Shared Responsibility Lie

“This is the law of jealousy in a case where a woman goes off and has an affair and defiles herself while married to her husband, or a husband is tormented with feelings of jealousy because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand in the presence of God and go through this entire procedure with her. The husband will be cleared of wrong, but the woman will pay for her wrong.” – Numbers 5:29-31, MSG


Today’s verses come from an obscure passage in Numbers. In this passage, a ritual is proscribed for dealing with suspected adultery in a wife. The result of this ritual–if the wife is guilty of adultery–is curses of either barrenness (a grave curse in Jewish culture as women were valued by the children they produced) or outright death as some may read the physical curse mentioned in the passage. Either way, the sin of adultery is taken very seriously and punished severely under the Law of Moses.

However, the end result of this trial is not my focus in today’s post. I am not looking at the punishment for adultery today.

My focus is how God assigns blame or guilt to use Biblical language. A popular approach to adultery–even in evangelical churches (as I and others have experienced)–is to treat the adultery as a result of two people’s choices. I call this the “shared responsibility lie.”

Sadly, Satan has been very busy selling this one with great success. Let me be crystal clear: It is a lie.

Notice the last part of the passage today. I will quote it from the New International Version:

The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.(Numbers 5:31).

This is a test for suspected adultery. What part of the guilt for adultery or suspected adultery does the husband bear?


That is absolutely no responsibility for the infidelity. Or to quote the Bible, the husband is “innocent of any wrongdoing” to be precise.

God does not say the priest needs to check to see if the husband was ignoring his wife and that caused her to commit adultery. Did he take too many business trips? That does not excuse adultery. God does not say the priest needs to weigh the husband to see if he let himself go and the wife loss sexual interest in him “needing” to go elsewhere. This is not about physical appearance the faithful spouse. God does not say to question the wife if she was “unhappy” in her marriage and needed some excitement. This is not a report card on the faithful spouse’s emotional availability.

When the question is about adultery, the focus is upon the spouse who chose to sin. And I would suggest this would be true today if the roles were reversed, and it was a husband who chose to cheat on his wife.

Throughout God’s word, He consistently judges the actions of the actors. The reason the husband is not to blame is that he did not commit adultery.

It is all pretty straight forward:

Did someone commit adultery?


Was it the husband or the wife?


She is 100% guilty.

The faithful spouse innocent.

That’s Biblical.

62 thoughts on “Shared Responsibility Lie”

  1. Another great post! I know I could have been a better wife, but I did not make him cheat. There is a simple choice to address marital issues. We were dealing with a teen with confirmed serious mental health issues. That caused me to honestly be depressed and focused solely on getting that child to a maintenance state. I was depressed by the stress of it all while also questioning how God could do this to her.

    My spouse could have called a time out and requested we go to counseling together and separately. I have never turned down therapy for anyone in our family. Instead, he chose to have an affair for months and months and check out.

    When he announced he wanted a divorce, he didn’t admit to the affair and instead blamed everything on me.

    Your blog is so helpful for my recovery, but it also is helping me find my path back to my spirituality.

    1. Tired- We are glad this site is helping you. CL has a post on the cheater solution to adult problems. I don’t remember if you’re familiar with Chump Lady already or not. She has a potty mouth and it’s definitely not a religious site by any means. But I thought of this post when you referenced your spouse deciding to check out instead of try for counseling and actually do an adult solution. It may help, it may not, feel free to ignore it if it’s not what you’re looking for.

  2. Thank you for this post. My cheater husband has spun it in his head that I am partially to blame for his cheating for a variety of reasons. I kept telling him that whatever his grivences with me were he should have been adult enough to talk to me about them or ask for a divorce-cheating was his choice. He has moved on to blaming me for our marriage ending because I didn’t go to enough marrige therapy sessions and didn’t try hard enough to trust him again. Thankfully, I knew he had crossed my boundary and I am divorcing him but it still befuddles me that he can’t see that he needs to own ALL the responsibility for his actions and that when he cheated, he gave me the right to walk away and keep my dignity.

    1. Duped-mightiness for walking away with your dignity and taking action! That takes strength to do. I really don’t understand how the idea that our spouse just didn’t do enough for us can trump all common sense. I mean seriously, we’re never going to be able to say that our spouse did absolutely everything we could have hoped for. There’s always going to be the lists of trash cans that weren’t emptied, nights where there wasn’t any sex, times they didn’t have dinner ready on time etc. Keeping tabs means you’re score keeping and that only leads to trouble. There’s a winner and loser when you score keep. Guess who ends up being the winner…

  3. Thank you for this. I was reading my bible one day and happened to come across this obscure passage in Numbers. I knew in my heart when I read it that God sees the faithful spouse as completely 100% innocent of the adultery. I am glad that God does not treat faithful spouses the way the world does sometimes.

  4. Where’s the passage where the wife gets to use this on her unfaithful husband?

    1. If the husband is unfaithful, his infidelity is 100% his to own (see Mark 7:21-23). So, it makes no sense to say “the wife gets to use this on her unfaithful husband.” Or perhaps, I misunderstood your question? She is not at all responsible for her unfaithful husband’s sins; and he is not at all responsible for hers.

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