Law,  Old Testament

God’s Design for Sexual Purity in the Law

The seventh commandment is a well known part of the Ten Commandments, partially due to its brevity, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exod 20:14). Sexual purity is often viewed by the culture as an outdated ethic, but the concept of purity has an even greater significance today as the culture fails model any semblance of purity, duty, or devotion. If there was ever an appropriate discussion for the current generation of Americans it has to do with the seventh commandment.

photo of a marriage relationship indicating sexual purity

The theological reality behind the seventh commandment is purity. Purity has the idea of being unmixed. In the case of adultery, a husband or wife is not completely devoted to his or her spouse. Adultery is the absence of complete devotion. In adultery there is a mixing of different desires and lusts.

The absence of purity (i.e., unmixed devotion) is why Israel is commonly condemned in the prophets. Israel is often accused of committing adultery with idols (cf. Hos 4:15; Jer 3:8). They displayed impure, mixed affections not wholly devoted to God. Hence, the creation principle reflected by the seventh commandment is that God has designed the marriage relationship, and that relationship requires a complete unmixed devotion.

Sexual Purity as a Theological Construct

Jesus applies the theological reality of purity to lust in Matthew 5:27-28. By doing so Jesus emphasizes two things: (1) it is improper to focus on merely external observance of the laws—it is a heart issue (cf. Deut 6:5-6); and (2) the application of the underlying principle is broader than merely the physical act of adultery.

The theology behind this commandment goes back to Genesis 1-2 where God created man to rule creation (Gen 1:26-28). Additionally, woman was created to be man’s helper (Gen 2:18). By creating man and woman, God designed them both for their respective roles in creation. Within the framework of Genesis 1-2 there is a clear intent for one man and one woman to be joined together as “one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Furthermore, it is just as clear that God’s intent is for man and woman to be joined together and that only marriage between male and female is acceptable in God’s sight to fulfill God’s creative design.

Contemporary Application

This creation principle is laden with current application to our culture. We live in a culture that holds traditional marriage commitment in distain, celebrating freedom to come and go in relationships. Monogamy is viewed as something that is unnatural!

This same secular culture also glorifies homosexual relationships. Thus, the battle to present an unmixed, pure devotion to God’s creation standard remains as applicable in our culture as it was in Israel’s day. If we believe in the God of the Bible, then we must believe He created man and woman with designated roles for each. To stand up for this belief should be important to believers. The theme of sexual purity is a theme in Scripture from both Old and New Testaments (cf. 1 Cor 6:9-11). Yet, too often we compromise and neglect to affirm that the Creator has the right to expect us to function in the way He designed (even in the area of our sexual relationships).

We never have to speculate about God’s sexual design for human beings. We have the clear revelation of God’s creative purpose in Genesis 1-3. As Creator, God has designed both men and women to function within creation according to His intended design. God’s design for humanity is the traditional view of marriage which advocates the only legitimate expression of union, marriage between a man and a woman. Any attempt at subverting this design—whether through homosexual union, fornication, or adultery—is sinful rebellion against God and His design for creation.

photo credit: marie-ll via photopin cc

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.