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Punishing Sexual Immorality

In this blog post, I am going to talk about prohibitions against sexual immorality in the Bible and the Koran. I will also talk about the punishments prescribed to those who have committed sexually immoral acts. Fornication and adultery are the two forms of sexual immorality that I will focus on primarily.

In the Torah, the light and guidance for mankind (Koran 6:92), there are laws forbidding the commission of adultery and fornication. In the Decalogue, it says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18) This commandment is reiterated in the New Testament. Twice in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Christ uttered it. (Matthew 5:27; 19:18) In the Conciliar Epistle of the Council of Jerusalem in the first century, the apostles commanded Christians to abstain from sexual immorality.

For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. (Acts 15:28,29, NKJV)

St. Paul says that adulterers, fornicators, and other sexually immoral people will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. (I Corinthians 6:9,10, NKJV)

The Koran, likewise, forbids the commission of adultery and fornication. It also teaches that adulterers and fornicators will be experience eternal punishment in the afterlife. The Arabic word is zinā. It can mean either of those two sins.

And come not near unto adultery (zinā). Lo! it is an abomination and an evil way. (Koran 17:32, Pickthall)

(Some translators have translated the word, zinā, in this verse, “fornication.”)

And those who cry not unto any other god along with Allah, nor take the life which Allah hath forbidden save in (course of) justice, nor commit adultery (yaznūna) – and whoso doeth this shall pay the penalty; the doom will be doubled for him on the Day of Resurrection, and he will abide therein disdained for ever. (Koran 25:68,69, Pickthall)

(Yaznūna can mean “commit adultery” or “commit fornication.” It is the verb form of zinā.)

In the Gospel, “a guidance to mankind” (Koran 3:3,4), Jesus speaks of the possibility of committing adultery within one’s heart.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27,28, NKJV)

The Koran also acknowledges the existence of sins of the heart.

Forsake the outwardness of sin and the inwardness thereof. Lo! those who garner sin will be awarded that which they have earned. (Koran 6:121, Pickthall)

In the Torah, the punishment for fornicators and adulterers was stoning to death.

And the father of the damsel shall say to the elders, I gave this my daughter to this man for a wife; and now he has hated her, and attaches reproachful words to her, saying, I have not found tokens of virginity with thy daughter; and these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall unfold the garment before the elders of the city. And the elders of that city shall take that man, and shall chastise him, and shall fine him a hundred shekels, and shall give them to the father of the damsel, because he has brought forth an evil name against a virgin of Israel; and she shall be his wife: he shall never be able to put her away. But if this report be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel; then shall they bring out the damsel to the doors of her father’s house, and shall stone her with stones, and she shall die; because she has wrought folly among the children of Israel, to defile the house of her father by whoring: so thou shalt remove the evil one from among you. (Deuteronomy22:16-21, LXX)

And if a man be found lying with a woman married to a man, ye shall kill them both, the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou remove the wicked one out of Israel. And if there be a young damsel espoused to a man, and a man should have found her in the city and have lain with her; ye shall bring them both out to the gate of their city, and they shall be stoned with stones, and they shall die; the damsel, because she cried not in the city; and the man, because he humbled his neighbour’s spouse: so shalt thou remove the evil one from yourselves. But if a man find in the field a damsel that is betrothed, and he should force her and lie with her, ye shall slay the man that lay with her only. And the damsel has not committed a sin worthy of death; as if a man should rise up against his neighbour, and slay him, so is this thing; because he found her in the field; the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to help her. (Deuteronomy 22:22-27, LXX)

A priest’s daughter who was caught committing fornication was burnt with fire. (Leviticus 21:9)

The punishments prescribed in these laws were abrogated by Jesus.

Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:2-11, NKJV)

Jesus is the one who will judge us all on the last day. He is fully competent to pass judgment in such matters.

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. (Matthew 25:31-33, NKJV)

I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. (John 5:30, NKJV)

Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead. (Acts 17:30,31, NKJV)

In the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel. (Romans 2:16, NKJV)

The judge of the world remitted the sins of the adulteress. He did not condemn her to death. God desires our reformation more than our punishment. The principle that one must be sinless before one can inflict the death penalty on another is what has emerged from this incident. Since no one is sinless except Jesus (Koran 19:19; John 8:29; II Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 2:22), no one can stone another person to death for committing a grievous sin such as adultery.

For there is no man that sinneth not. (I Kings 8:46, KJV)

Even Muhammad sinned.

Then have patience (O Muhammad). Lo! the promise of Allah is true. And ask forgiveness of thy sin, and hymn the praise of thy Lord at fall of night and in the early hours. (Koran 40:55, Pickthall)

So know (O Muhammad) that there is no Allah save Allah, and ask forgiveness for thy sin and for believing men and believing women. Allah knoweth (both) your place of turmoil and your place of rest. (Koran 47:19, Pickthall)

Lo! We have given thee (O Muhammad) a signal victory, that Allah may forgive thee of thy sin that which is past and that which is to come, and may perfect His favour unto thee, and may guide thee on a right path. (Koran 48:1,2, Pickthall)

There are hadiths that say that Muhammad commanded that adulterers be stoned to death, but, in the light of the teaching of Christ, and in Muhammad’s insistence that people should obey the messengers of Allah (Koran 2:285; 6:48; 7:35; 57:19), it is not likely that he ever told them that.

Since everyone but Jesus has sinned, no one is qualified to throw a stone at an adulterer or fornicator, but He. Furthermore, we are supposed to follow Jesus’ example and live as He lived. (I Peter 2:21; Koran 3:55; 43:57-59) If He never stoned a sexually immoral person when confronted with the opportunity to do so, then we should never stone an adulterer or fornicator also.

Nowhere in the Koran does it say that adulterers and fornicators should be stoned to death. The Koran, however, records several incidents where polytheists wanted to stone to death monotheists. (Koran 11:91,92; 18:20; 19:46; 26:116; 36:13-18) However, there is no commandment among the 114 Surahs of the Koran to stone anyone to death for any sin at all. Actually, it is absurd to think that such a commandment was ever really given by Muhammad when one examines these verses. In the fourth Surah, it says:

And whoso is not able to afford to marry free, believing women, let them marry from the believing maids whom your right hands possess. Allah knoweth best (concerning) your faith. Ye (proceed) one from another; so wed them by permission of their folk, and give unto them their portions in kindness, they being honest, not debauched nor of loose conduct. And if when they are honourably married they commit lewdness they shall incur the half of the punishment (prescribed) for free women (in that case). This is for him among you who feareth to commit sin. But to have patience would be better for you. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (Koran 4:25, Pickthall)

A slave woman who commits sexual immorality is to receive half of the punishment of a free woman. If death by stoning is the punishment for adultery or fornication in the Koran, then how can someone be stoned half to death?

Furthermore, how can someone be stoned to death twice as much as someone else?

O ye wives of the Prophet! Whosoever of you committeth manifest lewdness, the punishment for her will be doubled, and that is easy for Allah. (Koran 33:30, Pickthall)

How can an adulterer or a fornicator marry an adulteress or fornicatress if they have already been stoned to death?

The adulterer shall not marry save an adulteress or an idolatress, and the adulteress none shall marry save an adulterer or an idolater. All that is forbidden unto believers. (Koran 24:3, Pickthall)

The verse previous to this one speaks of flogging as being the punishment and not stoning.

The adulterer and the adulteress, scourge ye each one of them (with) a hundred stripes. And let not pity for the twain withhold you from obedience to Allah, if ye believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a party of believers witness their punishment. (Koran 24:2, Pickthall)

Since four witnesses are required in order to convict someone of sexual immorality (Koran 4:15; 24:4), the sexual immorality must have been committed in public. Therefore, the only ones who get flogged are those who commit adultery or fornication in public.

There are two verses that appear to contradict each other, but they really do not. The first is from the Fourth Surah.

If any of your women are guilty of lewdness (fāḥisha), Take the evidence of four (reliable) witnesses from amongst you against them; and if they testify, confine them to houses until death do claim them, or Allah ordain for them some (other) way. (Koran 4:15, Yusuf Ali)

The other one is from the 65th Surah.

O Prophet! When ye (men) put away women, put them away for their (legal) period and reckon the period, and keep your duty to Allah, your Lord. Expel them not from their houses nor let them go forth unless they commit open immorality (fāḥisha). Such are the limits (imposed by) Allah; and whoso transgresseth Allah’s limits, he verily wrongeth his soul. Thou knowest not: it may be that Allah will afterward bring some new thing to pass. (Koran 65:1, Pickthall)

In Koran 4:15, a woman is confined to her house until she dies or until God ordains another way for her. In Koran 65:1, a woman is expelled from her home. Both are guilty of fāḥisha. This Arabic word has a broader meaning than zinā. It includes incest (Koran 4:22), adultery (Koran 4:19,25), and homosexual rape (Koran 7:80,81; 27:54,55; 29:28,29) as well as fornication (Koran 17:32).

The sexual sin spoken of in Koran 4:15 must be of the nature which would for the sake of society require that the woman be confined to her own home. Maybe prostitution is the crime. Keeping her confined to her home would prevent her from prostituting herself. The four witnesses in that verse are probably her former customers who had repented.

The way out for the woman in Koran 4:15 is probably repentance and having someone else who is willing to take her in and care for her. According to the Koran, she is not allowed to marry a virtuous man who has never committed adultery or fornication. (Koran 24:3) She must marry a man who has committed such a sin as she has committed. Her current husband should divorce her, but because of the activities she was involved in outside the home, he keeps her confined to his home. This verse applies more to seventh century Arabia than to today. Convicted prostitutes are put in jail and not confined to their homes.

Koran 65:1 most likely speaks of adultery. One of the grounds for divorce given in the New Testament is adultery.

“Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31,32, NKJV)

The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:3-9, NKJV)

The Christians in that part of the world that Muhammad lived in used the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. In the Septuagint version of Proverbs, it says:

He that puts away a good wife, puts away a good thing, and he that keeps an adulteress is foolish and ungodly. (Proverbs 18:22, LXX)

The Church Fathers taught that a Christian man should divorce his wife if she is committing adultery. Some taught that a Christian woman should do the same thing if her husband was committing adultery with another woman.

And I said to him, “Sir, if any one has a wife who trusts in the Lord, and if he detect her in adultery, does the man sin if he continue to live with her?”And he said to me, “As long as he remains ignorant of her sin, the husband commits no transgression in living with her. But if the husband know that his wife has gone astray, and if the woman does not repent, but persists in her fornication, and yet the husband continues to live with her, he also is guilty of her crime, and a sharer in her adultery.” And I said to him, “What then, sir, is the husband to do, if his wife continue in her vicious practices?”And he said, “The husband should put her away, and remain by himself. But if he put his wife away and marry another, he also commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:32; 19:9) And I said to him, “What if the woman put away should repent, and wish to return to her husband: shall she not be taken back by her husband?”And he said to me, “Assuredly. If the husband do not take her back, he sins, and brings a great sin upon himself; for he ought to take back the sinner who has repented. But not frequently. For there is but one repentance to the servants of God. In case, therefore, that the divorced wife may repent, the husband ought not to marry another, when his wife has been put away. In this matter man and woman are to be treated exactly in the same way. Moreover, adultery is committed not only by those who pollute their flesh, but by those who imitate the heathen in their actions. Wherefore if any one  persists in such deeds, and repents not, withdraw from him, and cease to live with him, otherwise you are a sharer in his sin. Therefore has the injunction been laid on you, that you should remain by yourselves, both man and woman, for in such persons repentance can take place. But I do not,” said he, “give opportunity for the doing of these deeds, but that he who has sinned may sin no more. But with regard to his previous transgressions, there is One who is able to provide a cure; for it is He, indeed, who has power over all.” (The Shepherd of Hermas, Fourth Commandment, Chapter I, vol. 2, pp. 21-22, Ante-Nicene Fathers)

The sentence of the Lord that it is unlawful to withdraw from wedlock, save on account of fornication, applies, according to the argument, to men and women alike. Custom, however, does not so obtain. Yet, in relation with women, very strict expressions are to be found; as, for instance, the words of the apostle “He which is joined to a harlot is one body” (I Corinthians 6:16) and of Jeremiah, If a wife “become another man’s shall he return unto her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted?” (Jeremiah 3:1) And again, “He that hath an adulteress is a fool and impious.” (Proverbs 18:22, LXX) Yet custom ordains that men who commit adultery and are in fornication be retained by their wives. Consequently I do not know if the woman who lives with the man who has been dismissed can properly be called an adulteress; the charge in this case attaches to the woman who has put away her husband, and depends upon the cause for which she withdrew from wedlock. In the case of her being beaten, and refusing to submit, it would be better for her to endure than to be separated from her husband; in the case of her objecting to pecuniary loss, even here she would not have sufficient ground. If her reason is his living in fornication we do not find this in the custom of the church; but from an unbelieving husband a wife is commanded not to depart, but to remain, on account of the uncertainty of the issue. “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shall save thy husband?” (I Corinthians 7:16) Here then the wife, if she leaves her husband and goes to another, is an adulteress. But the man who has been abandoned is pardonable, and the woman who lives with such a man is not condemned. But if the man who has deserted his wife goes to another, he is himself an adulterer because he makes her commit adultery; and the woman who lives with him is an adulteress, because she has caused another woman’s husband to come over to her. (Letter CLXXXVIII, Canon IX, St. Basil the Great, vol. 8, p. 226-227, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series)

If a man living with a wife is not satisfied with his marriage and falls into fornication, I account him a fornicator, and prolong his period of punishment. Nevertheless, we have no canon subjecting him to the charge of adultery, if the sin be committed against an unmarried woman. For the adulteress, it is said, “being polluted shall be polluted” (Jeremiah 3:1), and she shall not return to her husband: and “He that keepeth an adulteress is a fool and impious.” (Proverbs 18:22, LXX)) He, however, who has committed fornication is not to be cut off from the society of his own wife. So the wife will receive the husband on his return from fornication, but the husband will expel the polluted woman from his house. The argument here is not easy, but the custom has so obtained. (Letter CXCIX, Canon XXI, St. Basil the Great, vol. 8, p. 237, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series)

The Lord has given commandment that a wife must not be put away “except it be for fornication, and that, if put away, she must remain unmarried.” (Matthew 19:9; I Corinthian 7:11) Now a commandment which is given to men logically applies to women also. For it cannot be that, while an adulterous wife is to be put away, an incontinent husband is to be retained. The apostle says: “he which is joined to an harlot is one body.” (I Corinthian 6:16) Therefore she also who is joined to a whoremonger and unchaste person is made one body with him. The laws of Cæsar are different, it is true, from the laws of Christ: Papinianus commands one thing; our own Paul another. Earthly laws give a free rein to the unchastity of men, merely condemning seduction and adultery; lust is allowed to range unrestrained among brothels and slave girls, as if the guilt were constituted by the rank of the person assailed and not by the purpose of the assailant. But with us Christians what is unlawful for women is equally unlawful for men, and as both serve the same God both are bound by the same obligations. Fabiola then has put away — they are quite right — a husband that was a sinner, guilty of this and that crime, sins — I have almost mentioned their names — with which the whole neighbourhood resounded but which the wife alone refused to disclose. If however it is made a charge against her that after repudiating her husband she did not continue unmarried, I readily admit this to have been a fault, but at the same time declare that it may have been a case of necessity. “It is better,” the apostle tells us, “to marry than to burn.” (I Corinthians 7:9) She was quite a young  woman, she was not able to continue in widowhood. In the words of the apostle she saw another law in her members warring against the law of her mind (Romans 7:23); she felt herself dragged in chains as a captive towards the indulgences of wedlock. Therefore she thought it better openly to confess her weakness and to accept the semblance of an unhappy marriage than, with the flame of a monogamist, to ply the trade of a courtesan. The same apostle wills that the younger widows should marry, bear children, and give no occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. (I Timothy 5:14) And he at once goes on to explain his wish: “for some are already turned aside after Satan.” (I Timothy 5:15) Fabiola therefore was fully persuaded in her own mind: she thought she had acted legitimately in putting away her husband, and that when she had done so she was free to marry again. She did not know that the rigour of the gospel takes away from women all pretexts for re-marriage so long as their former husbands are alive; and not knowing this, though she contrived to evade other assaults of the devil, she at this point unwittingly exposed herself to a wound from him. (Letter LXXVII, by St. Jerome, vol. 6, pp. 158-159, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series)

St. Jerome said that women have the right to divorce their husbands if they have been committing adultery. The Koran says that women “have rights similar to those of men over them in kindness.” (Koran 2:228, Pickthall) So, I think that Muhammad would agree with St. Jerome.

In the Orthodox Christian tradition, men and women who commit adultery or fornication are put under a penance by their priests. The Orthodox Church has never required that anyone be stoned to death.

As for flogging, there is a commandment regarding this form of punishment in the Old Testament.

And if there should be a dispute between men, and they should come forward to judgment, and the judges judge, and justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked: then it shall come to pass, if the unrighteous should be worthy of stripes, thou shalt lay him down before the judges, and they shall scourge him before them according to his iniquity. And they shall scourge him with forty stripes in number, they shall not inflict more; for if thou shouldest scourge him with more stripes beyond these stripes, thy brother will be disgraced before thee. (Deuteronomy 25:1-3, LXX)

The Torah forbids that the number of lashes exceed more than forty. The Koran says that one hundred lashes must be administered to the person guilty of public sexual immorality. The activity that was done in public is a shameful act. The lashes apparently are to be given not to cause bodily injury, but to shame the person before other believers. It says, “And let a party of believers witness their punishment.” (Koran 24:2) So, the lashes are either given in a smaller number (less than 40) at different times, or they are administered lightly, or both. One of the Koranic principles regarding punishment is that the punishment fits the crime.

If ye punish, then punish with the like of that wherewith ye were afflicted. (Koran 16:126, Pickthall)

The couple who had sex in public brought shame and disgrace on their fellow Muslims before unbelievers. Therefore, they are shamed before a party of believers. They did no physical injury to the members of the Muslim community. Therefore, causing them bodily harm would not be a just sentence.

St. Paul prescribed in his First Epistle to the Corinthians that such persons should be disfellowshipped.

But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner — not even to eat with such a person. (I Corinthians 5:11, NKJV)

Depending on the gravity of the sin, the amount of times committed, and the societal status of the person who committed it, the period of disfellowshipping can be extended or shortened. A Muslim girl who puts up videos on Youtube said that her mosque does this. She called it “shunning.” Whatever is done, the goal that one should always have in mind is the sinner’s repentance and reformation. If the person is eternally destroyed, then nothing of value has been accomplished by the punishment.

The Koran sanctions this practice of disfellowshipping sexually immoral Muslims in this verse.

Allah would explain to you and guide you by the examples of those who were before you, and would turn to you in mercy. Allah is Knower, Wise. (Koran 4:26, Pickthall)

St. Paul and the virtuous first century Christians are the examples. Therefore, one should do what they did. Disfellowship the sexually immoral person, but do not put that person to death.

In conclusion, nowhere in the Koran does it say to stone someone to death. It is unlikely that Muhammad would have told anyone to do that. Those hadiths that say that he said that are not to be believed and trusted. They were written down 200 to 300 years after he died. The Koran records incidents where pagan polytheists wanted to stone monotheists. Confining a woman to her home (Koran 4:15) was probably done because of some immoral sexual activity she was doing outside of her home that affected the entire community — possibly prostitution. The punishment for adultery is divorce. A man should divorce his wife if she commits adultery. (Proverbs 18:22, LXX) A woman should do the same if her husband is guilty of sexual infidelity. (Koran 2:228; 65:1) The purpose of flogging (Koran 24:2) was to shame those who have sex in public, not to cause them bodily harm. So, the lashes would have to be administered lightly. No more than forty should be administered at a time because of God’s law in Deuteronomy. (Deuteronomy 25:1-3) Disfellowshipping is another form of punishment that can be administered to such people. (I Corinthians 5:11) Sexual sins can be committed in one’s heart. Both the Koran and the Bible teach this. People who practice sexual immorality will not inherit the Kingdom of God. They will have to endure eternal damnation in Gehenna.

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