What’s the difference between adultery and fornication?

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There is a difference between adultery and fornication. Adultery is a voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than the lawful spouse. Fornication is a voluntary sexual intercourse between persons not married to each other.

Both adultery and fornication are sins before God “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). The list of sins found in vs. 9, 10 includes most of the common sins of the flesh (Gal. 5:19–21; Eph. 5:3–7). The Bible offers a much wider view into how God sees these two sexual sins:

Fornication

In the Old Testament, all sexual sin was forbidden by the Mosaic Law and Jewish custom. In a spiritual sense, the Hebrew word translated fornication” in the Old Testament was also in the context of idolatry, also called spiritual whoredom ( 2 Chronicles 21:10-14; Ezekiel 16).

In the New Testament, “fornication” comes from the Greek word “porneia”, which includes adultery and indulging in any kind of unlawful lust, which would include homosexuality. The use of the word in the gospels and the epistles is always in reference to sexual sin, however, in Revelation, it always refers to idolatry (Revelation 2:14, 20; Revelation 17:1-2).

Adultery

The Hebrew word translated “adultery” means literally “breaking wedlock.” In a spiritual sense, in the Old Testament, it often referred to Israel’s idolatry as a woman who went “whoring after” other gods (Exodus 34:15-16; Leviticus 17:7; Ezekiel 6:9).

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 but in Revelation it refers to idolatry (Revelation 2:20).

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

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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