have an appetite they’d start talking about overeating and gluttony.
The reason I bring up the word lust is it’s one of those difficult words that’s often twisted to become a club used to beat men with. The passage in Matthew 5:27-32 where Jesus said if a man looks on a woman with lust in his heart he’s already committed adultery in his heart is a beautiful case in point that demonstrates how an improper understanding of Scripture results in bad doctrine. First, the only way to look at a woman with lust in the heart is if she cannot legitimately be obtained and the only way that happens is if she’s married. It doesn’t matter if the man is married or not because a man can legitimately have more than one wife, but the only woman a man can legitimately marry without committing adultery is one who is eligible to marry.
A young man who looks on an unmarried woman with desire in his heart is not lusting after her because his desire for her can legitimately be fulfilled. That desire is the driving force behind the desire to marry and only an idiot would truly think men decide to marry women they aren’t attracted to. It may happen from time to time for various reasons, but in general it simply doesn’t happen. Why? Because that’s the way God made men.
Understanding how much trouble the word lust can cause, let’s try the word “Adultery.” According to the Liddell Scott lexicon, the word “adultery” is best translated as “to mongrelize” and there’s both a physical and spiritual component to the word. Idolatry is spiritual adultery and adultery is physical idolatry. The problem with adultery in the physical sense is it’s a sex-specific crime (sin) which requires a married woman. No married woman, no adultery. Women don’t like this because they want adultery to apply to men who have sex with a woman they aren’t married to, but it doesn’t work that way according to Exodus 22:16-17 and Deuteronomy 22:28-29. If a man (with no distinction between married or unmarried) seduces a virgin he is to pay the father the bride price and marry her. Because he has “humbled” her he cannot divorce her all the days of his life. If the father refuses to allow the marriage the man is to pay a price equal to the bride price. That’s it. No prohibition, no condemnation.
The only thing necessary for a marriage to occur with an eligible virgin is sex. With the act of penetration the man is making his commitment to marry her and neither her commitment or consent is required. It is good to get the approval of the father first, because if she is still living at home her father can annul the marriage later if he doesn’t approve. With a woman who is not a virgin but eligible to marry, her consent to marry is required in addition to sex (Numbers 30:9; 1st Corinthians 7:39).
In Genesis 2:24 there is no prescribed ceremony required to initiate marriage and the authority rests solely with the man. With that in mind, let’s look at the situation with the seduction of a virgin not betrothed in Exodus 22:16-17 and Deuteronomy 22:28-29. (Under the Law a betrothed virgin was considered to be legally married, not a single woman)
We see no prohibition on a man seducing a not-betrothed virgin, nor a condemnation. Back to the elements of marriage, with the consummation of the marriage already accomplished, the man is required to pay the father what he is owed (the bride price) and publicly live with the woman as husband and wife. It isn’t punishment we are looking at but the requirement to meet his responsibilities with the additional restriction that because he didn’t follow proper procedure and get the father’s permission first, he cannot divorce her all the days of his life (he has “humbled” her).
There is no distinction between whether the man was married or unmarried, because a man can legitimately have more than one wife. This is difficult for women because women are treated differently in this situation. If a virgin living in her fathers house (not betrothed) has sex with a man and later gets married as if she was a virgin, it’s a death-penalty offense if she’s caught but there’s no corresponding penalty for the guy she gave her virginity to because he didn’t commit adultery. She’s defrauding her husband (having cuckolded him before she married him) and having fraudulently married him she’s now guilty of adultery, which is a death-penalty offense.
The point is the Law makes a clear distinction between sex outside of marriage with an unmarried (and not betrothed) woman and sex with another man’s wife or fianceé. There is no specific prohibition or condemnation of the first, but the second is a death penalty offense. Again, the crime of adultery requires the participation of a married (or betrothed) woman.
With that in mind, let’s look at the word “fornication” and I can already hear the screams of outrage. What is the definition of fornication? The problem is there is no passage in Scripture that defines what fornication is, specifically, so we have to work with context and identify what fornication isn’t to help us understand what it is.
Since fornication is obviously a sin, the previously mentioned example of a man having sex with an unmarried woman outside the bounds of marriage cannot apply because that activity has no prohibition or condemnation. Please note, I didn’t say that the pre-marital sex was not a sin, I pointed out that it wasn’t fornication. However, we must juxtapose the word fornication with adultery because the two are related. Given that the word adultery is literally translated as “mongrelize” it carries with it the idea of penis-in-vagina sexual intercourse that could result in a bastard child being born. But what about other actions that don’t reach the point of sexual intercourse, such as a blowjob, heavy kissing petting and that sort of thing? Could it be that fornication is sexual (and possibly even emotional) infidelity on the part of a married woman that doesn’t reach the level of fornication?
Fornication and Adultery are related because in Hebrews 13:4 we see the command “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” Fornication and adultery are in the same class of sexual sin that defiles the marital bed. We see in Matthew 19:9 and Matthew 5:31-32 that Jesus interpreted the Law concerning divorce as only being permitted for the sexual immorality of the wife. The term He used in both those passages was “porneia” which is quite often translated as “fornication” or “sexual immorality.” Notice that in both cases the word was specifically applied to the married women. Adultery is a married woman having sex with a man she is not married to and both the man and married woman are guilty of the crime. Given the contextual placement, fornication appears to be a more inclusive term which would encompass even the non-physical aspects of a married woman giving her affections to a man she’s not married to (the “emotional affair”). It also includes any sexual contact that doesn’t cross the bar to be classified as adultery. Let’s see how that works with Matthew 5:27-32:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
The only way a man can look on a woman with lust is if she’s already married or betrothed to be married, because again, the crime of adultery requires a married woman and the man who looks at the woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart. A man cannot commit adultery with an unmarried woman. The eye that causes the man to sin is the eye that looks on the married woman with lust, the hand that causes the man to sin is the hand that touches her. The married woman who dresses immodestly out of a desire to stimulate the sexual interest of men is fornicating, it’s sexual immorality. The married woman who allows herself to be touched in a sexual manner by other men is fornicating and it is only for this reason, the sexual immorality or fornication, that Jesus said divorce was allowed.
I suggest the word “fornication” doesn’t mean what most people assume it means and as numerous posts on this blog have pointed out, there is a double standard in the Bible when it comes to men and women’s standards of behavior. Romans 4:15 and Romans 5:13 are very clear: where there is no law there is no transgression and no sin is imputed. No Law = No Sin. It gets a bit more complicated when you take Romans 14 (that which is not of faith is sin) and James 4:17 (not doing the thing you know to be right is sin) into account, but this is dependent on the individual.
(Pre-marital sex may not be listed as a sin in the Law, but given the instruction of Romans 14 and James 4 I think it’s something a Christian would have a difficult time justifying in their heart as being of faith and the right thing to do. However, the classification in the Law impacts how we define words like fornication.)
So, with no Law prohibiting or condemning the extra-marital sex of the man and woman in Exodus 22:16-17 and Deuteronomy 22:28-29, we cannot call it a sin unless marriage is to be referred to as a punishment. This cannot be because God created marriage and called it good, therefore it is not fornication. It does not matter if the man is married (he’s authorized to take another wife) or single. In fact, the married man in such a situation cannot be committing adultery because the woman (not his wife) he was having sex with was single and not betrothed. To claim this behavior is contrary to the Law (sinful) is to violate Deuteronomy 4:2, the crime of adding to the Law.
Notice also that the Law was silent on a man having sex with a prostitute, and silent on a woman working as a prostitute. I’m not arguing that it’s right and good, but God didn’t declare it to be a sin. Why did Paul take pains to instruct the believers in 1st Corinthians 6 not to have sex with prostitutes if it was considered fornication (it wasn’t) and a sin (it wasn’t). Consider also that Paul said of joining the members of Christ with a whore “may it never be!” Even though the Law was silent on this, it is immorality for a Christian to do so. Just as Christians are forbidden to divorce their Christian wife, this is a restriction that applies to the Bondservants of Christ- not a change to the Law.
Again, I’m not claiming that Christians get a free pass on extra-marital sex because the Law doesn’t condemn it. However, it is impossible to understand what adultery and fornication are without examining the issue of sex outside the marriage and having pointed out that the Law contains no prohibitions or condemnation of pre-marital sex between persons eligible to marry, I have to also point out that Romans 14 says we are not to judge in such matters.
In the case of the married man who keeps a mistress on the side, is she a mistress or his concubine? I’d say concubine and I can’t see that it’s a sin according to what the Bible says. What I cannot approve of is the modern cultural response that in such cases the husband and wife should get divorced so he can marry his mistress. In such a case neither the wife nor the husband have legitimate grounds for divorce and I must say that I believe destroying a family with an illegitimate divorce is a sin no matter who does it. Anyone who wishes may feel free to argue the point, but make it an argument from Scripture rather than from emotion.
Since I already know I’ll have rocks thrown at me I may as well seal the deal:
Everything I’ve discussed in the last few posts has highlighted the double-standard between men and woman in the Bible, which is God’s ordained structure of authority. There are numerous restrictions on the behavior of women that are not placed on men, but before getting upset about that one must understand that God made both men and women and He understands exactly what women are really like. It is obvious to me that God placed the restrictions on women’s behavior that He did because women needed to be restrained.
I’ve been going over the definitions of key words in this post and it should emphasize the truth of the goal of the feminine imperative: to maximally restrict men’s sexual options while giving maximum freedom to women. Folks, this started in the church. Look at how marriage was redefined from the patriarchal multiple wives allowed model to the feminist requirement of monogamy. Look at how the words lust, adultery and fornication have been expanded and changed to apply to men in ways they were never meant to. Look at how women, who were never given the authority to divorce their husbands (except for 1st Cor. 7:15 and in the case of polygynous marriages Exodus 21:10), have created such a “right” out of thin air and use it frequently.
At the end of the day men have a great deal of freedom in how they may act, but with that freedom comes responsibility.