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Why does the 9th Commandment say, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife?” Why doesn’t it also say, husband or spouse in general?

The Ninth and Tenth Commandments refer, on the surface, to simple property, and, on a deeper level, to concupiscence for anything material.

In the social conditions of the time, a man’s wife was considered his property. But to get the full sense of the Ninth Commandment, read it in combination with the Tenth Commandment—but backwards. That is, instead of reading, Do not covet X, Y, or Z, or anything that is your neighbor’s read it as saying, Do not covet anything that is your neighbor’s; for example, his X, Y, or Z. Keeping in mind that social conditions can change over time, and that in most contemporary cultures wives are no longer property, slavery is no longer accepted, and many individuals have never even seen an ox, let alone coveted one, the particular example “X, Y, or Z” may not be exactly relevant today; but the basic command Do not covet anything that is your neighbor’s still stands. Moreover, this “anything that is your neighbor’s” applies just as well to a woman coveting a neighbor’s husband.

And when Jesus said that looking lustfully at a woman is adultery (Matthew 5:28), he showed his respect for women by raising the stakes. He essentially declared that lust isn’t just a property violation but a violation of human dignity in the context of divine love. Thus he combined the Ninth Commandment with the Sixth. Moreover, again, this lust applies just as well to a woman looking at a man, a woman looking at a woman, or a man looking at a man.


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