Matthew 5 – Part 11: Adultery/Masturbation

Speaker: Scott Jarrett | Dec 4, 2016

9. Consistent with His stated intention of upholding the Law (17-20), Jesus reveals that the customary understanding of six biblical injunctions is inadequate or false and seeks to correct them[1]

9.1. Murder Includes Unrighteous And Unresolved Displays Of Anger Toward A Covenant Brother Or Sister (21-26)

The capital crime of murder is to be applied to those who are found guilty of displaying unresolved, unrighteous forms of anger (incl. unwarranted/abusive speech) in relation to their covenant brothers/sisters[2].

 9.2.  Adultery Includes Sexual Acts Expressed By Those Married[3] Toward Someone Other Than Their Spouse (27-30)

 9.2.1. Injunction # 2: (27) “You have heard that it was said ” = (As discussed), this  phrase was well known within ancient Rabbinic discussion. It (or ones similar to it) were used to indicate that a customary understanding of a particular doctrine, portion of Scripture or precept was about to be challenged as deficient or false[4]. “’You shall not commit adultery’” = The seventh commandment (Exo 20:14; Deu 5:18). Directly speaking, Jesus took no issue w/it. Adultery was still a serious sin that God’s people needed to steer very far from. This is made clear by His comments in (vv31-32 = better to remain in a difficult marriage than commit the sin of adultery in a non-sanctioned divorce). Where however, Jesus did have a problem was in the current[5] understanding of what actually constituted adultery. Popular in His day (not unlike our own), was the view that as long as I don’t have physical sexual contact w/another person’s spouse -or as married person, did not have physical sexual contact with another person who was not my spouse; I could not be considered guilty of this crime. IOW: adultery was only committed when physical sexual contact w/another person had taken place (e.g. Watching pornography: “3 Reasons To Watch Porn Together”, Women’s Health, 2014 – Porn can be good for marriage – not adulterous; “Is Porn The Same As Adultery?”, Covenant Eyes., 2009 – Not adultery though may have the same emotional effects; “Is Looking At Porn The Same Thing As Cheating?”, XXX Church, 2016 – Yes, but not adultery) .

9.2.2. Jesus’ response: (28) “…But I say to you (that)” = (As discussed), this phrase (or one similar to it) was also popular among ancient Jewish teachers. It served as the follow-up to the prior phrase (“You have it heard it was said…”) as the recognized formula for refutation of particular view of the Law[6]. As such, when the Jewish people heard one of their Rabbis (or Jewish teachers) use this phrase (after the previously discussed phrase and its subsequent subject), they expected that some form of correction/change was coming. What however they did not expect, was that the Law (or a particular law) would now be in question. That kind of thinking was the furthest from their mind. As mentioned in prior studies, only a false teacher would propose that kind of change (Deu 12:34-13:3)[7].


9.2.3 His corrective instruction: (28) “(that) everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” = The capital crime of adultery is to be attributed not only to those who have had sexual contact with — but also those who have looked upon the nakedness of someone other than their spouse for sexual gratification or have sexually gratified themselves (masturbated) in relation to that individual. That this is indeed the corrective measure being applied by Jesus becomes apparent once we consider: The word translated “lustful intent” (ESV) refers to more than wishful desire (evpiqume,w = desire expressed in actions toward the thing/person desired; the proof/evidence of premeditation; e.g. Luk 22:15-16 -“eagerly desired” = proof wb found in His guaranteed suffering/fulfillment of the NC Kingdom; Rev 9:6 – “long/desire” to be understood as ”seek” meaning through action). Had Jesus simply wanted to communicate desire (without inferring action), He would have used a different word (ovre,gw = desire in the sense of attraction; 1Ti 3:1; Heb 11:16)  There is no mention of actual participation (i.e. physical contact) w/others. This again is the distinction Jesus is attempting to make (in contrast to the customary view). It is an adultery committed by one person only – a solo act. Hence, why Jesus qualifies the adultery as “in his heart” (versus participation w/the woman under the man’s watchful eye). In ancient society, referring to the right side of something was a figurative way of identifying the place/person/thing carrying out a particular act of power (e.g. Psa 110:1-7). Jesus’ designation of “right” in relation to both eye and hand in (29-30) is therefore meant to communicate this idea. The person w/ “lustful intent” is acting on such desires with their eyes and hands. The phrase “looks at a woman w/lustful intent” is most likely an allusion to (Lev 18:1-20) which speaks w/similar language and refers to viewing the nakedness of unsanctioned individuals for sexual reasons. This understanding (of Jesus’ words) is further supported by the phrase, (29) “If your right eye causes you to sin”. From a moral perspective, the eye is considered culpable by what it chooses to view. Understood together in this way means any and all forms of pornography (incl. written forms), voyeurism, or participation in the viewing of someone other than our spouse’s nakedness for sexual gratification are adultery. The phrase, (30)” If your right hand causes you to sin” is an allusion to masturbation (in this case, in relation to the other person). This can be discerned when considering: If Jesus’ reference to the hand were in reference to sexual activity w/the other person, it could no longer be considered adultery “in the place of the) heart”(i.e. a solo act of adultery). (Deu 25:11-12) = Notice the place where the sin of the person’s hand is committed. It is the genitals. This text is the only place in the Bible (besides Mat 5 and 18) that mentions cutting off the hand. Early Judaism viewed this passage as referring to any sinful handling of one’s genitals[8] The ancient Jewish prescription of cutting off the hand as the penalty for masturbation (e.g. Talmud: Early Jewish Commentary [200-500 AD] – Oral Tradition of the Jews since the second Temple [516 BC])[9]:

(Niddah [genital purity] 13a)


GEMARA [commentary]. Wherein [in this respect] do women differ from men? — Women [in this matter] are not sensitive, hence they are praiseworthy, but in the case of men who are highly sensitive [their hands] ought to be cut off. But, if so, what was the point in saying ‘MAKES FREQUENT’ [seeing that the same reason applies] also where [the examinations are] infrequent? — When ‘MAKES FREQUENT’ was mentioned it was intended to refer to women only.”

  1. Since the wife is thereby saved from unknown discharge making her unclean and committing unnecessary transgression (Lev 15)
  2. Because of masturbation [Deu 25:11-12].
  3. FREQUENT EXAMINATION for the purpose of discerning a discharge that would make one unclean.
  4. In other words, why is the hand of the former PRAISEWORTHY while that of the latter OUGHT TO BE CUT OFF?
  5. I.e., the examination does not unduly excite their passions.

(Niddah 13b)

  1. Eleazar stated: Who are referred toin the Scriptural text, Your hands are full of blood?Those that commit masturbation with their hands [Deu 25:11-12].

9.2.4. Why we can be certain that Jesus wants us to view sexual acts expressed by those married toward someone other than their spouse as a capital crime (in the category of adultery): B/C adultery is a capital crime (Lev 20:10; Deu 22:13-24) B/C understanding “adultery in the heart” to be referring to a lesser crime (than the capital crime of adultery), means that what Jesus explains in these verses isn’t ultimately related to the seventh commandment but a different prohibition -one He is establishing now. As such, Jesus’ reference to the seventh commandment is both unnecessary and confusing, since (in reality), He is actually talking about a completely different crime (or prohibition).

9.2.5. Jesus’ advice to those guilty of lustful intent (and its collateral consequences as a capital crime): Take radical measures to make sure this form of adultery can never happen again.

This is the idea behind  (29 – “tear it out and throw it away”) in relation to the eye or (30 – “cut it off and throw it away”) in relation to the hand. Both sb understood as figures of speech meant to communicate the necessity of removing any possibility of such things happening again in the future (i.e. it is impossible to use an eye or hand I no longer have) versus a Jesus’ calling for literal amputation of those body parts (esp. since this would ultimately solve nothing)[10].  What however, must be understood, is that Jesus is validating/backing all necessary action a Christian takes (or is called to take) in order to prevent this sin as Biblical/God-ordained – even though, such measures are not listed in the Bible. In other words, it is not legalism to prescribe or hold oneself or individuals in the church to “extra-biblical mandates” if they can be supported as necessary to avoiding serious sin (like adultery) which that person has proven themselves more inclined to follow. Realize there is no necessary radical measures (or personal losses) that can be adopted into one’s life that will ever be as bad as Hell the place reserved for those whose sin in this area is not resolved (29, 30 – “For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”). (IOW) = better to be temporarily burdened w/additional constraints than w/the eternal burden of burning in a lake of fire.

[1] “In Matthew, in the sermon on the mount, we find a series of injunctions intended to illustrate the position of Jesus as upholder, not destroyer of the Law.” – David Daube (The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism, p.55); “When he says, ‘But I say unto you…’, Jesus is seeking to restore the real meaning of the moral law.” – Ernest Reisinger (The Law and the Gospel)

[2] As discussed last week , what makes a Christian guilty of unrighteous/murderous displays of anger includes the use of abusive/harsh speech. However, it must be kept in mind that harsh speech is not always wrong – even when associated with anger. Jesus was both angry and used harsh speech yet never w/o just cause. In other words, those receiving it were (righteously) deserving it and He was (therefore) righteous in dishing it out (e.g. Mat 16:21-23, 23:17).

[3] According to God, those betrothed are also considered to be married (though no yet afforded all the benefits). As such, the prohibition and penalties of adultery in its various forms would equally apply to such people (e.g. Mat 1:18-19).

[4] “Once Jesus has made it clear that he is not opposing the Law but interpreting it, he shows how the customary practice of the Law in his day is inadequate” – Stephen Westerholm (“Jesus, the Pharisees, and the Application of Divine Law”, Eglise Theologie 13, 191-210); “There is a good reason, for translating the first part of the Matthean form by: ‘Ye have literally understood’. (It) is used in the sense of ‘he who sticks to the superficial, literal meaning of Scripture – will form [an] erroneous belief.’” – David Daube (ibid, p.56); “Jesus is not criticizing the OT but the understanding of the OT many of his hearers adopted. In every case, Jesus contrasts the people’s misunderstanding of the law with the true direction in which the law points.” – D.A. Carson (Matthew, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 148)

[5] Notice that unlike the previous faulty view, there is no mention of this particular view being “of old” (compare v21 w/v27).

[6] “What is the form employed by Rabbis when they repudiate those interpretations introduced by [“You have heard it was said”]? The argument against the objectionable, narrow interpretation may consist in a logical deduction – an inference or the like – and, significantly, the usual Hebrew verb for establishing such a deduction is ‘to say’ [or “I say”].” – David Daube (ibid, p.57)

[7] “When Jewish teachers said things like this they did not see themselves as contradicting the law, but rather explaining it.” – Craig S. Keener (The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, p. 182)

[8] That Jesus is indeed speaking literally in his prescription regarding physical amputation in Mat 5 and 18 is supported by not only its literal prescription in Deu 25, but also His prescription regarding sexual immorality in general in Mat 19:10-12. This text also establishes the fact that just b/c something is tough doesn’t make it untrue.

[9] The NT writers cite similar extant sources as the basis for their particular doctrine or instruction. As such, these Jewish writings are invaluable to our understanding of Jesus’ teaching (e.g. Mat 2:23; 2Ti 3:8; Jam 5:17; Jud 1:9, 14-15).

[10] Recall also that even Jewish tradition did not see amputation of the hand as the biblical prescription for masturbation but rather what “OUGHT” to happen (i.e. what is deserved not demanded).