“Fornication” is the word translated from the Greek word porneiaAccording to the New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, the word is used of illicit sexual intercourse in general. The NIV reflects this fact when it translates the word “fornication” with the word “immorality.” It can more specifically indicate sexual relations between unmarried persons. Relations between married persons who are not married to each other are termed “adultery.” Some Bible passages, such as Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, seem to include both premarital and extramarital relations in the general term “fornication,” while identifying “adultery,” as the specific sin of one who divorces his wife and remarries another.

The Greek word “porneia” is used in a general way in 1 Corinthians 5:1 of the man who lived with his father’s wife. It is used in 1 Corinthians 6:13, 18, Galatians 5:19, and Ephesians 5:3 of any improper sexual activity. It is used in 2 Corinthians 12:21 of general sexual sin.

Porneia is the word from which we derive “pornography,” which involves fornication portrayed in writing or in pictures. The New Testament does not deal with the immoral act only, but also the immoral thoughts leading up to the act. Jesus spoke against sexual immorality of any sort when He taught that even a lustful look is wrong (Matthew 5:27-30).

Immorality of all kinds–fornication, homosexuality, bestiality-were part of the pagan religious practices of Tan ancient societies (most notably Ephesus and Corinth Paul’s epistles again and again confront the sexual immorality prevalent in these cultures, and call for Christians to avoid it (1 Corinthians 6:18), and to come clean from it by repenting of it (1 Corinthians 6:911).

In the book of Revelation, worshipping idols is also called “fornication.” The term in Revelation is a metaphor for intimate companionship with something other than the true God. This also calls to mind the immorality often associated with idol worship among the Canaanites and other neighbors of Israel, as well as the immorality associated with modern society in its pursuit of “gods” other than the true and living God.

The prohibition against fornication rests on the ground that it discourages marriage, tends to make the education and care of children to be more insecure, depraves and defiles the mind more than any other vice, and thus makes one unfit for the kingdom of God (adapted from New Unger’s Bible Dictionarypage 441).

We pray that Christians today will stand firm against fornication in any sense, and that we will direct our thoughts toward purity in thought and deed.

–Craig Alan Myers
September/October 1996