What is included in porneia?



I have been studying sex and the Bible. What I am really confused about is that the Bible does not mention oral sex or mutual masturbation. It only mentions anal sex and vaginal sex. Thus, how are oral sex and mutual masturbation a sin? How is it sexual intercourse? In Greek, porneia means illicit sexual intercourse. It does not say that is sexual outercourse; rather, it just says sexual intercourse. Can you help me out with this?



The mistake you are making is assuming that porneia is the only sexual sin. There are a number of other terms that need to be addressed:

Fornication (porneia):

Porneia, typically translated as fornication, sexual immorality, or sometimes just immorality is defined as follows:

"Porneia, which is relatively rare in classical Greek (Moulton-Milligan), originally stood for "prostitution" ... In other, later contexts it denotes "unchasity, illicit sexual relations" of any kind ("fornication" is a somewhat archaic but common translation)." [The Complete Biblical Library].

Illicit sexual intercourse:

  1. adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals, etc.
  2. sexual intercourse with close relatives; Levitcus 18
  3. sexual intercourse with a divorced man or woman; Mark 10:11

[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 … distinguished from adultery (moicheia) in Matthew 15:19 … used of adultery … in Matthew 5:32; 19:9 [Henry Thayer, Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 532].

Fornication: "The New Testament is characterized by an unconditional repudiation of all extra-marital and unnatural intercourse" [Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 6, pg. 590].

You can also go through the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament to see what Hebrew words were translated to porneia to get an idea of what the word meant. You will find:

  • zanah - to lie down like a prostitute (Jeremiah 2:20; Micah 1:7)
  • zenunim - Harlotry, prostitution (Hosea 1:2; Nahum 3:4)
  • zenuth - Unfaithfulness, prostitution (Numbers 14:33; Jeremiah 3:2; Hosea 4:11)
  • taznuth - Harlotry, lust (Ezekiel 16:15; 23:7, 11)

Notice that the dictionaries include homosexuality and lesbianism under the category of porneia. That is because if anal sex is involved with homosexual men, the penis is entering the anus. If oral sex is involved, then the penis is entering the mouth or the tongue is entering the vagina. That is why in English "sex" is included in the description of oral and anal sex. But because another person is bringing a person to orgasm and ejaculation, both oral sex and mutual masturbation would be properly included under the term "fornication."

Adultery (moicheia):

"Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, ..." (Galatians 5:19).

"Moicheia is the word for 'adultery'; i.e., 'illicit intercourse in which one of the parties is married.'" [The Complete Biblical Library Greek - English Dictionary]

Uncleanness (akatharsia):

"But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God" (Ephesians 5:3-5).

Akatharsia can refer to the unclean animals and behaviors mentioned in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament in some contexts, such as here in Ephesians 5:3-5, it is broadened to mean morally impure behavior, particularly of the sexual nature. "Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves" (Romans 1:24). Examples are given in Ephesians 5:4. "Filthiness" is what we commonly call dirty talk today. It is talking about sex or sexual practices for the purpose of getting another person sexually aroused. "Foolish talk" is treating what should be a serious matter as if it was a joke. "Coarse jesting" is telling jokes where sex is involved in the punch line. All of these would be examples of uncleanness because they are morally impure behavior. Particularly telling in Ephesians 5:3 is that Paul talks about "fornication and all uncleanness;" thus, those sexual acts that are considered fornication and all the related morally impure sexual acts.

Sexual Touching (haptomai):

"Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman" (I Corinthians 7:1).

Haptomai means to touch particularly in the sense of holding on. Thus, it doesn't refer to an accidental brushing against someone, but a purposeful touch or grab. In the context of I Corinthians 7:1, it is talking about the sexual touching between a man and woman, such as what goes on in foreplay, but it would also include the touching of genitals that takes place in mutual masturbation or hand jobs. "So is he who goes in to his neighbor's wife; whoever touches her shall not be innocent" (Proverbs 6:29). Where I Corinthians 7:1 is focused on the sexual touching between men and women, it doesn't mean such is permitted between men and men or women and women.

"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God" (I Corinthians 6:9-10).

"For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due" (Romans 1:26-27).

Sexual behavior between people of the same sex is just as wrong as sexual behavior between a man and woman who are not married.

Lust (epithumia and epithumeo):

"But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts" (Romans 13:14).

"But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28).

Epithumia is a noun referring to strong desires or cravings, particularly for things that are not lawful. Epithumeo is the verb form of the same word.

Lust (orexis):

"Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due" (Romans 1:27).

Orexis refers to a very strong desire or lust.

Passion (pathos):

"Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5).

Pathos is emotional lust that is seemingly stronger than a person can control.

Use (chresis):

"For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due" (Romans 1:26-27).

Chresis started out as a general meaning of use. But in Aristotle and Polybius' usages "chresis is 'intimacy' or 'acquaintance;' and Isocrates (Fourth Century B.C.) where literally hai oikoi chresis, "the use of houses," means practically sexual 'intercourse' with women." [The Complete Biblical Library Greek - English Dictionary]. This was the meaning commonly used at the time of the New Testament.

Sexual Relations (koite):

"Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy" (Romans 13:13).

Koite is the Greek word for bed, but it is also the word for what takes place in bed. It was used in a way similar to how we say that Jack was sleeping with Pam. Thus this is a word for sexual intercourse.

Lewdness (aselgeia):

"For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles -- when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries" (I Peter 4:3).

Aselgeia refers to shameless behavior, particularly in regard to sex. It is behavior that is involved in pure self-enjoyment or behavior characteristic of an animal.

Notice that oral sex and mutual masturbation that is not between a husband and wife would also fall under the categories of sexual touching, uncleanness, lewdness, and lust; which each is sinful. It is because of these terms that these acts are wrong.


Thank you so much!

I would consider oral sex and mutual masturbation to be sexual intercourse. If you really think about it something is penetrating to an extent. Teenagers these days will argue that oral sex is not sinful. That really bothers me! It bothers me because people will make any excuse to receive sexual pleasure before marriage when the Bible condemns sex before marriage.

Thank you so much for your help in answering my question. I really appreciate it.

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