Have you ever wondered if you have the mind of Christ? Do you believe that God's thoughts are actually higher than yours? Do we agree with God? In all things? Has God ever said something at which you took offense? Does the Bible actually teach the things that you have been taught by your parents, your Sunday school teachers and your pastor? If you were to be shown that God does not endorse your morality, would you change what you believe to align yourself with what God has said?
During worship this past Lord's Day, the pastor reminded us that we are to be renewing our minds. He stated further that what we read in the Bible should be changing us. I just had to shake my head as he just had a woman get up front and "lead" us in lighting the advent candle. She spoke for a full five minutes. So much for women "keeping silence" in the church. I took that opportunity to let my mind wander a bit and to question whether I am currently harboring any wrong thinking that directly contradicts what God has revealed about Himself and his requirements for me. I couldn't think of anything but I'm sure there is something.
In the recent past, within the last 5 or 10 years, I have had to completely revamp my understanding of marriage and the regulation, by God, of sexual relations between humans. Why, I even had to change my definition of adultery to make it line up with the Bible! Yes, I just said that my definition of adultery was not the same as what is described as adultery in the Bible. How could that be? Don't be so surprised, because yours is probably wrong, too. Words mean things. Ideas have consequences. Take care to get it right.
How does the Bible define adultery? It doesn't have a verse that says "Adultery is...." But, we can find several verses which show us what adultery is and, equally important, what it ISN'T. When a woman who is married or betrothed has intercourse with a man other than her husband (or betrothed) both the woman and her paramour are committing adultery. Adultery always, always, always involves a married woman. If sexual intercourse occurs between a man an unmarried woman, it is never adultery. I don't mean that it isn't some other sin, but it is most definitely not adultery. Likewise, a man having sexual intercourse with a woman to whom he is married (assuming the woman is not already the wife of another) is never adultery, regardless of whether he has one wife or 20. A man may have more than one wife, and this is not adultery. A woman, however, may only have one husband at a time and if she has sexual intercourse with another man, or marries another man while she is married, she commits adultery.
I don't know about you, but when I first discovered this, I was quite shocked. A married man, who has sexual intercourse with an unmarried woman is not committing adultery. You can't swap the words around in the Bible and make it the same for husbands and wives. Men and woman are not the same. When a marriage takes place, the man and woman are not doing the same thing and assuming equal positions in the relationship. A man takes a wife. A woman is taken "to wife" by a man. She is pledged exclusively to him. He is not bound by exclusivity.
Rather than take my word for it, and I hope you won't, please check the Scripture and study it for yourself. Here are a few examples where the concept is covered:
And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
There is no corresponding verse about the woman who commits adultery with a neighbor's husband. The marital status of the man in an adulterous relationship is never mentioned in the Scripture. If the woman is married and her sexual partner is not her husband, both of them are guilty of adultery, regardless of the man's marital status. In the same way, regardless of the marital status of the man, if he has sex with an unmarried woman, it is not adultery for either party.
In Numbers chapter 5, verses 12 - 31 we are given a program to be followed when a husband has a "spirit of jealousy" and believes his wife is committing adultery. He brings her to the priest and makes an accusation against her, she drinks a special drink after swearing her innocence. If she is innocent, she will conceive, if she is guilty, her thigh rots and she becomes cursed in their neighborhood. She isn't put to death because this would fail the required "two or three witness test" for putting people to death. There is no corresponding law for a wife who thinks her husband is sleeping around. Is this an accident or oversight on the part of God? I can say with much confidence, "No."
What of a man who keeps marrying women after he already has a wife? Is this adultery? Is the modern crime of bigamy prohibited by God? Clearly not. There is no command not to do it and there is no mention that God is even displeased with it. Unlike adultery, which God has claimed is evil. Consider King David. He had plenty of wives. I was able to find the following list in less than 5 minutes of searching: Michal, Abigail, Ahinoam, Maacah, Haggith, Abital, and Eglah. He took these wives, sometimes two at a time, such as Abigail and Ahinoam, and they barely get mentioned. But when he committed adultery with Bathsheba, God noticed. This was not just another wife. This was the wife of another man, one Uriah the Hittite. Even after Uriah was killed in battle, God continued to refer to Bathsheba as "the wife of Uriah." There is a clear difference between adultery and a man taking more than one wife.
The New Testament is a grand commentary on the Old Testament. No new law. No destruction of the law, just a better explanation. Paul sums up the law concerning adultery in Romans 7:3 "So then, if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress." This was not so for a man, in that while is wife lives, he MAY marry another as long as he doesn't put away his first wife to do so. (See Matthew 5:31-32) That would cause his first wife to commit adultery and he, himself, commits adultery by putting away his wife according to Matthew 19:9.
Now, back to the original point of this post. If I accuse God of being wrong or unjust or unfair for not calling it adultery if my husband should have sex with some other woman, then I am judging God. If I think in my heart that God is evil for putting different requirements on men and woman, then I need to be rebuked and I need to renew my mind and conform my thinking to God's. Not the other way around. After all, where was I when God caused the doe to give birth in the forest? (paraphrasing what God answered Job)
Why, oh why does any of this matter? It matters because it is the first step in admitting that the standards for righteousness don't come from us, or from our wicked hearts or our puny brains. They come from an almighty God whose thoughts are actually higher than ours. After coming to grips with that understanding, we will be less shocked and more willing to yield to God when we see that his definitions for other things that we imagine are one way, are actually not that way at all. We won't attempt to set ourselves up as more holy than God when we see, for example, that there is no such thing as "rape" as we currently define it, in the Bible. Our indignation and desire to put "rapists" to death does not come from God. We aren't exercising a "godly anger" when we wish castration upon so-called "child molesters." Those ideas come from somewhere, but they don't come from God or what He has revealed to us about Himself. And really, all we know about God is what He has revealed. We have no other way to know Him. No one has special knowledge, apart from the Bible, about God's opinion of forced sexual intercourse and how it should be handled. Can we trust God to make the proper judgment? Or is He in his heaven wringing his hands because we are obeying Him and what he commands rather than going our own way? Can you imagine God saying, "I know I told you that if a man forces himself on a virgin that he must marry her, but what I really meant was that he should be put to death!"?
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