What is Moicheia?

What is Moicheia?

SOURCE: Wayne Jackson, Gospel Advocate, August 1991.

Exactly what is adultery? That would seem to be about as obvious a question as a person could ask. Whether he has done extensive studies or not, virtually everyone knows that adultery is sexual activity between a married person and someone other than his (or her) lawful spouse. In recent times, though, a new theory has arisen which has as its core the re-definition of the word “adultery.”

Some are openly alleging that the lexicons, encyclopedias, and various language tools of the past several centuries are simply all wrong in their definitions of adultery and that, if we would but re-plow the linguistic field, we would discover that adultery is simply “covenant breaking.” Accordingly, whenever one decides to terminate his marriage vows and walks out on his mate, he has (by the breach of his vows) committed adultery. And he may decide to enter “marriage” with a new companion.

Well, what should this “adulterer” (covenant breaker) do if he desires to be right with God? According to the new view, he simply tells the Lord that he is sorry for having broken the covenant with his former companion, and he promises not to be a covenant breaker in the future, but he may continue to maintain the “marital” relationship that he has formed with the new spouse. This novel notion has but one design–the accommodation of unscriptural divorce and remarriage, and it is without any shred of evidence, both linguistically and in the overall context of the Bible. Please consider the following.

The Greek word for “adultery” is moicheia. Whenever the term is used literally, it unquestionably has to do with the illicit sexual conduct of a married person. The ancient classics are filled with examples of such. For instance, Lysias (c. 410 B.C.) writes of one Euphiletus, an Athenian, who killed Eratosthenes, after catching him in bed, committing adultery with his wife. In his defense he contends that the Court of the Areopagus has “expressly stated that whoever takes vengeance on an adulterer (moichon) caught in the act with his spouse shall not be convicted of murder” (Lysias, I.30). Xenophon (c. 401 B.C.) describes the adulterer who “enters the woman’s quarters, knowing that by committing adultery (moicheuonti) he is in danger of incurring the penalties threatened by the law.” He suggests that this is quite foolish since “there are many remedies to relieve him of his carnal desire without risk” (Memorabilia, II, 1,5). In the 2nd century A.D., Sextus Empiricus wrote: “Adulterers (moichous) are, of course, punished by law with us, but amongst some peoples intercourse with other men’s wives is indifferent” (Pyrrhonism, III,209). There is no question as to what the Greeks meant by “adultery.”

The evidence from the Old Testament is equally explicit. Committing adultery (moicheusetai, Septuagint) is an act that man does “with another man’s wife” (Leviticus 20:10), and note the passage that follows, “And (kai, conjunction) the man that lieth with his father’s wife.” Of ancient Jerusalem, God said, “I have seen thine abominations, even thine adulteries, and thy neighings, the lewdness of thy fornication, on the hills in the fields” (Jeremiah 13:27). Note: though “adultery” is here used figuratively of Judah’s apostasy; nevertheless, the sexual associations of the basic term are quite clear.

In Ezekiel 16, Jehovah describes Jerusalem as “a wife that committeth adultery! that taketh strangers instead of her husband!” (v. 32). She has “Opened (her) feet to every one that passed by, and multiplied (her) fornications from her face, and her adulteries from between her breasts” (Hosea 2:2). The allusion to an immoral embrace is just too plain to miss. At this point, let me also cite a passage from Josephus. He tells of one Sylleus who “debauched (moicheuonta, ‘seduced to sexual activity’) the wives of the Arabians” (Antiquities, XVI, IX, 4).

In the New Testament, Jesus speaks of those who “look upon a woman to lust after her.” he says they have committed adultery with her in the heart (Matthew 5:28). Do men lustfully fantasize about breaking covenants? Absolutely ridiculous! On one occasion the Pharisees brought a woman to Christ (attempting to ensnare Him) whom they said had been “taken in adultery, in the very act” (John 8:4). In what act had she been apprehended? Covenant breaking? Perhaps slamming the door as she abandoned her marriage in a rage? Maybe tearing up the marriage certificate? Is this the kind of reasoning that brethren expect us to accept as truth?

The writer of the book of Hebrews admonishes us to “let the bed be undefiled: for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (13:4). Exactly how does an adulterer “defile the bed?” Let the Bible answer that question. Reuben, the son of Jacob, “went up to (his) father’s bed; then defiled it,” according to Genesis 49:4. But what, specifically, was his sin, which is called defiling the bed? he “lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine” (Genesis 35:22). And remember, the writer of Hebrews calls such an act “adultery.” See also the connection between “bed” and “adultery” in Revelation 2:22.

Moreover, certain contexts that deal with divorce and remarriage demonstrate that “adultery” cannot be defined as mere covenant breaking. For example, according to the Lord, the man who “divorces his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress” (Matthew 5:32). Here is a woman who has not broken the covenant with her husband; she is an innocent partner who has been “put away” by her husband. If she contracts a subsequent marriage (cf., Arndt & Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon, p. 528), she commits adultery. She has broken no covenant, but she does commit adultery. How so if adultery is just covenant breaking? The truth is, she is committing adultery by having sexual relations with another man while her original marriage was not dissolved by a scripturally authorized divorce.

Again, in Matthew 19:9, Christ taught that anyone who divorces a companion, except for fornication, and remarries, is committing adultery. The force of the term “committeth adultery” (in the Greek present tense) is “keeps on committing adultery.” If “adultery” is to be defined as simply the breaking of the original marriage, and one may repent and be forgiven of that without terminating a newly-formed relationship, why did the Lord affirm that the parties of the second union “keep committing adultery?” If adultery was just the initial act of covenant breaking, and it was committed once, it makes no sense for the Lord to charge them with continually committing adultery.

The truth of the matter is, adultery is sexually activity. And when one unscripturally divorces a mate and “marries” another, each time they engage in sexual union, they are committing adultery. And only a cessation of that activity (which is a part of repentance) can put them in harmony with God’s law again. When men take it upon themselves to redefine basic Bible terms in order to accommodate the sins of society, they are deeply in error and must be censured.

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