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Anonymous wrote:

Hi, guys —

In Matthew 5:27-28, it says that whoever looks upon a woman with lust has committed adultery in his heart. My question is hermeneutical. The word woman in Greek is gyne, which could mean woman or a betrothed (married) woman.

The word lust in Greek epithymeo could also mean covet, and the word adultery in Greek is moicheuo, which means adultery itself, not porneia, or sexual immorality.

  • Could this mean that the verses really mean: coveting an already-married woman in adultery?

I accept the Church's official teachings on this view, but would still like a hermeneutic answer,
if possible.

Anonymous

  { Could the words in Matthew 5 translated as woman, lust and adultery mean something different? }

Paul replied:

Dear Anonymous,

In my opinion lust is a form of coveting, and this traditionally has been understood to mean lusting after any woman, not just one that is married. The idea is that one should not intentionally desire someone who does not belong to them (in marriage) and since almost every woman is potentially someone's future wife, they should be seen and treated as such.

In the Sermon on the Mount, of which you speak, Jesus particularly clarifies two commandments in chapter five, that relating to anger (the 5th) and to lust (the 6th). These two emotions,
if harbored, naturally demand a physiological release. Whether that release is channeled inward (via depression, lust, or masturbation) or outward (via verbal or physical violence, or fornication or rape) it is not good. It seems that Jesus is wisely giving advice to cut off sin at the pass before it becomes too late.

Peace,

Paul

John replied:

Dear Anonymous,

The primary meaning of the word Gyne is woman.

  • It's where we get he word gynecology, but what's the point of the whole text?
  • Is this just about committing a sin of lust or adultery?

Hermeneutics is more than etymology. In fact, linguistic exegesis is only a small part of it. Hermeneutics is interpretation of a passage.

  • So what's Jesus' point in this section of the Scriptures?

Let's back up to verse 20:

20 "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."

Matthew 5:20

Jesus then goes on to talk about murder, lust, making vows, etc.

  • What's his point?
  • Is he just giving a lesson on particular sins to avoid?

No He is not. He's making a point about the Pharisees who followed the letter of Law, but missed the heart of it. Elsewhere He calls them "whitewashed tombs", adding that they are clean on the outside, but dead on the inside.

The point here is that sin is more than the way we act or fail to act on the outside. The Pharisees who created law after law to avoid coming close to breaking the actual Law, followed all those laws in letter-perfect fashion. Yet, that kind of perfection was insufficient for them to enter the Kingdom because their hearts were unclean, as all our hearts are without grace and without the Blood of Christ. We can't possibly follow God's Laws and perfection (teleos: complete) as He is perfect, without grace and the Holy Spirit. No man can. That is why when the Pharisee Nicodemus comes to Christ as recorded in John 3, Jesus tells him he must be "born again" to enter the Kingdom. In other words, it takes a change of heart which can only be done in the power of the Holy Spirit by grace.

So we can take the principle behind the proscription against looking at a woman with lust, or calling a brother a fool in anger, and apply it to just about any sin. It really doesn't matter if Jesus is talking specifically about adultery or fornication or both. Is fornication a sin? Yes, and for that reason, looking at an unmarried woman with lust, is tantamount to fornication. Coveting what is not yours is tantamount to theft.

Now we must distinguish between temptation and sin. Being tempted is not sin. Seeing an attractive woman and having an immediate physiological response is an indication that you're body is working the way God designed it to work.

The hunger for sex is as legitimate as the hunger for food but we can quickly cross the line from a natural response, to responding positively to the temptation by nursing the thought, welcoming the temptation, and taking it to the point of sin. We should never confuse the predisposition to sin or concupiscence with the actual sin.

So the point of this text, indeed the entire Sermon on the Mount from which it is taken, is to show us of our total need for Christ. Indeed, God uses sin and temptation, although God never tempts us or causes us to sin. As Our Teacher He teaches us that we can't do His will this without His grace. We can't do this without Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit and the more we resist temptations by grace, the more we grow in faith. As St. James wrote:

"Submit yourselves to God, resist the devil and he will flee." (James 4:7)

Returning to Jesus' first admonition:

20 "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."

Matthew 5:20

This is impossible for man to do on his own. We will always sin. That's not an excuse but we need to know that following the law externally is not sufficient.

We will always need His Grace and Mercy.

John

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