I'm just curious to know what the New Testament says about adultery? How is the adulterer supposed to be sentenced?
closed as too broad by Caleb♦ Apr 19 at 17:01
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There is no prescriptive punishment for adultery in the New Testament, unless you count Revelation 21:8.
What is interesting is the focus on grace, forgiveness and not judging in the New Testament compared to the Old Testament, which focused on justice, guilt, and God's judgement on man. The most notable reference to adultery in the New Testament is in John 8. A mob has captured a woman caught in adultery and says to Jesus that the Law of Moses says to stone her. Jesus replies that if any of them is without sin then he may cast the first stone. They all leave, none being without sin. Adultery is not the issue here, however, the lesson is forgiveness and mercy.
The long answer is to address the inevitable rebuttal that sin (of others around you, not your own) cannot go unchecked (although your own must be in check as well). Yes, this is true and the New Testament addresses that in quite a few places.
For adultery specifically Jesus says:
This is not specifically on punishments, but most interpret it that a spouse may choose divorce if the other has committed adultery. That is a consequence of adultery.
The next prominent location concerning checking the sin of the others in the Church is Matthew 18.
Of the most importance is the fact that Jesus said:
The Law, that is the Ten Commandments, specifically forbids adultery. Leviticus prescribes death for both the man and the woman, however, most argue that it is still sin to fornicate, but death is not necessarily the punishment for today. If we were meant to just execute the adulterers then the Matthew 18 principle would serve no purpose; they would be executed without a chance for repentance. There would also be no chance for the remaining Christians to show Christ like love a give the sinners mercy.
The New Testament does not give any exact punishment for adultery. The New Testament is focused on grace from God and mercy by forgiveness. Adultery is still sin, according to the New Testament, and is frankly deserving of death as is all sin, and according to Matthew 18 it should be challenged if a fellow Christian is found to have engaged in it. The punishment for all unrepentant sinners is at least this: excommunication from the body of Christ, the Church.
In the New Testament there is no longer a kind of civil punishment for any crime as it was to be governed under the Old Testament, because the Theocracy and associated penal mosaic laws under it was temporary under that dispensation. In the New Testament all punishment and laws over society are relinquished to the state, not the church. The question of the penalty for adultery in the New Testament is therefore really about 'church discipline' which reaches its most extreme case under excommunication. Some in the early church even believed in excommunication 'without a welcome of readmission upon repentance'. I am not sure such an extreme course of action can be found in the New Testament, but I am referring to early church history.
Looking up 'church disciple' from the HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, BY PHILIP SCHAFF, I can summarize what the early issues were.
However after Tertullian, these sins were classified as mortal sins, as opposed to venial sins. A classification still used by Roman Catholics today.
After the fulfilment of this probation came the act of reconciliation. How this all worked created a division in the early church.
The strict [versus liberal division] fell into extra dilemma of conscience over those who denied Christ during persecution who then after the danger passes pleaded for readmission and many of the strict party relinquished their former views as it just seemed to cruel.
Nowadays, I think severe excommunication (no longer granting readmission) is rare among any Christian church, but one can appreciate the importance of the subject especially as pertaining to church leaders and restoration to positions of authority after committing some sin seen as below even pagan standards. The early church could not afford to be overrun by morals no different than the world and allow those who seemed not to experience salvation become its leaders. On the other hand not to allow true repentant sinners into the fellowship of the church seems contrary to the whole tenor of the gospel. As pertaining any punishment outside the question of excommunication, one would really have to refer to the civil and criminal jurisprudence of Rome at the time of Christ and the early church.
The question was: "what the New Testament says about adultery? How is the adulterer supposed to be sentenced?"
Some Greek mss include the story in John about the woman brought before Jesus and accused of adultery (Pericope Adulterae.) Some Greek mss didn't include it. All modern printings of the NT include it, so we can assume for us that it was an actual event. Here is the KJV:
“And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” John 8:3-11, KJV.
Now, none of the Church Fathers is certain about what Jesus wrote on the ground, so we can't conjecture anything about that. But we can look at the law in those days [ref: Heim Cohn attorney for Israel - The Death and Trial of Jesus.]
First: the Sanhedrin were not authorized under Roman Law to try people in the hall of stones and administer the death sentence (stoning.) So, these officials are asking Jesus whether or not this ruling should be changed, and they be allowed to administer justice, according to Judaism laws - this is like Moslems wanting to override State law and employ Sharia law.
In Judaism the charge of adultery could only be brought if at least two witnesses had warned the couple ahead of time not to do it (cf. the teaching of Jesus that two witnesses were required and if the person didn't listen, then the church got involved etc.) If the couple went ahead anyway there had to be two witnesses to the actual performance. Then the couple (both man and woman) were to be brought to trial and had to be accused of adultery by both witnesses separately (so there was no collusion).
Self incrimination was not accepted in Judaism [it was under Roman Law - a confession sealed the case - this is how Jesus got into trouble with Pilate, but not the Hebrews.]
So, let's look at what happened in this story: The man who was involved in the "adultery" was not brought to Jesus. Obviously the scribes and Pharisees (who were the interpreters of law, and who knew the law intimately) were not trying to bring a charge of adultery, because they had not met the legal requirements for a charge. What they wanted was Jesus a prophet who spoke for God to confirm that the laws of Moses were above those of the State.
Why did they do this? Did they want to get the law changed through the weight of public opinion? I doubt that the Romans would listen to them. Or did they want to get Jesus arrested by the Romans through his advising them to ignore the Roman law?
Now, Jesus's position on the Mosaic law was that not one jot or tittle of the law would change until all had been fulfilled ( which had not yet happened.) He also taught that there was a spiritual punishments for anyone who taught any man to disobey the law.
So, what could he do - he came up with a way to not answer their question, and disperse the crowd at the same time. Now, after they all left the scene, only the woman was with Jesus. There was no charge against her because there were no witnesses, and so under Judaism there was no proof of sin. So, Jesus would not condemn her. Clever solution, eh?
At the time of Jesus, The Romans would not allow the Sanhedrin to carry out the death sentence for anything. And the Pharisees would never bring anyone to a Roman court to be tried - they hated the Romans. Their hands were tied by Roman directive, and they could not administer Mosaic law in the case of adultery.
As I said, not every NT ms. includes this story. It may have been added later by the Church. It is not in the Biblical codices which are the basis of the RV, RSV, NIV, ESV etc. (the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) and in none of the Gospel mss. of the 3rd. cent. But is does appear in a 3rd. cent. Syriac ms not in John's Gospel. The first time it appears in John's Gospel is in Codex Bezae 4th or 5th cent. which is why it also appeared in the Latin (Vulgate), and eventually the KJV.
Why was it included in Bibles after the 4th. cent. It was written to reinforce the idea that the Pharisees were out to get Jesus, and this stoked the fire against Hebrews in the Church. After Nicea AD 325 the Hebrews lost certain rights: no more conversions of gentiles to Judaism, and no more slaves - only Greek Christians were allowed to own slaves. By the 6th. cent there were no more Hebrews in the Church.
The other mention of adultery by Jesus is Mt 19:9 and there is no punishment mentioned.
Paul warns in 1 Co 6:9 that an adulterer shall not inherit the kingdom of God, so if someone desires to enter the KOG they must stop doing it.
Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount that he has come to fulfill - not change - the prophecies, that the Law(s) (from the OT) are valid to the end of time, and that anyone who ignores or teaches others to ignore these laws, shall be known as the smallest in Heaven. Further more, we have the whole thing about ripping out your eye or chopping of your hand if they tempts you - and the stuff about "he who sins in his mind, have committed the sin" - which suggests Jesus rather tightened these restrictions than relaxed them.
The following Verses are from the NIV Bible (old Testament)
As for New Testament refer to Matthew 5:17-18
"Do not think that I [Jesus] have come to abolish the Law (the Old Testament) or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke or a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law (the Old Testament) until everything is accomplished."
And Matthew 23:1-3
"Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 'The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.'
To be clear, the only way to be saved is through Jesus.
Sin among men may be treated differently in that some may see one sin as worse than another. e.g. Rape may be seen to be worse than stealing. But from God's perspective, both miss the mark. Similarly, keeping the law doesn't get you saved.
What saves you is believing on Jesus. God provided salvation by Grace - His part, and our part "faith" is our positive response to this provision.
Notice that salvation is a gift. It's not something you earn. So if you haven't believed on Jesus, your sentence and judgement outside of that salvation plan is the same - death.
That's why the Gospel is such good news. A salvation that doesn't depend on us doing anything but simply believing. Because if we had to earn it, we'd have no hope.
To summarise - the judgement for ALL sin is death. The only escape is believing on Jesus.
Note: this doesn't imply you should go out an sin. But if you read Romans, Paul has to deal with this assumption several times. Because you are saved independent of your actions does not give you license to go out and commit rape, robbery, kill etc. Paul answer is - God Forbid.
The Bible is actually very clear on this matter,
What it is saying here is that not just will fornicators, adulterers, and trans-people go to hell, but those that say otherwise are deceivers who will join them there.
One important scholastic note is the statement "abusers of themselves with men." This statement is often taken to mean mere 'homosexuals' historically, but today a reading, which G*d would have foreseen our generation making, would clearly imply homosexual masochists.