harlots in the Bible

also known as: whores, whoredom, harlotry, prostitute, prostitution, camp follower, Cyprian, bawd

  1. Greek: πόρναι or πόρνη —transliteration: pornai or porné —meaning: “prostitute,” “harlot” —a woman or girl who sells her body for sexual uses / one who yields herself to defilement for the sake of gain

    In the New Testament, any woman indulging in unlawful sexual intercourse, whether for gain or for lust

    In the New Testament, this word occurs in various contexts.

    Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!

    Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written,

    “The two will become one flesh.” —1 Corinthians 6:15-16 ESV

    Christ said to the chief priests and the elders of the people at the Temple,

    “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” —Matthew 21:31-32 ESV

    “…when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!…” —Luke 15:30 ESV

    “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient…” —James 2:25

    The word pornai is used symbolically in Revelation 17:1, 5, 15-16; 19:2—the Great Whore or Great Harlot.

  2. Hebrew: זָנָה —transliteration: zanah or zonah

    Meaning: to commit fornication; to be a prostitute

    This is the word used in Genesis 34:31…

    “…they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?” —Genesis 34:31 ESV

    “When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face.” —Genesis 38:15 ESV

    In the time of Solomon, harlots appeared openly in the streets, and he solemnly warns against association with them.

    “For at the window of my house
    I have looked out through my lattice,
    and I have seen among the simple,
    I have perceived among the youths,
    a young man lacking sense,
    passing along the street near her corner,
    taking the road to her house
    in the twilight, in the evening,
    at the time of night and darkness.

    And behold, the woman meets him,
    dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart.
    She is loud and wayward;
    her feet do not stay at home;
    now in the street, now in the market,
    and at every corner she lies in wait.

    She seizes him and kisses him,
    and with bold face she says to him,
    ‘I had to offer sacrifices,
    and today I have paid my vows;
    so now I have come out to meet you,
    to seek you eagerly, and I have found you.

    I have spread my couch with coverings,
    colored linens from Egyptian linen;
    I have perfumed my bed with myrrh,
    aloes, and cinnamon.

    Come, let us take our fill of love till morning;
    let us delight ourselves with love.
    For my husband is not at home;
    he has gone on a long journey;
    he took a bag of money with him;
    at full moon he will come home.’

    With much seductive speech she persuades him;
    with her smooth talk she compels him.

    All at once he follows her,
    as an ox goes to the slaughter,
    or as a stag is caught fast
    till an arrow pierces its liver;
    as a bird rushes into a snare;
    he does not know that it will cost him his life.” —Proverbs 7:6-23 ESV

    Also see: Proverbs 9:14; Jeremiah 3:2; Ezek. 16:24-25, 31)

  3. Hebrew: קְדֵשָׁה —transliteration: kedeshah or qedeshah

    This word refers to a woman consecrated or devoted to prostitution in connection with the abominable worship of Asherah or Astarte, the Syrian Venus.

    “And he asked the men of the place, ‘Where is the cult prostitute who was at Enaim at the roadside?’ And they said, ‘No cult prostitute has been here.’ So he returned to Judah and said, “I have not found her. Also, the men of the place said, ‘No cult prostitute has been here.’” —Genesis 38:21-22 ESV

    This word is also used in Deuteronomy 23:17 and Hos. 4:14. Thus Tamar sat by the wayside as a consecrated kedeshah.

  4. Rahab

    Some have attempted to show that the woman Rahab, usually called a “harlot” (Joshua 6:17; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25), was only an innkeeper. This interpretation, however, cannot be maintained.

    Then Joshua the son of Nun sent two men as spies secretly from Shittim, saying, “Go, see the land, especially Jericho.” So they went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab and lodged there. —Joshua 2:1

  5. Idolatry

    “Whoredom” in the King James Version means prostitution or promiscuous sexual activity. This word is often used metaphorically for practicing idolatry (Jeremiah 3:1; Ezek. 16:15; Hosea throughout).

    Jerusalem of Isaiah’s time is spoken of as being a harlot.

    How the faithful city has become a harlot,
    She who was full of justice!
    Righteousness once lodged in her,
    But now murderers. —Isaiah 1:21

  6. Strange woman

    Hebrew: נָכְרִי —transliteration: nokri or nokriyah

    Meaning: foreign; alien

    strange woman” (1 Kings 11:1; Proverbs 5:20; 7:5; 23:27)

    Those so designated were Canaanites and other Gentiles (Joshua 23:13). To the same class belonged the “foolish,” i.e., the sinful, “woman.”

    Jephthah’s mother is called a “strange woman” (Judges 11:2). This, however, merely denotes that she was of foreign extraction.

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Article Version: July 11, 2024