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A modern tool will translate the Hebrew ערוה as “unchastity”, “nakedness” or “incest”.

This term is translated in modern versions as “sexual immorality”, but that expression is very vague. In old translations that expression was translated as “fornication”.

What's the real meaning from the Hebrew view at the time?


In the New Testament, the expression “sexual immorality” comes from the Greek πορνεια, and it's meaning it's explained in this question.

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! I'm glad you stopped by. Two potentially related questions may be found by searching for the transliteration porneia. You might consider focusing on a particular passage as this question is a bit too broad. –  Jon Ericson Feb 2 '12 at 19:13
@JonEricson You're right. I added a link to that question regarding Greek translation. –  pferor Feb 2 '12 at 20:06
Awesome! (I think my vote to close will time out eventually. Please ignore it.) –  Jon Ericson Feb 2 '12 at 20:10
@pferor Welcome to BH.SE! In the future you might want to wait a little longer before accepting an answer; while I'm flattered that mine met your needs, the question is currently 3 hours old with 9 views so there's a good chance there's something even better out there waiting to be added. (Of course if another answer shows up you can change which is accepted, but waiting a day or so before deciding is usually a good idea.) –  Gone Quiet Feb 2 '12 at 20:45
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1 Answer

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The Hebrew noun ערוה is often translated "nakedness" and paired with the verb גַלֵּה, often translated "uncover". You can find many uses of this phrase in Leviticus 18, where it's applied to various close relatives (don't uncover the nakedness of your mother, sister, etc). The implication here is "don't have sex with these people", considering "sex" broadly.

The same words are used in Genesus 9:21-22 in talking about what happened to Noach after he got drunk after the flood. Rabbinic commentary (citation needed) understands what Cham did to Noach as sexual in nature.

I can't help with the Greek.

Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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Thanks for tackling the Hebrew side of the question. Perhaps @pferor would be interested in editing the question to focus it on the Hebrew rather than the Greek words? –  Jon Ericson Feb 2 '12 at 19:35
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