What is the Biblical definition of "Fornication"? —email

The word fornication comes from three separate words in the Bible, two from the Hebrew and one from the Greek. These words all share similar connotations. Each can mean literal fornication between two unmarried persons in a marriage contract; however, it can also signify adultery, whoredom, or an act of unfaithfulness on the part of Yahweh’s people.

The first place the word fornication is used in the Old Testament is found in II Chronicles 21:81. The word fornication found in this passage is from the Hebrew, No. 2181, Zanah, and is defined by Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible as follows: "to commit adultery (usually on the female, and less often of simple fornication, rarely of involuntary ravishment); fig. To commit idolatry (the Jewish people being regarded as the spouse of [Yahweh])…"

One thing that might be noted is that the Strong’s only offers a broad definition and not an exact definition. Therefore, to completely understand the usage of a particular word in the Hebrew or Greek, one must examine the context of the passage in question.

Many times you may find a more detailed definition in a word study or a lexicon. While, these sources often prove to be valuable in the understanding of many Hebrew and Greek words, a person also must acknowledge the fact that these were written by man and can be inaccurate in some instances.

For example, The Complete Word Study Old Testament offers a more decisive definition than found in Strong’s. It notes on page 2312 in its Lexical Aid, "To fornicate, commit fornication, be a harlot, play the harlot, commit adultery; to apostatize, have intercourse with false g-ds or foreigners; to seduce. The main idea is to commit illicit sexual intercourse, particularly with women. However, this strong image is used in a figurative sense to describe illegal contact between Israel and other nations and their g-ds…"

The Complete Word Study Old Testament suggests three possible meanings for the Hebrew word "zanah." The first being fornication (pre-marital, illicit sex), the second being adultery (marital, illicit sex), and the third being idolatry (worship of a person or thing besides Yahweh).

The second word denoting fornication in the English is found only once in the Hebrew, in Ezekiel 16:29. The word fornication in this passage is from the Hebrew, No. 8457, taznuth, and simply means a type of idolatry. Being that this word is only used once, the quest for an exact definition should not be too exhausting.

The third word signifying fornication is found in the Greek and is first used in Matthew 5:32. This word derives from the Greek word, No. 4202, porneia and is defined in the Strong’s as follows, "from 4203; harlotry (incl. Adultery and incest); fig. Idolatry: - fornication."

Again, we only find a broad definition for this Greek word, "porneia." Porneia is used 32 times in the New Testament and conveys many different definitions.

For example, the word fornication in Matthew 5:32 is often taken to denote an act of adultery, however an in-depth study will prove this understanding false, and confirm the real usage of this Greek word "porneia" in this particular passage, which is fornication, pre-material sex.

In the fifth chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul admonishes the Corinthian assembly to remove the sin that they were allowing in the assembly. One of the sins listed by the Apostle was a gentile committing "fornication" with his father’s wife. Now this is not what we consider fornication, but more accurately this signifies incest with his stepmother.

Trying to pinpoint this word without examining the passage in question is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Fornication in either the Hebrew or Greek can have and denote a wide range of definitions. It can mean literal fornication, adultery, harlotry, incest, pedophilia, bestiality, or any other sexual restriction that Yahweh has placed for mankind to observe.

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