Friday, February 5, 2010

More on the Word: "Fornication"


My previous blog post, concerning the word fornication, requires, I think, some further elaboration. It’s disappointing to me that some people think that I’m playing fast and loose with the Bible here, because I am not the one who is playing fast and loose with the biblical text; the modern translators of the Bible are the ones who are doing that.

I take biblical translation and interpretation very seriously, so seriously that, while I was running an inner-city outreach center in Little Rock, Arkansas during the early 1990’s, I learned how to read New Testament Greek and I gained the ability the translate the Greek New Testament into English for myself. And do you know why I did that? Because Bible translators and expositors of the Bible like to play fast and loose with the biblical text and because I don’t appreciate them telling people that the Bible says something that it doesn’t really say.

Translating the New Testament from Greek into English is really not that hard to do, once you’ve learned how to do so. It’s really very simple. Why, then, are there so many different translations of the word porneia in Matthew 19:9, which is the word that Jesus used and which means, very simply, either fornication, prostitution, or whoredom? What is it about the use of this one, particular word, in this one, particular passage that leads Bible translators to be in such disagreement about the meaning of this very simple Greek word which, according to any Greek lexicon means, very simply, either: fornication, prostitution, or whoredom? I mean, pick ONE, okay?

As I’ve said before, since, for us, today, the definition of the word fornication is: “sexual relation between persons who are not married to each other” it doesn’t make any sense, to me, to translate the word porneia to mean fornication (in Matthew 19:9) because Jesus is specifically speaking (here) about MARRIED partners and not UNMARRIED partners; so he must be using the term to mean whoredom rather than sex outside the bonds of marriage. Right? (Yes, I'm right. Or are you just too STUPID to grasp what I’m trying to explain to you?)

Below is a list of the various (and very creative) translations of this one, simple word: porneia, beginning with the best translations of this word and ending with the worst translation of all (i.e., adultery) which is not even found (here) in the text (of the Greek NT), and is a completely different Greek word altogether (i.e., moichatai; not porneia). THIS is why I learned to read NT Greek for myself. These translators are putting English words into the Bible that are not even present in the Greek text. In other words, they’re just making things up (and I’m being irresponsible?!).


“whoredom”

“fornication”

“terrible sexual sin”

“sexual immorality”

“unchastity”

“immorality”

“unfaithfulness”

“not been faithful”

“marital unfaithfulness”

“has sexual relations with another man”

“adultery”


Now, imagine that I’m a pharisaical Christian looking for a way to divorce my wife, and I want to choose the best English translation of this passage in order to find the legal loophole necessary for me to do so. Here’s the same list, again, with my commentary alongside:


“whoredom” (THAT certainly doesn’t work for me!)

“fornication” (That’s not much better; it’s actually kind of confusing)

“terrible sexual sin” (Better)

“sexual immorality” (Not bad)

“unchastity” (Okay)

“immorality” (Good; very vague. No SEXUAL immorality required at all!)

“unfaithfulness” (Good, all she needs to do is to cheat on me ONE time)

“not been faithful” (Good, see the reason given above)

“marital unfaithfulness” (See above)

“has sexual relations with another man” (See above, but what about if she’s cheats on me with A WOMAN?)

“adultery” (Good, all she needs to do is cheat on me ONCE)


Considering the fact that Jesus was explaining (to his followers) the ONLY exception that God will allow for divorcing one’s spouse, don’t you think we should be VERY CLEAR about what this exception is, exactly? I certainly do. Why then have Bible translators gone through such antics and semantics in order to confuse the meaning of the word that Jesus used here (in Matthew 19:9)?

To begin with, because it is such a popular translation, let’s examine the translation of this NT Greek word porneia (i.e., fornication, used in Matthew 19:9) according to the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible:

“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (NIV)

Okay, I say that the word porneia means whoredom, and that Jesus was telling us that the ONLY time we are EVER allowed to divorce our spouse is if and when they are behaving like a whore. But, according to the NIV, Jesus told us that we can divorce our spouse for “marital unfaithfulness”. But that’s rather vague, isn’t it? I mean, are the translators of the NIV trying to tell us that if our spouse cheats on us, even ONCE, that we are allowed to divorce them?

I seriously doubt Jesus meant that. If you don’t know this already, this kind of cheating is going to occur in many, many, many Christian marriages. That’s just a part of married life, which we should be prepared for. Not that it should happen, or that we want it to happen, but that these things will probably happen at some point in a marriage. We hope not, but we shouldn’t be surprised if it does happen. It’s just part and parcel of what “for better or worse” means. You don’t dump your spouse simply because they’ve been “unfaithful”; you work through it. You forgive them, you pick up the pieces of your shattered heart, and you keep moving forward; together.

But, on the other hand, according to Jesus, if your spouse is playing the harlot and acting like a whore, you ARE allowed to divorce them; according to my translation and my reading of what Jesus actually said in the Greek NT text of Matthew 19:9 anyway. And doesn’t this make a lot more sense to you than saying that we are allowed, by Jesus, to divorce our spouse for simple “marital unfaithfulness”?

The term “marital unfaithfulness” is extremely vague and it begs for a proper meaning of what, exactly, is meant by its use; whereas the term “whoredom” is not at all vague or unclear. The term whoredom is, in fact, very clear, going straight to the point; there’s absolutely no question as to what is meant by the use of this term. Is there?

To find other uses of the word porneia in the New Testament, please visit this
biblios.com page

To compare, for yourself, the Greek NT text of Matthew 19:9 with the English translation thereof, please visit this
biblio.com page

Quoted below are the many and various (and very creative) translations of Matthew 19:9, in random order, which can also be found by clicking the drop-down box, which can be found on the
Bible Gateway website:

“And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery.” (RSV)

“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (NIV)

"And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." (NAS)

“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” (KJV)

“And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." (ESV)

“I say that if your wife has not committed some terrible sexual sin, you must not divorce her to marry someone else. If you do, you are unfaithful." (CEV)

“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” (NKJV)

“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman is guilty of adultery. The only reason for a man to divorce his wife is if his wife has sexual relations with another man." (NCV)

“And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and whoso marrieth her who is put away doth commit adultery." (21st Century KJV)

“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery.” (ASV)

“And I say to you, that, whoever may put away his wife, if not for whoredom, and may marry another, doth commit adultery; and he who did marry her that hath been put away, doth commit adultery.” (Young’s Literal Translation)

“But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, not for fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery; and he who marries one put away commits adultery.” (Darby Translation)

“And I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

“A man may divorce his wife only if she has not been faithful to him.” (NIRV)

“And I say to you, that whoever leaveth his wife, but for fornication, and weddeth another, doeth lechery [doeth adultery]; and he that weddeth the forsaken wife, doeth lechery [doeth adultery].” (Wycliffe NT)

“But I tell you this. No man may send his wife away unless she has committed adultery. If he does, and if he marries another woman, he commits adultery” (Worldwide English NT)

“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery” (NIV, U.K. Edition)

“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." (Today’s NIV)

“I'm holding you to the original plan, and holding you liable for adultery if you divorce your faithful wife and then marry someone else. I make an exception in cases where the spouse has committed adultery." (The Message)

“I say to you: whoever dismisses (repudiates, divorces) his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (The Amplified Bible)

“And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful.” (New Living Translation)
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