GLEANINGS FROM THE SCRIPTURES
LET’S REMEMBER THE “SEVENTH”
By Keith L. Estes
The Judeo-Christian tradition of our society has consistently regarded extramarital sexual intercourse as immoral. The seventh Commandment says: "You shall not commit adultery." The tenth Commandment enjoins the Jew and the Christian not to covet his neighbor's wife. These are commands of God, and who has a better right to command than he? The penalty prescribed for adultery by Mosaic Law is death for both persons. King David was not executed for his adultery, but despite his repentance he was punished severely.
The great contribution of the Jewish tradition was to achieve a genuinely moral conception of God. Conceived in various ways, God finally emerged as a being committed to the highest ethical values that the prophets could imagine. The source of all power in the world is also the source of all goodness. God not only is good, but also has at various times in history revealed to humanity what human morality consists of. God's intention is that the human being, created slightly lower than angels, live by moral principles, that instead of responding to instinct and passion he freely choose actions that are right. These principles are not simply principles for individual excellence. They have a social dimension. Society (and humans were made to be social beings) can survive in peace and happiness only if its members abide by certain regulations.
Few of us are willing to accept all elements of the law stated in the Old Testament (over six hundred in number), But the Ten Commandments are fundamental. For the individual, they define a certain basic level of decency; for society, they prescribe basic principles for people who live together. As Huston Smith says, "Taken over by Christianity and Islam, the Ten Commandments constitute the moral foundation of half the world's present population. And if we emphasize those that condemn killing, lying, stealing, and adultery, we take in most of the rest of the world, for they are absolutely necessary for individual decency and social order.
Jesus, as we have seen, was less concerned to emphasize the temporal punishments for immoral actions, but his views on marital fidelity are perhaps even more demanding than those of the Mosaic tradition. In the first place, there is no double standard. The erring husband is just as guilty as the erring wife or single woman. And in the second place, he condemns not only the action but also the feeling that may (or may not) give rise to it: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." The seriousness of Jesus' opposition to adultery is shown in the same chapter when he makes adultery the only acceptable reason for divorce and when he utters this "hard saying": "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be throw into hell."
Paul, in his letters, consistently enjoined the faithful to steer clear of adultery and all forms of sexual immorality. Opposed as he was to "the law," he yet believed that its basic rules (that is, the Ten Commandments) are summarized in the gospel of love: "Love is the fulfilling of the law."
Reference: Ethics: An Examination of Contemporary Moral Problems, By Gerald Runkle, Published by Holt, Rinehart And Winston. Ex. 20:14
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