Question:

If a man abuses his wife during sex, or takes her in a way that is unloving and clearly destructive, can this be considered fornication?

This would be sinning against one's own body as fornication is described as being in I Corinthians 6:18, considering the wife's body is his own body per I Corinthians 7. Believe this also rises to the level of unlawful sex and defiles the bed of Hebrews 13:4 since it violates the law of love Christ imparts to us in Mark 12:31 and John 13:34-35.

I also come at this from the perspective that fornication and sexual immorality are two translations of the same word, 'porneia', which can be used to refer to any sexually immoral act according to most traditional Greek scholarship.

Just thought I'd get your thoughts. Appreciate it.


Answer:

Questions like this give the impression that there is only one sin that is really bad in the Bible. Therefore people attempt to lump everything, plus the kitchen sink, into the one bad sin. The truth is that there are a variety of sins, all of which are equally wrong as that they will all cause the sinner to end up in hell if they are not repented of.

A husband who abuses his wife is guilty of abuse, or violence. "Being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them" (Romans 1:29-32). Notice that in this list sexual immorality (porneia) is separate from violence (hubristes).

The mistake you are making is assuming that definition of porneia is exactly equal to "sexual immorality" in modern English. You are comparing two terms in two different languages. Words don't often have one-to-one correspondence between languages. The best English word for porneia is "fornication" but modern translators don't like that word because they believe it is archaic. They fear that people won't understand. So the current popular choice is "sexual immorality" or sometimes just "immorality." However, these are extremely weak translations as you have illustrated. The terms are far broader than what porneia means and so people come away with mistaken ideas regarding what is being said. Porneia refers to illicit sexual acts that take place outside of the bonds of marriage, including adultery, homosexual acts, incest, oral sex, and the like.

The real shame is that people are lumping whatever they assume is in the English phrase "sexual immorality" and then claiming, as you did, that the Greek must also include the same idea. The reasoning is backward, inaccurate, and improper. The word used by the Holy Spirit is porneia. We need to understand what was meant by porneia and then apply that definition.

  • "Porneia, which is relatively rare in classical Greek (Moulton-Milligan), originally stood for "prostitution" ... In other, later contexts it denotes "unchastity, 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; Leviticus 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].

One 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)

And just because one action is occurring at the same time as another, it does not follow that the two are equivalent. A man might strike another man while spouting profanities. Is he guilty of one sin or two? If an unmarried couple is having sex, but the man is also beating on the woman, is he guilty of one sin or two? Therefore, violence or abuse doesn't change into fornication just because a man is having sex while abusing his spouse. Sex is honorable in a marriage (Hebrews 13:4), violence is not -- in bed or out of it.

Fornication is a sin against one's own body, but it does not follow that all sins against the body, such as cutting yourself, is fornication.

Only one question remains according to your answer: Why, if adultery is the specific sin Christ is signifying as the stipulating act that forms the linchpin for the grounds of divorce, would Christ use the word 'porneia' instead of just saying 'moicheia' as He does later on in the same sentence? He could have just as easily said if one puts away his wife, except for 'moicheia', then it is 'moicheia'. Instead He says except for 'porneia', then it is 'moicheia'. What's the distinction made here? Every instance of sex with another person outside of the marriage Christ is referring to is by definition 'moicheia', since it refers specifically to the act of adultery. What is the reason for the differentiation being made here?

As an aside from my follow up question, I really appreciate you taking the time to give me such a detailed answer. I have been studying a lot of the same information myself the past few months. The only other thing I might mention with regards to my original question that I might challenge you to study is the idea that porneia would be a violation of anything God would consider natural moral sex. We have Mosaic admonitions to be pleasing to our wives and I think being violent and untrustworthy towards a woman's body to the point that she fears fulfilling her needs with her husband is a trespass of that principle, which is why I think it can rise to what at the time would have been considered 'porneia'. Stromes defines porneia as any unlawful sexual act, which at the time would have included incest, bestiality or sex with a woman who is menstruating. Under the New Testament, loving and yielding 'koite' is what we're admonished to share with our spouse by Hebrews 13:4. Romans 14:23 comes to mind, as well.

Anyway, I said all this in hopes that you wouldn't think I'm trying to mince things into 'porneia', I have been doing my reading very faithfully. Thanks so much for your time, it means a lot to me.

The word porneia is broader than moicheia. Moicheia carries the idea of sex between a man and woman where at least one is married to someone else. Porneia refers to illicit sexual acts that take place outside of the bonds of marriage, including adultery, homosexual acts, incest, oral sex, bestiality, and the like. The use of the broader word is the word that Holy Spirit chose to use.

It should be remembered that Jesus is essentially commenting on the phrase "some uncleanness in her" in Deuteronomy 24:1. Jesus is narrowing the definition of "uncleanness" to sexual uncleanness and not general uncleanness that some Jews were demanding. Porneia is the best word to cover that range of meaning. While sex during menstruation was considered unclean, I know of no one who includes it in porneia, and that is the word our Lord used.

As I mention before just because something is wrong and it happens to involve sex, it doesn't follow that it is porneia. The word has a known definition that is supported by its use in the Scriptures. Wishing to make it broader doesn't make it so. To prove you point, you cannot argue from what might be. You have to show evidence that Scriptures or people in the first century used porneia to describe sexual abuse. That evidence does not exist.