People do not despise a thief if he steals
to satisfy his hunger when he is starving.
Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold,
though it costs him all the wealth of his house.
-Proverbs 6:30-31, NIV
These verses about a hungry thief stealing are in the midst of the passage warning the young man away from committing adultery. I find it instructive on many levels. It is a Biblical antidote to the watery pop psychology too often offered today in the pastor’s office.
Notice that the reasoning behind stealing ultimately does not matter when it comes to questions of responsibility and justice. The thief is required to repay his theft seven times even though he stole when hungry. He alone is guilty and responsible for paying this debt.
I write a great deal about “The Shared Responsibility Lie” on this blog. This passage is another passage exposing this awfully unbiblical approach to dealing with adultery. It is not a matter of discovering what the marriage conditions were before the adultery too place. That is irrelevant as these verse indicate.
The conditions of the marriage do not excuse the sin of committing adultery. Ever. And the one committing adultery is fully responsible for paying the penalty of this sin as these verses clearly indicate.
Faithful spouses are the ones who have been stolen from by their adulterous spouses. Time, money, intimacy, and emotional energy are just a few stolen precious pieces selfishly taken unilaterally by adulterous spouses. It makes no sense to level punishment or consequences upon them. These verses do not say the one stolen from has to eat the cost of the theft seven times over. That is not just.
What does this look like in the pastor’s office?
It means making it clear whatever the conditions of the marriage prior to the adultery is not the issue. The adultery is the issue and must stop immediately. Furthermore, the adulterous spouse has a major debt to discharge. They owe their faithful spouse big time! It is upon the adulterous spouse to repay “sevenfold” what was stolen–assuming the faithful spouse chooses to be merciful in not ending the marriage as is their Biblical prerogative (e.g. Deut. 22:22, Jer. 3:8, Mt. 5:32, etc).
Is there a time and place for dealing with unhealthy relationship dynamics? Absolutely. We all can grow in our communication skills whether or not infidelity is part of our marriage story. But it is neither the time nor the place to do this in the pastor’s office when dealing with a marriage rocked by an adulterous betrayal.
How do I know this?
Look again at this Bible passage:
How does the Scripture writer talk about the hungry thief? Does he make dealing with the social conditions that led to the theif’s hunger the primary issue here? No.
Talking about the marriage conditions prior to adultery is like talking about the social conditions around the thief’s hunger. It is irrelevant to deciding who is responsible for the adultery and the incurred debt of said sin.
So as not to feed into the lie that marriage conditions cause adultery:
Just as one does not need to be hungry to steal, one does not need to have issues in one’s marriage to commit adultery. It is the heart of the adulterous spouse alone that causes this sin alone by choosing it over God’s prohibition. They alone are responsible for choosing adultery.
In sum, the conditions of the marriage is truly irrelevant to the discussion when dealing with the matter of adulterous sin. It is very simple: Who chose to steal by committing adultery? Once you know that, then you know who needs to work to repay the debt they incurred by stealing from their spouse.
That’s what Scripture teaches.
It does not waste time on “marriage narrative” talk and assigning partial blame to each partner while one spouse continues stealing via adultery and refusing to repent. The Bible’s teaching focuses on the sinner and emphasizes true restitution (as indicating actual repentance). It’s teaching remains clear and cuts to the heart of the matter (Heb 4:12). And I thank God for giving us the Bible as such a wise guide!