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Keywords: Porneia Fornication Serious Sexual Offenses Bible Commandments God Jesus Bible Translation Greek Latin English

Definition Of PORNEIA (Serious Sexual Offense)

The Greek word PORNEIA is the New Testament word used by Jesus and the apostles to describe serious sexual offenses.

By Rev. Bill McGinnis, Pastor -
Director - Internet Church Of Christ -

NOTE: July 6, 2010 - This page may not yet be totally correct. Use it with some caution. It needs more research to better sort out the exact Hebrew and Greek equivalents of "fornication" and "adultery." By the time of St. Jerome, when he was translating both the Old and New testaments into Latin, he seemed to be using the Latin equivalent of "fornication" to include every kind of sexual activity outside of marriage, whether prohibited elsewhere or not. But it is questionable to me whether this very inclusive definition of forbidden activities is truly justified by the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. For instance, I can find no Scriptural prohibition whatsoever of private solo masturbation without penetration, that is, "rubbing off." (Please see "Private Masturbation Is Not A Sin" at And also what about the Old Testament where it says, if you have sex with a virgin, you must marry her? It did not prohibit having the unmarried sex, but if you did have it with a virgin, you were required to marry her. So was it actually prohibited to have unmarried sex with a virgin as long as you married her, or not? Thus questions remain.
We know that PORNEIA includes only serious sexual offenses and not minor ones, because Jesus established PORNEIA as the only grounds on which a married person could divorce his (her) spouse against the will of the spouse. (See the Greek text of Matthew 5:32, using the word PORNEIA - So minor sexual offenses would not be of sufficient importance to justify a man's divorcing his wife against her will. (Was it not a fact that marriage, like all other agreements, could be terminated by mutual consent under Jewish law ?)

To Paul and the other Apostles, PORNEIA certainly included all adultery (Exodus 20:14), incest (Leviticus 18:6-18), bestiality (Leviticus 18:23), male homosexuality, with penetration (Leviticus 18:22), male and female homosexuality in general (Romans 1:26-27), harlotry, including paid prostitution (Ezekiel 16:41), plus perhaps other offenses unspecified.

PORNEIA was the only sexual offense that the church in Jerusalem required new Christians to avoid. This is clear proof of its inclusive nature (see Acts 15:20,29). They certainly would not have condoned adultery, bestality, incest, or male homosexuality, all specifically prohibited in Leviticus 18.

Actually, there is no clear Scriptural insistence that all sexual intercourse be only between married couples.

So "fornication," which means "human sexual intercourse other than between a man and his wife," is not really a very good translation for the word PORNEIA. The two terms are similar but not equivalent. Some fornication is not PORNEIA; and some PORNEIA is not fornication.

Examples: "Fornication but not PORNEIA" - Unmarried sex between a man and a woman, not otherwise prohibited. "PORNEIA but not Fornication" - Human sexual activity with an animal (bestiality.)

One of the clearest Scriptural prohibitions against PORNEIA is shown here . . .
    "For this is the will of God, even your sanctification,
     that ye should abstain from fornication (Greek PORNEIA):"
     (1 Thessalalonians 4:3 KJV)
So this is a description of Perfect Christian Sex, which can only be married sex.
Hebrews 13:4 (King James Version)

 "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge."

Sex For Those Who Are Not Married

Any sex for people who are not married must be at least somewhat imperfect, because marriage is one of the requirements for perfect Christian sex, as shown above.

Nevertheless, many people cannot be married for some reason. Perhaps they are grown up sexually, but too young to be married. Or perhaps they were previously married but are now widowed or divorced. Or perhaps they were never married because they could never find a suitable mate who was willing to marry them. Does God abandon them sexually? No. God provides for all our needs, including our sexual needs. However, Scripture is basically silent on the subject of sex for the unmarried. And "where Scripture is silent, opinions abound."

So the following are merely my opinions, based on what I have learned so far in life. PLEASE CONSULT THE HOLY SPIRIT BEFORE FOLLOWING ANY OF THESE RECOMMENDATIONS! THEY ARE *NOT* BASED DIRECTLY ON SCRIPTURE.

Total Celibacy, Without Orgasm Is An Option

Some people are able to do completely without sex in any form. Some people prefer to live without sex in any form. May God bless them!

Solo Masturbation Is An Option

God in His wisdom, placed our sexual organs in a location where we can reach them easily. And if we rub them for a while, we can usually get some kind of sexual release, sometimes a very satisfactory release.

Is this a sin? I find no Scriptural evidence whatsoever against masturbation, and I have looked hard for it. The Old testament story about Onan is sometimes cited as Scriptural evidence against masturbation. But God's displeasure with Onan in Genesis 38 seems to be based on Onan's subverting of his duty to father a child rather than merely spilling the seed. So I do not see Genesis 38:10 as a general prohibition on masturbation. Beyond that, there is nothing that I can find in scripture which would prohibit masturbating oneself, alone.

Evil thoughts? Filthiness? No more so than many people experience during sex with their married spouse. So where, then, is the prohibition? "I find no fault . . . ," as Pilate said of Jesus.

What About Pornography?

I simply don't know. Many people, particularly men, have a strong, in-born desire to look at something sexual during sex. If you are alone, your choice is either to look at yourself or look at sexual pictures of some sort. Ask Holy Spirit what he wants you to do. In any event, porno images can be quite dangerous to some people, drawing them into areas of thought that they should never enter. Satan is very close to porno. The safest thing is to avoid it altogether, or else confine yourself to "soft-core" pictures of individuals of the opposite sex, cheerfully modeling alone for you. Avoid depictions of sin. Also, avoid wishing you were having real sex with the person in the picture. Be content with what you have: yourself and a picture.

Better yet: get married.

Dating With Petting To Climax May Be An Option

When I was a teenager, we called it a "dry run." Both parties had a climax; nobody lost their virginity; nobody got pregnant; nobody caught any bad diseases. No harm done. A sin? I don't think so. (Don't do it with anybody's spouse!) Oral sex is similar, but more dangerous than petting to climax, because bodily fluids are exchanged

Dating with Real Sexual Intercourse

Be very careful here. You and your partner can both get hurt badly. Many people can be sexually satisfied very well without actual intercourse. Catholic tradition holds that PORNEIA includes all sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Such a strong tradition, held so long by so many Christians, should not be lightly disregarded, even if you can find no scriptural basis for it. If you are close enough to somebody to be having intercourse with them, maybe you should go ahead and get married.

Asking The Lord For Help With Our Imperfct Sex Life

Even if you are married, is your sex life perfectly aligned with the will of God, as described previously? Probably not. Mine isn't, either. But this is not surprising, since, as Scripture says . . .
           "For all have sinned, and come short of the
            glory of God;" (Romans 3:23 KJV)
So what should we do to make our sex life more perfect?

First, we should throw ourselves on the mercy of God, as the despised publican did in this verse from Scripture . . .

        "And the publican, standing afar off, would not
         lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote
         his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner."
         (Luke 18:13 KJV)
Then, we should ask God to give us what we need, according to His will for us. As Scripture says . . .
         "Be careful (anxious) for nothing; but in every
          thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
          let your requests be made known unto God." 
          (Philippians 4:6 KJV)
Here is a suggested prayer we can use . . .
     O Lord, Creator of the Universe,
     I thank you for the many blessings You have given me,
     Including the wonderful blessing of sex.
     But I have fallen short in my use of sex,
     And I have misused this gift from You.
     I acknowledge my sexual faults, and am sorry for them.
     Please be merciful to me, a sinner.
     Lord, according to Your will, please change my heart
       So that I will desire only those things that are
       Pleasing to You.
     And give to me everything I truly need 
       To live my life as You would have me live it.
     In Jesus' holy Name I pray, Amen.
May the Lord bless you as you move closer and closer to Him.
      Bill McGinnis    <><
The word "fornication" means "sexual intercourse other than between a man and his wife." Yes, some fornication would be PORNEIA, as when a man had intercourse with a female prostitute. But not all fornication would be PORNEIA.

Consider this case: Suppose a man and a woman are engaged to be married. They are very much in love. Once married, they both seriously intend never to be divorced, as God instructs. Neither one is a virgin; in fact, both are sexually experienced with other people, but their experiences have both been bad. They decide that they want to try out sex with each other before they tie the knot of marriage. Is this PORNEIA, "the things prostitutes do?" Or is it good common sense, leading to a stable Godly marriage? Yes, it's "fornication," by definition, since they are not yet married to each other. But it is not PORNEIA, at least not to me. Since it's not PORNEIA, it's not prohibited. They can go ahead and do it without violating God's will. They are serious lovers, not prostitute and client or casual pick-ups on a one-night stand (both of which would be PORNEIA, to me.)

This one example should be enough to prove that some fornication is not PORNEIA and is therefore not prohibited.

How do we decide which is which? Isn't it easier simply to prohibit all fornication? Yes, it's easier, but it's not God's will. That's the same mistake we make when we prohibit all alcohol consumption because some of it leads to drunkenness, a sin. Similarly, not all PORNEIA is fornication. Consider this case: In it's broadest sense it should be translated as "the things prostitutes do."

"Fornication" is actually a very poor choce of words. If PORNOS means "male prostitute," and PORNE means "female prostitute," (as they do), then PORNEIA would properly mean "the things prostitutes do." The best one-word English equivalent would then be "whoredoms."


May the Lord bless this presentation of His holy Word.

     Rev. Bill McGinnis  <><

See more pages like this, at our Index of Pearls Of Faith, a treasury of Biblical truths.

Please also see our related pages . . .



May the Lord bless this presentation of His holy Word.

     Rev. Bill McGinnis  <><

See more pages like this, at our Index of Pearls Of Faith, a treasury of Biblical truths.

Please also see our related pages . . .



Blessings to you. May God help us all.

       Rev. Bill McGinnis, Director -

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