What is porneia?

Porneia is a Greek word that means “fornication” or any “forbidden, unlawful sexual activity.” It is a general, umbrella term for any kind of sexual immorality and occurs about 25 times in the New Testament. (Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21; Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25; Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Colossians 3:5; Revelation 9:21)

Under the Law of Moses, illicit sexual immoral acts included:

  • Fornication (sex between people not married to each other)
  • Adultery (sex between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse)
  • Incest (sex between people classed as being too closely related to marry each other)
  • Pedophila (sex between an adult and a child)
  • Bestiality (sex between a person and an animal)
  • Homosexuality (sex between people of the same sex)
  • Sodomy (male prostitution)
  • Whoredom (female prostitution)

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, he included “sexual lust in the heart” as form of adultery.

  • Lust (to look at someone with a strong sexual desire (voyeurism, and adult entertainment such as pornography and erotic dancing leads to sexual lust))

Although the following list of behaviors are not explicitly mentioned in the Scriptures, it seems reasonable to include them in the category of porneia, as they are essentially sexual in nature, focuses sexual energy and desire on someone or something other than one’s spouse, and leads to sexual immorality.

  • Pornography (sexually explicit videos, photographs, writings that entices sexually arousal)
  • Voyeurism (sexual pleasure from watching others who are naked or engaged in sexual activity)
  • Erotic dancing (gradually undressing, either partly or completely, in a seductive and sexually suggestive manner)
  • Masturbation (the stimulation or manipulation of one’s own genitals, especially to orgasm for sexual self-gratification)

The New Testament consistently warns against porneia:

“The body is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord” (1 Corinthians 6:13).

“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Ephesians 5:3).

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).