By David A. Padfield

Have you ever tried to define the word pornography? Supreme Court Justice William Potter once commented he had trouble defining pornography, but “I know it when I see it.” “Pornography may be defined as the presentation of sexual behavior in books, pictures, or films solely to cause sexual excitement. The word pornography is derived from a Greek term meaning ‘the writings of harlots,’ or prostitutes. Closely related, and in legal terms virtually identical, is obscenity, which is behavior or material that is immoral and designed to produce lust” (Compton’s Encyclopedia, online edition, Britannica Software, Inc. e 1991).

We are living in a society where pornography is often visible at the check out lane in the local grocery store. In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that individual states were at liberty to set “contemporary community standards” to judge whether or not material is pornographic. It seems as though the only thing some people consider “pornographic” falls into the realm of child pornography, which in the 1982 the Supreme Court ruled was not protected under the First Amendment. In 1969 Denmark removed all restrictions on the sale of pornography. Don’t be surprised if the United States follows suit.

“The huge increase in the quantity and types of pornography that have become available since the 1960’s, however, has left many people uneasy. Although the National Commission on Obscenity and Pornography in 1970 could find no link between the consumption of pornography and antisocial behavior, the depiction of violence against women in pornographic material was then comparatively rare. Recently, psychologists have begun to establish connections in some men between exposure to such violence usually films, and often in films without overt sexual content – and both sexual stimulation and negative changes in attitudes toward women. Some observers see the upsurge in rape and sexual abuse of women and children as a result of the increase in sadistic pornography. In response to the claims of some feminist groups that pornography harms women, the cities of Minneapolis and Indianapolis passed anti-pornography statutes in 1984; they were quickly declared unconstitutional. Even if a decisive link between pornography and violent behavior is eventually proved, it is difficult to see how a definition of pornography could be drawn that would not abridge free-speech guarantees” (The Academic American Encyclopedia, online edition, Grolier Electronic Publishing, Danbury, CT, 01991).

As blatant as immorality is in our day, don’t get the idea that things have never been worse. Consider what it would have been like to live in the area near Ashkelon, a port city on the Mediterranean Sea, less than 50 miles west of Jerusalem. Recent excavations of the city have uncovered many oil lamps which graphically depict sexual immorality of every sort. “Unlike their Jewish or Christian counterparts, Romans saw nothing wrong with homosexual relations or with heterosexual liaisons outside the marriage, provided that the relations comported with the hierarchy of power and status. Thus a freeborn Roman could engage in sex with a social inferior of either sex (such as a slave or a prostitute), but not with the wife of another freeborn Roman” (Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August, 1991, p. 43).

While the English word “pornography” is not found in the Bible, it is included in such words as lasciviousness, wantonness and licentiousness. In fact, the word “fornication” is from the Greek word porneia, from which we get our English word “pornography.” Porneia includes sexual immorality of all kinds. The New King James version of the Bible usually translates this word as “sexual immorality” instead of “fornication.”

The apostle Peter could have well been describing lovers of pornography when he spoke of those who had “eyes full of adultery” (2 Pet. 2:14). This phrase is a “vivid picture of a man who cannot see a woman without lascivious thoughts toward her” (Word Pictures in the New Testament, A.T. Robertson, Vol. IV, p. 167). Pornography destroys common decency and promotes evil desires of all kinds.

In Matthew 5:27,28, Jesus told his audience, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus goes beyond the outward act, right down to the very thought that would bring on the act itself. Women who dress in such a way as to arouse evil desires in men are guilty of sin, as well as the men who lust after them. I have had Christians tell me they can go to the public swimming pool and observe the young women in their thong bikinis without having any evil thoughts at all. All this means is that they probably lie about other things as well.

Pornography not only glorifies adultery, but often the sin of homosexuality. In Romans one, Paul says this was one of the reasons God “gave up” on the Gentiles. “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves . . . 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” (Rom. 1:24-27).

Christians who would never purchase pornography at an adult book store often have it piped into their house via Home Box Office or Cinemax (or is that Sin-A-Max?). Instead of concentrating on things that break down the standard of morality, let us follow the words of Paul, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8).

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 20, pp. 629-630
October 15, 1992