By: Shane James O’Neill
In high school, my friends would give up porn for Lent. Let me revise that: in high school, my secular friends would give up porn for Lent. None of us were Christians so I was shocked when I first found out my friend-group would endeavor to kick porn every year for 40 days to observe an event in the Christian calendar. Most of them couldn’t do it. Every now and then one or two would be able to marshal their way through the liturgical event. But more often than not everyone would break at some point during those long days of pornographic abstinence.
Did you know that the ancient Greek word for sexual immorality was porneia? Porneia comes from the word meaning “to buy.” In the ancient world, it meant “prostitution” or “whoring.”
In Colossians 3:5 St. Paul tells Christians to put to death the old life with its porneia and other sins. And again in 1 Corinthians 6:13 St. Paul tells us that the body is not meant for porneia but for the Lord.
A sacred sexual ethic was laid down by Jesus that called His followers to treasure their bodies and the bodies of others.
The Greco-Roman Sexual Ethic
During Paul’s time in the ancient near-east, the possession of another person’s body was a cultural norm. Marriage was enacted as a means of social advancement. And a slave’s duty was to satisfy their master’s sexual desires. Slaves who didn’t put out faced capital punishment.
Potamiaena was a slave in Alexandria Egypt in 205 A.D. who followed Jesus the Messiah, His Lordship and His sexual ethic. Potamiaena refused to give herself to her slave-master – a thing that was unheard of – and her master was so enraged that he handed her over to Alexandria’s prefect (something like a governor). The prefect then threatened to have Potamiaena sent into the gladiatorial arena to be group-raped in front of the masses. Because of Potamiaena’s Christian ethic of sexual value she convinced the prefect to kill her by slowly pouring boiling pitch (tar) across her body.
Because of Potamiaena’s sexual ethic and her belief in the resurrection of her body, after her death, numerous witnesses became followers of the resurrected Messiah. Potamiaena’s sacrifice worked to revolutionize the sexual ethic of the Greco-Roman world. Beth Felker Jones writes, “True consent was a rarity in the world in which Christianity got its start. Christianity, we might say, invented consensual sex when it developed a sex ethic that assumed God empowers individuals with freedom.”
This was the cultural context that Jesus spoke into when He gave his sexual ethic and this was the reality that St. Paul called people to live uniquely apart from.
Humans, More than a Thing
The essence of porneia was to view a human being as a thing. Because of Jesus’ teachings that human persons are made in the image of God the human body was slowly transformed from an object of pleasure into the sacred reflection of God.
The spirit of porneia is still alive and well, albeit in a new medium. Pornography. The digital objectification of the human body — to be bought, handled, and sold.
Today marks the first day of November. Today marks the beginning of No Porn November.
Because of Christianity, we all live with the assumed reality of value. But it was not always so. The west is in need of a new sexual revolution. But this revolution must begin with you. The sexual ethics of our current culture are not post-Christian, rather they are pre-Christian. What we see taking place culturally is not new. Lust is a potent god — subject to the spirit of porneia. What we see happening is what occurs when we take the dignity of freedom that Jesus died to give us while rejecting His resurrected sovereignty over our very bodies.
Jesus gave up His body to give our bodies eternal value. His sacrifice revolutionized an empire and we are still living in the cascading waves of that purchased dignity.
Yet not many of us have the world-shaking faithfulness of Potamiaena.
No Porn November
Join us this month as we dedicate November to spurning the spirit of porneia. Join as us as we follow after the dignified, sexual ethic that Jesus died to purchase for us and the hope of physical resurrection in a new creation. This month we follow after Potamiaena and refuse to give our bodies to something other than the resurrected King. What my secular friends sought to do in their own strength we can do in the collective force of a community empowered by the resurrected Spirit of Messiah Jesus.
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Article sources were first acquired from Nancy R. Pearcey’s book Love thy Body.
Shane James O’Neill is the Editorial Director for Proven Men Ministries. He is currently working on a graduate degree in apologetics at Liberty University’s Rawling School of Divinity.