Bible Question:

Many people have told me that fornication means sex before marriage. Is this the correct definition? What scripture defines it as such? Is this sin worse than any other?

Bible Answer:

What is the biblical meaning of the word fornication? Does it include sexual activity before or outside of marriage or during marriage? The following explains the meaning of fornication in the Bible.

Modern Meaning of Fornication

The university standard dictionary known as the “Shorter Oxford English Dictionary” defines fornication as,

Voluntary sexual intercourse between esp. unmarried persons; (esp. in biblical use adultery. [1]

This definition emphasizes that fornication is voluntary sexual intercourse between unmarried persons. Then it states that in the Bible the word can refer to adultery. That is, sexual activity if someone who is not your spouse. It is important to note that the KJV Bible uses fornication to refer to adultery, but that more modern Bibles have adopted the current definition of fornication.  The KJV Bible versions incorrectly translates the Greek word porneia as fornication in passages such as Matthew 5:32; 19:9; John 8:41 and others.

Old Testament Meaning of Fornication

In the Old Testament fornication has a much broader meaning in the King James Version Bible (KJV). More modern translations do not use the word fornication in the Old Testament. In the KJV, fornication can also have the spiritual sense of forsaking God and worshiping the false gods (2 Chronicles 21:11; Ezekiel 16:26, 29). Often the worship of false gods in ancient Israel and in Greek and Roman mythology involved sexual intercourse with temple prostitutes (males and females) to gain ecstasy and supposedly get closer to the gods.

New Testament Meaning of Fornication

In the New Testament the word translated as fornication comes from the Greek word porneia which includes: pre-marital sex, adultery, incest, homosexuality/lesbianism, and bestiality. So, fornication includes sexual behavior before marriage. Hebrews 13:4 clearly reveals that fornication and adultery are different.

Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Hebrews 13:4 (NASB)

Fornication has a greater negative impact on us than most other sins. I have found this to be true in counseling couples. Often this sin was committed by couples before they were married and later they are struggling in their marriage. Listen to 1 Corinthians 6:18

Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.  1 Corinthians 6:18 (NASB)

Premarital Sex Deceives

This is the only sin committed against the body and its impact is significant. It is often the wife who is angry and resentful, but not always. It is interesting that recent psychological studies are showing that couples who have had premarital relations are having a higher rate of divorce than married couples who did not commit fornication, as defined by Scripture.

Donald Joy has documented what counselors are observing.  That is, sexual intercourse before marriage focuses the relationship on the physical rather than the bonding of the couple. A study of 100,000 women connected “early sexual experience with dissatisfaction in their present marriages, unhappiness with the level of sexual intimacy and the prevalence of low self-esteem.”[2]

The Institute for Family Studies reported on June 6, 2106 the following:

Consistent with prior research, those with fewer sex partners were less likely to divorce . . . For all three cohorts, women who married as virgins had the lowest divorce rates by far . . . Even so, premarital sex with one partner substantially increases the odds of divorce . . . The highest five-year divorce rates of all are associated with . . . having ten or more premarital sex partners: 33 percent. Perhaps it is not unexpected that having many partners increases the odds of divorce..[3]

The later in the article the following banner is displayed,

The odds of divorce are lowest with zero or one premarital partners[4]

It is important to realize that the title of this article is, “Counterintuitive Trends in the Link Between Premarital Sex and Marital Stability.” That is, the secularists are surprised by the findings of their research. Yet, it is also obvious that they do not care that they are causing incredible pain and damage to lives by persistently encouraging our young people to enjoy sex outside of marriage.

Other secular research is currently demonstrating that multiple pre-marriage partners is related to divorce or the dissolution of a relationship. [5, 6]

The message is clear. Premarital sex is not a test of compatibility but a time bomb that destroys marriage. God knows how He made us. He has warned us.


God forgives all sin, including this one. There was an earlier question and answer as well as a study in the Sermon on the Mount about adultery that you are encouraged to study.



1. Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2007. 6th ed. p. 1023.

2. Donald Joy. Christianity Today, October 3, 1986.

3. “Counterintuitive Trends in the Link Between Premarital Sex and Marital Stability.” Institute for Family Studies. June 6, 2016. (

4. Ibid.

5. Anthony Paik, “Adolescent Sexuality and Risk of Marital Dissolution,” Journal of Marriage and Family, 73. 2011. 472-485, p. 483, 484.

6. Tim B. Heaton, “Factors Contributing to Increasing Marital Stability in the United States,” Journal of Family Issues, 23. 2002. 392-409, p. 401, 407.

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