Matthew 5:28 is notorious on setting standards for committing adultery in our hearts:

Mat 5:27 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' Mat 5:28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Mat 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. Mat 5:30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

It wasn't until recently that I became bothered by this passage because it seems so contradicting to my understanding of Christ. Here is my logic:

  1. Jesus lived without committing a sin.
  2. Jesus said, "If you look upon a woman lustfully than you have committed adultery in your heart".
  3. Therefore, Jesus never looked upon a woman with lust.
  4. Objection: Didn't G-d come into the flesh to experience the struggles of being man which includes lust?

The only alternative explanation I can think of is that it means to entertain sexual thoughts. To have a sexual thought or feeling does not make it a sin itself, but entertaining it does. My objection to this interpretation is that it sounds pretty straight forward by what Jesus meant.


5 Answers 5


Your alternative explanation seems to be in plain agreement with this passage. Nearly all versions of verse 28 emphasize intention, with the version quoted in the question explicitly using the word intent.

We suppose Jesus occupied a body which grew, hurt, bled, suffered, ached, died and perhaps longed for companionship, and so was exposed to a whole range of human suffering and experience. But, as he was without sin, he never gave expression to his bodily passions (either in thought or deed) in such a way that violated God's will. In short, although his body may have experienced sexual arousal (or lust), he never willfully entertained lustful thoughts that would have displeased God.


Strong's translates the lust verb (ἐπιθυμέω) as "to set the heart upon". Had Jesus stopped with βλέπων (to look upon) or combined it with a form of the verb πειράζω (to be tempted), indicating that the simple act of looking upon a woman or being tempted to keep looking was sin, then you have a dilemma. Yet, James says in chapter 1, verse 15 of his epistle that it is not temptation that gives birth to sin, but lust (ἐπιθυμία). This is why Jesus also said attitudes of anger or hate toward a brother were the equivalent of murder under the Law (Matthew 5:22). The Scripture seems to keep coming back to heart matters.

John 2:24 says that Jesus did not entrust Himself (ἐπίστευεν) to man. A broader explanation of that word is to have faith in or commit to. It is the verb action by which followers of Christ are identified. If Jesus didn't entrust Himself to man or commit Himself to man, it is unlikely He would have set His heart on a woman in a relational or sexual sense. Instead Jesus is described as setting his face (ἐστήρισεν) like flint toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51) and His crucifixion. That sounds like a strong equivalent of setting your heart or mind on a thing.

  • 2
    The Temptation is there(Note: God doesn't tempt-See James 1:13). It's when temptation is 'succumbed to' that sin enters in. It's not in itself wrong to 'look' upon a beautiful woman, it is wrong to look with 'lust'(epithumeo'-to desire, set our heart upon). The emotion in and of itself is not sin, it's when the emotion is directed contrary to the will of God is when it becomes sin. We are to "hate" evil, "lust" after righteousness, be "jealous" for the things of God, "drink deep(gluttony)" from the wells of salvation, and "rest"(sloth?) in the Lord.
    – Tau
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 23:47
  • 1
    @Tau I agree. I hope that my answer didn't present that the emotion was itself is sin. I appreciate the clarification (in case it did). My goal was simply to point to the act of setting our hearts on something other than God's will as the birth place of sin, not the temptation itself.
    – Jeremy
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 0:04
  • My Point....Precisely! ;>)
    – Tau
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 21:22

There are nine answers to this question, and there are some really interesting points about social relations in the time of Christ, or where exactly do you draw the line between being tempted by a woman and "lusting for her", but I think focusing on these issues may be missing the overall point that Jesus was trying to make in this passage.


Here is the passage with a bit more context (LEB):

For I say to you that unless your righteousness greatly surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to the people of old, ‘Do not commit murder,’ and ‘whoever commits murder will be subject to judgment.’

But I say to you that everyone who is angry at his brother will be subject to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Stupid fool!’ will be subject to the council, and whoever says, ‘Obstinate fool!’ will be subject to fiery hell.

Therefore if you present your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and first go be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your gift. Settle the case quickly with your accuser while you are with him on the way, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will never come out of there until you have paid back the last penny!

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

And if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it from you! For it is better for you that one of your members be destroyed than your whole body be thrown into hell.

The relationship between holiness and the Kingdom of Heaven within us

There is a lot going on here, but the salient point is that what matters to God is what is happening to the inner man, in the heart. To God, there is no difference between murdering someone and hating them in your heart. Why? It makes a huge difference to us. How can these be the same? Because we are the temple of God and God lives in our hearts. So the heart must be as clean as anything happening in the holy of holies, which according to the flesh needed to be covered with gold in order to be acceptable place for the God's presence. If a priest made a small procedural error they could be instantly killed, because as you get nearer to God's presence the rules become stricter. Thus the rules as to what is in our hearts are stricter than what happens outwardly, which is the opposite of what the Pharisees taught - and what we teach today. Thus all the heart rules follow the condemnation of the pharisees.

But then which of us has a heart that is completely covered in gold (righteousness)? So who has a heart that is holy enough for the presence of God dwell therein?

Luke 17:20-21

Now when he was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with things that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Behold, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

This is a recurring theme and was a stumblingbock for those who wanted a list of outward or behavioral rules to follow, and in fact trying to know the exact boundary at which temptation turns into sin is just asking for another rule to follow.

Standards versus Rules

Thus in this interpretation, the sermon on the mount was not given so that we have new rules to follow but to show us that it is impossible for us to fulfill God's law.

Saying that whoever is angry with his brother has committed murder should lead us recognize that we have all committed murder in our hearts. It should not lead us to add a new rule to follow about trying hard to never get angry. Of course it's nice to not get angry, but this is like asking water not to be wet:

The heart is deceitful more than anything else, and it is disastrous. Who can understand it? Jer. 17.9

Indeed the summary of this portion of the sermon:

Therefore you be perfect (teleios) as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt 5.48) is squarely aimed at the Pharisees and others who thought that they were meeting God's standards, in order to shut them up and humble them. Thus it's not advisable to listen to the sermon on the mount from the point of view of behavioral reform, but rather as something that describes God's standard.

A key to this is in the passage on divorce (Matt 19.8-11):

He said to them, “Moses, with reference to your hardness of heart, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not like this. Now I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except on the basis of sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” The disciples said to him, “If this is the case of a man with his wife, it would be better not to marry!” But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this saying but those to whom it has been given.

In other words, God's standards are to never support divorce unless there is infidelity. But of course it was not possible for man to meet this standard, so the actual rules that Moses gave were more lax. This means the people never met God's standard by following rules. The Hebrews never pleased God, except by faith. They never kept his commandments, and they always had wicked hearts. As do we all.


So Jesus in the sermon on the mount is describing God's standard, which is a standard about our heart because this is where God dwells. That standard is impossible for fallen man to meet, but we need to know what it is so that no one -- not even those who viewed themselves as keeping the law of Moses -- is not ashamed or thinks they are pleasing to God. This of course sets us up so that only Christ's righteousness can be pleasing to God and only Christ in us can be a temple in which God dwells.


To look at a woman with lustful intent means not understanding the spiritual necessity or sacredness of marriage. It is not understood sex outside of marriage leads to no good and that sex within marriage is what women particularly desire.

Although in the modern world many women are sexually promiscuous, this is generally because they are desperately looking for a partner or husband but have lost their natural harmony & strength.

Jesus said:

"...in the beginning, at the time of creation, ‘God made them male and female,’ as the scripture says. ‘And for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and unite with his wife and the two will become one.’ So they are no longer two, but one. No human being must separate, then, what God has joined together.” Mark 10.6


"But now I tell you: if a man divorces his wife for any cause other than her unfaithfulness, then he is guilty of making her commit adultery if she marries again; and the man who marries her commits adultery also." Matthew 5:32

The later is because in the old times (when women had little social mobility), and even today (with a faithful woman), a woman that has spent most of her adult life with husband & children does not want to marry another man when she is divorced by her husband. Such a woman identifies herself with her family. But because of her loneliness or because of economic need, she may force herself to marry another man (which, in the depths of her heart, to her, is like committing adultery).

These teachings are particularly about having compassion & love for women. If we stop thinking about ourself (as a man) and think about: "What is best for the welfare of women?", we may understand the purpose of these teachings better.


How do I interpret Matthew 5:28?

Matthew 5:27-29 NASB

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. 29 If your right eye makes you [b]stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you [c]to lose one of the parts of your body, [d]than for your whole body to be thrown into [e]hell."


28 εγω δε λεγω υμιν οτι πας ο βλεπων γυναικα προς το επιθυμησαι [αυτην] ηδη εμοιχευσεν αυτην εν τη καρδια αυτου

NAS Exhaustive Concordance on the word

βλεπω- blepo

Word Origin

a prim. verb


to look (at)

NASB Translation

beware (5), careful (1), careful* (1), consider (1), facing (1), guard (1), keep on seeing (2), look (7), looking (5), looks (1), partial* (2), saw (12), see (54), seeing (8), seen (8), sees (8), sight (2), take care (5), take heed (5), watch (1).

In context of the verses 5:28-29 the Greek verb "βλεπων" (blepo) should be translated "keep on seeing" or "keep on looking" rather than "looks at"

Jesus is not just simply talking at having a passing immoral look, but is referring to one who "keeps on seeing" and so by the dwelling on such immoral thoughts arouses passionate and sexual desires.

This is so because Jesus continues and stresses the need , that drastic action must be taken, even if it is hard as taking your eye out.It is better to exercise self control rather than suffer everlasting death. Jesus said: 29" If your right eye makes you [b]stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into [e]hell." If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell.( e-gehenna)

Paul wrote that temptation is common to all men 1 Corinthians 10:13, however the outcome is determined by what one does , either quickly disregard the evil thought or dwell on it and allow it to grow, to the reach the point that acting on it becomes inevitable .Like Jesus, James also warned his fellow Christians that if they allow illicit desires -lust ,passion to "become fertile", it gives birth to sin.

James 1:14-15 (NASB)

14 "But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin [a]is accomplished, it brings forth death."

Cain allowed his fleshy desires to dominate him.

Cain fumed with anger against his brother, God however did not count it as sin against him, but warned him : "It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it." Sin was knocking at the door,but he ignored the instructions, he did not resist, his desire to kill his brother Abel overcame him and when alone killed him.

4 "But Abel brought some of the firstborn of his flock—even the fattest of them. And the Lord was pleased with Abel and his offering, 5 but with Cain and his offering he was not pleased.[d] So Cain became very angry, and his expression was downcast. 6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why is your expression downcast? "

7 "Is it not true[g] that if you do what is right, you will be fine? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching[i] at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.” 8 Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”[k] While they were in the field, Cain attacked[l] his brother[m] Abel and killed him."

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