The seventh (or sixth, according to the Jewish reckoning, followed in Catholic Bibles) commandment (Exod. 20:14) forbade adultery, and the prescribed penalty was death (Deut. 22:22). The reference is not to any sort of extramarital sex but to that of a man having sex with a married woman, who is regarded as some other man's chattel. In the case of a betrothed virgin, she is to be stoned together with the man (Deut. 22:23); but, if she is raped, the man alone is to be executed (Deut. 22:25). Whether these ferocious penalties were ever carried out is uncertain; King David at any rate suffered only prophetic rebuke (2 Sam. 11:4; 12:9). The episode recorded in some MSS of John 8:1–11 has a group of scribes and Pharisees testing Jesus' attitude to the Law: was he in favour of the full rigour of the Law being applied to a proven adulteress? The story may have been incorporated by chance into these MSS of John from some non-canonical work and though it may not be genuine reminiscence it has the authenticity of Jesus' compassionate teaching and his encouragement to start life anew (cf. Luke 13:1–5). The OT condemnation is stretched even to mental attitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:28). Paul repeats the OT law (Rom. 13:9), and elsewhere (e.g. Gal. 5:19) it is presumably condemned under the general heading of ‘works of the flesh’.

Dictionary of the Bible.

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