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Defining ‘Porneia’

It should be noted that the phrase "sexual immorality" is a weak translation of the Greek word PORNEIA in verses like Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. 'Weak' because the phrase is much broader and more vague than the actual Greek word it is supposed to be translating. The English word "fornication" is a more precise translation, but has been avoided in more recent versions because translators feel it is an archaic term and a hard word. The problem is the vague phrase "sexual immorality" has caused people to lump anything that they feel is sexually immoral (such as pornography) into the word. As a result you have wives claiming the right to divorce because they caught their husband looking at pornography on the Internet; citing "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery" (Matthew 19:9 NKJV) as their justification. In Matthew 19:9 the Greek word is PORNEIA.

The real shame is that people are lumping into the meaning whatever they assume would be included in the English phrase "sexual immorality" and then claiming that the Greek must also include the same idea. The reasoning is backward, inaccurate, and improper. The word used by the Holy Spirit is PORNEIA. We need to understand what was meant by PORNEIA and then apply that definition. Observe:

  • "Porneia, which is relatively rare in classical Greek (Moulton-Milligan), originally stood for "prostitution" … In other, later contexts it denotes "illicit sexual relations" of any kind ("fornication" is a somewhat archaic but common translation)." [The Complete Biblical Library].
  • "Illicit sexual intercourse: adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals, etc. … sexual intercourse with close relatives; sexual intercourse with a divorced man or woman [The New Testament Greek Lexicon]
  • Porneia (fornication) "is used of illicit sexual intercourse …" [W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words]
  • Fornication: "illicit sexual intercourse in general" [Henry Thayer, Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon].
  • Fornication: "The New Testament is characterized by an unconditional repudiation of all extra-marital and unnatural intercourse" [Theological Dictionary of the New Testament].

I know of no reputable Greek lexicon or dictionary which includes pornography as a part of PORNEIA.