Of the 46 disfellowshipping offenses listed in the Shepherd book, 11 are based on the Bible, and 35 are made up and invented by the GB. One of the 11 disfellowshipping offenses that are based on the Bible is sexual immorality (porneia). This includes sexual intercourse between a married person and one to whom he or she is not married, sexual intercourse between unmarried persons, and sexual intercourse between homosexuals.
In addition to the three biblical references of porneia mentioned above, the members of the GB have extended their definition to include bestiality, manipulation of the genitals of a person to whom one is not married, artificial semination, and sexual acts without skin-to-skin contact.
The first section: Different views in the Watchtower literature of sexual immorality (porneia).
1956 Artificial insemination is porneia.
1969: Bestiality is not porneia, but it is a disfellowshipping offense.
1970: The word porneia could possibly include homosexual actions.
1972 (January): the word porneia does not include homosexual acts or bestiality. Only sexual intercourse with one person to whom one is not married is porneia.
1972 (November): The word porneia includes homosexual acts.
1974: The word porneia can be applied inside marriage to anal an oral copulation and other lewd practices performed by married persons. This can be a reason for divorce.
1978: The word porneia cannot be applied inside marriage to anal and oral sex. And such actions cannot lead to divorce which can lead to divorce. However, one marriage mate can view sexual actions by the other mate as so lewd that he or she defines them as porneia. On this basis, the married mate can rightly demand a divorce.
1978: No Scriptural instruction exists regarding sexual relations inside marriage. Only the married couple can decide how the sexual acts should be performed.
1983: Defining sexual acts inside marriage is now the responsibility of the GB. Oral and anal sex is not porneia and cannot dissolve the marriage. But if they occur inside marriage, that can still lead to disfellowshipping.
1983: The word porneia includes sexual relations between a human and a beast.
1983: The word porneia includes deliberate fondling of the genitals of a person to whom he or she is not married.
2018: The word porneia can include simulations of sexual acts by fully clothed persons without any skin-to-skin contact.
The second section: How to ascertain the meaning and references of a word, with particular focus on porneia.
It is extremely important to distinguish between the core meaning of a word versus its references. On top of that, the meaning and references of a word in Classical Greek are often different from the meaning and references in the Christian Greek Scriptures. The only way to find the meaning and references of a word in the Christian Greek Scriptures is to look at the contexts in these scriptures where it occurs.
The meaning and references of four words are compared: nomos (“law”), theos (“god”), moikheuō (“commit adultery”), and porneia (“sexual immorality”). Each word has one core meaning, and all, except moikheuō, have additional references.
The substantive porneia has one core meaning (“sexual immorality”) and only three references: 1) sexual intercourse between a married person and one to whom he or she is not married, 2) sexual intercourse between unmarried persons, and 3) sexual intercourse between homosexuals. The application of porneia in the Scriptures is only sexual intercourse.
However, the GB has expanded the definition of porneia to include sex between a human and a beast, manipulation of the genitals of one with whom he or she is not married, artificial insemination, and the simulation of sexual acts between two fully clothed persons without any skin-to-skin-contact. Unlike the additional references of the word porneia that can be ascertained from the contexts where it appears in the Christian Greek Scriptures, these definitions are made up and invented by the GB, and they have no linguistic or biblical basis.
The third section: An analysis of the definitions of porneia in the Shepherd book.
This section shows that the basic reason why sexual relations with one to whom he or she is not married is not allowed is to safeguard children from being born in a substandard environment.
Of the definitions of porneia in the Shepherd book, only sexual intercourse between a married person and one with whom he or she is not married, sexual intercourse between unmarried persons, and sexual intercourse between homosexuals can rightly be referred to as “sexual immorality” (porneia).
But sexual relations between a human being and a beast, manipulation of the genitals of one with whom he or she is not married, artificially insemination, and sexual immorality between two fully clothed persons without skin-to-skin contact cannot on any scriptural basis be referred to as porneia.
The fourth section: The weaknesses in the handling of judicial cases of actions viewed as porneia.
1) The elders have no authority to interrogate members of the congregation.
2) Most elders are not qualified to judge others.
3) Wicked actions are, incorrectly, the basis for judgment instead of wicked personalities.
4) The elders often chose “an unfavorable judgment in the absence of full evidence” instead of “a favorable judgment in the absence of full evidence.”
5) In contrast to judicial security, the wrongdoer must prove that he is innocent.”
6) The unbiblical expression “degree of repentance” is applied.
7) The wrongdoer is not “innocent until proven guilty” but “guilty until proven innocent.”
8) The expression “God’s Word” is used when “the human commandments of the GB” are meant.
The book “Shepherd The Flock Of God” chapter 12, point 3, says:
Sexual Immorality (Por·nei’a): (Lev. 20:10, 13, 15, 16; Rom. 1:24, 26, 27, 32; 1 Cor. 6:9, 10) Por·nei’a involves immoral use of the genitals, whether in a natural or in a perverted way, with lewd intent. There must have been another party to the immorality — a human of either sex or a beast. Willing participation incurs guilt and requires judicial action. It is not a casual touching of the sex organs but involves the manipulation of the genitals. It includes oral sex, anal sex, and manipulation of the genitals between individuals not married to each other. (w06 7/15 pp. 29, 30; w04 2/15 p. 13; w00 11/1 p. 8 par. 6; w83 6/1 pp. 23-26: lvs p. 120). Por·nei’a does not require skin-to-skin contact, copulation (as in penetration), or sexual climax.
(1)“Immoral use” conveys the thought not just of touching but of operating, manipulating, or employing something. For example, it is one thing to touch a musical instrument; it is something different to make “use of” a musical instrument.
(2) “Lewd intent” identifies the motive. For example, a doctor may need to manipulate the genitals in examining the patient. A veterinarian, a farmer, or rancher may do something similar to an animal. However, the intent is not sexual gratification.
(3) “Manipulation” conveys the idea of operating something, whether by use of the hands or some other means, and does not require skin-to-skin contact. Momentary touching of another’s genitals, even if intentional, would generally not be considered por·nei’a
This study consists of four parts. The first part discusses the changed viewpoints in the Watchtower literature regarding the meaning of porneia. The second part discusses the core meaning of porneia, as well as its references, as they are witnessed in the Christian Greek Scriptures. The third part is an analysis of how porneia is used in the Shepherd book, and the fourth part shows the weaknesses in the handling of judicial cases involving actions viewed as porneia.
THE DIFFERENT VIEWPOINTS REGARDING THE MEANING OF PORNEIA IN THE WATCHTOWER LITERATURE
Between 1930 to 1970, very little is said about the word porneia (“fornication; sexual immorality”). The Watchtower of January 1, 1952, page 31, says:
The April 15, 1951, Watchtower, page 233, said: “Fornicators are unmarried persons who commit immorality. Adulterers are married persons who willingly have sex relations with someone of the opposite sex not their legal marriage mate.” Yet Matthew 19:9 refers to the immorality of a married woman as fornication. Why?—E. W., Texas.
Legally and generally the distinction is made between the two terms as The Watchtower presents it, though sometimes fornication is used in a broader sense to take in all sexual immorality.
The expression “all sexual immorality” is ambiguous. But because the Watchtower literature of that time only describes sexual intercourse between persons who are not married to each other as fornication (porneia), it seems that only these actions and adultery were included in “all sexual immorality.” During the next 20 years, very little is said about fornication and adultery. However, from 1969 on, several questions regarding the detailed meaning of porneia were raised, and over the years, different answers were given.
1956: Artificial Insemination is Porneia
The Watchtower of October 1, 1956, page 591, speaks about a couple who are not able to produce children and who solves this problem with the help of another man:
Where a man is impotent today the married couple in their desire for children might agree for the wife to receive the seed of another man by artificial insemination. Some law courts have already held that artificial insemination is adultery and that children produced by such means are illegitimate. The recent British Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce recommended as a ground for divorce the wife’s acceptance of artificial insemination by a donor of seed without her husband’s consent. Such a divorce would be Scriptural. But where the husband consented it would be grounds for the disfellowshiping of both man and wife. Why? Because it is a virtual committing of adultery, and both man and wife consented to the immoral act. The husband in effect gave her to another man to receive the seed of copulation, and the wife gave herself to a man not her husband to become the mother of a child by that other.
Because adultery (moikheia) is one of the references of porneia (“sexual immorality”) according to Matthew 5:32, the article shows that artificial insemination also is porneia. By artificial insemination, the marriage could rightly be dissolved, and both the husband and the wife could be disfellowshipped, according to the article.
Artificial insemination was discussed in The Watchtower of November 1, 1960, page 660, and Awake! of 8 November 1970, page 28, and 8 August 1974, page 27. The last time this subject is discussed in the Watchtower literature, according to Watchtower ONLINE LIBRARY, is in The Watchtower of August 15, 1984, page 26. Artificial insemination is not mentioned in the Shepherd book as a disfellowshipping offense. But that does not mean that the decision that artificial insemination is porneia has been abandoned.
1969: Bestiality is not porneia, but it is a disfellowshipping offense
The first time bestiality was discussed in the Watchtower literature from a biblical point of view was in 1969. The lexicon Aid To Bible Understanding, 1969, page 601, 217, says:
Fornication: Sex relations by mutual agreement by two persons not married to each other…
Unnatural sexual intercourse of a man or a woman with an animal. The Mosaic law emphatically condemned this perverted practice, sentencing the guilty person and the beast to death. “Where a man gives his seminal emission to a beast, he should be put to death without fail, and they should kill the beast. And where a woman approaches any beast to have a connection with it, you must kill the woman and the beast.”—Lev. 20:15, 16; 18:23; Ex. 22:19; Deut. 27:21…
Despite its depravity, bestiality is not the same as adultery or fornication, and hence does not constitute Scriptural grounds for divorce. (Matt. 19:9) However, anyone indulging in such filthy practice is morally unclean, and, if a member of the Christian congregation were to indulge in such a practice, that one would be subject to disfellowshiping.—Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5.
Thus, the view of porneia that was expressed in 1952 was upheld, and bestiality was not included in porneia. But bestiality had now become a new disfellowshipping offense.
1970: The word porneia could possibly include homosexual acts
The Watchtower of August 15, 1970, page 511, discusses 1 Corinthians 6:18, where it is said that sexual immorality (porneia) is a sin against one’s own body. This issue is discussed in detail, and regarding the meaning of porneia, the article says:
In fact, the words of Paul at 1 Corinthians 6:18 could include homosexuality, for Greek writers also used porneia to refer to homosexuality.
We note that it is not stated that porneia does include homosexuality, but the possibility of this is mentioned. And the reason for this possibility is that Classical Greek writers used the word in this sense. But this is a weak argument because the meaning and references of words in the Christian Greek Scriptures are often different from the meaning and references in Classical Greek.
1972 (January): The word porneia does not include homosexual acts or bestiality
In The Watchtower of January 1, 1972, page 31, the question of whether homosexuality is included in porneia and is, therefore, a reason for divorce is raised. The viewpoint in this article is different from the article in 1970 in that Classical Greek writers are not used as sources. But the article correctly reasons:
“But the sense in which Jesus used the word porneia at Matthew 5:32 and Mt 19:9 must be ascertained from the context.”
This viewpoint is correct because only the context in the Christian Greek Scriptures can help us to ascertain the meaning and references of a Greek word. In keeping with this, the definition of porneia below is correct:
The Greek word for fornication is porneía. It can refer to illicit sexual relations between either married or unmarried persons…
Then the article discusses the reasons for divorce on the basis of the context:
It should be noted that in Matthew chapters 5 and 19 “fornication” is used in the restricted sense of marital unfaithfulness, or illicit relations with another person not one’s marriage mate. Just before bringing up the matter of divorce in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ pointed out that “everyone [married] that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28) Consequently, when he afterward alluded to a woman’s committing fornication, his listeners would have understood this in its relative sense, namely, as signifying a married woman’s prostitution or adultery.
The context of Matthew chapter 19 confirms this conclusion. On the basis of the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus pointed out that a man and his wife became “one flesh,” and then added: “What God has yoked together let no man put apart.” (Matt. 19:5, 6) Now, in homosexual acts the sex organs are used in an unnatural way, in a way for which they were never purposed. Two persons of the same sex are not complements of each other, as Adam and Eve were. They could never become “one flesh” in order to procreate. It might be added, in the case of human copulation with a beast, two different kinds of flesh are involved. Wrote the apostle Paul: “Not all flesh is the same flesh, but there is one of mankind, and there is another flesh of cattle, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish.”—1 Cor. 15:39.
While both homosexuality and bestiality are disgusting perversions, in the case of neither one is the marriage tie broken. It is broken only by acts that make an individual “one flesh” with a person of the opposite sex other than his or her legal marriage mate.
Being “one flesh” with a person with whom one is not married means sexual intercourse with that person. The quotation shows that the only application of porneia in the Scriptures is sexual intercourse.
The reasoning of the article accords with the context. We should keep in mind that when Jesus spoke the words referred to in Matthew chapters 5 and 19, the law of Moses was still valid. And a man could have more than one wife and have sexual relations with more than one woman. But Jesus referred to God’s original purpose of marriage, and this purpose would be the norm for Christians.
1972 (November): The word porneia includes homosexual acts
The conclusion in January 1972 that the word porneia did not include homosexual acts had great consequences for a number of married persons. In November of 1972, the definition of porneia was expanded, and this also had great consequences for a number of married persons. The new view was presented in Awake! of November 22, 1972, page 27, where the Greek word porneia is discussed:
It repeatedly warns against por·nei’a, and that is a Greek word related to pornography. Greek lexicographers tell us that por·nei’a refers to illicit sexual intercourse in general, without more precise definition. It is broad in meaning and includes “‘unnatural vice,’ . . . sodomy.” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament) Because of this, Bible translators render this word variously as “fornication,” “gross immorality,” “sexual immorality,” “sexual sins,” or by similar expressions.
Awake! of September 22, 1973, page 27:
But what if a married person becomes an adulterer or a homosexual? Does the Bible say that the partner has to stay with such a person until death? No. As shown at Matthew 19:9, Jesus said: “Whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, and marries another commits adultery.” So divorce is permitted if “fornication” has taken place. The Greek word porneía, here translated “fornication,” means immoral sexual relations, either with someone of the opposite sex other than one’s mate or someone of the same sex, whether natural or unnatural and perverted. Under such circumstances the innocent mate is free to obtain a divorce and remarry if he so desires. Of course, he is under no obligation to do so.
The definition of porneia in the quotations above is correct, not because this definition is found in Classical Greek, but because it conforms to its use in the Christian Greek Scriptures. But unfortunately, the members of the GB have rejected the definition “illicit sexual intercourse in general, without more precise definition.” (Italics mine) Instead, they have expanded the definition ‘more precisely’ and without any basis in the Christian Greek Scriptures.
|The GB has rejected the correct definition of porneia presented in Awake! of 22 September 1973: “Porneia refers to illicit sexual intercourse in general, without more precise definition.” The GB has continued to add ‘precise definitions’ that are not found in the Christian Greek Scriptures.|
The Watchtower of August 15, 1974 shows with a biblical reference that porneia also includes homosexuality:
The best way to understand what is taken in by these terms is to find out how they are used in other places. A similar word appears in the Bible at Jude 7 in describing the sin of certain ancient cities: “Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally [an intensive form of por·neu’o] and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” (RSV) For what type of ‘immorality’ or por·nei’a were those at Sodom and Gomorrah condemned? The Bible narrative at Genesis 19:4, 5 answers:
These men of Sodom and Gomorrah were homosexuals. In fact, the English word “sodomy,” which particularly means ‘intercourse between two men,’ is drawn from the name of the city of Sodom. The Bible would call their sin por·nei’a. Jesus said por·nei’a was so wrong morally that it was a basis for severing the marriage bond.
The words of Jude 7 show that homosexual actions are references of porneia. However, in 1974, the GB yet again, expanded the definition of porneia ‘more precisely’ and without any scriptural basis, this time with disastrous consequences.
|In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the core meaning of the word porneia is “sexual immorality”. But it refers to three kinds of sexually immoral acts, 1) Sexual intercourse outside marriage, 2) Sexual intercourse between unmarried persons, and 3) Sexual intercourse between homosexuals. Porneia refers only to sexual intercourse and not to any other sexual actions.
1974: The Word porneia can be applied to actions inside marriage
A new view of porneia, with enormous consequences for many, was expressed in The Watchtower of November 15, 1974, page 703. Contrary to the correct definition that was presented in Awake! of September 1973 that “por·nei’a refers to illicit sexual intercourse in general, without a more precise definition,” the word was now being precisely defined and applied to specific sexual acts between married persons.
There are times when lewd practices within the marriage arrangement would provide a basis for a Scriptural divorce. . . .
Thus “fornication” is set forth as the only ground for divorce. In the common Greek in which Jesus’ words are recorded, the term “fornication” is por·nei’a, which designates all forms of immoral sexual relations, perversions and lewd practices such as might be carried on in a house of prostitution, including oral and anal copulation.
As to Jesus’ statements about divorce, they do not specify with whom the “fornication” or por nei’a is practiced. They leave the matter open. That por·nei’a can rightly be considered as including perversions within the marriage arrangement is seen in that the man who forces his wife to have unnatural sexual relations with him in effect “prostitutes” or “debauches” her. This makes him guilty of por·nei’a, for the related Greek verb porneu’o means “to prostitute, debauch.”
Hence, circumstances could arise that would make lewd practices of a married person toward that one’s marriage mate a Scriptural basis for divorce.
Specifying which sexual actions are included in porneia, except for the three aforementioned actions that are an inherent part of the reference, is impossible from the view of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Nowhere in these scriptures is porneia defined or specified. To say that porneia includes “perversions and lewd practices such as might be carried on in a house of prostitution” have no linguistic or biblical basis whatsoever. However, this claim has been repeated over and over again to this day. To say that porneia refers to anal and oral copulation and other lewd practices inside a marriage is to trespass into the private sphere of each married couple.
During the three and a half years of the existence of the view that anal and oral copulation inside marriage were porneia, there were huge problems. For example, what was a “lewd practice”? If a wife accused her husband of lewd practices and wanted to divorce him, but the husband did not view their sexual relations as lewd, what then? Who should decide the matter? The elders? Husbands were disfellowshipped because of their sexual relations with their wives inside their own marriages. The most egregious consequence of this error on the part of the GB was that a great number of marriages were dissolved on unbiblical grounds, and husbands, wives, and children were suffering. (Malachi 2:16) Many elders also created problems because they began to behave like police officers (see the last clause in the quotation from The Watchtower of 1978 on page 189 at the end of this section), and even interrogated married couples about their sex lives.
1978: The word porneia cannot be applied to oral and anal sex inside marriage
The view that oral or anal copulation inside marriage was porneia existed for 3 1/2 years, and then this view was reversed. The Watchtower of February 15, 1978, page 31, shows that porneia could not be applied inside marriage and that oral and anal sex inside marriage, which had been viewed as porneia, could not be included in the word porneia.
In the past some comments have appeared in this magazine in connection with certain unusual sex practices, such as oral sex, within marriage and these were equated with gross sexual immorality. On this basis, the conclusion was reached that those engaging in such sex practices were subject to disfellowshipping if unrepentant. The view was taken that it was within the authority of the congregational elders to investigate and act in a judicial capacity regarding such practices in the conjugal relationship.
A careful further weighing of this matter, however, convinces us that, in view of the absence of clear Scriptural instruction, these are matters for which the married couple themselves must bear the responsibility before God and that these marital intimacies do not come within the province of the congregational elders to attempt to control nor to take disfellowshipping action with such matters as the sole basis. [A footnote shows that Romans 1:24–27 relates only to homosexuals and cannot be used in connection with married couples.] Of course, if any person chooses to approach an elder for counsel he or she may do so and the elder can consider Scriptural principles with such a one, acting as shepherd, but not attempting to, in effect, “police” the marital life of the one inquiring. (My italics and emphasis.)
This is a balanced article that is based on the Bible and not on human reasoning and viewpoints.
The words in the quotation are balanced and logical. But porneia-inside-marriage was not completely removed. Pages 31 and 32 of The Watchtower quoted above say:
What if a married person claims that certain sexual practices of the marriage mate are sufficiently gross to come within the scope of the Greek term porneia as used at Matthew 19:9 (“fornication,” New World Translation)? As has been shown, the Scriptures do not give specific information that allows for positive identification of certain sexual practices within marriage as being—or not being—porneia. It may be noted that the Greek term is drawn from a word having the basic meaning of “to sell” or to “surrender or give oneself up to,” and thus porneia has the sense of “a selling or a giving of oneself up to lust or lewdness.” The verb form (porneuo) includes among its meanings that of “to debauch.” (Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon) If a married person believes that the sexual practices of the mate, though not involving someone outside the marriage, are nevertheless of such a gross nature as to constitute a clear surrender to lewdness or a debauching in lewdness, then that must be his or her own decision and responsibility.
Such a one may hold that the circumstances provide Scriptural basis for divorce. If so, he or she must accept full responsibility before God for any divorce action that might be taken. Elders cannot be expected to express approval (Scripturally) of divorce, if they are not sure of the grounds. At the same time they are not authorized to impose their conscience on another when the matter is a questionable one. (Jas. 4:11, 12)
The important point here is that while it is admitted that the Scriptures do not identify particular sexual actions inside marriage as porneia, the Governing Body now gives each marriage mate the authority of deciding that some sexual actions by his or her mate are porneia. This is, of course, wrong because the Scriptures only define illicit sexual intercourse as porneia. And no other sexual actions are included.
1983: Policing families while saying “not policing”
Despite all indications that the matter of porneia-inside-marriage had been put to rest, in 1983, a part of the balanced view that was expressed in 1978 was changed. Now marital intimacies again became the focus of the GB and the elders.
The new definition of sexual relations inside marriage
The Watchtower of March 15, 1983, pages 30, 31, says:
What do we understand here by “fornication”? The Greek word in this text is porneia. In discussing the matter, The Watchtower of December 15, 1972, pages 766-768, showed that porneia “comes from a root word meaning ‘to sell.’” Thus it is tied in with prostitution, such as that practiced in many pagan temples in the first century and in ‘houses of ill fame’ today.
True, porneia is sometimes used in a limited sense, as applying to sex relations between unmarried (single) persons. An instance of such a limited usage is 1 Corinthians 6:9, where “fornicators” are mentioned separately and in addition to those who engage in such other sexual vices as adultery and homosexuality. But just before this, at 1 Corinthians 5:9-11, Paul used the same word when counseling Christians not to mix with “fornicators.” Is it reasonable to think that here he referred only to immoral unmarried persons? That could not be so, for chapter 6 sets out a broad range of illicit sexual practices that must be shunned, including adultery and homosexuality. Likewise, Jude 7 and Revelation 21:8, which show that God judges unrepentant “fornicators” as worthy of eternal destruction, could hardly be limited only to unmarried persons that have sex relations. And the Jerusalem governing body’s edict at Acts 15:29, “to keep abstaining . . . from fornication,” must be understood to have the wide field of application. (the author’s italics)
So, then, “fornication” in the broad sense, and as used at Matthew 5:32 and Mt 19:9, evidently refers to a broad range of unlawful or illicit sex relations outside marriage. Porneia involves the grossly immoral use of the genital organ(s) of at least one human (whether in a natural or a perverted way); also, there must have been another party to the immorality—a human of either sex, or a beast. Thus, self-abuse (unwise and spiritually dangerous as this may be) is not porneia. But to this day, the term porneia embraces the various kinds of sexual activity that might take place in a house of prostitution, where sexual favors are bought and sold. A person who goes to a male or a female prostitute to buy any kind of sexual favors would be guilty of porneia.—Compare 1 Corinthians 6:18.
How about sexual activity between married couples within the marriage bond? It is not for the elders to pry into the intimate lives of married Christians. However, the Bible certainly enters into their lives. Those who would “keep walking by spirit” should not ignore the Scriptural indications of God’s thinking. And they will do well to cultivate a hatred for everything that is unclean before Jehovah, including what are clearly perverted sexual practices. Married couples should act in a way that will leave them with a clean conscience, as they give unimpeded attention to developing “the fruitage of the spirit.”—Galatians 5:16, 22, 23; Ephesians 5:3-5.
What, though, if one mate wants or even demands to share with his or her partner what is clearly a perverted sex practice? The above-presented facts show that porneia involves unlawful sexual conduct outside the marital arrangement. Thus, a mate’s enforcing perverted acts, such as oral or anal sex, within the marriage would not constitute a Scriptural basis for a divorce that would free either for remarriage. Even though a believing mate is distressed by the situation, yet that one’s endeavor to hold to Scriptural principles will result in a blessing from Jehovah. In such cases it may be helpful for the couple to discuss the problem frankly, bearing in mind especially that sexual relations should be honorable, wholesome, an expression of tender love. This certainly should exclude anything that might distress or harm one’s mate.—Ephesians 5:28-30; 1 Peter 3:1, 7. As already stated, it is not for elders to “police” the private marital matters of couples in the congregation. However, if it becomes known that a member of the congregation is practicing or openly advocating perverted sex relations within the marriage bond, that one certainly would not be irreprehensible, and so would not be acceptable for special privileges, such as serving as an elder, a ministerial servant or a pioneer. Such practice and advocacy could even lead to expulsion from the congregation.
Why? Galatians 5:19-21 lists many vices that are not classed as porneia, and which could lead to one’s being disqualified from God’s Kingdom. Among them are “uncleanness” (Greek, akatharsia, signifying filthiness, depravity, lewdness) and “loose conduct” (Greek, aselgeia, signifying licentiousness, wantonness, shameless conduct). Like porneia, these vices, when they become gross, can be grounds for disfellowshipping from the Christian congregation, but not for obtaining a Scriptural divorce. A person who brazenly advocates shocking and repulsive sexual activities would be guilty of loose conduct. Of course, a person with that attitude might even sink to committing porneia; then there would be a basis for a Scriptural divorce. How concerned all devoted Christians should be to avoid and war against all such How concerned all devoted Christians should be to avoid and war against all such “works of the flesh”! —Galatians 5:24, 25.
A footnote says:
This is an amplification and adjustment in understanding of what appears in The Watchtower of November 15, 1974, pages 703-704, and of February 15, 1978, pages 30-32. Those who acted on the basis of the knowledge they had at the time are not to be criticized. Nor would this affect the standing of a person who in the past believed that a mate’s perverted sexual conduct within marriage amounted to porneia and, hence, obtained a divorce and is now remarried.
The partial reversal of the reversal of the 1978 decision
The adjustment is rather sweeping. In 1974, oral and anal copulation and other lewd practices inside marriage were defined as porneia. The consequence of this was that the mentioned actions could dissolve the marriage and lead to disfellowshipping. In 1978, it was admitted that this definition was wrong, and oral and anal sex inside marriage could not be defined as porneia and be reasons for divorce.
The following reason was given in The Watchtower of February 15, 1978, page 31:
A careful further weighing of this matter, however, convinces us that, in view of the absence of clear Scriptural instruction, these are matters for which the married couple themselves must bear the responsibility before God and that these marital intimacies do not come within the province of the congregational elders to attempt to control nor to take disfellowshipping action with such matters as the sole basis.
This was an excellent conclusion and an “anti-policing” statement. The Scriptures do not say anything about the nature of the sexual relationship between married couples. Therefore, neither the GB nor the elders have any right to say anything about marital intimacies!
Now, this view was reversed, and the GB insinuated that they had the right to define marital intimacies. The Watchtower of March 15, 1983, page 31, says:
How about sexual activity between married couples within the marriage bond? It is not for the elders to pry into the intimate lives of married Christians. However, the Bible certainly enters into their lives. Those who would “keep walking by spirit” should not ignore the Scriptural indications of God’s thinking.
Please compare the two quotations. The first quotation says correctly that there is an “absence of clear scriptural instruction” regarding marital intimacies, i.e., how the sexual relations between a married couple should occur. But the second quotation speaks about “the Scriptural indication of God’s thinking” in connection with “marital intimacies.” But because the Scriptures are silent on marital intimacies, “the Scriptural indication of God’s thinking” is, in reality, “the Governing Body’s thinking regarding marital intimacies.”
The thinking (= decision) of the GB is that oral and anal copulation are “perverted acts.” Because the Scriptures are silent on this, and the Scriptures are my sole authority, I must be silent on this issue as well.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines anal sex as “Sexual activity involving penetration of the anus.” And this Dictionary defines oral sex as “the activity of using the tongue and lips to touch someone’s sexual organs in order to give pleasure.” At least oral sex can have different meanings to different people both as to its nature and performance.
In 1974, oral and anal sex was defined as porneia and could lead to the termination of the marriage and to disfellowshipping. In 1978, oral and anal sex were no longer defined as porneia, and it could neither lead to the termination of the marriage nor to disfellowshipping. In 1983, oral and anal sex were still not defined as porneia, and it could not lead to the termination of the marriage. But it could under certain circumstances lead to disfellowshipping.
The GB had now defined oral and anal sex as perversions, and as such, these and other “lewd actions” could be defined as “loose conduct.” In turn, “loose conduct” is a disfellowshipping offense according to the GB. Therefore, “oral and anal sex” inside of marriage was once again on the disfellowshipping offense list. Of course, this entire convoluted line of reasoning is moot since “loose conduct” is not a scripturally sanctioned disfellowshipping offense.
|1974||Oral and anal sex are porneia and can lead to the termination of the marriage and to disfellowshipping.|
|1978||Oral and anal sex are not porneia and can neither lead to the termination of marriage nor to disfellowshipping.|
|1983||Oral and anal sex are not porneia, and these actions cannot lead to the termination of marriage, but they are perversions and can lead to disfellowshipping.|
Policing by the GB and the elders
In 1974 and 1975, I was the instructor of the 30 two-week courses for all elders in Norway. Because of this, I had close contact with the elders. My experience is that the new view of porneia-inside-marriage that was introduced in 1974, in many cases, led the elders to have a critical eye on the sexual relations of the married couples in the congregations, and some elders functioned almost as police officers.
This same behavior evidently also occurred in other countries. Evidence of this is seen in the last part of the article in The Watchtower of February 15, 1978, page 31, cautioning the elders not to do this, we read:
Of course, if any person chooses to approach an elder for counsel he or she may do so and the elder can consider Scriptural principles with such a one, acting as shepherd, but not attempting to, in effect, “police” the marital life of the one inquiring.
Because of the balanced article of 1978, there was no more intervention by the elders in the marital life of couples in the congregations. But after the partial reversal of the reversal in 1983, the surveillance and policing of married couples started up again in some congregations. That 1983 article introduced its new view with the disclaimer: “It is not for the elders to pry into the intimate lives of married Christians.” This may be a reference to what happened after the porneia-inside-marriage was introduced in 1974. And it may be a warning that this must not happen again.
However, the new instructions in the article from 1983 lay the very foundation for prying on married couples. We read:
As already stated, it is not for elders to “police” the private marital matters of couples in the congregation. However, if it becomes known that a member of the congregation is practicing or openly advocating perverted sex relations within the marriage bond, that one certainly would not be irreprehensible, and so would not be acceptable for special privileges, such as serving as an elder, a ministerial servant or a pioneer. Such practice and advocacy could even lead to expulsion from the congregation.
We note the words “if it [perverted sex] becomes known.” There are only two persons who make up a Christian marriage, and “perverted sex” on the part of a husband can only be known if one of them—the wife—reports it to the elders.
And here we have the foundation for the same problems that occurred after the introduction of porneia-inside-marriage in 1974. The new focus of 1983 on “shocking and repulsive sexual activities,” including oral and anal sex, would lead some wives in one of two directions, as also was the case in 1974.
In some instances, the conscience of the wife has been stirred up by the GB to the point where she has become hypersensitive about the sexual relations with her husband, and the good relations they had were destroyed. In other instances, the wife used the definitions of “perverted sex” against the husband as a pretext for getting rid of him. This happened in many instances after 1974.
In any case, when the GB defined “perverted sex” and then added the stipulation “if it becomes known,” this, in effect, was the signal for some elders to “pry into the intimate lives of married Christians,” in order to get to know if such “perverted sex” was being practiced in the lives of married couples in their congregations.
In the 21st century, biblical Greek words, as treated by the GB, have continued to evolve into more convoluted meanings, despite the absence of any new linguistic or biblical basis for these changes. So, actions that in 1983 were classified as “loose conduct” have now been redefined as “brazen conduct” and “gross uncleanness,” and policing actions on the part of the elders are widespread, particularly in connection with young single members of the congregation.
If a Christian asks the elders for help, he or she will be given help. (James 5:15, 16) But no passage in the Christian Greek Scriptures authorizes the elders to interrogate members of the congregation about their personal lives. Yet that happens on a grand scale in connection with “gross uncleanness,” which is a disfellowshipping offense that is made up and invented by the GB without any basis in the Bible. In the congregation where I was a member, in 2020, three different young ones were interrogated over a period of two months.
The etymological fallacy as a basis for the definition of porneia.
Regarding the etymological fallacy, Wikipedia says:
An argument constitutes an etymological fallacy if it makes a claim about the present meaning of a word based exclusively on its etymology.
An example of the etymological fallacy is found in The Watchtower of March 15, 1983, page 30.
What do we understand here by “fornication”? The Greek word in this text is porneia. In discussing the matter, The Watchtower of December 15, 1972, pages 766-768, showed that porneia “comes from a root word meaning ‘to sell.’” Thus it is tied in with prostitution, such as that practiced in many pagan temples in the first century and in ‘houses of ill fame’ today… But to this day, the term porneia embraces the various kinds of sexual activity that might take place in a house of prostitution, where sexual favors are bought and sold.
The word “thus” shows the argument for connecting porneia with prostitution is that the etymology of the word is “to sell,” and prostitutes sell sex. This is the etymological fallacy, and it is, of course, complete nonsense. The new and broad definition of porneia by the GB is a fallacy and has no biblical basis whatsoever.
I will show below that moikheia has the generic meaning adultery without any specification of the nature of the adultery. And similarly, the word porneia has the generic meaning “sexual immorality” without any specification of the nature of the sexual immorality.
In what follows, I will discuss different definitions of porneia in the Watchtower literature after 1983.
1999— 2021: Definitions of porneia
After the wrong definitions of porneia between 1974 and 1978, we would expect that the members of the GB would refrain from other definitions without a biblical basis. But not so! Incredibly, The Watchtower of September 1, 1999, p. 12 (first quotation below) and The Watchtower of November 1, 2000, page 8 (second quotation) have newer and even ‘more precise’ definitions of porneia:
The original Greek word for fornication, por·neiʹa, refers to all illicit sexual activity involving the use of the genital organs carried on outside the bonds of marriage. That would include oral sex and the deliberate fondling of sexual organs.
What is meant by the word “fornication”? It comes from the Greek word por·nei’a, which is sometimes used to apply to sexual relations between unmarried people. (1 Corinthians 6:9) Elsewhere, such as at Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9, the term is broader in meaning and refers additionally to adultery, incest, and bestiality. Other sexual practices between individuals not married to each other, such as oral and anal sex and the sexual manipulation of another person’s genitalia, can also be designated as por·neiʹa. All such practices are condemned—either explicitly or by implication—in God’s Word.—Leviticus 20:10, 13, 15, 16; Romans 1:24, 26, 27, 32.
The Watchtower of February 15, 2004, page 13, says:
The Greek word por·neiʹa, translated “fornication,” has a fairly broad meaning. It relates to sexual relations involving persons not married to each other and focuses on the misuse of the sexual organs. Por·neiʹa includes such acts as oral sex, anal sex, and masturbating another person—conduct commonly associated with houses of prostitution. People who think that such acts are not “fornication” are fooling themselves and have fallen victim to one of Satan’s snares. (2 Timothy 2:26)
And the book for elders “Shepherd The Flock Of God” (2019) 12.3 has added yet another new definition:
Por·nei’a does not require skin-to-skin contact, copulation (as in penetration), or sexual climax.
This may be applied to lap dancing, as The Watchtower of November 2018, page 27, says:
Lap dancing is defined as “an activity in which a usually seminude performer sits and gyrates on the lap of a customer.” Depending on the facts of an actual situation, this could constitute sexual immorality requiring judicial action. A Christian who has taken part in such activity should seek help from the elders.—Jas. 5:14, 15.
When we look at figure 1.1, we see that the GB’s definitions of porneia have changed greatly—from unlawful sexual intercourse (which by definition requires penile penetration) with one of the opposite sex to fully-clothed-porneia with no penetration of the penis. These definitions are diametrically opposed to one another, and if the Bible was acknowledged as the only source of Christian doctrine, such irreconcilable definitions would not be possible. But alas, the contradictory definitions are there, and the reason is that the GB has made their own human commandments that are not based on the Bible.
Figure 1.1 Different definitions of porneia
|1956||Artificial insemination from another man than her husband.|
|1969||Bestiality is not porneia, but it is a disfellowshipping offense.|
|1970||The word porneia can possibly include homosexuality.|
|1972, January||The word porneia does not include homosexuality and bestiality.|
|1972, November||The word porneia includes homosexual acts.|
|1974||The word porneia can be applied inside marriage to oral and anal sex, and such actions cannot lead to divorce. However, one marriage mate can view sexual actions by the other mate so lewd that he or she defines them as porneia. On this basis, the married mate can rightly demand a divorce.|
|1978||The word porneia cannot be applied inside marriage to anal and oral sex, and such actions cannot lead to divorce. However, one marriage mate can view sexual actions by the other mate so lewd that he or she defines them as porneia. On this basis, the married mate can rightly demand a divorce.|
|1978||No Scriptural instruction regarding sexual relations inside marriage exists. Only the married couple can decide how their sexual relations should be performed.|
|1983||The GB decides that they have the right to make rules for sexual relations between married couples: While oral and anal sex by a married couple are not porneia, they are “perversions”. Such actions are not reasons for divorce, but they can still lead to disfellowshipping.|
|1983||The word porneia includes sexual relations between a human being and a beast.|
|1999||The word porneia includes deliberate fondling of the genitals of a person to whom he or she is not married.|
|2018||The word porneia can include actions of fully clothed persons without any skin-to- skin contact.|
In order to understand the meaning and references of the Greek word porneia we need to understand the principles of lexical semantics, i.e., by which means the meaning and references of a word can be ascertained.
. I have firsthand knowledge of one such example. It dragged on for several months with numerous conversations between the wife and the husband and the elders. Both became depressed, and at last, they were divorced.
. For a detailed discussion, see the article “Porneia-inside-marriage” in the category “Reversed view of disfellowshipping offenses.”
. The Watchtower of February 15, 1978, page 31.
. See my book My Beloved Religion — And The Governing Body, pages 193-196 and “Momentary touching of intimate body parts” in the category “Gross uncleanness with greediness.”
. The Cambridge Dictionary defines “generic meaning” as “shared by, typical of, or relating to a whole group of similar things, rather than to any particular thing.” The word “sport” is a generic substantive including a whole group of similar things. The words “baseball” and “wrestling” are substantives referring to specific types of sport. In a similar way, “sexual immorality” (porneia) is a generic substantive that is not specifying anything. But homosexuality is a specific substantive referring to a special type of sexual immorality, according to the Christian Greek Scriptures.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MEANING AND REFERENCES OF NOMOS (“LAW”) AND THEOS (“GOD”)
When we are looking for the exact meaning of Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic words, we must keep in mind that the entries we find in lexicons do not present the lexical meaning of the words. These entries are only glosses showing how a particular word in the source language has been translated into English.
Psycholinguistic experiments have shown that humans have a mental lexicon in their minds. Each word in the Greek language signaled a concept in the minds of native Greek speakers. A concept often has a relatively clear core but becomes more fuzzy towards the ends. Each concept may also be called “the semantic field” of the word. In some cases “the semantic field” is restricted because the word only has one meaning, such as nomos (“law”) and theos (“god”) that I will discuss below.
Communicating the use of a word that has a broad semantic field requires narrowing its references to make visible the intended focus of the concept while letting its other references remain invisible. When a native speaker communicates with others in writing or by word, in most cases the readers or listeners will, with the help of the context, instantly understand the focus of each concept (of its semantic field) that the speaker or writer makes visible. Thus, the concept in the minds of native speakers represents the lexical meaning of each word and not the entries in lexicons.
The problem is that all the native speakers of the Biblical languages are dead, so it is impossible to understand the full lexical meaning of each word. The best we can do is to look at the contexts in which a word is used in the Christian Greek Scriptures. This can help us to ascertain the core meaning of a particular word and perhaps some other parts of its semantic field. If a word is used just one time, very little of its semantic field can be derived. The more the word is used, the more of its semantic field can be ascertained.
In addition to the lexical meaning of a word (the concept in the native speaker’s mind), it also has one or more references. The references are the other things in the world that are denoted by the word. It is very important to distinguish between the references of a word and the core meaning of that word. I will use the two Greek words as examples, and I start with nomos (“law”). This word has a restricted semantic field because it has only one meaning. Below are the definitions of “law” in three different lexicons:
A binding custom or practice of a community.
A rule of conduct developed by the government or society over a certain territory.
The precise wording of the definitions is different, but the core meaning of them all is similar: A law is a rule or binding practice. I will now give some examples of the references of the word nomos (“law”) in the Christian Greek Scriptures. All quotations are taken from NWT13
The single meaning of the substantive nomos (“law”)
44 He then said to them: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was yet with you, that all the things written about me in the Law (nomos) of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms must be fulfilled.”
34 Jesus answered them: “Is it not written in your Law (nomos), ‘I said: “You are gods”’?
Romans 3:27, 28
27 Where, then, is the boasting? There is no place for it. Through what law (nomos)? That of works? No indeed, but through the law (nomos) of faith. 28 For we consider that a man is declared righteous by faith apart from works of law (nomos).
21 I find, then, this law in my case: When I wish to do what is right, what is bad is present with me. 22 I really delight in the law (nomos) of God according to the man I am within, 23 but I see in my body another law (nomos) warring against the law (nomos) of my mind and leading me captive to sin’s law (nomos) that is in my body. 24 Miserable man that I am! Who will rescue me from the body undergoing this death? 25 Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So, then, with my mind I myself am a slave to God’s law (nomos), but with my flesh to sin’s law (nomos).
2 Go on carrying the burdens of one another, and in this way you will fulfill the law (nomos) of the Christ.
16 “‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days,’ says Jehovah. ‘I will put my laws (nomos) in their hearts, and in their minds I will write them.’”
25 But the one who peers into the perfect law (nomos) that belongs to freedom and continues in it has become, not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work; and he will be happy in what he does.
Table 1.1 References of nomos (“law”)
|Luke 24:44||The books of Moses.|
|Luke 10:34||The Hebrew Scriptures.|
|Romans 3:27||The rule of faith.|
|Romans 3:28||The books of Moses; the law of faith.|
|Romans 5:21-25||“Sin’s law” = inherited sin; the law of my mind = the conscience; God’s law = the Christian rules of faith.|
|Galatians 6:2||The Christian rules of faith.|
|Hebrews 10:16||The Christian rules of faith.|
|James 1:25||The Christian rules of faith.|
The single meaning of nomos “law” is “a rule or a binding practice.” The references reflected in the above scriptural examples are different from the meaning, and table 1.1 identifies the different references of the Greek word nomos (“law”) used in those examples. It is important to note that none of these references are parts of the definition or core meaning of nomos. But they are things in the world that are denoted or referred to by nomos.
For example, in Roman’s 5:23, we see the expressions “sin’s law,” which is inherited sin, and “the law of my mind,” which is the conscience. It is obvious that “inherited sin” and “the conscience” are not a part of the definition of nomos. But these expressions are references of nomos.
The single meaning of the substantive theos (“god”)
The substantive “god” is a familiar word to most persons, and instantly it means something to us. We can describe it by using the synonym “deity.” Because of our familiarity with it, this word is a particularly good example of the difference between meaning and reference.
10Then Jesus said to him: “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.’”
34 Jesus answered them: “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said: “You are gods”’? 35 If he called ‘gods’ those against whom the word of God came—and yet the scripture cannot be nullified— 36 do you say to me whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You blaspheme,’ because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?
Acts 7:39, 40
39 Our forefathers refused to obey him, but they pushed him aside and in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron: ‘Make gods for us to go ahead of us. For we do not know what has happened to this Moses, who led us out of the land of Egypt.’
Acts 14:11, 12
11 When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they cried out in the Lyc·a·o’ni·an language: “The gods have become like humans and have come down to us!” 12 And they started calling Bar’na·bas Zeus, but Paul Her’mes, since he was taking the lead in speaking.
23 For instance, while passing along and carefully observing your objects of veneration, I found even an altar on which had been inscribed ‘To an Unknown God.’ Therefore, what you are unknowingly worshipping, this I am declaring to you.
26 Now you see and hear how, not only in Eph’e·susc but in nearly all the province of Asia, this Paul has persuaded a considerable crowd and turned them to another opinion, saying that the gods made by hands are not really gods.
6 But they were expecting him to swell up or suddenly to drop dead. After they waited for a long time and saw that nothing bad happened to him, they changed their mind and began saying he was a god.
2 Corinthians 4:4
4 among whom the god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that the illumination of the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine through.
19 Their end is destruction, and their god is their belly, and their glory is really their shame, and they have their minds on earthly things.
2 Thessalonians 2:4
4 He stands in opposition and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits down in the temple of God, publicly showing himself to be a god.
Table 1.3 References of theos (“god”)
|Matthew 4:10||The Supreme Creator.|
|John 10:34-36||Humans (judges in Israel, Psalm 82:1).|
|Acts 7:39, 40||Carved statues.|
|Acts 14:11, 12||Gods living in the spiritual realm such as Zevs and Hermes.|
|Acts 17:23||An unknown god.|
|Acts 19:26||Molten statues,|
|Acts 28:6||A god.|
|2 Corinthians 4:4||Satan the Devil.|
|Philippians 3:19||The belly.|
|2 Thessalonians 2:4||So-called gods; the Supreme Creator; a god.|
The list in table 1.3 is a good example of the difference between the meaning and references of a word. The core meaning of the word theos is a deity. However, as table 1.3 shows, it also refers to the Supreme Creator, to humans, to carved statues, to molten statues, to Satan, and even to the belly.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE MEANING AND REFERENCES OF THE GREEK WORD PORNEIA (“SEXUAL IMMORALITY”)
It is obvious that none of the references in table 1.3. is a part of the definition or meaning of theos. But they refer to something that can be revered or worshipped, and therefore each one can be called “god.” Clearly grasping the difference between meaning and reference is important in understanding the meaning of the Greek word porneia (“sexual immorality”) that existed in the minds of the native speakers who wrote the Christian Greek Scriptures versus the references to that word in Greek-English lexicons. The meaning of the Greek word porneia will be defined below.
The single meaning of the verbs moikhaō and moikheuō (“to commit adultery”)
The verb moikhaō (“to commit adultery”) occurs three times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. (Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:11) And the verb moikheuō, with exactly the same meaning, and is only a dialectal variant, occurs 15 times. Below is the text of Matthew 5:32 (NWT13), and here we find both the verbs moikhaō and moikheuō as well as the substantive porneia (“sexual immorality”):
32 However, I say to you that everyone divorcing his wife, except on account of sexual immorality (porneia), makes her a subject for adultery (moikheuō), and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (moikhaō).
It is important to realize, as I have shown above, that the lexical meaning of a word is not found in Greek-English lexicons but in the minds of native speakers of Greek. Greek-English lexicons contain English glosses of a particular word from Classical Greek and from the Christian Greek Scriptures. It is also important to realize that the meaning of a word and its references in Classical Greek often are different from the meaning and references in the Christian Greek Scriptures.
This difference has been expressed in the Watchtower literature. The Watchtower of February 15, 1989, page 10, shows that the meaning of a word may be different in Classical Greek compared with the Christian Greek Scriptures:
They heard a memorable speech by the Christian apostle Paul to the famous court of the Areopagus. He first reasoned on the existence of one God, the Creator, to whom all of us owe our life. This led to the logical conclusion that we are accountable to this God. At this point Paul declared: “God has overlooked the times of such ignorance [as of men’s worshiping idols], yet now he is telling mankind that they should all everywhere repent.”—Acts 17:30.
Frankly, repentance would be a startling concept for that audience. Why so? The ancient Greeks knew of repentance in the sense of feeling remorse over some deed or statement. As one dictionary points out, however, the word “never suggest[ed] an alteration in the total moral attitude, a profound change in life’s direction, a conversion which affects the whole of conduct.”
The only way to find the meaning of a Greek word in the Christian Greek Scriptures is to look at the context where this word occurs. The verbs moikhaō and moikheuō are translations of a Hebrew verb, and because of this, the meaning of these two verbs can be known with certainty.
Romans 13:9 (NWT13) says:
For the law code, “You must not commit adultery, you must not murder, you must not steal, you must not covet,” and whatever other commandment there is, is summed up in this saying: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.”
The English expression “commit adultery” is translated from the Greek verb moikheuō, and it is a quotation from Exodus 20:14, where the Hebrew verb nā’ap (“commit adultery”) is used.
In Israel in the time of Jesus, there was a difference in viewpoint regarding what situation warranted a scriptural divorcing—a woman’s committing adultery or a man’s committing adultery? But Jesus speaks of adultery in connection with a woman in Matthew 5:32 and in connection with a man in Matthew 19:9. So in the Christian Greek Scriptures, there is no difference.
The meaning of the verbs moikheuō/moikhaō is clear from their contexts. Both verbs refer to a married person who has sexual relations with another person to whom he or she is not married. As a background for the discussion of porneia below, we note that the nature of the sexual act, and how it is performed is not included in the meaning of the verbs. In the linguistic language, the verbs are generic; they relate to a whole group of similar things (marital unfaithfulness) rather than to any particular act; they are not specific.
The single meaning of porneia and porneuō/ekporneuō
In this section, I will show that porneia is a generic substantive, whose meaning is “sexual immorality.” Just as in the case with moikheuō, no particular actions are included in the meaning of the word. But the word has three references.
The verb porneuō (“commit sexual immorality”) occurs seven times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. One example is 1 Corinthians 10:8:
Neither let us practice sexual immorality (porneuō), as some of them committed sexual immorality (porneuō), only to fall, 23,000 of them in one day.
The Israelites were at the point of entering the promised land. But on the plains of Moab, Moabite women enticed Israelite men to commit sexual immorality and worship idols. In this verse, the verb porneuō is used two times, and the verb has the generic meaning “commit sexual immorality” with no specification of the kinds of sexual relations or acts that occurred. The other six occurrences of the verb have the same generic meaning.
The substantive porneia occurs 25 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. One example is 1 Corinthians 7:2
But because of the prevalence of sexual immorality (porneia), let each man have his own wife and each woman have her own husband.
The point here is that man and woman are created with a sexual drive. God’s law says that sexual relations can only occur inside marriage. Paul shows that if a man has a strong sexual drive, it is good for him to have a wife. If not, he may commit sexual immorality (porneia). The words of Paul show that sexual immorality (porneia) can be committed by unmarried persons of either sex.
We should keep in mind that one meaning of porneia is not “sexual relations between unmarried persons.” The generic or core meaning of porneia is “sexual immorality,” but because sexual immorality can be committed by unmarried persons, this is one reference of porneia.
Another reference to porneia is found in Jude 1:7:
In the same manner, Sod’om and Go·mor’rah and the cities around them also gave themselves over to gross sexual immorality (ekporneuō) and pursued unnatural fleshly desires; they are placed before us as a warning example by undergoing the judicial punishment of everlasting fire.
The NWT13 renders the verb ekporenuō with “gross sexual immorality,” and the reason for the word “gross” may be the preposition ek (“out of”) that is prefixed to porneuō. Such prefixed prepositions often add some force to the verb.
The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were guilty of homosexual actions, and these actions are referred to as “gross sexual immorality.” As shown in the example above with theos (“god”), “the belly” and “humans” are not a part of the definition or meaning of theos. But humans and the belly can be referred to as theos in particular contexts. Similarly, with ekporneuō, the homosexual actions of the Sodomites are not a part of the meaning of the verb. But homosexual actions are referred to as “gross sexual immorality.”
The last reference of Matthew 5:32, as I already have quoted:
However, I say to you that everyone divorcing his wife, except on account of sexual immorality (porneia), makes her a subject for adultery (moikheuō), and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (moikhaō).
The differences of the verb forms moikheuō and moikhaō are dialectal, and the meaning of both is “to commit adultery,” i.e., a married person has sexual relations with another person to whom he or she is not married. This action is referred to as porneia “sexual immorality.”
So again, “adultery” is not one of the meanings of porneia because porneia has only one single meaning, and that is “sexual immorality.” But for a married person to have sexual relations with one to whom he or she is not married is referred to as porneia (“sexual immorality”).
According to 1 Corinthians 6:9, pornos (a person permeated by sexual immorality, porneia) deserves to be disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation. The substantive porneia, and the verbs porneuō and ekporneuō have the single meaning “sexual immorality/to commit sexual immorality.”
Three actions are referred to by these words in the Christian Greek Scriptures, namely, sexual relations between unmarried persons, sexual relations with a married person and another person to whom he or she is not married, and homosexual actions.
If we take the Holy Bible as our sole authority, only the three mentioned actions can be referred to as porneia (“sexual immorality”). As I will show below, the GB has claimed that other actions not denoted in Scripture also can be referred to as “sexual immorality.” But that is a claim that has no basis in the Bible.
“Being one flesh” is the same as sexual intercourse
I have shown that porneia in the Christian Greek Scriptures refers to sexual actions between three kinds of persons, and I have used the phrase “sexual intercourse” in each case. The Britannica Dictionary defines “sexual intercourse” as “sexual activity in which the man puts his penis into the vagina of a woman.” However, the members of the GB claim that porneia includes a number of other things in addition to sexual intercourse. So let us see what we can find in the Scriptures.
The words of Jesus in Matthew 19:5, 6 may illuminate the issue we are discussing:
5 and said: ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh’? 6 So that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has yoked together, let no man put apart.”
The key expression here is “one flesh,” and the study note for 19:5 in the online NWT13 says:
One flesh: The expression is a literal rendering into Greek of the Hebrew term at Ge 2:24 and could also be rendered “one body” or “one person.” It describes the closest bond possible between two humans. It not only refers to sexual relations but extends to the whole relationship, making the two individuals faithful and inseparable companions. Such a union cannot be broken up without damage to the partners bound by it.
These comments are excellent. The phrase “one flesh” refers to sexual intercourse and to the closest possible bond between two persons. On this background, I will discuss the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:16. I give a literal translation of these words.
16 Do you not know that anyone who is gluing together (kollaō) with a prostitute he is one body [with her]? For it is being said “the two to one flesh [will become].” 17 The one who is being glued to the Lord is one spirit [with him].” 18 Flee from sexual immorality (porneia)! Any sin that a man would do is outside the body. But the one who is practicing sexual immorality (porneuō) is sinning against his own body.
The Greek word kollaō has the meaning “stick or cling to something” according to Louw and Nida, and “to glue or weld together,” according to Mounce. It is obvious that “gluing together” with a prostitute does not refer to the closest possible bond between the prostitute and the man. In this verse, the expression “gluing together” and “the two to one flesh will become” can only refer to sexual intercourse, and this is connected with porneia two times in verse 18.
The words of Jesus also confirm that porneia refers to sexual intercourse between persons who are not married to each other. We read in Matthew 5:27, 28, 31, 32:
27 “You heard that it was said: ‘You must not commit adultery (moikheia).’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery (moikheuō) with her in his heart… 31 “Moreover, it was said: ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 However, I say to you that everyone divorcing his wife, except on account of sexual immorality (porneia), makes her a subject for adultery (moikheuō), and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (moikheia).
The noun moikheia means adultery, i.e., a married person has sexual intercourse with a person to whom he or she is not married. The corresponding verb moikheuō has the meaning “to commit adultery.” Verse 32 uses the word porneia with reference to actions of adultery. This shows that moikheia is subsumed under the umbrella term porneia (“sexual immorality”). All actions of moikheia are porneia. But all actions of porneia are not moikheia — only sexual intercourse by a married person with one to whom he or she is not married is moikheia.
It is clear that both “adultery” moikheia (“adultery”) and porneia (sexual immorality) in Matthew 5:27, 28, 31, 32 only refer to sexual intercourse and not to other sexual actions because no other sexual actions are mentioned in the Christian Greek Scriptures. That porneia only refers to sexual intercourse is confirmed by the study note to Matthew 5:32 in the online NWT13:
Sexual immorality: The Greek word por·nei’a is a general term for all sexual intercourse that is unlawful according to the Bible. It includes adultery, prostitution, sexual relations between unmarried individuals, homosexuality, and bestiality.
Because the first part of the quotation says that porneia is “sexual intercourse,” the word “prostitution” must only include sexual intercourse with a prostitute.
When Jesus said in Matthew 5:27, “You heard that it was said: ‘You must not commit adultery (moikheia),’ this did not mean that sexual relations under the law of Moses should only occur between a man and his single wife. In Israel, polygamy was allowed. And the commandment in Exodus 20:14 said that a man could only have sexual relations with one or more women to whom he was married. In this way, children would be born inside wedlock. But in Matthew 19:3-7, Jesus introduced the new Christian view that a man or a woman could have only one spouse with whom he or she could have sexual relations.
The conclusion of the discussion above is that the word porneia (“sexual immorality”) as it is used in the Christian Greek Scriptures, only refers to sexual intercourse between one who is married and another person, between unmarried persons, and between homosexuals. All other sexual actions between persons who are not married to each other are morally wrong. But they are not included in the word porneia, and they are not disfellowshipping offenses according to the Scriptures. When the members of the Governing have added new definitions to the word porneia in addition to sexual intercourse, they have added something to the holy Scriptures and put a burden on the shoulders of Christians that is unbiblical.
AN ANALYSIS OF THE DEFINITIONS OF PORNEIA IN THE SHEPHERD BOOK
Dissolving the marriage and disfellowshipping are very serious actions. Therefore, we need to know exactly how Jehovah God views these actions. The only source of God’s thoughts is the Holy Bible, and I will now scrutinize the definition of porneia (”sexual immorality”) in the Shepherd book in the light of the Bible. The following definition is given in chapter 12, point 3:
Por·nei’a involved immoral use of the genitals, whether in a natural or in a perverted way. There must have been another party to the immorality — a human of either sex or a beast…it includes oral sex, anal sex, and manipulation of the genitals between individuals not married to each other… Por·nei’a does not require skin-to-skin contact, copulation (as in penetration), or sexual climax.
The Watchtower of January 1, 1972, page 3, has a much narrower definition:
On the basis of the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus pointed out that a man and his wife became “one flesh,” and then added: “What God has yoked together let no man put apart.” (Matt. 19:5, 6) Now, in homosexual acts the sex organs are used in an unnatural way, in a way for which they were never purposed. Two persons of the same sex are not complements of each other, as Adam and Eve were. They could never become “one flesh” in order to procreate. It might be added, in the case of human copulation with a beast, two different kinds of flesh are involved.
As I have shown above, in the Christian Greek Scriptures, porneia (“sexual immorality”) has the only meaning of “sexual intercourse” but three different references. By following the way from the narrow definition in 1972 to the wide definition in the 2019 quotations, we may learn something about Jehovah’s thoughts.
Porneia and the procreation of children
In 1972, the view was that porneia included an action where a married person became “one flesh” with a person to whom he or she was not married, i.e., the reference was to sexual intecourse. What was important in this situation?
One of the ten commandments was, “You must not commit adultery?” (Exodus 20:14) This commandment allowed sexual relations between a man and more than one woman. But the requirement was that the man must be married to the women with whom he had sexual relations.
Jesus implied that a Jew could have more than one wife and that he could divorce a wife albeit “out of regards for your hardheartedness.” (Matthew 19:8) But now this situation would be changed. The important point was not the sexual relations a man had with more than one woman. But the important point was marriage as a protection for the children that would be born into such a union. What can we learn from this?
We can answer this question with a modern example. Why do the Christian Greek Scriptures stress marriage? In our modern world, more persons live together with a partner to whom he or she is not married than those who live in wedlock. For example, some unmarried couples have written detailed contracts in connection with the rights of each partner, and with a number of things in connection with ownership and inheritance.
Thus, their relationship is legally regulated and is very similar to a marriage. Why cannot Christians accept such a close and legal relationship as comparable and acceptable as a marriage? There is one important difference between the mentioned relationships and marriage. The two partners have not bound themselves to each other for their entire lives. But each partner can just walk away and leave the other without taking any legal steps as is necessary to terminate a marriage.
And the important point here is the children. The will of Jehovah God is that when children are born, they must grow up in the right environment with two parents that love them and have committed themselves to each other and who will not leave each other. So the basic reason why porneia (sexual immorality”) is bad in God’s eyes is the possibility of procreating and bringing children into a substandard environment. And that was also the reason why sexual relations with more than one woman were allowed in Israel—it took place within the protective parameters of a binding marriage.
The points above are indirectly supported by The Watchtower of January 1972, where we read:
It is broken only by acts that make an individual “one flesh” with a person of the opposite sex other than his or her legal marriage mate.
The view expressed here is that the only meaning of the word porneia is that a married person becomes “one flesh” with one of the opposite sex to whom he or she was not married or that two unmarried persons become one flesh with each other. In other words, porneia only refers to sexual intercourse (becoming one flesh) with a person to whom he or she is not married. This is the only reference of porneia in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Only by becoming “one flesh” can children be procreated by sexual intercourse. Homosexual sexual intercourse is included as a references of porneia; it mimics sexual intercourse between heterophile persons.
|The word porneia means “sexual immorality” and does not refer to any particular action. In Christian Greek Scriptures porneia only refers to sexual intercourse between a married person and another person to whom he or she is not married, sexual intercourse between unmarried persons, and sexual intercourse between homosexuals. The view of the Governing Body that other sexual actions than intercourse are included in the word porneia has no basis in the Scriptures.|
Homosexuality, bestiality, manipulation of other’s genitals, and porneia without skin-to-skin contact
For 27 years after World War II, the only definition of porneia was heterosexual intercourse with someone to whom a person was not married. In the latter part of 1972, homosexual acts were also defined as porneia, and in 1983, sexual relations between a human and a beast was also defined as porneia.
Homosexuals cannot procreate children. So, if the original basis for the law against porneia was that by becoming “one flesh” with a person of the other sex, children can be procreated, why does porneia also refer to homosexual acts? This is a logical question, and therefore, I perfectly understand the reasoning of the leading brothers in January of 1972 who did not initially view homosexual acts as being included in porneia, and therefore as reasons for divorce.
However, Jude refers to the homosexual actions of the people in Sodom and Gomorrah as “sexual immorality” (porneia). Jude was inspired by God’s spirit, and therefore we must accept that homosexual acts together with adultery and sexual relations between unmarried persons can be referred to as “sexual immorality.”
One possible explanation for the reference to homosexual actions as “sexual immorality” may be that male homosexuals mimic the way heterosexuals act in order to procreate children. And the recent strides in the homosexual community to categorize such unscriptural unions as legalized “marriages” and to adopt children show just how far the parallel has been taken. The Creator intended for children to be raised by a male father and a female mother—not two fathers or two mothers. Therefore, homosexuality has in many ways disrupted the environment Jehovah meant children to be raised in by conceptually mimicking the “one flesh” bond of divine marriage. So even if they cannot procreate children in this way, their actions are disgusting and immoral in the eyes of God. But the really important point is that the inspired writer Jude referred to homosexual actions as “sexual immorality.”
What can we say about bestiality, that is, a human having sex with an animal? To answer this, I will return to the difference between a generic and a specific noun. A generic noun refers to a group or a class as a whole, but a specific noun refers to one or more individuals inside a class or group.
The Watchtower publication does not discuss bestiality from the Christian point of view before 1969. The lexicon Aid To Bible Understanding, page 217, says that bestiality is not included in porneia and is not a reason for divorce. But bestiality is a disfellowshipping offense.
Insight on the Scriptures I, 1988, page 292, has about the same description of bestiality as the Aid-book has. But Insight includes bestiality in porneia:
Unnatural sexual intercourse of a man or a woman with an animal. The Mosaic Law emphatically condemned this perverted practice, sentencing the guilty person and the beast to death. “Where a man gives his seminal emission to a beast, he should be put to death without fail, and you should kill the beast. And where a woman approaches any beast to have a connection with it, you must kill the woman and the beast.”—Le 20:15, 16; 18:23; Ex 22:19; De 27:21…
The depraved practice of bestiality is included in the Greek word por·neiʹa that is rendered “fornication.” (See FORNICATION.) Anyone indulging in such filthy practice is morally unclean, and if a member of the Christian congregation was to indulge in such a practice, that one would be subject to disfellowshipping.—Eph 5:3; Col 3:5, 6.
Apart from Insight, bestiality is only discussed one time in the Watchtower literature between 1985 and 2021.
I do not deny that bestiality represents perverted and disgusting actions. But because I believe in the Bible as the sole authority for faith and worship, and God’s word does not say that bestiality is a reference of porneia or is a disfellowshipping offense, I cannot accept the conclusion of Insight. But what about the fact that persons who engaged in bestiality were put to death in Israel; does that not strongly suggest that under the Christian arrangement a disfellowshipping for such is in order? It should be noted that there were many things that called for the death penalty under the Mosaic Law that would not be considered as disfellowshipping offenses today. For example, Numbers 15:32-35 presents a situation where a man collects wood on the Sabbath. Jehovah decreed that such a man “should be put to death without fail”. The Watchtower of September 1998, page 20, summarized how this account can be applied today,
This article shows that ‘setting Christian priorities’ can be likened to keeping the Sabbath back in ancient Israel. But would anyone reason that because not keeping the Sabbath called for the death penalty in ancient Israel that its equivalent today of neglecting spiritual priorities must be a disfellowshipping offense? Of course not. Clearly, the death penalty under the Mosaic Law cannot be used as a signaling criterion for what should be a disfellowshipping offense under the Christian arrangement. Therefore, ‘in the absence of clear scriptural instruction,’ bestiality as a reference of porneia and a disfellowshipping offense is made up and invented by the GB.
Manipulation of the genitals of a person with whom one is not married
While discussing this point, I will refer to the arguments in The Watchtower of January 1, 1972, page 31, that adultery meant to become “one flesh” by sexual intercourse with a person of the opposite sex with whom the person is not married.
However, The Watchtower of March 15, 1983, page 30, says:
And the Jerusalem governing body’s edict at Acts 15:29, “to keep abstaining . . . from fornication,” must be understood to have the wide field of application. So, then, “fornication” in the broad sense, and as used at Matthew 5:32 and Mt 19:9, evidently refers to a broad range of unlawful or illicit sex relations outside marriage. Porneia involves the grossly immoral use of the genital organ(s) of at least one human (whether in a natural or a perverted way); also, there must have been another party to the immorality—a human of either sex, or a beast.
The view that manipulation of another person’s genital organs is porneia (sexual immorality) is pulled out of thin air. I have already shown that porneia is a generic substantive with the single meaning “sexual immorality.”
I have also pointed out that Greek-English lexicons include glosses both from Classical Greek and from the Christian Greek Scriptures and the references of porneia in Classical Greek often are different from the references in the Christian Greek Scriptures.
This means that the only way that Christians can find the meaning and references of porneia is to look at its contexts in God’s word. And nowhere in the Christian Greek Scriptures do we find that “grossly immoral use of the genital organs” of another person is referred to as porneia.
The fact that manipulation of another person’s genitals was not viewed as porneia for 38 years, from 1945 to 1983, supports the fact that this disfellowshipping offense is made up and invented by the GB.
Porneia without skin-to skin-contact
This viewpoint is very far from the viewpoint in 1972 that adultery is sexual intercourse between a married person and one to whom he or she is not married. And the viewpoint is extreme. The Watchtower of November 2018, page 27, says:
Lap dancing is defined as “an activity in which a usually seminude performer sits and gyrates on the lap of a customer.” Depending on the facts of an actual situation, this could constitute sexual immorality requiring judicial action. A Christian who has taken part in such activity should seek help from the elders.—Jas. 5:14, 15.
Porneia without skin-to-skin contact means that a person is fully or partially clothed, and his or her hands are not manipulating the genitals of another person. But still, a disfellowshipping offense is indicated, according to the GB. This is the same as making a caricature of God’s moral laws.
THE HANDLING OF JUDICIAL CASES OF ACTIONS VIEWED AS PORNEIA
There are several problems in the handling of cases regarding actions viewed as sexual immorality (porneia), as well as in many other cases.
The elders do not have the biblical authority to interrogate members of the congregation
James 5:14-16 says that if a Christian is spiritually sick, “Let him call the elders of the congregation to him.” The elders will help the sick brother or sister to become well. No place in the Christian Greek Scriptures do we read that the elders have the right to ask a member of the congregation questions about whether he or she has violated God’s law, and they absolutely do not have the right to interrogate him or her, which often is necessary to find out if the person has committed an act of sexual immorality (porneia), as it is defined by the GB.
In order to understand what really happened, in judicial cases, a barrage of questions is often needed. This is so because the extended definitions of porneia are to a great extent ambiguous. The most important issue for the elders is whether the person has repented. The Shepherd book has a list of nine indications of repentance, and questions must be asked in connection with these. Moreover, there are also several points mentioned that may suggest a lack of repentance. And questions must also be asked in connection with these.
A judicial hearing, therefore, will consist of the interrogation of the wrongdoer. And this is not authorized anywhere in the Christian Greek Scriptures.
Most elders are not qualified to judge others
The book God’s Kingdom Rules!, page 144, says: “Christian elders are carefully trained to care for judicial matters in Jehovah’s way.” This is simply not true! About 30 years ago, there was a course for elders where all the different aspects of a judicial hearing were discussed in detail. Since then, the elders have attended courses approximately two days per year. Judicial matters have occasionally been mentioned in these courses. But no education of elders in handling judicial cases has occurred. Only two articles dealing with the issue have appeared in the Watchtower literature over the past 30 years. So the elders in no way have been “carefully trained” on how to handle judicial cases.
When “serious wrongdoing” occurs, the body of elders decides which three elders will handle the case. But almost no elder is trained for being a judge. The Shepherd book, chapter 15, point 4, says regarding the handling of judicial cases:
PREPARING THE MIND AND HEART TO JUDGE
Each time an elder serves on a judicial committee, he should first review chapters 12, 15, and 16 in this publication.
The chapters are entitled: “Determining whether a judicial committee should be formed.” (12); “Preparing for judicial hearings.” (15); “Procedure for judicial hearings.” (16) The stated goal of the members of the committee is to restore the wrongdoer to spiritual health. Chapter 16 in the Shepherd book has several good points in connection with the restoration of the wrongdoer. But it also has some points that lead us in the opposite direction, as I will show below.
It is not possible to read in a book how to treat humans in a tense situation and how to interpret the different reactions of a person when he or she is confronted with some kind of wrongdoing. Some cases are also rather complicated, and inexperienced elders can make several unbalanced decisions in such cases.
So the lack of training of elders who are members of a judicial committee is a problem for the legal security of the members of the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Wicked actions are wrongly judged instead of wicked personalities
The Shepherd book lists particular actions as disfellowshipping offenses. This is misleading because Paul, in his discussion of disfellowshipping in 1 Corinthians chapters 5 and 6, uses substantives and not verbs. What does that mean? When actions are described, verbs are used. But substantives describe what something is, the nature of things, and the character or personality of humans. The substantives used by Paul function as “agent nouns” (nomen agentis). Wikipedia says:
In linguistics, an agent noun (in Latin, nomen agentis) is a word that is derived from another word denoting an action, and that identifies an entity that does that action. For example, “driver” is an agent noun formed from the verb “drive.”
Examples of other agent nouns are “speaker” from “speak” and “rider” from “ride.” The agent nouns may refer to an occupation or a characteristic. For example, the Greek word alieus (“fisherman”) comes from the verb alieuō (“to fish”), and hiereus (“priest”) comes from the verb hierateuō (“to serve as a priest”). A fisherman is not a person who has been fishing three times, and a priest is not a person who has visited the temple a few times. Both alieus and hiereus show what the persons are. And similarly, the words in 1 Corinthians 6:10 show what the persons are, i.e. what they have become, their personalities.
We may use John 12:6 as an example. The text says that Judas was a thief because he used to steal the money that was put in the money box. Thus, a thief is a person who is permeated by thievery, an incorrigible stealer.
In connection with wrongdoing and judicial cases, the fact that disfellowshipping is connected with substantives and not with verbs is very important. It means that a person who is guilty of sexual immorality (porneia) because he has had sexual relations with someone to whom he or she is not married is not liable for disfellowshipping if he has done this one, two, or a few times. But Paul’s words show explicitly that only when he is permeated by sexual immorality, one whose personality or moral character has become sexually immoral, then he is liable for disfellowshipping.
The problem in connection with judicial cases is that the elders have not been taught the difference between actions (verbs) and personalities (substantives), simply because the members of the GB have never understood this distinction. And therefore, they deal with the actions of those who are summoned to the judicial hearing. And the focus is often: How many times has the wrongdoing occurred, one, two, or three times? And a person who has had a sexual relationship three or more times will, in most cases, be automatically disfellowshipped.
“An unfavorable judgment in the absence of full evidence” instead of “A favorable judgment in the absence of full evidence”
Do the judicial committees in the congregations of JW give the wrongdoer legal security? The courts of democratic nations follow the principle that the accused person is given the benefit of doubt. In other words, the accused person is innocent until proven guilty, and not the other way around. This means that the accused person does not have to prove that he is innocent. But the court must prove that he is guilty. In the judicial system of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the principle of the benefit of doubt is turned on its head. The accused is often presumed guilty, walking in the door, until evidence can be presented to alter that bias on the part of the elders. That is why the committee appointed to hear such evidence is called, not a “Hearings Committee,” or “Assessing Committee,” or even a “Restoring Committee,” but rather, a “Judicial Committee” because the presumption, going in, is one of guilt. And the real possibility of a disfellowshipping looms at such meetings. Even when the accused is sure he or she is repentant, most appear before a Judicial Committee believing there is still a 50/50 chance they will be disfellowshipped. Unfortunately, such beliefs are not without merit.
In contrast to judicial security, the wrongdoer must prove that he is innocent
After the elders of the committee believe they have a clear picture of the wrongdoing, the important question they will consider is whether the wrongdoer has repented. Therefore, they ask him about that. The person may indicate that he does not repent, and therefore, he will be disfellowshipped. But my experience is that in most cases, the wrongdoer says that he regrets what he has done and that he has repented. What will that mean?
A disfellowshipping offense has two factors in the judicial committee, the wrongdoing and the lack of repentance. If the wrongdoer has repented, he should not be disfellowshipped in this case. But if he has not repented, he should be put out, according to the Shepherd book.
When the wrongdoer says that he has repented, must he prove his repentance, and by this prove that he should not be thrown out of the congregation? Or is the burden of proof on the part of the committee to prove that he has not repented and so deserves to be disfellowshipped? If there is uncertainty, will the brother who says he has repented, be given the benefit of doubt? For the members of most judicial committees, the answer is No, as the Shepherd book, chapter 16, point 13 shows:
If the extent of the wrongdoer’s repentance is unclear, the committee should invite him back into the room for further discussion. They should use God’s Word to help him understand why his conduct was wrong and how it has affected his relationship with Jehovah and the congregation. It is possible that even as late as the judicial hearing, he will demonstrate repentance to the point that mercy may be warranted. In most cases, the individual will show some repentance, but is it consummate with the degree of wrongdoing? The judicial committee needs to be modest and keep in mind that if the wrongdoer has demonstrated few or no works of repentance before the judicial hearing is held, it may not be possible during the hearing to move him to demonstrate sufficient repentance to justify extending mercy. Even if it is determined that he must be disfellowshipped, their efforts to lead him to repentance may help him making straight paths for his feet and work toward reinstatement. (Heb. 12:13)
There are two worrisome points in this quotation, 1) The wrongdoer has the almost impossible task of proving that he is innocent (that he repents of the wrongdoing) by showing “works of repentance,” and 2) the members of the committee will evaluate the degree of repentance. Chapter 16, point 7, supports 2) by saying, “The committee must be convinced that the wrongdoer has a changed heart condition” (italics mine). This means that genuine repentance on the part of the accused is not really relevant and not the deciding factor in disfellowshipping, but the subjective viewpoints of the elders’ convictions that he is repentant is what counts. If they are not “convinced” he is repentant, even if he is, they will likely disfellowship him anyway.
The Christian Greek Scriptures show that persons who repent of their sins and become Christians have “works that benefit repentance.” (Acts 26:20) And when the members of the committee see that a person has taken steps to avoid wrongdoing, that is taken as evidence of repentance. But consider the two following situations:
Two young members of a congregation have been dating, and over two months, they have had sexual intercourse three times. The sister decides on her own to tell the elders about this, and the brother is summoned to a judicial committee. He says that he regrets his actions and he will not do that again. But because he did not know the sister had confessed to the elders and, therefore, was suddenly confronted with his wrongdoing, he cannot have any “works of repentance” to speak of.
Will he get a favorable or unfavorable judgment in view of the lack of evidence of works? Because “works of repentance” are a requirement according to the Shepherd book, and because the committee “must be convinced” of his repentance, most committees would default to an unfavorable judgment and disfellowship the Witness.
In order the give every Witness legal security by giving him or her the benefit of doubt, I would have changed the requirement from “being convinced that he has repented” to “being convinced that he has not repented.” In other words, if the committee sees clear evidence that he has not repented, he should be disfellowshipped. If the committee, on the other hand, does not see clear evidence that he has repented but he says that he has, he should not be disfellowshipped.
I will use the two young people as an example again. But this time the two had sexual intercourse many times during a period of six months. What would happen to the brother and the sister? Chapter 16, point 9 says:
The judicial committee should be very concerned about keeping the congregation clean and the need to exercise particular care if the wrongdoer has secretly carried on gross sin over a long period. In such cases, an individual might not be able to demonstrate sufficient repentance to the committee at the hearing. If so, he must be disfellowshipped, allowing time to pass for him to prove his repentance.
Because of this example in the Shepherd book and because they had practiced the wrongdoing over several months, most judicial committees would automatically disfellowship both of them. What the quotation says is that instead of accepting his claim of repentance by giving him the chance to show his works of repentance while he is still a member of the congregation, he will be disfellowshipped. And in that disfellowshipped state, he must produce the same works of repentance he could have produced had he been allowed to remain a member of the congregation. It appears then, that in the GB’s view, the only opportunity for producing “works of repentance” is while in a disfellowshipped state. Only after that, can such a one be reinstated in the congregation.
There are a great number of situations where the wrongdoer has little opportunity to have or produce “works that befit repentance” before the judicial hearing. And in most of these cases, the wrongdoer would be disfellowshipped when he cannot prove his innocence, i.e., when he cannot prove that he has repented.
As I have suggested earlier, legal security would allow the accused time, while remaining a member of the congregation, to produce works of repentance. If such works are not produced over a reasonable period of time, the elders can always follow through on the disfellowshipping having established that the wrongdoer is not repentant.
The unbiblical expression “degree of repentance” is applied
The second problem mentioned above is that the members of the judicial committee will evaluate the “degree of repentance.” What does that mean? Insight on the Scriptures II, page 771 says:
Similarly, the extent to which the person deviates from righteousness may be major or minor, and logically the degree of regret ought to be commensurate with the degree of deviation.
This is a strange expression, and it is not logical at all to my mind. If a Christian does something that is wrong in God’s eyes, he either feels regrets over what he has done and repents by changing his course, or he does not feel regret and repents.
That the elders in the judicial committee should be charged with considering whether the regret and repentance that a person expresses are to the proper degree moves the situation into the metaphysical realm. It is impossible for the elders to read the mind and heart of a wrongdoer. Thus, the degree of repentance and remorse that the members of the judicial committee are directed to measure is yet another step away from the legal security that is due to the wrongdoer.
The elders are admonished to treat all persons with dignity, including wrongdoers at judicial hearings. But if elders must assess his “degree of repentance,” that would require a lot of penetrating personal questions that would take away his dignity. Conversely, if the elders accepted the wrongdoer’s word that he had repented when there is no clear evidence indicating otherwise, that would help the person to maintain his self-respect.
The wrongdoer is not “innocent until proven guilty” but “guilty until proven innocent”
As shown above, Witnesses who commit a serious sin one, two, or a few times are not persons whose personality or moral character is necessarily wicked. But my example about two young unmarried persons who had sexual intercourse many times during six months may or may not be an example of persons with a wicked personality. Chapter 16, point 9, which is quoted above, refers to a situation where “the wrongdoer has secretly carried on gross sin over a long period,” and this is the case with the mentioned unmarried young persons.
Some years ago, at a meeting for elders at a circuit assembly, a similar situation as the one mentioned in point 9 was discussed in more detail. We were informed that the judicial committee did not disfellowship the person who had practiced wrongdoing for a long time. And the conclusion was that he should have been disfellowshipped.
This example is problematic for several reasons. First, we elders at the meeting did not know all the details of the situation. Second, we were told that because the sin had been practiced over a long period of time, there could be no possibility of remorse and repentance. Third, the elders would naturally take the stated findings of this example to heart and apply them to similar future situations. However, the circumstances of wrongdoing in different situations are equally different. Therefore, to use the predetermined conclusions presented at the mentioned meeting as a template for deciding situations reminiscent of this one is to threaten the legal security of the Witnesses.
When a sin is practiced over a long time, the conscience may be hardened, and remorse and repentance can be difficult. But there can be exceptions. A young couple may commit a sin, and they feel ashamed. After some time, they commit the sin again, and then a third time. Both may now feel that they have gone too far and there is no hope anymore. And so, overwhelmed and ashamed, they give up and shift their focus elsewhere, away from the realities of their situation, and thus, as if on autopilot, continue with the sin.
But suddenly, he is confronted by others, and because of this, he is jolted back to reality and the ramifications of his sinful course. In some cases, this may lead to remorse and repentance. But even this possibility is almost eliminated by the GB—by the information at the mentioned meeting for elders and by chapter 16, point 9 above.
The view of the GB is: A person who has “carried on gross sin over a long period” should be disfellowshipped. And “time must pass for him to prove his repentance.” However, this viewpoint and procedure turns the matter of repentance and “works of repentance” on its head, and has no direct basis in God’s Word. The Bible does not say that punishment and shunning will help a person repent. But Romans 2:4 (NIV) says:
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?
Paul speaks about God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience, and in the last sentence, “God’s kindness” is the subject, “leads” is the verbal, “you” is the object, and “toward repentance” is the adverbial.
Based on the mentioned excellent attributes of God, my view is as follows: Regardless of the nature of the wrongdoing and how long it has occurred, in every case when a wrongdoer says that he feels remorse and has repented, I would let him continue to be a part of the congregation, so I and the other elders could see if God’s kindness would help him to do “works that befit repentance.” If he does not do such works and continues with his wrongdoing, then he would be disfellowshipped.
The advantage of this procedure is that it gives the Witness legal security. If a Witness is disfellowshipped for carrying on wrongdoing for a long time, despite his assertion that he feels remorse and has repented, this means, in reality, that the Witness must prove that he is innocent. However, if we accept the words of the Witness and defer disfellowshipping until there is real evidence justifying it, and he continues with his wrongdoing, we have proven that he is guilty. So, the requirements of his legal security are fulfilled.
Interestingly, it is the scenario that I have just presented, and not the Judicial Committee arrangement, that matches the situation presented in James 5:14, 15. That scripture says:
14 Is there anyone sick among you? Let him call the elders of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, applying oil to him in the name of Jehovah. 15 And the prayer of faith will make the sick one well, and Jehovah will raise him up. Also, if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
Note the Scriptures’ inherent application of legal security in connection with Christians who become spiritually ill, as follows: 1) It is the Christian who calls the elders whenever he is ready to do so. 2) The elders do not first form a tribunal to interrogate and determine if the Christian is sincerely repentant before administering help. 3) The spiritually sick Christian, or wrongdoer, is taken at his word that he is repentant and help is automatically given, without question. 4) Forgiveness is guaranteed on the good-faith claims of the sick one.
It should be noted that James 5:14, 15 is the go-to-scripture repeatedly referenced in almost all GB publications as the primary justification for the existence of Judicial Committees. However, as I have just demonstrated, the words of James 5:14, 15 are an utter contradiction of that arrangement as it is currently administered among JW today. No matter how many times the GB references James chapter 5 in support of the current practice of automatically forming Judicial Committees whenever wrongdoing occurs, such committees and their procedures simply do not line up with the words or spirit of that scripture. Indeed, James chapter 5 does not even hint of a tribunal-type meeting to cross-examine sinners prior to granting the help described therein. Rather, it describes an elders’ meeting where the sick one is taken at his word and immediately granted spiritual help, a meeting that punctuates God’s kindness in accepting the repentance of a wrongdoer, a meeting where an almost guaranteed outcome of healing and forgiveness is to be expected.
The expression “God’s Word” is used when “the human commandments of the GB” are meant
I will return to chapter 16, point 13, where we read:
If the extent of the wrongdoer’s repentance is unclear, the committee should invite him back into the room for further discussion. They should use God’s Word to help him understand why his conduct was wrong and how it has affected his relationship with Jehovah and the congregation.
The admonition to use “God’s Word” to help the wrongdoer understand why his conduct is wrong is twisted advice. The reason I say that is that 35 of the 46 disfellowshipping offenses listed in the Shepherd book are made up and invented by the GB and have no basis in “God’s Word” the Bible.
How can we, by the use of God’s Word, prove to a Witness that his conduct is a disfellowshipping offense when God’s Word does not say that it is? Even when God’s Word lists a certain wrongdoing by which a person is permeated as a disfellowshipping offense, the GB has often extended the definition of this action far beyond what God’s Word actually says — as in the case of porneia.
How can we, for example, by the use of God’s Word show that a lap dance, or the manipulation of the genitals of another person, or bestiality, are included in the concept porneia, when the Christian Greek Scriptures do not say anything about these actions? These are human commandments that are made up and introduced by the GB. So, “God’s Word” in the quotation should be substituted with “the human commandments of the GB.”
The elders of the judicial committee handle the case on the basis of the words of the Shepherd book and articles in the Watchtower literature that discuss the issue that is considered. Because the three mentioned actions are not mentioned in the Bible, the elders must twist some scriptures in pretzel-like fashion, reading into them something that is not there in order to give the appearance of ‘using God’s Word’ to help the person understand that his actions are wrong. But this is, in reality, an abuse of God’s Word.
. The Watchtower of January 1, 1995, and November 2017.
. The disfellowshipping offense consists of two elements, the wrongdoing and no regrets and repentance. The wrongdoing is in most cases clear, but the issue is repentance or not. When he says that he regrets what he has done and has repented, this is in many cases not enough. But he must prove that this is true. This means that he must prove that he is innocent of the disfellowshipping offense. And this is against the judicial principle that a person is innocent until he is proven guilty.
The true regime of disfellowshipping
In the section above, the procedures of judicial cases according to the Shepherd book have been studied and criticized. However, all these procedures are made by the members of the GB, and they do not take into account the way Paul presents disfellowshipping in 1 Corinthians chapters 5 and 6.
Paul shows that only persons who are permeated by one of the 11 offenses mentioned as disfellowshipping offenses in the Christian Greek Scriptures must appear before a judicial committee. This means that every side of the present procedure of the handling of judicial cases is wrong. Persons who have violated one of the 37 disfellowshipping offenses invented by the GB should never appear before a judicial committee. Persons who have violated one of the 11 biblical disfellowshipping offenses one er several times should never appear before a judicial committee. The requirements of expressing remorse and having “works that befit repentance” in order not to be disfellowshipped are not based on the Christian Greek Scriptures. (Acts 26:20 has nothing to do with judicial cases.) That elders shall evaluate the degree of repentance of a sinner and that they, as the Shepherd book says, must be convinced that the wrongdoer has a changed heart condition have no basis in the Christian Greek Scriptures.
The situation described by Paul is very simple. If there is clear evidence that a member of the congregation is permeated by one of the 11 disfellowshipping offenses mentioned in the Christian Greek Scriptures, a judicial committee shall be formed. And there is only one question to consider: Is the person still practicing the wicked actions? In that case, the person must be disfellowshipped. Because Paul uses substantives that serve as nomen agentis (agent nouns), only persons who at the time of the judicial hearing is practicing the wicked actions will be disfellowshipped. If the person has practiced the wicked actions for a short or a long time but says that he has stopped with that, he will not be disfellowshipped. This is so because only persons who at present are permeated with wicked actions must be disfellowshipped according to Paul.
This means that there is no need for subjective considerations regarding the attitude of a person, considering his degree of repentance, or the use of the gut feelings of the elders. The situation is not subjective but clearly objective. Does the person still practice the wicked actions or has he stopped doing that? It is obvious that if Paul’s words are taken at face value and only those who at present are wicked are considered for disfellowshipping, judicial cases would be reduced to just a small fraction of the number of cases today.
But if wrongdoings by the members of the congregations are not considered and judged by judicial committees, as is the procedure today, will that not prevent keeping the organization clean? Today, the organization already is unclean because of all the unbiblical decisions made by the members of the GB. When tens of thousands of Witnesses are disfellowshipped because of human commandments, and when the faith of the Witnesses in the Bible as God’s inspired word is weakened when the members of the GB say that we cannot take all the words of Jesus Christ at face value, then the organization already is unclean.
But will not the congregations become even more unclean if judicial committees are not formed when witnesses are guilty of sexual immorality or other sins mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians chapters 5 and 6? The answer is No because Jehovah already has the arrangement to handle such situations, as we see in James 5:14-20:
14 Is there anyone sick among you? Let him call the elders of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, applying oil to him in the name of Jehovah. 15 And the prayer of faith will make the sick one well, and Jehovah will raise him up. Also, if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.16 Therefore, openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. A righteous man’s supplication has a powerful effect. 17 E·liʹjah was a man with feelings like ours, and yet when he prayed earnestly for it not to rain, it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the land produced fruit. 19 My brothers, if anyone among you is led astray from the truth and another turns him back,20 know that whoever turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save him from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
These verses are analyzed in detail in my book My Beloved Religion — And The Governing Body revised edition, pages 295-300, and chapters 5 an 6 discuss what the bible says about disfellowshipping in detail. The expression “is led away from the truth” in verse 19 shows that James had serious sins in mind. So, when someone makes a serious sin once or several times, the elders will help the person and pray for him and not interrogate him in a meeting of a judicial committee. In this way, those who commit serious sins will be helped instead of being disfellowshipped from the congregation. In this way, the congregations are kept clean,
The journey through the Watchtower literature dealing with sexual immorality has been a strange one. I have seen the blatant misuse of the text of the Bible and of arbitrary definitions of Greek words. I have seen how the leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have callously ignored how their interpretations have caused great problems for families, husbands, wives, and children.
And what is particularly disturbing is the complete lack of scholarly expertise in the way the leaders of JW have treated the Greek word porneia (“sexual immorality”) and other Greek words such as aselgeia (“unrestrained lust”) and akatharsia (“uncleanness”). The lack of scholarly expertise has been particularly startling in the 21st century.
The introduction of porneia-inside-marriage in 1974 was a grave error that caused enormous problems for many families. This view was reversed in 1978 in a balanced article, and it was shown that marital intimacies fell outside of the purview of the elders and even the GB, and were only for the married couples to decide.
In 1983, however, there was a partial reversal of the reversal of 1978. Now marital intimacies were again the responsibility of the GB and the elders to decide. For example, oral and anal sex inside marriage was not porneia, but persons could still be disfellowshipped for doing that.
The word porneia is not a specific but a generic word meaning “sexual immorality.” The Christian Greek Scriptures has three references, 1) sexual intercourse between a married person and one to whom he or she is not married, 2) sexual intercourse between unmarried persons, and 3) sexual intercourse between homosexuals.
In 1983, bestiality and fondling of the genitals of a person to whom one is not married were included in porneia, and in 2018, “sexual immorality” without skin-to-skin contact was added to the definition. The three additions are human commandments without any basis in the Bible.
The second and third sections of this article show what I mean by the “complete lack of scholarly expertise.” These sections apply the principles of lexical semantics (the meaning of words) to the substantive porneia and other words. How we can ascertain the meaning and references of porneia is described in detail. But evidently, the leaders of JW who have written about porneia (“sexual immorality”) had no concept of the principles of lexical semantics.
The fourth section discusses the weaknesses in the handling of judicial cases. In democratic nations, the judicial principle is that a person is innocent until he is proven guilty. But in many judicial cases in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a person is viewed as guilty until he has proven that he is innocent. This shows that the Witness who is accused of wrongdoing does not have real judicial security.
I have shown that the whole procedure of judicial cases among JW today is wrong and contrary to Paul’s words to the Corinthians. Only persons who at present are permeated by one of the 11 Scriptural disfellowshipping offenses must be disfellowshipped. If a person stops with his wrong actions, he should not be disfellowshipped regardless of whether he has practiced his wrong actions for a long or short period.
In some instances, a biblical scripture in times becomes understood in a better way; the light becomes clearer. But the treatment of the concept “sexual immorality” in no way can be said to represent increased light. The understanding of the meaning and references of porneia has developed in a zig-zag pattern, back and forth. This has not resulted of a better understanding of particular scriptures in the Bible. But it has been caused by the ever-shifting viewpoints of humans who believe that they have the right to make decisions that are binding for all Jehovah’s Witnesses.