The Superior Righteousness of the Kingdom
Adultery (Matt. 5:27-30)


"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery."

Just what kind of situation was Jesus facing in the first-century world?

    "A mark of the ancient view of marriage [in Greco-Roman paganism] is that unconditional fidelity is demanded of the wife alone. The married man is not forbidden to have intercourse with an unmarried woman. In Greek law adultery is simply 'secret sexual intercourse with a free woman without the consent of her Lord"

    (For example, it was standard in the Greek culture for the man to be married to a woman and yet have a male lover for a companion. Moreover, it was quite common for the married man to be technically "faithful" to his wife by having extra marital sex only with a temple prostitute; in their view, this constituted worship, not adultery.)

    "A mark of the NT is the sharp intensifying of the concept of adultery. The right of a man to sexual freedom is denied. Like the wife, the husband is under an obligation of fidelity. [Moreover] The wife is exalted to the same dignity as the husband. Marriage is a life-long fellowship of the partners. Only thus does it actualise the ideal intended in creation (Mt. 5:32; 19:8) [TDNT 4:732-734].

Matthew 5:28

"But I say to you that whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her" [or rather, has already adulterated her in his heart].

According to v. 28 what constitutes adultery?

    "The sin of adultery, like other sins, finds its root in a person's inner thoughts. Thus, to look deliberately at a woman lustfully, i.e., desiring or imagining a sexual relationship with her, is to commit adultery in one's heart and thus to violate the deepest intention of the law as now revealed by Jesus" (WBC:120).
WBC goes on to show that the importance of the heart in sin is seen in the 10th Commandment which focuses on the heart and not the action per se: "Thou shalt not covet." [P.S. This was the commandment that gave Paul fits (see Romans 7:7-25). All the other 9 commandments could be fulfilled by action; the 10th command focused entirely on the heart and the mind, things much more difficult to control.]

Matthew 5:29-30

So, how serious is Jesus about this injunction? According to vv. 29 what should the man do if his right eye causes him to stumble in this matter?

According to v. 30, what should the man do if his right hand causes him to stumble in this matter?

Notice that Jesus focuses on the "right" eye and the "right" hand.

    "The specification of the 'right eye' and 'right hand' is probably meant to indicate that which is preferred or more skilled and, therefore, the most valuable (the left eye can lust as well as the right can)" (WBC:120-121). Therefore, if we are to cut off the RIGHT hand or pluck out the RIGHT eye, it is no telling what we should do the left hand and left eye!
Is this action drastic?
    "The right eye is to be plucked out, the right hand to be cut off, if they are the cause of stumbling. Because of the importance of obeying God's standard of righteousness, radical action should be taken to avoid the cause of the temptation. The discipleship of the kingdom sometimes requires drastic measure" (WBC:120-121).
Why would Jesus command such drastic action on our part?

According to both verses 29-30, why would it be better for a man to pluck out his right eye or cut off his right hand than to lust?


Bonhoeffer: "Lust is impure because it is unbelief, and therefore it is to be shunned. No sacrifice is too _____________ if it enables us to conquer a lust which cuts us off from Jesus. Both eye and hand are less than ____________________, and when they are used as the instruments of lust and hinder the whole body from the purity of discipleship, they must be sacrificed for the sake of him. The gains of lust are trivial compared with the loss it brings—you forfeit your body ___________________ for the momentary pleasure of eye or hand. When you have made your eye the instrument of impurity, you cannot see God with it. Surely, at this point we must make up our minds once and for all whether Jesus means his precepts to be taken literally or only figuratively, for here it is a matter of life and death. But the question is answered by the reaction of the disciples. Our natural inclination is to avoid a definite decision over the apparently crucial question. But the question is itself both _______________ and _________________, and it does not admit of an _________________. If we decided not to take it literally, we should be evading the seriousness of the commandment, and if on the other hand we decided it was to be taken literally, we should at once reveal the absurdity of the Christian position, and thereby invalidate he commandment. The fact that we receive no answer to the question only makes the commandment even more inescapable. We cannot evade the issue either way; we are placed in a position where there is no alternative but to ______________. Jesus does not impose intolerable restrictions on his disciples, he does not forbid them to look at anything, but bids them look on him. If they do that he knows that their gaze will always be pure, even when they look upon a woman."

Regarding the complaint that it is sooooooo hard to be sexually chaste, Lewis responds: "In the second place, many people are deterred from seriously attempting Christian chastity because they think (before trying) that it is impossible. But when a thing has to be attempted, one must never think about possibility or impossibility. Faced with an optional question in an examination paper, one considers whether one can do it or not: faced with a compulsory question, one must do the best one can. You may get some marks for a very imperfect answer: you will certainly get none for leaving the question alone. Not only in examinations but in war, in mountain climbing, in learning to skate, or swim, or ride a bicycle, even in fastening a stiff collar with cold fingers, people quite often do what seemed impossible before they did it. It is wonderful what you can do when you have to" (MC, Book 3, Chapter 5).

So, in other words, Lewis and Bonhoeffer would say: "Quit complaining and quit rationalizing, and be pure!"

Some good ways to test to see if you are pure:

  1. What kind of movies do you watch? Do they promote purity or impurity?

  2. What kind of TV shows do you watch? Do they promote purity or impurity?

  3. What kind of jokes do you tell? Do they promote purity or impurity?

  4. When I see a beautiful young lady who is not my wife, do I keep gazing at her or keep thinking about her even though I've turned my gaze away from her?

  5. The magazines I look at? Do I know that they will be presenting some racy photos of women? Do I avoid those kinds of magazines (I am not talking about pornos which are obviously off-limits for the Christian).

  6. Am I engaged in cyber-sex?

  7. Do I allow female co-workers to get too close to me? Do I allow them to flatter my ego? Do I share with them all the problems I am having at home with my wife?