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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, October 28 2021

Adultery: No longer shameful?

Adultery, by definition, is the violation of the marriage contract by either or both partners through sexual activity with a third person, but this commandment against adultery should also be understood to include fornication (sexual relations before marriage), incest and male and female homosexual practices, all of which are outlawed in the Bible.

by Melvin Rhodes

Adultery is considered a serious sin by Almighty God, and its prohibition constitutes one of the Ten Commandments: "You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18). In ancient Israel adulterers suffered capital punishment (Leviticus 20:10), and the sin is described as an abomination in God's eyes (verse 13).

Some may feel that any sexual activity short of intercourse is not a sin, but Scripture shows that anything involving "uncovering nakedness"—for the purpose of sexual misbehaviour—is a sin (Leviticus 18:6-19). Jesus Christ instructed that even desiring to interact sexually with someone other than your marriage partner is a sin (Matthew 5:28).

Illicit love affairs are often depicted in a favorable light in films and other entertainment media, with the purveyors of popular culture neglecting to focus on the dark side of adultery. Jonathan Rauch, correspondent for ‘The National Journal’ in Washington, D.C., observed that "adultery represents a serious problem for society as well as individuals.... Marriage civilizes and settles men (especially younger men), promotes secure homes for children, helps achieve economic stability for both partners, ensures that everyone has somebody to look after him or her in times of ill health. To serve these functions marriages must be durable."

Not only has an adulterer broken the marriage vow, but he or she has also put another person before God—thereby breaking the First and Second Commandments. Adultery shows no respect for parents and in-laws who also suffer when adultery is committed — breaking the Fifth Commandment (Exodus 20:12). The Eighth and Ninth Commandments are also transgressed in that the affection, love and trust of someone else's spouse is stolen (verse 15), and lying and deceit are involved (verse 16).

As Jonathan Rauch put it: "An adulterer is a missile with many warheads, capable of wrecking a series of homes." It often leads to divorce, which in turn divides families. Not only are the husband and wife affected, but the children, any grandchildren, parents on both sides and even society at large. A British survey on the reasons for divorce showed that adultery was the biggest reason by far, contributing to 31 percent of divorces (The Daily Mail, Jan. 26), and that in Britain "it's an uncomfortable fact that 50 percent of divorced and separated fathers lose contact with their children after just two years" (Independent on Sunday, Feb. 15). No wonder Malachi 2:16 says that God hates divorce.

God cared enough for King David that, after his act of adultery, which led to deceit and murder, He sent the prophet Nathan to help him repent. "Why have you despised the commandment of the Lord... You have killed Uriah the have taken his wife to be your wife … Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me..." (2 Samuel 12:9-10). Others who hold high office have fallen victim to this sin and this sadly includes, not only politicians and royalty, but religious leaders, who should know better.

This is not to say those who have committed adultery cannot repent and be forgiven. When the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8) was brought before Jesus, He defended her by turning to her accusers and saying, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first" (verse 7). Jesus then admonished the woman to, "Go and sin no more" (verse 11). He did not defend her sin, and He unequivocally told her not to sin again. Sincere repentance must take place, as was the case with King David (2 Samuel 12:13, Psalm 51).

Our current Western society takes infidelity far too lightly. Not only should our leaders, both political and religious, strive to set the right example but, as Christians, we should endeavour to be the kind of examples Jesus Christ described and to “... Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16).

Herod the Great

Herod had ruled the province of Judea, which encompassed most of the geographical areas of the former kingdoms of Israel and Judah, for almost 40 years at the time Jesus Christ was born, with secular history and archaeology confirming his reign (Matthew 2:1-3, 7-8).

He was a great builder, initiating construction projects in at least 20 cities or towns in Israel and more than 10 in foreign cities: "Archaeological excavations have uncovered a surprisingly large amount of evidence pertaining to Herod the Great Idumean who, in 41 B.C., was granted provisional rule of Galilee by Mark Antony [the friend of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra´s last lover] .... In 30 B.C. Octavian (Caesar Augustus) affirmed Herod's rule over Judea, Samaria, and Galilee .... Herod remained in power until his death in 4 B.C…." (Archaeology and the New Testament, 1997, p. 91).

But Herod was not just known for his great building, political and military skills, but also for his great cruelty. The Bible records his utter disregard for human life by describing his reaction to the birth of Jesus. When his scheme to identify the newborn Messiah failed (verses 7-8, 12), Herod lashed out with great violence: "Then Herod … sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under [the approximate age of Jesus], according to the time which he had determined from the wise men" (verse 16).

This massacre in Bethlehem was not out of character for Herod, who also had many members of his family put to death: “Herod in his rage over his family rivalries and jealousies put to death the two sons of Mariamne [his wife] (Aristobulus and Alexander), Mariamne herself, and Antipater, another son and once his heir, besides the brother and mother of Mariamne (Aristobulus, Alexandra) and her grandfather John Hyrcanus." (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Bible Explorer Software, 1997).

The New Testament description of Herod the Great is thus confirmed by what historians and archaeologists have found concerning his rulership, building projects, political strength and uncontrollable wrath toward anyone threatening his kingship.

The Census of Caesar Augustus

Luke, a meticulous historian, introduces other famous personages in his account of the birth of Christ. "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered … So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city" (Luke 2:1-3).

Ancient papyrus census decrees have been found for the years 20, 34, 48, 62 and 104. These show a wide-ranging census normally took place every 14 years, although local counts were, at times, taken more frequently. A papyrus in the British Museum describes a census similar to Luke's account, taken in 104, in which people were ordered to return to their birthplaces: "Gaius Vibius Mazimus, Prefect of Egypt: Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those ... to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments" (Frederick G. Kenyon, Greek Papyri in the British Museum, 1907, plate 30).

Joseph's Occupation in Nazareth

Joseph was a skilled craftsman who worked not only with wood, but with stone masonry. The usual term translated as "carpenter" in the Bible (Mark 6:3) is from the Greek term ‘tekton’, which has the broader meaning of 'artisan,' referring to a skilled worker who works on hard material such as wood or stone or even horn or ivory. “In Jesus' day construction workers were not as highly specialized as in today's workforce. For example, the tasks performed by carpenters and masons could easily overlap" (Richard A. Batey, Jesus & the Forgotten City: New Light on Sepphoris and the Urban World of Jesus, p. 76).

Although Nazareth was a small village in Galilee of no more than a few hundred inhabitants, Joseph and Jesus likely found steady work in the city of Sepphoris four miles away, where huge construction projects were transforming the city into a large, regional centre.

Recent archaeological excavations in Sepphoris show it to have been a bustling, prosperous city during the years Jesus grew up in nearby Nazareth. Shirley Jackson Case, professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago, remarks “.... It requires no very daring flight of the imagination to picture the youthful Jesus seeking and finding employment in the neighboring city of Sepphoris. But whether or not he actually labored there, his presence in the city on various occasions can scarcely be doubted..." (Batey, pp. 70-71).

These historical records help us better understand the background of Christ's teachings, which included illustrations drawn not just from farming and animal husbandry, but also construction, rulers and nobility, the theater, government, finance and other aspects of city life.