1 Thessalonians 4:3–8 (BE:NT): 3 This is God’s will, you see: he wants you to be holy, to keep well away from fornication. 4 Each of you should know how to control your own body in holiness and honour, 5 not in the madness of lust like Gentiles who don’t know God. 6 Nobody should break this rule, or cheat a fellow Christian in this area; the Lord is the avenger in all such matters, just as we told you before and testified most solemnly. 7 For God did not call us to a dirty life, but in holiness. 8 Anyone who rejects this, then, is not rejecting a human command, but the God who gives his holy spirit to you.

In this passage, Paul uses the Greek word for sexual immorality often translated as fornication. But then he goes on to describe what he's talking about, which appears to be a thing one believer does to harm another, rather than something two believers do together. Is Paul talking about rape here? If not, what is he talking about?

  • 1
    The fourth verse refers to self-control; see also 1 Corinthians 7:5. The fifth verse refers to pagan orgies, such as the Bacchanalia and Dionysian mysteries.
    – Lucian
    May 11 at 15:13

In 1 Thess. 4 Paul provides counsel with respect to several commandments and, as noted in the OP, chastity is a principal emphasis. Paul's counsel to the Corinthians sheds some light here:

16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. (1 Cor. 3:16-17)

The human body is a sacred creation of God. One who commits sexual immorality not only defiles himself, but drags someone else down with him--fornication is indeed a way that one person can harm another. Paul doesn't hold back in condemning such a selfish and spiritually destructive act.

Rape is indeed evil and roundly condemned in scripture--but that's not what Paul is talking about here. He's making the point that sexual immorality of any kind is a serious violation of God's supreme creation--His children.

Let's consider how he follows this up:

But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. (1 Thess. 4:9)

In contradistinction to the violation of the sanctity of another human being, Paul teaches us to love one another. Lust sometimes conflated with love, but it is the antithesis of love. Lust is selfish, love is selfless. For a brutally honest discussion of the principles of chastity taught in scripture, my thoughts here.

This may not sound like 21st century philosophy--because it isn't. Paul neither believed in nor taught 21st century philosophy.


1 Thessalonians 4:3 New International Version

It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality;

The focal Greek word here is porneia, from which we get the English word pornography.

Thayer's Greek Lexicon

STRONGS NT 4202: πορνεία
a. of illicit sexual intercourse in general ...

b. πορνεία is used metaphorically of the worship of idols

Nowhere in the Bible is this word being associated with rape. The dictionary meaning does not convey this sense either. The context indicates more of adultery rather than rape.

Barns points this out:

no one should be guilty of illicit intercourse with the wife of another. Many expositors - as Hammond Whitby, Macknight, Rosenmuller, and others, suppose that this is a prohibition of adultery, and there can be no doubt that it does include this.

Paul repeated this command in Ephesians 5:3

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people.

and in Colossians 3:5

Put to death, therefore, the components of your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry.

It seemed to be a common problem in these churches.

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