Skeptics Annotated Bible A Response

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#12 - Is it wrong to commit adultery?

response by Sylvia Cochran

The Skeptics Annotated Bible Website claims that the Bible contradicts itself on the issue of adultery. It cites Ex.20:14 & Dt.5:18

"Thou shalt not commit adultery."
as proof that the Bible expressly forbids adultery, while it cites Num.31:18
"But all the women children that have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves."
"And the Lord said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms...."
and Hos.3:1
"Then said the Lord unto me, God yet, love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress."
as proof that the Bible actually condones adultery.

However, on closer examination of the Scriptures we find that the condemnation of adultery is part of the law (the 10 Commandments) which God gave to Moses. The quote of the scriptures in Numbers, in contrast, does not speak of adultery. When reading the Bible in context, which critics at times neglect to do, we learn the following:

  • "women children" refers to just that...children. In a society where girls were married off as young as 12 or 13, we are obviously dealing with little girls who are too young for marriage and/or concubinage.
  • Other than God's command of executing His sentence against the Midianites, the reason for not allowing the gorwn men or women to intermingle with the Israelites was for the sake of not tempting the latter with the former's idolatry. Little girls, however, did not represent a threat in this context.
  • Slavery was practiced at that time, and it was not for sexual purposes that the little girls were kept but as slaves.
While the scripture in Numbers in no way contradicts the injunction against adultery, the scriptures in Hosea most certainly do not speak of the Lord's approval of adultery either. The prophet Hosea's relationship with his wife was used by God as a direct allegory to Israel's spiritual relationship with God. If we read the Bible in context, we see that
  • God charges Hosea to show Israel its sin of idolatry
  • God uses the image of the husband whose wife commits adultery with another man
  • in the same way, God explains that Israel has offended God by its adultery in the guise of idolatry and prayer to other gods
  • at the same time, in spite of Israel's idolatry and spiritual adultery, God still yearns for His people and is willing to take them back would they but repent
  • God demonstrates this message through Hosea's relationship with his wife. God asks him to knowingly marry and adulteress. (God knowingly chose a people who would rebel against Him.) Then, even after continued adultery against him, God asks Hosea to reconcile with his wife in love (3:1-3). (In the same way, God is there to receive Israel in love, as soon as they listen to His pleas and return to Him.)
Thus, in closing, there is no contradiction as to the sin of adultery. It is a sin, and while God used one woman's sin and one prophet's willingness to overlook it as an example of His own love for Israel, it nowhere implies/expressly states that the Lord approves of adultery. Similarly, while we rightfully condemn slavery, it was practiced in the time of Moses, and the capture of 32,000 Midianite girls had no sexual connotation, but was a calculated "business transaction" in keeping with the customs of the times.

  • God: 1
  • Skeptics subscribing to the notion that the topic of adultery presents a contradiction in the Bible: 0

Response by Dave Marr

The skeptic's problem:

Adultery is forbidden.
Ex.20:14, Dt.5:18 "Thou shalt not commit adultery."
Heb.13:4 "Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge."

Adultery is permitted.
Num.31:18 "But all the women children that have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves."
Hos.1:2 "And the Lord said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms...."
Hos.3:1 "Then said the Lord unto me, God yet, love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress."

Adultery is forbidden by God. Nothing in the Bible may override or negate this law. As Jesus said, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:18)

Once again, the skeptic has not taken into account a whole passage of the Bible and its context: Nehemiah 31:18. God told Moses to wage war against the Midianites. Israel did, and won; and they gathered the spoil and took captives. Moses’ strict reverence of God’s Law is found in the verses preceding:
“And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, ... And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with them. But all the women children that have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” (Num. 31:14-18)
Obviously, Moses is very concerned about keeping Israel pure and holy. He does not want any corrupting influence in the nation, out of respect and fear of Lord God. Therefore, Moses did not want the current society and future generations defiled.

First, he had all of the young males killed. As cruel or barbarous as this might sound, it was necessary to prevent the bloodlines of Israel from being corrupted. Science has already established that many personality traits are inherited, and therefore sinful habits could be inherited in the progeny of the Jews. As we can see from history, they had enough trouble in that area, without this additional burden. And another reason to kill them that was above all: God said to destroy all of the Midianites-- that’s why Moses was so angry.

To protect the present Israelites, he had all the women who already had sexual relations to be killed. This was because these women either 1.) would tend to be promiscuous in general, 2.) they would carry beliefs and sinful habits of their husbands with them, or 3.) would not be submissive to Israeli law.

As a condition to appease Israel, and still keep within the bounds of God’s precepts, Moses let his people save the virgins because they were undefiled according to the Law. What verse 18 does NOT say is, “All men may have the virgins”. Moses is speaking to the entire set of military leaders at once; thus, he is speaking to the whole nation, in general. Only men who were not married could take the virgins: an understanding of God’s ordinances was already assumed in Moses’ address.

When the skeptic references the verse from Hosea, he does not seem to understand that Hosea did not commit adultery. Hosea properly married the woman. The fact that she was in a life of prostitution was outside of his control. She would do this with or without his intervention.

Also, the skeptic does not seem to be aware of higher law and lower law in the Word of God. A lower law would be a restriction he has given to believers in the Torah. The higher law is a circumstantial command spoken by God. The higher law always supercedes the lower law. In the Book of Hosea, God teaches a higher lesson to the “adulterous” and unfaithful Israel by the life of one man, a prophet. Additionally, from his own tortuous affair, Hosea is able to carry his message from God with more conviction.

Hosea’s relationship with the whore was symbolic of God’s relationship with the Israelites. With this understanding, God’s higher law, “Hosea, go take a whore to wife” overrules the general practice for a man to marry a virgin, or a widow of holy living. This is a rare exception, just as Samson was allowed to kill as one of God’s judges of Israel-- even though the Nazarite oath didn’t permit the adherent contact with dead bodies. (Num. 6:6)

God’s laws were given for the good of man; God’s purposes are directed for the benefit of mankind.