(Lev. 20:10) Why were adulterers put to death?

CLAIM: Leviticus records, “If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Lev. 20:10). Why was adultery met with such a severe punishment?

RESPONSE: This is an example of capital punishment for the family of Israel. Why was adultery treated so severely? Moderners are often shocked at this command, but we need to remember that these ancient people would probably be shocked by our standards. In our culture, you can get five years in jail for going into someone’s house and stealing their television, but you get no punishment for going into someone’s house and stealing their wife! John Wenham writes,

When a man steals another’s valuable property, he is severely dealt with by the law. But when a man deliberately seduces and steals another man’s wife and robs his children of their mother, he probably gets off scot free. Yet in terms of the harm done and the destruction of human happiness the first crime is venial in comparison with the second.[1]

While this punishment is severe, it shows that God values people more than he values things. In our culture, these two priorities are often switched.

[1] Wenham, John William. The Goodness of God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1974. 109.