What is the difference between infidelity and adultery?
(and does it even matter?)
Have you ever wondered what the difference is between infidelity and adultery? There are all kinds of words used to describe unfaithfulness in marriage, many of which I prefer not to repeat.
The words we receive the most questions about are ‘infidelity’ and ‘adultery.’
Questions we receive:
- Is there a difference between the two?
- Can they be used interchangeably?
- Is one “worse” than the other?
We have been serving marriages divided by infidelity for almost seven years. We have learned a thing or two about this topic. So, I hope to clearly answer all those questions and more.
Let’s dive in.
A logical place to start is dictionary.com. Here is the dictionary definition of each word:
noun, plural in·fi·del·i·ties.
marital disloyalty; adultery.
lack of religious faith, especially Christian faith.
a breach of trust or a disloyal act; transgression.
noun, plural a·dul·ter·ies.
voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than their lawful spouse.
As you can see, infidelity has a bit more nuance than adultery. Based on this definition, adultery seems to be defined as a sexual act outside of the context of two married people.
Since we are Christians who aim to follow God’s leading, let’s look at the Easton Bible Dictionary as well.
conjugal infidelity. An adulterer was a man who had illicit intercourse with a married or a betrothed woman, and such a woman was an adulteress. Intercourse between a married man and an unmarried woman was fornication. Adultery was regarded as a great social wrong, as well as a great sin.
Idolatry, covetousness, and apostasy are spoken of as adultery spiritually ( Jeremiah 3:6 Jeremiah 3:8 Jeremiah 3:9 ; Ezekiel 16:32 ; Hosea 1:2:3; ; Revelation 2:22 ). An apostate church is an adulteress ( Isaiah 1:21 ; Ezek. Isaiah 23:4 Isaiah 23:7 Isaiah 23:37 ), and the Jews are styled “an adulterous generation” ( Matthew 12:39 ). (Compare Revelation 12 .)
This definition of adultery also focused on the sexual act or intercourse between a married man (or woman) and anyone who is not their spouse. In the second paragraph, we see that the term ‘adultery’ is also used within the Bible to reference other forms of unfaithfulness to God. ‘Infidelity’ is not listed in the Easton Bible Dictionary, but the word is used to define ‘adultery.’
What can we glean from these definitions?
Here at Side By Side, we see ‘infidelity’ as the vessel, so to speak, that holds adultery (along with other things).
Adultery is a form of infidelity. Infidelity breeds adultery.
In some sources, the two words are considered synonyms. However, we believe infidelity is more all-encompassing.
In the dictionary.com definition, you see multiple ways to describe it:
-marital disloyalty; adultery
-lack of religious faith, especially Christian faith.
-a breach of trust or a disloyal act; transgression.
We believe infidelity starts long before the act of adultery is committed.
In fact, we think that infidelity is a heart issue. It starts with turning away from God and focusing on our own selfish desires, whatever they may be.
Here are just a few of the verses showing us how important it is to keep our hearts focused on God.
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
When our heart is faithful to God, we are not susceptible to the disloyalty of infidelity.
A lack of faith in God—infidelity—leads to unfaithful acts, such as adultery.
He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself.
Let marriage be held in honor among all,
and let the marriage bed be undefiled,
for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”
So, let’s answer the specific questions we have received, based on these findings.
What is the difference between ‘infidelity’ and ‘adultery?’
Infidelity is any kind of unfaithfulness to God or a person.
Adultery is a form of infidelity, specifically a sexual act with someone other than your spouse.
Can they be used interchangeably?
You will hear people use them interchangeably all the time. However, we believe that infidelity leads to adultery. Infidelity covers many forms of unfaithfulness. Adultery is sexual unfaithfulness.
Is one ‘worse’ than the other?
Any sin against God is viewed as sin, period. While many would consider adultery a “greater sin,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:28, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
This verse helps us to see that infidelity begins in the heart. Our lack of faith and reverence for God leads us to serve ourselves instead.
We are ALL capable of infidelity. Which means we are all capable of adultery.
None of us, even the strongest believers, are above any sin, no matter how you define it. Further, there is no ‘greater’ sin. Both are a bummer.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Now we’d love to hear from you:
- How would you define ‘infidelity’ and ‘adultery?
- How do you guard your heart against temptation?
- What has changed for you based on reading this article?
Comment below to begin a conversation. We’d love to hear from you.
If you have discovered infidelity or adultery in your marriage, access our free eBook, Help, I Just Found Out My Spouse Is Having An Affair.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash