Fornication, like many other words, has more than one meaning. The context of a particular Scripture determines the meaning intended. For example, in the Old Testament the word “fornication” was sometimes used to indicate idolatry. Fornication involves sexual relations between single people or between a single and a married person.
Like adultery, fornication can be both and act and a state. Sexual relations between single persons or a single person and another married person is the act of fornication while being divorced and remarried to another, usually a single person, is the state of fornication. We will attempt to explain this as we proceed. Please bear in mind that fornication in all of its forms is a sinful work of the flesh, which will bar one from the kingdom of Heaven and therefore forfeit the gift of eternal life.
Some believe that fornication is merely being unfaithful to the marriage covenant or vow. The Scriptures do not support such a view for this would contradict other Scriptures when rightly dividing the Word of God on this subject. When we are married it is “until death do us part.” For you see, when a couple is properly married according to biblical standards God makes them one flesh.
Death is the only means of freeing one from the marriage vow and dissolving this one flesh relationship. Consider the following Scripture from the Apostle Paul: “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. (3) So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man” (Rom. 7:2, 3).
Also consider the following Scripture, which are the direct words of Jesus. “And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, (5) And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? (6) Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:4-6). Granting a divorce because of unfaithfulness of one of the married partners would be a violation of this Scripture.
Some may say that Christ gave fornication as a cause for divorce. Yes, He did, but we must understand the context of the meaning He was using. Let us look at what He said. “He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. (9) 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” (Matt. 19:8, 9). The words “put away” here means to divorce.
Jesus was speaking in the context of marriage when He spoke the above words concerning fornication. Therefore they deal with divorcing an unlawful (biblically) marriage partner in order to be free from the sin of being in a marriage state of fornication.
The Apostle Paul makes it clear that marriage infidelity is not a cause for divorce. “What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh” (1 Cor. 6:16). Being a harlot would be considered the worst example of marital unfaithfulness but would not be a cause for remarriage.
Paul further clarifies this by stating “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:2). The word “have” here means to be married to just as it did in Matthew 14:3 and 4: “For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife. (4) For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her.” He was married to her. She was actually his sister-in-law and not his wife according to Scripture. I wonder how his brother Philip felt about this.
We can see by rightly dividing the Scriptures that both Jesus and Paul was in harmony and had the same meaning in mind when they were using the word “fornication” in relation to marriage. This means none other than a biblically correct marriage that ended in divorce with one of the partners marrying another, which constituted the state of fornication. Jesus gave the remedy to this situation when He said “except it be for fornication.” Divorcing the other man’s wife or the other woman’s husband and having your own wife or husband is the biblical way to avoid fornication.
Walter Lofton is a local pastor at the Church of God in Seth and can be reached by email at email@example.com