Bacchanal of the Andrians by Titan Sexual Prohibition
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"Neither should we commit porneia, as some of them committed porneia, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day."
1 Corinthians 10:8



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Matthew 5:28 is a notoriously misinterpreted verse with a complicated history, and a reputation of being a marriage killer.

Porneia is not porn. Learn what it is and is not, what you can and can't do, and get all your questions answered. At least the big ones.

No, not some kind of erotic teetotaling. Unhelpful and unnecessary prohibitions provoke us to moralism. But God’s grace changes that.

When it comes to immorality, what some think of as sexual "sin" (such as porn) is really a matter of conscience.


10“If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. 11If a man lies with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. 12If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death; they have committed perversion; their blood is upon them. 13If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. 14If a man takes a woman and her mother also, it is depravity; he and they shall be burned with fire, that there may be no depravity among you. 15If a man lies with an animal, he shall surely be put to death, and you shall kill the animal. 16If a woman approaches any animal and lies with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

17If a man takes his sister, a daughter of his father or a daughter of his mother, and sees her nakedness, and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace, and they shall be cut off in the sight of the children of their people. He has uncovered his sister’s nakedness, and he shall bear his iniquity. 18If a man lies with a woman during her menstrual period and uncovers her nakedness, he has made naked her fountain, and she has uncovered the fountain of her blood. Both of them shall be cut off from among their people. 19You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister or of your father’s sister, for that is to make naked one’s relative; they shall bear their iniquity. 20If a man lies with his uncle’s wife, he has uncovered his uncle’s nakedness; they shall bear their sin; they shall die childless. 21If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impurity He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.”


There you have it. This is the single most comprehensive list of sexual rules we find in scripture. Any other sexual prohibitions in the Bible that come after this tend to stem from and are consistent with these laws. And anyone wanting to modify God’s laws has a lesser standard.

The sexual sin of God's people is found throughout both the Old and New Testaments. The most common Greek word for it is “porneia” (πορνεία) or some form of it. In simplest terms, porneia is sex with dishonorable women, and is distinct from other sexual activities such as adultery, lust, masturbation, and porn.

Elsewhere in the Bible, examples of people violating these laws abound. Some of the most well-known references include David and Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11), the woman caught in adultery who was brought to Jesus (John 8:1-11), the Corinthian man who had his father’s wife (1 Cor. 5), and plenty of others. One egregious example is found in Numbers 25, where the nation of Israel is seduced into sexual idolatry. The Message rendition of the Bible describes it like this.

“While Israel was camped at Shittim (Acacia Grove), the men began to have sex with the Moabite women. It started when the women invited the men to their sex-and-religion worship. They ate together and then worshiped their gods. Israel ended up joining in the worship of the Baal of Peor. God was furious, his anger blazing out against Israel.”


Ancient religions employed countless cult prostitutes at their places of worship. By having sex with these prostitutes, men joined themselves to the false gods they represented. The story goes on to tell how God had Moses torturously kill all the guilty leaders, in addition to the deadly plague that broke out among the people, killing 24,000 offenders in total. Not a good day for Israel.

So, just what was the sin they committed? Was it viewing underwear ads and swimsuit magazines? Perhaps eying people in spandex at the gym, or using unrestricted internet, or watching R-rated movies? No, it wasn't any of that. It was actually engaging others sexually outside of marriage, and on top of that as a form of idol worship. For this reason, sex apart from marriage, and specifically cult prostitution, is why God killed off unrepentant Israelites. This is a prime example of what the Bible refers to as porneia in both sexual and spiritual terms. Why else would God have taken this sin and covenant violation so seriously?

The Israelites that God killed were not simply looking at sexy cult visitor guides or instructional videos. No, they were actually doing the deed. This kind of idolatry is what provoked God's fierce anger and wrath. Those in violation had collectively become spiritual and sexual sluts.

For us to confuse something like ogling lingerie catalogs with cult prostitution is actually an incredible perversion of the word porneia (and so is the term “sexually immoral”). In the Old Testament, prostitution was occasionally tolerated as an institution. However, before Jesus came on the scene, it had become an illicit sexual activity, both for Jewish men and women.

By early Christian times, porneia clearly included prostitution as a form of sexual sin for the people of God. Along with it, God was also sure to reiterate certain Old Testament prohibitions, reinforcing them for believers in the church. In 1 Corinthians 6:9, the apostle Paul warns against various unrepentant sexual offenders and their sin.

9Or do you not know that the unrighteous ones will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither pornoi, nor idolaters, nor moichoi, nor malakoi, nor arsenokoitai, 10…will inherit the kingdom of God.”


Paul differentiates clearly and precisely between each of the Greek words pornoi (males that have sex with dishonorable women), moichoi (those that sexually violate honorable women), arsenokoitai (homosexual males who engage others in sex), and malakoi (passive homosexual men who yield to sex). In summary, this verse prohibits the sexual sin of the following people.


  • male sexual violators of dishonorable women
  • male sexual violators of honorable women
  • homosexual males who instigate sex, and
  • effeminate gay males who agree to it


There are those who may want to debate the interpretation of this verse. However, to say that Paul is not clear in the original text about who he’s referring to here is effectively claiming ignorance. Since he was highly educated in the scriptures, it's no surprise that all of his writings on sexuality are consistent with all the Old Testament commands about it. What you may be surprised to hear, though, is what's not listed in the Bible.

Purity culture provides us with that. And it’s not just the purity movement of the 1990’s we’re talking about. No, moralistic sexual purity is alive and well today, and includes the likes of sexual purity ministries, internet filters, and anti-porn organizations. This may come as a shock to you, but plenty of what the church considers to be sexual sin is not actually sinful according to God. Now, there are without a doubt quite a few sexual activities that are legitimately sinful. It’s just that vague sexual immorality is not one of them. The following two lists consist of examples that contrast both biblical and unbiblical prohibitions.


God’s Sexual Prohibitions

Don’t screw your immediate family

Don’t screw your stepfamily

Don’t screw your extended family

Don’t screw women on their period

 (may be more of an OT hygiene law)

Don’t screw prostitutes

Don’t screw animals

Men, don’t screw men

Women, don’t screw women

Don’t join any sex cults

Don’t cross-dress (Deut. 22:5)

Don’t commit porneia

Don't commit moicheia (or adultery)




Purity Culture's Prohibitions

Don’t fantasize sexually

Don’t sexually lust (desire)

Don’t watch R-rated movies

Don’t masturbate

Don't look at women in tight clothes

Don’t look at underwear/lingerie ads

Don’t wear "provocative" clothing

Don't kiss unless you're married

Don't read/listen to erotic stories

Don’t look at any pornography

Don’t use "dirty" sexual talk

Don’t give or receive oral sex

Don't use unfiltered internet



In considering purity culture’s list, your response may be, "Well, some things are just wrong!" or "Just because the Bible doesn't say something is sin, doesn't mean it's not."

Yes, actually it does.

If scripture does not specifically say something is sinful, then we have the freedom to do as we please on that issue. The burden of proof that something is wrong lies on the one claiming the action to be a sin, which ultimately is the Bible. So again, if God doesn’t specifically say an issue is wrong, then at that point it becomes a matter of conscience.

What's stated explicitly in the Bible is God’s list of sexual prohibitions. It's his only prohibitions. No need to search our hearts for what might be missing, what he might have forgotten, what he could've said, or what we think he should’ve said. God could have said many things were sin - masturbating, two-piece swimsuits, speedos, lacy lingerie, sexual role play, vibrators, skinny dipping, oral sex, pornography, and so on - but he didn't.

By: Dr. Kyle Harper, Ph.D.

By: Dr. Kyle Harper, Ph.D.

By: Dr. Kyle Harper, Ph.D.

In the beginning when God created man and woman, there were no sexual restrictions. Then even after some time had passed, once people had figured out nude beaches, masturbation, and sexy drink names, still no divine directives had been given. And so, it seemed that all the lustful, sensual escapades that ensued were no biggie. It wasn’t until thousands of years after, when God finally gave his people the Ten Commandments, that one of the commands was concerning sex. That’s really about the only sexual prohibition there was until Leviticus.

However, by the time of Moses, things had already been going downhill pretty fast. God had sent the flood to reset humanity, but after that there were the incidents with Noah and Ham, Lot’s daughters, Dinah, and others. Israel left Egypt sometime later, but had picked up some bad habits there. As well, they would later have to face the problematic, seedy influence of the nations around Canaan who they would eventually look to evict. Something had to be done.

It’s at this point that God gave Israel the most restrictive list of sexual laws found in the Bible, specifically, Leviticus chapters 18 and 20. With that in mind, the goal here is to give a degree of context for where sexual prohibitions in the Bible came from. Since these two sections are very similar, here is God’s list of sexual prohibitions and punishments from Leviticus 20:10-21.

Sexual Prohibition part 1: Biblical Origins

A brief history of sex bans in the Bible. Starting at the beginning and on through antiquity, sound doctrine provides proper context.

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8 minutes

God’s prohibitions are a higher standard than purity culture’s. By settling for the latter, even though he allows it for the sake of our own personal conscience (and not for anyone else’s), we are really settling for a weaker faith. Why must we persist in thinking that God's list of sexual prohibitions requires our affirmation? Is it that he needs us to approve or “clarify” things? Is his Word not already clear enough? And should we really be trying to justify exceptions to his commands when we’re not authorized?

Romans 5:20 tells us that God's law was given so that we would sin more, not less. This means that his prohibitions were never intended for us to keep perfectly - because we can't. His laws were designed with regard for our failure. Of course, God's law is not sinful, nor is it the problem, as all of his commands are good. God intentionally gave us his laws so we would learn that rule-keeping will never work to purify us.

Jesus summed up all of God’s law in two commands. In short, he tells us to love God and love others. But even in simple terms, and with knowing that God’s sexual prohibitions are for our good, we still can’t manage to obey them without his help. Thank God that he sent Jesus! And thank Jesus for sending the Holy Spirit to help those who know him. Jesus saves us from ourselves and gives us his purity. Otherwise, we would all be doomed from the beginning.

Bacchanal of the Andrians by Titan


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