Adultery in Christianity


Adultery is consensual sexual intercourse by a married person with someone other than his or her married partner. The Christian faith, which takes the Christian Bible as its foundation, condemns adultery within the Ten Commandments and in Old and New Testament passages—for example, Exodus 20:14 and Galatians 5:21 (King James Version).

For Christians, adultery  hidden because it violates the covenant, or contract, agreed to at the start of the marriage to bond until death. For the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, this covenant is sanctified between the partnership and God.

For many Christians, adultery consists not only of consensual sexual intercourse outside of marriage, but also in lustful or lewd thoughts (Matthew 5:28). For many mainline Protestant denominations, adultery includes rape, incest, fornication, and unclean communications.

For Christians in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, polygamy is not considered adulterous, whereas it is in almost all other Christian denominations. Christian Identity groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, typically believe interracial marriages to be a form of adultery, whereas this is not the case in the majority of other Christian denominations.

Christianity is composed of many denominations, which differ in how they interpret the Bible and in how exclusively they use it as a foundation for their beliefs. In general terms, conservative Christians base their faith exclusively on a strict, literal interpretation of biblical text. Liberal Christians base theirs on a more figurative interpretation and supplement this with other informational sources, such as scientific advances. Roman Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox Church are based on a combination of biblical text and traditions within those churches.

Variation exists in how individuals within each of these movements view divorce and adultery, but some general statements can be made. For conservative Christians, the only way for a married person to break the marriage covenant is if the partner is unfaithful (Matthew 5:32); if the nonbelieving partner of a believer in Christ deserts their partner (1 Corinthians 7:12-16); or if the partner has died (Romans 7:3). A secular divorce that does not meet these guidelines is not considered a divorce within the church. Legally divorced persons are still bound by the same rules concerning adultery as married persons.

For liberal Christians, a person who obtains a secular divorce also obtains a church divorce. For liberal Christians, passages such as Luke 16:18—”Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery”— are interpreted to mean that a man who “puts away” or leaves his wife has not divorced her, and she is still bound to him in marriage. If a divorce does occur, she is not bound to him in marriage and is not guilty of adultery if a second marriage occurs. Conservative Christians interpret this passage differently. For them, there is no difference in putting a wife away and divorce—she is still bound to him in marriage and guilty of adultery if a second marriage occurs.

For Roman Catholics, Church Canon Law states that marriages are permanent. The only way for a married person to end the covenant is if the partner has died or if a church tribunal grants an Ecclesiastical Declaration of Nullity. This is only given if there is convincing evidence that the marriage was never valid to begin with. Because the couple never formed a marriage covenant, neither person is obligated by it.

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