What the Seventh Commandment Teach Us about Being Faithful Spouses

Contributing Writer
What the Seventh Commandment Teach Us about Being Faithful Spouses

Our modern culture has minimized the idea that extramarital sex is a problem. Yet God finds it so serious he discussed the problems with “committing adultery” in the seventh commandment.

Today, we call them “love affairs,” as if we can attach the idea of love to breaking a serious commitment. Our society shies away from using terms like sin and adultery—some mock monogamy as archaic and closed-minded.

However, the seventh commandment gives us insight into God’s nature and our design. God doesn’t change and seeks our abundant good through each commandment.

What Is the Seventh Commandment in Most Protestant Traditions?

The seventh commandment reads, “You shall not commit adultery,” a clear and direct prohibition against infidelity. The Bible records it in Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:18, both part of the Ten Commandments.

Protestants, including most evangelical and Reformed traditions, follow the division established by the early church fathers like Origen and later by John Calvin and Martin Luther. In this division, the commandments are numbered as follows:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet.

“You shall not commit adultery” is clearly identified as the seventh commandment in this division.

What Is the Seventh Commandment in Some High Church Traditions?

Due to a different numbering, Catholic and high church traditions perceive the seventh commandment differently than Protestant and Evangelical traditions. This difference comes from historical and theological interpretations rather than a change in the commandments’ essence.

Catholics and other high church traditions, such as the Lutheran Church, base their numbering on St. Augustine’s tradition. Augustine combined the first two commandments, reflecting the unified prohibition against idolatry and polytheism, and then split the last commandment about coveting into two separate ones. Consequently, the numbering is:

  1. I am the Lord your God: you shall not have strange gods before me.
  2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  3. Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
  4. Honor your father and your mother.
  5. You shall not kill.
  6. You shall not commit adultery.
  7. You shall not steal.
  8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.

“You shall not steal” is the seventh commandment in this division.

Augustine viewed the commandments about coveting as addressing two distinct issues: coveting a neighbor’s wife (sexual desire) and coveting a neighbor’s goods (material desire). Augustine’s division reflected the distinct moral issues of coveting relationships versus possessions.

In the context of our discussion, Augustine’s distinction makes sense. A person is different than a thing. Sexual desire toward a person, not a spouse, violates something more inherent about God, a deeper rebellion that dehumanizes others.

Why Is Keeping the Seventh Commandment So Important?

Forbidding adultery has practical purposes. It protects marriage’s integrity (which protects both spouses and the family unit, including their children) and promotes faithfulness to commitments (which is good for everyone, promoting social order).

It also has moral purposes. It shows us that God wants commitments, or covenants, to be honored—including ones that return to his original design. and covenants. The seventh commandment is the only one of the ten to discuss a covenant with another human (marriage). Other commandments cover important relationships between us and God, as well as family and community. The discussion about adultery and marriage harkens back to a pre-sin and death time.

Genesis reveals how God designed creation and humanity. After creating Adam, the first human, God decided there was a problem. Adam shouldn’t be alone. So, the Lord created Eve—a woman, a suitable helper, and partner in their shared mission to have children and bring God’s creative order from Eden to the earth. Genesis 2:24 summarizes Adam and Eve’s creation: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

This vision of marriage still speaks to us today. Man and woman become one flesh, two humans acting as one—physically and in life and purpose. After the Fall, humanity lost the paradise of Eden. They now live a life of toil and death on the earth. And yet, God let man and woman keep marriage as a sign of redemption and promise. The marriage covenant speaks of Eden, which was lost but will one day be restored. Physical oneness becomes an outward expression of that purpose: a unity that creates “fruit,” or children, life begetting more life.

Therefore, to take the physical act with such redemptive meaning and cheapen it dehumanizes us and lies about God’s redemptive plan, which includes another marriage between God and his people. Paul counts marriage as a great mystery and a sermon on the amazing love between Christ (husband) and the Church (his Bride). Paul doesn’t use this metaphor originally. The Old Testament prophets continually considered idolatry, worshipping other gods, as adultery (Jeremiah 3-9). This deeper marriage symbolism continues to Revelation, where all Christians from all times have a wedding feast with God, and the Church descends as New Jerusalem from Heaven to the New Earth (Revelation 21).

Adultery cheapens all of this—something Jesus affirmed in his teachings.

How Did Jesus Extend the Seventh Commandment?

It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus taught a great deal about marriage.

Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine, occurred at a wedding. In his parables, Jesus frequently employed marriage imagery. In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, he described ten bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom, emphasizing the importance of being prepared for his return. The wise virgins, who kept their lamps filled with oil, represented those who remained faithful and vigilant, ready to enter the Kingdom of heaven.

In the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, Jesus likened God’s Kingdom to a king who prepared his son’s wedding feast. When the invited guests refused to attend, the king extended the invitation to others, symbolizing God’s inclusive call to all people and how many rejected Jesus as the Messiah.

During the Last Supper, which coincided with Passover, Jesus used marriage language to describe his return. He spoke of leaving to prepare a place for his followers and promised to return and take them to be with him, much like a bridegroom returning for his bride.

During the Sermon on the Mount, he expands the application of the seventh commandment.

“You have heard it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)

Adultery begins in the heart and manifests with outward action. Out of his love, Jesus deals with sin’s root, not the action alone. This challenges believers to guard their thoughts and desires, recognizing that lust is an adultery of the heart. This perspective aligns with the broader biblical principle that God looks at the heart, as seen in 1 Samuel 16:7: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” By addressing the inward issue of lust, he sought to protect marriages from the internal threats leading to infidelity.

Addressing lustful thoughts, Jesus also respects the dignity of others. Lust objectifies individuals, reducing them to mere objects of desire rather than recognizing their full humanity and worth as God’s creation. Jesus’ teaching calls believers to honor and respect others in their thoughts and actions, fostering relationships based on genuine love and respect rather than selfish desire.

We humans are broken. Even as we learn and grow, we make mistakes. While Jesus’ extension of the seventh commandment sets a high standard, it also underscores the need for grace and forgiveness. In John 8:3-11, when the Jews bring Jesus a woman caught in adultery, he responds with compassion and forgiveness, saying, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7) and then, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11). This incident illustrates that while Jesus calls for purity, he also offers grace and the opportunity for repentance and transformation.

How Do We Follow the Seventh Commandment Today?

Following the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” involves more than just refraining from extramarital affairs.

While sin begins in the heart, we shouldn’t make it so abstract that we forget the importance of sexual faithfulness to our spouse. Faithfulness involves being true to our spouse in thoughts, words, and actions. Faithfulness fosters trust and strengthens the marital bond, creating a stable and loving environment for both partners and their families. Hebrews 13:4 emphasizes the importance of honoring marriage: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”

Beyond what not to do, God gives us a vision of what to do. God designed marital sex to be fulfilling and enjoyable, an expression of intimacy leading to more oneness now that we have partners in every area of life. God gives sexual boundaries expressly because he means it to be a great blessing.

Jesus extended the seventh commandment by addressing not only physical acts of adultery but also lustful thoughts. We must guard our thoughts and avoid situations that may lead to temptation. This involves being mindful of what entertainment we consume and nurturing a mindset that values purity and respect for others. On a practical level, we should understand porn’s danger, despite how available it might be.

Respecting the sanctity of marriage means recognizing and honoring it as a God-established covenant. In Ephesians 5:25-27, the apostle writes, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” This metaphor highlights the sacrificial love and commitment that should characterize marital relationships.

The Bible offers hope through forgiveness and renewal for those who have fallen short of the seventh commandment, whether in thought or action. With humans, this renewal is impossible, but with God, he can accomplish all things.

Finally, since the Bible frequently uses marriage to model Christ and the Church, we learn the Body of Christ’s importance locally and universally. Christ saved us and called us to himself, but in doing so, he joined us with other born-again followers, as well. We are part of a larger family, and if God calls her beautiful, even in her struggles and frequent failings, so should we.


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Britt MooneyBritt Mooney lives and tells great stories. As an author of fiction and non -iction, he is passionate about teaching ministries and nonprofits the power of storytelling to inspire and spread truth. Mooney has a podcast called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author of We Were Reborn for This: The Jesus Model for Living Heaven on Earth as well as Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.

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