|A biblical perspective on prostitution|
by Andrew Lansdown
Prostitution involves the selling and buying of sex.It involves an exchange of money for sex between a man and a woman*who have no legal, moral or emotional attachment to each other.
How should Christians view such activity? Fortunately, as with any matter of importance, God guides us to a right perspective through his written word.
The Bible teaches that sex is a good gift from God to any heterosexual couple who in love and law promise enduring and exclusive fidelity to one another. Sex is God’s gift to every bride and groom, to be unwrapped on the honeymoon and enjoyed throughout the marriage. In short, scripture highly approves of sexual intimacy between a man and a woman for the purposes of pleasure, love and procreation, provided they have committed themselves to one another in the covenant of marriage.
When we appreciate what the Bible approves concerning sex, we can anticipate what it disapproves. Take prostitution. If scripture teaches that the only right context for sexual intimacy is marriage, then we can deduce that prostitution is wrong because it involves sexual intimacy outside that right context. And if scripture teaches that one of the good purposes for sexual intercourse is the expression of love, then we know implicitly that prostitution is bad because it deliberately severs the sexual act from that good purpose. So even if the Bible never specifically mentioned prostitution, we would know that it is wrong because it falls outside of what God commends as good in sexual matters.
However, the Bible does not merely imply that prostitution is wrong. It openly condemns the practice.
Being a prostitute is forbidden
The Bible warns against women engaging in prostitution. Leviticus 19:29 states, “Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute”. Prostitution degrades women. Consequently, a woman is not permitted to become a prostitute, and no one is permitted to make her one.
So serious is the degradation involved in prostitution, that Leviticus 21:9 declares, “If a priest’s daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she must be burned in the fire.” Through prostitution a woman stains herself and shames her relatives. Such evil is repulsive to God, and deserves severe punishment.
Note the reference to “daughter” in the two Leviticus texts. This reminds us that every prostitute is someone’s daughter. She is not an object with sexual attributes but a person with family relationships. She is dear to the heart of some father and mother. Her welfare is their desire and her woe is their distress. The man who uses a prostitute is degrading not only a “woman” but also a “daughter”.
Such is the vileness of prostitution that the Lord refuses to accept any money associated with it: “You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the LORD your God to pay any vow, because the LORD your God detests them both” (Deuteronomy 23:18). (Perhaps our governments could take a lesson from this. Instead of devising schemes to tax the illegal earnings of prostitutes, they should implement and enforce laws to put a stop to such earnings altogether.)
Throughout the Bible, prostitution is used as a symbol of filthiness and unfaithfulness, and God likens his people to prostitutes whenever they turn from him to false gods and to evil ways. In Ezekiel 23, for example, the Lord likens Jerusalem and Samaria to prostitutes because of their sin. “They became prostitutes in Egypt,” the Lord declares, “engaging in prostitution from their youth. In that land their breasts were fondled and their virgin bosoms caressed” (v.3). As for Samaria, the Lord declares, she “engaged in prostitution while she was still mine; and she lusted after her lovers, the Assyrians … She gave herself as a prostitute to all the elite of the Assyrians and defiled herself with all the idols of everyone she lusted after” (vv.3, 5, 7). As for Jerusalem, the Lord declares, “in her lust and prostitution she was more depraved than her sister [Samaria]. She too lusted after the Assyrians … Then the Babylonians came to her, to the bed of love, and in their lust they defiled her. … When she carried on her prostitution openly and exposed her nakedness, I turned away from her in disgust” (vv. 11-12, 17-18). Prostitution involves lust, depravity and defilement. It disgusts God, who uses it as an image for all that is disgusting.
Using a prostitute is forbidden
In addition to warning women not to become prostitutes, the Bible warns men not to use them.
Having told his fellow believers that their “bodies are members of Christ himself”, the apostle Paul asks, “Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute?” Although the answer is self-evident, Paul nonetheless replies emphatically, “Never!” (1 Corinthians 6:15). It is unthinkable that a man joined by love to Christ could be joined by lust to a prostitute.
Paul’s insistence that men should shun prostitution is not confined to Christian men. He takes it for granted that it is impermissible and despicable for any man to have sex with a prostitute. His point is, however, that such an act is doubly inexcusable for Christian men. What is bad for a man without Christ is worse for a man with Christ.
Solomon also warns men to keep away from “the immoral woman”. He declares: “Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes, for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life. Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched?” (Proverbs 6:24-28).
It is interesting to note that Solomon places the prostitute, not the man, in the position of power. She can lure him with her beauty and captivate him with her eyes. Speaking with the full support of the Holy Spirit, Solomon expresses a wisdom that is all but lost today. He points out that the physical beauty and sensual behaviour of women has extraordinary power over men. And prostitutes use that power to manipulate men for financial gain.
Of course, that men are weak in matters of sex in no way excuses them for succumbing to sexual immorality. Scripture advises several practical ways in which men can and should protect themselves from the power of a prostitute. They should not dwell on her beauty in their hearts (Proverbs 6:24). They should “Keep to a path far from her” (Proverbs 5:8). They should seek sexual satisfaction with their own wives (Proverbs 5:15-20). A man who beds a prostitute is a man who snubs God’s advice. He enters into his sordid liaison because he has given himself over to lust. His guilt is absolute.
Prostitutes are predators
But so, too, is the guilt of the prostitute. Scripture is ruthless in its denunciation of her, and equally ruthless in its reversal of the way we tend to look at her. It does not present her as a victim but as a victimiser. “Many are the victims she has brought down” (Proverbs 7:26).
The Bible portrays the prostitute as a predator. Solomon offers a vivid picture of how she preys on men in Proverbs 7:7-22:
I saw among the simple, I noticed among the young men, a youth who lacked judgment. He was going down the street near her corner, walking along in the direction of her house … Then out came a woman to meet him, dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent. (She is loud and defiant, her feet never stay at home; now in the street, now in the squares, at every corner she lurks.) She took hold of him and kissed him and with a brazen face she said: “… I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. Come, let’s drink deep of love till morning; let’s enjoy ourselves with love! …” With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk. All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose …
Some men lust for prostitutes and go out of their way to find them. But not all. The young man Solomon describes was not intent on using a prostitute. He lacked judgment, not virtue. He was simply naive. He innocently, if foolishly, walked down the street near the prostitute’s corner. She did the rest. She was on the look out for him. She was lurking in wait for him. When he happened by, she pounced on him. She solicited him with smooth talk, seductive dress, provocative gestures and crafty intent. Then, although he had no prior intention to do so, all at once he followed her.
The active way a prostitute solicits the unwary is portrayed again in Proverbs 9:14-17: “She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the highest point of the city, calling out to those who pass by, who go straight on their way. ‘Let all who are simple come in here!’ she says to those who lack judgment. ‘Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!’” The prostitute calls out to those who are going straight on their way. She is not passively waiting to receive those who actively seek her, nor is she on the lookout only for seedy characters who loiter about her door. She considers every man fair game. She tries to entice all who pass by. The decent husband, the naive youth—these are her marks every bit as much as the lecher and the drunkard. And why not? After all, her love is not for the men, but for their money.
Scripture declares that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Certainly, on the female side, the love of money is the root of prostitution. The prostitute’s primary motive is greed. She wants easy money, big money, the type of money that cannot be earned by proper means. “Every prostitute receives a fee” (Ezekiel 16:33). That is why she does it: that is her motive. And that is why she is such a predator: the more men she has, the more money she gets.
A glance at the personal columns in any major newspaper reveals just how predatory prostitutes are. Less explicit advertisements read: “Feel so good with me! Slim young pretty thing!”; “I’m 18, busty, size 10, attractive, just started, please teach me”; “Hot Aussie girl for your pleasure”; and “Slim, busty and very exotic oriental to fulfill your hidden desires”.1Through the newspapers, prostitutes enter millions of homes every day to solicit other women’s husbands, boyfriends, sons, brothers and fathers. That they succeed in enticing many of these men is evident from the fact that they keep on paying to place their advertisements week after week after week.
The Bible does not subscribe to the view that prostitutes are victims—victims of sad upbringings or difficult circumstances or men’s lust. In some instances, of course, they may indeed be victims of these things. But that is not true for all. And it is not an excuse for any. Neither past misery nor present poverty nor masculine lechery excuses the prostitute for her greed and debauchery. Nor does it make amends for the damage she does.
Prostitutes cause harm
And the Bible insists that prostitution causes considerable damage indeed. It utterly rejects the notion that prostitution is a victimless crime, a harmless vice between consenting adults.
According to God’s word, prostitution causes poverty. “A companion of prostitutes,” Solomon warns, “squanders his wealth” (Proverbs 29:3). True to one of her names, a hooker gets a man hooked on her charms, then charges him exorbitantly for them. A former prostitute and madam has observed that “Some men steal TVs, they steal their wives’ jewellery, in order to hock it to see a working girl. Some men spend a fortune on working girls. You always think: Are their families being fed?”2No wonder scripture warns, “the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread” (Proverbs 6:26).
Scripture indicates that prostitution also causes disloyalty and unfaithfulness. Solomon declares that “a prostitute is a deep pit … Like a bandit she lies in wait, and multiplies the unfaithful among men” (Proverbs 23:27-28). As virtually all men are either husbands or future-husbands, the man who uses a prostitute is unfaithful either to his wife or to his future-wife. And as all men are commanded by God to avoid pre-marital sex (fornication) and extra-marital sex (adultery), the man who uses a prostitute is unfaithful to God’s standards and therefore to God himself. And note that the prostitute multiplies the unfaithful among men. More men are unfaithful to their wives and to their Creator than would otherwise be the case were it not for the prostitute plying her trade.
The apostle Paul offers profound insight into the damage caused by prostitution (and all sexual immorality) in 1 Corinthians 6:13-20:
The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.
Paul’s warning against prostitution centres on his understanding of the purpose and importance of the human body. His main points are: Our bodies are not meant to be used for illicit sexual pleasures (v.13). Our bodies are meant to be used as instruments for serving God (v.13). Our bodies are not extraneous to our being, but will be resurrected, restored and glorified on the Last Day (v.14). As Christians, as people who are “in Christ”, our bodies are mysteriously and intimately connected with Christ (v.15). Being closely united with the Lord Jesus Christ, our bodies should not be closely united with prostitutes (v.15). Our bodies are integrated with our souls, so that sexual union is more than a physical union, and forms a bonding of emotions and affections (v.16). Our bodies are meant to become “one flesh” with only one other in marriage (v.16). Our bodies themselves are injured and disgraced by sexual sin in a unique way (v.18). Our bodies are the sanctified dwelling places of God’s Spirit (v.19). Our bodies are not our sole property, but are owned by God (v.19). Our bodies (not just our souls) were bought by God for the ransom price of his Son’s death (v.20). In the light of all this, our bodies should be given over to the glory of God (v.20).
From Paul’s teaching it is evident that prostitution causes harm in a number of ways. It harms the intentions and standards of God concerning the proper use of the body. It harms the bodies (not to mention the personalities) of the prostitute and the prostitute-user. It harms the institution of marriage in principle and in practice. If the practitioners are Christians, it harms their relationship with the Lord Jesus who is united with them. It harms their relationship with the Holy Spirit who indwells them. It harms their relationship with the Father who ransomed them and owns them.
Or to put it another way, prostitution dishonours the purposes God ordained for the body. It dishonours the body itself. It dishonours marriage. And it dishonours the triune God in his relationship with us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The ultimate damage that prostitution causes is death. The man who succumbs to the lure of a prostitute, Solomon says, is “like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life.” Solomon continues, “her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:23, 26-27). Solomon may be speaking of physical death, for certainly prostitution can involve such life-threatening things as disease, drugs, jealousy, depression and corruption. However, he is surely also speaking of spiritual death, that state of alienation from God which, if unchecked in this life, leads to damnation in the next life. Solomon seems to have spiritual death in mind again in Proverbs 9:18, where he says of men who are enticed into the prostitute’s house, “little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave.” Men in a brothel may be alive physically, but they are spiritual zombies. Alive to lust, they are dead to love, dead to relationship, dead to fidelity, dead to purity, dead to reality. And all this death is both a cause and an effect of the ultimate death: death to God. Like the prostitute herself, the prostitute-user is dead to God, having no more communion with him than a corpse with a loved one. Truly, the dead, the damned, are there in the prostitute’s house.
Prostitution leads to perdition. We should not dismiss or diminish this dreadful fact. “Do not be deceived,” Paul says, “the sexually immoral … will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). As one form of sexual immorality, prostitution severs the prostitute and the prostitute-user from God and his kingdom. It produces death.
Prostitutes can be pardoned
People who engage in prostitution are dead in their sins and in danger of damnation. But God, being infinite in mercy and compassion, wants to remedy that. Although he threatens punishment, he offers pardon. Forgiveness and cleansing can be had for the asking.
The Bible contains two moving accounts of prostitutes who received forgiveness and cleansing. The first concerns a woman named Rahab. The second concerns a woman who is not named.
Rahab lived in Jericho over a thousand years before the birth of Jesus. She sheltered two Israelite men who had come to spy out the city. She did this because she had come to believe that “the LORD [their] God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2:11). So she turned from her false gods to the true and living God. She put her faith in him, and demonstrated the genuineness of her faith by what she did. As a consequence, God accepted her, and saved her from the calamity that came upon her people. He gave her a home among his people, the people of Israel. Rahab went on to marry one of the men of Israel, and her son became one of the ancestors of the Lord Jesus Christ. She is mentioned by Matthew (1:5) in the genealogy of Jesus. She is honoured in Hebrews (11:31) as one of the heroes of the faith. She is cited by James (2:25) as an example of how faith and action should exist together. Rahab stands as a lasting example of the forgiveness and restoration that God offers to the prostitute.
The second example of God’s grace to prostitutes concerns an unnamed woman in Luke 7:36-50.*This woman, whom Luke describes as “a woman who had lived a sinful life”, was grieved by a sense of her own filthiness and gripped by a conviction that Jesus could cleanse her. On learning that Jesus was a guest at a particular house in her town, “she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” In response, Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven. … Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Jesus was moved by this prostitute’s brokenness and faith. He accepted her worship knowing full-well what she was. He did not pretend that she was basically a nice person, nor did he make excuses for her sin. He frankly acknowledged that she had much to be forgiven—and he freely forgave it! More than this, as his discussion with his self-righteous host reveals (vv.39-47), he indicated that the magnitude of her sin was outmatched by the magnitude of God’s grace (cf Romans 5:20). And as if that were not enough, he further indicated that the enormity of her sin would work in her a correspondingly enormous love for God as she came to realise just how much she had been forgiven.
The wonder of it! Almighty God does not merely triumph over sin—he turns it to his advantage, using it to manifest his grace and thereby to multiply his people’s love. How much they will love him, the prostitutes, if only they will get a sense of the horror of their sin and the splendour of God’s grace!
Prostitute-users can be pardoned
Forgiveness, restoration and honour—this is what God in Christ offers to the prostitute, provided she turns from her sin and trusts in his Son. And the offer is not to the prostitute only. It is to the prostitute-user as well. Jesus illustrates this in his moving parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32.
There was a young man, Jesus said, who took his share of his father’s property, then immediately “squandered [that] property with prostitutes” (vv.13, 30). The prostitutes, the profligate living, quickly reduced him to poverty, and he took a job feeding pigs. As he tended these symbols of his moral depravity, the young man came to his senses and decided to return home to cast himself on his father’s mercy. So with shame and trepidation “he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate” (vv.20-24).
Oh, the grace of God! A man can squander his living on prostitutes and yet not be utterly without hope. God will forgive him yet, if only he will come to his senses. If only he will leave the pigsty of his sins, God will receive and restore him. And if he has no strength to leave, let him call out where he stands, and God will lift him out, lift him out with love and weeping. Let only a man cry out to God—“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am not worthy to be called your son. Forgive me!”—and God will save him with gusto. He will claim him as a son and clothe him in righteousness and rejoice over him with great joy and reserve him a seat at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Prostitution is a vile business. The prostitute and the prostitute-user disgust God by their degrading and destructive activities. Yet God loves them still, and would spare them the hell they deserve. This is his grace, his unspeakable, unstinting, undeserved kindness. Let God’s people declare that grace as loudly as they deplore the sin that makes the grace necessary. And let the prostitute and the prostitute-user see their sin so that they may see their need for grace, and receive it in repentance and faith to the glory of God.
1.The West Australian, “Classified Liftout”, 13 December 1997, pp.65-66.
2.Linda, interviewed by Dwight Randall, “Prostitution in Perth”, Life Ministries Current Issues Paper, January 1998.
All Bible quotations are from the New International Version.
First published 1998. Revised & reprinted 2007.