Some define fornication as sexual intercourse between a man and a woman who are not married to each other. If that's the case, then what differentiates fornication from adultery? Evidently nothing, because some Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias simply say "See ADULTERY" when we look up the word. According to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God (KJV).
Yet if there is no difference between a fornicator and an adulterer, then why mention both fornicators and adulterers within the same context, and even in the same sentence, as being among those who will not inherit the kingdom of God? Why even have two different words if both words mean the exact same thing?
Others say that if one of the two parties engaging in sexual intercourse is married, then that makes it adultery, but not fornication. Others say the exact opposite. Or perhaps, if a single man has sexual intercourse with another man's wife, he is committing fornication while she is committing adultery.
Still others say that both people engaging in sexual intercourse have to be single in order for it to be classified as fornication.
And what if the two people who are not married to each other engage in some form of sexual activity other than intercourse? We all remember President Clinton's famous line: "I did not have sex with that woman." As far as we know, the only sexual activity that Monica had with Bill was fellatio . Later, Clinton said he did not consider fellatio "having sex." Perhaps he had a point. After all, there is nothing in the Bible that says anything about fellatio. And since no woman has ever become pregnant as a result of fellatio, and since there are no known harmful effects from fellatio - in fact, it may even be beneficial - then it's difficult enough to try and prove that fellatio is even a sin, let alone trying to prove that fellatio is an act of fornication.
Consider all the many sexual activities that a single man and woman can engage in with each other that do not include intercourse. Are those activities sinful? If so, why? The Bible is silent on all of them.
Nevertheless, some try to put all of these sexual activities into a box labeled "fornication," even though the Bible has nothing whatsoever to say about such things. Consider the words of R.C. Sproul:
We know, of course, that the Bible does not give us a clear list and directions, a manual of sexual behavior that gives us direct, explicit instructions on what we can and cannot do. There is not a section of the Bible that you can open and it's going to say in there, "Do not place hand upon breast." We will not find a list that says, "No petting above the waist." "No petting below the waist." "No petting over the clothes." "No petting under the clothes," and all that kind of thing. What we do have is an explicit prohibition against fornication (Sproul, R.C. Sex and the Single Christian, "How far is too far?" Sound recording, Ligonier Tape Series, Orlando, Florida: Ligonier Ministries, 1996).
Sproul goes on to say that imposing moral restrictions where God leaves us free is a form of legalism:
Legalism involves imposing moral obligations upon people from a human tradition perspective, which are not in fact the laws of God. That is making it mandatory to conform to a certain behavioral pattern where God leaves you free. We see a lot of that in the Christian community. We see all kinds of lists of dos and don'ts that we read that a Christian simply cannot be involved in. A Christian is one who can't dance, a Christian is not allowed to go to movies, a Christian cannot wear lipstick, and all that sort of thing that we've been through at different periods of Christian history. In other words, artificial standards of spirituality and godliness have replaced biblical standards of Christian principles and ethics and sanctity. That's legalism, where we legislate people's behavior where God has left them free (Ibid).
So far, I agree with everything Sproul said. I applaud Sproul in his condemnation of legalism. However, Sproul does not consider it legalistic to condemn sexual activities prior to marriage that do not include intercourse, such as necking, petting, etc. Even if the couple is engaged, and even if the sexual activity is completely responsible, Sproul claims these activities are treading into the forbidden zone. How does he reach those conclusions? I'll let Sproul answer for himself:
Jesus explicitly mentions two things as being sinful with respect to sex in the Sermon on the Mount: One is lust. The other is adultery. Do you see a pattern there? Lust is the first step. Adultery is the consummation. Now if the first step and the last step are regarded as sinful, what does that say to you about the steps in between? The simple answer to the question, "How far can I go?" is "Not as far as lust (Ibid.)."
Sproul's answer sounds logical at first. Is lust wrong? Of course. The first question that needs to be answered is, What is lust and why is it wrong? For a detailed explanation, CLICK HERE. The short answer, however, is that lusting is the same thing as coveting. We know that committing adultery is wrong. Therefore, thinking about committing adultery is also wrong. Looking at a woman with lust is the same thing as coveting another man's wife in such a way that you are committing adultery with her in your mind. This is a whole lot different than two single people petting or necking.
Some people say that fornication is an umbrella term that covers every single sexual activity under the sun other than sex within marriage. Therefore, everything from adultery to bestiality to homosexuality and even heterosexual petting among singles are all acts of fornication.
Some Bible translations have substituted the term "sexual immorality" for the word "fornication." That seems like a cop-out to me. After all, everybody agrees that sexual immorality is, well, um... sexually immoral. My gripe with such an over-simplistic approach is, it begins with the assumption that everybody already knows precisely what sexual immorality is. Nothing could be further from the truth.
So what is fornication and why is it wrong? The logical place to begin is with the word itself.
History Of The Word "Fornication"
The word "fornication" was first recorded in Middle English around 1303. It comes from the Latin word "fornix," which literally means "a vault" or "an arch." So what does a vault or an arch have to do with committing fornication? At that particular time in Rome, prostitutes solicited customers in archways. It was like a red light district is today.
Of course, the Bible was not originally written in Latin; it was originally written in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. The first hand-written English language Bible was produced in the 1380's by John Wycliffe. Then came the Gutenberg Bible, the Oxford Bible, Luther's German Bible, the Tyndale New Testament, the Coverdale Bible, the Matthew-Tyndale Bible, the Geneva Bible, and the King James Bible, which was originally published in 1611. Since the word fornication was first used in the early 1300's and continued to be used in the King James Version of the Bible, which is still being used today, it seems logical that these translators spanning over 200 years must have believed that the word fornication had something to do with prostitution; otherwise, they surely would have used a different word. The word fornication occurs 36 times in the King James Version; fornicator occurs 2 times, and fornicators occurs 3 times.
Furthermore, it's not just a coincidence that the Latin word "fornix" and the Greek word "porneia" both refer to prostitution. Whenever we see the word fornication in the New Testament, it came from the Greek word "porneia. The word "pornography" literally means "stories about prostitutes." It comes from the Greek root porneia. By that definition, the XXX-rated film Deep Throat was not pornography, while the Disney film Pretty Woman was.
Consider Revelation 21:8:
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death (KJV).
The word "whoremongers" comes from the Greek word "pornos," which can also be translated "fornicators." So a fornicator and a whoremonger is the same thing. A whoremonger is someone who consorts with whores. It can refer to either a prostitute's customer, also known as a John, or a pimp who procures whores.
So there's no question that there is a close connection between fornication and prostitution. The question is: Should the term fornication be expanded, like the opening of an umbrella, to cover every king of extramarital and premarital sexual activity under the sun?