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This is the third installment of my study on the Permanence’s reading of Porneia and Moicheia in Matthew. In the first post I gave an introduction to the topic of divorce and remarriage. Then I launched into my paper where I stated the thesis and a short word about how to understand linguistic studies. In the second post I went over the Permanence view about how we should understand the Greek word “Porneia” and “Moicheia” in Matthew. I finished by saying that we are going to put their claims to the test. And this installment is just that. In this part I will be taking you through the relevant literature around the New Testament.

If you want to read the article in full you can here.

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So we have a claim about how we should understand Matthew’s use of Porneia and Moicheia. Based upon how he uses the terms in other places we can come to conclude that he has a SM (Separate Meanings) for each of the words.

Now this is all interesting and good. There is no problem in observing trends and suggesting different theories about how we should translate things. But just because we observe a trend does not mean that was what the author intended to communicate. We have to look at the evidence to see if what they say is the most plausible and will fit with what we see in other places. Specifically we can look at the claims being made about how the language works.

  • First, that if Porneia and Moicheia are used in close proximity to one another then it is evidence that the words have SM for the author.
  • Second, that if the words are used in a list together then it is conclusive evidence that the words have SM for the rest of the usages in the work.

So what we will be doing is testing the grid they construct. Does those two points in list above match what we see in other places in the relevant literature? Is that a consistent pattern as to see Matthew following it?

Going Through the Literature

So what we can do is go through the relevant literature to test these claims. What we will be looking at from first are examples with in the Old Testament Septuagint, Apocrypha, and Apostolic Fathers that run contrary to the Permanence holders claims. Once again, if there are any examples that go contrary to their claims the credibility of the claims become very weak or disproven.

Now, it should be stated up front that the Permanence holders present no evidence for their view. Outside their claims about Matthew there is no reference to any work within or outside the bible where an author is treating Porneia and Moicheia in the same way they are claiming Matthew is using them. This means that they are in a hole to begin with. As stated before Greek is not a mysterious language where mystical things happen. Like any language things do happen consistently with how people use the language. People want to communicate with one another and being consistent with a language is an essential way of doing it. If there is no example of anyone else doing what the Permanence people do with Matthew then it does speak against the credibility of their claims. And it can make it a very easy task to disprove the claims. If there are any examples of the language being used in a way contrary to the claims the credibility of the claims becomes very weak or completely disproven.

The Septuagint. The first place we can go is the Old Testament. We would get the usages from the Septuagint (LXX) as the translators made decisions about which Greek words to use for the Hebrew words. Now word usage in the Old Testament is important. The LXX was the bible of the readers of the letters of the New Testament. Just think about how you can easily associate bible words and phrases that people may use in every day life with the meanings they have in the bible. The ancient readers would have the same ability. Also, the New Testament writers themselves quote and allude to the Old Testament Septuagint extensively. They expect their readers to be well acquainted with the Old Testament. Thus, the LXX would have been a strong influence upon how early Christians would have understood meanings of words and phrases.

For this discussion the question we are exploring is, “Did the translators of the LXX ever use Porneia to refer to adultery?” If they did then it would point very strongly to the fact that Porneia can encapsulate adultery in its meaning in the New Testament. And within this we are looking if the words are used in close proximity to one another and if they are used in lists. All in all Porneia is used 45 times in the Old Testament LXX and its verb form is used 18 times.

There are actually several places where Porneia speaks to acts of adultery while being used very closely with the words for adultery. The first example we will look at is Jeremiah 3:6-9 where Porneia (πορνεία) is used to speak of adulterous acts while being used right along side of Moicheia (μοιχεία) and Moicheuō (μοιχεύω).

The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore?( ἐπόρνευσαν) And I thought, ‘After she has done all this (in the LXX πορνεῦσαι is included here that the translators translate as “this” to smooth out the translation) she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries (ἐμοιχᾶτο) of that faithless one,Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sisterJudahdid not fear, but she too went and played the whore (ἐπόρνευσεν). Because she took her whoredom(πορνεία) lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery(ἐμοίχευσεν) with stone and tree. (Jer. 3:6-9)

What we have in this section is God condemningIsraelfor her unfaithfulness andJudahfollowing after such unfaithfulness. The unfaithfulness of these nations is spoken of in the terms of adultery. For our purposes it relevant to see that Porneia (and its verbal form πορνεύω) and Moicheia and Moicheuō, in different forms, are used in close proximity with one another (even in the same verse in 3:9) but refer to adultery. Porniea is used to refer toIsrael’s unfaithfulness at the end of verse 7 while the same unfaithfulness is described as Moicheia at the beginning of verse 8. Porneia clearly refers to adultery then second, both words are used in close proximity to each other. So close that both words are used in verse 9. The argument is made from the Permanence holders that the since in Matthew both Porneia and Moicheia are used in close proximity to each other then they have to have SM meanings. However, to apply the same rule to Jer. 3:6-9 would not work. The words are clearly speaking of the same sinful act of adultery.

And what was displayed in the Jeremiah passage is a major theme throughout the Old Testament prophets where they speak ofIsrael’s unfaithfulness of their marital covenant to God as Porneia with Moicheia and Moicheuō being used in close proximity to refer to the same acts.

In the book of Ezekiel in chapter 16 God calls Israelout of the blood of its birth, grows her, and then enters into marital covenant with her (16:6-14). The next verse however has Israelplaying the whore (πορνείαν). “But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings (πορνείαν) on any passerby; your beauty became his.” For 6 more verses (22, 25, 33, 34, 36, and 41) God, through Ezekiel, calls Israel’s adulterous acts Porneia (translated as “whore”). Then in verse 32 God calls Israel, after denouncing her whoring, an “adulterous wife” (ἡ γυνὴ ἡ μοιχωμένη).

Then in chapter 23 a similar denouncing happens upon Samaria and Jerusalem. Their unfaithfulness of the marital covenant they had with God in spoken of in terms of Porneia. In verse 7 God states through Ezekiel, “She bestowed her whoring(πορνείαν) upon them, the choicest men of Assyria all of them, and she defiled herself with all the idols of everyone after whom she lusted.” For 9 more verses Samaria and Jerusalem’s adulterous acts are labeled as Porneia. Then in verse 37 the these actions of Porneia are called adultery, “For they have committed adultery (ἐμοιχῶντο), and blood is on their hands. With their idols they have committed adultery (ἐμοιχῶντο), and they have even offered up to them for food the children whom they had borne to me.

The next big section where we see the same thing happening is in Hosea. The prophet Hosea is called to take a wife of whoredom to represent Israel’s whoredom against God, “When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom(πορνείας) and have children of whoredom(πορνείας), for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord’”(1:2). Israel’s unfaithfulness to their marriage to the Lord is a main theme of Hosea. Throughout the book their unfaithfulness is labeled with Porneia (2:4-6, 4:11-12, 4:11, 5:4, and 6:10). An important use for this discussion is found in 2:4, “Plead with your mother, plead—for she is not my wife,  and I am not her husband—that she put away her whoring(πορνείαν) from her face, and her adultery(μοιχείαν) from between her breasts.” Here is another example of Porneia and Moicheia being used to speak to the same act in the same verse.

There are other places where the Prophets use Porneia to speak of Israel’s marital unfaithfulness to God. In chapter 43 Ezekiel there are two usages of the word in verse 7 and 9.  It is also used in Jeremiah 2:20, 3:2, and 13:27 in the same fashion. And Jeremiah 13:27 in another example of not only Porneia and Moicheia being in the same verse but also in a list to refer to the same act, “I have seen your abominations, your adulteries (μοιχεία) and neighings, your lewd whorings (πορνείας), on the hills in the field. Woe to you, O Jerusalem! How long will it be before you are made clean?

And to make a note about the verbal form of Porneia, it follows the same pattern of the noun form. It can be found in the very same major sections discussed in Ezekiel 16 and 23, Jeremiah 3:6-9, and Hosea.

Other usages in the Old Testament that follow this line are found in Numbers 14:33 and 2 Kings 9:22. In fact 31 of the 45 noun usages and 13 of the 18 verb usages of Porneia in the LXX follow this pattern.

What does this tell us? The LXX spoke ofIsrael’s acts of unfaithfulness to the marital covenant by saying they committed Porneia against Him. Thus, we see a situation where marriage is the context and an act of unfaithfulness to the marriage is called Porneia. What does this prove? There is no direct evidence that Jesus was drawing on this as the context of his statements. So these verses do not speak definitively as to what Jesus said. But they do give us look into the usage of Porneia and Moicheia in situation that is related to the one Jesus is speaking about (marital) and which is a major theme throughout the Old Testament. Thus from looking at the Old Testament, particularly the prophets, the SM meaning seems to be in complete contradiction to what we find. Porneia can be used for an act of adultery and is used right along side of Moicheia and Moicheuō to convey its meaning. And such a major theme in the Old Testament of Israel’s unfaithfulness would not have been foreign to the readers of Matthew.

The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. Next we turn to usages of the word in Jewish works that predate the New Testament. These are works that come between the Testaments. They are important because they give us a picture of how Jews were using words before and right after we get to the New Testament times. For our purposes I believe Friedrich Hauck and Seigfried Schulz in The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament do a good job in summing up what we find.

Later Judaism shows us how the use of πορνεία etc. gradually broadened as compared with the original usage. In the first instance πορνεία is mostly “harlotry,” “extra-marital intercourse,” Pirqe Abot 2, 8, often with adultery, The Greek-Slavic Apocalypse of Baruch 4:17; 8:5; 13:4; Ascension of Isaiah 2:5; Treasure Cave, 12 (Riessler, 956 f.). Materially, however, it often means “adultery,[1]

For examples of the final statement two works can be looked at

The first and most important is found Sirach 23:23 which states “For first, she hath disobeyed the law of the most High; and secondly, she hath trespassed against her own husband; and thirdly, she hath played the whore (πορνείᾳ) in adultery (ἐμοιχεύθη), and brought children by another man.” Here are the two words happening again in the same verse with the same action clearly in view. Also, in verse 17 of the same chapter Porneia is used to describe an adulterous man, “All bread is sweet to a whoremonger (ἄνθρωπος πόρνος), he will not leave off till he die.” The context makes clear that the verse is speaking about an adulterous man.

The next one comes from The Testament of Joseph found in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs from the second century B. C. [2] The context of the verse is Joseph talking about Potipher’s wife about how she was trying to commit adultery with him, “and for a time she would embraced me as a son, but then I realized later that she was trying to lure me into a sexual relationship (πορνείαν)” (The Testament of Joseph 3:8-9). Here as well the author uses Porneia to refer to the act of adultery that the wife is trying to get Joseph to commit.

Post New Testament Literature. The last section we will look at is early Christian Writings. This would be works from the people that came after the New Testament. The one verse that is important for our question is in the Shepherd of Hermas written either at the end of the first century or the beginning of the second century.[3] In the Shepherd of Hermas we find once again Porneia referring to an adulterous act while Moicheia in the same proximity. “I said to him, ‘Sir, allow me to ask you a few more questions.’ ‘Speak,’ he replied. ‘Sir,’ I said, ‘if a man has a wife who believes in the Lord, and he finds in her some adulterous situation (μοιχείᾳ), does the man sin if he continues to live with her?‘As long as he is unaware of it,” he said, “he does not sin; But if the husband knows about her sin and the wife does not repent, but persists in her immorality (πορνείᾳ), and the husband continues to live with her, he becomes responsible for her sin and an accomplice in her adultery.”[4] Even after the writings of the Testaments a writer can use Porneia and Moicheia close to one another while referring to the same action.

Distinct Usages. Now, are there usages in all the categories we looked at where Porneia is distinct from Moicheia? Yes there is. Take for example this verse from the Shepherd of Hermas, “’Sir,’ I respond, ‘what are the kinds of evils over which it is necessary for us to exercise self-control?’ ‘Listen,’ he said: ‘adultery (μοιχείας) and fornication (πορνείας), lawless drunkenness, wicked luxury, many kinds of food and the extravagance of wealth…’[5]. However, far from adding the claims of Permanence holders these speak directly against the claims. For take a notice that the last two quotes are from the same work, The Shepherd of Hermas. The author can easily have Porneia refer to something other than adultery in one verse, yet have Porneia refer to an act of adultery earlier in the work. And another important example is in comes from Hosea 4:14 where the Lord says, “I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore (πορνεύωσιν), nor your brides when they commit adultery (μοιχεύωσιν);” We have already seen that Porneia and Moicheia can refer to the same action while in close proximity to one another in Hosea. And here Hosea can have the words take a distinct meaning for each word. Porneia refers to the sexual sin when the woman is unmarried and Moicheuō to speak of the sexual sin of the married woman. Within the same book the author can switch usages from a distinctive usage of the words to a synonymous usage of the words.

Summary of Relevant Literature. So what can we gather from all this. As stated above the Permanence holders assert that since Porneia and Moicheia are used in close proximity to each other in Matthew then a SM understanding has to be used when translating them. So that Porneia cannot refer to what Moicheia is referring. However, we have seen by looking over the Old Testament and literature that surrounds the New Testament that the assertion does not work with the language. Porneia and Moicheia can easily be used in the same verse to refer to the same adulterous action. Then there is evidence that an author can switch usages of the words within the same book. This evidence add with the fact that they present no evidence to back up their claims, makes the claims of Permanence holders seem to loose all credibility. To claim that since Matthew uses the words in close proximity and in a list completely against the evidence shown here. A consistent use of the language would not demand that Porneia in Matthew has to refer to a sexual act other than adultery. A distinct and synonymous use of Porneia, Moicheia and Moicheuō can work quiet well within Matthew. Matthew can use Porneia to refer to adultery in 5:32 and 19:9 and to other sexual immoralities in 15:19 and be very consistent with the Greek language.  


[1]Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964-c1976. Vols. 5-9 edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 compiled by Ronald Pitkin. (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (6:587).Grand Rapids,MI: Eerdmans.

[2]Information and translation from H. C. Kee, “Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: A New Translation and Introduction” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, vol. 1, ed. James H. Charlesworth (Doubleday: New York, NY, 1983) 820.

[3]Both date and translation taken from Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids,MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 442-685.

[4]Shepherd of Hermas, Commandment IV, I, 5.

[5]Shepherd of Hermas, Commandment VIII, I, 3.

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