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Religious Tolerance logo

A Biblical Defense of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
& transgender (GLBT) Persons by Derek S.

Notes on the scope of the Greek word
"porneia" (fornication/sexual immorality)

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The Bible has been misused, incorrectly, to condemn those who are GLBT. This series of essays seeks to show the true meaning of the “relevant” texts.

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Notes on ‘Porneia’/Fornication/Sexual Immorality:

Some say that homosexuality is condemned multiple times without being specifically mentioned in the New Testament. They say that the Levitical prohibition on homosexual behavior is understood to be part of what is condemned when the Greek word ‘porneia’ is used. But, just as my critics correctly pointed out regarding my original horrible treatment of the meaning of ‘toevah,’ one must look at the surrounding context to determine what a word means. I did that, and found that another sexual ‘toevah’ is found in Lev. 18, and that it no longer applies (see previous essay). Let us do that now, informally, with a word study of the Greek word ‘porneia.’

I am not an ancient Greek expert (as I am neither an ancient Hebrew expert), but have used e-Sword as well as dialogue with -- and reading of -- experts to help me understand these ancient terms and conduct word studies.

‘Porneia’…originally translated literally as ‘fornication’ in the King James and translated literally today by Young’s as ‘whoredom.’ We look to the surrounding context to ascertain whether a wider definition is fitting for the context. Many argue that all the prohibitions in Lev. 18 should be included. This seems somewhat unlikely even at the outset, seeing that sex during menstruation is included there and is no longer followed.

Again, I’m not an ancient (or any type of) Greek expert, but it seems to me that ‘porneia’ (i.e. πορνεία) has its origins in the Greek Septuagint’s renderings of this Levitical prohibition (interestingly not found in Lev. 18) against whoredom, prostitution, and, perhaps by implication, sex outside of marriage. So that seems to be, at least, the origins of the literal meaning of ‘porneia.’

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A word study/list of the seemingly relevant uses of ‘porneia’ in the New Testament/Covenant:

Matt 5:32
Matt 15:19

"For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications [i.e. ‘porneia’], thefts, false witness, blasphemies:"

This kind of ‘porneia’ here -- this kind of sin -- seems to come from that which is innate in human nature—the desire to rebel, and to rebel sexually against God. These things are wrong because they are against God’s will and purpose for our lives. They are universal in that they relate to the experience of all humanity -- not some behavior by some sub-section of humanity like women, slaves, or gays -- and because they are rooted in the desires of our corrupt, post-Fall hearts. There is no indication in the surrounding verses (i.e. the scriptural context) that this refers to anything other than the literal meaning of whoredom/prostitution/sex outside of marriage.

John 8:41
Acts 15:20

"But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication [i.e. ‘porneia’], and from things strangled, and from blood."

It's interesting in that it's prefaced by keeping away from things tainted by idols. Could it be that what is listed after is that which is. at that time, tainted with idols and therefore wrong for them? It seems that way. It seems to echo back to Romans 1, in that it references sin and desires originating in pagan practice and full and complete rebellion against God.

Acts 15:29

"That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication [i.e. ‘porneia’]: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well."

The apostles—Peter, Paul, and James—say that we must keep just a few things from the law, including ‘porneia.’ There is no surrounding context here indicating this is anything more than the literal meaning of whoredom/prostitution/(and possibly, through implication) sex outside of marriage.

Rom 1:29

"Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication [i.e. ‘porneia’], wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,"

They were filled with this ‘porneia’ as part of their complete rebellion against God. This is what led to (i.e. was part of the process of) obtaining what was judgment for them—homosexual attractions—and complete sexual rebellion against Him. The ‘porneia’ is super-qualified and contextualized and is a cause of the judgment of these same-sex passions and actions by God, allowing them to achieve the height of rebellion against God’s will for their lives.

1 Cor 5:1

"It is reported commonly that there is fornication [i.e. ‘porniea’] among you, and such fornication [‘porneia’] as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife."

Incest implied to be ‘porneia’… now we are potentially widening the definition of this Greek word. But it seems to be limited to the first three verses of 1 Cor. 5, and widens the definition to include only incest. That leaves the prohibitions of sex during menstruation and homosexual behavior excluded.

1 Cor 6:9-10 (actually ‘pornos’)
1 Cor 6:13

"Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication [i.e. ‘porneia’], but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body."

1 Cor 6:15-17

The context here seems to be harlotry, whoredom, prostitution. Perhaps that is how ‘porneia’ is defined here. This makes sense linguistically, as well as historically, as it is consistent with the increasing evidence that the rare Greek words a few verses earlier (verses 9 & 10) referred to a sort of pederasty in a form of prostitution.

1 Cor 6:18

"…flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication [i.e. ‘porneia’] sinneth against his own body."

The context fits perfectly with the literal rendering/interpretation/translation of the Greek word, one denoting prostitution…which seems to be the focus of this passage.

1 Cor 7:2

"Nevertheless, to avoid fornication [i.e. ‘porneia’], let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband."

The context continues to be prostitution. How can one fulfill one's sexual needs outside of marriage by any other paths but prostitution and promiscuity. Here we are seeing ‘pornia’ being used as unfaithfulness to a spouse through sex outside of marriage -- marriage within a monogamous relationship. Marriage was exclusively a covenant between man and woman. During Paul's time homosexual desire and behavior were viewed as inevitably having roots in pagan practice originating in complete rebellion against God).

With the findings of human sexuality research we now know that the roots of same-sex desire lie elsewhere. Perhaps we should examine as a church -- of course, under the guidance and seeking of the Holy Spirit -- whether we are making life more difficult for gay and lesbians persons than is called upon by the Bible. Verse 9 “it is better to marry than to burn with passion” equally applies to persons of all sexual orientations. Perhaps we should also examine whether the church is not wrongly “forbid[ing] people to marry” when we should be “receive[ing] them with thanksgiving,” “for everything God made is good” (1 Tim. 4:1-6).

Gal 5:19

"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication [i.e. ‘porneia’], uncleanness, lasciviousness,..."

The law is for these things. The context here is that we are freed from the law and led by the Spirit. There is no indication here that there is a widening of the literal meaning of the Greek word "porneia." If anything, the context indicates that ‘porneia’/fornication should be defined by the leading of the Spirit.

Eph 5:3
Col 3:5
1 Thessalonians 4:3

"For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication..."

Again, no context is present that would indicate a need to expand the literal translation of the Greek word.

Rev 2:21
We will be judged if we continue in it and do not repent of fornication!

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Copyright © 2010 by author
Originally posted: 2010-APR-18
Latest update: 2010-APR-18
Author: Derek S.

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