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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary
Fornication usually refers to sexual immorality by unmarried people, whereas adultery refers to sexual immorality by married people. Sometimes the Bible speaks of fornication to denote sexual immorality in general. It regards as immoral any sexual relations outside marriage or with any person other than one’s marriage partner (Matthew 5:32; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 6:13; 1 Corinthians 6:18; 1 Corinthians 7:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4). The union of a man and a woman to become ‘one’ means, by definition, that it excludes all others (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5-6).
Sexual relations without marriage
In ancient Israel it was of greatest importance to maintain one’s virginity up till the time of marriage (Deuteronomy 22:13-21). Fornication by a person engaged to be married was treated as adultery (Deuteronomy 22:22-27; see ). Unengaged people who had sexual relations were to marry, unless the girl’s parents objected (Exodus 22:16-17; Deuteronomy 22:28-29).
These laws impressed upon people that sexual intercourse is not merely a physical activity that people may engage in for their own pleasure, regardless of other considerations. It is part of a total commitment of a man and a woman to each other in a lifelong relationship (Romans 7:2). Those who treat sexual intercourse as no more than a physical function reduce themselves to the level of animals. They deny the dignity that God has given them as human beings designed for full inter-personal relations (Romans 1:24-27; 1 Corinthians 6:13; 1 Corinthians 6:18; 2 Peter 2:12).
Wrong desires produce wrong behaviour
Often fornication occurs because people, instead of trying to avoid sexual temptation, encourage it. They do not control their thoughts and feelings, and soon they find that they cannot control their behaviour (Proverbs 6:23-27; Proverbs 7:6-23; Matthew 5:28; Colossians 3:5; 2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Peter 2:11; cf. Genesis 39:7-10; see ).
Human sexuality is one of God’s gifts (Genesis 2:18; 1 Timothy 4:1-4) but, as with all God’s gifts, people can properly enjoy it or shamefully abuse it. No matter how strong a person’s sexual urges may be, the only satisfaction God allows for those urges is within the exclusive commitment of one person to another in lifelong marriage (1 Corinthians 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4; Hebrews 13:4; see ). As for prostitution, bestiality, incest and homosexual practices, God condemns them as perversions (Leviticus 18:6-18; Leviticus 18:22-23; Leviticus 19:29; Leviticus 20:10-21; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Corinthians 6:13-18; 1 Timothy 1:9-10; Revelation 21:8).
Some people may feel no shame concerning their sexual misbehaviour and may not even see it as sinful (Ephesians 4:19; 1 Peter 4:3-4; 2 Peter 2:12-14). This may be common among people who do not know God (Ephesians 4:17-19; 1 Thessalonians 4:5), but should not be tolerated among those who call themselves Christians. The church should remove from its fellowship those who openly reject God’s standards by persisting in shameful sexual misconduct (1 Corinthians 5:1-5; 1 Corinthians 5:11).
There will always be people, both from outside the church and from within, who, being genuinely sorry for their sexual misconduct, turn from it and ask God’s forgiveness. They can be assured that God will forgive, but they must also be assured that the church will forgive. Christians must be compassionate and understanding in giving support to those who have fallen into wrongdoing and need help (Matthew 9:12-13; John 8:10-11; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 2 Corinthians 2:7; Galatians 6:1-2; Hebrews 8:12).
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Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Fornication'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​bbd/​f/fornication.html. 2004.