Matthew 5:27–28

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Matthew 5:27 and Matthew 5:28 are the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth verses of the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament and is part of the Sermon on the Mount. These verses begin the second antithesis: while since Matthew 5:21 the discussion has been on the commandment: "You shall not murder", it now moves to the commandment: "You shall not commit adultery".

In the King James Version of the Bible the text reads:

27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of
old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh
on a woman to lust after her hath committed
adultery with her already in his heart.

The World English Bible translates the passage as:

27 "You have heard that it was said,
'You shall not commit adultery;'
28 but I tell you that everyone who gazes at a
woman to lust after her has committed
adultery with her already in his heart.

5:27 opens in a very similar manner to Matthew 5:21, but it omits "to the ancient ones", though Gundry believes that this is implied. "To the ancient ones" was added to this verse in the Textus Receptus, and from there it was added to the KJV.[1]

This verse references the commandment against adultery stated in Exodus 20:14. This verse follows immediately after the prohibition against murder, and the Sermon follows this same pattern.

The equation of lust with adultery is very similar to the earlier equation of anger and murder in Matthew 5:22. Like the previous verse this is often interpreted as Jesus expanding on the requirements of Mosaic Law, but not rejecting it. This sentiment was not original to Jesus, being discussed in the Old Testament and in contemporary Jewish literature. Kittle notes that similar ideas are expressed in T. Issachar and Tractate Kalla.[2]

Just as the English word "lust" was originally a general term for desire, the Greek word ἐπιθυμέω was also a general term for desire. The LSJ lexicon suggests "set one's heart upon a thing, long for, covet, desire" as glosses for ἐπιθυμέω, which is used in verses that clearly have nothing to do with sexual desire. In the Septuagint, ἐπιθυμέω is the word used in the commandment to not covet:

You shall not covet (ἐπιθυμέω) your neighbor’s wife; you shall not covet your neighbor’s house or his field or his male slave or his female slave or his ox or his draft animal or any animal of his or whatever belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:27, New English Translation of the Septuagint)
οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις τὴν γυναῖκα τοῦ πλησίον σου οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις τὴν οἰκίαν τοῦ πλησίον σου οὔτε τὸν ἀγρὸν αὐτοῦ οὔτε τὸν παῖδα αὐτοῦ οὔτε τὴν παιδίσκην αὐτοῦ οὔτε τοῦ βοὸς αὐτοῦ οὔτε τοῦ ὑποζυγίου αὐτοῦ οὔτε παντὸς κτήνους αὐτοῦ οὔτε ὅσα τῷ πλησίον σού ἐστιν (Exodus 20:27, Septuagint)

Matthew 5:27–28 may be a reference to Exodus 20:27, as a reminder that sin does not begin with adultery, but already when a man covets his neighbor's wife.

While coveting your neighbor's wife may involve sexual desire, it is unlikely that coveting a neighbor's house or field is sexual in nature. And in most New Testament uses, the word ἐπιθυμέω does not have a clear sexual connotation, e.g.

  1. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Matthew 13:17, ESV)
  2. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. (Luke 22:15, ESV)
  3. I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. (Acts 20:33, ESV)
  4. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. (Luke 15:16, ESV)

All of these verses involve strong desire or longing, but not sexual desire.

The word translated as woman is gyne, which can mean either woman or wife. Some scholars believe that Jesus is only talking about lusting after another's wife, not the attraction of a man to his own wife. Nolland notes that sexual desire is not condemned in Matthew or in the contemporary literature, only misdirected desire.[3]

According to the laws of the time it was not adultery for a married man to sleep with an unmarried woman. Adultery was interpreted as a form of theft, and the harm came from stealing another man's wife. In Matthew 5:32 some feel Jesus will challenge this view. France states that lust is more precisely understood as "in order to do the forbidden with her."[4] Schweizer notes that looking lustfully at a woman is specifically condemned, implying that it is possible for a man to look at a woman without lust. Important in that it rejects the need for absolute segregation of the sexes.[5]


  1. ^ Gundry, Robert H. Matthew: a Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982.
  2. ^ Kissinger, Warren S. The Sermon on the Mount: A History of Interpretation and Bibliography. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1975.
  3. ^ Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary on the Greek text. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005 p. 237
  4. ^ France, R. T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985.
  5. ^ Schweizer, Eduard. The Good News According to Matthew. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975

Preceded by
Matthew 5:26
Gospel of Matthew
Chapter 5
Succeeded by
Matthew 5:29