What is Fornication?
NCW 68, May-July 2000
Q. What exactly constitutes fornication? Am I not right in thinking that if a couple sleep together and have intercourse that that constitutes the act of marriage? In which case there really isn't something called "fornication", only adultery?
A. Sexual intercourse is the seal of marriage but it is not marriage itself. No marriage is binding until there has been a covenant in the presence of two or more witnesses. Thus a couple who are sleeping together, never having made covenants, are living in a state of fornication: though they have partaken of something exclusively belonging to the marriage estate they are not legally married in God's eyes.
Fornication is every and any kind of unlawful sex whether it be committed by a married person (Mt.5:32; 19:9; 1 Cor.5:1, KJV) or not (Ac.15:20, 29, KJV). It is classified alongside the obvious sins such as murder and deceit (Rom.1:29, KJV - please note that many modern translations like the NIV drop the word "fornication" in an attempt to dilute the Word of God and make this sin of no consequence in a generation steeped in this very sin). God specifically states that the physical body was not created for fornication but for His glory (1 Cor.6:13). So serious is fornication that we are commanded to literally "flee" from it (1 Cor.6:18) as one might flee a burning house. And the only way to avoid this sin is for everyone to be properly married (1 Cor.7:2, KJV). Fornication is always associated with death (1 Cor.10:8) and must be urgently repented of (2 Cor.12:21). It is not, as many erroneously teach, another word for adultery, though those fornicating may well be committing adultery too (Gal.5:19, KJV - note that in modern corrupt versions like the NIV the distinction between fornication and adultery is deliberately obscured by combining them together as simply "sexual immorality" - so beware, modern translations are absolutely not reliable in this important area of doctrine and practice). It is impossible to become a holy, sanctified person (a saint) and be a fornicator (Eph.5:3; 1 Thes.4:3) because it is a form of idolatry (Col.3:5) associated with Sodom and Gemora (Jude 1:7). Many modern "Christian" churches permit fornication and other sexual sins (like homosexual liaisons) for which they are condemned in the Bible which likens them to the fallen condition of the churches at Pergamum and Thyatira (Rev.2:14,20-21). Fornication, which is a characteristic of the last days, is compared with the gross sin of witchcraft (Rev.9:21) and with the world Babylonish system generally (Rev.14:8; 17:2,4; 18:3,9; 19:2). We see, therefore, that fornication is no small matter. It is an issue of life and death.
It is not New Covenant teaching that a couple who sleep together are married, only that they are obligated to be since they have partaken of something that belongs to the marriage estate. Sex is not marriage; rather, the estate of marriage gives a couple the right to have sex. If sex were marriage, then you would be entirely right - there would be no such thing as fornication.
Therefore all those who are engaging in sex who have not made a lifelong commitment in the presence of witnesses are fornicators and cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (Eph.5:5). That is not to say there are not occasional exceptions in, for example, cases where the couple are entirely ignorant of Yahweh's requirements. Having said this, though, it is vitally important to add that even though a couple may be sinning in ignorance, and even though God may indeed sometimes "wink" at this sin in the days of their ignorance, the fact of sin gives Satan a legal right to pursue them and create problems in their relationship which otherwise he would not, giving demons the right to harass. The fact that practically every society has a marriage institution (irrespective of whether the state has any right to administer it... that is an entirely separate issue) which requires witnesses pretty well makes the excuse of ignorance redundant. If the institution of marriage exists, then the conscience will, if it is not entirely defiled (Titus 1:15; 1 Cor.8:7), bear witness of the right thing to do. And remember, we are also judged by our conscience (1 Cor.8:12).
Marriage is protected by divine law in the Ten Commandments - Yahweh has built a hedge of protection around it. However, it is up to Him to define what marriage is. Anything else is fornication and/or adultery. One may argue that this is "unfair" - that if a couple are committed to one another and aren't just having casual sex, but haven't any witnesses, are surely married in God's eyes. Since we are dealing with conjecture and do not know God's mind on this, we are in a way playing with fire. Yahweh is the lawgiver, not man, and the whole universe - spiritual and physical - operates on this basis. The Lord only ever waives certain laws in very exceptional circumstances and we should take great care not to assume that He will especially waive a law for us just because we think we might have the right to have to waived. It's like the person who drives recklessly and is trusting God to take care of him through His angels. An angel might intervene to save him from a bad accident but the angel equally might not. This is dare-devilry and I am absolutely sure that Satan traps souls who play this game.
I repeat, therefore, that true marriage in God's eyes consists of a covenant between a couple in the presence of two or more witnesses which is consummated by the act of sexual intercourse. If a couple are living together and having a sexual relationship, irrespective of whether they have made a personal commitment to each other or not, then I urgently advise them to make those commitments verbally in the presence of two or more witnesses immediately (2 Cor.13:1; Mt.18:16; Dt.19:15). One witness is not enough. Otherwise they will find themselves living in a state of fornication and, assuming that they have a belief in Christ, deny themselves the possibility of entering the Kingdom of God. If they are not Christians and subsequently convert, being genuinely born again, then they must still enter a proper marriage contract, for they will be in violation of a cardinal commandment and be denying themselves the right to heaven.
At issue is whether or not we are right with the Lord - living before Him with a clear conscience in the knowledge of the truth of His divine marriage laws. It may be that they are, in extraordinary circumstances known ultimately only by God Himself, accepted without witnesses, but would you take such a risk? I wouldn't. Such would seem to me to be, at best, presumptuous, and at worst, dire folly.
So if you are living in sin, get married as soon as possible. Deny Satan one more right to have the excuse to harass you and deny you the angel protection which is given to those who obey Yahweh's commandments. You may well be playing not only with your physical life but with your spiritual life in the eternities as well. And if you are not willing to enter into a lifelong commitment, then separate immediately! Every moment you delay is giving Satan legal ground to claim you as his, so serious is this matter! If you are living in a state of fornication, repent, and save yourself and your partner (Phil.2:12).
A footnote: if you have not married according to biblical standards and have children, think twice before separating if you do not intend to obey Yahweh's commandment. Breaking up a family can have disastrous psychological and spiritual consequences for a child. For further counsel, see our publication, A Question of Divorce and Remarriage (Apostolic Interviews XVII, 1999).
This page was created on 19 January 2001
Last updated on 19 January 2001
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