Sexual Immorality Revisited, Part 2

The exercise of revisiting Paul’s Religious Mind and the meaning of Sexual Immorality has clarified a few things that were right in front of me all along.  I considered again the list of sins that described the former lives of some who were called to faith in Corinth:

1 Corinthians 6:9b, 10 (NET)

Parallel Greek

The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. οὔτε πόρνοι (another form of πόρνος) οὔτε εἰδωλολάτραι οὔτε μοιχοὶ οὔτε μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται οὔτε κλέπται οὔτε πλεονέκται, οὐ μέθυσοι, οὐ λοίδοροι, οὐχ ἅρπαγες βασιλείαν θεοῦ κληρονομήσουσιν

Each word preceded by οὔτε, οὐ or οὐχ (a form of οὐ) gives a strong indication that Paul did not consider πόρνοι the one word that included all of the others.  In other words the list is not to be understood as, The πόρνοι: idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers.  I’ve considered this option, by the way, given the shorter list in Ephesians.

Ephesians 5:5 (NET)

Parallel Greek

For you can be confident of this one thing: that no person who is immoral, impure, or greedy (such a person is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. τοῦτο γὰρ ἴστε γινώσκοντες, ὅτι πᾶς πόρνος ἢ ἀκάθαρτος ἢ πλεονέκτης οὐκ ἔχει κληρονομίαν ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ θεοῦ

So I began a subtractive process, trying to determine what πόρνοι did not mean.  As I studied ἀρσενοκοῖται (a form of ἀρσενοκοίτης; translated, practicing homosexuals) the obvious became more clear.  The Greek word ἀρσενοκοίτης is a compound of two words: 1) αρσην, male, and 2) κοίτη, couch, bed.

Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male (ἄρσεν, a form of αρσην) and female,[1] Jesus answered the Pharisees who asked Him about divorce.  The men (ἄρσενες, another form of αρσην) also abandoned natural relations with women, Paul wrote the Roman believers, and were inflamed in their passions for one another.  Men (ἄρσενες, another form of αρσην) committed shameless acts with men (ἄρσεσιν, another form of αρσην) and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.[2]  The Greek is a bit more graphic: ἄρσενες ἐν ἄρσεσιν τὴν ἀσχημοσύνην κατεργαζόμενοι (literally, “male in male this unseemliness performing”).  The writer of Hebrews penned: Marriage must be honored among all and the marriage bed (κοίτη) kept undefiled, for God will judge sexually immoral people (πόρνους, another form of πόρνος) and adulterers (μοιχοὺς, a form of μοιχός).[3]  I can’t imagine one word better than ἀρσενοκοίτης (male marriage bed) to describe You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman.[4]

I combined this with the fact that Paul’s particular usage of πορνεία in 1 Corinthians 5:1 is a fairly clear reference to You must not have sexual intercourse with your father’s wife; she is your father’s nakedness.[5]  And I came to one inescapable conclusion irrespective of whether Paul used πορνεία because he thought it meant anything and everything that was not sex between one man and one woman or because it was the only word he had had to use when he arrived in Corinth, constrained by his reliance on James’ abbreviated version of the law:

James’ abbreviated version of the law

…to abstain from things defiled by idols and from sexual immorality and from what has been strangled and from blood…

Acts 15:20 (NET)

ἀπέχεσθαι τῶν ἀλισγημάτων τῶν εἰδώλων καὶ τῆς πορνείας (a form of πορνεία) καὶ |τοῦ| πνικτοῦ καὶ τοῦ αἵματος
…that you abstain from meat that has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what has been strangled and from sexual immorality…

Acts 15:29a (NET)

ἀπέχεσθαι εἰδωλοθύτων καὶ αἵματος καὶ πνικτῶν καὶ πορνείας (a form of πορνεία)

The inescapable conclusion is: in the letter called 1 Corinthians Paul taught Levitical law (as knowledge of sin not as a path of salvation) to Gentiles (1 Timothy 1:8-10 NET).

But we know that the law is good if someone uses it legitimately, realizing that law is not intended for a righteous person, but for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, sexually immoral people (πόρνοις, another form of πόρνος), practicing homosexuals (ἀρσενοκοίταις, another form of ἀρσενοκοίτης), kidnappers, liars, perjurers – in fact, for any who live contrary to sound teaching.

Gone was any pretense to be concerned about nothing among [them] except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.[6]  More importantly, perhaps, the pretense of not placing on the neck of the [Gentile] disciples a yoke that neither [Peter’s] ancestors nor [his contemporaries had] been able to bear[7] was utterly gone from Paul’s thinking.  That yoke would not be borne by the works of the flesh.  That is true.  But it would not be shirked either.  The yoke would be borne by the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe,[8] the fruit of the Spirit, the love [that] is the fulfillment of the law.[9]  Jesus said (Matthew 11:28-30; 5:17-20 NET):

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.  So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Do we then nullify the law through faith? Paul asked rhetorically.  Absolutely not!  Instead we uphold the law.[10]  Have I just made the case for πορνεία as a violation of Leviticus 18 or 20?  But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful [πορνείας, a form of πορνεία]) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.[11]  I don’t think so.

I might have made that case.  I have a philosophical bent to my mind; I am a legalist in theory and in practice.  Why not see Matthew 5:32 as Jesus’ instruction to governor-priests and as vindication or exoneration of Ezra the priest?  Ancient Roman legislators had articulated concepts of lawful connubium.  The priests and bishops Constantine left to govern Rome when he abandoned it for Byzantium heard Jesus’ words as Roman law.  Wouldn’t Jesus follow Roman law?  It’s certainly more in line with the way my mind works.  Until, that is, I heard yehôvâh in the prophet Malachi (2:14b, 15a, 16 NET):

The Lord (yehôvâh, יהוה) is testifying against you on behalf of the wife you married when you were young, to whom you have become unfaithful even though she is your companion and wife by law.  No one who has even a small portion of the Spirit in him does this.

“I hate divorce,” says the Lord (yehôvâh, יהוה) God (ʼĕlôhı̂ym, אלהי) of Israel, “and the one who is guilty of violence,” says the Lord (yehôvâh, יהוה) who rules over all. “Pay attention to your conscience, and do not be unfaithful.”

This is the intellectual and spiritual equivalent of a ratchet, and I cannot go back.  Now I hear, For God has consigned (συνέκλεισεν, a form of συγκλείω) all people to disobedience (ἀπείθειαν, a form of ἀπείθεια; literally, disbelief) so that he may show mercy to them all.[12]  We are all like fish caught in a net of disobedience.  Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under (ἐν; literally, in) the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable (ὑπόδικος; literally, under sentence, under judgment) to God.[13]

Ezra was exactly where yehôvâh wanted him to be when he said: O Lord (yehôvâh, יהוה) God of Israel, you are righteous, for we are left as a remnant this day.  Indeed, we stand before you in our guilt.  However, because of this guilt no one can really stand before you.[14]  Who knows what would have happened if Ezra had stayed there, waiting on yehôvâh, instead of chasing after Shecaniah’s get-righteous-quick scheme (Ezra 10:2-4 NET).

Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, from the descendants of Elam, addressed Ezra: “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the local peoples.  Nonetheless, there is still hope for Israel in this regard.  Therefore let us enact a covenant with our God to send away all these women and their offspring, in keeping with your counsel, my lord, and that of those who respect the commandments of our God.  And let it be done according to the law.  Get up, for this matter concerns you.  We are with you, so be strong and act decisively!”

I want to make this as clear as I possibly can.  If a man has married the wrong sort of woman he cannot redeem himself in God’s eyes, he cannot make himself righteous again, by divorcing her and sending their children away.  The religious mind encourages us to change our own behavior, to conform us to some image of righteousness derived from the law (or some lesser doctrine) by that religious mind.  The mind of Christ speaks to the wriggling soul caught in a net of disbelief, saying, Stop your striving (râphâh, הרפו) and recognize (yâdaʽ, ודעו) that I am God!  I will be exalted over the nations!  I will be exalted over the earth![15]  Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must all be born from above.’[16]

I don’t live in Rome in the first half of the fourth century.  I don’t hear Jesus speaking to Roman legislators about external controls.  I hear Him speaking to the ἐκκλησία, those called by God the Father through Jesus Christ to be led by his Holy Spirit.  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.[17]  For this and other reasons I still hear Jesus’ use of πορνείας (a form of πορνεία) in Matthew 5:32 and πορνείᾳ in Matthew 19:9 as a reference to the same πορνεῦσαι (a form of πορνεύω, e.g., sexualized worship) He condemned in Revelation 2:20 (NET):

But I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and by her teaching deceives my servants to commit sexual immorality (πορνεῦσαι) and to eat food sacrificed to idols (εἰδωλόθυτα, a form of εἰδωλόθυτον).

Such sexualized worship was the bane of Israel’s descendents from the beginning of their existence as a nation: So do not be idolaters (εἰδωλολάτραι, a form of εἰδωλολάτρης), as some of them were.  As it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”  And let us not be immoral (πορνεύωμεν, another form of πορνεύω), as some of them were (ἐπόρνευσαν, another form of πορνεύω), and twenty-three thousand died in a single day.[18]  Rather than thinking of it as an abbreviated version of the law it would be far more charitable to assume that sexualized worship was what James had in mind at the Jerusalem Council:

Jesus (NET)

Parallel Greek James (NET)

Parallel Greek

…to commit sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols…

Revelation 2:20b

πορνεῦσαι καὶ φαγεῖν εἰδωλόθυτα …to abstain from things defiled by idols and from sexual immorality and from what has been strangled and from blood…

Acts 15:20

ἀπέχεσθαι τῶν ἀλισγημάτων τῶν εἰδώλων καὶ τῆς πορνείας (a form of πορνεία) καὶ |τοῦ| πνικτοῦ καὶ τοῦ αἵματος
…that you abstain from meat that has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what has been strangled and from sexual immorality…

Acts 15:29a

ἀπέχεσθαι εἰδωλοθύτων (another form of εἰδωλόθυτον) καὶ αἵματος καὶ πνικτῶν καὶ πορνείας (a form of πορνεία)

I want to substitute a more literal understanding of ὁμολογεῖ (a form of ὁμολογέω) translated confesses and confess respectively in 1 John 4:1-3 (NET):

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that [speaks the same as] Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not [speak the same as] Jesus is not from God, and this is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming, and now is already in the world.

To that extent that the religious mind encourages us to reform our own behavior rather than to rely on the fruit of the Holy Spirit, it is the spirit of antichrist no matter how well-intentioned the mouthpiece. Suspicious of the Gospel I tried to be good first to prove that I was, failing that, I tried because “God will get you if you don’t watch out.”  My fear was flight from rather than toward God.  And yet, in that dark foreboding I became most aware of His forgiveness and patience.  Paul put it this way for Timothy (1 Timothy 1:15, 16 NET):

This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” – and I am the worst of them!  But here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate his utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life.

Amanda Bynes delivers one of the funniest and most poignant lines in the movie Easy A: “Jesus tells us to love everyone.  I mean, even the whores and the homosexuals, but it’s just so hard.  It’s so hard because they keep doing it over and over again.”  An attitude of forgiveness toward others flows from the love that comes from the Holy Spirit.  Still, Jesus said, the one who is forgiven little loves little.[19] One who is forgiven much is forgiven often for the same offense, sometimes many more than seven times a day.  And that experience is far more persuasive than any threat (Matthew 18:34, 35 NET):

And in anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture [the unforgiving slave] until he repaid all he owed.  So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.

In that sacred space of loving forgiveness the truth began to dawn on me that not only the desire and effort were God’s but the fulfillment of his desire and his effort was his as well, the kingdom, the power and the glory.  I’ll substitute the same literal understanding I used above for ὁμολογήσῃς (another form of ὁμολογέω) translated confess, and ὁμολογεῖται (another form of ὁμολογέω) translated confesses in Romans 10:9, 10 (NET):

…if you [speak the same as Jesus] with your mouth that Jesus is Lord[20] [e.g., yehôvâh as opposed to a Lord or Sir] and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness [πιστεύεται εἰς δικαιοσύνην; literally, “believes unto righteousness”] and with the mouth one [speaks the same as Jesus] and thus has salvation [ὁμολογεῖται εἰς σωτηρίαν; literally, “speaks the same as Jesus unto salvation”].


[1] Matthew 19:4 (NET)

[2] Romans 1:27 (NET)

[3] Hebrews 13:4 (NET)

[4] Leviticus 18:22a (NET)

[5] Leviticus 18:8 (NET)

[6] 1 Corinthians 2:2 (NET)

[7] Acts 15:10 (NET)

[8] Romans 3:22 (NET)

[9] Romans 13:10b (NET)

[10] Romans 3:31 (NET)

[11] Matthew 5:32 (NAB)

[12] Romans 11:32 (NET)

[13] Romans 3:19 (NET)

[14] Ezra 9:15 (NET)

[15] Psalm 46:10 (NET)

[16] John 3:7 (NET)

[17] Romans 8:14 (NET)

[18] 1 Corinthians 10:7, 8 (NET)

[19] Luke 7:47b (NET)

[20] NET note 10: Or “the Lord.” The Greek construction, along with the quotation from Joel 2:32 in v. 13 (in which the same “Lord” seems to be in view) suggests that κύριον (kurion) is to be taken as “the Lord,” that is, Yahweh. Cf. D. B. Wallace, “The Semantics and Exegetical Significance of the Object-Complement Construction in the New Testament,” GTJ 6 (1985): 91-112.