In Matthew 5 verses 27 and 28 Jesus said, 27 "27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."
Following are four rules of Bible interpretation that we will use to help understand what Jesus meant in Matthew 5 verses 27 and 28. These rules are:
The key word in Matthew 5:28 is "lust". The Greek word is the transliterated word, epithumeo which can mean, to covet things forbidden, to desire earnestly; to have a longing desire for.
Bible scholars argue about whether Jesus spoke in Hebrew or in Greek. If you have read Matthew, Mark and Luke you know the three books come from the same source. Some Bible scholars[#1] believe Jesus disciple Matthew wrote the original Matthew in Hebrew and then it was translated and reorganized into the three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Early church founding fathers wrote that Matthew did indeed write his book in Hebrew.
The Greek Matthew is the only one of these Greek books (that appear to be a reorganized translation of the Matthew's Hebrew book), that has this verse on "lust" in it. And this Greek Matthew is also the only one of these three books that does not claim to have an author; and we do not know who authored it.
But why would Mark and Luke leave out this verse on "lust" as well as some other difficult verses? And who did write our Greek Matthew?
I believe Jesus spoke in Hebrew.[#2] The Dead Sea Scrolls support this theory. However we do not have the original Hebrew version of the book of Matthew to prove this. I believe the Hebrew Matthew was translated from Hebrew into Greek and then that translation was the basis of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew. And so if Jesus did speak in Hebrew, then we can look into the Old Testament to see which word most closely matches the Greek word "epithumeo". We find this word chamad which means "to covet" in the tenth commandment in Exodus 20 verse 17 when God said, 17 "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
We notice Jesus in Matthew 5:27 quotes the seventh commandment in Exodus 20 verse 14 which reads, "You shall not commit adultery".
Then in Matthew 5 verse 28 Jesus appears to refer to the tenth commandment. In the tenth commandment, the Hebrew word for covet in Exodus 20:17 is the transliterated word chamad which can mean, to desire, covet, take pleasure in, delight in.
Notice the similarity between the Greek word epithumeo which can mean, to covet things forbidden, to desire earnestly; to have a longing desire for, and the Hebrew word chamad which can mean, to desire, covet, take pleasure in, delight in.
Since Jesus most likely spoke in Hebrew, he most likely used the word "chamad" which means "to covet" in Matthew 5:28. If we ever do find the original Hebrew translation of Matthew, this will help us interpret this verse correctly.
In Matthew 5 verse 28, Jesus explained that coveting to have sex with a married woman is the same as adultery.
Let us go back to our four rules of interpretation of the Bible.
When something is mentioned in Scripture the first time, the same meaning for that verse holds true for subsequent verses.
In attempting to interpret Matthew 5:27-28 we find the first place these two concepts are explained are in the 7th commandment and the 10th commandment.
The 7th commandment in Exodus 20 verse 14 God says, "You shall not commit adultery." Jesus quotes this commandment in Matthew 5 verse 27. And later in the 10th commandment in Exodus 20 verse 17 God says, "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
Jesus was combining the 7th commandment and the 10th commandment and was saying that when you covet your neighbor's wife, that is the same as adultery.
Let us look at the second rule of interpretation.
Never take one verse out of context in order to try to "prove" a point.
We can not build a doctrine on "lust" by taking Matthew 5:28 out of context. In Matthew 5:27 Jesus was talking about adultery with a married woman and in verse 28 Jesus does not change the context. So Matthew 5:28 is referring to a married woman also. We have to look at the context which is Matthew 5:27 and we have to look at the verses that Jesus was quoting, which were the 7th and 10th commandments.
Let us look at the third rule of interpretation.
You should never build a doctrine on just one verse. You need to find other verses to support your interpretation.
We can not build a doctrine on just one verse. We can not build a doctrine on "lust" from Matthew 5:28. The only verse in the Bible that even comes close to relating to this verse is the 10th commandment on coveting.
Let us look at the fourth rule of interpretation.
Look at the original words used and do not change the meaning of words in different verses in order to make a point
Looking at the original word for "lust" in Matthew 5:28 we find it is the word epithumeo which can mean, to covet things forbidden, to desire earnestly; to have a longing desire for, which very closely matches the Hebrew word chamad which can mean, to desire, covet, take pleasure in, delight in.
Interpreting the Greek word epithumeo to the English word "lust" is a violation of our fourth rule of interpretation. All the evidence indicates that the word Jesus used should be interpreted as "covet" not "lust". The evidence is that Jesus most likely was referring to the 10th commandment on coveting in Matthew 5:28. And Jesus had just quoted the 7th commandment in Matthew 5:27. And the only verse in the Bible that could possibly help interpret Matthew 5:28 is the 10th commandment. And one of our rules says that when something is mentioned in Scripture the first time, the same meaning for that verse holds true for subsequent verses and so we should interpret Matthew 5:28 in light of the 10th commandment and use the word 'covet' instead of 'lust'.
And the word 'lust' has many meanings in English. While the translators most likely meant it to mean 'covet', today 'lust' can mean sexual arousal or thinking someone looks attractive or hot.
Another way to help understand what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:28 is to study what the Old Testament law had to say about adultery.
The main place in the Old Testament where adultery is defined is in Deuteronomy chapter 22 verses 13 to 29.
We will look at them a few verses at a time.
Deuteronomy 22 verses 13 to 21 read:
13 If a man takes a wife and, after lying with her, dislikes her 14 and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, "I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity," 15 then the girl's father and mother shall bring proof that she was a virgin to the town elders at the gate. 16 The girl's father will say to the elders, "I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. 17 Now he has slandered her and said, 'I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.' But here is the proof of my daughter's virginity." Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, 18 and the elders shall take the man and punish him. 19 They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the girl's father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives.
20 If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl's virginity can be found, 21 she shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father's house. You must purge the evil from among you.
Notice because these laws were written in a male dominated culture, the laws were written to avenge the anger of men and subdue women. For example, take this law; the husband could have his wife stoned to death but the husband could have sex with any un-married, non-virgin or slave girl, or take an additional wife or sex slave (concubine) - with no penalty.
To understand these first verses 13 to 21 we need some background. On the wedding night the husband and wife would sleep together at the wife's parents house and they would put a cloth underneath the virgin bride and so when the new husband and wife had sex, the hymen would be broken and the cloth would have blood on it. So then the new wife would take the cloth and give it to her parents as proof that she was a virgin on the first night of their marriage. The parents needed this so that her new husband would not accuse her of not being a virgin and have her stoned to death. Of course it didn't matter whether the husband was a virgin or not. Only the wife had to be a virgin.
The next verse, Deuteronomy 22 verse 22 defines adultery. The verse says, "If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel." Clearly the man is found sleeping with another man's wife without the permission of the woman's husband. Clearly adultery is when you are cheating on your spouse. That is why when Abraham told his wife Sarah that she could have sex with the Kings of Egypt; that was not adultery for Sarah, because Abraham gave Sarah permission to do so. God did stop the King of Egypt from permanently taking Sarah away from Abraham, but God never punished Sarah for having sex with the King. This same concept explains how a man could marry one woman - his first wife and then marry a second woman without it being called "adultery". It wasn't "sex" that defined adultery, but rather it was stealing a woman from another man - that was adultery.
The next verses provide more insight into what adultery is. Deuteronomy 22 verses 23 to 27 read:
23 If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, 24 you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death the girl because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man's wife. You must purge the evil from among you.
25 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a girl pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. 26 Do nothing to the girl; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders his neighbor, 27 for the man found the girl out in the country, and though the betrothed girl screamed, there was no one to rescue her.
These verses are talking about a woman who is pledged or what we call "engaged" to be married. Again here we see the punishment is death because you are stealing someone else's wife-to-be. And if the wife-to-be does not scream, then it means she was cheating on her future husband and so she is put to death also.
But now let's look at what the penalty was for an unmarried and unpledged virgin. Having sex or even raping an unmarried unpledged virgin was not stealing another man's wife, it was just stealing the bride price from her father. So the penalty was just that the rapist has to pay her father the bride's price.
Let's read Deuteronomy 22 verses 28 and 29. It reads:
28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay the girl's father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.
Let's read a parallel passages also. Exodus 22:15-17 says:
16 "If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. 17 If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.
Here a man rapes a virgin girl and all the man has to pay is fifty shekels of silver or the brides price or he has to marry her. So if you have sex with another man's wife or with his bride-to-be, the penalty is death. But if you rape a virgin who is not engaged to be married the penalty is only to pay the Dad money or marry the girl.
If the girl is not a virgin and not married or is not engaged to be married, there was no penalty for raping the girl or woman, as there was not law against consensual sex between a man and a non-virgin.
But what strikes me as odd, is the huge difference in penalty (death for both the man and woman) between when a man raped or had sex with a married or engaged woman compared to the penalty (pay a fine) when a man raped or had sex with a virgin who was not pledged to be married. If having "sex" was the sin, then you would think the penalty would be the same - death. But "sex" was not the sin, the sin was stealing something that belonged to someone else. In one case you were stealing sex from the wife or wife-to-be of a married man or man to be married. And the penalty for stealing sex from a wife or wife-to-be from another man was death.
But then when you raped a virgin girl who was not married and not pledged to be married, then you were only stealing from her father, so the penalty was only that you had to pay him a fine or marry his daughter.
These passages clearly show the intent of the sexual laws in the Old Testament. The laws related to rape and heterosexual sex outside of marriage were not laws about "sex" but rather laws about stealing what was not yours.
When in Matthew 5:28 Jesus said it was adultery to look at a married woman and lust after her or covet to have her, according to the Old Testament law that Jesus had studied and was a Rabbi and teacher of, Jesus was saying that when a man looks at a married woman and wishes he could steal that woman away from her husband and have sex with her - that is adultery.
If Christians would understand that when it comes to heterosexual "sex" it is not "sex" that God condemns but cheating and stealing is what God condemns then Christians would not be so quick to condemn everything sexual in our culture. For example some Christians would rather watch a movie rated R for violence when the movie condones and promotes murder, rather than watch a movie rated R for nudity for having a wet-t shirt contest in it. When God clearly condemns murder in the Bible but never condemns nudity in the Bible. But some Christians associate nudity with "sex" and anything related to "sex" or that might cause "sexual arousal" is considered sinful.
This flawed understanding of what the sin of adultery is, is a source of many Christian marriage problems and many Christian divorces.
Comment by: New Subscriber. Max Date: 10/24/2016 9:01:07 AM
Thinking out loud.
So, if what you are saying is correct then the husband could lend his wife to another man for sex just as he could lend his donkey or ox to his neighbor. Put another away, a man could borrow the wife of another for sex if the husband so permitted. I'm trying to get my arms around this as none of the evangelical Christian churches have not taught this or atleast have never explained it like that. Come to think of it, I have been in Sunday school and church for 45 years and there has hardly been any in depth study on any sexual content.
Comment by: Old Site Date: 2/9/2013 7:49:46 PM
A reader says ... I think Sarah and Abraham and Hagar's problem was that in their culture women were not treated fairly. Hagar should not have been "given" to Abraham for sex. Slavery was part of the problem but women's rights was another part. For example, a married ,man could have sex with any woman, as long as she was not married or a virgin. But if a married woman had sex with an unmarried man - that was adultery punishable by death. Is that not a double standard? Married man has sex and that is fine. Married woman has sex and she is stoned to death. There are many other double standards for men and women. For example if a man thought his wife was having an affair she had to drink sewer water and if she got sick and died she was guilty, but if she did not get sick and die, she was innocent. That is so unfair. I am sure God did not intervene to save the innocent women and make the guilty women die. That was pure superstition that is codified into God's Old Testament law.