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Holman Bible Dictionary

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Greek - give one's self over to fornication
Greek - fornication, fornications
Greek - commit fornication
Hebrew - commit fornication
Hebrew - fornication

(fohr nih cay' shuhn) Various acts of sexual immorality, especially being a harlot or whore.

Old Testament Normally women are the subject of the Hebrew verb zanah, but in Numbers 25:1 men “began to commit whoredom.” The clearest example is that of Tamar sitting on the roadway to entice Judah (Genesis 38:12-34). Such action was subject to criminal prosecution bringing the death penalty (Genesis 38:24; compare Leviticus 21:9; Deuteronomy 22:21). Fornication meant being unfaithful to a marriage commitment (Judges 19:2).

Israel's neighbors practiced a fertility religion in which prostitution was part of the worship. This led naturally to describing worship of other gods as prostitution (Exodus 34:15-16; Judges 8:27,Judges 8:33; Hosea 4:13). This concept is central for Hosea's preaching based on his experience with his unfaithful wife Gomer. Ezekiel also used this concept (Ezekiel 16:1; Ezekiel 23:1) and extended it to include political treaties with foreign enemies (Ezekiel 16:26, Ezekiel 16:28; Ezekiel 23:5).

New Testament The New Testament also condemns prostitution. Here again prostitution played a central role in worship in places like Corinth and Athens. Greek philosophers could even distinguish the roles of prostitutes for pleasure, slave mistresses to give daily care to the master's body, and wives to produce legitimate children. Some Stoic philosophers reacted against such practices and condemned sex outside marriage. Many women used the situation to take slave lovers for themselves or become lesbians.

Jesus went against Jewish tradition and forgave prostitutes and opened the way for them to enter God's kingdom through faith (Matthew 21:31-32; compare Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25), though He still regarded fornication as evil (Mark 7:21).

Paul extended the use of the Greek term for fornication to cover all sinful sexual activity. He dealt with the problem particularly in writing the Corinthians who faced a society permeated with sexual religion and the sexual sins of a seaport. A believer must decide to be part of Christ's body or a prostitute's body (1 Corinthians 6:12-20). The believer must flee sexual immorality and cleave to Christ, honoring Him with the physical body. Fornication is thus a result of sinful human nature (Galatians 5:19) and unsuitable for God's holy people (Ephesians 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:3).

The Book of Revelation also says much about fornication, condemning those guilty to eternal punishment (Revelation 2:21-22). Revelation, as well as the prophets, extends the meaning of fornication to include political and religious unfaithfulness (Revelation 14:8; Revelation 17:2,Revelation 17:4; Revelation 18:3; Revelation 19:2).

As a whole, the New Testament uses porneia, most often translated fornication, in at least four ways:

1. Voluntary sexual intercourse of an unmarried person with someone of the opposite sex (1 Corinthians 7:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:3).

2. A synonym for adultery (Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9). See Adultery; Divorce.

3. Harlotry and prostitution (Revelation 2:14,Revelation 2:20).

4. Various forms of unchastity (John 8:41; Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 5:1).

Gary Hardin

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'FORNICATION'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<>. 1991.


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