Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary 
the violation of the marriage bed. The law of Moses punished with death both the man and the woman who were guilty of this crime, Leviticus 20:10 . If a woman was betrothed to a man, and was guilty of this infamous crime before the marriage was completed, she was, in this case, along with her paramour, to be stoned, Deuteronomy 22:22-24 . When any man among the Jews, prompted by jealousy, suspected his wife of the crime of adultery, he brought her first before the judges, and informed them that in consequence of his suspicions, he had privately admonished her, but that she was regardless of his admonitions. If before the judges she asserted her innocency, he required that she should drink the waters of jealousy, that God might by these means discover what she attempted to conceal, Numbers 5:12 , &c. The man then produced his witnesses, and they were heard. After this, both the man and the woman were conveyed to Jerusalem, and placed before the sanhedrim; the judges of which, by threats and other means, endeavoured to confound the woman, and make her confess. If she persisted in denying the fact, she was led to the eastern gate of the court of Israel, stripped of her own clothes, and dressed in black, before great numbers of her own sex. The priest then told her that if she was really innocent, she had nothing to fear; but if guilty, she might expect to suffer all that the law had denounced against her, to which she answered, "Amen, amen." The priest then wrote the terms of the law in this form:—"If a strange man hath not come near you, and you are not polluted by forsaking the bed of your husband, these bitter waters, which I have cursed, will not hurt you: but if you have polluted yourself by coming near to another man, and gone astray from your husband,—may you be accursed of the Lord, and become an example for all his people; may your thigh rot, and your belly swell till it burst; may these cursed waters enter into your belly, and being swelled therewith, may your thighs putrefy."
After this, the priest filled a pitcher out of the brazen vessel, near the altar of burnt offerings, cast some dust of the pavement into it, mingled something with it as bitter as wormwood, and then read the curses, and received her answer of Amen. Another priest, in the meantime, tore off her clothes as low as her bosom—made her head bare—untied the tresses of her hair—fastened her clothes, which were thus torn, with a girdle under her breast, and then presented her with the tenth part of an ephah, or about three pints, of barley meal. The other priest then gave her the waters of jealousy, or bitterness, to drink; and as soon as the woman had swallowed them, he gave her the meal in a vessel like a frying-pan into her hand. This was stirred before the Lord, and part of it thrown into the fire of the altar. If the wife was innocent, she returned with her husband, and the waters, so far from injuring her, increased her health, and made her more fruitful; but if she was guilty, she grew pale immediately, her eyes swelled; and, lest she should pollute the temple, she was instantly carried out, with these symptoms upon her, and died instantly, with all the ignominious circumstances related in the curses.
On this law of Moses, Michaelis has the following remarks:—
"This oath was, perhaps, a relic of some more severe and barbarous consuetudinary laws, whose rigours Moses mitigated; as he did in many other cases, where an established usage could not be conveniently abolished altogether. Among ourselves, in barbarous times, the ordeal, or trial by fire, was, notwithstanding the purity of our married people, in common use; and this, in point of equity,
was much the same in effect, as if the husband had had the right to insist on his wife submitting to the hazardous trial of her purity, by drinking a poisoned potion; which, according to an ancient superstition, could never hurt her if she was innocent. And, in fact, such a right is not altogether unexampled; for, according to Oldendorp's History of the Mission of the Evangelical Brethren, in the Caribbee Islands, it is actually in use among some of the savage nations in the interior parts of Western Africa.
"Now, when in place of a poisoned potion like this, which very few husbands can be very willing to have administered to their wives, we see, as among the Hebrews, an imprecation-drink, whose avenger God himself promises to become, we cannot but be struck with the contrast of wisdom and clemency which such a
contrivance manifests. In the one case, (and herein consists their great distinction,) innocence can only be preserved by a miracle; while on the other, guilt only is revealed and punished by the hand of God himself.
"By one of the clauses of the oath of purgation, (and had not the legislator been perfectly assured of this divine mission, the insertion of any such clause would have been a very bold step indeed,) a visible and corporeal punishment was specified, which the person swearing imprecated on herself, and which God himself was understood as engaging to execute. To have given so accurate a definition of the punishment that God meant to inflict, and still more one that consisted of such a rare disease, would have been a step of incomprehensible boldness in a legislator who pretended to have a divine mission, if he was not, with the most assured conviction, conscious of its reality.
"Seldom, however, very seldom, was it likely that Providence would have an opportunity of inflicting the punishment in question. For the oath was so regulated, that a woman of the utmost effrontery could scarcely have taken it without changing colour to such a degree as to betray herself.
"In the first place, it was not administered to the woman in her own house, but she was under the necessity of going to that place of the land where God in a special manner had his abode, and took it there. Now, the solemnity of the place, unfamiliarized to her by daily business or resort, would have a great effect upon her mind. In the next place there was offered unto God what was termed an execration offering, not in order to propitiate his mercy, but to invoke his vengeance on the guilty. Here the process was extremely slow, which gave her more time for reflection than to a guilty person could be acceptable, and that, too, amidst a multitude of unusual ceremonies. For the priest conducted her to the front of the sanctuary, and took holy water, that is, water out of the priests' laver, which stood before it, together with some earth off its floor, which was likewise deemed holy; and having put the earth in the water, he then proceeded to uncover the woman's head, that her face might be seen, and every change on her countenance during the administration of the oath accurately observed: and this was a circumstance which, in the east, where the women are always veiled, must have had a great effect; because a woman, accustomed to wear a veil, could, on so extraordinary an occasion, have had far less command of her eyes and her countenance than a European adulteress, who is generally a perfect mistress in all the arts of dissimulation, would display. To render the scene still more awful, the tresses of her hair were loosened, and then the execration offering was put into her hand, while the priest held in his the imprecation water. This is commonly termed the bitter water; but we must not understand this as if the water had really been bitter; for how could it have been so? The earth of the floor of the tabernacle could not make it bitter. Among the Hebrews, and other oriental nations, the word bitter was rather used for curse: and, strictly speaking, the phrase does not mean bitter water, but the water of bitterness, that is, of curses. The priest now pronounced the oath, which was in all points so framed that it could excite no terrors in the breast of an innocent woman; for it expressly consisted in this, that the imprecation water should not harm her if she was innocent. It would seem as if the priest here made a stop, and again left the woman some time to consider whether she would proceed with the oath. This I infer from the circumstance of his speech not being directly continued in Numbers 5:21 st, which is rather the apodosis of what goes before; and from the detail proceeding anew in the words of the historian, Then, shall the priest pronounce the rest of the oath and the curses to the woman; and proceed thus. —After this stop he pronounced the curses, and the woman was obliged to declare her acquiescence in them by a repeated Amen. Nor was the solemn scene yet altogether at an end; but rather, as it were commenced anew. For the priest had yet to write the curses in a book, which I suppose he did at great deliberation; having done so, he washed them out again in the very imprecation water, which the woman had now to drink; and this water being now presented to her, she was obliged to drink it, with this warning and assurance, in the name of God, that if she was guilty, it would prove within her an absolute curse, Now, what must have been her feelings, while drinking, if not conscious of purity? In my opinion she must have conceived that she already felt an alteration in the state of her body, and the germ, as it were of the disease springing within her. Conscience and imagination would conspire together, and render it almost impossible for her to drink it out. Finally, the execration offering was taken out of her hand, and
burnt upon the altar. I cannot but think that, under the sanction of such a pugatorium, perjury must have been a very rare occurrence indeed. If it happened but once in an age, God had bound himself to punish it; and if this took place but once, (if but one woman who had taken the oath was attacked with that rare disease which it threatened,) it was quite enough to serve as a determent to all
others for at least one generation."
This procedure had also the effect of keeping in mind, among the Jews, God's high displeasure against this violation of his law; and though some lax moralists have been found, in modern times, to palliate it, yet the Christian will always remember the solemn denunciations of the New Testament against a crime so aggravated, whether considered in its effects upon the domestic relations, upon the moral character of the guilty parties, or upon society at large,—"Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge."
Adultery in the prophetic scriptures, is often metaphorically taken, and signifies idolatry, and apostasy from God, by which men basely defile themselves, and wickedly violate their ecclesiastical and covenant relation to God, Hosea 2:2; Ezekiel 16.
Fausset's Bible Dictionary 
A married woman cohabiting with a man not her husband. The prevalent polygamy in patriarchal times rendered it impossible to stigmatize as adultery the cohabitation of a married man with another besides his wife. But as Jesus saith, "from the beginning it was not so," for "He which made male and female said, They twain shall be one flesh." So the Samaritan Pentateuch reads Genesis 2:24, as it is quoted in Matthew 19:5. A fallen world undergoing a gradual course of remedial measures needs anomalies to be pretermitted for a time ( Romans 3:25 margin; Acts 17:30), until it becomes fit for a higher stage, in its progress toward its finally perfect state. God sanctions nothing but perfection; but optimism is out of place in governing a fallen world not yet ripe for it. The junction of the two into one flesh when sexual intercourse takes place with a third is dissolved in its original idea.
So also the union of the believer with Christ is utterly incompatible with fornication ( 1 Corinthians 6:13-18; 1 Corinthians 7:1-13; 1 Timothy 3:12). The sanctity of marriage in patriarchal times appears from Abraam's fear, not that his wife will be seduced from him, but that he may be killed for her sake. The conduct of Pharaoh and Abimelech (Genesis 12; 20), implies the same reverence for the sacredness of marriage. Death by fire was the penalty of unchastity ( Genesis 38:24). Under the Mosaic law both the guilty parties (including those only betrothed unless the woman were a slave) were stoned ( Deuteronomy 22:22-24; Leviticus 19:20-22). The law of inheritance, which would have been set aside by doubtful offspring, tended to keep up this law as to adultery. But when the territorial system of Moses fell into desuetude, and Gentile example corrupted the Jews, while the law nominally remained it practically became a dead letter.
The Pharisees' object in bringing the adulterous woman (John 8) before Christ was to put Him in a dilemma between declaring for reviving an obsolete penalty, or else sanctioning an infraction of the law. In Matthew 5:82 He condemns their usage of divorce except in the case of fornication. In Matthew 1:19, Joseph" not willing to make The Virgin a public example ( Paradeigmatisai ) was minded to put her away privily"; i.e., he did not intend to bring her before the local Sanhedrim, but privately to repudiate her. The trial by the waters of jealousy described in Numbers 5:11-29 was meant to restrain oriental impulses of jealousy within reasonable bounds. The trial by "red water" in Africa is very different, amidst seeming resemblance's. The Israelite ingredients were harmless; the African, poisonous. The visitation, if the woman was guilty, was from God direct; the innocent escaped: whereas many an innocent African perishes by the poison. No instance is recorded in Scripture; so that the terror of it seems to have operated either to restrain from guilt, or to lead the guilty to confess it without recourse to the ordeal.
The union of God and His one church, in His everlasting purpose, is the archetype and foundation on which rests the union of man and wife ( Ephesians 5:22-33). (See Adam .) As he Ish ) gave Eve ( Isha ) his name, signifying her formation from him, so Christ gives a new name to the church ( Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:12). As He is the true Solomon (Prince of peace), so she the Shulamite ( Song of Solomon 6:13). Hence idolatry, covetousness, and apostasy are adultery spiritually ( Jeremiah 3:6; Jeremiah 3:8-9; Ezekiel 16:82; Hosea 1; 2; 3; Revelation 2:22). An apostate church, the daughter of Jerusalem becoming the daughter of Babylon, is an adulteress ( Isaiah 1:21; Ezekiel 23:4; Ezekiel 23:7; Ezekiel 23:37). So Jesus calls the Jews "an adulterous generation" ( Matthew 12:39).
The woman in Revelation 12, represented as clothed with the Sun (of righteousness), and crowned with the 12 stars (i.e. the 12 patriarchs of the Old Testament and the 12 apostles of New Testament), and persecuted by the dragon, in Revelation 17, excites the wonder of John, because of her transformation into a scarlet arrayed "mother of harlots," with a cup full of abominations, riding upon a "scarlet colored beast"; but the ten horned beast finally turns upon her, "makes her naked, eats her flesh, and burns her with fire." The once faithful church has ceased to be persecuted by conforming to the godless world and resting upon it. But the divine principle is, when the church apostatizes from God to intrigue with the world, the world, the instrument of her sin, shall at last be the instrument of her punishment. Compare as to Israel ( Αholah ), and Judah ( Αholibah ), Ezekiel
23. The principle is being illustrated in the church of Rome before our eyes. Let all professing churches beware of spiritual adultery, as they would escape its penalty.
Bridgeway Bible Dictionary 
The teaching of the Bible is that sexual relations are lawful only between husband and wife. A sexual relation between two people who are not married is usually called fornication; a sexual relation between a married person and someone other than that person’s marriage partner is usually called adultery ( Exodus 20:14; Romans 12:9; Romans 12:20; Galatians 5:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4; see also Fornication ).
Old Testament regulations
According to the law of Moses, the punishment for adultery was death by stoning ( Leviticus 20:10; John 8:3-5). Where there was a suspicion of adultery but no clear evidence, Israelite law set out a special procedure by which a priest could determine the case ( Numbers 5:11-31).
The engaged as well as the married were considered adulterers if they had sexual relations with third parties. Again the penalty was death. The one exception was the case of a woman who had been raped ( Deuteronomy 22:22-27).
Adultery was a sin against one’s own marriage partner ( Malachi 2:11; Malachi 2:14; cf. Hosea 2:2), as well as against the marriage partner of the new lover ( Exodus 20:14; Exodus 20:17; 2 Samuel 12:9; Proverbs 6:32-35). Unfaithfulness was at the centre of all adultery. The Old Testament prophets repeatedly spoke of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God as spiritual adultery, or spiritual prostitution ( Jeremiah 5:7; Jeremiah 23:10; Ezekiel 16:30-38; Ezekiel 23:4-5; Ezekiel 23:11; Hosea 9:1; see Prostitution ).
New Testament teachings
Like the Old Testament, the New Testament looks upon marriage as a permanent union. Therefore, the person who divorced and remarried was considered guilty of adultery ( Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18; Romans 7:2-4). The exception that Jesus allowed concerned the case where persistent adulterous behaviour by one partner had already virtually destroyed the marriage ( Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:7-9; see also Divorce ). Jesus said that even the desire to have unlawful sexual relations was a form of adultery. Therefore, the best way to avoid adulterous acts was to avoid adulterous thoughts ( Matthew 5:27-30; Matthew 15:19; cf. Exodus 20:17; James 1:14-15).
Paul pointed out that Christians in particular should avoid all immoral sexual relations, since their bodies are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and they themselves belong to Christ. For the Christian, there is a sense in which sexual sin is spiritual prostitution ( 1 Corinthians 6:13-20).
Although the New Testament announces God’s judgment on those who are immoral and adulterous ( Hebrews 13:4; 2 Peter 2:14), it also shows that God is ready to forgive those who, in sorrow for their sin, turn to him for mercy ( 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Jesus rebuked the self-righteous who condemned adulterers but who could not see their own sin. At the same time he gave sympathetic support to those who acknowledged their sin and repented of it ( Matthew 9:11-13; Luke 18:9-14; John 8:3-11; cf. Romans 2:22).
Christians may rightly condemn adultery, but, remembering their own weaknesses, they should also forgive those who repent of their adultery. More than that, they should give them understanding and support as they try to re-establish their lives ( 2 Corinthians 2:7; Galatians 6:1-2; Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 4:32).
Charles Buck Theological Dictionary 
1. An unlawful commerce between one married person and another, or between a married and an unmarried person.
2. It is also used in Scripture for idolatry, or departing from the true God. Jeremiah 3:9 .
3. Also for any species of impurity or crime against the virtue of chastity. Matthew 5:28 .
4. It is also used in ecclesiastical writer's for a person's invading or intruding into a bishoprick during the former bishop's life.
5. The word is also used in ancient customs for the punishment or fine imposed for that offence, or the privilege of prosecuting for it.
Although adultery is prohibited by the law of God, yet some have endeavored to explain away the moral turpitude of it; but it is evident, observes Paley, that, on the part of the man who solicits the chastity of a married woman, it certainly includes the crime of seduction, and is attended with mischief still more extensive and complicated: it creates a new sufferer, the injured husband, upon whose affection is inflicted a wound the most painful and incurable that human nature knows. The infidelity of the woman is aggravated by cruelty to her children, who are generally involved in their parents' shame, and always made unhappy by their quarrel. The marriage vow is witnessed before God, and accompanied with circumstances of solemnity and religion, which approach to the nature of an oath. The married offender, therefore, incurs a crime little short of perjury, and the seduction of a married woman is little less than subornation of perjury. But the strongest apology for adultery is, the prior transgression of the other party; and so far, indeed, as the bad effects of adultery are anticipated by the conduct of the husband or wife who offends first, the guilt of the second offender is extenuated.
But this can never amount to a justification, unless it could be shown that the obligation of the marriage vow depends upon the condition of reciprocal fidelity; a construction which appears founded neither in expediency, nor in terms of the vow, nor in the design of the legislature, which prescribed the marriage rite. To consider the offence upon the footing of provocation, therefore, can by no means vindicate retaliation. "Thou shalt not commit adultery, " it must ever be remembered, was an interdict delivered by God himself. This crime has been punished in almost all ages and nations. By the Jewish law it was punished with death in both parties, where either the woman was married, or both. Among the Egyptians, adultery in the man was punished by a thousand lashes with rods, and in the woman by the loss of her nose. The Greeks put out the eyes of the adulterers. Among the Romans, it was punished by banishment, cutting off the ears, noses, and by sewing the adulterers into sacks, and throwing them into the sea, scourging, burning, &c. In Spain and Poland they were almost as severe. The Saxons formerly burnt the adulteress, and over her ashes erected a gibbet, whereon the adulterer was hanged. King Edmund in this kingdom, ordered adultery to be punished in the same manner as homicide. Canute ordered the man to be banished, and the woman to have her nose and ears cut off. Modern punishments, in different nations, do not seem to be so severe. In Britain it is reckoned a spiritual offence, and is cognizable by the spiritual courts, where it is punished by fine and penance.
See Paley's Moral and Political Philosophy, p. 309, vol. 1: 12th edition.
Holman Bible Dictionary 
Old Testament Israel's covenant law prohibited adultery ( Exodus 20:14 ) and thereby made faithfulness to the marriage relationship central in the divine will for human relationships. Many Old Testament regulations deal with adultery as the adulterous man's offense against the husband of the adulterous wife. Yet both the adulterous man and woman were viewed as guilty, and the punishment of death was prescribed for both ( Leviticus 20:10 ). The severity of the punishment indicates the serious consequences adultery has for the divine-human relationship ( Psalm 51:4 ) as well as for marriage, family, and community relationships.
Several Old Testament prophets used adultery as a metaphor to describe unfaithfulness to God. Idolatry ( Ezekiel 23:27 ) and other pagan religious practices ( Jeremiah 3:6-10 ) were viewed as adulterous unfaithfulness to the exclusive covenant that God established with His people. To engage in such was to play the harlot ( Hosea 4:11-14 ).
New Testament Jesus' teachings expanded the Old Testament law to address matters of the heart. Adultery has its origins within ( Matthew 15:19 ), and lust is as much a violation of the law's intent as is illicit sexual intercourse ( Matthew 5:27-28 ). Adultery is one of the “works of the flesh” ( Galatians 5:19 ). It creates enmity with God ( James 4:4 ), and adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God ( 1 Corinthians 6:9 ).
The New Testament associates remarriage after divorce and adultery. Marriage is a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman. Divorce does not break the bond, so remarriage is viewed as adultery except in cases where unfaithfulness was the reason for the divorce ( Matthew 5:32; Mark 10:11-12 ). The marriage bond is broken by death ( Romans 7:3; 1 Corinthians 7:39 ).
Adulterers can be forgiven ( John 8:3-11 ); and once sanctified through repentance, faith, and God's grace, they are included among God's people ( 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ). See Divorce , Marriage .
Morrish Bible Dictionary 
This was forbidden in the ten commandments; but neither there nor anywhere else is the sin defined. It seems clear, that as far as the man was concerned, if he had intercourse with a woman unless it was with a married woman, he would not be charged with adultery, though he himself might be married; indeed how could he be when he was allowed more wives than one, as well as concubines and slaves? If he committed adultery with a married woman or with one betrothed, both were to be put to death. Deuteronomy 22:22-24 . With the woman it was stricter, she must have no intercourse with any man but her husband. If a man was jealous of his wife there was the ordeal of the bitter waters provided to test her innocence. Numbers 5:11-31 . But we do not read that any man or woman was stoned for adultery, nor that any woman drank the bitter waters. We know from the New Testament that Moses had, because of the hardness of their hearts, allowed a certain looseness, and a man could divorce his wife forany cause, which was easier than bringing a suspected wife to trial. It may be that the men themselves had not good consciences, like those who brought the adulterous woman to the Lord in John 8:3 . We have a dreadful picture of guiltiness in Judges 19 : and Jeremiah charges Israel with being "as fed horses in the morning, every one neighed after his neighbour's wife," which loudly called for judgement. Jeremiah 5:8; Jeremiah 13:27 . The Lord declared that a man morally committed adultery (or fornication) in his heart if he lusted after a woman. Adultery had also a typical meaning. Israel had been espoused to Jehovah, but instead of being a faithful wife she had sought other lovers. "With their idols have they committed adultery." Ezekiel 23:37 . So the false church, who has Jezebel in her midst, the Lord will cast her "and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds." Revelation 2:22 .
Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary 
The law of Moses made this crime capital, both to the man and woman; and upon clear proof, they were both to be put to death. ( Leviticus 20:10) It is somewhat remarkable, however, that in the case of the adulteress brought to Christ, we hear nothing of the man. Was it the case then, as it is but too generally now, that both the sin and the shame are thrown, with fulness of every thing blameable, upon women, while the seducers and more worthless, pass off unrebuked? yea, to the disgrace of human nature, not unfrequently applauded! Not so in thine eye, blessed Lord Jesus! (See John 8:1; Joh 8:11) It should be remarked under this article, that beside this natural adultery, noticed in the Scripture, there is a spiritual fornication of which the Lord complains, which is idolatry. (See Jeremiah 3:9; Ezekiel 23:37; Hosea 2:2) Reader! if Jesus be the husband, that is, as the prophet calls him, the John of his people, who would forsake him for the idols of a dying world? ( Hosea 2:16-17)
King James Dictionary 
ADUL'TERY, n. L. adulterium. See Adulterate.
1. Violation of the marriage bed a crime, or a injury, which introduces, or may introduce, into a family, a spurious offspring.
By the laws of Connecticut, the sexual intercourse of any man, with a married woman, is the crime of adultery in both: such intercourse of a married man, with an unmarried woman, is fornication in both, and adultery of the man, within the meaning of the law respecting divorce but not a felonious adultery in either, or the crime of adultery at common law, or by statute. This latter offense is, in England, proceeded with only in the ecclesiastical courts.
In common usage, adultery means the unfaithfulness of any married person to the marriage bed. In England, Parliament grant absolute divorces for infidelity to the marriage bed in either party and the spiritual courts divorce a mensa et thoro.
2. In a scriptural sense, all manner of lewdness or unchastity, as in the seventh commandment. 3. In scripture, idolatry, or apostasy from the true God. Jeremiah 3 . 4. In old laws, the fine and penalty imposed for the offense of adultery. 5. In ecclesiastical affairs, the intrusion of a person into a bishopric, during the life of the bishop. 6. Among ancient naturalists, the grafting of trees was called adultery, being considered as an unnatural union.
Smith's Bible Dictionary 
Adultery. Exodus 20:14. The parties to this crime, according to Jewish law, were a married woman and a man who was not her husband. The Mosaic penalty was that both the guilty parties should be stoned, and it applied as well to the betrothed as to the married woman, provided she were free. Deuteronomy 22:22-24.
A bondwoman so offending was to be scourged, and the man was to make a Trespass Offering. Leviticus 19:20-22. At a later time, and when, owing to a Gentile example, the marriage tie became a looser bond of union, public feeling in regard to adultery changed, and the penalty of death was seldom or never inflicted. The famous trial by the water(s) of jealousy , Numbers 5:11-29, was probably an ancient custom, which Moses found deeply seated.
(But this ordeal was wholly in favor of the innocent, and exactly opposite to most ordeals. For the water which the accused drank was perfectly harmless, and only by a miracle, could it produce a bad effect; while in most ordeals, the accused must suffer what naturally produces death, and be proved innocent only by a miracle. Symbolically, adultery is used to express unfaithfulness to covenant vows to God, who is represented as the husband of his people).
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary 
Is a criminal connection between persons who are engaged, one or both, to keep themselves wholly to others; and thus it exceeds the guilt of fornication, which is the same intercourse between unmarried persons. As the highest sin of its kind, and son including all other sins of the flesh, it is forbidden in the seventh commandment. Where polygamy was allowed, as among the ancient Jews, illicit intercourse between a married man and a woman who was not married, nor betrothed, constituted not adultery, but fornication.
Fornication may be, in some sense, covered by a subsequent marriage of the parties; but adultery cannot be so healed. Hence God often compares himself to a husband jealous of his honor, Jeremiah 31:32; and hence the forsaking of the true God is compared to fornication and adultery of the vilest kind, Jeremiah 3:9; Ezekiel 23:36-49 .
By the Law of Moses, both the man and the woman who had committed adultery were punished with death, Leviticus 20:10; 21:9; John 8:5 . A woman suspected of this crime might, in order to clear herself, drink the "water of jealousy," as prescribed in Numbers 5:1-31 .
People's Dictionary of the Bible 
Adultery. Strictly denotes uncleanness between a man and a woman, either of whom is married. Broadly, it includes all manner of unchastity in heart, speech, or behavior. Matthew 5:27-28. According to the law of God, given by Moses, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. Leviticus 20:10. The mode of testing a charge made by a man accusing his wife of adultery is given, Numbers 5:12-31. Christ says that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. Matthew 5:28. In many parts of the Scripture the church is called an adulteress when she forsakes the worship of God and practices idolatry. Isaiah 57:3-12; Jeremiah 3:1-2; Jeremiah 3:9; Jeremiah 13:27; Ezekiel 23:27; Matthew 12:39, etc. By our Saviour adultery was made the only ground for divorce.
Easton's Bible Dictionary 
The Mosaic law ( Numbers 5:11-31 ) prescribed that the suspected wife should be tried by the ordeal of the "water of jealousy." There is, however, no recorded instance of the application of this law. In subsequent times the Rabbis made various regulations with the view of discovering the guilty party, and of bringing about a divorce. It has been inferred from John 8:1-11 that this sin became very common during the age preceding the destruction of Jerusalem.
Idolatry, covetousness, and apostasy are spoken of as adultery spiritually ( Jeremiah 3:6,8,9; Ezekiel 16:32; Hosea 1:2:3;; Revelation 2:22 ). An apostate church is an adulteress ( Isaiah 1:21; Ezekiel 23:4,7,37 ), and the Jews are styled "an adulterous generation" ( Matthew 12:39 ). (Compare Revelation 12 .)
Webster's Dictionary 
(1): (n.) The unfaithfulness of a married person to the marriage bed; sexual intercourse by a married man with another than his wife, or voluntary sexual intercourse by a married woman with another than her husband.
(2): (n.) Lewdness or unchastity of thought as well as act, as forbidden by the seventh commandment.
(3): (n.) Faithlessness in religion.
(4): (n.) The fine and penalty imposed for the offense of adultery.
(5): (n.) Adulteration; corruption.
(6): (n.) The intrusion of a person into a bishopric during the life of the bishop.
(7): (n.) Injury; degradation; ruin.
Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types 
James 4:4 (b) This word in this passage carries a spiritual significance. As those who are married may turn against each other secretly to find another companion, so one who is married to Christ and takes the place of being a Christian may turn against the Saviour and become a lover of the world and the things of Satan.
This is called spiritual adultery. This person professes to be a Christian, takes the place of belonging to CHRIST, but finds his real enjoyment, his love and his pleasure in the things that Satan offers.
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology 
Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible 
ADULTERY . See Crimes, Marriage.
Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament 
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature 
(some form of the verb נָאִ , Naaph ’ , Μοιχεία ), commonly denotes the sexual intercourse of a married woman with any other man than her husband, or of a married man with any other woman than his wife. (See Marriage).
I. Nature Of The Crime. —
1. Jewish. — Among the Hebrews, as in other Oriental nations, adultery was the act whereby any married man was exposed to the risk of having a spurious offspring imposed upon him. An adulterer was, therefore, any man who had illicit intercourse with a married or betrothed woman; and an adulteress was a betrothed or married woman who had intercourse with any other man than her husband. An intercourse between a married man and an unmarried woman was simply fornication — a great sin, but not, like adultery, involving the contingency of polluting a descent, of turning aside an inheritance, or of imposing upon a man a charge which did not belong to him. Adultery was thus considered a great social wrong, against which society protected itself by much severer penalties than attended an unchaste act not involving the same contingencies.
This Oriental limitation of adultery is intimately connected with the existence of polygamy. If a Jew associated with a woman who was not his wife, his concubine, or his slave, he was guilty of unchastity, but committed no offense which gave a wife reason to complain that her legal rights had been infringed. If, however, the woman with whom he associated was the wife of another, he was guilty of adultery — not by infringing his own marriage covenant, but by causing a breach of that which existed between this woman and her husband (Michaelis, Mosaisches Recht, art. 259; Jahn ’ s Arcaologie, Th. 1, b. 2, § 183). (See Polygamy).
2. Roman. — It seems that the Roman law made the same important distinction with the Hebrew between the infidelity of the husband and of the wife, by defining adultery to be the violation of another man ’ s bed (Violatio Tori Alieni); so that the infidelity of the husband could not severe against the offense of the wife, were silent as to that of the husband
(Smith ’ s Dict. of Class. Antiq.). See WIFE.
3. Spiritual. — Adultery, in the symbolical language of the Old Testament, means idolatry and apostasy from the worship of the true God ( Jeremiah 3:8-9; Ezekiel 16:32; Ezekiel 23:37; also Revelation 2:22). Hence an Adulteress meant an apostate Church or city, particularly "the daughter of Jerusalem," or the Jewish Church and people ( Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 3:6; Jeremiah 3:8-9; Ezekiel 16:22; Ezekiel 23:7). This figure resulted from the primary one, which describes the connection between God and his separated people as a marriage between him and them ( Jeremiah 2:2; Jeremiah 3:14; Jeremiah 13:27; Jeremiah 31:32; Hosea 8:9). By an application of the same figure, "an adulterous generation" ( Matthew 12:39; Matthew 16:4; Mark 8:38) means a faithless and impious generation. (See Fornication).
II. Trial Of Adultery. — The Mosaic trial of the suspected wife by the bitter water, called the Water Of Jealousy ( Numbers 5:11-31) — the only ordeal in use among the Israelites, or sanctioned by their law — is to be regarded as an attempt to mitigate and bring under legal control an old custom which could not be entirely abrogated. The forms of Hebrew justice all tended to limit the application of this test.
(1.) By prescribing certain facts presumptive of guilt, to be established on oath by two witnesses, or a preponderating but not conclusive testimony to the fact of the woman ’ s adultery.
(2.) By technical rules of evidence which made proof of those presumptive facts difficult (see the Talmudical tract Sotah, 6, 2-5).
(3.) By exempting certain large classes of women (all, indeed, except a pure Israelitess married to a pure Israelite, and some even of them) from the liability.
(4.) By providing that the trial could only be before the great Sanhedrim (Sotah, 1, 4).
(5.) By investing it with a ceremonial at once humiliating and intimidating, yet which still harmonized with the spirit of the whole ordeal as recorded in Numbers 5; but, the nuptial contract was latterly regarded. (See Simeon, Works, 2, 1.)
When adultery ceased to be capital, as no doubt it did, and divorce became a matter of mere convenience, it would be absurd to suppose that this trial was continued; and when adultery became common, as the Jews themselves confess, it would have been impious to expect the miracle which it supposed. If ever the Sanhedrim were driven by force of circumstances to adopt this trial, no doubt every effort was used, nay, was prescribed (Sotah, 1, 5, 6), to overawe the culprit and induce confession. Nay, even if she submitted to the trial, and was really guilty, some rabbis held that the effect on her might be suspended for years through the merit of some good deed (Sotah, 3, 4-6). Besides, moreover, the intimidation of the woman, the man was likely to feel the public exposure of his suspicions odious and repulsive. Divorce was a ready and quiet remedy; and the only question was, whether the divorce should carry the dowry and the property which she had brought, which was decided by the slight or grave character of the suspicions against her (Sotah, 6, 1; Gemara, Kethuboth, 7, 6; Ugolino, Uxor Heb. c. 7). If the husband were incapable, through derangement, imprisonment, etc., of acting on his own behalf in the matter, the Sanhedrim proceeded in his name as concerned the dowry, but not as concerned the trial by the water of jealousy (Sotah, 4, 6). (See Jealousy).
This ordeal was probably of the kind which we still find in Western Africa, the trial by red water, as it is called, although varying among different nations in minute particulars, and a comparison of the two may suggest the real points of the evil which the law on Moses was designed to rectify, and the real advantages which it was calculated to secure. This ordeal is in some tribes confined to the case of adultery, but in others it is used in all crimes. In Africa the drink, in cases of proper ordeal, is poisonous, and calculated to produce the effects which the oath imprecates; whereas the "water of jealousy," however unpleasant, was prepared in a prescribed manner, with ingredients known to all to be perfectly innocuous. It could not, therefore, injure the innocent; and its action upon the guilty must have resulted from the consciousness of having committed a horrible perjury, which crime, when the oath was so solemnly confirmed by the draught, and attended by such awful imprecations, was believed to be visitable with immediate death from heaven. On the Gold Coast the ordinary oath-drink (not poisonous) is used as a confirmation of all oaths, not only oaths of purgation, but of accusation, or even of obligation. In all cases it is accompanied with an imprecation that the fetish may destroy them if they speak untruly, or do not perform the terms of their obligation; and it is firmly believed that no one who is perjured under this form of oath will live an hour (Villault; Bosman). Doubtless the impression with respect to this mere oath-drink is derived from observation of the effects attending the drink used in the actual ordeal; and the popular opinion regards such an oath as of so solemn a nature that perjury is sure to bring down immediate punishment. The red water, as an ordeal, is confined to crimes of the worst class. These are murder, adultery, witchcraft. Perhaps this arises less from choice than from the fact that such crimes are not only the highest, but are the least capable of that direct proof for which the ordeal is intended as a substitute. A party is accused: if he denies the crime, he is required to drink the red water, and, on refusing, is deemed guilty of the offense. The trial is so much dreaded that innocent persons often confess themselves guilty in order to avoid it. And yet the immediate effect is supposed to result less from the water itself than from the terrible oath with which it is drunk. So the person who drinks the red water invokes the fetish to destroy him if he is really guilty of the offense with which he is charged. The drink is made by an infusion in water of pieces of a certain tree or of herbs, and, if rightly prepared, the only chance of escape is the rejection of it by the stomach, in which case the party is deemed innocent, as he also is if, being retained, it has no sensible effect, which can only be the case when the priests, who have the management of the matter, are influenced by private considerations or by reference to the probabilities of the case, to prepare the draught with a view to acquittal. The imprecations upon the accused if he be guilty are repeated in an awful manner by the priests, and the effect is watched very keenly. If the party seems affected by the draught, like one intoxicated, and begins to foam at the mouth, he is considered undoubtedly guilty, and is slain on the spot; or else he is left to the operation of the poisonous draught, which causes the belly to swell and burst, and occasions death. (Barhot, p. 126; Bosman, p. 148; Artus, in De Bry, 6:62; Villault, p. 191; Corry ’ s Windward Coast, p. 71; Church Missionary Paper, No. 17; Davis ’ s Journal, p. 24.) (See Poison).
Traces of a similar ancient custom may be produced from other quarters. Hesiod (Theogon. 755-95) reports that when a falsehood had been told by any of the gods, Jupiter was wont to send Iris to bring some water out of the river Styx in a golden vessel; upon this an oath was taken, and if the god swore falsely he remained for a whole year without life or motion. There was an ancient temple in Sicily, in which were two very deep basins, called Delli, always full of hot and sulfurous water, but never running over. Here the more solemn oaths were taken; and perjuries were immediately punished most severely (Diod. Sic. 11:67). This is also mentioned by Aristotle, Silius Italicus, Virgil, and Macrobius; and from the first it would seem that the oath was written upon a ticket and cast into the water. The ticket floated if the oath was true, and sunk if it was false. In the latter case the punishment which followed was considered as an act of divine vengeance (q.v.). (See Oath).
The trial for suspected adultery by the bitter water amounted to this, that a woman suspected of adultery by her husband was allowed to repel the charge by a public oath of purgation, which oath was designedly made so solemn in itself, and was attended by such awful circumstances, that it was in the highest degree unlikely that it would be dared by any woman not supported by the consciousness of innocence. And the fact that no instance of the actual application of the ordeal occurs in Scripture affords some countenance to the assertion of the Jewish writers, that the trial was so much dreaded by the women that those who were really guilty generally avoided it by confession; and that thus the trial itself early fell into disuse. And if this mode of trial was only tolerated by Moses, the ultimate neglect of it must have been desired and intended by him. In later times, indeed, it was disputed in the Jewish schools, whether the husband was bound to prosecute his wife to this extremity, or whether it was not lawful for him to connive at and pardon her act, if he were so inclined. There were some who held that he was bound by his duty to prosecute, while others maintained that it was left to his pleasure (Sotah, 16, 2). From the same source we learn that this form of trial was finally abrogated about forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem (see Wagenseil ’ s Sota, containing a copious commentary, with full illustrations of this subject, from rabbinical sources, Altdorf, 1674). The reason assigned is, that the men themselves were at that time generally adulterous, and that God would not fulfill the imprecations of the ordeal oath upon the wife while the husband was guilty of the same crime ( John 8:1-8). (See Ordeal).
III. Penalties Of Adultery. —
1. Jewish. — By excluding from the name and punishment of adultery the offense which did Not involve the enormous wrong of imposing upon a man a supposititious offspring, in a nation where the succession to landed property went entirely by birth, so that a father could not by his testament alienate it from any one who was regarded as his son, the law was enabled, with less severity than if the inferior offense had been included, to punish the crime with death. It is still so punished wherever the practice of polygamy has similarly operated in limiting the crime — not, perhaps, that the law expressly assigns that punishment, but it recognises the right of the injured party to inflict it, and, in fact, leaves it, in a great degree, in his hands. Now death was the punishment of adultery before the time of Moses; and, if he had assigned a less punishment, his law would have been inoperative, for private vengeance, sanctioned by usage, would still have inflicted death. But by adopting it into the law, those restrictions were imposed upon its operation: which necessarily arise when the calm inquiry of public justice is substituted for the impulsive action of excited hands. Thus death would be less frequently inflicted; and that this effect followed seems to be implied in the fact that the whole Biblical history offers no example of capital punishment for the crime. Indeed, Lightfoot goes farther, and remarks, "I do not remember that I have anywhere, in the Jewish Pandect, met with an example of a wife punished for adultery with death. There is mention (in the Talmud, Sanhed. 242) of the daughter of a certain priest burned for committing fornication in her father ’ s house; but she was not married" (Hor. Hebr. ad Matthew 19:8). Eventually, divorce superseded all other punishment. There are, indeed, some grounds for thinking that this had happened before the time of Christ, and we throw it out as a matter of inquiry, whether the Scribes and Pharisees, in attempting to entrap Christ in the matter of the woman taken in adultery (see infra), did not intend to put him between the alternatives of either declaring for the revival of a practice which had already become obsolete, but which the law was supposed to command, or of giving his sanction to the apparent infraction of the law, which the substitution of divorce involved ( John 8:1-11). In Matthew 5:32, Christ seems to assume that the practice of divorce for adultery already existed. In later times it certainly did; and Jews who were averse to part with their adulterous wives were compelled to put them away (Maimon. in Gerushin, c. 2). In the passage just referred to our Lord does not appear to render divorce compulsory, even in case of adultery; he only permits it in that case alone, by forbidding it in every other. (See Divorce).
In the law which assigns the punishment of death to adultery ( Leviticus 20:10), the mode in which that punishment should be inflicted is not specified, because it was known from custom. It was not, however, strangulation, as the Talmudists contend, but stoning, as we may learn from various passages of Scripture (e.g. Ezekiel 16:38; Ezekiel 16:40; John 8:5); and as, in fact, Moses himself testifies, if we compare Exodus 31:14; Exodus 35:2, with Numbers 15:35-36. If the adulteress was a slave, the guilty parties were both scourged with a leathern whip, the number of blows not exceeding forty. In this instance the adulterer, in addition to the scourging, was subject to the further penalty of bringing a trespass offering (a ram) to the door of the tabernacle, to be offered in his behalf by the priest ( Leviticus 19:20-22). Those who wish to enter into the reasons of this distinction in favor of the slave may consult Michaelis (Mosaisches Recht, art. 264). We only observe that the Moslem law, derived from old Arabian usage, only inflicts upon a slave, for this and other crimes, half the punishment incurred by a free person. (See Slavery),
The system of inheritances, on which the polity of Moses was based, was threatened with confusion by the doubtful offspring caused by this crime, and this secured popular sympathy on the side of morality until a far advanced stage of corruption was reached. Yet, from stoning being made the penalty, we may suppose that the exclusion of private revenge was intended. It is probable that, when that territorial basis of polity passed away — as it did after the captivity — and when, owing to Gentile example, the marriage tie became a looser bond of union, public feeling in regard to adultery changed, and the penalty of death was seldom or never inflicted. Thus, in the case of the woman brought under our Lord ’ s notice
(John 8), it is likely that no one then thought of stoning her, in fact, but there remained the written law ready for the purpose of the caviller. It is likely, also, that a divorce in which the adulteress lost her dower (See Dowry), and rights of maintenance, etc. (Gemara, Kethuboth, cap. 7:6), was the usual remedy suggested by a wish to avoid scandal and the excitement of commiseration for crime. The word Παραδειγματίσαι ("make a public example," Matthew 1:19) probably means to bring the case before the local Sanhedrim, which was the usual course, (See Trial), but which Joseph did Not propose to take, preferring repudiation (Buxtorf, De Spons. Et Divort. 3, 1-4), because that could be managed privately (Xciapa ).
2. Roman. — As the Roman civil law defined adultery to be "the violation of another man ’ s bed," the husband ’ s incontinence could not constitute the offense. The punishment was left to the discretion of the husband and parents of the adulteress, who, under the old law, could be put to death. The most usual mode of taking revenge against the man offending was by mutilating, castrating, or cutting off the nose or ears. The punishment assigned by the lex Julia de adulteris, instituted by Augustus, was banishment, or a heavy fine. It was decreed by Antoninus, that to sustain a charge of adultery against a wife, the husband who brought it must be innocent himself. The offense was not capital until made so by Constantine, in imitation of the Jewish law. Under Macrinus, adulterers were burnt at the stake. Under Constantius and Constans they were burnt, or sewed up in sacks and thrown into the sea. But the punishment was mitigated, under Leo and Marcian, to perpetual banishment or cutting off the nose; and, under Justinian, the wife was only to be scourged, lose her dower, and be shut up in a monastery; or, at the expiration of two years, the husband might take her back again; if he refused, she was shaven, and made a nun for life. Theodosius instituted the shocking practice of public constupration, which, however, he soon abolished.
3. Other Ancient Nations. — The punishment of cutting off the nose brings to mind the passage in which the prophet Ezekiel ( Ezekiel 23:25) after, in the name of the Lord, reproving Israel and Judah for their adulteries (i.e. idolatries) with the Assyrians and Chaldeans, threatens the punishment, "they shall take away thy nose and thy ears," which Jerome states was actually the punishment of adultery in those nations. One or both of these mutilations, most generally that of the nose, were also inflicted by other nations, as the Persians and Egyptians, and even the Romans; but we suspect that among the former, as with the latter, it was less a judicial punishment than a summary infliction by the aggrieved party ( A En. 6, 496). It would also seem that these mutilations were more usually inflicted on the male than the female adulterer. In Egypt, however, cutting off the nose was the female punishment, and the man was beaten terribly with rods (Diod. Sic. 1:89, 90). The respect with which the conjugal union was treated in that country in the earliest times is manifested in the history of Abraham ( Genesis 12:19). (See Harem).
The Greeks put out the eyes of the adulterers. In Crete adulterers were covered with wool as an emblem of their effeminacy, and carried in that dress to the magistrate ’ s house, where a fine was imposed on them, and they were deprived of all their privileges and their share in public business. (See Punishment). 4. Modern. — Among savage nations at the present day the penalties of adultery are generally severe. The Mohammedan code pronounces it a capital offense. It is one of the three crimes which the prophet directs to be expiated by the blood of a Mussulman. In some parts of India it is said that any woman may prostitute herself for an elephant, and it is reputed no small glory to have been rated so high. Adultery is stated to be extremely frequent in Ceylon, although punishable with death. Among the Japanese and some other nations it is punishable only in the woman. On the contrary, in the Marian Islands, the woman is not punishable, but the man is, and the wife and her relations waste his lands, burn him out of his house, etc. Among the Chinese it is said that adultery is not capital; parents will even make a contract with the future husbands of their daughters to allow them the indulgence.
In Portugal an adulteress was condemned to the flames; but the sentence was seldom executed. By the ancient laws of France this crime was punishable with death. Before the Revolution the adulteress was usually condemned to a convent, where the husband could visit her during two years, and take her back if he saw fit. If he did not choose to receive her again by the expiration of this time, her hair was shaven, she took the habit of the convent, and remained there for life. Where the parties were poor she might be shut up in a hospital instead of a convent. The Code Napoleon does not allow the husband to proceed against his wife in case he has been condemned for the same crime. The wife can bring an action against the husband only in case he has introduced his paramour into the house where she resides. An adulteress can be imprisoned from three months to two years, but the husband may prevent the execution of the sentence by taking her back. Her partner in guilt is liable to the same punishment. Castration was the punishment in Spain. In Poland, previous to the establishment of Christianity, the criminal was carried to the market- place, and there fastened by the testicles with a nail; a razor was laid within his reach, and he had the option to execute justice on himself or remain where he was and die. The Saxons consigned the adulteress to the flames, and over her ashes erected a gibbet, on which her paramour was hanged. King Edmund the Saxon ordered adultery to be punished in the same manner as homicide; and Canute the Dane ordered that the man should be banished, and the woman have her ears and nose cut off. In the time of Henry I it was punished with the loss of the eyes and genitals. Adultery is in England considered as a spiritual offense, cognizable by the spiritual courts, where it is punished by fine and penance. The common law allows the party aggrieved only an action and damages. In the United States the punishment of adultery has varied materially at different times, and differs according to the statutes of the several states. Adultery is, moreover, very seldom punished criminally in the United States.
5. Ecclesiastical. — Constantine qualified adultery as a sacrilege which was to be punished with death. His successors went farther, and placed it on a level with parricide. But the definition of adultery remained, in general, confined to the infidelity of the wife and her accomplice, and for a long time the Church did not succeed in establishing with the Romanic nations the conviction that the infidelity of either party deserved an equal punishment. This principle was, on the other hand, carried through in the codes of most of the Christian Germanic States. The penalty was in all cases very severe, and, if there were aggravating circumstances, death. Later, especially since the eighteenth century, the penalty was reduced in all legislations to imprisonment. The canon law punished both adulterer and adulteress with excommunication, and a clergyman who was an accomplice with imprisonment for lifetime. Protestant churches, which are not impeded in the exercise of their jurisdiction by a connection with the state, generally exclude persons guilty of adultery from church membership; while state churches are mostly prevented, in this case as in others, from taking any measures. (See Decalogue).
According to the canons of the Roman Church a clerk guilty of adultery was punishable by deposition and perpetual imprisonment in a monastery. Since the Reformation clerks have been deprived of their benefices for the sin of adultery. (See Stillingfleet, Eccl. Cases, p. 82.) (See Celibacy).
In the opinion of the Oriental Churches the marriage tie is broken by the sin of adultery, so that the husband of an adulterous wife may marry again during her lifetime. This opinion is founded on Matthew 19:9. The contrary doctrine is taught by the Western Churches (Augustine, lib. 2, De Adult. Conjug. cap. 13). See Tebbs, Scripture Doctrine Of Adultery And Divorce (Lond. 1822, 8vo). (See Matrimony).
IV. Adulteress In The Gospel. — A remarkable example under the Jewish law in cases of this offense occurs in the account of the "woman taken in adultery" (Γυνὴ Ἐν Μοιχείᾷ Κατειλημμένη ), given by one of the evangelists ( John 7:53 to John 8:11), from which some have even erroneously inferred that our Savior regarded her act as venial — a view that is ably refuted by Paley (Moral Philosophy, vol. 1). It is true, great doubts exist as to the genuineness of the entire passage (see the dissertations of Dettmers, Vindiciae Αὐθεντίας , etc., Frnkft. ad V. 1793; Stiludlin, Pericope De Adultera Veritas Et Authentia Defenditur, Gotting. 1806), as it is omitted in very many of the early MSS. and versions, and greatly corrupted in others (see Tischendorf, 7th ed. in loc.), and rejected by numerous critics of note; yet, as it is retained in some good texts and editions, and as its presence cannot be explained by ascetic or monkish predilections (since it is not only without a trace of the rigor of these, but appears so lax in its doctrine as to involve serious difficulty in its adjustment to the ethics of all who could have been the authors of the interpolation), it seems to present strong claims to, being true history, if not entitled to its place in the evangelical narrative (see Tregelles, Account of the Text of the N.T. p. 236-242). See the arguments and advocates on both sides in Kuinol, Comment. in loc. (See John).
From this narrative, many have supposed that the woman ’ s accusers were themselves guilty of the crime (at that time very common, Mark 8:38; comp. Matthew 19:10) which they alleged against her; and as it was not just to receive the accusations of those who are guilty of the evil of which they accuse others, our Lord dismissed them with the most obvious propriety. But it seems enough to suppose that the consciences of these witnesses accused them of such crimes as restrained their hands from punishing the adulteress, who, perhaps, was guilty, in this instance, of a less enormous sin than they were conscious of, though of another kind. It may be, too, that their malevolent design to entrap our Lord was appealed to by him, and was no slight cause of their confusion, if they wished to found a charge which might affect his life. Their intended murder was worse than the woman ’ s adultery; especially if, as there is reason to believe, the woman had suffered some violence. See Stoning See Lesle, De historia adultere (Fkft. ad V. 1662); Osiander, De historia adultery, non adulterina (Tubing. 1751); Scherzer, De historia adultere (Lips. 1682, 1727); Dieck, Geschichte v. der Ehebrecherin vom jur. Standpunkte, in Ullmann ’ s Stud. u. Krit. 1832, p. 791822; Hug, De conjugii christ. vinculo indissolubili (Frib. 1816), p. 22 sq.; Schulthess, Ueb. d. Perikope v. d. Ehebrecherin, in Winer ’ s N. Krit. Journ. v. 257314; Heumann, Interpretatio Γεωγραφίας Christi (Gotting. 1738); Hilliger, De Scriptione Christi In Terram (Viteb. 1672). Compare Lampe, Comment. in loc. also Alford, Olshausen, Licke, Meyer, and Tholuck, in loc. For further illustration, consult Saurin, Discours, 10, 40; Pitman, Lect. p. 407; Bragg, Miracles, 2, 227; Crit. Sac. Thes. Nov. 2, 494; Bp. Horne, Disc. 3, 335; Enfield, Sermons, 3, 202; Simeon, Works, 13, 429; Spencer, Serm. p. 188; Moysey, Serm. p. 249; Williams, Serm. 2, 266. (See Wedlock).
Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature 
In the common acceptation of the word, adultery denotes the sexual intercourse of a married woman with any other man than her husband, or of a married man with any other woman than his wife. But the crime is not understood in this extent among Eastern nations, nor was it so understood by the Jews. With them, adultery was the act whereby any married man was exposed to the risk of having a spurious offspring imposed upon him. An adulterer was, therefore, any man who had illicit intercourse with a married or betrothed woman; and an adulteress was a betrothed or married woman who had intercourse with any other man than her husband. An intercourse between a married man and an unmarried woman was not, as with us, deemed adultery, but fornication; a great sin, but not, like adultery, involving the contingency of polluting a descent, of turning aside an inheritance, or of imposing upon a man a charge which did not belong to him. Adultery was thus considered a great social wrong, against which society protected itself by much severer penalties than attended an unchaste act not involving the same contingencies.
It will be seen that this Oriental limitation of adultery is intimately connected with the existence of polygamy. If adultery be defined as a breach of the marriage covenant, then, where the contract is between one man and one woman, as in Christian countries, the man as much as the woman infringes the covenant, or commits adultery, by every act of intercourse with any other woman: but where polygamy is allowed, where the husband may marry other wives, and take to himself concubines and slaves, the marriage contract cannot and does not convey to the woman a legal title that the man should belong to her alone. If, therefore, a Jew associated with a woman who was not his wife, his concubine, or his slave, he was guilty of unchastity, but committed no offence which gave a wife reason to complain that her legal rights had been infringed. If, however, the woman with whom he associated was the wife of another, he was guilty of adultery, not by infringing his own marriage covenant, but by causing a breach of that which existed between that woman and her husband. By thus excluding from the name and punishment of adultery the offence which did not involve the enormous wrong of imposing upon a man a supposititious offspring, in a nation where the succession to landed property went entirely by birth, so that a father could not by his testament alienate it from anyone who was regarded as his son—the law was enabled, with less severity than if the inferior offence had been included, to punish the crime with death. It is still so punished wherever the practice of polygamy has similarly operated in limiting the crime—not, perhaps, that the law expressly assigns that punishment, but it recognizes the right of the injured party to inflict it, and, in fact, leaves it, in a great degree, in his hands. Now death was the punishment of adultery before the time of Moses; and if he had assigned a less punishment, his law would have been inoperative, for private vengeance, sanctioned by usage, would still have inflicted death. But by adopting it into the law, those restrictions were imposed upon its operation which necessarily arise when the calm inquiry of public justice is substituted for the impulsive action of excited hands. Thus, death would be less frequently inflicted; and that this effect followed seems to be implied in the fact that the whole biblical history offers no example of capital punishment for the crime. Eventually, divorce superseded all other punishment.
It seems that the Roman law made the same important distinction with the Hebrew, between the infidelity of the husband and of the wife. 'Adultery' was defined by the civilians to be the violation of another man's bed, so that the infidelity of the husband to his own wife could not alone constitute the offence.
It is understood that the crime was punished among the Assyrians and Chaldeans by cutting off the nose and the ears; and this brings to mind the passage in which the prophet Ezekiel ( Ezekiel 23:25), after, in the name of the Lord, reproving Israel and Judah for their adulteries (i.e. idolatries) with the Assyrians and Chaldeans, threatens the punishment, 'they shall take away thy nose and thy ears.' One or both of these mutilations, most generally that of the nose, were also inflicted by other nations, as the Persians and Egyptians, and even the Romans; but we suspect that among the former, as with the latter, it was less a judicial punishment than a summary infliction by the aggrieved party. It would also seem that these mutilations were more usually inflicted on the male than the female adulterer. In Egypt, however, cutting off the nose was the female punishment, and the man was beaten terribly with rods. The respect with which the conjugal union was treated in that country in the earliest times is manifested in the history of Abraham ( Genesis 12:19).
Adultery, Trial of
It would be unjust to the spirit of the Mosaic legislation to suppose that the trial of the suspected wife by the bitter water, called the Water of Jealousy, was by it first produced. It is to be regarded as an attempt to mitigate the evils of, and to bring under legal control, an old custom which could not be entirely abrogated.
The original usage, which it was designed to mitigate, was probably of the kind which we still find in Western Africa, where, when a party is accused of murder, adultery, or witchcraft, if he denies the crime, he is required to drink the red water, and on refusing is deemed guilty of the offence. But in Africa the drink is highly poisonous in itself, and, if rightly prepared, the only chance of escape is the rejection of it by the stomach, whereas, among the Hebrews, the 'water of jealousy,' however unpleasant, was prepared in a prescribed manner with ingredients known to all to be perfectly innocent. It could not therefore injure the innocent, and its action upon the guilty must have resulted, not from the effects of the drink itself, but from the consciousness of having committed a horrible perjury. As regulated, then, by the law of Moses, the trial for suspected adultery by the bitter water amounted to this, that a woman suspected of adultery by her husband was allowed to repel the charge by a public oath of purgation, which oath was designedly made so solemn in itself, and was attended by such awful circumstances, that it was in the highest degree unlikely that it would be dared by any woman not supported by the consciousness of innocence. And the fact that no instance of the actual application of the ordeal occurs in Scripture, affords some countenance to the assertion of the Jewish writers, that the trial was so much dreaded by the women, that those who were really guilty generally avoided it by confession; and that thus the trial itself early fell into disuse. And if, as we have supposed, this mode of trial was only tolerated by Moses, the ultimate neglect of it must have been desired and intended by him. In later times, indeed, it was disputed in the Jewish schools, whether the husband was bound to prosecute his wife to this extremity, or whether it was not lawful for him to connive at and pardon her act, if he were so inclined. There were some who held that he was bound by his duty to prosecute, while others maintained that it was left to his pleasure.
From the same source we learn that this form of trial was finally abrogated about forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem. The reason assigned is, that the men themselves were at that time generally adulterous; and that God would not fulfill the imprecations of the ordeal oath upon the wife while the husband was guilty of the same crime ( John 8:1-8).
Adultery, in the symbolical language of the Old Testament, means idolatry and apostasy from the worship of the true God ( Jeremiah 3:8-9; Ezekiel 16:32; Ezekiel 23:37; also Revelation 2:22). Hence an Adulteress meant an apostate church or city, particularly 'the daughter of Jerusalem,' or the Jewish church and people ( Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 3:6; Jeremiah 3:8-9; Ezekiel 16:22; Ezekiel 23:7). This figure resulted from the primary one, which describes the connection between God and his separated people as a marriage between Him and them. By an application of the same figure, 'An adulterous generation' ( Matthew 12:39; Matthew 16:4; Mark 8:38) means a faithless and impious generation.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 
a - dul´tẽr - ı̄ : In Scripture designates sexual intercourse of a man, whether married or unmarried, with a married woman.
1. Its Punishment
It is categorically prohibited in the Decalogue (seventh commandment, Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18 ): "Thou shalt not commit adultery." In more specific language we read: "And thou shalt not he carnally with thy neighbor's wife, to defile thyself with her" ( Leviticus 18:20 ). The penalty is death for both guilty parties: "And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death" ( Leviticus 20:10 ). The manner of death is not particularized; according to the rabbis (Siphra' at the place; Ṣanhedhrı̄n 52b) it is strangulation. It would seem that in the days of Jesus the manner of death was interpreted to mean stoning ("Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such," John 8:5 , said of the woman taken in adultery). Nevertheless, it may be said that in the case in question the woman may have been a virgin betrothed unto a husband, the law (in Deuteronomy 22:23 ) providing that such a person together with her paramour be stoned to death (contrast Deuteronomy 22:22 , where a woman married to a husband is spoken of and the manner of death is again left general). Ezekiel 16:40 (compare Ezekiel 23:47 ) equally mentions stoning as the penalty of the adulteress; but it couples to her sin also that of shedding blood; hence, the rabbinic interpretation is not necessarily disputed by the prophet. Of course it may also be assumed that a difference of custom may have obtained at different times and that the progress was in the line of leniency, strangulation being regarded as a more humane form of execution than stoning.
2. Trial by Ordeal
The guilty persons become amenable to the death penalty only when taken "in the very act" ( John 8:4 ). The difficulty of obtaining direct legal evidence is adverted to by the rabbis (see Makkōth 7a). In the case of a mere suspicion on the part of the husband, not substantiated by legal evidence, the woman is compelled by the law (Nu 5:11-30) to submit to an ordeal, or God's judgment, which consists in her drinking the water of bitterness, that is, water from the holy basin mingled with dust from the floor of the sanctuary and with the washed-off ink of a writing containing the oath which the woman has been made to repeat. The water is named bitter with reference to its effects in the case of the woman's guilt; on the other hand, when no ill effects follow, the woman is proved innocent and the husband's jealousy unsubstantiated. According to the Mishna ( Ṣōṭāh 9) this ordeal of the woman suspected of adultery was abolished by Johanan ben Zaccai (after 70 ad), on the ground that the men of his generation were not above the suspicion of impurity. See article Bitter; Bitterness .
3. A H einous Crime
Adultery was regarded as a heinous crime ( Job 31:11 ). The prophets and teachers in Israel repeatedly upbraid the men and women of their generations for their looseness in morals which did not shrink from adulterous connections. Naturally where luxurious habits of life were indulged in, particularly in the large cities, a tone of levity set in: in the dark of the evening, men, with their features masked, waited at their neighbors' doors ( Job 24:15; Job 31:9; compare Prov 7), and women forgetful of their God's covenant broke faith with the husbands of their youth ( Proverbs 2:17 ). The prophet Nathan confronted David after his sin with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, with his stern rebuke ("Thou art the man," 2 Samuel 12:7 ); the penitential psalm (Ps 51) - "Miserere" - was sung by the royal bard as a prayer for divine pardon. Promiscuous intercourse with their neighbors' wives is laid by Jeremiah at the door of the false prophets of his day ( Jeremiah 23:10 , Jeremiah 23:14; Jeremiah 29:23 ).
4. Penal and Moral Distinctions
While penal law takes only cognizance of adulterous relations, it is needless to say that the moral law discountenances all manner of illicit intercourse and all manner of unchastity in man and woman. While the phrases "harlotry," "commit harlotry," in Scripture denote the breach of wedlock (on the part of a woman), in the rabbinical writings a clear distinction is made on the legal side between adultery and fornication. The latter is condemned morally in no uncertain terms; the seventh commandment is made to include all manner of fornication. The eye and the heart are the two intermediaries of sin (Palestinian Talmud, Berākhōth 6 b ). A sinful thought is as wicked as a sinful act ( Niddāh 13 b and elsewhere). Job makes a covenant with his eyes lest he look upon a virgin ( Job 31:1 ). And so Jesus who came "not to destroy, but to fulfill" ( Matthew 5:17 ), in full agreement with the ethical and religious teaching of Judaism, makes the intent of the seventh commandment explicit when he declares that "every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already In his heart" ( Matthew 5:28 ). And in the spirit of Hosea ( Hosea 4:15 ) and Johanan ben Zaccai (see above) Jesus has but scorn for those that are ready judicially to condemn though they be themselves not free from sin! "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" ( John 8:7 ). Whereas society is in need of the death penalty to secure the inviolability of the home life, Jesus bids the erring woman go her way and sin no more. How readily His word might be taken by the unspiritual to imply the condoning of woman's peccability is evidenced by the fact that the whole section (Jn 7:53 through 8:11) is omitted by "most ancient authorities" (see Augustine's remark).
5. A G round of Divorce
Adultery as a ground of divorce. - T he meaning of the expression "some unseemly thing" ( Deuteronomy 24:1 ) being unclear, there was great variety of opinion among the rabbis as to the grounds upon which a husband may divorce his wife. While the school of Hillel legally at least allowed any trivial reason as a ground for divorce, the stricter interpretation which limited it to adultery alone obtained in the school of Shammai. Jesus coincided with the stricter view (see Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9 , and commentaries). From a moral point of view, divorce was discountenanced by the rabbis likewise, save of course for that one ground which indeed makes the continued relations between husband and wife a moral impossibility. See also Crimes; Divorce .
- ↑ Adultery from Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
- ↑ Adultery from Fausset's Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Adultery from Bridgeway Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Adultery from Charles Buck Theological Dictionary
- ↑ Adultery from Holman Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Adultery from Morrish Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Adultery from Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary
- ↑ Adultery from King James Dictionary
- ↑ Adultery from Smith's Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Adultery from American Tract Society Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Adultery from People's Dictionary of the Bible
- ↑ Adultery from Easton's Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Adultery from Webster's Dictionary
- ↑ Adultery from Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types
- ↑ Adultery from Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology
- ↑ Adultery from Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
- ↑ Adultery from Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
- ↑ Adultery from Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
- ↑ Adultery from Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature
- ↑ Adultery from International Standard Bible Encyclopedia