Porneia

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The Greek word, porneia, means "unclean sexual activity." It is the root of the English word, "pornography."

"The Issue of Pre-Marital Sex."
The word “fornication” has gone out of fashion and is not in common use to describe non-marital sex. However, it is an excellent translation for porneia, which basically referred to any kind of sex outside of marriage, be it gay or straight, prostitution, incest, or bestiality. This has been contested (see the debate between B. Malina and J. Jensen in Nov.Test. 14 (1972) and 20 (1978)) but the overwhelming weight of scholarship and all the available evidence from the ancient world points firmly in this direction. “Flee sexual immorality (porneia) and pursue self-control” (cf. 1 Thess 4:1-8) was the straightforward message to Christians in a sex-crazed world.

Sexual impurity

HTML Bible / Sacred Name Bible concordance:

Strong's
Number
Strong's
Root
Variant and Scripture
4202 porneia
Root meaning
"From 4203; harlotry (including adultery and incest); figuratively, idolatry:--fornication."

porneiai
"For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery [moicheiai], unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy" (Matt 15:19).
"From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder" (Mark 7:21).
porneian
"As for the Gentiles who have come to believe, we sent them our decision that they abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage" (Acts 21:25).
"Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body" (1 Cor 6:18).
"Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry" (Col 3:5).
porneias
"But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery [moicheuthenai], and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery [moichatai]" (Matt 5:32).
"You are doing the works of your father!" (So) they said to him, "We are not illegitimate. We have one Father, God" (John 8:41).
"... but tell them by letter to avoid pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals, and blood" (Acts 15:20).
"... namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell." (Acts 15:29).
"... but because of cases of immorality every man should have his own wife, and every woman her own husband" (1 Cor 7:2).
"This is the will of God, your holiness: that you refrain from immorality" (1 Th 4:3).
"I have given her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her harlotry" (Rev 2:21).
"Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic potions, their unchastity, or their robberies" (Rev 9:21).
"A second angel followed, saying: "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, that made all the nations drink the wine of her licentious passion" (Rev 14:8).
"The kings of the earth have had intercourse with her, and the inhabitants of the earth became drunk on the wine of her harlotry" (Rev 17:2).
"The woman was wearing purple and scarlet and adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She held in her hand a gold cup that was filled with the abominable and sordid deeds of her harlotry" (Rev 17:4).
"For all the nations have drunk the wine of her licentious passion. The kings of the earth had intercourse with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her drive for luxury" (Rev 18:3).
porneia
"I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery" (Matt 19:9).
"It is widely reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of a kind not found even among pagans--a man living with his father's wife" (1 Cor 5:1).
"'Food for the stomach and the stomach for food,' but God will do away with both the one and the other. The body, however, is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body" (1 Cor 6:13).
"I fear that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, immorality, and licentiousness they practiced" (2 Cor 12:21).
"Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness ..." (Gal 5:19).
"Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you, as is fitting among holy ones ..." (Eph 5:3).
"He has condemned the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her harlotry. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants" (Rev 19:2).
4203 porneuô
Root meaning
"From 4204; to act the harlot, i.e. (literally) indulge unlawful lust (of either sex), or (figuratively) practise idolatry:--commit (fornication)."

eporneusan
"Let us not indulge in immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell within a single day" (1 Cor 10:8).
"The kings of the earth have had intercourse with her, and the inhabitants of the earth became drunk on the wine of her harlotry" (Rev 17:2).
"For all the nations have drunk the wine of her licentious passion. The kings of the earth had intercourse with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her drive for luxury" (Rev 18:3).
porneusai
"Yet I have a few things against you. You have some people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who instructed Balak to put a stumbling block before the Israelites: to eat food sacrificed to idols and to play the harlot" (Rev 2:14).
"Yet I hold this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, who teaches and misleads my servants to play the harlot and to eat food sacrificed to idols" (Rev 2:20).
porneusantes
"The kings of the earth who had intercourse with her in their wantonness will weep and mourn over her when they see the smoke of her pyre" (Rev 18:9).
porneuômen
"Let us not indulge in immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell within a single day" (1 Cor 10:8).
porneuôn
"Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body" (1 Cor 6:18).
4204 pornê
Root meaning
"Feminine of 4205; a strumpet; figuratively, an idolater:--harlot, whore."

pornai
"Which of the two did his father's will?" They answered, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you" (Matt 21:31).
"When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him" (Matt 21:32).
pornên
"The ten horns that you saw and the beast will hate the harlot; they will leave her desolate and naked; they will eat her flesh and consume her with fire" (Rev 17:16).
"He has condemned the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her harlotry. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants" (Rev 19:2).
pornês
"Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take Christ's members and make them the members of a prostitute? Of course not!" (1 Cor 6:15).
"Then one of the seven angels who were holding the seven bowls came and said to me, "Come here. I will show you the judgment on the great harlot who lives near the many waters" (Rev 17:1).
pornê
"(Or) do you not know that anyone who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For 'the two,' it says, 'will become one flesh.'" (1 Cor 6:16).
"By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with the disobedient, for she had received the spies in peace" (Heb 11:31).
"And in the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by a different route?" (Jam 2:25).
"Then he said to me, "The waters that you saw where the harlot lives represent large numbers of peoples, nations, and tongues" (Rev 17:15).
pornôn
"But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf" (Luke 15:30).
"On her forehead was written a name, which is a mystery, 'Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.'" (Rev 17:5).
4205 pornos
Root Meaning
"From pernemi (to sell; akin to the base of 4097); a (male) prostitute (as venal), i.e. (by analogy) a debauchee (libertine):--fornicator, whoremonger."

pornois
"I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people ..." (1 Cor 5:9).
"not at all referring to the immoral of this world or the greedy and robbers or idolaters; for you would then have to leave the world" (1 Cor 5:10).
"... the unchaste, sodomites, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is opposed to sound teaching ..." (1 Ti 1:10).
"But as for cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of every sort, their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death." (Rev 21:8).
pornoi
"Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites ..." (1 Cor 6:9).
"Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the unchaste, the murderers, the idol-worshipers, and all who love and practice deceit" (Rev 22:15).
pornos
"But I now write to you not to associate with anyone named a brother, if he is immoral, greedy, an idolater, a slanderer, a drunkard, or a robber, not even to eat with such a person" (1 Cor 5:11).
"Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure or greedy person, that is, an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (Eph 5:5).
"... that no one be an immoral or profane person like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal" (Heb 12:16).
pornous
"Let marriage be honored among all and the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge the immoral and adulterers [moichous]" (Heb 13:4).

Adultery

Sacred Name Bible concordance:

Strong's
Number
Strong's
Root
Variant and Scripture
3428 moichalis
Root Meaning
"A prolonged form of the feminine of 3432; an adulteress (literally or figuratively):--adulteress, adulterous, adultery.

moichalida
"Consequently, while her husband is alive she will be called an adulteress [moichalis] if she consorts with another man. But if her husband dies she is free from that law, and she is not an adulteress if she consorts with another man" (Rom 7:3).
moichalides
"Adulterers! Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (Jam 4:4).
moichalidi
"Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38).
moichalidos
"Their eyes are full of adultery and insatiable for sin. They seduce unstable people, and their hearts are trained in greed. Accursed children!" (2 Pe 2:14).
moichalis
"He said to them in reply, "An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet" (Matt 12:39).
"An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah." Then he left them and went away" (Matt 16:4).
"Consequently, while her husband is alive she will be called an adulteress if she consorts with another man. But if her husband dies she is free from that law, and she is not an adulteress [moichalida] if she consorts with another man" (Rom 7:3).
3429 moichaô
Root Meaning
"From 3432; (middle voice) to commit adultery:--commit adultery."

moichasthai
"But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful [porneia]) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery [moichatai]" (Matt 5:32).
moichatai
"But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful [porneia]) causes her to commit adultery [moichasthai], and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery" (Matt 5:32).
"I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful [porneia]) and marries another commits adultery" (Matt 19:9).
"He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her ..." (Mark 10:11).
"and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery" (Mark 10:12).
3430 moicheia
Root Meaning
"From 3431; adultery:--adultery.

moicheiai
"For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity [porneiai], theft, false witness, blasphemy" (Matt 15:19).
"From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity [porneiai], theft, murder, adultery ..." (Mark 7:21).
moicheia
"Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle" (John 8:3).
"Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity [porneiai], licentiousness ..." (Gal 5:19).
3431 moicheuo
Root Meaning
"From 3432; to commit adultery:--commit adultery."

emoicheusen
"But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matt 5:28).
moicheuein
"You who forbid adultery, do you commit adultery [moicheueis]? You who detest idols, do you rob temples?" (Rom 2:22).
moicheueis
"You who forbid adultery [moicheuein], do you commit adultery? You who detest idols, do you rob temples?" (Rom 2:22).
moicheuei
"Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery" (Luke 16:18).
moicheuomenê
"They said to him, 'Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery'" (John 8:4).
moicheuontas
"So I will cast her on a sickbed and plunge those who commit adultery with her into intense suffering unless they repent of her works" (Rev 2:22).
moicheuseis
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'" (Matt 5:27).
"And Jesus replied, " 'You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness ... " (Matt 19:18).
"... the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,' and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, (namely) 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Rom 13:9).
"For he who said, 'You shall not commit adultery [moicheuses],' also said, 'You shall not kill.' Even if you do not commit adultery but kill, you have become a transgressor of the law" (Jam 2:11).
moicheusês
"You know the commandments: 'You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.'" (Mark 10:19).
"You know the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother.'" (Luke 18:20).
"For he who said, 'You shall not commit adultery,' also said, 'You shall not kill.' Even if you do not commit adultery [moicheuseis] but kill, you have become a transgressor of the law" (Jam 2:11).
3432 moichos
Root Meaning
"Perhaps a primary word; a (male) paramour; figuratively, apostate:--adulterer."

moichoi
"The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity--greedy, dishonest, adulterous--or even like this tax collector'" (Luke 18:11).
"Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites ..." (1 Cor 6:9).
"Adulterers! Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (Jam 4:4).
moichous
"Let marriage be honored among all and the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge the immoral and adulterers" (Heb 13:4).

Matthew's "Exception" Clause

New American Bible footnote to Mt 5:31-32
"See Deut 24:1-5. The Old Testament commandment that a bill of divorce be given to the woman assumes the legitimacy of divorce itself. It is this that Jesus denies. (Unless the marriage is unlawful): this 'exceptive clause, as it is often called, occurs also in Matthew 19:9, where the Greek is slightly different. There are other sayings of Jesus about divorce that prohibit it absolutely (see Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18; cf 1 Cor 7:10, 11b,) and most scholars agree that they represent the stand of Jesus. Matthew's 'exceptive clauses' are understood by some as a modification of the absolute prohibition. It seems, however, that the unlawfulness that Matthew gives as a reason why a marriage must be broken refers to a situation peculiar to his community: the violation of Mosaic law forbidding marriage between persons of certain blood and/or legal relationship (Lev 18:6-18). Marriages of that sort were regarded as incest (porneia), but some rabbis allowed Gentile converts to Judaism who had contracted such marriages to remain in them. Matthew's 'exceptive clause' is against such permissiveness for Gentile converts to Christianity; cf. the similar prohibition of porneia in Acts 15:20, 29. In this interpretation, the clause constitutes no exception to the absolute prohibition of divorce when the marriage is lawful."

I think the situation envisaged by Matthew is that of converts entering the Church. If their pre-existing marriage is lawful, then they are bound by their pre-existing marriage vows. If their pre-existing marriage is not lawful in the eyes of the Church, then that pre-existing marriage must be broken up.

Examples of unlawful unions (porneia) that cannot be treated as "marriages" and must be given up when a man converts to Christianity:

  • A polygamist with multiple wives. Polygamy may have been lawful in the convert's religion and culture, but it is not lawful in Christianity. The convert must separate from all but his first wife. Of course, as a matter of justice, he must still support his partners and the children whom he fathered with them.
  • A marriage to an underage girl. The consent necessary for the sacrament of marriage cannot be given by a minor. Even though some state may allow underage women to marry, the Church would not accept the civil marriage as a sacramental marriage. The convert would have to separate from his wife.
  • A marriage to a close blood relative. The Church prohibits marriages between close relatives: parents may not marry their children nor grandparents their grandchildren; aunts and uncles may not marry their nieces and nephews; first cousins may not marry. If someone contracted a marriage with a close blood relative in another religion or culture, they could not continue to live in that marriage after converting to Catholicism.

The correct understanding of the "exception clause" is this:

  • "Except for the case of adultery (porneia)" should taken to mean "The marriage bond is unbreakable except when the marriage is unclean (porneic)." In such cases, God has not acted to bond the couple together and they must separate from each other.
  • A couple that has a sacramental bond cannot break that bond by committing adultery.
  • A couple that has a sacramental bond cannot break that bond by obtaining a civil divorce.
  • A declaration of nullity does not break a sacramental bond; it declares that God did not create a sacramental bond between them because of some defect in their relationship that blocked (impeded) their attempt to marry each other.

Pornography

It is an old joke that very few sins are original, but pornography should be counted among those few. The ability to depict sexual sins graphically was limited to the visual arts in the ancient world (painting, mosaics, statuary, drawings). There was scarcely any commerce in such depictions until the invention of the printing press and other modern means of publication, let alone the invention of the camera. That said, we do not need an explicit verse from the Bible in order to recognize that pornography falls under Jesus' condemnation of the sin of lust (Mt 5:28): "But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart."