Why do we focus on adultery in Matthew 5?


Jesus said very clearly,

You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment…

You shall not commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart…

IAnyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery…

I often find that many are very hard on the man or woman who gets divorced and remarries, they seen as living in a sate of sin unless the Church says otherwise, are called adulterers etc etc…there are loads of threads on here concerning this…

However, I have found it irksome that people get angry, fight, assault, thus commit “murder” according to Jesus…but this can be moved on from with confession…

Looking at a woman lustfully, thus commit “adultery” according to Jesus…but this can be moved on from with confession.

Divorce and remarry equals adultery according to Jesus…but this cannot be resolved by confession …

Could it not be that Jesus is talking about ideals here, what we should aim for in our walk with Him. But, as we know and the Lord certainly knows, us sinful humans cannot always live up to the ideals…this is a goal to aim for…not something to be punished when we stumble.

The certificate of divorce was allowed because the “hardness of hearts”…have we changed…have our hearts suddenly become more righteous and therefore we can suddenly not sin???


Of course, the difference is between past sins and ongoing sins. We can always repent of past sins. However, if we are living in a putative marriage with a woman who is already married to someone else, this is rather more than a past sin.


You bring up a very good thought. It is something that bugs me too - not so much with the example you bring up here, but the same sense of people being very strict in one area yet finding all sorts of “extenuating circumstances” in another area. So I do share your frustration.

That said, I think there is a flaw in your argument. you say above…
However, I have found it irksome that people get angry, fight, assault, thus commit “murder” according to Jesus…but this can be moved on from with confession…

Looking at a woman lustfully, thus commit “adultery” according to Jesus…but this can be moved on from with confession.
In actual fact, the sin cannot be “moved on from with confession” unless that confession is preceded and accompanied by repentance.
The person who repents their anger or lustful thoughts then goes to confession is forgiven. If repentance is a part of that equation, then there can be no forgiveness.
Then - as part of that forgiveness we the act of contrition which contains the following (at least as I learned it…), “I firmly resolve with the help of thy grace to sin no more and to avoid the narrow occasion of sin. Amen”.

So please consider how the above fits into the matter of one who, “gets divorced and remarries”, they seen as living in a sate of sin unless the Church says otherwise."
Have they repented?
Have they asked the Church to say otherwise? (sought an annulment)

In John 8, he relates the story of the woman caught in Adultery and brought before Jesus. We all know the story well…but note the thing that Jesus says at the end…
John 8:11…And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”

Just some thoughts…



Because there is a pervasive lie going on in the general society, (and creeping into the Church to an extent) that the need to be “sexually happy” is a pre-forgiving circumstance. CS Lewis wrote this up very well right before his death.

People who sin via anger, gluttony, greed, etc, are profusely condemned, but those in putatively adulterous relationships receive sympathy.

Our LORD knew this was going to happen and wanted to make sure we knew that truth does not change.




Moses required a certificate of divorce rather than “putting away” a wife (so she had no income and no means of marriage to have some way of staving off homelessness). With the divorce certificate, she was no longer considered bound to the first husband. Before Moses require the certificate, they were discarding their wives with impunity, but now they were required to consider the welfare of the spouse and not just drop them cold to marry another. They had hard hearts, so they had to be forced to do a minimal amount of justice to the spouse.

But, with his People (not with Americans or Germans or Italians, but with Catholics) there would be no putting your wife or husband away (no disliking of her or him and then getting a free pass to marry someone more desirable at the moment) when you get roving eyes to see a prettier / handsomer figure to feed your hunger. This would not happen with his disciples, with his Kingdom as is does with Americans, Germans, Italians, etc.

With confession, as James (JRKH) well stated, there is repentance and penance. Giving up the practice of sin, turning from it to act in justice, and if possible, righting the wrong done with the people hurt. A murderer is not forgiven without ceasing from murdering and then restoring justice (which would be a willing suffering of the punishment since he cannot restore the life taken). Part of repentance is that you fully agree with Jesus that Murder and Adultery (an divorce, therefore) cannot be a feature of the Church, of this new Kingdom that is in the world but not of the world.

But the people seeking “sympathy” as GEddie described, want to be in the Kingdom with the Kingdom changing the law to allow them to have the name Christian and Catholic or life as a Catholic will not be worth it. Like the Pharisees seeking baptism from John, they wanted the appearance but did not want to bear fruit that befits repentance. But it will not be that way with the Church. Instead of looking at another woman as an option, he is requiring his People to take a long hard look at their wives and recognize her as the person where God will bless him, since they are one. We are a people who keeps our vows and stand in utterly sharp contrast to the other peoples of the world and will not do otherwise.


Let me make the disclaimer that I am not a trained theologian. However, I read, study, and pray the scriptures daily. So, my thoughts may not be spot on interpretations of scripture, but as St. Augustin tells us, we may be wrong in our scriptural interpretations, but as long as they are offered in charity, they are not sinful.

The text in Matthew 5, if taken in the literal sense, of course, appears to be simply discussing the *Holy Sacrament of Marriage *and adultery, which both are pervasive scriptural themes.

However, it is important to look beyond the literal sense of scripture, and examine the spiritual sense also. The **CCC (115-117) **tell us that the spiritual sense (analogical, moral, and anagogical) are steeped in the literal sense.

So if we look beyond the literal sense, we see deeper meaning to the text you have addressed.

It is because the marital relationship between man and woman is the perfect analogy of our relationship with God.

Note such concepts as the wedding feast of the lamb, even the supper of the lamb we are told we are bless for attending in the Order of the Mass, is this wedding feast.

And, Christ is the bridegroom, and his Church is the bride of Christ.

So, adultery is analogous, even synonymous with, idolatry. Note all the old testament references to His chosen people, when forsaking Him for idols, as harlots, prostitutes, adulterers.

The moral sense, is obvious, whether examining the literal or spiritual aspects of the passage. We are morally obligated to honor our covenantal relationship with our spouses, just as God has always honored his covenant with man, despite man’s sinfulness.

And, the reading, in the anagogical sense, tells us that staying true to God, as members of the bride of Christ is essential for our salvation.

Its just my opinion, but I think that this relationship between us as the bride, and Christ as the groom is an important reason for God’s emphasis on the importance of earthly marital relationships, as it plays nicely into Jesus’ command that we love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, and love others (in this case our spouses) in a likewise manner, and that we must do both to meet the command.

Sorry for the ramblings, hope this helps.

Peace and all good!


Thankyou all for the replies…some very interesting discussions there.

Yes, I do agree with the moving on from sin requires repentance, a turning around and “sin no more”.

I focused a lot on the idea of marriage in this…however, I was more concerned with the idea that some areas of “sin” seem to get more “publicity” than others…and the idea that Jesus may have been talking about ideals to aim for in our lives, because he notes that our righteousness has to far outweigh that of the pharisees.

For example, considering adultery, if someone looks at someone else with lust, that person has committed adultery in their heart…and then further on in the marriage teaching, it is noted that marriage can only be ended through “marital unfaithfulness” or “adultery” (and among other things that pertain to unfaithfulness) .

So, if this is strict teaching, a marriage could be dissolved because a spouse “looks lustfully at another person”, and in my view, if this was strictly adhered to, many marriages today, including Christian marriages, and probably my own, could be ended according to this scripture.

I see these passages as Jesus telling his disciples and others not to look to the righteousness of those who may seem to be righteous (the pharisees), but strive for higher standards…they (the pharisees) say don’t murder, Jesus says don’t get angry; they say don’t commit adultery, Jesus says don’t look lustfully…to aim high for righteousness, go beyond what you see around you in your search of holy living.



Of course it can. The parties must be willing to repent, stopping the adultery.

We have the Sacraments and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So, yes, our intellect and will have full access to what is needed to live in holiness.


Aim at (hope to approach) higher standards??

Jesus is talking to his disciples, to those who’s Only Desire is to be perfect as their Heavenly Father is perfect. Jesus is telling them what his Father desires, and they fully intend to fulfill what the Father desires, not just hope to come close or hope to do somewhat better than the Pharisees. “Pure in heart” (blessed are the pure in heart) means an undivided will, it does not mean a will that is focused partly on loving God and partly on enjoying the temporal satisfactions of life.

“Looking at a woman lustfully” does not mean being caught off guard when you see a pretty woman. But it means doing the “forethought of the flesh” that Paul speaks of in Romans 13, where you visualize some type of sexual approach and having the woman sexually. It is the pre-thinking we do when we visualize we are taking the steps to do something that we desire. Then, if the pre-thinking visualization continues, we begin taking the actual steps with our feet. But being caught off-guard does not mean you must do this imagining of encounter.

There is not as much lust in the heart as you imagine, and especially not in those whose sole purpose in life is to be with Christ and do his will. He was speaking plainly and meant every word literally.


Nice answer John. Thanks



I like this. Thank you. And thanks for the responses…just some thoughts that were floating around as I read Matthew 5 recently… just questions I had.


You are welcome, (Marty)
I have to say, it is in becoming Catholic that I found these understandings and the capacity to know that fulfillment of every part of the Sermon on the Mount is doable. What 1ke said (“We have the Sacraments and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So, yes, our intellect and will have full access to what is needed to live in holiness”) was unknown to me before that. That Grace is more than God “liking us for free” but he puts the Virtues in us is such a game changer, I have come to discover, not just theoretically, but I see it in my own everyday thoughts and actions.


What did Jesus say about divorce and remarriage? “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.” It is not ambiguous. We cannot continue in an adulterous relationship, we must repent and stop the adultry.


This can not be simply ideals. Jesus viewed marriage as a sacrament. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder Mark 10:9. In the presence of God, a vow to God, the husband and wife, made a covenant with each other. They became one flesh Mark 10:8. Only death can terminate the covenant. It is not simply a marriage contract to be dissolved if one or both party failed to live up their end of the contract. When one party claims not to love the other any more or one party is unable to perform the function of a spouse does not nullify the covenant. God has not released any party of their vows. Happiness is not guaranteed when both enter into the covenant. Faithfulness is not guaranteed as well as romantic love feelings for each other as well as many other spousal benefits.

If you quote Matthew 5:32 as a way out of the marriage vows, it only allows divorce. It did not permit remarriage. The 2nd half of Mat 5:32 makes it clear that they are not free to remarry. Unchastity, Greek word porneia, refers to any sexual sin. Jesus permits divorce for porneia because the the unchaste spouse has entered into a “one flesh” union with another person and defiled it resulting in its natural separation. God hates divorce Mal 2:14-16 , period.


In St Anthony’s Moral Concordance, when addressing adultery, he only cites old testament passages. My point being, you don’t need the NT for that prohibition to be in place.


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