Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

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.

share|improve this question

closed as off-topic by Dan Jul 7 '14 at 7:02

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions without a specific Bible passage are off-topic as we cannot apply hermeneutical methods to text if there is no text." – Dan
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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

2 Answers 2

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.

share|improve this answer
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

Sexual Immorality appears to be the following Four(4): Incest, Male Homosexuality in part but perhaps not in whole i.e. "sex with a man as with a woman", Bestiality (sex with animals), and Adultery i.e. a man having sex with another man's wife. Fornication would appear to encompass all these too. Rape is listed as a crime, but not sexually immoral unless it violates the above Four(4). Having sex with children is not sexually immoral unless it violates one of the above Four(4) e.g. incest, etc. Yet society has placed restrictions on this by placing an age-of-sexual-consent in the pudding. To extrapolate... it is deemed ok for (A) married man to have sex with his wife and a single woman/women either at the same time or separate. e.g. Twosomes, Threesomes, Foursomes, etc. (B) A single woman could have sex with a married man, a married woman, a single woman, or a single man. But not necessarily at the same time e.g. a married man and a single man together at the same time violates the Fornication Clause. Nor could she have sex with a married man and a married woman at the same time if the married man was not married to the married woman. Etc. (C) A single man could have sex with a single woman or single women. (D) A married women could have sex with her husband and/or a single woman either separate or together. However, a married woman having sex with a married woman may violate the Fornication Clause if both had different husbands (not the same husband) since both women are in a marriage covenant with a different man.
See where I am going with this? I have seen Jewish Charts that make this process of elimination much more visual and thus easy to follow. "WHAT'S IN YOUR WALLET?" i.e. don't be caught away from home without your handy, quick reference, to what is sexually moral, for when that opportunity knocks. These laws on sexual immorality can be found in the Bible Old Testament Books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Since the Bible explicitly tells us what is sexually immoral, it is up to us as followers of God to deduce from that what is sexually moral, similar to being told not to eat seafood without both fins and scales and it then being our job to determine if a particular fish qualifies as acceptable to eat.

share|improve this answer
can you add some references for those meanings? And what is your last sentence about?? –  curiousdannii Jul 6 '14 at 0:50

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.