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There are some claims that the original word translated as Adultery "μοιχεία" or "moicheuo" originally refereed to race mixing (and bestiality) and not unfaithfulness. The Hebrew word is "נאף" or "na'aph."

Is their any evidence that it was specifically unfaithfulness that was meant when that word was used? Is that a reasonable translation of the original word?

You shall not commit adultery
Exodus 20:14 NIV

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    Could you please cite the verse in question? Feb 3, 2018 at 17:58
  • Why do you cite the Greek and not the Hebrew?
    – user2672
    Feb 3, 2018 at 19:07
  • Because the Greek was in the claims I saw. I am not sure what the original Hebrew was or how to look that up.
    – Jonathon
    Feb 3, 2018 at 21:51
  • Then can you cite those claims?
    – user2672
    Feb 4, 2018 at 7:28
  • In German, for instance, fremdgehen (literally, foreign-going) means committing adultery. The foreigner or stranger referred by this expression is the person other than one's spouse, with whom the adultery in question is being committed.
    – Lucian
    Feb 4, 2018 at 14:57

4 Answers 4

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From Scott-Liddell Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon:

an adulterer, paramour, debaucher, Lat. moechus, Ar., Plat.:— κεκάρθαι μοιχόν to have the head shaven, as was done to adulterers, Ar. 1 μοιχός, οῦ, ὁ,

Debauchery may be the closest thing you may get to what you are looking for, but it's etymology suggests the specific act of adultery(engaging in sexual intercourse when married, to someone other than your spouse).

A closer approximation may be the word "ἀσχημοσύνη" which in Rom. 1:27 is associated with wrongful desire-in this specific instant female.

There is nothing about miscegenation: nor is there in any reference of Scripture I'm familiar with.

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Others have answered regarding the Greek of the Septuagint. However, since this is from Exodus, the Hebrew should also be considered. The Hebrew word used in Exodus 20:14 is na'aph, the root of which occurs 34 times in the Old Testament. It refers to adultery, sexual relations where one partner is married but not to the other partner (or both are married but not to each other). The act merited death (Leviticus 20:10); however, mere fornication (zana when neither partner in the act is married) did not.

Scripture indeed forbids foreign marriage (Exodus 34:12-16). However, the fact of the wives being foreign does not make the marriage verboten. Exodus explicitly states the problem is the foreign worship they bring with them (Exodus 34:16).

Exodus 34:16 and you then take his daughters for your sons, and when his daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will make your sons prostitute themselves to their gods as well.

Solomon married many foreign wives and they turned his heart from God with their idolatry.

I Kings 11:4 When Solomon became old, his wives shifted his allegiance to other gods; he was not wholeheartedly devoted to the LORD his God, as his father David had been.

Perhaps the most famous inter-faith marriage in Scripture is that of Ahab to Jezebel. This marriage led to not only many of Ahab's sins but also to a great falling away in Israel.

I Kings 16:31 As if following in the sinful footsteps of Jeroboam son of Nebat were not bad enough, he married Jezebel the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians. Then he worshiped and bowed to Baal.

In Ezra 10, the Israelites who have taken foreign wives divorce them because of that fact. Again, it is not the simple fact of being foreign that causes this, it is the foreign worship of the wives.

On the other hand, foreigners who leave idolatry may marry Isrealites. The premiere example of this is Ruth. Though a Moabitess (repeatedly mentioned in the book of Ruth), she leaves idolatry, swears to follow Naomi's God, and then marries a wealthy Israelite named Boaz. Their marriage produces children, of whom King David is a descendant (and ultimately Jesus).

The Hebrew word used in the Ten Commandments is used in many other places in Scripture. Examining several shows that they are indeed adultery and not intermarriage. All verses taken from the New English Translation (NET).

Leviticus 20:10 If a man commits adultery with his neighbor's wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.

Jeremiah 29:23 This will happen to them because they have done what is shameful in Israel. They have committed adultery with their neighbors' wives and have spoken lies while claiming my authority. They have spoken words that I did not command them to speak. I know what they have done. I have been a witness to it,' says the LORD.

These two show that na'aph is not intermarriage. The act involves a man and his neighbor's wife. He is not taking a foreign wife, he is having relations with another man's wife.

Proverbs 30:20 This is the way of an adulterous woman: she eats and wipes her mouth and says, "I have not done wrong."

"A foreign wife" does not fit within this passage.

Ezekiel 16:32 Adulterous wife, who prefers strangers instead of her own husband!

Here, the wife who commits na'aph is one who prefers strangers. Foreign born is not the issue.

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The answer that another user provided indicated that the Greek word was used in the sense you suggest in one isolated case (Aristotle's Histories) among many, many other cases. You can also see the particular case in point follows usages in the "normal" sense by Aristophanes, Xenophon, and Plato - all of whom pre-date Aristotle by one to two centuries.

Since usages of the word prior to and during the time of Aristotle do not relate to bestiality or miscegenation, I do not think that we can conclude that it "originally" referred to these things.


Regarding "adultery" somehow meaning "miscegenation", it almost certainly does not have this connotation in the Old Testament. In Numbers 12:1, Miriam is struck by God with leprosy for murmuring against Moses' having taken an Ethiopian wife.

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  • The mentioned work by Aristotle is his "History of Animals", a treatise on zoology.
    – fdb
    Mar 5, 2018 at 18:57
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There is a brief reference to this in Theological dictionary of the New Testament. See the article below. However, this seems to be a specific usage rather than a dominant meaning. Another consideration is the Ten Commandments were in Hebrew and translated into Greek in the Septuagint.

μνεία, μνήμη, μνῆμα, μνημεῖον, μνημονεύω → 678 ff.

† μοιχεύω, † μοιχάω, † μοιχεία, † μοῖχος, † μοιχαλίς

Contents: A. The Use of the Word Group. B. Adultery in the Old Testament and Judaism. C. Adultery in the Greek and Roman World. D. The Word Group in the New Testament: 1. In the Literal Sense; 2. In the Figurative Sense.

A.      The Use of the Word Group.

μοιχεύω. The Attic uses the act. of the man in the abs. “I act as an adulterer,” and with the acc. “to commit adultery with a woman,” Aristoph. Av., 558; Lys., 1, 4, then gen. “to seduce or violate a woman,” Luc. Dial. Mar., 12, 1, fig. “to adulterate,” Achill. Tat., IV, 8, p. 117 (Hercher). Pass. and med. “to be, or to allow oneself to be, seduced,” of the woman “to commit adultery,” fig. of the intermingling of animals and men or of different races, Aristot. Hist. An., 32, p. 619a, 10 f.: τὰ γὰρ ἄλλα γένη μέμικται καὶ μεμοίχευται ὑπʼ ἀλλήλων. The LXX uses μοιχεύειν and derivates for the root נאף and derivates, abs. Ex. 20:14 (13); Dt. 5:18 (17); Ez. 23:43; Hos. 4:14; 7:4; cf. Test. Jos. 4:6; 5:1; with acc. Jer. 3:9 (fig. ἐμοίχευσεν [sc. Ἰσραήλ] τὸ ξύλον καὶ τὸν λίθον), also med. with acc. of the man, pass. of the woman, Lv. 20:10: ἄνθρωπος ὃς ἂν μοιχεύσηται γυναῖκα ἀνδρὸς ἢ ὃς ἂν μοιχεύσηται γυναῖκα τοῦ πλησίον, θανάτῳ θανατούσθωσαν, ὁ μοιχεύων καὶ ἡ μοιχευομέην, Sir. 23:23 of the woman: ἐν πορνείᾳ ἐμοιχεύθη. Cf. also the NT quoting the 7th commandment, Mt. 5:27; 19:18; Mk. 10:19; Lk. 18:20; R. 13:9; Jm. 2:11; in Lk. 16:18 and R. 2:22 the man is evidently meant; with acc. of adultery against a woman, Mt. 5:28, and pass. of the woman with whom it is committed, Mt. 5:32. Jn. 8:4 (ἡ γυνὴ κατείληπται ἐπʼ αὐτοφώρῳ μοιχευομένη); Rev. 2:22 (τοὺς μοιχεύοντας μετʼ αὐτῆς). μοιχάω, a subsidiary Doric form, “to commit adultery,” fig. “to adulterate,” Ael Nat. An., 7, 39 (τὸ λεχθέν); Xenoph. Hist. Graec., I, 6, 15 τὴν θάλατταν (to bring cunningly and illegally into one’s power). In the LXX (for נאף only Jer. and Ez.) and the NT only in the pres. stem of the med. and pass., “to commit adultery,” “to be led into adultery,” of the man in Jer. 5:7; 9:1; 23:14 (μοιχωμένους); Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Mk. 10:11, the woman in Jer. 3:8; 29:23 (Ιερ. 36:23); Ez. 16:32; 23:37; Mk. 10:12 (ἐὰν αὐτὴ ἀπολύσασα τον̀ ἄνδρα αὐτῆς γαμήσῃ ἄλλον μοιχᾶται). μοιχεία, “adultery,” “illicit intercourse,” Lys., 1, 36; Plat. Resp., IV, 443a; Leg., VIII, 839a; astrologically. P. Tebt., II, 276, 16 (2nd/3rd. cent. A.D.): ἡ Ἀφροδίτ]η παρατυγχάνουσα τῦͅ τοῦ [Ἄρεως πορ]νίας <καὶ> μοιχείας κατίς[τ]ησιν, Venus in conjunction with Mars causes fornication and adultery. In the LXX for נאף (Hos. 4:2), נִאֻפִים (Jer. 13:27) and נַאֲפוּפִים (Hos. 2:4); also Wis. 14:26. In the NT Mt. 15:19: μοιχεῖαι (along with πορνεῖαι); Mk. 7:22; Jn. 8:3 (ἐπὶ μοιχείᾳ κατειλημμένην). μοιχός, “adulterer,” “lover,” Aristoph. Pl., 168; Lys., 1, 30; Soph. Fr., 1026, 6 (Nock); Plat. Symp., 191d; P. Oxy., VIII, 1160, 26 f. (3rd/4th cent.). In the LXX for נֹאֵף, Job 24:15; Prv. 6:32; מְנָאֵף, ψ 49:18; Is. 57:3; Jer. 23:10; Sir. 25:2. In the NT Lk. 18:11; 1 C. 6:9; Hb. 13:4. μοιχαλίς, first adj. “adulterous,” Plut. Plac. Philos., I, 7 (II, 881d), then subst. “adulteress,” “mistress,” “harlot,” P. Masp., 94, II, 42 (6th cent.). In the LXX and NT lit., Prv. 30:20; Hos. 3:1 (both times for מְנָאֶפֶת); R. 7:3; 2 Pt. 2:14; also fig. for the unfaithfulness of Israel to its Husband, Yahweh: Ez. 16:38; 23:45 (נֹאֶפֶת); Mal. 3:5 (מְנָאֵף) Mt. 12:39; 16:4; Mk. 8:38; Jm. 4:4 (→ 734, 41 ff.).

B.      Adultery in the Old Testament and Judaism.
  1. The Decalogue numbers the inviolability of marriage among the fundamental commandments for the community life of the people of Israel, Ex. 20:14 (13); Dt. 5:18 (17). But adultery is possible only if there is carnal intercourse between a married man and a married or betrothed Israelitess, Dt. 22:22 ff.; Lv. 20:10. Adultery is the violation of the marriage of another, Gn. 39:10 ff. Hence a man is not under obligation to avoid all non-marital intercourse (→ πορνεία). Unconditional fidelity is demanded only of the woman, who in marriage becomes the possession of her husband. The adulterer and the guilty woman, if caught in the act, are to be punished by death (Dt. 22:22), since the covenant with the holy God demands the rooting out of everything evil from within Israel. The punishment is usually stoning (Dt. 22:22; Ez. 16:40; cf. Jn. 8:5). If there is suspicion against a wife, the husband can demand that she be purified from it by the ceremony of bitter water, Nu. 5:16 ff. But the husband is not forced to take steps against her, cf. Mt. 1:19.
  2. Hosea, who depicts the relation of Yahweh to His people in terms of his own experience, views this relation as a marriage (2:21f.) and thereby emphasises the exclusive loyalty which Israel owes its God, to whom it belongs as does the wife to her husband. By its apostasy to alien cults Israel is guilty of adultery against God. The religious unfaithfulness of Israel is thereby stigmatised as the most serious conceivable offence (3:1f.; 2:4ff.). The worship of high places is religious adultery (4:12ff.). Jeremiah, engaged in serious conflict with the admixture of worship of Yahweh with alien elements (Baal, star worship), makes further use of the metaphor of Hosea in 2:1; 5:7; 9:1. Israel breaks the marriage bond, by which it belongs to God alone, to flirt with wood and stone (3:8f.). Faithless Jerusalem will bear the punishment of an adulteress (13:22, 26f.). In exile Ez. applies Hosea’s figure of speech to the religious history of Israel (c. 16; 23). By apostasy to alien cults Israel both past and present has soiled itself with whoring and adultery (16:32, 37; 23:37, 43, 45).

    1. The many warnings against fornication (→ πορνεία) and adultery in the Wisdom literature show that marital infidelity was common. The adulterer violates the law of God and also attacks the rights of God, before whom his marriage was concluded (Prv. 2:16 ff., cf. Mal. 2:14). He will undoubtedly suffer punishment (Prv. 6:26 ff.). He is a fool who brings ruin on himself (v. 32). He brings down on himself suffering and shame (v. 32f.). The anger of the jealous husband will not spare him (v. 34f.). One should be on guard against the smooth enticement of the strange woman (7:5ff.), who after the act treats it with frivolity (30:20). One should also be on guard against wine, which kindles adulterous desire (23:31ff.) and robs a man of prudence (v. 34ff.). Sir. depicts the serious sin of the adulteress. She does threefold wrong by disobeying the command of God, sinning against her husband and bearing to another the children of adultery. She will be put out of the congregation and her children must expiate her sin. Particularly offensive is the adulterous old man (25:2). In Test. XII Joseph is a model of chastity who resists the temptation to adultery as something which is against God (Test. Jos. 4:6; 5:1) and who overcomes unlawful sexual desire by prayer and fasting (4:8). Philo describes adultery as μέγιστον ἀδικημάτων (Decal., 121); it is στυγητὸν καὶ θεομίσητον πρᾶγμα (131). The adulterer fills three families with ὕβρις and ἀτιμία (126, 129). The source of adultery is φιληδονία (122). Not merely the body, but esp. the soul is corrupted by it (124). By his transgression the adulterer sows a blameworthy seed (129), though procreation as such is sacred to the Jew.
    2. The Mishnah (esp. tractate Sota) and Talmud give more precise legal definitions of the act and the punishment. So far as possible they seek to evade the death penalty. Only adultery with an Israelitess is to be punished. There is no penalty for intercourse with the wife of a non-Israelite. Adultery can only be by adults. There is no penalty if there is no preceding warning and no witness. Only the wife, who is set apart for her husband alone by the ceremony of qiddǔin (→ μνηστεύω), and not the husband, who has behind him the ancient right of polygamy, is exposed to the full threat of the penalties. In the Roman period the death penalty drops away. The husband is simply forced to divorce an adulterous wife, who forfeits the money assigned her under the marriage contract (Sota, IV, 3), and is not permitted to marry her lover (Sota, 5, 1). Divorce is sufficient protection against an adulterous wife. In Rabb. exposition the ceremony of bitter water acquires an essentially moral sense. The wife must be forced to confess her fault. It is effective only if the husband is free from guilt (b. Sota, 47b). Hence the ceremony gradually disappears. The child of incest or adultery is called mamzer, and cannot be a member of the community (Dt. 23:3) or marry an Israelite (Qid., 3, 12). Along with these legal definitions there are in the Haggadic parts of the Talmud and Midrash many warnings against adultery which oppose this as a serious sin from the moral standpoint, and which warn against any yielding to sensual desire. In contrast to the legal judgment, the sinful thought is repeatedly equated with the act, e.g., Pesikt. r., 24 (124b): “We find that even he who commits adultery with the eyes is called an adulterer, v. Job 24:15.” “He who regards a woman with lustful intention is as one who cohabits with her …” “He who touches the little finger of a woman is as one who touches a certain spot.” Tract. Kalla, 1. Cf. jChalla, 58c, 48 f. (Str.-B., I, 301). The adulterer is deeply despised. No virtues can save him from hell-fire (Sota, 4b).

    C. Adultery in the Greek and Roman World.

    A mark of the ancient view of marriage is that unconditional fidelity is demanded of the wife alone. The married man is not forbidden to have intercourse with an unmarried woman. In Gk. law μοιχεία is simply “secret sexual intercourse with a free woman without the consent of her κύριος.” In face of such violation (ὕβρις) the husband or family (father, brother, son) has the right of private revenge (by killing, maltreatment13 or fine). In practice the laws were extended to cover a girl of good repute or a widow.15 The open harlot was not covered by the law of revenge. Public law limited the right of revenge (seizure in the act).17 Attic law allows a complaint to be lodged (γραφὴ μοιχείας) if private revenge is waived. If the wounded husband is not himself to fall victim to ἀτιμία he must put away the guilty wife. The adulteress is not allowed to visit the public temple. The best men judged adultery sharply.20 Plato warns against intercourse with the ἑταίρα, though his words show that this was more or less taken for granted on the common view. In Roman law up to the time of the Republic the husband has, in a case of adulterium, the one-sided right of private revenge against the guilty wife even to putting to death, whereas the wife must accept the adultery of her husband,23 The father can also put the adulterer to death if he at once strikes down his daughter too. The punishment of adultery is thus a family affair (iudicium domesticurn). Only the increasing moral disintegration of the imperial period led to legal measures by the state. Augustus passed the Lex Julia de Adulteriis.26 This declares adultery a penal offence, punishes offenders by banishment and forbids the husband to pardon or to quash the matter. He may be punished himself if he continues the marriage. The law was not followed by an improvement of the situation. This was poor. Divorces were very common.28 Plays, banquets (→ ἀσέλγεια) and slavery31 contributed to moral deterioration. The infidelity of wives was almost an accepted fact.

    D. The Word Group in the New Testament.

  3. In the Literal Sense. A mark of the NT is the sharp intensifying of the concept of adultery. The right of a man to sexual freedom is denied. Like the wife, the husband is under an obligation of fidelity. The wife is exalted to the same dignity as the husband. Marriage (→ γαμέω, I, 648 ff.) is a life-long fellowship of the partners. Only thus does it actualise the ideal intended in creation (Mt. 5:32; 19:8). On this ground Jesus rejects the provisions of the Law and the scribes concerning divorce of the wife under the legal form of a bill of divorcement (Dt. 24:1 → ἀπολύω, ἀποστάσιον). This is in conflict with the will of God (Mt. 19:6 ff.). For this reason the remarriage of a man after divorcing his wife, or the remarrying of the divorced woman, is tantamount to adultery (Mt. 5:32; 19:9; Mk. 10:11 f.; Lk. 16:18; cf. 1 C. 7:10 f.). From the religious standpoint adultery does not consist merely in physical intercourse with a strange woman; it is present already in the desire which negates fidelity (Mt. 5:28). In distinction from the scribes, who as lawyers give definitions and relativise the divine commandment by assimilating it to the actualities of life, Jesus as a religious teacher tries to make men realise how absolute is the divine requirement. The great seriousness of Jesus in face of the sin of adultery goes hand in hand with His mercy for the sinner and His resolute rejection of hypocritical self-righteousness, as is shown by the story of the woman taken in adultery (Jn. 8:1 ff.) which, even if it does not belong originally to Jn., rests on an authentic tradition. Against a purely legal view, on which a woman taken in the act (8:4) undoubtedly came under the death penalty, He maintains a moral and religious position. He disarms the human desire to punish—the witness had to cast the first stone—by appealing to the judgment of conscience. He grants the guilty woman a pardon which does not sap the moral demand because it presupposes repentance (cf. Mt. 21:31 f.). He preserves the unconditional validity of the sacred command of God by adding the warning to sin no more (Jn. 8:11). The apostolic preaching presupposes the holy seriousness of Jesus in the assessment of adultery. Christian determination was the more significant at this point in view of the degeneration of sexual morality in the Hellenistic world, which regarded offences in this sphere as quite natural (1 C. 5:2) and accepted quasi-marital relations as no less ethically possible than marriage (→ 732). By contrast, it was most significant, both religiously and culturally, that the apostolic message from the very outset made it clear to the churches that the full marital fidelity of both spouses is an unconditional divine command (1 C. 5:1 ff.; 6:9). Adultery is not just a matter of civil law (R. 7:3). It is to be judged in accordance with the holy will of God (1 Th. 4:3; 1 C. 6:18 f.). Women are fellow-heirs of the kingdom of God and are thus worthy of the same honour as men (1 Pt. 3:7). According to the absolute judgment of Paul, adultery excludes from God’s kingdom (1 C. 6:9). Marital fidelity is to be maintained intact (ἡ κοίτη ἀμίαντος, Hb. 13:4), even though there are no human witnesses. The omniscient God is the Judge of the adulterer (loc. cit.). The OT prohibition of adultery is not confined to the negative avoidance of the sinful act. It finds it true fulfilment only in the love of spouses who are joined together by God (R. 13:9). Impulsive and uncontrolled desire is sinful even in the lustful glance (2 Pt. 2:14). It is a mark of the inwardly impious and licentious nature of bold heretics, who in doubting the parousia (3:3f.) also undermine belief in the divine judgment (3:5ff.).

  4. In the Figurative Sense. The NT, too, uses μοιχεύειν fig. for religious unfaithfulness to God. Thus Jesus calls the evil generation of His time γενεὰ πονηρὰ καὶ μοιχαλίς (Mt. 12:39; 16:4; Mk. 8:38 alongside ἁμαρτωλός). Like the people in the days of the prophets, it shows itself to be unfaithful to God by its rejection of Jesus. In Jm. 4:4, too, the sharp term μοιχαλίδες refers to the religious unfaithfulness to God implied in φιλία τοῦ κόσμου. The feminine seems to be chosen because God is seen as the Husband (→ 731). The adultery with the prophetess mentioned in Rev. 2:2 is also a figure for acceptance of her false teaching and the implied infidelity to God. The τέκνα of this adulterous relation are the followers of the prophetess. Hauck

Kittel, G., Bromiley, G. W., & Friedrich, G. (Eds.). (1964–). μνεία, μνήμη, μνῆμα, μνημεῖον, μνημονεύω. Theological dictionary of the New Testament (electronic ed., Vol. 4, pp. 729–735). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

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    I thought this was good information, but highlighting and summarizing might have helped. I relied on your information in my answer and upvoted your answer to cancel the -1 :)
    – user33515
    Feb 4, 2018 at 3:39

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