What Is Lasciviousness?

By Wayne Jackson

“What is ‘lasciviousness,’ as mentioned in Galatians 5:19?”

The Greek word behind the English term “lascivious” is aselgeia. It occurs nine times in the New Testament. Twice it is rendered as “wantonness” (Romans 13:13; 2 Peter 2:18), and once it appears as “filthy” (2 Peter 2:7). The other six times it is translated as “lascivious” (cf. Mark 7:22; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 4:19; 1 Peter 4:3; Jude 4).

Lasciviousness is a gross form of wickedness that has sexual overtones in many cases. It starts in a sinful heart (Mark 7:21-22), and manifests itself in fleshly (carnal) actions (Galatians 5:19), and can lead to a state of being “past feeling” (Ephesians 4:19).

The word can connote several attitudes or actions. With reference to sexual matters it embraces the concepts of excess, unbridled lust, debauchery, and sensuality. It suggests a disregard for public decency.

William Barclay says the word conveys the idea of a person “who is so far gone in lust and desire” that he or she ceases “to care what people say or think” (p. 52). Josephus, the Jewish historian, once used the word to describe a man who indecently exposed himself to a crowd (Antiquities 20.5.3).

J.H. Thayer connected the term with such things as “wanton (acts or) manners, filthy words, indecent bodily movements,” and “unchaste handling of males and females” (pp. 79-80). It is a comprehensive term for evil and perversion (Balz, p. 169). For example, it describes the moral environment of ancient Sodom and Gomorrah (2 Peter 2:7), and one hardly needs to be reminded of the shameless practices characteristic of those communities.

The term aselgeia, however, can go beyond sexual sins and connote any form of excess, i.e., one who “knows no boundaries” in whatever form of evil he indulges (Trench, pp. 56-58).

In this discussion, however, we will limit ourselves to some applications in issues of sexuality — which seems to be a rather pressing matter in this age of sensuality and apparent insensitivity.

(1) The use of sexually explicit media materials is a form of lasciviousness. This would include pornographic visuals, such as live productions, books or magazines, movies or videos, audio tapes, etc. This is a growing problem in American society — even among some who profess Christianity. Counselors affirm that porn material is highly addictive, and numerous marriages have been ruined by people who have indulged in sexually explicit filth.

Too, statistical evidence indicates that sexual predators, child molesters, and even some murderers (e.g., Ted Bundy) have begun their careers of crime by ingesting a diet of salacious materials.

(2) Lasciviousness occurs frequently in work places where men and women are constantly thrown together in close contact. Flirting, suggestive touching, language containing sexual innuendo, sex humor, provocative dress (skin tight apparel, the display of cleavage, thigh-revealing skirts, etc.) are forms of lascivious conduct that very often lead to fornication and adultery.

(3) Lascivious communications are common on some web sites. One of the more prominent used by youngsters is known as “My Space.” It is prolifically punctuated with the vilest forms of language and salacious photographs. Amazingly, these frequently are employed by those who identify themselves as “Christians,” though they obviously have no understanding of the significance of that term. Some teens use the site innocently, but they are in a “mine field” of danger and evil influence. Christian parents should supervise carefully what their youngsters are viewing, as they spend hours of their leisure time on the “net.”

It is incomprehensible that many parents allow their sons and daughters to engage in various forms of lascivious conduct (be it dress, visual entertainment, language, etc.); such actions are sweeping their youngsters down a road to destruction.

Those who take the Scriptures seriously will personally abstain from such practices, and train their children in morally pure, respectable behavior.

The lascivious person will not be able to enter the kingdom of heaven (Galatians 5:19-21). To ignore the biblical warnings is the epitome of folly.

Sources/Footnotes
  • Balz, Horst & Schneider (1990), Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), Vol. 1.
  • Barclay, William (1958), Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians (Philadelphia: Westminster).
  • Thayer, J.H. (1958), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark).
  • Trench, R.C. (1890), Synonyms of the New Testament (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.).
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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.