While I greatly value your insight and your website has helped me tremendously, I disagree with your advice in relation to Q&A 0366. Your thought was not to consider something as an act of adultery unless it involves an actual relationship with another person. I think we should go with Jesus' definition of adultery and not yours. Matthew 5:27 is clear: adultery in the heart is to commit marital unfaithfulness. And Jesus said marital unfaithfulness is a legitimate reason for divorce. -- Monica

Thank you for your reply. I do not expect all my readers to agree with me on everything. My aim is to encourage people to study for themselves, to learn to think for themselves. Your conviction is very strong; I do respect that. However, while I respect your opinion, and certainly do not want to minimize the gravity of sexual sin, I would ask you to think through the implications of your position. May I ask you a few questions?

* Are you sure Jesus is equating lust (Matthew 5:28) with marital unfaithfulness (5:32)? If this is so, which wife would not have the biblical right to divorce her husband? After all, if adultery is grounds for divorce, the scriptures never add "unless someone committed it only a few times." You must be consistent here. I maintain that there is a difference between sin in the heart and sin in deed.
* Since hatred is "murder in the heart" (Matthew 5:22), is this also grounds for divorce, or would you suggest a person remain in a marriage with a murderer? Should such a person be imprisoned, since, according to your interpretation, he is literally guilty of murder? (Would you be willing to call the police?) Or is there after all a real difference between an actual action and the contemplation of the action?
* What would you tell the brother who once confided to me that he was a "rapist"? I asked how so, and he replied that he had forced a sister to kiss him once on a date, and this somehow constituted "date rape." How many single Christian women would want to go out with a brother known as a "rapist"? Would you consider him a rapist, or is that perhaps too strong (and misleading) a term?
* If we are to take the entire Sermon on the Mount literally, do you pray only in an inner room (Matthew 6:6), or do you pray outdoors as Jesus seems to have done? What is important here, the spiritual point (solitude and concentration on God), or being indoors? If there is only one way to take all these words, then have you ever cut off your hand? (Did you ever shoplift? Hit another in anger? Gesticulate in an inappropriate way?) And if you have not cut off your hand, why not? For that matter, if you were robbed, did you offer the assailant more than he asked for (Matthew 5:41-42)? If not, why not?

I pose these questions not to be mean to you, but because I believe the simplistic interpretation of Matthew 5:28 leads to more problems than the traditional interpretation: that lust is serious, not that it is grounds for divorce. The "simple" interpretation collapses under its own weight. It founders on both hermeneutic and logical grounds.

This is not to say that Jesus was less serious than you or me; if anything, he was more emphatic about the truth. But that does not mean we should always embrace the most draconian position. I hope these pointed comments will prove to be wholesome food for thought.

This article is copyrighted and is for private use and study only. © 2004. Reprints or public distribution is prohibited without the express consent of Douglas Jacoby.