When speaking of the issue of sinful expressions of sexuality, the New Testament consistently uses the Greek word porneia (from which we get our English word "pornography"). This word is translated in the English Standard Version, the translation that we use at The Village Church, as "sexual immorality." Here is a small sampling of what the Scriptures say regarding the topic.
Select New Testament Texts Regarding Sexual Immorality:
- Matthew 15:19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.
- Romans 13:13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.
- 1 Corinthians 5:1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife.
- 1 Corinthians 5:11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler "not even to eat with such a one.
- 1 Corinthians 6:9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,
- 1 Corinthians 6:18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.
- 1 Corinthians 10:8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.
- Galatians 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality
- Ephesians 5:3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.
- Colossians 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality
- Hebrews 13:4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.
- Revelation 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
What does "sexual immorality" mean?
As you can see from these texts, the Scriptures are absolutely clear in their prohibition of porneia. It is called evil, improper, sinful, fleshly, earthly and against the will of God. Those who continually and unrepentantly practice it are declared guilty and unrighteous, and will be subject to judgment by God. Given the clear condemnation of the Scriptures, we would do well to ask what exactly constitutes this sin.
The meaning of "porneia":
Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament:
πορνεα, ας, (1) generally, of every kind of extramarital, unlawful, or unnatural sexual intercourse fornication, sexual immorality, prostitution (1C 5.1); (2) when distinguished from adultery (μοιχεα) in the same context extramarital intercourse, sexual immorality, fornication (MT 15.19); (3) as a synonym for μοιχεα (marital) unfaithfulness, adultery (MT 5.32); (4) metaphorically, as apostasy from God through idolatry (spiritual) immorality, unfaithfulness (RV 19.2)
The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament:
to commit fornication or any sexual sin. Fornication, lewdness, or any sexual sin.
Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains:
fornication, sexual immorality, sexual sin of a general kind, that includes many different behaviors (Mt 5:32; 15:19; 19:9; Mk 7:21; Jn 8:41; Ac 15:20; 1Co 6:18; 7:2; 2Co 12:21; Gal 5:19; Eph 5:3; 1Th 4:3)
Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains:
Enhanced Strong's Lexicon:
translates as "fornication" 26 times. 1 illicit sexual intercourse. 1a adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals etc. 1b sexual intercourse with close relatives; Lev. 18. 1c sexual intercourse with a divorced man or woman; Mk. 10:11,12. 2 metaph. the worship of idols. 2a of the defilement of idolatry, as incurred by eating the sacrifices offered to idols.
Nearly every major Greek lexicon includes "fornication"1 as at least an aspect of the meaning of porneia. In addition to premarital sex, this term would also include such things as homosexuality, bestiality, adultery, et al The first definition given above sums it up well as "every kind of extramarital, unlawful, unnatural sexual intercourse." We would also do well to remember Christ's words from Matthew 15 which state that it is not only the actual intercourse that is prohibited, but also the sinful affection which lies behind the action (relate to Matthew 5:27-30).
Given these biblical boundaries, there is only one proper context in which sexual activity is allowed — the one flesh marriage relationship between husband and wife. Any sexual activity which occurs outside of the union of husband and wife is inappropriate and sinful and therefore is to be avoided by those who trust and hope in Christ who died to redeem us from our fleshly desires.2
Why is God so utterly adamant in protecting the context in which His creatures can experience the sexuality which He has created in them? A primary reason is that the marriage relationship is a means by which the gospel is adorned (Ephesians 5:22-33). Marriage is a portrait painted upon the canvas of creation to display the glory of the Creator. Anything which perverts the portrait of marriage consequently distorts the picture of worship which it was created to image.
Only loving and sacrificial marriage captures the fidelity with which Christ pursues His Church and the reciprocal love which the Church possesses for Him. As unfaithfulness must have no place in our relationship with Christ, so it must have no place in our relationship with our spouse. Infidelity, adultery, homosexuality, fornication and other forms of sexual immorality portray something false about Christ and His marriage to His people.
Help for Those who Struggle:
The fact that sexual immorality is sinful should not lead to despair, but rather hope. The God Who envisioned and created sexuality is for sexuality, within the parameters that He has created it to best function within. The God Who calls you to flee from sexual immorality has given you legs to run through the gospel of His Son. Keep fighting. Keep warring. Keep wrestling. Persevere in the work of sanctification. Get up when you fall; confess your shortcomings to God and others, and ask for help. Look to Christ and trust that He is better.
1 The term "fornication" should be defined as well According to Webster's 11th Edition Collegiate Dictionary, "fornication" is "consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other."
2 A question might arise in the context of a dating relationship in regards to what constitutes "sexual activity." While some will find themselves drawn to avoiding nearly all physical expressions before marriage others will feel more comfortable holding hands and even kissing (for the latter, I would certainly encourage careful consideration of the dangers). At the very least, there is a clear prohibition of any activity involving the genitals.
3 We realize that this issue affects both men and women. Although this particular discussion is mostly geared toward men, it would certainly be profitable and aspects would be relevant to women as well.