Thought and Deed: Are they the *same thing*?
This post is dealing with a very sensitive topic. My conclusions may be contrary to what you have been taught or have been told. It may be contrary to how you feel about the text, or what you feel the text is saying. I urge you to be a Berean (Acts 17:10-11). Search the Scriptures.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5: 27-28, English Standard Version)
From this passage of the gospel of Matthew, many summarily conclude that here the Messiah is altering or changing the definition of adultery to now include “lustful intent.” In this view, now “lustful intent” is *exactly* the same thing as adultery – there is no difference. It is the very same thing.
Let’s examine this view. Is “lustful intent” the exact same thing as adultery? Does the Messiah say that “lustful intent” is adultery?
The short answer is “no.”
This answer does not lessen the intensity of the Messiah’s condemnation of “lustful intent.” Neither does “no” excuse “lustful intent” in the least. It is precisely what Yeshua the Messiah stated. The man who looks at a woman with covetousness has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Wait – what? Am I changing the meaning here to lessen the offense and let the man off easily?
At least two things are worth noting here. First, the relationship between “covetousness” and “lustful intent.” This will be discussed in the next paragraph and below. The second thing I would like to highlight is that phrase “in his heart.” If that important phrase were not in the Scripture, then the short answer above would be “yes.” If that phrase were not in the text, then we may conclude that Yeshua changed the definition of “lustful intent” to mean “adultery.” However, Yeshua did include that phrase, and those words are there for a very important reason. Yeshua is, in fact, NOT changing the Torah.
Rather, by linking “lustful intent” with “in his heart,” Yeshua is defining “covetousness,” and reminding His listeners that not only is adultery a sin……so is coveting!!
Stop, you say. You are messing with the text, substituting “covetousness” for “lustful intent.” Actually, “covetousness” and “lustful intent” are simply different English translations for the very same word and meaning in both Greek and Hebrew. When we read the Ten Words (“the Ten Commandments”) we can rightly conclude that people can covet stuff, and not just their neighbor’s spouse, as it is written:
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17, English Standard Version; Exodus 20:14 in Jewish editions)
According to Scripture it is a sin to covet your neighbor’s house. (This does not imply having any sort of sexual relationship with your neighbor’s dwelling.)
When we compare both Greek Septuagint (LXX) to Greek “New Testament” and Hebrew Torah to Hebrew Matthew (Shem Tov)….coveting and adultery are exactly what Yeshua is speaking about. To demonstrate this, I have pasted interlinear texts below (as picture files). My apologies for the small print. Clicking on the picture will enlarge it for you (somewhat).
The Greek word for coveting used to translate from Hebrew to Greek in Exodus is the *same* Greek word used in the “New Testament” but typically translated as “lust” (or “lustful intent” as the English Standard Version does) in English rather than “coveting.” The same goes for the Hebrew Torah vis a vis the Shem Tov Hebrew text of Matthew 5:28. Adultery is boxed or underlined in red, while coveting is boxed or underlined in blue.
Yeshua does not say that the thought and the deed are the same thing. Rather, He is confirming what the Torah says – the same Torah that days “do not commit adultery” also says “do not covet.” Focusing on *intent,* He says that by coveting the woman, adultery has been committed *in the heart.* By coveting the woman, the person’s will has already been bent towards committing adultery before adultery takes place. Without coveting the woman, the adulterous act would never happen.
Thus, Yeshua reminds his audience that coveting is a sin as well as adultery, and that coveting leads to adultery.
Properly dealing with the primary problem of coveting (the intention; the thought) will stamp out adultery (the deed).
As always, I am subject to correction from the Scriptures.