What’s the difference between adultery and fornication?

Author: BibleAsk Team


Today’s dictionary definitions of adultery and fornication generally define adultery as a sexual intercourse between two persons in which at least one of them is married to someone else. And the word fornication is defined as sexual intercourse between a man and a women, who are unmarried.

Both sins are works of the flesh (Romans 1:29). The apostle Paul teaches, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9,10). This list of sins includes most of the common sins of the flesh (Galatians 5:19–21; Ephesians 5:3–7).

The sins of sexual immorality (Romans 1:29; Acts 15:20) are violations to God’s moral law (Exodus 20:3-17). Those that break these divine principles will be condemned at the last day (Revelation 21:8). The Bible offers a much wider view into how God sees these two sexual sins:


The Hebrew text of this word means literally “breaking wedlock” and defiling the marriage bed. The tenth commandment states: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). This prohibition includes any impurity in act, word, and thought (Matthew 5:27, 28). A person is to respect and honor the bond upon which the family is built, that of the marriage relationship, which to the believer should be sacred.

The apostle Paul teaches, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4). Marriage makes the husband and wife “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Its a unity of bodies, a community of interests, and a reciprocity of affections. While societies seem to be more lenient with men that commit adultery than with women, the commandment applies with equal force to both (Revelation 21:8).

In the Old Testament, in a spiritual sense, this sin often refers to Israel’s idolatry as a woman who went “whoring after” other gods (Exodus 34:15-16; Leviticus 17:7; Ezekiel 6:9). Thus, apostasy from God is resembled with the unfaithfulness to the marriage relationship (Jeremiah 3:20). Also, in the New Testament, the two Greek words translated “adultery” are nearly always used, from their contexts, to refer literally to sexual sin involving married partners. And in a spiritual sense, this word refers again to idolatry (Revelation 2:20).


In the Old Testament, this sin is forbidden by the Mosaic Law and Jewish custom. In the New Testament, this word comes from the Greek word “porneia,” which includes adultery, premarital sex, illicit sexual acts, homosexuality and every kind of unlawful lust. The use of this word in the gospels and the epistles is always in reference to sexual sin.

And in a spiritual sense, the Hebrew form of this word is used also in the context of idolatry, called spiritual whoredom (2 Chronicles 21:10-14; Ezekiel 16). God’s angel informs John about the final judgment of the apostate churches under the leadership of the beast (the papacy), who have “committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication” (Revelation 17:1-2,5-7 also Revelation 2:14, 20).

Forgiveness and Victory

Both fornication and adultery are regarded by God as moral violations in the Scriptures. However, the Lord grants forgiveness for those that are repentant and seek transformation and holiness. The Bible teaches, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The Lord promises pardon for those that forsake their sins, “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). And He assures His children that He will cast all their sins behind His back (Isaiah 38:17) and into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).

Further, the Lord promises to grant the repentant the power to have victory over all the lusts of the flesh (1 Corinthians 15:57). For with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). The Lord offers abundant power so that the believer can triumphantly declare, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

Check out our Bible Answers page for more information on a variety of topics.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

Leave a Comment