pornography & homosexuality
And Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of you” (Mt 21:31).
“Flee fornication” (1Co 6:18, KJV).
What the Bible “REALLY” says about PROSTITUTION, fornication, pornography, and homosexuality, and what many people think the Bible says about prostitution, fornication, pornography, and homosexuality are two different things.
Prostitution¾sex for hire
Of course, Scripture clearly frowns upon sex for hire. God prohibited the daughters of Israel from becoming prostitutes (Lev 19:29)¾and that went double for a daughter of the High Priest. If she took a walk on the wild side, she could get burned¾ literally (Lev 21:9).
Nevertheless, there were instances when God at least condoned the monetary procurement of sexual favors. God commanded Hosea to marry a harlot (Hos 1:3). God later promised not to punish the daughters of Israel when circumstances forced them into prostitution (Hos 4:14).
Proverbs 7:6-27 cautions men against foolishly pursuing loose women.
The world’s oldest profession was commonplace in ancient Israel and other countries of the Near East. The Old Testament contains no laws prohibiting prostitution for non-Israelite women. Neither was it adultery for a man to patronize a house of ill repute¾even if he was married. Foolish? Perhaps. Adulterous? No.
Biblical harlots included Rahab of Jericho, the harlot of Gaza whom Samson frequented, and two squabbling prostitutes who asked Solomon to settle a dispute. Noticeably absent in these narratives is any condemnation of their lifestyle. Solomon was in a position to have prostitutes executed, yet he allowed them to practice their trade without government interference.
Genesis 38 illustrates the mindset of ancient Israel. When Judah discovered his daughter-in-law Tamar became pregnant while masquerading as a prostitute, he went ballistic, ready to incinerate the backslider. However, when he received the shocking revelation that he was the father, her life was spared.
Initially, Tamar’s actions as a woman were considered worthy of death, while Judah’s actions as a man were no big deal. Judah was open about his relationships with prostitutes, yet he was simultaneously ready to execute his daughter-in-law for being one. How should we understand this apparent double standard?
Tamar desired a child. This drove her to seduce Judah. Judah declared her more righteous than himself, since he had forfeited an earlier promise to hook her up in marriage with his son Shelah. Tamar bore twins and is in the lineage of Jesus.
To ensure that a Hebrew woman would perpetuate the family line and that the woman’s husband was the child’s true biological father, a woman was expected to be a virgin on her wedding night. Afterwards, she was expected to have sexual relations exclusively with her husband. If she committed adultery, she risked execution.
Some women, however, did not belong to families. Therefore, they might resort to prostitution as a means of survival. Their children were nobody’s heirs, therefore, nobody’s bloodline was adulterated. This is why it was not adultery for a man to have sex with a prostitute.
Judah saw no harm in hiring a prostitute. His wife had recently died and he desired female companionship. Yet he was willing to execute Tamar because he thought she was bearing an illegitimate child. Had she slept with numerous men, the identity of her child’s biological father would have been ambiguous. Tamar’s child would not have been a part of Judah’s family line and the child would thereby not be entitled to receive any inheritance. Perhaps Judah’s concern was to keep his inheritance all in the family. Ironically, Tamar produced legal heirs as a direct result of seducing Judah.
Rahab is also praised (Heb 11:31). Joshua sent two spies to Jericho (Jos 2:1). While there, they lodged at Rahab’s brothel. The Hebrew word used is never translated lodged anywhere else in the Bible. Some margins say this should be translated lay. Although this can mean “to nap,” it is unlikely that anyone would go to a whorehouse to “catch a few winks.” If the spies simply chatted without availing themselves of the services available, they would have stuck out like sore thumbs. Talk about “blowing your cover.” (No pun intended!)
Jesus said prostitutes would enter the Kingdom (Mt 21:31). Now most people add a qualifier. “Yeah, right… if they give up their profession.” Sorry¾Jesus did not say (or imply) ex-prostitutes. He said prostitutes. Period. Employment opportunities for women in Jesus’ day were severely limited. An ex-prostitute would have found it very difficult to survive.
Fornication as cult prostitution
Although the Bible tolerated prostitution in general, it strongly condemned cult prostitution as idolatrous fornication. Prostitution is used as a metaphor for idolatry in Hosea 4:12-14. Prostitution and idolatry are used interchangeably throughout the fourth chapter of Hosea. Paul expressed the command against fornication (“Flee fornication.”-1Co 6:18, KJV) and the command against idolatry (“Flee from idolatry.”-1Co 10:14, KJV) in the same way.
In pagan cultures, fornication and idolatry went hand in hand. Having sex with a cult prostitute was a way of worshipping one’s favorite god or goddess. Cult prostitutes were common in Old Testament Canaan and New Testament Corinth. The Canaanites orchestrated elaborate orgies as an act of worship, hoping to hoodwink Baal into fertilizing their crops and cattle.
The First Commandment forbids the worship of any gods other than Yahweh. In Old Testament times, the Canaanites worshipped Baal and Asherah. Venus (Aphrodite) was the principal deity of Corinth in the New Testament. It is within this context that Paul’s statement to flee fornication must be evaluated (1Co 6:18, KJV). A text without a context is a pretext.
Corinth was famous for prostitution. The Temple of Venus was the most magnificent building in the city. The temple employed a thousand prostitutes financed with public funds. Many early converts to Christianity continued their old practices, which included going up to the temple and engaging in orgies dedicated to the worship of Venus. They saw nothing wrong with this. Paul, however, warned them to flee fornication.
Many have taken Paul’s warning out of context. The words “flee fornication” have been widely misappropriated, battering potential transgressors like a ministerial billy club.
Meanwhile, Christendom seems oblivious to what fornication meant in biblical times. One church was so strict that if a member kissed his date, she was indoctrinated to slap the fornicator and run with haste, screaming all the way. This was their idea of “fleeing fornication.” Talk about striking out before even getting to the plate.
This would have seemed ludicrous to the Bible writers, who¾on at least five occasions¾urged Christians to greet each other with a kiss (Ro 16:16; 1Co 16:20; 2Co 13:12; 1Th 5:26; 1Pe 5:14).
Contrast ancient Corinth with a modern date. In Corinth, fornicators had sex with temple prostitutes¾not only for gratification, but also as a means of worshipping Venus (which is idolatry). Why did Paul condemn this? The rationale is clear¾Christians are members of the body of Christ (1Co 6:15-20). Paul uses Genesis 2:24 to demonstrate that sex unites a man and woman as one entity. A Christian should not join a member of Christ’s body to a prostitute (1Co 6:15). The body of a believer is a temple of the Holy Spirit (v. 19). A Corinthian prostitute regarded her body as a temple of Venus.
Temple prostitution often involved child sacrifices. King Ahaz sacrificed his sons to Baal (2Ch 28:1–3).
Christians should not frequent cult prostitutes because it unites something good with something evil. For a good God-fearing Heaven-bound Christ-worshipper to sexually unite with an evil and unrepentant Hell-bent idol-worshipper makes about as much sense as welding a commode onto the back of your BMW. Nevertheless, this should not be taken as a carte blanche condemnation of prostitution because it is possible for a prostitute to practice her profession ethically and still enter the Kingdom.
Righteousness and wickedness have nothing in common. Light has no fellowship with darkness. There is no harmony between Christ and the Devil (2Co 6:14-18). Although Venus was probably just a fictitious goddess with no basis in reality, the Bible does seem to indicate that there are demonic forces behind the worship of pagan gods and goddesses. A Christian should never engage in any activity, sexual or otherwise, that unites good with evil.
Yet Scripture continually admonishes Christians to live in unity, fellowship and harmony. The difference between engaging in an idolatrous orgy and giving a Christian date a smooch is like day and night.
What is fornication?
“Fornication” does not mean the same thing it did in Paul’s day.
To illustrate how much confusion surrounds this one word, according to the 1959 edition of The American College Dictionary, fornication is “voluntary sexual intercourse on the part of an unmarried person with a person of the opposite sex.”
In 1995, Webster’s Dictionary defined fornication as “consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other.”
So, the first definition limits fornication to heterosexual intercourse where at least one party is single, while the second definition includes sex between married people who are not married to each other, as well as acts of homosexuality. That’s quite a change in a mere thirty-six years. If Webster’s 1995 definition is accurate, one has to wonder why the Seventh Commandment doesn’t read “You shall not commit fornication.”
Imagine the change that may have occurred over the past two thousand years as different cultures translate this word into different languages.
Bible translators are also scratching their heads over how to define this elusive word. Fornication comes from the Greek word porneia. Although the King James Version consistently translates porneia as fornication, other versions translate porneia as marital unfaithfulness, unchastity, sexual immorality, or just immorality.
That’s playing it safe, but it still doesn’t tell us what fornication is, or why it is wrong. Some claim there is no distinction between adultery and fornication. But if that’s the case, why have two different words? And why do Galatians 5:19, Mark 7:21, and Matthew 15:19 use both words¾adultery and fornication¾in the same sentence?
The literal meaning of porneia is prostitution. The Greek word for prostitute is porne, which is where the word pornography comes from. The word pornography simply means a story about a prostitute. According to this definition, the Disney film Pretty Woman is pornographic.
The Hebrew word for fornication is zenut. In the Old Testament, fornication is often used to refer to Hebrew idolatry and Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. This is especially true in the book of Ezekiel.
In Revelation, Babylon is called “the great whore” (19:2), and “the mother of harlots” (17:5), with whom “the kings of the earth have committed fornication” (17:2).
Some complain that fornication and prostitution are not the same thing. This is because there are a few instances in the Bible where fornication does not refer specifically to prostitution. Bestiality, rape, homosexuality, premarital sex, and incest are also referred to as fornication.
Incest was not a sin until after Moses. Prior to the Law, it was common for relatives to intermarry. Abraham and Sarah had the same father (Ge 20:12). Isaac married his cousin (Ge 22:20-23). Apparently, the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve intermarried.
Perhaps the problem lies not so much in how to define “fornication” as it is in how to define “prostitute.”
What is a prostitute?
According to The American Heritage Dictionary, a prostitute is “One who solicits and accepts payment for sexual intercourse.”
Today’s use of the word prostitute
Although the aforementioned dictionary definition of prostitute is technically accurate, the word can have a much broader usage. A woman who sleeps around is sometimes referred to as a prostitute, even though she may be giving it away.
Is a stripper a prostitute? Although some strippers do hook on the side, many, probably most, do not. And yet they use sex indirectly to earn a living. Some strippers earn more than most prostitutes. Or so I’m told.
Are massage parlor employees prostitutes? Some of them make an obscene amount of money. Or so I’m told. Although many of these ladies will go all the way¾for the right price¾ many will not.
And what about those who earn their living as phone sex operators? Or those who pose nude for men’s magazines?
Or, what about a wife who uses sex as a bargaining tool? God only knows how many husbands have been whipped like puppies by a materialistic, manipulative wife who just has to have a new dress. Although she is not technically a prostitute, in one sense, she is the worst kind of prostitute there is.
The biblical use of the word prostitute
In biblical times, a woman was expected to be a virgin on her wedding night. Few men would have married a non-virgin unless she was widowed. Since single women who had lost their virginity were damaged goods with little or no opportunity for either employment or marriage, many of these women probably resorted to prostitution. Therefore, it’s logical that such women may have been stereotyped as prostitutes or fornicators. Perhaps this is why the Bible sometimes refers to sex prior to marriage as fornication.
As for homosexuality and bestiality, these activities were often used in pagan cultures to commune with a pagan god or goddess. And since the main thing the Bible condemns about cult prostitution is its use in idolatrous worship, it makes sense that the Bible would use the word fornication to refer to these activities.
Slang references to prostitution
We also use slang references to prostitution to condemn dishonest activity. Getting “screwed” means “getting ripped-off.” Immoral people are often referred to as prostitutes, even though their actions may have nothing to do with sex.
These slang terms have probably come into vogue because of the immoral consequences associated with prostitution. Prostitutes are notorious for ripping off their Johns, although vice versa is true. Add to that the use of drugs and the spread of STDs. These are just a few of the dangers involved in street hustling. Yet many of these problems would be minimized if prostitution were made legal.
Slavery was a form of prostitution for many women in biblical times. Slaves were traded freely and became the property of their owners. Their offspring had nothing to inherit, so it wasn’t important who a slave child’s biological father was.
According to Mosaic Law, if a male slave served his owner for seven years and agreed to be set free, the slave was required to leave his children and their mother behind. They were the property of his master (Ex 21:4). Therefore, laws regulating Israelite marriages did not apply to their slaves. Considering that the Jews were slaves in Egypt and didn’t receive the Ten Commandments until they came out of slavery, one has to wonder if there was a such thing as adultery among slaves who were traded back and forth like sports cards.
If a man slept with another man’s slave girl, it was a minor offense. The offender offered a ram and Voila¢¾his sin was forgiven (Lev 19:20). Had she been another man’s wife, the two could have been executed.
Female slaves were often used as sex tools by the Jews. Besides being useful for menial labor, slaves were an economic asset valuable for breeding. It was a common requirement for a slave woman to share her sexual favors with her master and his sons. This satisfied the master’s sexual appetite while increasing the family’s wealth.
According to Louis Epstein, although it was a minor offense to have sex with another man’s slave, the same action was customary if the slave owner gave him permission. One was stealing, the other was graciously accepting an act of hospitality. Men had a right to share what was theirs.1
Moving to the New Testament, there were six million slaves in the Roman Empire alone. Considering that many of the early Christians were slaves, one might wonder how they were expected to conduct their sexual lives. Hypothetically, let’s say that an early female Christian slave was having sexual relations with her master, her master’s sons, and her master’s neighbors. Such a hypothetical situation was not only possible, it was probable. Would Paul expect this Christian slave woman to defy her master by refusing to commit adultery and/or fornication?
First, this would have been considered neither an act of adultery, nor an act of fornication. Rather, to withhold her sexual obligations would have been considered robbing her master of what was rightfully his.
What advice did Paul give? Slaves were instructed to serve their earthly masters wholeheartedly (Eph 6:5-8).
Peter says the same thing (1Pe 2:18). Peter instructed slaves to submit to their masters, even if their masters were bad, even if that submission caused unjust suffering. Although sexual matters are not specifically addressed here, this must have been a concern. Nowhere do Peter or Paul tell slaves to refuse conjugal duties with their masters. This would have been their obligation, and an act of submission to Christ.
Considering the nature of slavery, an infinite number of hypothetical situations must have arisen. Put yourself in Paul’s position, giving advice to these slaves. What if a male slave had just been given his freedom, but was required to leave his children and their mother with his former master? Can he remarry? Or must he spend the remainder of his life celibate? The answer should be obvious.
Next scenario¾a slave woman has recently been traded. Naturally, her new owner expects her to breed with him and satisfy him sexually. This was why he purchased her. Scripture indicates that both Peter and Paul would advise her to obey her master and give him his conjugal duties (Eph 6:5-8, 1Pe 2:18-21).
What advice would you give to a modern-day prostitute who wants to be a Christian? For the sake of argument, let’s say she lives in a part of the world where prostitution is legal. Also for the sake of the argument, let’s say she practices safe sex, like the legal prostitutes in Nevada. The workers there are very clean, and seldom if ever contract a venereal disease. For a legal prostitute in Nevada to not practice safe sex would be risking unemployment. The same is now true for today’s porn stars. (This is not to say porn stars always or even usually wear condoms during a sex scene. But before they can do a shoot, they must now be checked at a clinic for STDs.) Isn’t it ironic that there is probably less risk in having sex with a legal prostitute or a porn star than with one’s own mate? But I digress.
So let’s say this prostitute loves her job and makes a good living. She recently heard the gospel and now wants a personal relationship with Jesus. Is that possible? Or must she first quit her job?
What advise would Jesus give?
The Bible doesn’t address this issue. However, being an unemployed ex-prostitute in Jesus’ day would have been hazardous to one’s economic health.
Is it possible to be a Christian prostitute? Jesus warned the religious hypocrites of His day, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes (not ex-prostitutes) are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of you” (Mt 21:31).
There’s a huge difference between cult prostitution, which involves the idolatrous worship of a pagan god, and secular prostitution, which may involve a woman struggling to make ends meet. I’d rather be sided with Rahab and Tamar than the scribes and Pharisees.
In a perfect world, prostitution would not exist. But this is not a perfect world. We are fallen creatures in a fallen universe. And many of God’s instructions were given to guide us through the maze until Paradise is restored.
Speaking of sex for sale, consider this parallel between the bottled water industry and the porn industry. We blithely pay a dollar or more for a gallon of bottled water. Mind-boggling, isn’t it?
In a perfect world, everyone would have pure water¾free! How ironic! We’re willing to have someone filter our dirty water¾something which should be clean and free¾then pay them to sell it back to us at a premium price.
Who’s the culprit¾the customer? No, he’s got a legitimate need.
What about the store¾is the store the bad guy? No, the store simply supplies a needed product.
Is the bottled water company to blame? Of course not. Who can blame a company for selling a legitimate product for an honest price?
So who is to blame? Obviously, it’s the scoundrel polluting our water! He’s the one creating the market. If there were plenty of free, pure water, bottled water companies wouldn’t have anybody to sell to.
The same is true of the porn industry. The devil in disguise is that halloed, finger-wagging crusader who pollutes our minds with the propaganda that sex is evil. And many of the publishers of pornography aren’t helping things either, as they describe the sexual acts they promote as dirty, filthy, and naughty. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isa 5:20). Sure, the abuse of sex is evil¾so is the abuse of Bon Bons.
It’s extremists like Reverend Falwell who keep the Larry Flynts of the world rolling in dough. For centuries, too many misguided Christians have been imposing their false legalistic rules of sexual suppression on a weary public. That’s why Hustler and Playboy have such a hot market. What should be freely available is condemned as a menace to society.
God only knows how many call girls have lined their pockets because somewhere in Christendom, a nice girl was naively “saving herself” for marriage. Granted, this was important in biblical times¾women married much younger and contraceptives had not yet been invented. But times have changed.
Does the Bible condemn homosexuality?
One of the most controversial issues of modern times is whether the Bible condemns or condones homosexuality. Trying to keep an open mind on this issue, I’ve read quite a bit from both sides of the fence. Unfortunately, neither side has been very persuasive. Therefore, I’m still sitting on the fence.
As a heterosexual male, it is hard for me to comprehend how any man could be sexually attracted to another man and have no desire for women. On the other hand, two women making love is one of the most beautifully erotic things I’ve ever seen. And I know a lot of men agree. Romans 1:26 is the only verse in the Bible that seems to frown on lesbian love, and it’s not quite clear whether it is a negative assessment of lesbianism per se, or a condemnation of cult prostitution. One has to wonder about the thousand wives of Solomon. Even if Solomon had sex with a different woman every day, it would have taken almost three years to get back to the beginning of the rotation. What did these women do in the interim to satisfy themselves?
Certainly any behavior that puts someone at risk of acquiring AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases should be condemned. But the odds of acquiring a disease, if quality condoms are used properly and consistently, is almost zero. And there is still debate among experts as to the cause of AIDS. (See the chapter on safe sex.)
For those who maintain that the Bible condemns homosexuality, it is true that the Bible says nothing positive about it. However, there are only six biblical passages on same-sex relations, three in the Old Testament and three in the New. And it’s debatable whether any of them can be used as an absolute condemnation of homosexuality per se.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 only seems to be condemning homosexual rape and a lack of hospitality. It says nothing about a loving committed relationship between two consenting adults. The Holiness Code in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 condemn a man having sex with another man, but it also condemns wearing clothing woven of two kinds of material (19:19) and priests shaving their beards (21:5). In a time when it was important for Israel to be fruitful and multiply, men having sex with other men would have been a threat to the survival of the nation.
Scholars are presently debating whether the New Testament passages found in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1 condemn homosexuality per se, homosexual cult prostitution, or pederasty (an older man having sex with a young boy).
Meanwhile, there presently seems to be little evidence that gays are “born that way.” Even most gays don’t believe that. And there are enough ex-gays that have changed that the excuse “I just can’t help it” no longer seems valid. Of course, even if gays are not born that way, and even if gays can and do change, this has no bearing whatsoever on whether homosexuality per se is a sin. Even if homosexuality is a sin, Christians need to be patient and loving towards homosexuals because everybody is a sinner of some sort. What is needed now is meaningful dialogue between both sides. I realize this is an emotional issue, but shouting matches seldom accomplish anything productive.
What does the Bible “REALLY” say about prostitution, fornication, pornography, and homosexuality?
Although the world’s oldest profession has never been among the Bible’s “Top Ten Career Choices,” neither was it totally outlawed in ancient Israel. Proverbs warns foolish men to avoid loose women. Although prostitutes are notorious for ripping off their Johns, rip-offs occur in all types of transactions. An honest prostitute can enter the Kingdom. Unlike Jumbo Shrimp, Christian Prostitute is not necessarily an oxymoron.
The Bible says nothing positive about homosexuality, but the few passages that seem to condemn it may or may not relate to consensual loving relationships.
Prostitution and pornography are symptomatic of a fallen humanity. A distinction needs to be drawn between cult prostitution (fornication) and other forms of prostitution. The former uses sex as the idolatrous worship of a pagan goddess, while the latter uses sex as a means of putting bread on the table.
A much greater condemnation is given to religious hypocrisy. Let’s pray that our minds can be cleansed with truth. The last thing we need is another misinformed evangelist sending us on a sexual guilt trip. Legalism only detours us by going beyond the parameters God has set forth in His Direction Manual. Sexual repression has done more to prostitute our minds than all the prostitutes put together. Let’s pray for sexual healing. Otherwise we’re really getting screwed!
 Epstein, Louis M. Sex Laws and Customs in Judaism. New York, NY: KTAV Publishing House, 1967 (reprint).
 I respect Reverend Falwell. I do not question his sincerity. I just disagree with many of his positions on sexual morality.