Sexual Impurity: Let It Not Be Named Among You

I’ve been enjoying Clinton Arnold’s commentary on Ephesians.  He explains grammar and syntax very clearly, is level-headed, is not long-winded, and is pastoral.  While studying Ephesians 5:1-5 this week in sermon preparation, I found a helpful explanation of Ephesians 5:3 (but sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints).  Below is part of his commentary on this verse – and it is very much worth reading since we live in a culture where sexual impurity is paraded and flaunted almost everywhere you turn.  No one blushes anymore at the horrible sexual sins of our age (cf. Jer. 8.12).

“Paul begins [in 5:3] with an appeal for the readers to eliminate sexual immorality (porneia) from their lives.  This is similar to the exhortation he gives to the new Gentile believers of Thessalonica when he calls them to abstain from sexual immorality as he explains to them what it means to be sanctified (1 Thess 4:3).  The term has a long history of being translated ‘fornication’ (see NRSV; RSV; NKJV; KJV; Geneva; Tyndale), which was commonly used to refer to two unmarried people having consensual sex.  The term clearly encompasses this, but should be understood in the broadest possible sense of any kind of sexual activity outside of a committed marriage relationship.”

“This would include premarital sex, adultery (Matt 19:9), sex with a prostitute (1 Cor 6:12-20; see also Hos 1:2; Nah 3:4), homosexual liaisons (Rom 1:29), and incestuous relationship (1 Cor 5:1).  Jesus spoke of ‘sexual immorality’ as one of the evils that flows from a corrupt heart (Matt 15:19; Mark 7:21).  Elsewhere, Paul lists it as one of the deeds of the flesh (Gal 5:19), and it is proscribed by the ‘apostolic decree,’ where it is also closely related with idolatry (Acts 15:20).”

“Illicit sexual activity was an enormous problem for new Gentile Christians to overcome in the early church.  Adulterous relationships, men sleeping with their slave girls, incest, prostitution, ‘sacred’ sexual encounters in the local temples, and homosexuality were all a part of everyday life.  There was not an accepted social standard with regard to sexual relations, although some stoics (esp. Epictetus and Musonius Rufus) spoke against the prevailing practices in Roman society because they represented a lack of control over the passions.  Rampant sexual immorality in Graeco-Roman society was why the Jews had long been appalled at the behavior of the Gentiles in this regard and considered them ‘impure.’  The Mishnah even prohibits a Jewish woman from ever being left alone with a Gentile because he cannot be trusted sexually (m. Abod Zar. 2.1).”

“…Paul stresses that such conduct is utterly inconsistent with their new identity as God’s chosen people.  They are no longer Gentile sinners, but a new creation that is like God in righteousness and holiness” (p. 321).

Clinton Arnold, Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 319-320.

shane lems

One Reply to “Sexual Impurity: Let It Not Be Named Among You”

  1. A good reminder that the sexual looseness and shamelessness of our current culture does not present a new situation to which the church must adjust; the praise of homosexuality in some ancient Greek writings is not that different from what we are hearing now on a daily basis. So what we have is not an old, stiff, narrow Bible morality vs. new understanding and tolerance. The conflict is between the old commands of the Word of God and the old rebellion against the Word of God.
    What I have a hard time understanding is the great diffidence and hesitation on the part of supposed Evangelicals, as though we must apologize and humbly request a place at the national table, asserting our right as a minority to maintain our beliefs. It seems to me we need to make clear that, while the USA is a representative democracy, the universe itself is a monarchy, and no minor government like that of the USA can alter the decision of the Creator.


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