Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 6, 1958
NUMBER 39, PAGE 1,13-14

Fornication -- A Work Of The Flesh

Charles A. Holt, Florence, Alabama

In Galatians 5:19-21, the Apostle Paul gives a partial list of the works of the flesh. In this study we are using the Revised Version. The first sin listed by the apostle is FORNICATION. Whatever it is and what it may include we know such to be one of the works of the flesh, which will bar those who practice it from the kingdom of God. We should earnestly inquire into the meaning of the term.

In the King James account of this passage it will be noted that the word ADULTERY precedes the word FORNICATION. The word ADULTERY is not in the Revised text because the Greek word from which it is translated is not found in the best Greek manuscripts. However, there seems to be no question but that the one word FORNICATION includes the other.

ADULTERY and FORNICATION are common sins in our day. Indeed these seem to have been among the besetting sins of every generation. A study of the Bible reveals many examples of these sins, and over and over again they are condemned in no uncertain terms. Just a casual look at present-day society will convince one that these great evils are running rampant, and but little effort is made to restrain such. The radio, the press, the movies, magazines, and many other forces are busily engaged in the task, either by premeditation or by carelessness, of glorifying and making socially respectable these heinous sins. God's people are, therefore, constantly in danger, and these sins have often been found among them.

Definition Of The Term

WESTER defines the word FORNICATION as follows: "Illicit sexual intercourse on the part of an unmarried person ... Fornication is sometimes, especially in the Bible, used to include all sexual intercourse except between husband and wife or concubine; but it is usually distinguished from adultery, and sometimes from incest."

Thayer, in his great Greek lexicon, defines the Greek term: "Properly illicit sexual intercourse in general." He cites Acts 15:20,29 and 21:25 as examples. Then he adds this note: "That this meaning must be adopted in these passages will surprise no one who has learned from 1 Cor. 6:12 following how leniently converts from among the heathen regarding this vice and how lightly they indulged in it . . ." He also suggests that the word includes the idea of Prostitution. So prostitution, whether legalized or not, is included in this work of the flesh.

The InternationalInternatonal Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, that "every form of unchastity is included in the term fornication."

There are four words in the Greek-Pornia; Pornuo; Pornee; Pornos — which are all kin and from the same root idea. The first two are always translated fornication or have to do with committing the same. The third word is translated by two English words — harlot and whore. The fourth is sometimes translated fornication, and at other times by the word whoremonger(s). So we can see something of the scope of the word we are studying. It is easily seen that the word does very often have a broad meaning including all kinds of unchastity and illicit sexual relations.

As already mentioned above the Revised Version uses only the one word — fornication, while the King James gives the word adultery in addition. In our text it appears that the word fornication has its broadest meaning and includes adultery. From other passages we know that adultery is definitely sinful and it is listed right along with fornication and other sins. (Matt. 15:19, Mark 7:20-22) So whether it should be included in this passage or not really makes but little difference.

Jesus evidently used the word fornication in its broadest sense when he used it interchangeably with the term adultery. Note it: "... But I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress; and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery." (Matt. 5:32) Also in Matt. 19:9 we have the same thing:

... Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery." We have a case of the word fornication used to mean adultery (as we ordinarily consider it) in 1 Cor. 5:1: "It is actually reported that there is fornication among you . . . that one of you hath his father's wife." Here a married person is involved yet it is called fornication, At other times the two words are used as distinct one from the other. In telling of the sins which proceed from the heart and "defile the man." Jesus gives along with others both adulteries and fornications. (Matt. 15:19; Mark 7:20-22) In 1 Cor. 6:9-10, Paul tells about the sinful life of the Corinthians before they were washed, sanctified and justified. He says that some of them had been fornicators and adulterers. Surely by the use of both terms there is some distinction to be made between them.

It is not my purpose here to enter into the age-old controversy concerning the technical differences in the two terms adultery and fornication. Such is beyond my ability and it is not pertinent nor necessary to this paper. That there is a difference at times is freely admitted, al-thought it is not always easy to recognize it.

Since the word fornication included adultery, at least for this present study, let us note the meaning of this latter term. Webster defines it: "Sexual unfaithfulness of a married person; voluntary sexual intercourse by a married man with another than his wife or by a married woman with another than her husband." He also adds that in the Bible the term sometimes means: "Lewdness or unchastity of thought as well as of act. (Matt. 5:28; Ex. 20:17)" Thayer says the Greek word translated adultery means "to have unlawful intercourse with another's wife, to commit adultery with." All of this means that adultery is the unlawful and illicit practice of sexual intercourse, especially when one party involved is married.

All the above discussion tends to indicate that fornication is a more inclusive term than adultery, including all sins of unchastity and illicit relations. Some think that adultery is the unlawful sexual relations of married people or where one party is married, and that fornication is the unlawful sexual relations where neither party is married. This [is] the generally accepted meaning of the terms today.

Allowing the term fornication its broadest meaning, let us note what all is embraced in it.

1. Adultery — "voluntary sexual intercourse by a married man with another than his wife or by a married woman with another than her husband."

2. Fornicationillicit sexual intercourse on the part of those who are not married.

3. Prostitution in all its forms, whether legalized or not. Also, those who patronize prostitutes. It includes the harlot, the whore and the whoremonger.

4. Those who have been married, but have been divorced for any other cause than adultery, and have remarried. In spite of such being legalized by the laws of the land, such a relationship is still adultery. (Matt. 5:32; 19:9)

5. Illicit sexual intercourse in general. (Thayer)

6. Adultery is thought and purpose. "Everyone that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." (Matt. 5:28) The only thing lacking in such thought and purpose is the opportunity. It is already a consummated act in the mind.

Warnings Against This Sin

God's warnings against any sin should be carefully weighted and considered by each Christian; because they portray to us God's attitude toward that particular sin. The warnings in the Bible against this sin are many, in both Old and New Testaments.

Adultery was categorically prohibited in the decalogue--seventh commandment. (Ex. 20:14; Deut. 5:18) In more specific language we read: "And thou shalt not lie carnally with -thy neighbor wife, to defile thyself with her." (Lev. 18:20) The penalty was death for both parties: "And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife even he that committeth adultery with his neighbors wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death." (Lev. 20:10) See also Deut. 22:22-24; Lev. 20:10 and other passages.

In Proverbs 6:24-32, Solomon gives warning against adultery in this language:

"To keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman. Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids. For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adulteress will hunt for the precious life. Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he that goeth in to his neighbor's wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent .... But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul."

In Proverbs 7:6-23, Solomon warns against the temptations of harlotry and the cunning of the harlot. He says:

"With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him. He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks; till a dart strike through his liver; as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life."

In 2 Sam. 11:3-27 we have the account of David's sin of adultery, which, in an attempt to conceal it, he had Uriah murdered. What a terrible blot on David's record and how low he fell!

In the New Testament the condemnation of this sin is just as certain. (see passages already cited) Let us take heed.

Avoiding Fornication

One of the reasons for marriage is to avoid fornication. , "Nevertheless, to avoid fornication; let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband." (1 Cor. 7:2) Then he orders that each one must have due regard for the other.. No doubt if the teaching of this passage was heeded by every husband and wife, there would be fewer clandestine affairs, fewer divorces and more happy homes.

It is only within the "holy bonds of marriage" that the sexual desire may be lawfully satisfied. Within that union this relationship between a man and woman is approved and ordered of God, and it is sweet, sacred and innocent. Sexual intercourse outside of lawful (both Divine and human) marriage is sinful and shameful. May God help us all to learn well this truth.

1 Corinthians 6:13-20

This passage shows how horrible and sinful fornication is when practiced by Christians. This sin seemed to be accepted and practiced by some at Corinth. The false teachers had evidently taught that fornication was only "natural" and had presented arguments made by sensualists of all ages to sustain their claim. Paul answers these arguments and shows the heinous nature of this sin.

"The body is not for fornication, but for the Lord." Fornication is not a natural necessity but a consuming evil. The body was created for higher ends — namely, to be the temple of God. Therefore, our bodies ought to be presented as a living, holy, reasonable, acceptable sacrifice to Him. The end of our existence is to serve God here and enjoy him forever hereafter. Our bodies are "members of Christ." Shall we take "the members of Christ, and make them the members of harlot ?" Sexual intercourse is the act that the Bible recognizes as making man and woman one. When man, who is a member of the body of Christ, is guilty of fornication he forms this union in an unlawful way and makes the member of Christ one with a harlot — joins Christ to an harlot! What a repulsive thought, yet the thought is not nearly so repulsive as the act! No wonder Paul exclaims: "God forbid!"

"He that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body." This it does by alienating it from the service of him to whom it belongs; by incorporating it with the degradation of another; by taking the body as a whole and making it the instrument of sin. It joins the body in sinful union to a body of death, so that it becomes one flesh with the condemned harlot, thereby, severing itself from the life of Christ, and thus it strikes directly at the body's future state. What an awful sin! How terrible the consequences both here and hereafter! Is it any wonder that the apostle writes with force — "flee fornication." Here I insert a quotation from Albert Barnes as he comments on the expression "flee fornication." Read it and heed it.

"Flee fornication. A solemn command of God — as explicit as any that thundered from mount Sinai. None can disregard it with impunity — none can violate it without being exposed to the awful vengeance of the Almighty. There is force and emphasis in the word flee. Man can escape from it; he should not stay to reason about it; to debate the matter; or even to contend with his propensities, and to try the strength of his virtue. There are some sins which a man can resist; some about which he can reason without danger of pollution. But this is a sin where a man is safe only when he flees; free from pollution only when he refuses to entertain a thought of it; secure when he seeks a victory by flight, and a conquest by retreat. Let a man turn away from it without reflection on it and he is safe. Let him think, and reason, and he may be ruined. 'The very passage of an impure thought through the mind leaves pollution behind it.' An argument on the subject often leave pollution; a description ruins; and even the presentation of motives against it may often fix the mind with dangerous inclination on the crime. There is no way of avoiding the pollution but in the manner prescribed by Paul; there is no man safe who will not follow his direction. How many a young man would be saved f r o m poverty, want, disease, curses, tears, and hell, could these two words be made to blaze before him like the writing before the astonished eyes of Belshazzar, and could they terrify him from even the momentary contemplation of the crime."

Final Consequences Of This Sin

The passage under study (Gal. 5:19-21) tells us positively that "they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." There is no mistaking the penalty. It means a failure on the part of God's child to enter heaven. It also means that the guilty shall have their part "in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death."

Can it be possible that 'anyone could think that the sin is worth the price? Think of the shame, heartache, suffering, disease, poverty, divorces, and death caused by this sin in this life. Then consider the eternal results in the hereafter. To enjoy "the pleasures of sin for a season" is not worthy to be compared to the present and eternal results such "pleasure" may bring.

Flee Fornication