Matthew 5:27–32 - Christ’s Interpretation of the Seventh Commandment
What is the proper interpretation of the seventh commandment? What does it forbid and what does it allow? Is a different interpretation of this commandment necessary for different times? These questions are important in every age and especially in our own. We will do well to study Jesus’ interpretation of this commandment.
He introduces his discussion of this commandment in almost the same form as the previous one. The people have been taught a certain view. Is that view correct? Jesus says, No. They have been taught that only those have violated the demands of this commandment who are guilty of actual, literal adultery. The religious teachers in Israel gave the same interpretation of the law of God which a judge gives of the law of man. This was their fundamental error. According to Christ, the law of God does not only condemn the deed, it also condemns evil desires. God’s law judges the heart of man.
Jesus has made this position very clear in regard to the sixth commandment and now shows its application to the seventh commandment. Not only is he guilty who has committed the deed, he also is guilty who looks on a woman to lust after her. Jesus makes this unmistakably clear by saying that such a one has already committed adultery with her in his heart. This is strong language. Does this mean that a man may scarcely look at a woman other than his wife, or a woman at a man other than her husband? Of course not. Notice that Jesus says, “Looketh on a woman to lust after her”. Lust is the sin of which he here speaks. Yet, the question is sure to arise in the hearts of his hearers, Who then is without sin? That is exactly the issue. Let them realize that they are not without sin in this sphere either. Their righteousness will have to come from Another.
Seeing all are guilty, Jesus now gives them counsel. He tells them that if the right eye causes them to stumble, pluck it out. If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. This is drastic advice. Nevertheless it is better to go into life maimed than for the whole body to perish!
What does Jesus mean by these words? They should not be taken literally. The literal plucking out of an eye or the cutting off of a hand will not aid you in gaining eternal life. What Christ does mean is this: Whatever is a stumbling block to you in a particular area of life, get rid of it! It makes no difference how important or valuable these things may be in other respects, get rid of them! Remember, your eternal salvation is at stake.
This teaching is of great importance to us today. There are so many things which entice us. None of them are worth keeping. We should be ready and willing to rid ourselves of all things which entice us “so that with earnest purpose we begin to live, not only according to some but according to all the commandments of God”.
In this same connection Christ gives attention to the problem of divorce. The people of his day were being misinformed regarding this problem. The teachers of the people pointed to Deuteronomy 24:1 where Moses allows a bill of divorcement to be given a woman if she does not please her husband due to “some unseemly thing” which he has found in her. This provision, of course, was not found in the law of Sinai. Divorce was practiced during Old Testament times. In order to protect such a woman, Moses commanded that she should be given a bill of divorcement stating that she had not been guilty of adultery and was free to marry another man.
In chapter 19 Jesus says that Moses allowed this because of the hardness of the hearts of the people, but that God had not made this allowance from the beginning. Jesus points back to the beginning. This is his “but I say unto you” over against the prevailing teaching of his day. According to Jesus, there is only one ground for divorce, viz., adultery. No other ground can be found in all his teaching. Marriage is a divine ordinance, a lasting bond. Man may not put asunder what God has joined together.
The teaching of our Lord in regard to the problem of divorce is quite different from the common practice today. Divorce is easy in many places and almost any ground suffices. The church of Christ is faced with this problem more and more. The Scrip* hues should be 0 u r only guide. Marriage must be safeguarded because it is a divine institution and the most fundamental of ‘ all institutions among men.
What does it mean when Jesus says that the woman who is put away, who is not guilty of fornication, is made an adulteress? Is she made guilty by the sinful deed of her husband? This can hardly be true. There are commentators (Bouwman, Grosheide, Hendriksen, et alia) who emphasize the fact that a verb is used here in the passive voice. This changes the wording considerably. Instead of the reading, “maketh her au adulteress” the reading would be, “causes her to suffer adultery”. Among the Jews a woman could not divorce her husband but the husband could divorce his wife. Jesus lays all the emphasis on the fact that the husband is guilty. He does wrong; his wife suffers wrong. If the husband puts away His wife when she is not guilty of the sin of adultery, he causes her to suffer the reproach of one who is actually guilty. She must now face life alone and will be tempted to marry another. The bill of divorcement has not severed the marriage bond in God’s sight. Should she then marry again she will actually be an adulteress. The man who marries a woman who has been put away by her first husband also commits adultery.
The practice allowed by Moses leads to all manner of difficulty. No doubt many people thought it to be a logical and sensible solution of the problem. After all, should two people live together when they can no longer agree or when they no longer love each other? Jesus shows what happens when the law of God is no longer honored as it should be. He who breaks or misinterprets the law of God will suffer the consequences. Every step he takes increases his guilt.
Jesus has not come to destroy the law; on the contrary, he gives a very strict interpretation of the law. Righteousness is necessary to enter the kingdom of heaven and that righteousness is clearly outlined in the law of God. The interpretation of God’s law as given by the Scribes and Pharisees will make entrance into the kingdom of heaven impossible. The law is still important.
Questions For Discussion
- What should be our attitude toward the “realism” found in today’s books and pictures?
- Many writers today emphasize the need of sex-education. Where should this be given — in the home? church? school?
- Is there any Scriptural proof for the view that willful desertion is a ground for divorce?
- In how far do the pronouncements of the civil courts in regard to divorce affect the stand of the church?
- Is divorce mandatory when one of the parties has made himself guilty of adultery?
- Is ignorance of the demands of God’s law an excuse?
- Does divorce on unbiblical grounds demand only pentience or does involve more?