Question Box: Adulterers and adulteresses (symbolic)

Question or Topic Scripture
Adulterers and adulteresses (symbolic) James 4:4

James charged the Jewish people "scattered abroad" with being "adulterers and adulteresses". Do you thing that this is because of their history of idolatry, or their friendship with the world, or both?


The verse that is in question reads as follows: "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (James 4:4).

James seems to be chiefly concerned with the issue of friendship with the world. It would be difficult, however, to separate this friendship from their passion for idolatry. Both sins are interwoven with one another. We should also consider that adultery is just another related term. The word "adulterers" is translated from moichos {moy-khos'} in the Greek which can be either a male apostate or adulterer. The word "adulteresses" is simply the female counterpart of the same word.


When we review the history of the Jewish people, we are reminded that they were constantly involved with idolatry. When we define idolatry, we often over-simplify this by thinking of it just as the worship of another God. Israel had been clearly told in the ten commandments:

  1. Exodus 20:3-5
  2. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  3. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
  4. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.

When the children of Israel failed to keep these commandments, their sin against God was often referred to in terms such as: "a wife that committeth adultery, which taketh strangers instead of her husband". This is found in Ezekiel 16 where we also read:

  1. Ezekiel 16:28-29
  2. Thou hast played the whore also with the Assyrians, because thou wast unsatiable; yea, thou hast played the harlot with them, and yet couldest not be satisfied.
  3. Thou hast moreover multiplied thy fornication in the land of Canaan unto Chaldea; and yet thou wast not satisfied herewith.

Throughout scripture, there is a common link between the concept of idolatry and spiritual adultery. The Apostate church is called the Mother of Harlots, – "For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries" (Revelation 18:3, NIV).

Spiritual Adultery

From the earliest records of idolatry (or spiritual adultery), the attraction to false religion was rooted in lust. The pleasures of sin were often interlinked with the rituals associated with this type of worship. Gratification of the flesh, including drunkenness and sexual activity were common practice. Skilled craftsmen produced idols that provided an object of worship to add visual substance to their perversion. Idolatry was more that the worship of another God. It was an occasion to enjoy the pleasures of sin in a setting that was endorsed by society.

The First Century

At the time of the writings of James, the people had become somewhat more sophisticated in their pursuit of idolatry and fleshly gratification. Paul addressed this more subtle approach in his writings to the Colossians: "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5). It was apparent that Paul considered fleshly pursuits to be idolatrous. The motivations were the same, and it was still spiritual adultery. Fulfilling the lust of your own flesh. Pleasing yourself rather than to do the will of God. Provoking the Lord to jealousy.

We note that even in Ezekiel's day, there were other subtle characteristics of spiritual adultery. In Ezekiel 16, they are described as: "pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy". Do we manifest any of these adulterous traits today?

Association with the World

Idolatry was always most likely whenever the children of Israel came into close association with the people of the land. They were taught to avoid these relationships. The sons of God were not to marry the daughters of men, and they were to be a separate people. In the time of James, the instruction was still the same. The Apostle Paul expressed it this way:

  1. II Corinthians 6:14,17
  2. Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
  3. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.

In the 4th chapter of James, the problems are obviously related to lust: "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (James 4:3). Their lust was for the things that their friends in this world were apparently enjoying. Their affections were on things in this world and not on the hope that was laid up in heaven for them. "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (v. 4).

They must have concentrated their efforts on maintaining good relations with their neighbors in the world. They placed more value on the carnal benefits of this association than they did on the spiritual blessings offered through their relationship with God.

Lessons for Us

We would do well to remember that what often seems like an innocent association with our neighbors, may well be endangering our relationship with our Creator. Remember that Jesus said "that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15). We must think very seriously about the possibility that some of our actions may be classified as idolatry or "spiritual adultery".

Jesus may have provided those who are so inclined with the justification that they wanted, when he ate with publicans and sinners. We should not allow ourselves to be deceived by this example. We should remember that his purpose in these associations was to preach the gospel and to glorify God, not to enjoy their company or to join in their pleasures.

Those who are seeking an help-mate, must remember the related lessons from the word of God. A marriage "in the Lord" is more than just a commandment; it should also be a blessing that will lead to a healthy spiritual life.

We conclude with the advice found in a very familiar passage:

  1. I John 2:15-17
  2. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
  3. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
  4. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

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