The first impure act that should vanish forever from the true Christian’s life is fornication (Eph. 5:3). The Greek here is porneia, which occurs 26 times in the New Testament. Originally this word was used to refer to prostitution. It’s derived, in fact, from the related word porne, which means “prostitute.” It’s translated “harlot,” for example, in Matthew 21:31 and I Corinthians 6:15. It was used in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) to refer not only to common prostitution, but religious prostitution that was part of the fertility rites of Baal worship. By sexual relations with temple prostitutes, humans supposedly could share in, and even mimic, the fertilizing power of and cosmic harmony with the fertility god Baal.
In later Rabbinical language, which carried over into the New Testament, porneia then came to be used for any sexual relations outside of marriage, including (and please for forgive the graphic language): pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, homosexuality, lesbianism, sodomy, pedophilia, and incest. While it is fornication in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, as well as in I Corinthians 5:1, the meanings are clear in the context: “adultery” in the former and “incest” in the latter. As Corinth, in fact, was a pagan city known for its temple prostitution, Paul also uses porneia some fourteen times!
One Greek authority writes: “The moral life of the Graeco-Roman world had sunk so low that, while protests against the prevailing corruption were never entirely wanting, fornication had long come to be regarded as a matter of moral indifference, and was indulged in without shame or scruple, not only by the mass, but by philosophers and men of distinction who in other respects led exemplary lives.”
Does that not sound familiar? Does that not sound like our own day? While there are a few weak outcries against sexual perversion, indifference is the chief attitude. “What’s the big deal?” it is argued, “After all, what’s done in private is up to each person’s decision.”
As historian Will Durant reports, for example, while trade was the chief reason for wealth in Corinth, prostitution was a major contributor. “The Temple of Aphrodite was so rich that it owned more than a thousand temple slaves, courtesans [i.e., prostitutes] whom both men and women had dedicated to the goddess.” They brought in so much money that the people of Corinth considered them benefactors and referred to them as “hospitable ladies.” In Athens prostitution was officially recognized and was even taxed as any other business. Further, harlotry was in most cities considered just another career choice with many specialties. The lowest order were the pornoi, who plied their trade in public brothels; in our day, this would be the common “hooker.” Another were the auletrides, or “flute-players,” who “like the geisha of Japan, assist at ‘stag’ entertainments, provide music and gaiety, perform dances artistic or lascivious, and then, if properly induced, mingle with the guests and spend the night with them.” The highest class were the hetairai, literally “companions,” the “high class call girl” of our day. These were women of citizen class who had fallen from usual respectability, lived independently, and entertained in their homes the clients they lured.
Another example is pornography. In conjunction with the word graphē, which means “writing,” it is from pornos that this term is derived, and which means a writing or picture of sexual sin and involves all the meanings we listed earlier. But while certain types of pornography are considered “bad,” other types, such as Playboy magazine, actually have a certain degree of respectability and are not really considered pornography by some people, rather “art.” In recent years indescribably disgusting paintings and sculptures have been displayed in art galleries and called “art” and are even paid for with tax money.
As we continue, we’ll see other aspects of this that must never be present in the true Christian’s life.