PASSAGE: "And he called the people to him again, and said to them, 'Hear me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can define him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.' And when he had entered the house, and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, 'Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?' (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 'What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man'" (Mark 7:14-23 RSV).
QUESTION: I would like to know what Jesus meant by “fornication.” Actually, I am not sure what word he used exactly since I do not read Aramaic and I have to read a translated version. Thank you.
COMMENT: Translation always represents a challenge, especially when words are—or can be—charged with judgment. The overall meaning here is clear and important. To listeners who had been told throughout their lives that they would be judged by God according to what they did or did not eat, Jesus is saying that they have the importance reversed. Nothing in the outer can separate us from God. But what comes from within—the choices we make—can indeed create a sense of separation and judgment. The exact list of examples Jesus uses are very similar to the list Paul uses in Romans 1:28-32. And both the Gospel and the letter were written years after the ministry of Jesus, so the best we can have is not Jesus' exact words, but the remembered words passed in oral tradition before Luke wrote the narrative. The Scholar's Version translation uses the words "sexual immorality" in place of "fornication." I think that's clearer; “fornication” can refer to any form of sexual expression. “Sexual immorality” makes clearer Jesus' point that it's not the act itself—which is, after all, divinely ordained—but the intention and consciousness behind it that causes separation.