In the Bible, what is the punishment for adultery?
When a woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus, the religious leaders of the day wanted Him to uphold their law that called for capital punishment by stoning her. Jesus dismissed them by asking for the person with no sin to cast the first stone. Of course, no one could because they understood that they were all sinners. Jesus, the only one there without sin, told the woman to leave and stop sinning (John 8:1–11).
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The Jewish leaders were referencing the Old Testament law provided to the nation of Israel that called for the death penalty for adultery (Leviticus 20:10) among other crimes. The law called for the death penalty for both the woman and the man convicted of adultery. There was no separate set of laws for women or men. The law was established to show God's people right and wrong, to define the requirement for righteousness, and to differentiate the Israelites from their neighbors. It should be noted that this law was meant specifically for Israel during that time period. Jesus brought a new covenant into effect. Christians do not live under a theocracy and are not called to injure those who sin.
Though adultery is no longer punishable by death, it is identified as sin in the Bible and all sin leads to spiritual death (Romans 6:23). One of Jesus' central messages of the New Testament is the concept of grace from God and between men (John 1:14 and 3:17). Adultery is forgivable in Jesus. God can also make reconciliation possible.
The Bible makes it clear that adultery carries with it serious, terrible consequences. First Corinthians 6:18–20 tells us that sexual sin offends God and should be avoided: "Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body."
Our character is significantly damaged by adultery, as Proverbs tells us. The adulterer is simple and senseless (Proverbs 7:7), compared to an animal caught in a snare and then slaughtered (Proverbs 7:22–23), and has no sense, destroying himself (Proverbs 6:32). The writer of Proverbs says the adulterer is lead to death (Proverbs 7:26–27).
The Proverbs also tell us that the consequences of adultery carry with them a punishment in and of itself, including the loss of honor and strength (Proverbs 5:9–11), a ruined reputation (Proverbs 5:14), bondage and death (Proverbs 5:22–23), self-destruction (Proverbs 6:32), and the vengeance of a jealous husband (Proverbs 6:34).
Proverbs 6 includes a whole section warning us against adultery, including this caution: "Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor's wife; none who touches her will go unpunished" (Proverbs 6:27–29).
In the Old Testament, adultery was punishable by death. Today, that punishment does not apply, though adultery still carries with it significant consequences. Despite these consequences, grace can be found in Jesus. He came "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). John 3:17 tells us, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Earthly consequences of adultery may remain, but the eternal punishment is taken away in our Savior, Jesus Christ.
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