1. Introduction and Summary
This article examines Matthew 5:27-28 to show how Jesus raised the bar for New Testament sexual ethics. In summary, my single interpretation of Matthew 5:27-28 reads:
… while the OT teaches, the very act of adultery is an offense, the NT sexual ethic Jesus teaches is that a man becomes an offender because he has already committed adultery with a woman in his heart by looking at her with the genuine intention to make arrangements to commit adultery with that woman. Of course, it is a sin for the man (offender) to commit adultery in his heart.
One legitimate application of this passage covers the following situations: (Luster-Target) male-female, female-male, male-male and female-female. Another legitimate application of this passage includes sexually-related activities inherent in the transgender lifestyle. Thus, Jesus raised the NT sexual ethic for homosexual and transgender lifestyles.
Before I exegete Matthew 5:27-28, let me present a little background
Many people in the American evangelical church appear to accept homosexual practice and transgender transitioning as biblical. For example, the 2022 The State of Theology survey from Ligonier Ministries (link: The State of Theology) shows that 28% of American evangelicals agree with the statement that the Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today. The same survey shows that 37% of American evangelicals agree with the statement that gender identity is a matter of choice. What this means for the 21st Century evangelical church is that almost 3 out of 10 American evangelical churchgoers think homosexual behavior is biblical and over one-third of these churchgoers think that a transgender lifestyle is acceptable. Shocking!!!!
Most churchgoers (no doubt including those who comprise the 28%-37%) say they carry out the Great Commission to spread the saving gospel of Jesus Christ per:
Acts 1:8 (NET) – 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.”
Matthew 28:16–20 (NET) – 16 So the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Yet, there is a huge eternal contradiction for churchgoers that condone homosexual and transgender lifestyles!!
I shout to the 28%-37%, you can’t say you want to see sinners saved and condone damning lifestyles. Why? The reason is that people engaged in serial and unrepentant homosexual practice or transgender transitioning are not going to see the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 (NET) makes that clear [emphasis added]:
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals,10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God.
So why would churchgoers (and church bodies) accommodate or condone homosexual practice or transgender transitioning? I believe one reason is biblical illiteracy. Many churchgoers want to go with the flow of society and take a “live and let live” approach. Such an attitude paves the way for the slow and steady march of the LGBTQ theology into the American evangelical church.
LGBTQ theology is the greatest threat to the American evangelical church today!
I’ve written many articles about the LGBTQ movement and what the Bible says about homosexual practice and a transgender lifestyle. In no way, shape, or form can an intellectually honest exegete interpret the Bible to condone, even in the least, either one of the above practices. The time is now for those in the 28%-37% to “Be a Berean” per Acts 17:11 (NET):
11 These Jews were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they eagerly received the message, examining the scriptures carefully every day to see if these things were so.
3. Exegesis of Matthew 5:27-28
Let me examine Matthew 5:27-28 (NASB95) to show that Jesus raisd the bar for the NT sexual ethic:
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Verse 27 refers to the Seventh Commandment when it says, You shall not commit adultery.’ Exodus 20:14 (NASB95) reads, “14 “You shall not commit adultery.” Also see Deuteronomy 5:18 (5:17 LXX). The NASB95 translates the Greek verb moicheueis as “You shall … commit adultery.” The Logos sense of the word is “to have sexual intercourse with other than a spouse, as a married or betrothed person.” The Seventh Command has always referred to the act itself and has always been silent about thinking about the act of adultery. Moicheuō pertains the act and not lusting or planning the act.
Verse 28 shows that Jesus raised the bar for NT sexual ethics. For emphasis, Jesus began with “but I say to you.” He wanted to make sure His audience knew the importance of what He was about to say. The verb “say” is the English translation (NASB95) of the Greek verb legō and the Logos sense is “to state as one’s opinion or judgment; declare.” While Jesus’ audience may not have appreciated who he was, a 21st Century believer knows that Jesus is the Son of God, the Jewish Messiah, the Savior of the world. Jesus’ opinion carries the ultimate weight!! Jesus is about to change the existing OT sexual ethics by raising the bar for NT sexual ethics.
The offending action has two basic components. First, the offender must “looks at” which is the English translation (NASB95) of the Greek verb blepōn. The Logos sense of this verb is “to perceive with attention; direct one’s gaze towards.” Louw et al. defines it to mean:
13.134 ὁράωg; βλέπωf: to take responsibility for causing something to happen—‘to see to it that something happens, to arrange for something to happen.’ See Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). In Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 163). United Bible Societies.
Blepōn is a participle in the active voice which means the action of “looks at” is continuous by the offender. Blepōn is more than a casual glance or even a double-take. It is a continuous stare with the intention to take action to arrange the opportunity to carry out the act of adultery with that person whether successful or unsuccessful. Wuest translates this verb as “is looking at.”
The expression “lust for” is the English translation of the Greek article-verb to epithymēsai. The Logos sense of the verb is “to crave a person sexually.” Louw et al. (Vol. 1, p. 289) defines it to mean:
25.12 ἐπιθυμέωa; ἐπιθυμίαa, ας f: to greatly desire to do or have something—‘to long for, to desire very much.’
Grammatically speaking, epithymēsai is an articular verb with a preposition that usually denotes (as it does here) purpose. The offender’s purpose is to lust, i.e., sexually crave his target.
Under the heightened NT sexual ethic, to experience this “looks at a woman with lust for her,” equates to have “already” committed adultery with her in the offender’s heart. The NASB95 translates the Greek adverb ēdē as “already.” This adverb is a temporal adverb that modifies the modifier with reference to time or timing. The Logos sense of the word is “prior to a specified or implied time.”
The NASB95 translates the Greek verb emoicheusen as “committed adultery with her.” The verb is in the aorist tense, active voice, and indicative mood which means the adultery is not continuous by the offender. But, it has already taken place!
The UBS translation handbook (Newman, B. M., & Stine, P. C. (1992). A handbook on the Gospel of Matthew (pp. 137–138). United Bible Societies) reads:
It is important to note that this verse does not just refer to noticing a woman as attractive, or even to a brief recognition that she is sexually appealing. It refers instead to actually contemplating having sex with her, that is, to having the intention of doing so. Thus, for looks … lustfully translators can say “wants to sleep with her,” “wants sex with her,” or “looks at her with the intention of sleeping with her.”
Where has the offender committed adultery? He committed it in his heart. According to Louw et al. (Vol. 1, p. 320), the Greek noun kardia means:
26.3 καρδίαa, ας f: (a figurative extension of meaning of καρδία ‘heart,’ not occurring in the NT in its literal sense) the causative source of a person’s psychological life in its various aspects, but with special emphasis upon thoughts—‘heart, inner self, mind.
Another resource (Swanson, J. (1997). In Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Logos Research Systems, Inc.) defines kardia to mean:
2840 καρδία (kardia), ας (as), ἡ (hē): n.fem.; ≡ DBLHebr 4213, 4222; Str 2588; TDNT 3.605—1. LN 26.3 inner self, never the literal body part called the “heart,” this is a reference to the areas of the inner self, including: the volition, the mind, the desires, etc., though the facility of the intellect may be slightly more emphasized (Mt 15:19; Lk 6:45 v.r.); 2. LN 83.14 inside, far inside something (Mt 12:40), note: see LN index for a fuller treatment of the lexical units.
In light of the above analysis, the single correct interpretation of Matthew 5:27-28 is below.
4. My Single Correct Interpretation of Matthew 5:27-28
My (Steve Belsheim) single correct interpretation of these verses is that while the OT teaches, the very act of adultery is an offense, the NT sexual ethic Jesus teaches is that a man becomes an offender because he has already committed adultery with a woman in his heart by looking at her with the genuine intention to make arrangements to commit adultery with that woman. Of course, it is a sin for the man (offender) to commit adultery in his heart. Jesus’ teaching means that while the OT sexual ethic prohibited the act itself, the NT sexual ethic prohibits planning to (make arrangements to) commit the act.
It is clear that Jesus raised the bar for the NT sexual ethic for adultery.
5. What Commentators Say
Before I extracted applications from my interpretation, I wanted to examine what respected commentators wrote about Matthew 5:27-28.
Blomberg (Blomberg, C. (1992). Matthew (Vol. 22, p. 109). Broadman & Holman Publishers) cautions not to underapply the teaching if this passage [emphasis added]:
Instead Jesus is condemning lustful thoughts and actions—those involving an actual desire (the most literal translation of the verb epithymeō) to have sexual relations with someone other than one’s spouse. Yet despite the danger of overapplying this verse, an even greater danger is that of underapplying it. –
Jamieson et al. (Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 22). Logos Research Systems, Inc.) advises giving this passage a broad scope [emphasis added]:
We are not to suppose, from the word here used—“adultery”—that our Lord means to restrict the breach of this commandment to married persons, or to criminal intercourse with such. The expressions, “whosoever looketh,” and “looketh upon a woman,” seem clearly to extend the range of this commandment to all forms of impurity, and the counsels which follow—as they most certainly were intended for all, whether married or unmarried—seem to confirm this –
Lenski (Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (p. 226). Augsburg Publishing House) also gives a broad scope to this passage [emphasis added]:
It ought to be understood that what is thus said of a man (πᾶς ὁ masculine) is equally true of a woman. Likewise, “every man” is general and cannot be restricted to married men; and γυναῖκα cannot refer only to a married woman who belongs to another man. A bachelor’s lustful look upon a maid is certainly as adulterous as the lustful look of a married man upon another man’s wife –
It is acceptable to apply broadly my interpretation of Matthew 5:27-28.
Stern (Stern, D. H. (1996). Jewish New Testament Commentary : a companion volume to the Jewish New Testament (electronic ed., Mt 5:28). Jewish New Testament Publications) counsels that Matthew 5:27-28 applies to homosexual practice [emphasis added]:
28 The believer has “the mind of the Messiah” (1C 2:15) and is not to nurture and cherish improper sexual feelings, desires, urges and lusts. If he does, then, for reasons explained at Ya 1:12–15, he will succumb to the temptations they raise, give sexual fantasizing undue control in his life and finally engage in wrong sexual behavior such as adultery, fornication and homosexuality (on homosexuality see Ro 1:24–28&N). –
An article at the bible.org website (Homosexuality – The Biblical Christian View (link: https://bible.org/article/homosexuality-biblical-christian-view)), the author gives Matthew5:27-28 a broad scope to include homosexual practice and other unrighteousness [emphasis added]:
Jesus made clear that God’s standard of right and wrong did not simply stop with an external act, but rather included our thoughts and heart. It is wrong to even fantasize immorally. Most directly this deals with married people and the sin of both physical and mental adultery. However it goes much further than this when the principle of what Jesus was teaching is seen. … People might try to restrict the applicability of the law to make themselves appear to be holy and righteous. Regardless, God is not deceived. Whether it is the minimizing of lying, cheating, stealing, envy, covetousness, adultery, witchcraft, pornography, fornication, swindling, drunkenness, homosexuality, or any other unrighteousness—Jesus here intentionally shows that He would not be in agreement with such a handling of God’s Word. If anything His definition of these sins is broader than we would like to think. Jesus’ ethic would thus clearly apply to homosexuality as part of the law (Lev. 18:22, 20:13) which would not become void (Luke 16:17). –. .
Finally, the gotquestions.org website [Gotquestions.org Is Same-Sex Attraction a Sin? Link: https://www.gotquestions.org/same-sex-attraction.html] brings homosexual practice within the scope of Matthew 5:27-28 [emphasis added]:
In Matthew 5:27–28, Jesus equates lust with adultery. This establishes a biblical principle: if it is a sin to do something, it is also a sin to desire to do that something. The Bible clearly states that homosexuality is a sin (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26–27; 1 Corinthians 6:9). Therefore, it is also sinful to desire to commit homosexual acts. Does this mean that same-sex attraction is a sin? To answer this, we must distinguish between active sin and the passive condition of being tempted.
In reference to transgenderism, in an article entitled “What does the Bible say about cross-dressing/transvestism?”, the gotquestions.org website [https://www.gotquestions.org/cross-dressing-transvestism.html] reads [emphasis added]:
Deuteronomy 22:5 deals with the issue cross-dressing / transvestism (men dressing in women’s clothing and vice versa). In this passage God commands that a woman is not to wear that which pertains to a man and a man is not to wear that which pertains to a woman, for all that do so are an “abomination.” The Hebrew word translated “abomination” means “a disgusting thing, abominable, in the ritual sense (of unclean food, idols, mixed marriages), in the ethical sense of wickedness.” Therefore, this is not simply God addressing the fact that a woman might put on a man’s garment or vice versa. Also, this is not a command that a woman should not wear pants/slacks as some use this passage to teach. The meaning here is that this “cross-dressing” and transvestism is done in order to deceive, or to present oneself as something that he/she is not. In other words, this speaks to a woman changing her dress and appearance so as to appear to be a man and a man changing his dress and appearance so as to appear to be a woman. This is the definition of cross-dressing or a transvestism.
We can also reason that the dynamic behind this is the leaving of what is natural and taking on that which is in God’s Word called unnatural (Romans 1:24-27). Paul tells the Corinthian church that the way a woman wears her hair is a reflection of God’s order, and therefore a woman who cuts her hair to appear as a man or a man who wears his hair long to appear as a woman brings shame to them (1 Corinthians 11:3-15). The issue here is the motive and attitude of the heart that is evidenced in the choice to rebel against God’s standard for obedience.
In another article entitled “What does the Bible say about the various forms of gender dysphoria?” [link: https://www.gotquestions.org/transsexualism-gender-identity-disorder.html ] , the gotquestions.org website reads [emphasis added]:
The closest the Bible comes to mentioning transgenderism is in its condemnations of homosexuality (Romans 1:18–32; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10) and transvestitism (Deuteronomy 22:5). The Greek word often translated “homosexual offenders” or “male prostitutes” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 literally means “effeminate men.” So, while the Bible does not directly mention transgenderism, when it mentions other instances of gender “confusion,” it clearly and explicitly identifies them as sin.
It is apparent that many commentators agree that the scope of Jesus’ NT sexual ethic per Matthew 5:27-28 definitely covers the homosexual lifestyle and arguably covers a transgender lifestyle.
6. Two Legitimate Applications of Matthew 5:27-28
Keeping in mind the legitimate scope of Jesus’ NT sexual ethic and not wanting to underapply this passage, it is my opinion that the following two applications are legitimate applications of Matthew 5:27-28.
One legitimate application of this passage covers the following situations: (Luster-Target) male-female, female-male, male-male and female-female.
Another legitimate application of this passage includes sexually-related activities inherent in the transgender lifestyle.
Clearly, Jesus raised the bar for the NT sexual ethic pertaining to a homosexual lifestyle and a transgender lifestyle.
I hope that the 28%-37% folks give some thought to Matthew 5:27-28 and its impact on their opinions about homosexual and transgender lifestyles. I urge them to carry out their own exegesis of Matthew 5:27-28 and then reevaluate their opinion about the statements:
Statement 27: Gender identity is a matter of choice
Statement 28: The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today.
My hope is they will disagree with both statements.
If you are unsure about your salvation or are not a Christian, it is vital that you continue reading.
IF YOU ARE UNSURE ABOUT YOUR SALVATION
If you are unsure about your salvation, you need to check out my book The Salvation Meter: Biblical Self-Diagnostic Tests to Examine Your Salvation and Spiritual Growth (book link at Xulon Press: https://www.xulonpress.com/bookstore/bookdetail.php?PB_ISBN=9781662828638 ). At Amazon the book link is https://www.amazon.com/Salavation-Meter-Biblical-Self-Diagnostic-Spiritual/dp/1662828632 . I also have a website in which I am updating the content in the book. The link to my website for the book is https://thesalvationmeter.com .
IF YOU ARE NOT A CHRISTIAN
… please (1) read through “God’s Plan of Salvation” so you can understand what God did for you through His only unique Son, Jesus Christ, and (2), from the bottom of your heart, pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” meaning every word. If you do, you will be reconciled to God – saved – through Jesus Christ.
God’s Plan of Salvation
In the beginning, God, who is holy, created the entire universe. As a part of His creative actions, He made humans (male and female) in His image to know Him. For a while, everything was right between God and our ancestors, Adam and Eve. But Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God, whereby Adam’s sin was passed down to all of humanity, creating a separation between God and humanity. We cannot do anything to bridge that separation so that without God’s intervention, hell is our eternal destination. Fortunately for us, in His great love and mercy, God provided us with the only means of salvation through Abraham’s lineage by sending the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ, God’s only unique Son. While retaining His deity, God the Son became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, thereby fulfilling the Law, and died a substitutionary atoning death on the cross, taking on Himself the punishment for the sins of all people. Jesus rose from the dead, showing that God the Father accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, thereby exhausting God’s wrath against humanity. God now calls on every unbeliever to repent of their sins and completely trust in Christ alone that Jesus died for their sins and rose to life from the dead. Every unbeliever who repents and trusts in Jesus Christ will be forgiven of all their sins (past, present, and future) and born again as a new creation in Christ, possessing guaranteed eternal life with God.
Scripture References: Genesis 1:1, 26, 31; Habakkuk 1:13; Genesis 2:7-25; Genesis 3:1-7, 22-24; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:19-20, 23; 5:17-19; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 6:23; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Colossians 1:15; 2:9; Matthew 1:18, 20, 24-25; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:24; Hebrews 2:17; 9:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 1 John 4:10; John 3:16-18; Mark 1:15; Acts 17:30; 26:20; Romans 1:4; 4:25; John 3:5-8; 1 Peter 1:3.
Lord, Jesus Christ, the only unique Son of God, thank You for Your free gift of eternal life. I know I’m a sinner who cannot save myself no matter what I do, and I deserve to spend eternity in hell. But, I know that because You loved me so much, You voluntarily died on the cross for me taking my sins upon Yourself, and You physically bodily rose from the grave showing that Your sacrificial death was sufficient payment to give me eternal life in Heaven. I now repent of my sins and completely trust alone in what You did for my eternal salvation. Please take control of my life as I now receive You as my Lord and Savior. Thank You so much for saving me. I am now Yours forever!
(Scripture references: John 1:1-4, 11-14; John 3:16; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:21-26; Isaiah 53:4-6; Mark 1:15; Acts 16:31; Acts 4:12; Romans 10:9-10, 13; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; John 10:27-29).
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