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Fausset's Bible Dictionary
A married woman cohabiting with a man not her husband. The prevalent polygamy in patriarchal times rendered it impossible to stigmatize as adultery the cohabitation of a married man with another besides his wife. But as Jesus saith, "from the beginning it was not so," for "He which made male and female said, They twain shall be one flesh." So the Samaritan Pentateuch reads Genesis 2:24, as it is quoted in Matthew 19:5. A fallen world undergoing a gradual course of remedial measures needs anomalies to be pretermitted for a time (Romans 3:25 margin; Acts 17:30), until it becomes fit for a higher stage, in its progress toward its finally perfect state. God sanctions nothing but perfection; but optimism is out of place in governing a fallen world not yet ripe for it. The junction of the two into one flesh when sexual intercourse takes place with a third is dissolved in its original idea.
So also the union of the believer with Christ is utterly incompatible with fornication (1 Corinthians 6:13-18; 1 Corinthians 7:1-13; 1 Timothy 3:12). The sanctity of marriage in patriarchal times appears from Abraam's fear, not that his wife will be seduced from him, but that he may be killed for her sake. The conduct of Pharaoh and Abimelech (Genesis 12; 20), implies the same reverence for the sacredness of marriage. Death by fire was the penalty of unchastity (Genesis 38:24). Under the Mosaic law both the guilty parties (including those only betrothed unless the woman were a slave) were stoned (Deuteronomy 22:22-24; Leviticus 19:20-22). The law of inheritance, which would have been set aside by doubtful offspring, tended to keep up this law as to adultery. But when the territorial system of Moses fell into desuetude, and Gentile example corrupted the Jews, while the law nominally remained it practically became a dead letter.
The Pharisees' object in bringing the adulterous woman (John 8) before Christ was to put Him in a dilemma between declaring for reviving an obsolete penalty, or else sanctioning an infraction of the law. In Matthew 5:82 He condemns their usage of divorce except in the case of fornication. In Matthew 1:19, Joseph" not willing to make the Virgin a public example (paradeigmatisai ) was minded to put her away privily"; i.e., he did not intend to bring her before the local Sanhedrim, but privately to repudiate her. The trial by the waters of jealousy described in Numbers 5:11-29 was meant to restrain oriental impulses of jealousy within reasonable bounds. The trial by "red water" in Africa is very different, amidst seeming resemblance's. The Israelite ingredients were harmless; the African, poisonous. The visitation, if the woman was guilty, was from God direct; the innocent escaped: whereas many an innocent African perishes by the poison. No instance is recorded in Scripture; so that the terror of it seems to have operated either to restrain from guilt, or to lead the guilty to confess it without recourse to the ordeal.
The union of God and His one church, in His everlasting purpose, is the archetype and foundation on which rests the union of man and wife (Ephesians 5:22-33). (See .) As he ish ) gave Eve (isha ) his name, signifying her formation from him, so Christ gives a new name to the church (Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:12). As He is the true Solomon (Prince of peace), so she the Shulamite (Song of Solomon 6:13). Hence idolatry, covetousness, and apostasy are adultery spiritually (Jeremiah 3:6; Jeremiah 3:8-9; Ezekiel 16:82; Hosea 1; 2; 3; Revelation 2:22). An apostate church, the daughter of Jerusalem becoming the daughter of Babylon, is an adulteress (Isaiah 1:21; Ezekiel 23:4; Ezekiel 23:7; Ezekiel 23:37). So Jesus calls the Jews "an adulterous generation" (Matthew 12:39).
The woman in Revelation 12, represented as clothed with the Sun (of righteousness), and crowned with the 12 stars (i.e. the 12 patriarchs of the Old Testament and the 12 apostles of New Testament), and persecuted by the dragon, in Revelation 17, excites the wonder of John, because of her transformation into a scarlet arrayed "mother of harlots," with a cup full of abominations, riding upon a "scarlet colored beast"; but the ten horned beast finally turns upon her, "makes her naked, eats her flesh, and burns her with fire." The once faithful church has ceased to be persecuted by conforming to the godless world and resting upon it. But the divine principle is, when the church apostatizes from God to intrigue with the world, the world, the instrument of her sin, shall at last be the instrument of her punishment. Compare as to Israel (Αholah ), and Judah (Αholibah ), Ezekiel
23. The principle is being illustrated in the church of Rome before our eyes. Let all professing churches beware of spiritual adultery, as they would escape its penalty.
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Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Adultery'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​fbd/​a/adultery.html. 1949.