What does fornication mean in the Bible? Contrary to popular belief, fornication is not a prerequisite for marriage. Some Christians, for example, cohabitate with their partners before tying the knot and having children. Yet the Bible does not explicitly mention fornication. However, in his letter to the Roman church, Paul sets the record straight. He instructs his readers to conform to the standards of scripture and to be circumspect.
The word fornication first appears in the Old Testament in 2Chronicles 21:11 (Al-Kufah). It is derived from the Hebrew word zanah. According to Strong’s Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary, the word fornication refers to adultery, prostitution, and idolatry. In the Bible, idolatry is considered adultery, and the punishment for fornication is death.
The Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas (2003) that “private sexual acts” are protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Government actors cannot criminalize these acts. But some states still have fornication laws. Unlike other laws, these laws are unlikely to be overturned in court unless the perpetrators have done real harm. So they’ll likely remain in place until legislators repeal them. So, what should a Christian do in response to fornication?
The public definition of fornication in the Bible carries a more general meaning than that of Christianity. During the rabbis’ study of the Torah, they determined that fornication could be committed by the wife of a man. In Judaism, fornication is defined as sexual intercourse outside of the marriage relationship. Nevertheless, some people believe that fornication is not a sin if it occurs with a married partner. If that is the case, then the Bible must mean something very different than what most people consider fornication.