Answer-Sexual Immorality

Original Question from Emily-

Ya, I thought of a question, if you wanna help me with some research I’ve been working on. :) Its a Bible question. The Bible claims that sexual immorality is a sin (I’m not gonna try find the verse(s), I’m sure you’ve read them). So, my question is: Define sexual immorality. Not as our culture has defined it, but as the apostle Paul, writing in ancient New Testament times to whichever people/churches he was adressing his letter to meant it. Oh, and if you could be SO SWEET as to cite your sources for me, I would appreciate it IMMENSELY!! Because you know me…I need to see the historical trail to believe anything. :) :) KUDOS Shawn!!!


Sexual Immorality

The Greek word for “Sexual Immorality” is porneia.  According to the NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon the definitions are as follows

  1. illicit sexual intercourse
    1. adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals etc.
    2. sexual intercourse with close relatives; Lev. 18
    3. sexual intercourse with a divorced man or woman; Mk. 10:11,
  2. metaph. the worship of idols
    1. of the defilement of idolatry, as incurred by eating the sacrifices offered to idols

The New American Standard Bible translates porneia the following ways, fornication (4 times), fornications (2 times), immoralities (1time), immorality (16 times), sexual immorality (1 time), and unchastity (1  time).  You can jump to the verses by going to this LINK and looking on the right hand side under NAS Verse Count.  Each link will take you to the verses in that particular book of the Bible.

According to this definition, sexual immorality (porneia) is illicit sexual intercourse.  But what is that?  In Genesis God creates Adam and Eve and tells them to multiply.

Gen. 2:18, 21-24 (NIV)

18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs [a] and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib [b] he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman, [c]
for she was taken out of man.”

24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

This is the first “marriage”, preformed by God.  Marriage changes throughout Scripture, but it is ALWAYS between a man and a woman.  Therefore, homosexuality can be considered illicit sexual immorality.  The word “united” in verse 24 above is the Hebrew word Dabaq.  According to The NAS Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon the word dabaq denotes a strong bond between the members of this union. The marriage bond was to be permanent.  Anything outside the bonds of marriage is illicit sexual immorality.  This includes sex before marriage or outside of marriage, basically anyone that is not your spouse.

Because the bond of marriage is so strong Jesus gives the only reason for divorce as porneia.  To divorce for any other reason and then remarry is adultery.

Matthew 5:32 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

32 But I tell you, everyone who divorces his wife, except in a case of sexual immorality (porneia), causes her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (emphasis mine)

also in Matthew 19:9 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

9 And I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality (porneia), and marries another, commits adultery.”  (emphasis mine)

What about masturbation?  This is a tough one.  The Bible never mentions masturbation by name, nor as far as I can tell does it hint at it.  All I can do is get there in a round about way and let each person decide for themselves.

Matthew 5:28 (New International Version)

28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

The inverse would also be true, a woman lusting after a man.  If the act of masturbation causes you to lust or vice-versa then it would be a sin.  For a little more depth you can go HERE.

God also condemns sexual intercourse with close relatives in Leviticus 18:6 (New Living Translation)

6 “You must never have sexual relations with a close relative, for I am the Lord.

What is marriage?  Marriage in the Old Testament is different than marriage today.

Malachi 2:14-15 (New Living Translation)

14 You cry out, “Why doesn’t the Lord accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! Because the Lord witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows.

15 Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his.[a] And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth.

This gives us one of the clearer pictures in the Bible of what it meant to be married before God, vows made to each other before God and joining together by God through sexual intercourse.  There are several customs outlined in the O.T. but none were commands of God that I could find.

Here is some more information on customs of marriage in O.T. times.  As far as I can tell, God never formally introduced these customs but He also never condemned them either.

Marriage Customs in Biblical Times.

Here is an excerpt from Smith’s Bible Dictionary on the subject of Marriage.

The modes by which marriage was effected . –The choice of the bride devolved not on the bridegroom himself, but on his relations or on a friend deputed by the bridegroom for this purpose. The consent of the maiden was sometimes asked (Genesis 24:58) but this appears to have been subordinate to the previous consent of the father and the adult brothers. (Genesis 24:51; 34:11) Occasionally the whole business of selecting the wife was left in the hands of a friend. The selection of the bride was followed by the espousal, which was a formal proceeding undertaken by a friend or legal representative on the part of the bridegroom and by the parents on the part of the bride; it was confirmed by oaths, and accompanied with presents to the bride. The act of betrothal was celebrated by a feast, and among the more modern Jews it is the custom in some parts for the bride. groom to place a ring on the bride’s finger. The ring was regarded among the Hebrews as a token of fidelity (Genesis 41:42) and of adoption into a family. (Luke 15:25) Between the betrothal sad the marriage so interval elapsed, varying from a few days in the patriarchal age, (Genesis 24:55) to a full year for virgins and a month for widows in later times. During this period the bride-elect lived with her friends, and all communication between herself and her future husband was carried on through the medium of a friend deputed for the purpose, termed the “friend of the bridegroom.” (John 3:29) She was now virtually regarded as the wife of her future husband; hence faithlessness on her part was punishable with death, ( 22:23,24) the husband having, however, the option of “putting her away.” ( 24:1; Matthew 1:19) The essence of the marriage ceremony consisted in the removal of the bride from her father’s house to that of the bridegroom or his father. The bridegroom prepared himself for the occasion by putting on a festive dress, and especially by placing on his head a handsome nuptial turban. (Psalms 45:8; Solomon 4:10,11) The bride was veiled. Her robes were white, (Revelation 19:8) and sometimes embroidered with gold thread, (Psalms 45:13,14) and covered with perfumes! (Psalms 45:8) she was further decked out with jewels. (Isaiah 49:18; 61:10; Revelation 21:2) When the fixed hour arrived, which was, generally late in the evening, the bridegroom set forth from his house, attended by his groomsmen (Authorized Version “companions,” (Judges 14:11) “children of the bride-chamber,” (Matthew 9:15) preceded by a band of musicians or singers, (Genesis 31:27; Jeremiah 7:34; 16:9) and accompanied by persons hearing flambeaux, (Jeremiah 25:10) 2 Esdr. 10:2; (Matthew 25:7; Revelation 18:23) and took the bride with the friends to his own house. At the house a feast was prepared, to which all the friends and neighbors were invited, (Genesis 29:22; Matthew 22:1-10; Luke 14:8; John 2:2) and the festivities were protracted for seven or even fourteen days. (Judges 14:12; Job 8:19) The guests were provided by the host with fitting robes, (Matthew 22:11) and the feast was enlivened with riddles, (Judges 14:12) and other amusements. The last act in the ceremonial was the conducting of the bride to the bridal chamber, (Judges 15:1; Joel 2:16) where a canopy was prepared. (Psalms 19:5; Joel 2:16) The bride was still completely veiled, so that the deception practiced on Jacob, (Genesis 29:23) was not difficult. A newly married man was exempt from military service, or from any public business which might draw him away from his home, for the space of a year, ( 24:5) a similar privilege was granted to him who was ’betrothed. ( 20:7)

And another from Fausset’s Bible Dictionary on the subject of Marriage.

No formal religious ceremony attended the wedding; but a blessing was pronounced, and a “covenant of God” entered into (Ezekiel 16:8; Malachi 2:14; Proverbs 2:17; Genesis 24:60; Rth 4:11-12). The essential part of the ceremony was the removal of the bride from her father’s house to that of the bridegroom or his father. The bridegroom wore an ornamental turban; Isaiah 61:10, “ornaments,” rather (peer) “a magnificent headdress” like that of the high priest, appropriate to the “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6); the bride wore “jewels” or “ornaments” in general, trousseau. He had a nuptial garland or crown (Song of Solomon 3:11, “the crown wherewith His mother (the human race; for He is the Son of man, not merely Son of Mary) crowned Him in the day of His espousals”); and was richly perfumed (Song of Solomon 3:6). The bride took a preparatory bath (Ezekiel 23:40). This is the allusion in Ephesians 5:26-27; “Christ loved … gave Himself for the church, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church not having spot.”

The veil (tsaip) was her distinctive dress, covering the whole person, so that the trick played on Jacob was very possible (Genesis 24:65; Genesis 29:23); the symbol of her subjection to her husband’s power, therefore called “power on her head” (1 Corinthians 11:10). (See DRESS.) Our “nuptials” is derived from nubo, “to veil one’s self.” She also wore girdles for the breasts (“attire,” kishurim) which she would not readily forget (Jeremiah 2:32). Also a gilded or gold “crown” or chaplet (kullah), a white robe sometimes embroidered with gold thread (Revelation 19:8; Psalm 45:13-14) and jewels (Isaiah 61:10). Late in the evening the bridegroom came with his groomsmen (“companions,” Judges 14:11; “children of the bridechamber,” Matthew 9:15), singers and torch or lamp bearers leading the way (Jeremiah 25:10); the bride meantime with her maidens eagerly awaited his coming.

Then he led the bride and her party in procession home with gladness to the marriage supper (Matthew 25:6; Matthew 22:1-11; John 2:2; Psalm 45:15). The women of the place flocked out to gaze. The nuptial song was sung; hence in Psalm 78:63 “their maidens were not praised” in nuptial song (Hebrew) is used for “were not given in marriage,” margin. The bridegroom having now received the bride, his “friend’s joy (namely, in bringing them together) was fulfilled” in hearing the bridegroom’s voice (John 3:29). Song of Solomon 3:11; the feast lasted for seven or even 14 days, and was enlivened by riddles, etc. (Judges 14:12.) Wedding garments were provided by the host, not to wear which was an insult to him. Large waterpots for washing the hands and for “purifying” ablutions were provided (Mark 7:3).

These had to be “filled” before Jesus changed the water into wine; a nice propriety in the narrative, the minor circumstances being in keeping with one another; the feast being advanced, the water was previously all emptied out of the waterpots for the guests’ ablutions (John 2:7). Light is thrown upon Egyptian marriages by a translation of an Egyptian contract of marriage, by Eugene Revillout. It is written in the demotic character upon a small sheet of papyrus, No. 2482, Cat. Egyptien, Musee du Louvre. It is dated in the month of Choiach, year 33 of Ptolemy Philadelphus, and the contracting parties are Patina, son of Pchelkhous, and the lady, Ta-outem, the daughter of Rehu. The terms of the deed are singular as to the dowry required on both sides, together with the clauses providing for repudiation.

After the actual dowry is recited, the sum being specified in shekels, the rights of the children which may hereafter come from the marriage, as well as the payment of the mother’s pin-money, are secured by the following clause: “thy pocket money for one year is besides thy toilet money which I give thee each year, and it is your right to exact the payment of thy toilet money and thy pocket money, which are to be placed to my account, which I give thee. Thy oldest son, my oldest son, shall be the heir of all my property, present and future. I will establish thee as wife.” Practicing in marriage law in Egypt was one of the priestly functions, for at the conclusion the contract states that “the writer of this act is … the priest of Ammon Horpneter, son of Smin” (?). The bridegroom was exempted from military service for a year (Deuteronomy 20:7; Deuteronomy 24:5).

8 Responses

  1. This was amazing, Shawn! Thanks so much! I guess my only follow-up question would be…Is it the ceremony that makes a couple married in God’s eyes, or is it the sex? Because ceremonies have changed so much over time, including in the Bible, and vary culture-to-culture, I guess I question what God’s view of this ever-changing ceremony is. Does God look down from heaven and see two people married at the moment they have sex (regardless of whether it is before or after their wedding) or at the moment they fulfill their culture’s obligation (in our case, when the pastor pronounces a couple ‘man&wife’ and the marriage certificate is signed)?

  2. Here’s what I can find.
    Up in Malachi 2:14-15 it stated that all that was needed was to make an oath between each other in front of God and then consummate the marriage.

    In Exodus 22:16-17 it adds that if a man seduces a virgin and has sex with her he must also pay a dowry to the girls father and then marry her. If the father refuses, the man must still pay the dowry but not marry her.

    What I think is that all that is required is the oath. Why? Because in the N.T. when Mary becomes pregnant with Jesus, Joseph talks of divorcing her even though they were engaged. Matthew 1:18-19.

    This refers back to Deuteronomy 22:23-24, If a woman is pledged to be married and another man sleeps with her and she does not scream (rape) then both the woman and the man must be stoned to death, she because she was willing (no scream) and he because he violated another mans wife.

    Here’s my take, an oath or promise before God is all it takes to be “married” in God’s eyes. Sex is the joining of the two into one flesh. It is the end of the lives of two people and the beginning of the life of one person.

    Did this help?

  3. Oath of marriage (as in engagement) or oath of love (simply stating you’re in love & have found your soul mate)? If this is confusing, let me try a couple examples (lets assume these are heterosexual relationships):
    Two teens fall in love–not foolishly, they really believe they’ve found the person they’ve saved themselves for–so, eventually they have sex. After a few years, however, they break up. It didn’t work out. Does God still see them as one flesh? Essentially, married?
    If someone is divorced (for reasons not acknowledged by God) and remarries, is that a type of polygamy from God’s viewpoint? I know the Catholic church refuses to acknowledge a divorce b/c they don’t believe the state can issue a piece of paper that can effectively break something God has joined together.

  4. In Malachi it talked of vows to each other before God. The Hebrew word for “vow” is tyrb. First definitions for it is covenant, alliance, pledge. One of the sub definitions is alliance (of marriage). This is what we would call, engaged I believe. Dating was not done in Biblical times. You were either friends, engaged or married. Engagement carried the same responsibilities as marriage only it hadn’t been consummated. Most of the time the couple didn’t even know each other, the parents decided who you would marry. The woman had very little if any say in it.

    So, to answer your question, in the first marriage, Adam and Eve were joined. I think we can reasonably attribute this joining to sex as later adultery is given as the only reason for divorce. Having sex joins you to another person. So, yes, God sees them as one person, i.e. married. The act of sex invades your mind. To abstain until you are married and then to only have sex with that person ensures your mind is on them as you have no other memories to draw from. When both people are the only one they have been with it is much easier to join and have that strong bond. The more people a person has sex with the more, in essence, people s/he brings into the marriage. Marriage has always been a picture of our relationship with Him. That is why He finds idolaters so offensive. Remember the word porneia? One of the definitions was idolatry. Go look, it is in the first post on here. This is the same as “cheating” on God.

    Second question-
    This is a little easier, remember these verses from earlier? Read them again from the perspective of your last question.
    Matthew 5:32 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

    32 But I tell you, everyone who divorces his wife, except in a case of sexual immorality (porneia), causes her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (emphasis mine)

    also in Matthew 19:9 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

    9 And I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality (porneia), and marries another, commits adultery.” (emphasis mine)

    Anything other than divorce for reasons of sexual immorality means you are still married in God’s eyes. Otherwise you would not be committing adultery.

    The word adultery in Hebrew is moicao which means to have unlawful intercourse with another’s wife, to commit adultery with.

    One IMPORTANT thing to remember. While everything here is true, there is also something else to remember. Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead allows us complete forgiveness from all our sins. Their is NO sin that can’t be forgiven.

    Hope that clears things up. If not, just let me know.

  5. Thanks, Shawn! You’ve been an IMMENSE help.

  6. Any time.

  7. Hi Shawn, your posts are a great blessing. I wonder if you can give an opinion on something:

    I’m troubled because I’ve met a lady that was attracted to me by my faith, and there seems to be a great amount that we have in common in our faith, in our walks etc. I really feel a strong bond with her and =feel= like God is leading us together.

    However, I know that she was married many years ago, before she began following Christ. She was the one who left and filed for divorce, and so the way I read 1 Cor 7 says that she is basically still considered as married to her ex-husband. “If she leaves, she must remain unmarried or be reconciled” seems to say that divorce is a sin of omission, and the way to repent of that sin is to resume honoring the marriage vows.

    Paul warns in 1 Cor 6:9-10 that those who walk in a lifestyle of sin will have nothing to do with the Kingdom of Heaven, so the Bible seems to say rather clearly that if I marry this lady (and her ex-husband is still alive – I have no idea if he is), then I would forfeit my salvation. I was previously married, but it was my ex-wife who left and filed, so I feel that I’m “not bound under such circumstances.”

    Slaves who became Christians were still slaves until they completed their commitment, so why should accepting Christ nullify her commitment to remain faithful to her husband? I do feel strongly for her, but I just feel more and more convicted that unless her ex-husband has passed away, I have to immediately stop dating this lady.

    What do you think?

    thanks very much – be richly blessed

  8. Also, for clarification, in Matthew 19:9, the greek “moicao” – I’m guessing that would be the present/perpetual tense of the verb. Do you know if that word indicates a perpetual commission of adultery?


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