Living in Adultery
By Glendol McClure

The Bible has much to say concerning sexual sins, especially adultery. Under Moses’ Law, adultery was prohibited, and God commanded that those caught in the act were to be punished by death (Exodus 20:14; Leviticus 20:10).

This sin tarnished the lives of many men of old. The classic Bible example is David, who committed adultery with Bathsheba. In an effort to hide his sin with Bathsheba, David committed other sins and was responsible for the death of Uriah, Bathsheba's husband (2 Samuel 11). The ironic thing about David's adultery is that, even though he made a concerted effort to cover them, the Bible records the account of David’s sins. The fact that the Lord sent Nathan to confront David about the matter (2 Samuel 12) and that adultery was punishable by death under the Old Law, demonstrates God's displeasure with those who committed this sin.

Old Testament prophets used the term adultery as a metaphor to describe those who were unfaithful to God. Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Hosea used this term to describe those involved in the practice of idolatry and pagan worship (Ezekiel 23:37; Jeremiah 3:6-10; Hosea 4:2-14).

Christ condemned the practice of adultery when he told the woman brought to Him by the scribes and Pharisees (who claimed she was "taken in the very act of adultery") to "go, and sin no more" (John 8:3-11). It is interesting to note that the scribes and Pharisees did not bring the man who was involved in "the very act" with her. It is reasonable to conclude that the woman's accusers were also guilty of the sin of adultery -- see vs. 6-9. Perhaps, one or more of the accusers was the woman's partner in the sin.

The apostle Paul wrote concerning adultery. Paul described adultery as a "work of the flesh" and warned that those guilty of this and other sins would NOT inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 6:9,10).

Even though God and His inspired apostles and prophets condemned the practice of adultery, men throughout time and ages have participated in it and suffered from the evil and the rotten fruit for which it is responsible. The very society in which we live promotes, condones, and approves this sin. In every corner of this world, from skid row to the White House, adultery, fornication, and sexual immorality in general, are highly glamorized and glorified.

Sadly, some of my own brethren are involved in justifying and condoning adulterous marriages. Some who are gospel preachers have attempted to redefine adultery. They’ve made the argument that one who unscripturally divorces and then marries another mate, commits sin at the time of the divorce. However, in the second marriage they are legally married and cannot commit adultery or live in adultery, and may, therefore, remain in that marriage.

The argument is often made that the terms "living in adultery" and "adulterous marriage" are contradictory and not found in the Bible. They conclude that sexual activity within the subsequent marriage does not constitute adultery.

On page 72 of Brother Jerry Bassett’s book, Rethinking Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage, he writes, "We have often heard, and used, the expression, 'adulterous marriage.' By this is meant a marriage in which its partners commit adultery with each other every time they engage in sexual intercourse. Since we are obligated to speak as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11), it seems we should have noticed that the phrase, 'adulterous marriage,’ simply does not appear anywhere in the Scriptures. We should have also noticed that this expression is a contradiction in terms when the word 'adulterous' is used to describe sexual intercourse with another person's spouse, and the word 'marriage 'refers to that in which a man and a woman are spouses to each other. This very idea, and thus the term used to describe it, seems to have originated in the minds of men as a result of a faulty concept of what Jesus meant by his use of the term adultery."

On the same basis as brother Bassett's argument--that the term "adulterous marriage" is not used in the Scriptures--a homosexual could use faulty reasoning to justify homosexuality by saying that the Bible does not specifically use or condemn the term "homosexual marriage." Also, the term "living in sin" is not found in the Bible. Can we, therefore, argue that the use of this term is the "result of a faulty concept" in the teaching of Christ and his apostles on the subject of sin? If not, why not?

In this study, the proper definition of terms is crucial. Jesus said, "And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." (Matt. 19:9) In that chapter, Jesus taught at least two important truths:

  1. Lawful marriage of a man and a woman is for life.

  2. The innocent mate may put away the unfaithful mate only for the cause of sexual immorality, and may marry another.

Adultery, as used in this chapter, is defined, "...to have unlawful intercourse with another's wife..." (Thayer, p. 417). Of the word fornication, Thayer said, "prop. of illicit sexual intercourse in general" (p. 532). Walter Bauer defined fornication as, "Prostitution, unchasity, fornication, of every kind of unlawful intercourse" (A Greek - English Lexicon of The New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 693). The term fornication generally refers to unlawful sexual intercourse between the unmarried, but, the term is also applied to include illicit sexual intercourse between two people who are married. The term fornication would include incest, prostitution, lesbianism, homosexuality, bestiality, pedophilia, and adultery.

In addition to Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5 and 19, several other Bible passages clearly show that it is Biblically possible for two people to be legally married and live in adultery. According to the Bible, Herod and Herodias were married (Mark 6:17). John told Herod, "It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife." (Mark 6:18) While their marriage may have been legal, it was not lawful (approved by God).

Therefore, they were living in a sinful relationship (an unlawful marriage), and Herod did not have his OWN wife, but the wife of his brother, Philip (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1,2). John boldly condemned this marriage, and as a result, he lost his head! Brother Bassett argues that John did not use the term "adulterous" when he condemned the marriage of Herod and Herodius. He wrote, "... this marriage was unlawful on the basis of incest (meaning, not adultery, according to Bassett, tgm). It involved the uncovering of the nakedness of a brother's wife (Leviticus 18:6,16,20:21), a clear case of incest" (Ibid. p. 73).

Again, on the same basis of Brother Bassett's argument--that the word "adulterous" is not used--I can then say that the word "incest" was not used in this passage. If not, why not? Question: Did John use the term "incest"? NO! Did Herod, even though he and Herodius were married, have the wife of another man? Yes! (Matthew 14:3,4; Mark 6:17,18; Luke 3:19) Were they then living in adultery? YES! Please refer again to the earlier definition of adultery.

In Romans 7:2-3 Paul wrote, "For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. 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."

In this passage, Paul made several important points:

  1. Marriage is a life-long relationship.

  2. The death of a mate frees the surviving mate to marry another (one scripturally qualified, of course).

  3. The woman who marries another man while her husband lives is an adulteress.

Question: Is the woman "who shall be called an adulteress," living in adultery when she is married to another man while her husband lives? Most certainly. Therefore, according to God's book, "living in adultery" is a scriptural term.

Furthermore, in Colossians 3:5-7 Paul wrote, "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them" (Emp. mine, tgm). Since Paul said they "lived in" fornication, then it is possible to live in adultery.

In conclusion, the terms "living in adultery" and "adulterous marriage" express Bible concepts that God and divinely inspired men condemned in God's Holy book. Bible repentance demands that those who are living in adulterous marriages and other sinful relationships cease the relationships and "do works meet for repentance" (Acts 26:20). The homosexual must give up his homosexual lover; the drunkard and the drug addict must give up the alcohol and drugs; the thief must stop stealing; the liar must stop lying and speak the truth; and the woman ("an adulteress") who is married to another man while her husband liveth, must leave the adulterous relationship.

Bible repentance also demands that sinners show godly sorrow, come to abhor in their minds their past sinful lives, cease practicing sin, and humbly submit to the gospel of Christ; the emotional appeals and faulty conclusions of some of our brethren notwithstanding.

Let us hold in honor the divine sanctity of God's marriage law, taught by His Son, Jesus, who said, "Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:6) In order to reach heaven, we must respect Divine authority and not tamper with it. We must strive to please God in all that we do, realizing the important principle of truth--what God hath NOT joined together, man MUST put asunder!


Brother McClure has done a masterful job of discussing an issue that continues to stir up controversy among many brethren. In the past few years, I have come to believe that brethren do not misunderstand the Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage (MDR) issue—it is the correct Biblical understanding of Bible repentance that confuses them. Please allow me to show why I believe this is true.

What does the drunk who has truly repented have to do? He must put away his bottle of booze and stop drinking. What does the one addicted to heroin have to do to show repentance? He must stop using the drug. What about those who are engaged in homosexual relationships? Must they sever their unholy relationships? What must the thief do if He has truly repented of his sins? Of course, he must stop stealing. What about a liar? To truly repent, the liar must stop lying and start telling the truth.

I do not believe any who are honest cannot see the truth in the above examples. Then please explain to me why this thinking changes when we get to the case of one who commits adultery? Does baptism cause the sin of adultery to vanish? If so, why doesn’t it do the same for drinking, drugs, homosexuality, lying, and stealing?

Dear friend, if a man and woman are living in a marriage that God’s calls adultery, nothing in the world, except leaving the relationship, will make it cease to be adultery. Yes, I know it is an emotional thing, and that it can, because of the love two people feel for one another, be a very difficult hardship. Still, the two homosexuals could make the same argument about their feelings. Unfortunately, it comes down to whether or not the guilty can continue in their sin. God will not tolerate it, and neither should His people.

God gave only one law on repentance, and it applies to all kinds of sin. True Bible repentance demands that the sinner stop sinning. “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.”{ 2 Corinthians 7:10-11} One can “live” in any sin that he is unwilling to leave. One can choose to stop sinning, or continue and accept the consequences for that choice. Preachers and members need to stop blaming God and the Bible for these situations. God didn’t get men into these types of situations. They did when they stopped following His law. God is the one who determines what constitutes true repentance. All the different positions on MDR will not change the need for the sinner to repent. (KMG)


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