A teaching of Jesus' during The Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus recounts the commandment Thou Shalt not Commit Adultery, but adds that if you look at another person with lust in your heart, you are committing adultery.

He says that it is better to remove the eye that is looking at the other person than for your entire body to go to hell.

I suppose that I am disappointed in that last paragraph. Why is Jesus teaching about retribution, when I think that perhaps teaching the guilty party to move on would be better? Why should you jump to remove something rather than healing it?

Having never been in a situation where I am committing adultery, I'm not the best person to prescribe any kind of "cure." I do wish that Jesus (or the Gospels) had provided more direction here.

Legally, adultery is generally defined as a married person's voluntary act of sexual intercourse with a person other than their spouse. Some older statutes limit adultery to sex with a married woman by a person other than her spouse, making it a form of human trespassing.

In most places, adultery is at least nominally a crime: in the US, it is generally classified as a misdemeanor, although prosecutions are not common since most district attorneys are too busy going after pot smokers.

The most important legal consequence of adultery, then, is that it is one of the grounds for seeking a divorce. For many years, it was the only ground for divorce in both the US and the UK (they took the Sermon on the Mount to heart). However, one could not obtain a divorce on an allegation of adultery: there had to be corroborating evidence. Which led to a number of clever little schemes for seeking a divorce, e.g.:

(A hotel room. Night.)

JOHN: Okay, Lucy, lower your dress under the sheets a bit so it will look like you're topless.
LUCY: How's that?
JOHN: That's good. Show a bit more cleavage, maybe. Yeah, perfect. Okay, I think that will do. HONEY!

(John's wife MARY opens the door and takes a photo of the two in bed.)

JOHN: (slips a fiver in Lucy's cleavage) Thanks for that. I couldn't take that damn marriage any more!
MARY: (slips another fiver in Lucy's cleavage) I can't see how the judge would doubt this one. Tell him I whacked John over the head, okay?

This isn't so common nowadays because most jurisdictions recognize alternate grounds for divorce (in many places, one can obtain a "no-fault divorce" for no stated reason at all). There are also certain defenses to adultery which vary from place to place (so contact a local lawyer before jumping in bed with someone). Some common ones are:

  • Condonation - If one spouse continues the marital relationship normally (e.g. cohabitation) after learning of the other spouse's adultery, they cannot later raise adultery as grounds for divorce. This is one reason why, if your spouse is cheating on you, you might want to throw them out of the house and ask questions later.
  • Recrimination - If both spouses are screwing around on each other, their adultery cannot be the ground for their divorce.
  • Statute of limitations - Once a person becomes aware of their spouse's adultery, they only have a certain amount of time (usually a few years) to demand a divorce on those grounds.

A*dul"ter*y (#), n.; pl. Adulteries(#). [L. adulterium. See Advoutry.]


The unfaithfulness of a married person to the marriage bed; sexual intercourse by a married man with another than his wife, or voluntary sexual intercourse by a married woman with another than her husband.

⇒ It is adultery on the part of the married wrongdoer.

The word has also been used to characterize the act of an unmarried participator, the other being married. In the United States the definition varies with the local statutes. Unlawful intercourse between two married persons is sometimes called double adultery; between a married and an unmarried person, single adultery.


Adulteration; corruption.


B. Jonson.

3. Script. (a)

Lewdness or unchastity of thought as well as act, as forbidden by the seventh commandment.


Faithlessness in religion.

Jer. iii. 9.

4. OldLaw

The fine and penalty imposed for the offense of adultery.

5. Eccl.

The intrusion of a person into a bishopric during the life of the bishop.


Injury; degradation; ruin.


You might wrest the caduceus out of my hand to the adultery and spoil of nature. B. Jonson.


© Webster 1913.

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