What Is The Biblical Definition Of Adultery?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

How does the Bible define adultery? Does the world’s definition match that of the Bible in what adultery is?

Adultery Defined

The Bible defines adultery as the voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than his or her spouse.  Adultery still carries with it a stigma in our society although in the last century, it seems to be more acceptable; at least by society but most certainly not by God.  The Bible tells us the final fate of all unrepentant sexually immoral people (Rev 21:8) and God warns anyone that those who commit such an act that they will not be inheriting the kingdom but darkness and eternal separation from God as Paul writes “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality” (1 Cor 6:9).

What Is The Biblical Definition Of Adultery

The Old Testament on Sexual Immorality

Solomon wrote extensively on prostitution and of course this includes both men and women as it says that “Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death” (Prov 7:27).  Even in the Old Testament, the law says “You shall not bring the fee of a prostitute or the wages of a dog into the house of the LORD your God in payment for any vow, for both of these are an abomination to the LORD your God’ (Deut 23:18) and comes with a warning:  “Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity” (Lev 19:29) “And the daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by whoring, profanes her father; she shall be burned with fire” (Lev 21:9).  That is as strong of a warning as there is in the Bible against sexual immorality and if you read the New Testament, you can see that any sort of sexual immorality will be judged by God, just as He commanded in the Old Testament (Ex 20:14).

Sexual Immorality

To be sure, adultery is not the only sin of sexual immorality as Paul writes to the church at Corinth, telling them that they (and we) are “not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one” (1 Cor 5:11) and “Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor 15:33).  Paul warns even further that we are to “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Cor 6:18) so “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Cor 7:1-2) and by the way, Paul writes, “the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Cor 7:4). The temptation to have sex outside of marriage is the reason that Paul wrote to “not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Cor 7:5).

Jesus’ Definition of Adultery

When the “Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”  He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt 19:3-6) so Jesus said that marriage is for life and a couple are not to ever separate (other than for adultery).  The Pharisees seemed to challenge Jesus’ teaching by asking, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away” (Matt 19:7) and Jesus’ answer was “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed 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” (Matt 19:8-9). Jesus had said earlier that “I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matt 5:32) so if a person commits unrepentant and ongoing adultery, they can divorce on biblical grounds but “whoever marries a divorced woman (or woman) commits adultery” and there are no exception clauses.


Jesus went on to define adultery of the heart as essentially being the same as the actual act, although the actual physical act is far worse so to anyone contemplating sexual immorality, including adultery, He would “say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28).  To be sure, “the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality” (Gal 5:19) and as Paul says, “as I warned you before that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21).  That is how Jesus looks at those who commit adultery and the final place for all who refuse to repent of their sexual immorality, including adultery have this ahead of them; “for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Rev 21:8).

Related reading for you: Restoration After Sexual Sin

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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