All Sins Are Not Alike: Porneia, Chastity, And Wisdom

In some circles it has become axiomatic that sexual sins are no worse and no different from any other sins. This is only half true. To be faithful to Scripture we must divide the question because there are two things to be considered here: the natural order and the moral law.

According to the moral law, namely the seventh commandment (numbered in the Reformed churches), sexual immorality is a transgression of God’s holy law. It says, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exod 20:14; ESV). Following the historic and ecumenical understanding of this commandment, the Reformed churches confess that this commandment covers all sexual immorality. In the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) We confess:

108. What does the seventh Commandment teach us?

That all unchastity is accursed of God, and that we should therefore loathe it with our whole heart, and live chastely and modestly, whether in holy wedlock or in single life.

109. Does God forbid nothing more in this commandment than adultery and such gross sins?

Since both our holy body and soul are temples of this Holy Spirit, it is His will that we keep both pure and holy. Therefore, He forbids all unchaste actions, gestures, words, thoughts, desires, and whatever may entice thereto.

We should note a few things. As always, there is a positive command and a prohibition. First, positively, it teaches us that chastity is to be observed both within marriage and outside of it. The Oxford English Dictionary gives three definitions for the adjective chaste: (1) “abstaining from extramarital, or from all, sexual intercourse;” (2) “not having any sexual nature or intention;” (3) “without unnecessary ornamentation; simple or restrained.” The catechism has in mind all three of these aspects of chastity.

Second, we understand the seventh commandment to forbid not just obvious sexual sins such as adultery (when married persons have sex with someone who is not their spouse) and fornication (sexual activity outside of marriage) but “all unchastity.” This covers pornography, prostitution etc., ad infin. Third, we invoke (by way of allusion) Paul’s teaching on sexual morality in 1 Corinthians 6:18–20 about which I will say more below.

From that passage we draw the good and necessary inference that “all unchaste actions, gestures, words, thoughts, desires, and whatever may entice thereto” are forbidden. We know from our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 5:28 that unchaste “thoughts and desires” are forbidden. He says, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (ESV). Perhaps the most overlooked but important clause to consider in our hyper-sexualized context is the phrase “and whatever may entice thereto.” As it has become axiomatic for some that all sins are the same, so too it seems to have become axiomatic than enticing no longer exists. Were that the case, however, the advertising business should have ended along with the death of enticement. Of course it exists. The purpose of advertising is to entice customers to buy things.

We may not doubt that sexual sins are no more or less sinful than violations of the other commandments. Idolatry, corrupt worship, profaning the Lord’s name, sabbath breaking, defying authority, murder, theft, and coveting are equally sinful. This is not to say, however, that all sins are the same in their nature. Scripture clearly distinguishes some sins from others by their nature (i.e., what they are in themselves).

In the nature of things, after the fall, it is possible for godly, regenerate men and women to be enticed (or to entice one another) into sin. We must not fall into the trap of perfectionism when it comes to sexual temptation and sin. We should not think that when one is given new life and true faith that one no longer suffers from sexual temptation. In previous eras we recognized this reality. Those who have been born in the wake of the 2nd sexual revolution (post 1967) have had their moral compasses recalibrated and thus may not be able to tell north from south without deliberately re-calibrating. Because of the sexual revolution, we hardly know what chastity is any more. Under this heading we could discuss dress, and decorum but we need first to grasp an underlying concept. Chastity is the recognition that, after puberty, humans are sexual beings. This recognition is not, as has been alleged, “Freudian.” It is biblical. Chastity is not “sublimation.” It is the recognition of reality. Superman does not sublimate his power, he conceals it. There is a real difference. To look at his alter ego, mild-mannered Clark Kent, one would never know that he was Superman. He has his powers but he does not brandish them about. One cannot imagine Superman saying, “Sun’s out, guns out!” It would be out of character. It would be immodest. Chastity is sexual modesty.

We need not appeal to Clark Kent, however, because we have Paul’s own instruction:

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret (Eph 5:11-12).

This is modesty in speech. Some things are so contrary to God’s moral law, to piety, that we should not only avoid them, we should not even speak of them.

Paul was realistic about human sexuality after the fall. He was aware that it is possible for pious Christians to become ensnared in sin (1 Tim 2:26). Further, some sexual sins (e.g., homosexuality) are not only sinful they are against nature itself. This is a truth seems too frequently ignored in the contemporary discussions. God’s Word says that some sins are not only sins but they are against nature itself: “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature” (Rom 1:26). The plain truth is that heterosexual sex outside of marriage is sin but homosexual acts are not only sinful but males were never intended to have sex with other males and females were never intended to have sex with females. It is contrary to the natural order instituted by God.

Further, Paul expressly places sexual sins in a distinct category:

Flee sexual immorality (πορνείαν). Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the one committing sexual immorality (πορνεύων) sins against his own body or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God with your body (1 Cor 6:18–20).

There are two classes of sin: those outside the body (e.g., theft and murder) and those “against the body,” namely sexual immorality. It is ironic that we speak so freely of “porn” because that is the root of the words that Paul uses for sexuality immorality. In it we have the clearest example of the sort of enticement to which the catechism refers and that Paul has in mind.

We are told that, when confronted with a moral threat, humans have two basic impulses: flight or fight. Sometimes we must stand and fight. Paul uses that very imagery in Ephesians 6:10–16. He speaks of “fighting the good fight twice (1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7). Sometimes, however, running away is the better choice. Self-defense experts tell us that whenever possible, run away. Fighting or killing someone is a last, desperate resort. Some sins are so dangerous, so ensnaring, that the only thing to do is to run away.

Wisdom knows when to fight and when to run. Wisdom also recognizes the existence of the differences between men and women, that by creation, we are wired differently. That is to say that we would be different even without the fall but that after the fall, those natural differences are corrupted and instead of being complementary they become opportunities for discord, strife, and sin. Men and women look at sex differently. Both are tempted to sexual immorality in different ways. Men and women are both sinners, both in need of grace, both in need of repentance, and both in need of sanctification of their sexuality but the way that works itself will probably be different for men and women.

All sins are violations of God’s holy law but all sins are not the same. Some, such as sexual sins, are “against the body” and against the soul in a way that other sins are not. Christians ought to recognize this distinction and, by God’s grace alone, in union with Christ, the Holy Spirit helping us, act accordingly.

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  1. This is an excellent explanation of Heidelberg 108 and 109. It also ties in perfectly with the post on Pastors, the Graham Rule, and Wisdom. God considers sexual sin particularly heinous because our bodies are His property! They were purchased with the blood of His precious Son! Our bodies are indwelt by His Holy Spirit. Sexual sin is therefore uniquely offensive to God, that is why any temptation or situation that might lead us to fall into it should always be avoided. This idea that we are above such temptation, or that we have the strength to resist it, when we allow ourselves to be in potentially dangerous situations is just the mistake that Satan is waiting to take advantage of. Aside from the devastating effects infidelity has on the sinner, his family, and everyone involved with him, it is a sin that defiles his body, the blood bought property of our Lord and Savior, which He intends as a temple where God is glorified. Run from it! Thank you for making this point.

  2. Perhaps, Angela, all sins are uniquely offensive in some different way to God. Paul does not assign a relative heinousness to other sins, in saying a person sins against his own body, but does assign a unique attribute to the sins against our own body, a self-reference from perpetrator to victim that is akin to the spilling of food somewhere, compared to the spilling of food upon oneself. The description “against his own body” has a wisdom-saying feel to it, as if to say, “how wise is that?”

    • Thank you Larry, for this remarkable insight. Other sins are against God and neighbor, but sexual sin has a unique component in that it is uniquely against our own person, that defiles us.

    • Larry,
      Thank you for this insightful comment. Other sins are against God and\or neighbor but sexual sin has a unique component, as it is against ourselves, defiling our own body.

    • These posts on sexual sin, and the previous post, Born Of A Woman, are cause to reflect on how amazing this gift of a human body really is, and how sin that defiles it is a unique affront to God. Christ condescended to join His deity to a body just like ours, so that He could not only be our representative, but to have fellowship with us. He seems to have delighted in calling Himself the Son of Man. The temple, the centre of OT worship, was typological of the human body of Christ, so that he prophesied that if you destroy it, He would raise it in three days. God is making us like Him by regeneration of the indwelling Spirit, in this body of ours, His purchased possession. This very body will be raised incorruptible and glorified. When everything was taken from him, Job gloried that with his very eyes he would see God. When we consider how wonderful this body is, it is God’s masterpiece, created in His own image, it should give us every incentive to avoid defiling it, and from tempting others by sinful choices and actions.

    • Thank you Angela for the (duplicated) praise. 😉

      By professor saying that immorality is sin a a way that other sins are not (against a person’s own body), and by my saying that all sins are uniquely offensive in some way to God, I didn’t mean to imply that immorality in various forms cannot be compared to other sins for severity.

      I have heard an argument that Jesus did not preach against homosexuality, even though He mentions Sodom. This argument supposedly is buttressed by using Ez 16:49 (but not 16:50!), to the effect that mentioning Sodom, by itself, is only to specify Ez 16:49 sins.

      But when He mentions Sodom, it is precisely to point out comparisons of severity between sins! All sins are not alike … and some sins are far worse than others, namely, the sin Christ indicts in mentioning Sodom: unbelief in Him. It’s not merely that unbelief in Him is worse than not tithing one’s garden herbs: it will be more tolerable “for Sodom” in the day of judgment than for the unbelieving towns (Mt 10:15; Lk 10:12), because of the notorious severity of its sins. If the Lord’s comparison to Sodom doesn’t depend on the severity of the sins of Sodom, than His indictment of the unbelieving towns is emptied of force.

    • Thank you, Larry. I agree, rejecting Christ is the unforgivable sin. Every other sin can be forgiven through our High Priest and His sacrifice, but if we reject Him there is nothing left but a fearful looking for the judgement. Hebrews 10: 27

    • What brings me back to my senses is the thought that it’s my sin that killed Jesus as well as inherited sin – we are saved by Grace and are In Christ Jesus – Father sees us as Righteous in His Son – and the sanctity process is lifelong with us all.
      What an amazing God we serve

  3. Good reminder on the sinfulness of sexual sins.

    If you’re having immense difficulty with sexual sins and temptations, bring it to Christ, and a trusted friend in the Lord, and even a church leader/elder.

    In Christ there is hope, restoration, forgiveness, and a community of believers to aid and encourage those who battle sexual sins of all stripes (Heb 12:1-2).

  4. RSC — Appreciate your post. Your statement that “some sins are not only sins but they are against nature itself” caught my attention. The phrase ‘contrary to/against nature’ in Rom 1 provoked a question. It is arresting that Paul attributes the trait ‘contrary to nature’ to homosexual acts. My question is, does he attribute that trait *uniquely* to homosexual acts, or is it a trait also attributable to other sins? For example, is the sin of bestiality also ‘contrary to nature’ in that it is contrary to man’s nature as human and the beast’s nature as animal? Further, might we say that all sins are ‘contrary to man’s nature’ in that all sins are contrary to man’s nature as a creature who owes service to his Creator? I expect it’s agreeable that all sins are idolatrous and contrary to man’s nature as creature. Interestingly, Paul describes both idolatry and homosexual relations as involving an act of ‘exchange’ and, by implication, as contrary to nature (cf. 1.25 with 1.26b).

  5. RSC — Yes, I’m tracking with you. It seems inescapable that Paul intends to describe an increasing degradation of the creature (slippery slope).

    • rfwhite,
      I find your comment very interesting. There is a continual war going on between God and Satan. Satan is always on a mission to destroy God’s creation. Sex is the way God completes His people in the natural order, so Satan is trying to pervert it. Throughout the Scripture sexual sin has the unique distinction of being a type for idolatry, that leads to a vortex of Satanic perversion. The worship of Baal and false religion features all manner of sexual perversion, which goes against God’s intended use for sex as between a man and a woman who would give birth and nurture their children in the family unit. God’s promise is, I will be a God to you AND your children. That promise depends on the right use of sexual relations and passing on the spiritual promise in the family unit.

  6. The problem is that our understanding of “porneia” as it was used in Paul’s day is different from what the authors of the Confessions understood it to mean. They translated it to mean “fornication,” but this is almost universally rejected today. Today most translations use “sexual immorality” to translate porneia, but this is an incredibly broad and vague term. There is a lot of scholarly activity going into exactly what the NT authors (including Jesus) had in mind when they wrote to flee porneia. Today the scholarly consensus seems to be that, in its broadest usage, porneia means any sexual immorality as defined in the Torah. Other translators use the context in which porneia was used; Jesus, for example, was clearly talking about adultery when using porneia.

    Regardless, it’s hard to make the case that “porneia” refers to all sexuality outside of marriage. The Torah makes no such prohibition, and if porneia refers to sexuality forbidden in the Torah, then the boundaries of sexual sin are not nearly as clear cut as the Reformers thought and as many Christians think today. Sexual sin is dangerous and should be scrupulously avoided. At the same time, we shouldn’t build unnecessary fences that effectively bind consciences beyond what Scripture commands.

    • Mason,

      I’m allowing your comment to stand because it’s a good opportunity to refute this nonsense. Four standard NT and LXX references are sufficient:


      πορνεία, ας, ἡ (of various kinds of ‘unsanctioned sexual intercourse’: Demosth. et al.; LXX, En, Test12Patr; GrBar [in vice lists]; AscIs, Philo, apolog. exc. Ar. W. φθορά Iren. 1, 28, 1 [Harv. I 220, 14])
      ① unlawful sexual intercourse, prostitution, unchastity, fornication, 1 Cor 5:1ab (CdeVos, NTS 44, ’98, 104–14); 6:13 (on 1 Cor 5–6 s. PTomson, Paul and the Jewish Law: CRINT III/1, ’90, 97–102); Hm 4, 1, 1. In a vice list (cp. AscIs 2:5) Ro 1:29 v.l. W. ἀκαθαρσία 2 Cor 12:21; Gal 5:19; Eph 5:3; Col 3:5. Differentiated fr. μοιχεία (Philo, Mos. 1, 300; s. also πορνεύω 1) Mt 15:19; Mk 7:21 (WGabriel, Was ist ‘porneia’ im Sprachgebr. Jesu?: Ethik 7, ’31, 106–9; 363–69); Hm 8:3; D 5:1 (the pl. denotes individual acts). On the other hand μοιχεία appears as πορνεία (cp. Sir 23:23) Hm 4, 1, 5. Of the sexual unfaithfulness of a married woman Mt 5:32; 19:9 (for the view that ref. is made in these pass. to forbidden degrees of marriage, s. 2 below.—JSickenberger, TQ 123, ’42, 189–206, ZNW 42, ’49, 202ff; KStaab [παρεκτός 2]; AAllgeier, Angelicum 20, ’43, 128–42. Cp. AFridrichsen, SEÅ 9, ’44, 54–58; AIsaksson, Marriage and Ministry in the New Temple, ’65, 127–42 [lit.]; s. also JFitzmyer, TS 37, 76, 197–226). Caused by lust D 3:3. διὰ τὰς πορνείας 1 Cor 7:2 (the pl. points out the various factors that may bring about sexual immorality; PTomson [s. above] 103–8). BMalina, Does Porneia Mean ‘Fornication’? NovT 14, ’72, 10–17. φεύγειν τὴν π. 6:18. Also ἀπέχεσθαι ἀπὸ τῆς π. 1 Th 4:3 (cp. Tobit 4:12). ἐκ π. γεννηθῆναι be an illegitimate child, a bastard (cp. Cephalion [II A.D.]: 93 Fgm. 5 p. 444, 5 Jac. ἐγέννησε ἐκ πορ.; Gen 38:24) J 8:41. On ἀπέχεσθαι τῆς πορνείας καὶ πνικτοῦ Ac 15:20 (cp. vs. 29; 21:25 and s. 2 below) s. the lit. s.v. πνικτός and in BBacon, The Apost. Decree against πορνεία: Exp. 8th ser., 7, 1914, 40–61.
      ② participation in prohibited degrees of marriage, fornication (s. Lev. 18:16–18; cp. Acts 15:20–29, s. Bruce, comm. Ac; 21:25) Mt 5:32; 19:9 (w. some favor RSmith, Matthew [Augsburg] ’89,100; RGundry, Matthew ’82, 91: “no need to adopt obscure definitions of πορνείας, such as marriage within the forbidden degrees. … The specific word for adultery does not appear in the exceptive phrase simply because a general expression occurs in Deuteronomy” [24:1], but s. BWitherington, NTS 31, ’85, 571–76: ‘except in the case of incest’. On these pass. s. 1.).
      ③ immorality of a transcendent nature, fornication, in imagery, of polytheistic cult in the mystic city Babylon, which appears in Rv as a prostitute with an international clientele. Fr. the time of Hosea the relationship betw. God and his people was regarded as a marriage bond. This usage was more easily understandable because some Semitic and Graeco-Roman cults were at times connected w. sexual debauchery (cp. Hos 6:10; Jer 3:2, 9; 4 Km 9:22; on the positive side, for concern about propriety on the part of some cults s. e.g. SIG 820 [83/84 A.D.], in which an Ephesian official assures Rome that the annual autumn fertility festival is conducted ‘with much chastity and due observance of established customs’. This level of conduct prob. stands up well against activities associated with celebration of a modern Mardi Gras.) Rv 19:2. μετανοῆσαι ἐκ τῆς π. αὐτῆς repent of her immorality 2:21; cp. 9:21. ὁ οἶνος τοῦ θυμοῦ τῆς π. the wine of her passionate immorality 14:8; 18:3 (on these passages s. θυμός 1 and 2). ὁ οἶνος τῆς π. 17:2. τὰ ἀκάθαρτα τῆς π. vs. 4 (ἀκάθαρτος 2).—V.l. for πονηρίας Hv 1, 1, 8 (Leutzsch, Hermas 447 n. 53). S. next entry 2.—DELG s.v. πέρνημι. M-M. EDNT.

      William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 854.


      88.271 πορνεύω; ἐκπορνεύω; πορνεία, ας f: to engage in sexual immorality of any kind, often with the implication of prostitution—‘to engage in illicit sex, to commit fornication, sexual immorality, fornication, prostitution.’
      πορνεύω: ὁ δὲ πορνεύων εἰς τὸ ἴδιον σῶμα
      ἁμαρτάνει ‘the person who commits immorality sins against his own body’ 1 Cor 6:18.
      ἐκπορνεύω: ὡς Σόδομα καὶ Γόμορρα … ἐκπορνεύσασαι ‘they committed sexual immorality … like Sodom and Gomorrah’ Jd 7.
      πορνεία: τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, ὁ ἁγιασμὸς ὑμῶν, ἀπέχεσθαι ὑμᾶς ἀπὸ τῆς πορνείας ‘this is God’s will (for you; he wants you) to be consecrated to him and to abstain from sexual immorality’ 1 Th 4:3. In some NT contexts πορνεία may refer specifically to incest.

      Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 770.

      and on the LXX:

      Gn 38,24; Nm 14,33; 2 Kgs 9,22; Is 47,10; 57,9
      whoredom, fornication Gn 38,24; sexual urges Tob 8,7; unfaithfulness and apostasy (in relation to God) Hos 4,12
      *Is 47,10 ἡ πορνεία σου your unfaithfulness corr. ἡ πονηρία σου your wickedness-רעתך Is 57,9
      Cf. CARAGOUNIS 1996, 548–554; LARCHER 1985, 805–807; SEELIGMANN 1948 974 (Is 47,10; 57,9); →NIDNTT; TWNT

      Johan Lust, Erik Eynikel, and Katrin Hauspie, A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint : Revised Edition (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft: Stuttgart, 2003).

      On the LXX, MT, NT, and Apostolic Fathers:

      B. The Old Testament.

      I. Usage.

      1. In the LXX the group πορνεύω is normally used for the root זנה, while with equal consistency μοιχεύω is used for נאף (→ IV, 729, 14 ff.). a. The verb πορνεύω is predominantly the rendering of זָנָה, once of קָדֵשׁ,, Dt. 23:18. After the analogy of Arabic this seems to have referred originally to sexual satisfaction on the part of the woman. In the early period, esp. in nomadic life, it was customary for a young girl to be married in her own tribe. Sometimes young men might break the custom and marry girls from a neighbouring tribe. זֹנָה is used for the woman whose husband does not belong to her tribe. Ju. 11:1 is probably to be understood in this sense, and perhaps also 16:1. b. Then זנה, which in the OT, with the uniform sway of patriarchate (Nu. 25:1 is an exception), is used only of the woman, develops into the proper term for “to have intercourse with another,” “to be unfaithful,” “to play the harlot” (LXX πορνεύω 16 times and the stronger ἐκπορνεύω 36 times). It is sometimes abs., Hos. 3:3; Jer. 3:6, 8; Ez. 23:19; Ps. 106:39 etc., sometimes used with a prep., most commonly אַחַר, אַחֲרֵי , ὀπίσω and the man with whom there is intercourse (Ex. 34:15, 16; Lv. 17:7; 20:6; Nu. 15:39; 1 Ch. 5:25 etc.), also with εἰς (Lv. 20:5), or the acc. or אֶל (Jer. 3:1; Ez. 16:28), then מִן, מֵעַל , מִתַּחַת , ἀπό and the man in question (Hos. 4:12; 9:1; Ps. 73:27). אִשָּׁה זֹנָה is the occasional or professional harlot (Lv. 21:7; Jos. 2:1 [γυνὴ πόρνη]; Ju. 11:1; 16:1; 1 K. 3:16 etc.), or simply זוֹנָה (fem. part.; Gn. 34:31; 38:15; Jos. 6:17 etc.). It is worth noting that LXX always has the sharply censorious and disparaging πόρνη; only in Ju. 11:2 and twice in the Wisdom literature (never in the NT) is ἑταίρα used in the sense of “harlot.” Examples show that זנה can be used of the married woman who is unfaithful to her husband, (Hos. 1, 2; Ez. 16:23) or of the betrothed who by law already belongs to her husband, Gn. 38:24. In content πορνεύω here is equivalent to μοιχεύω. In the hi זנה means “to seduce into whoredom,” Ex. 34:16; Lv. 19:29; 2 Ch. 21:11, 13; always ἐκπορνεύω in the LXX. It also has the strengthened sense of q, Hos. 4:10, 18; 5:3. c. In distinction from secular usage the OT employs πορνεύειν, like,זנה, in the transf. sense (→ 587, 1 ff.).
      2. πορνεία, “whoredom,” is used for זְנוּנִים (Gn. 38:24; 4 Βασ‌. 9:22; Ez. 23:11, 29; Na. 3:4; Hos. 1:2 etc.), זְנוּת, which is lit. only in Hos. 4:11; Sir. 41:17, elsewhere fig. for “unfaithfulness to God” (→ 587, 1 ff.), and in the latter sense for תַּזְנוּת, which occurs only in Ez. 16 and 23 (22 times all told). Here, too, fornication may in some circumstances involve adultery, Sir. 23:23 → 587, 1 ff. 3. πόρνη → 585, 5 ff. 4. πόρνος, first found only in the Apocr., 3 times in Sir. 23:17, 18 vl. (no Heb. original). 5. ἐκπορνεύω, like πορνεύω, means a. “to fornicate,” Gn. 38:24; with acc. “to prostitute,” Lv. 19:19; b. “to lead into fornication” (like the Heb. hi), Ex. 34:16; 2 Ch. 21:11; c. transf. “to whore after other gods” (Ex. 34:15), “to turn aside from God,” Hos. 1:2; 4:12.

      II. Fornication in National Life in the OT.

      The older historical books show that the harlot was a familiar figure in national life. Veiled like a harlot, Tamar sits by the wayside and thus achieves her goal of intercourse with Judah, Gn. 38:15. The spies make their way to what seems to be the well-known house of the harlot Rahab, Jos. 2:1. Jephthah is υἱὸς γυναικὸς πόρνης, Ju. 11:1. Samson is acquainted with a harlot when he visits Gaza, Ju. 16:1. 1 K. 3:16 depicts a quarrel in a brothel. Severe social problems might also drive women to earn their living in this way, Am. 7:17. Custom naturally scorned the πόρνη who distributed her favours thus. In the story of the raping of Dinah the family or brother undertook to protect and avenge the violated sister. An honourable παρθένος was not to be treated like a πόρνη, Gn. 34:31. It should not be overlooked, however, that זנה refers only to the woman. Extra-marital intercourse on the part of a man did not come under this concept and was not forbidden so long as he did not take the wife of a fellow-countryman. This significant distinction is probably grounded in the unequivocal patriarchalism of the OT and it is a result of the unambiguously patriarchal stamp on the view of revelation and religion in Israel. The influence of the matriarchal nature religion of Canaan with its religious interpretation of unrestricted sex shattered the strict custom of Israel. On the high places secular and sacral prostitution went hand in hand, Jer. 3:2. On the basis of their understanding of God and man the prophets combatted both as strenuously as they could, Am. 2:7; Jer. 5:7 etc. From that time onwards any religious justification of extra-marital intercourse became impossible. The later provisions of the Law developed in part out of this prophetic attack, cf. also 1 K. 14:24. Acc. to Dt. 22:21 the licentiousness of a betrothed woman is to be punished by stoning on the ground that she thereby commits a serious offence which threatens the whole people and that she has made her father’s house into a house of whoredom. The social and religious ostracising of the πόρνηʼ is expressed in the law that the holy priest of Yahweh may not take such a woman to wife (cf. the Holiness Code Lv. 21:7, 14) and also in the law that if the daughter of a priest is guilty of licentiousness she is to be burned alive because she has desecrated the sacred person of her father, Lv. 21:9. No child of fornication is to be accepted as a member of the holy community of God, Dt. 23:3. Passages which originally prohibited cultic prostitution through the sacred Law of God became in the later tradition general prohibitions of fornication in Israel. Acc. to Lv. 19:29 the toleration or even the promoting of fornication, e.g., on the part of a daughter of Israel, defiles the whole land and brings it under the threat of God’s judgment. In Dt. 23:18 f. the repudiation of cultic prostitution in the original is in the LXX a general and unconditional divine prohibition of all πορνεία in the holy people. Prv. 5 warns against the πόρνη, Prv. 6:24–35 admonishes the married man not to have intercourse with a harlot, and c. 7 counsels the young man not to let himself be captivated by the charms of the prostitute. Instead he should pay heed to the true wisdom which is grounded in obedience to God, c. 8. From the repeated designation of the harlot as זָרָה it has been deduced that in c. 1–9 the warning is against surrender to the alien secular wisdom of Greece.40 Such allegorising is not supported by the very concrete depictions of the situation. On the other hand, the warnings do not seem to refer only to licentiousness. Certainly the frequently used זָרָה does not refer only to the wife of another, nor does it imply that harlots are mostly foreigners. The ref. is to native women, strangers to the locality, who constitute a dangerous temptation to the men of Israel.42

      … III. Paul, Hebrews and James.

      Whereas the question of πορνεία is seldom dealt with in the preaching of Jesus and the primitive community, it arises more frequently in Paul. As compared with the different judgment of the Greek world and ancient syncretism, the concrete directions of Paul bring to the attention of Gentile Christians the incompatibility of πορνεία and the kingdom of God. No πόρνος has any part in this kingdom, 1 C. 6:9; Eph. 5:5. In 1 C. 6:9 the sexual vices (πόρνοι, μοιχοί, μαλακοί, ἀρσενοκοῖται) are put next to the chief sin of idolatry. The judgment which smote the Israelites, the fore-fathers of Christians (1 C. 10:1), in the wilderness when they fell victim to idolatry and lust, and thus tempted God, took place as an example (τυπικῶς), 10:8, 11. The situation of Christians is indeed much more serious, since they are at the end of the age, 10:11. In the shameful vices of unnatural sex relations, which spread like a plague in the Graeco-Roman world of his day, Paul sees the outworking of a severe judgment of God, R. 1:18 ff. → 582, 7 ff.
      As individuals are to steer clear of πορνεία so it is the apostle’s supreme concern to keep the communities free from such sins, since toleration of the offender makes the whole church guilty and constitutes an eschatological threat, 1 C. 5:1 ff.; cf. Hb. 12:14–16. Thus Paul demands that the congregation expel the impenitent wrong-doer (1 C. 5:13) and break off all fellowship with those who live licentious lives (5:9). 2 C. 12:19–21 expresses a concern lest the impenitence of those who have committed fornication should make necessary his intervention in the affairs of the community. The πορνεία of individual members makes the whole church unclean and threatens the whole work of the apostle, which is to present pure communities to Christ, 2 C. 11:2. In contrast to the different views of the matter in the Greek world and especially in Gnosticism, Paul warns against making light of the holy commandment of God in this field, God’s mighty will for the salvation of men is ἁγιασμός, 1 Th. 4:3; cf. also Eph. 5:3–5. This includes sanctification of the body too and thus excludes any acceptance of fornication, 1 Th. 4:1–5. The Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit, 1 C. 6:19. Hence he cannot do as he likes with himself. He may not give to a harlot the members which belong to Christ, 6:15f. A man shames his own body by fornication, 6:18. He also brings shame on the body of Christ. Licentiousness is one of the expressions of the σάρξ, Gl. 5:19. It is totally opposed to the work of the Holy Spirit, Gl. 5:22. It belongs to what is earthly (Col. 3:5), whereas Christians should seek what is above (Col. 3:1–3). Paul again and again mentions πορνεία alongside (→ n. 80) ἀκαθαρσία, 2 C. 12:21; Gl. 5:19; Col. 3:5; cf. also Eph. 5:3, 5. He realises that not every one has the gift of continence, 1 C. 7:7. As a protection against the evil of fornication the man who does not have it should take the divinely prescribed way of a lawful marriage, 1 C. 7:2. Severe though Paul’s condemnation of fornication may be, there is no doubt that for him it is forgiven through Christ like all other sins (καὶ ταῦτά τινες ἦτε· ἀλλά … κτλ. 1 C. 6:11). Along the same lines as Paul Hb. ascribes the salvation of Rahab the harlot to her faith (11:31), though Jm. (2:25) takes another view and thinks she is justified by her works.

      IV. Revelation.

      Among the seven letters of Rev. that to Pergamon accuses the Nicolaitans of leading the congregation astray by compromising with the cultural life of the surrounding world in the eating of meat sacrificed to idols and the practising of free sexual intercourse (πορνεία), 2:14. For the author the OT model for this is the doctrine of Balaam who led Israel astray in the same fashion, Nu. 25:1 ff.; 31:16. Along the same lines the church of Thyatira is charged with tolerating a prophetess who teaches the same practices 2:20f.; the name of Jezebel is the OT reference in this instance, 2 K. 9:7, 22. Since there is mention of teaching in both instances, we are to think in terms of parties with the same basic principles, namely, libertine Gnostics who not only permit the eating of idol meats and free sex but who boast of this freedom as a particular proof (cf. the “strong” of 1 C. 8:10) of Christian superiority.
      Among the leading pagan sins to which men will cling in the last days despite all the divine judgments, Rev. 9:21 mentions idolatry, murder, witchcraft, and theft, and along with these unrestricted sexual indulgence.
      In the description of the world power and metropolis of Rome, the counterpart of ungodly Babylon (c. 17–19), πόρνη and πορνεύω are used as comprehensive terms for its utter degeneracy. Like the city harlots of the day it bears its name on a golden head-band, and this name declares its nature: Βαβυλὼν ἡ μεγάλη, ἡ μήτηρ τῶν πορνῶν καὶ τῶν βδελυγμάτων τῆς γῆς, 17:5. It is the leading harlot of the world, the great seducer of the nations and their kings. The whoring of these with it (18:3, 9) is to be construed in the first instance along the lines of Is. 23:17; Na. 3:4. They seek its favours politically and economically. But the word embraces more than this. The nations ape the customs of the metropolis even to whoredom in the literal sense. Above all, the capital is called πόρνη as the centre of paganism with its harlot-like apostasy from the true God. The great temptress offers her intoxicating drink to kings and merchants in a golden cup, 14:8; 17:2, 4. The cup (→ 144, 19 ff.), which is filled with the abominations associated with fornication (17:4), promises pleasure, but from God’s standpoint it is a cup of God’s wrath, 14:8; 16:19 → V, 434, 5 ff. The great whore (19:2), the epitome of apostasy from the one true God and of the unavoidably related syncretistic intercourse with other gods, is contrasted with the pure community of God, the bride of the Messiah (21:9; 22:17), to which the unclean man has no access (21:27) because only the Lamb and God Himself is worshipped in it and by it. Among the manifest sinners whom the second death awaits πόρνοι are again mentioned along with idolaters, murderers and others, 21:8; 22:15.

      E. The Post-Apostolic Fathers.

      Herm. m., 4, 1, 1 warns against πορνεία which is the result of carnal desire, cf. also Did., 3, 3. Though πορνεία (or πορνεύω) is distinguished materially from μοιχεύω on the one side (Herm. m., 8, 3: Did., 5, 1; 2, 2; Barn., 19, 4), on the other μοιχεύω is πορνεύω (Herm. m., 4, 1, 5). A noteworthy fact is that there is no transf. use of πόρνη κτλ. in the post-apost. fathers. This is esp. connected with the abandonment of the terminology of the OT prophets.

      Friedrich Hauck and Seigfried Schulz, “Πόρνη, Πόρνος, Πορνεία, Πορνεύω, Ἐκπορνεύω,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 584–595.

    • On the relationship of sexual perversion and other gross sin, I wonder if HB readers are aware of the case of Toronto serial killer, Bruce McArthur. Bruce McArthur is a homosexual and a landscaper who used his landscaping business to hide the remains of other homosexual men he killed during homosexual sex acts. So far he has been charged with the murder of eight homosexual men, and the attempted murder of another man that they found chained to a bed in McArthur’s apartment. They are still searching for, and finding new human remains, on property that McArthur landscaped. The case has also prompted investigations of other missing homosexual men. They think he may have been active for many years.

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