Fornication and Adultery

By David Posey

Definitions are important, but I’ve decided to keep them to a minimum in this article. For one thing, so much has been written on the definitions of the terms assigned to me, that it is impossible to completely review even the recent material. Furthermore, that material is readily available. But more to the point, we hardly need more definitions; what we need is more obedience!

Therefore, I’ll define the terms only insofar as necessary to clarify my use of them in the article. The Greek word porneia, according to Bauer (Arndt & Gingrich, p. 693), is defined as unchastity, prostitution, fornication, of every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse. Louw & Nida (p. 771), define porneia as follows: “to engage in sexual immorality of any kind, often with the implication of prostitution  to engage in illicit sex, to commit fornication, sexual immorality, fornication, prostitution. The Greek word moicheia (etc.) is defined in the same work (p. 772), as “sexual intercourse of a man with a married woman other than his own spouse.” In light of Mark 10:12, what applies to the husband applies also to the wife.

I’ve found no lexical support for non-sexual concepts of “adultery” that would limit it to “covenant-breaking.” “Adultery” is a more specific term. For example, a covenant that an Israelite made with an idol was to be broken, but he was not committing “adultery” when he did so. Some of the “latter-day” definitions we are reading in articles on marriage, divorce, and remarriage fit a bit too neatly into the various “anyone can (re)marry” theories.

Regarding fornication, there are no safe reasons to treat fornication as something other than physical sexual contact with another being. While it includes every form of sexual perversion, it does not extend to “lust in the heart” of Matthew 5:28. Such lust does not provide grounds for divorce any more than getting angry subjects one to the death penalty (Matt. 5:22).

Sex is for Marriage Only

So much for definitions. What is the bottom line? God’s standard of sexual conduct can be summarized by the following statement: Sex is reserved for scriptural marriages only. Stated negatively, there is no proper sexual activity outside a scriptural marriage. A “scriptural” marriage is one between eligible parties. According to the Bible, there are three classes of people eligible for marriage: those who have never been married; those whose spouses have died; and those who have put away their spouses because of the spouse’s fornication (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). Unfortunately, we must add this: people in these situations are eligible to be married if one partner is a male and the other is female. I’m aware of no other parties who can scripturally wed.

Sex within such scriptural marriages is a beautiful expression of the mutual love of the parties and is pleasing to God (Heb. 13:4). Sex outside a scriptural marriage is ugly and sinful. Violations of God’s sexual standards are either fornication or adultery and place the soul in danger of eternal dam

Satan’s Tools

The devil has won more victories on the battlefield of sexual desire than perhaps any other in recent years. There are three approaches he routinely uses to win people over, both individually and as a culture. First, he seeks to desensitize us by bombarding us with sexual images, and innuendo. He has found a willing partner in the media. On the three major television networks one will witness an average of 6-7 sex scenes per hour. Considering the average child watches 4-6 hours of TV per day, the impact is immense.

Next, the devil seeks to normalize deviant behavior (see Isa. 5:20). He’s succeeding. Homosexuality is now viewed by most people as “normal for certain individuals.” Even the military, one of the last bastions of gender distinctness, is crumbling under the onslaught of liberal pressure. In addition, the incidence of couples living together without benefit of marriage has increased 400% since 1970 and suggestions that it is wrong subject you to mocking derision. I’ll concede that these are “alternative life-styles.” But they are deviant, perverted, lewd, and unnatural life-styles. Same-sex “marriages” are a legal and scriptural fiction and God categorically condemns all these arrangements when he condemns fornication and homosexuality (see Rom. 1:26-27).

The third device that the devil uses to win his prey, and we dare not be ignorant of it (2 Cor. 2:11), is that of rationalization. He supplies an end-less stream of handy excuses for those who wish to engage in sexual misdeeds: “My wife is not affectionate, and so. . .” Or, “my husband doesn’t give me enough attention, and so…” So what? Even if true, these statements provide no excuse for the one who abandons his vows of marital fidelity. All sex outside marriage is sin and will doom the unrepentant soul to eternal destruction, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48).

Our youth need to be sensitive to the devil’s schemes. In a survey of”churched” youth, 46% said they would have sex if they were “in love.” In other words, these young people have not been persuaded, by parents or church, that sex outside marriage is wrong. Or they don’t care. “Love” is not the condition for proper sexual expression  only marriage is. After all, 3,502 fifth graders fall in love every day! We need to remind our youth that sex outside a scriptural marriage is fornication and fornicators will in-cur the wrath of God (Col. 3:5-6).

How Can We Avoid Sexual Sin?

What can we do to evade the devil’s flaming darts? First, remember that looks can kill. Jesus taught that looking at a woman to lust after her creates adultery in the heart (Matt. 5:27-28). Not only is the “second look” sinful in itself, but habitual looking may embolden one to commit the actual act. Don’t swallow the myth that some forms of sexual involvement outside marriage are OK because they are “not as bad” as actually committing adultery. Don’t dabble in pornography or subject yourself to movies, TV pro-grams, music, and other media that make light of fornication. Jesus tells us that the state of mind is the same whether the actual act of adultery is committed or not.

Secondly, learn to turn. In other words, “flee immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18). React like Joseph did with Potiphar’swife (Gen. 39:7-12). Get away, leave lust in the dust and get your mind on wholesome things. Remember the words of Proverbs 7  a man who falls prey to the seductions of a wan-ton woman is “lacking sense” (v. 7) and is as an ox going to slaughter (v. 22). Her house is the way to Sheol descending to the chambers of death (v. 27). God has promised to provide a way of escape with the temptation (1 Cor. 10:13); but if you don’t take the exit when it opens, it’s your funeral.

Thirdly, for those who are married there is an ironclad guarantee of marital fidelity: love your spouse with the love of Christ (Eph. 5:25ff.). Love is a force that expels the magnetic power of a new affection. Cultivate your love for the one to whom you have promised to be faithful for life. Or, as someone has wisely said, the secret to marital happiness is to fall in love many times over the years, with the same person.

Remember that a scriptural marriage is the only avenue of proper sexual expression. “Drink water from your own cistern and fresh water from your own well . . . let your fountain be blessed and rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Prov. 5:15, 18).

Guardian of Truth XL: No. 13, p. 24-25
July 4, 1996