"Liberated Christians" on Porneia

As part of their effort to validate their views, Liberated Christians (LC) maintains that "biased translations" have perpetrated "lies and deceptions" about the meaning of a key word: porneia. It's enough to quote their thoughts here:

1 Cor 6:9 badly mistranslate "porneia" as fornication. Corinth was a wide-open port city. People there could get sex any way they wanted it. Where our English translations read 'fornication', Paul's original Greek word was 'porneia' which means to sell and refers to slaves bought and sold for cultic prostitution. What was happening in the Temples of Corinth was farmers were visiting the temple priestesses who represented the fertility Gods. By having sex with these prostitutes they believed their fields would be more fertile. It didn't even have to do with going to prostitutes, but pagan cultic worship.

LC goes on to claim that versions which translate the word as "sexual immorality" are wrong, and that it is "really a catch-all term that allows interpreters, both professional and lay, to apply this passage to any sexual behavior at all, far beyond the specific practices to which Paul refers."

Is this (and what is also said of Galatians 5 to the same effect) actually correct? As a matter of fact, it is indeed quite likely that Paul was thinking of sex with temple prostitutes here, but that does not solve LC's problems with this word. Sex with such prostitutes would of course make sense as a sub-species of extra-marital sex, but if that is ALL the word means, then what about these passages:

Matt. 5:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. (cf. Matt. 15:19, 19:9; Mark 7:21)
John 8:41 Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.

So then: What Jews of Palestine were having sex with temple prostitutes?

The John 8:41 cite is particularly relevant. In the OT allegiance to a deity other than YHWH was described in terms of harlotry and fornication. In the NT Christians are identified as the bride of Christ. In these terms the model for marriage is allegiance to ONE party; if "free love" was the order of the day, then LC must make the absurd claim that being the "bride of Christ" permits us to worship Molech. Contextually this is, per se, not a model of sex but of covenant loyalty.

Therefore, to say, as LC does, that "[n]othing in the NT indicates any prohibition of singles' sexuality" is to make a patent mockery of the contextual background which relates marriage to covenant relations between YHWH and His people. To make it a matter of "love over legalism" is a virtual blasphemy against YHWH's own love for his people of the OT; to claim that "marriage" as practiced in the Bible is no longer relevant, is patently absurd especially in light of our future identity as the bride of Christ.

LC quotes a "Prodigy poster" who claims to have written a paper on this subject and to have supported LC's views, but no specifics are addressed and nor are any related Gospel passages. For the matter of Onan, see link 1elow.

LC closes with some material on the alleged healthiness of sexual sharing that runs beyond our scope. It remains that in the matter of porneia, they have conspicuously avoided the passages that are most damaging to their position.

This leaves us with a more detailed look at the word itself in context. On this, one of our favorites, Bruce Malina, wrote in Novum Testamentum some years ago (1972) an article which showed that porneia refers to unlawful sexual intercourse in context -- in short, that which is forbidden by the law. That's it, LC may say: There's no law against pre-marital sex in the OT; hence we can do it all we want. But hold on a sec! Malina adds a caveat in a closing footnote: The likely reason we see no such law is because the ability of a young girl to get involved in such an act is severely handicapped to begin with! LC delights in noting that girls were married at a young age; but this, and that young girls were kept under strict supervision in the household, means that pre-marital sex would have been rarer than hen's teeth -- and thus their "no law against it" defense is as relevant as noting that there is no law against killing a Martian.

- JPH

Link

  • on Onan