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God's Laws on Sexual Sins--Part 1

Mar 10, 2009

In defining the various words describing sexual sins, we find that the biblical definitions sometimes differ from our modern dictionary definitions. This is particularly true with the biblical term "fornication," which really refers in general to any sexual relationship that is unlawful.

In Hebrews 12:16, Esau is called a "fornicator," but there is no biblical record that he had relations with women outside of marriage. Instead, we read in Gen. 26:34, 35,

" (34) And when Esau was forty years old, he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite;  (35) and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah."

Isaac and Rebekah sent Esau's brother Jacob to Haran to take a wife from among his relatives. Gen. 28:1 says,

"So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, 'You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan'."

The motive for this command is not stated, whether racial, tribal, or religious. The mystery deepens when it comes to the wives of the sons of Jacob. It appears that Simeon was the first to marry. In Genesis 34:29 we find that when Simeon and Levi massacred the town of Shechem, they "looted all their wealth and all their little ones and their wives, even all that was in the houses."

Jasher 45:2 says that Simeon took Dinah, his half-sister, as a wife. Simeon also took another wife named Bunah (45:3). She was one of the captive girls from Shechem, the Canaanite city. Jasher goes on to tell us where the rest of Jacob's sons got their wives.

Levi and Issachar went east to find wives among the daughters of Jobab (Gen. 10:29). Jobab was the grandson of Eber, or Heber, the father of the Hebrews.

Jasher 45:7 says that Dan married "Aphlaleth, the daughter of Chamudan the Moabite." Moab was the incestuous son of Lot and Lot's daughter (Gen. 19:36, 37).

Jasher 45:9 says that Gad and Naphtali went to Haran, as their father had done, and married daughters of Uz, the son of Nahor (Abraham's brother).

Jasher 45:12 says that Asher married Adon, who was the great-granddaughter of Ishmael. However, she died childless, so Asher's descendants came from a second wife named Hadurah, the granddaughter of Eber. He apparently followed the example of Levi and Issachar. Hadurah was a widow, we are told, and she had a three-year-old daughter by her previous marriage, who was then raised in Asher's house.

Jasher 45:19 says that Zebulun went to Midian and married Merishah, the great-granddaughter of Midian. Midian was the brother of Moab, and each were the children from the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters.

Benjamin was younger, so Jacob took matters into his own hands and sent to his relatives in Haran for a wife for Benjamin. His wife was Mechalia, "the daughter of Aram" (usually translated "Syrian").

Finally, Joseph's wife was Asenath, who was said to be the daughter of an Egyptian priest (Gen. 41:45). She bore him Ephraim and Manasseh, who were later adopted by their grandfather, Jacob, and became full tribes in Israel.

We have no other record to indicate where Jacob's twelve sons got their wives, and I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the book of Jasher. It was one of Samuel's source books for historical information (Joshua 10:13; 2 Sam. 1:18). The only question is whether the present copy, discovered in 1613 in Venice, Italy, is the same as Samuel's copy. There are some transcribal errors, as is common to ancient books, particularly in the numbers. Since they used Hebrew letters as numbers, and because all their letters ran together without spaces between words, occasionally, the one copying the book would make a mistake.

By the way, we carry copies of the book of Jasher, which we can send you for $15 including postage, if you would like a copy for your library.

So Jacob's sons married Hebrews (from Haran in Syria), a Midianite, a Moabite, an Ishmaelite, a Canaanite from Shechem, and perhaps an Egyptian. There seemed to be no prohibition in those days to marry outside of their more immediate relatives or clan. Likewise, prior to Moses, the laws on incest appear to be limited to father-daughter or mother-son. Abraham married Sarah, his niece (Gen. 11:29), and Simeon married Dinah, his sister (Gen. 30:21). It is only later under Moses that incest is defined more broadly to include even half-brother and sister (Lev. 18:9) as well as aunts and uncles marrying nieces and nephews (Lev. 18:12-16).

Moses also prohibited a man from marrying two sisters (Lev. 18:18). This is precisely what Jacob had done earlier by marrying Leah and Rachel. The reason for this may be due to natural sibling rivalry, but there is also the genetic issue. When there were few people on earth, they had little choice but to marry within immediate families. But by the time of Moses it was time to alter the restrictions to fit the situation.

The New Testament makes no change in these laws. Paul scolds the Corinthians for allowing one of the members of that church to marry his mother (or step-mother). 1 Cor. 5:1 says,

" (1) It is actually reported that there is immorality [porneia, "fornication"] among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife.

We see from this that incest is called "fornication." Today, we normally apply the term to prostitution or to any extra-marital relations. But the New Testament term, porneia, has an all-inclusive definition that includes incest. As I said earlier, Esau was called a fornicator because he married Hittite wives. Likewise, Jude 7 includes homosexual relations as fornication, saying,

"Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality [ekporneuo, "gross fornication"] and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example, in undergoing the punishment of aionian fire."

The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is demonstrated to us in Genesis 19:5 as homosexual relations. This, of course, is something prohibited by both Moses and Paul, as well as by Jude. Moses writes in Lev. 18:22:

"You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination."

Paul includes them in two listings of the types of people to whom the law of God applies. 1 Tim. 1:8- 10 says,

" (8) But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, (9) realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous man, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers (10) and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching."

In 1 Cor. 6:9 Paul says practicing homosexuals will not inherit the Kingdom of God. After listing these sins, Paul says in verse 11, "and such were some of you."

It appears that some in the Church had been practicing homosexuals, but they had ceased this practice, either by being divinely healed or simply by remaining celibate. It is a matter of learning obedience by practicing the moral standard of the divine law, even as most heterosexuals must refrain from other types of fornication which God calls "sin."


This is the first part of a series titled "God's Laws on Sexual Sins." To view all parts, click the link below.

God's Laws on Sexual Sins


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Category: God's Law

Dr. Stephen Jones


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