In today’s society, the word fornication is barely used. Maybe the reason is that it’s become so common. More and more people are having sex outside of marriage. Even young adults are doing sexual things without many consequences, especially since abortion is so readily available. However, the bible speaks extremely negative about fornication. It’s so important that we look at what does the word fornication mean in Hebrew and Greek.
But first, I would love to look at the definition of the word fornication in the 1828 Noah Webster’s Dictionary:
“1. The incontinence or lewdness of unmarried persons, male or female; also, the criminal conversation of a married man with an unmarried woman.
2. Adultery. Matthew 5:32.
3. Incest. 1 Corinthians 5:1.
4. Idolatry; a forsaking of the true God, and worshipping of idols. 2 Chronicles 21:11, Revelation 19:2.”
All scriptures are taken from NKJV unless otherwise marked.
What Does The Word ‘Fornication’ in Hebrew?
zanah- to commit adultery; to commit idolatry (the Jewish people are regarded as the spouse of Jehovah.)
Zanah means “to go whoring, be a harlot, commit fornication, serve other gods.” This term was the regular word for prostitution throughout Hebrew history.
While the word means “to commit fornication” whether by a male or a female, it should be noted that it’s almost never used to describe the sexual misconduct of the male during the Old Testament.
The main reason for this is because this term is mostly used to describe “spiritual prostitution.” This is how God sees Israel when they turned from God to serve other gods. Therefore, zanah became the common word for spiritual backsliding.
However, the act of harloting after strange gods was more than just abandoning God. For example, there was a time when Israel went after the Canaanite gods. The worship of these pagan deities involved actual prostitution with cult prostitutes connected with the Canaanite shrines.
Sometimes during the Old Testament, the use of the phrase, “go a whoring after” gods implies a person’s involvement with these cult prostitutes.
“But you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they play the harlot with their gods and make sacrifice to their gods, and one of them invites you and you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters play the harlot with their gods and make your sons play the harlot with their gods.”
– Exodus 34:13-16
The religious theory behind such vile actions is that such sexual activities with these cult prostitutes (both female and male who represented the gods and goddesses of the Canaanite fertility) would trigger fertility in their flocks and crops.
Also, these cult prostitutes were not known as prostitutes. Rather, they were designed to be called the “holy ones” or “set apart ones.”
Going back to spiritual harlotry, the prophets of the Old Testament did not hold back any judgment in denouncing backsliding offenders. For example, Ezekiel openly called both Israel and Judah harlots and describes their backsliding in sexual terms (Ezekiel 16:6-63).
The book of Hosea also revolved around this theme. Hosea’s wife, Gomar became unfaithful and most likely was involved in such cult prostitution. This book not only illustrates Hosea’s heartbreak, but also the Lord’s. God’s wife, Israel, has been unfaithful many times.
“Do not rejoice, O Israel, with joy like other peoples,
For you have played the harlot against your God.
You have made love for hire on every threshing floor.”
– Hosea 9:1
What Does The Word ‘Fornication’ in Greek?
ekporneuo- to fornicate.
This word is a strengthened version of poerneuo. It means “to give oneself up to fornication” and implies excessive indulgence.
“And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”
– Jude 1:6-7
porneia- sexual immorality.
“But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”
– Ephesians 5:3-4
Also, this term is used to describe the association of pagan idolatry while professing adherence to the Christian faith.
porneuo- to indulge unlawful lust.
“Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.”
– 1 Corinthians 6:18
Metaphorically, this term is used in the following scripture:
“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”
– Revelation 17:1-2
As you can see, the word fornication is used many times in the Bible. Not only that, but it’s a big deal. Mainly because God uses this term to describe those who are worshipping other gods who are supposed to love Him.
All in all, that’s what the word fornication means in Hebrew and Greek. I pray you found this article helpful. If so, please share this content. Also, feel free to share any thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading!