There is so much to unpack in this verse and not everything is clear cut and obvious for the English reader.

Proverbs‬ ‭5‬:‭20‬ ‭

“Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?” ‭‭

Is this euphemism for copulation? Is it just hugging, or does it include hugging, or does it start with hugging? Is it really not about a hug but fondling of the breasts? Is the woman an adulteress if she has never committed adultery up until that point? Is she an adulteress because of what she is about to do? Is she technically an adulteress already in her heart/mind already?

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    The woman is forbidden because she already has a husband (or is separated). Thus to embrace her (intimately) is adultery. I don't see your difficulty.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 7, 2023 at 17:44
  • So giving her a frontal hug was considered crossing the line then? Dec 7, 2023 at 18:41
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    The modern idea of 'hugs' wasn't around in those days (in respectful society).
    – Nigel J
    Dec 7, 2023 at 18:48
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    Yes, I am interested but I have already come to a conclusion based on what the apostle says 'It is good for a man not to touch a woman'. And on Jesus' words (said to a woman) 'Touch me not for I have not yet ascended'.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 7, 2023 at 21:50
  • 2
    That’s unbeatable, you’re a champ @Nigel Dec 8, 2023 at 1:07

3 Answers 3


This is clearly not a chaste embrace but a euphemism for illicit sex. Whether we take it as a type of foreplay leading to sex or the sexual act itself is irrelevant, because the purpose of the proverb is to urge marital fidelity and to take pleasure with the "wife of your youth." (5:18)

The secondary questions may be moot, because the literal word "adultery/adulteress" נָאַף [Strong's H5003] is not in the Hebrew. The term נָכְרִי [Strong's H5237] here means stranger or foreigner. Some translators do interpret it here as "adulteress" but the context teaches the avoidance of an unfamiliar woman (whether a foreigner or not) and to stay faithful to one's wife.

To the question "Is she technically an adulteress already in her heart/mind already?" the answer is "no" in any case. The teaching of Jesus about "adultery in the heart" is not a technical question but a spiritual one. Technically, only the act of adultery is punishable. Also, Jesus spoke specifically about male lust; and we do not know if lust is the motivation of the woman in question. For a woman, financial need can motivate a sexual seduction just as powerfully as lust can.

  • You bring some interesting color to the conversation. Thank you. Food for thought. Dec 8, 2023 at 17:38

Throughout the OT, touching a woman's breasts is either an allusion to, or a euphemism for, copulation/coitus. For example, Prov 5:19, SS 1:13, 4:5, 7:3, 7, 8, 8:10, Eze 23:3, Deut 28:54, 56, etc.

Prov 5:20 says this (my literal translation)

For why be seduced by a strange [woman]; and clasp the bosom of a foreign [woman]

The allusion is rather stark: the verb חָבַק (chabaq) is "to embrace or clasp, ie, take hold of". In the context of Prov 5:15-23, the allusion is quite obvious:

  • V15 is instructing men to be faithful and "drink from their own cistern"
  • V16 is instructing men to let "your springs" (their ejaculation to be blunt) not be in public, ie, with strangers
  • V17 is an instruction to have sex alone with one's own wife alone
  • V18 is a combination of V16 and V17
  • V19 again is an allusion to copulation/coitus by mentioning breasts
  • V20 is essentially parallel to V19

The rest of the OP's question is about the extent one must go to in order to commit adultery. Jesus answered this question in Matt 5:27, 28 -

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

  • + 1... I would add that your translation is better than the one give in the OP, which ignores an important dimension... not just a forbidden woman but a foreign woman. Dec 8, 2023 at 14:34

The passage in Proverb 5 is not about the women, but the son. The last verse of the chapter, Proverbs 5:23, concludes that "For lack of discipline they will die, led astray by their own great folly."

Proverbs 5:20 makes it clear that the son had lost his discipline and approached women in an inappropriate way. The words 'intoxicated' and 'embrace' imply that the son was losing self-control and carried malicious desires towards the women. Furthermore, it is worth noting that Proverbs 5:15-19 is talking about his wife, whom he married when he was young. Therefore it is a betrayal to his wife when he was intoxicated and embraced other women.

In Matthew 5:28, Jesus said, "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart". The son described in Proverbs 5:20 did not just look at women lustfully, he took action.

  • Certainly the son bears an amount of responsibility whether it’s also his fault or entirely his fault for taking advantage of a woman that doesn’t know what she is doing is definitely a point worth mentioning. Seeing it takes two to tango and someone has to lead the dance Dec 8, 2023 at 1:12

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