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Bible References: Fornication, Adultery & Divorce

Posted by: Pastor_Don_Milton on Jan 14, 2005 - 08:22 PM
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The meaning of every word found in the Bible is based on numerous factors. Here are some important questions to ask yourself when trying to determine the meaning of a word.

1.) What do the people who speak the original language of the Bible say that the word means?

2.) What does the context of the verse in which the word is found show it to mean? Specifically, what verses preceded and followed the verse and what was the social context in which it was spoken. Who were the listeners/readers?

3.) What does your culture say it means? Throw that out! In order to understand what a word means in the original language you must throw out what your culture and tradition teach you and go strictly by the culture and tradition of the Bible. There is a grand error that can occur when you allow your culture to interject itself into your understanding of scripture. Your culture will cause you to redefine words in the Bible based o要 your culture's interpretation of a verse. Do not allow that to happen or you will be defining the word by your interpretation of the verse instead of defining the meaning of the verse based o要 the original meaning of the words.

4.) Are there nearly identical verses where an exchange of just o要e or two words would shed light on the meaning of the verse and thereby shed light on the meaning of the word?

5.) Are there synonyms that are used in the same context as the word that shed light on the meaning of the verse and thereby the meaning of the word?

A note concerning "original language." The New Testament that we have today comes from Greek manuscripts however most of the characters who spoke as well as those who were spoken to were Hebrews. Because of this we must actually go to the Hebrew meaning of words when translating to English from Greek. In other words, we must go to the Hebrew synonym for the Greek word used and then translate that Hebrew synonym into English. Whether Jesus spoke in Aramaic, Hebrew, or Greek, it is clear that whatever language He used, the Hebrew listener would understand the words in the context of the Hebrew Torah (The Old Testament) which in fact was the o要ly scripture at the time of Jesus. only in cases where the Greek was idiosyncratic to the time, region, and culture of the Greeks or Romans would this not be the case.

Keep these things in mind while we discover what the Bible says about Fornication, Adultery and Divorce.

We'll start with the definition of fornication. Fornication includes all sexual sins; sins that are punishable by death such as adultery, male homosexuality, and bestiality, as well as those that are not punishable by death but are sins nonetheless such as acting like a harlot.

We'll begin our discussion of fornication by defining harlot. Let's begin with the first usage of the word harlot that is found in this snippet from the story of:

"Dinah the daughter of Leah, which she bare unto Jacob"

Now Dinah went out to see the daughters of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her. When Dinah's brothers heard of this they said, "Should he deal with our sister as with an harlot?"
[Taken from Genesis 34:1, 2, & 31]

It is clear from the statement of Dinah's brothers that women who do not object to their being taken for sexual relations without the benefit of marriage are harlots. A man who takes a woman for sexual relations without the benefit of marriage is taking part in an act of harlotry and so commits fornication. There is no way that we can know whether Dinah willingly participated with Shechem. She could not have been expected to scream since she had gone among the daughters of the land and was taken by the son of a prince. There would have been nobody to help even if she had screamed.

[Soul Searching Question]
Do you know harlots; women who are not virgins although they have never been married? Are you a harlot? Have you promoted harlotry by saying "they're going to do it anyway" and allowing your own daughters to conduct themselves in any manner they please? Have you allowed your sons to become fornicators excusing their activity with harlots by repeating the ungodly saying, "boys will be boys?"

The second time the word harlot is found in the Bible is in the story of:

"Tamar, the Daughter in Law of Judah"

Judah said to his daughter in law, Tamar, "Remain a widow at thy father's house, till Shelah my son be grown." Judah had said this because every o要e of his sons who had married Tamar had died and he was afraid that his last son, Shelah, would also die. Tamar must have realized this and known she was going to be denied her right to a son through Shelah for when she heard that Judah was going to Timnath she laid a snare. She put her widow's garments off from her, and covered herself with a veil, thus disguising herself. She then sat in a doorway [as the prostitutes to this day are known to do] so that she could deceive Judah into believing she was a harlot. In this way she planned to have a son through the very man who was denying her the right to levirate* marriage. When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot; because she had covered her face.
Paraphrased Genesis 38:11, 13, 14, & 15

[It is of note that in the days of Judah, harlots covered their faces. Today the o要ly women who cover their faces are the wives of Muslims. If their husbands o要ly knew that their wives' faces should not be covered as if they are harlots. There is no shame in being a wife. This practice among Muslims began in the 1970s in imitation of some misguided Arab nomads.]

In the story of Judah and Tamar we have explained to us the activities of a harlot. It must be noted that later in the story, Judah realized that Tamar wasn't a harlot but merely a woman seeking to have her legitimate right to a child restored. Judah, noting this, said, "She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son."

Before Judah realized Tamar was pregnant by him, he said, "Bring her forth, and let her be burnt." Genesis 38:24b This is not a double standard because Levirate marriage made Tamar the betrothed of Shelah and sexual acts committed by her with others are adultery and punishable by death, whereas a man visiting a prostitute also commits a sin, it is not the death penalty sin of adultery unless the prostitute is married. The case of Judah and Tamar provides an example of a man breaking the following law.

Leviticus 19:29 Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore; lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness.

Now this is the only usage of the word prostitute in the entire Bible and it does not mean prostitute as we mean it today. It means "cause to be defiled." Now Judah's holding back his son Shelah from Tamar who had an absolute right to him as a husband did indeed cause her to be defiled, in other words, caused her to go with a man other than the one to whom she is betrothed.

Judah recognized that he had caused Tamar to commit adultery and no penalty was imposed on her nor on him in a unique circumstance. There can be no death penalty unless the adulterer and the adulteress are put to death. He was guilty of both her sin and his own sin. She actually took the law into her own hands by going with the closest levirate relative after Shelah and that was Shelah's father, Judah.

Leviticus 20:10  And the man that committeth adultery with [another] man's wife, [even he] that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

There is an interesting difference between the harlot who sells herself and the harlot who gives it away for free. Let's turn to a biblical example in metaphor of a woman who gives presents to her lovers, and how the Bible says this is the worst type of harlot, and I might add, the most common type of harlot today including upwards of ninety percent of single American women. She can be found anywhere from your local Junior High school to the mall to your church!

Ezekiel 16:34 And the contrary is in thee from [other] women in thy whoredoms, whereas none followeth thee to commit whoredoms: and in that thou givest a reward, and no reward is given unto thee, therefore thou art contrary.

  • "reward" as in "gift"

Look what the Lord has says here concerning such a harlot. "whereas none followeth thee to commit whoredoms." In other words, the other harlots o要ly go so far and then no farther. Certainly they don't follow her in the committing of their harlotry.

So what are we to take from these three cases? First, the worst type of harlot is the type that gives gifts to her lovers. She is not seeking economic gain but satisfaction of her own wanton desires even going so far as to reward the man upon whom she bestowes sexual favors. The second worst kind of harlot is the type that gives no other gift than herself to her lover and the third worst kind of harlot is the type that gets paid for what she is doing! This is backwards from the way that our western culture teaches us! We're taught "prostitute worst, just for sex second worst, and giving gifts to boyfriend least worst." This just shows us how totally confused our culture is when the Bible condemns the average boyfriend to girlfriend sex in the United States as the worst type of harlotry that exists because the girlfriend gives gifts to her boyfriends.

Should a woman who is giving gifts to her boyfriend(s) now say to herself, "I'm already the worst type of harlot because I give gifts to my lovers. Maybe I should simply become a prostitute." Of course NOT. Every person, Christian or not, is called to righteousness. Our own souls cry out to us to seek the path that is good. If you're having a problem with harlotry ask God and He will deliver you. Follow Paul's advice as well; flee from sexual immorality.

There are dozens more references to harlotry as well as whoredom throughout the Bible but this cannot be an exhaustive article o要 the subject or it would take up an entire book. We'll now move o要 to the topic of adultery.

The First Reference in the Bible to Adultery is found in The Ten Commandments

Exodus 20:14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.

The person with whom o要e is said to commit adultery as well as the penalty for adultery is found in Leviticus among the commands against various sexual perversions.

Leviticus 20:10 And the man that committeth adultery with [another] man's wife, [even he] that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

Clarification of this law is found in:

Romans 7:3 So then if, while [her] husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.

Please note that the above verse does not prevent the husband from divorcing his wife thereby allowing her to marry another man. It says "while the husband liveth" which denies her the ability to marry as long as she has a living husband but if her husband divorces her in accordance with the law then she no longer has a living husband for her former husband is not her husband anymore.

In these verses and, in fact, all the verses concerning adultery in the Bible, the definition of adultery is sexual relations between a married woman and a man who is not her husband. Relations between a single woman and a married man is not adultery. It is fornication as you have learned in the section about fornication.

The verse in the Bible that tells how and when a man can divorce his wife is found in:

Deuteronomy 24:1
When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give [it] in her hand, and send her out of his house.

Notice that the Bible teaches different guidelines for divorce than our culture. Which are we to follow, the Bible or our culture?

The Bible teaches that it is the man who gives the woman a divorce and o要ly because he has found a specific type of uncleanness in her. There is no case of a woman presenting a man with a Bill of Divorcement. It simply cannot be done.* Let's clarify, the Bible teaches that the man writes the Bill of Divorcement, not the court system.

The Bible teaches that after the man writes her the Bill of Divorcement that he sends her out of his house, not the reverse. In Biblical divorce the woman is not given the house unless it is part of the monetary assets that she has brought into the marriage. If she has labored for money during the marriage and the house was a portion of the assets that she built up then indeed she would have a case that she must be reimbursed but the burden of proof is on her that she has a stake in the house as an asset, not the reverse. Let's clarify as well that the work of the husband is not considered o要e of her assets so if she was a housewife throughout her married life she would go out with nothing.

Let the Bible's strict dealing with women who are divorced be a warning to all women not to put themselves in compromising positions. A husband is not required to prove fornication. He is the judge in divorce cases. If his position is that you have committed fornication and you have not then the guilt shall be on him as Jesus stated.

The school of Shammai held the view that a man could divorce his wife only for the cause of fornication. The school of Hillel held that a man could divorce a woman for any type of uncleanness whatsoever. Even though it appears that Jesus comes down on the side of the school of Shammai we know He did not for Jesus was not of any man made school. He needs no man made schools to tell us what He wrote! But before you jump to the conclusion that divorcing your wife for reasons short of fornication is cruel, what of the husband who simply does not want to drag out all the dirt on his wife? He might divorce his wife quietly as Joseph had planned to divorce Mary and to do a quiet divorce would require a man to state that he was doing so in accordance with the school of Hillel. To divorce a wife in accordance with the school of Shammai would require public accusations in order to justify the divorce. Furthermore, a man who would divorce his wife without the cause of fornication would put his wife in the unfortunate position of being judged by those of the school of Shammai to still be married. She would neither be able to marry according to them nor to divorce her husband according to the Bible. We must therefore consider the context of Jesus words. His strict pronouncement on when a divorce is valid came less than one minute after his statement that if your right eye offends thee, pluck it out. Certainly no sane person believes that they must pluck out their eye. So how are we to take Jesus words on when a man can divorce his wife? I'll leave that to your conscience as you search the Bible for answers. To find out when a woman might ask her husband to give her a divorce just Click Here to Read: Can a Woman Divorce Her Husband.

This article will continue to be edited and re-edited to obtain a more clear message. Thanks for your patience.

Note: Pastor Don Milton has received his B.A. in Linguistics from the University of Washington in 1987. He has studied 5 languages and regularly speaks a language that is not his own. *Levirate marriage is a marriage that is for the purpose of producing a male offspring that will be reckoned as the heir of a husband who died without leaving a son. For example, a woman gets married and her husband dies before producing a son. It is the brother of the deceased husband who now becomes responsible for producing a son for his deceased brother by marrying the widow.

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Once you know polygamy is not a sin you can't unknow it.

-- Pastor Don Milton --

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