Another example of how proper understanding of porneia results in decreased confusion is found in 1 Thessalonians at the beginning of chapter 4. Please keep the context of the preceding teachings in mind. I will not review them in this essay, but the serious student will.
Here is the text from the Literal Standard Version, this version chosen simply as an example:
for this is the will of God—your sanctification: that you abstain from the whoredom, 4that each of you know to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5not in the affection of desire, as also the nations that were not knowing God, 6that no one goes beyond and defrauds his brother in the matter, because the LORD [is] an avenger of all these, as we also spoke to you before and testified, 7for God did not call us to uncleanness, but in sanctification. 8He, therefore, who is despising, does not despise man, but God, who also gave His Holy Spirit to us.
To pursue understanding it is always of primary importance to understand words. We will define some words whose definitions might have evolved to some extent.
Sanctification – the process of being made holy, which can only be understood when the word “holy” is understood: Holy – set apart, different, unlike other common things. When used of God Most High, this word conveys a very important concept that he is not like anything else that can be known. When used of his church, the word describes the group of individuals that make up the body of the Christ, it describes our alignment, our integration, our changed existence in joining his being through our belief. In more powerful terms, we who believe have been joined to the Holiness of God, we have been set apart as vessels for Him.
Whoredom – I assume the LSV chooses this word in an effort to bring the translation back to something closer to equivalence. Which is not possible in the modern world, including, and possibly especially, English. This difficulty is because English does not have an equivalent single word to describe the concept represented by “porneia”. Whoredom may be an attempt as it represents the realm of activity and belief involved in the sexual acts of worship common in Greco-Roman culture. But to the common modern reader the word lacks the complete integration with spirituality that would be understood by the 1st century Greco-Roman reader.
Vessel – I view this as a good choice of words by the LSV, Many translations use “body” here, and certainly there is an overlap: a vessel can be a human body. Paul uses the term in that manner at times and uses the word “body” at times. When he uses the word “vessel” the nuance is that the person is a conduit for carrying greater meaning, glory, existence. But even when Paul uses the word “vessel” in reference to the human, it is far more than just the physical body. Somewhat the opposite of being a “beast” whose existence is solely in the physical realm.
affection of desire – many translations use “lustful desires”. Thayer’s Greek lexicon indicates this about the word “desire” or “affection” : a feeling which the mind suffers, an affection of the mind, emotion, passion; passionate desire; used by the Greeks in either a good or a bad sense”. Not focused on sex as the common modern reader will read “lust”. The word can include sex, but we lose meaning when we narrow the focus. The second word in the LSV is “desire” which can be “ desire, craving, longing”. Again, it encompasses far more than sex alone, in fact it is very similar to the understanding proposed in one of the commandments in the Law of Moses – Do not covet, with its list of items to not want. When pondering be sure to include Paul’s dissertation on that commandment in the Letter to the Romans. The two words “affection” and “desire” are slightly redundant, but the combination provides greater emphasis. So if we put the two words together, we end up with “an overpowering desire for things”.
Defraud – this is a reasonable choice of a word, but, unfortunately, not in the vocabulary of most people. The modern definition of defraud does not appear too different from the Greek word used here: To deprive of right, either by procuring something by deception or artifice, or by appropriating something wrongfully through breach of trust, or by withholding from another by indirection or device that which he has a right to claim or obtain. Some translations use “take advantage of” which is also reasonable. A key text to understand Paul’s use of this word is in 2 Corinthians 2 where Paul says “so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan” in the context of Forgiveness as the gift of the Christ. How is Satan always seeking to take advantage of us? The “accuser of the brotherhood”, as he is described, is always seeking to invalidate the Cross of the Jesus by making people believe they will pay for their sins.
“Brother … in the matter”– “brother” (singular) means male brother. Paul uses “sister” when he means sister. Paul appears to be referencing the Divine view of the children of Adam and Eve, the family of humanity. The phrase “In the matter” focuses this sentence on the “porneia”. Remember that the practice of “porneia” included male and female “spiritual servers” (prostitutes), and that Greco-Roman culture elevated the homosexual relations. Note that Paul uses the plural “Brothers” many times in this Letter, which could be taken as a reference solely to the Body of the Christ. Except that Paul expands this concept immediately by praising the “brothers” reading the Letter for their Love that they learned directly from God for “all the brothers in the whole region”. When God talks of his Love, it always includes the whole world. Reference the occasions where the Prophets proclaim impending destruction for people (language) groups pursuing demon gods, but then saying that He, God, Loves them and will relent. This is the God that is directly teaching the “Brothers” how to Love the “all the brothers in Macedonia”, meaning all the people in Macedonia. So: we have a “brother” (singular) being cheated by the porneia. Does this refer to a man in the church being engaged for worship of Aphrodite (plausible), or the male prostitute that is one of the temple vessels for worship of Aphrodite? Either, the defrauding is the same. The weaker brother is being defrauded of the clarity of the gospel: Worship of Aphrodite concurrent with worship of Jesus will lead to a crisis of decision about who to trust. We must be clear: Jesus is the only way to eternal life with God Most High.
Uncleanness – not a complex meaning, used in the sense of uncleaness in the Hebrew Bible: when something is unclean it is not Holy. The Holy is separated from the Unclean, just as the kingdom of Satan is separated from the Kingdom of Heaven.
If we combine our understanding of these words with their respective concepts, and then re-read the text we get:
This is the will of God, that you join with Him in his state of being – unlike all other beings and things in this world. Being separate obviously includes not worshiping the gods you have worshiped your whole life because of your overpowering desires for health, wealth, children (fertility), and sexual revelry. Instead recognize that you are a vessel of the Living God, Jesus the Christ, set apart for worshiping Him Alone (holy), not a vessel for the joining with and worshiping of the gods of this world as all the nations do. When you diminish your vesselhood and join with a male cult prostitute (or a fellow believer for worship of Aphrodite), you affirm his worship of the other gods, you cheat him of the most important thing in life: the opportunity to know the Living God. He is loved by Jesus as much as you, keep his eternal well being in mind. As I (Paul) said many times, being joined to other gods and rejecting God Most High is the lack of belief that leads to eternal separation. God has called us to be holy, to be set apart, joined to Him in his separateness, joined to Him in his unique Love expressed through the Gospel. The one who does not accept this, and continues to seek blessing through the other gods, is despising God, who gave us his Holy Spirit to lead us back to him.
Paul then writes a very powerful observation: He does not need to teach them about Love because they are learning directly from God. In the passage we just paraphrased we must decide whether to limit the word “brothers” to just the church. Paul says the church is loving “all the brothers in the region”, under the Love teaching directly from God. Who does God Love in the region? Hint: “For God so loved the world”. It appears reasonable to assume that God would teach them to Love in the same way that He Loves.
This essay segment is focused on this one passage, but the overall teaching of Paul in this Letter fits the general pattern of his other Letters. We see Paul taking his common approach: he focuses on the undefeatable salvation that is based on the measure of Jesus the Christ. He exhorts, or strongly encourages them to be very careful about worshiping another god. He exhorts them to keep Love as the guiding principle of their daily lives. And he offers some specific advice for the part of the Body of the Christ that is in that geographic location.