Re: PORNEIA as fornication.

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Jun 25 1997 - 06:57:13 EDT

At 5:32 AM -0400 6/25/97, David McKay wrote:
>Ben Loomes wrote:
>> What basis is there for translating the word "PORNEIA" as
>> fornication.
>The close relationship between the two words could be a reason.
>Wouldn't "fornication" be derived from PORNEIA, as per Grimm's law?
>My Shorter Oxford says it come from Latin "fornix," but I wonder if that
>comes from the PORNEIA root?
>It is an old fashioned word though.

Yes, it's an old-fashioned word. I find myself thinking, whenever I see it,
of David Frost's report of Richard Nixon asking him casually, prior to one
of his retrospective interviews, "if he had engaged in any interesting
fornication recently."

I'm dubious about how far etymology will carry us toward illumination, but
it can aat least answer one of the questions above: the words PORNEIA and
FORNIX are not related. PORNEIA derives from PORNH, the word for a
low-class prostitute ("courtesans" are termed hETAIRAI, which, since it
involves social and intellectual companionship--or seems to do so in many
instances--, has seemed to me more akin to the Japaneise Geisha); PORNEIA
originally meant consorting with PORNAI. FORNIX means "arch" or "arched
room" of the sort associated particularly with the chambers used by cheap
prostitutes in Rome--wherefore FORNICATIO, the source of our "fornication"
will mean doing what is done in FORNICES and therefore amounts in substance
to the same idea as PORNEIA in Greek.

I think "sexual immorality" may not go too far to convey the Greek PORNEIA;
the problem is, however, that the phrase, "sexual immorality," can hardly
be employed without a heavy cargo of cultural baggage that won't
necessarily (if at all) correspond between the culture of the original
authors and the culture of the reader of a translation. The phrase will
probably imply for any reader of it in a translation of the NT whatever
he/she has been taught or has come to believe to be "sexually immoral."

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(704) 675-4243

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