"zanah": Whoring or Prostitution?

     As made clear in our other aricles, the Hebrew word "zanah" (whoring) refers to a man who has voluntary sexual interouse with a woman other than his wife, or a woman who has voluntary sexual intercourse with a man other than her husband. By definition, "zanah" also includes all forms adultery and prostitution. Yet some people have made the false claim that Scripture does not speak against sex outside of a marriage covenant. They claim that the Hebrew word "zanah", at least as it's used in Scripture, only refers to sex in exchange for payment (prostitution), denying that it can also refer to sex apart from marriage (promiscuous sex). This article intends to debunk such false claims by demonstrating conclusively, from Scripture, that "zanah" does NOT mean "prostitution" exclusively, but rather "whoring" or "fornication" in general.

     Before we begin looking at this subject, we should be clear about what we mean and what we do NOT mean. When we refer to "zanah" as "promiscuous sex", we are speaking of voluntary sexual intercourse between a man and a woman apart from, and with no intention of establishing, a covenant union. We can find no Scriptural support for intercourse in the ESTABLISHMENT of covenant, to be "zanah". In other words, we want to avoid using terms like "sex before marriage" or "pre-marital sex" when speaking of "zanah", because these concepts can also imply intercourse between a man and a woman who subsequently enter into an agreed covenant union after the fact. Biblical "zanah" actually refers to sexual intercourse outside the confines of, or apart from, covenental marriage.

     We should start by checking to see what Hebrew translators have always understood the concept of "zanah" to be. Then we can look to the Scriptures to see what they say about committing "zanah". Now, just as with any other word in a foreign language, we need a translation from the source language to the destination language. In our case, we need a Hebrew-to-English dictionary:

Official Definitions

     According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, "zanah" means:
      1) to commit fornication, be a harlot, play the harlot
           1a) (Qal)
                1a1) to be a harlot, act as a harlot, commit fornication
                1a2) to commit adultery
                1a3) to be a cult prostitute
                1a4) to be unfaithful (to God) (figuratively)
           1b) (Pual) to play the harlot
           1c) (hiphil)
                1c1) to cause to commit adultery
                1c2) to force into prostitution
                1c3) to commit fornication

     According to the Strong's Concordance, "zanah" (H2181) means: "a prim. root [highly fed and therefore wanton; to commit adultery (usually of the female, and less often of simple fornication, rarely of involuntary ravishment); fig. to commit idolatry (the Jewish people being regarded as the spouse of Jehovah): -(cause to) commit fornication, X continually, X great, (be an, play the) harlot, (cease to be, play the) whore, (commit, fall to) whoredom, (cause to) go-a-whoring, whorish."

     According to the Complete Word Study Old Testament, "zanah" means: "To fornicate, commit fornication, be a harlot, play the harlot, commit adultery; to apostatize, have intercourse with false g-ds or foreigners; to seduce. The main idea is to commit illicit sexual intercourse, particularly with women. However, this strong image is used in a figurative sense to describe illegal contact between Israel and other nations and their g-ds..."

     According to Davies' Hebrew Lexicon, "zanah" means: "fornication - used of a married woman, of an unmarried woman, of religious apostasy or unfaithfulness to God, regarded as whoredom or adultery since the covenant between the Eternal and His people Israel was compared to a marriage union."

     According to the Gesenius's Lexicon, "zanah" means: "To commit fornication; attributed properly and chiefly to a woman; whether married (when it may be rendered, to commit adultery) or unmarried, and it is construed with an accusative following of the fornicator or adulterer; it is very often used figuratively - of idolatry"

     Translations of "zanah" into languages other than English also convey the same concept of what we commonly call "fornication", or "sex between a man and woman not married to each other". This can easily be checked with any non-English translation of the Bible.

     Now I realize that the English word "fornication" is overly-broad and not a perfect match for the Hebrew word "zanah", but EVERY SINGLE Hebrew-to-English reference I can find has "fornication" as one of its primary meanings. In order to translate the concept of "zanah" over from Hebrew to English, the best word that translators can find in English is "fornication".

     I personally prefer translating "zanah" as "whoring", because it is more gender specific and I think it better captures the essence of the original text. When I use the word "whoring", I mean it in the sense of a sexually promiscuous person, not in the exclusive sense of a prostitute selling sex for money. Prostitution is certainly one form of whoring (zanah), just as adultery (na'aph) is one form of whoring (zanah), but neither prostitution nor adultery DEFINES "zanah". The Hebrew word "zanah" encompasses fornication, prostitution, adultery and idolatry, as shown in the above definitions.

     The American Heritage Dictionary defines "whoring" as:
         1. A prostitute.
         2. A person considered sexually promiscuous.
         3. A person considered as having compromised principles for personal gain.

     The web site dictionary.com gave the following definition for "whoring": "a woman who engages in promiscuous sexual intercourse, usually for money; prostitute; harlot; strumpet." The very phrase "usually for money" demonstrates that it is certainly possible to commit whoring without money changing hands.

     But whether we prefer to translate "zanah" into English as "whoring" or "fornication", we still need to understand the contextual meaning of "fornication" if we're to have any hope of understanding why the translators chose to use this particular English word to convey the meaning of "zanah" over into English.

     American Heritage Dictionary: "Sexual intercourse between partners who are not married to each other."

     Online Etymology Dictionary: "Voluntary sex between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman."

     WordNet Dictionary: "Voluntary sexual intercourse between persons not married to each other."

     Merriam-Webster's Dictionary: "Consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other."

     American Heritge Dictionary: "Sexual intercourse between a man and woman not married to each other."

     Notice that nowhere in any English definition of fornication is the concept of "paying or charging for sex". It is simply sexual intercourse between a man and a woman who are not married to each other. That is how I have meant the word "whoring" to be understood in our articles. However, if you think exclusively of prostitution when you see the word "whoring", feel free to translate the word in your mind as "fornication" or "promiscuous sex" if you prefer.

     Now we will look at some specific instances of the word "zanah" in the Tanak (Old Testament) and see how Scripture defines this word.

Case #1: Genesis 34
     "And Shekem, son of Hamor the Hiwwite, prince of the land, saw her and took her and lay with her, and humbled her. And his being clung to Dinah the daughter of Ya'aqob, and he loved the girl and spoke kindly to the girl. And Shekem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, "Take this girl for me for a wife." (Genesis 34:2-4, The Scriptures)

     "But they said, "Should he treat our sister like a whore (ZANAH)?" (Genesis 34:31, The Scriptures)
     In Genesis 34, we see that Dinah was what we would call "raped" by Shechem, and her brothers say that he treated her like a whore. Precisely what action did her brothers believe constituted her being treated like a whore? Was it by forcing payment onto her? Or was it for having sex with Dinah without having secured her as his wife? By having sex with her, they didn't say he treated her as a wife, but rather he treated her as a whore. The fact that he wanted to take her as his wife AFTER having treated her like a whore demonstrates that the act of having sex by itself does not make anyone married, so that argument is clearly false. What aspect of "whoring" did they recognize had occurred?
     "saw her and took her and lay with her, and humbled her" (verse 2)
     This is the answer that Scripture gives. He saw her, took her, laid with her and humbled her. This is how he treated their sister like a whore. Nothing in this passage even remotely suggests that she was asking for, or receiving, any kind of payment for services rendered. No money changed hands at all. This passage isn't speaking of prostitution for money at all. He simply took her and had sex with her outside of marriage. The sex didn't make them married but it did defile her. Her brothers understood that he had helped himself to her sexually outside of any marriage relationship, and that this was what a whore was for.

Case #2: Genesis 38
     "And it came to be, about three months after, that Yehudah was informed, saying, "Tamar your daughter-in-law has whored (ZANAH), and see, she has conceived by whoring (ZANAH)." And Yehudah said, "Bring her out and let her be burned!" (Genesis 38:24, The Scriptures)
     In Genesis 38, we see that Tamar was accused of whoring because she turned up pregnant when she had no living husband. Tamar was understood not to be a virgin, but a widow. She had no husband to conceive by, so when they found that she was pregnant, they knew she must have been whoring. Was this conclusion drawn because they found unexplained money in her pockets? Or was this conclusion based on the physical evidence of her pregnancy, proving that she had sex outside of marriage? If she could somehow prove that she had refused payment, would she no longer be condemned for whoring? What aspect of "whoring" did they recognize had occurred?
     "she has conceived by whoring" (verse 24)
     This is the answer that Scripture gives. They knew she had to be whoring because she became pregnant without a husband. There was no way anyone could know whether she charged money in the process of getting pregnant, nor is there any indication in Scripture that it would have mattered. The only issue before them was an unmarried pregnant woman and they considered that as absolute evidence that she had been whoring. Once again, whoring is demonstrated as sex outside the confines of marriage, not merely sex for financial gain.

Case #3: Leviticus 21
     "And let him take a wife in her maidenhood. A widow or one put away or a defiled woman or a whore (ZANAH) -- these he does not take. But a maiden of his own people he does take as a wife." (Leviticus 21:13-14, The Scriptures)
     In Leviticus 21, we see that the High Priest is required to take a wife who is a virgin. No woman who had ever experienced sexual intercourse was permitted him. She must be completely untouched. Note carefully the four types of women he is not permitted to take as a wife:
     "A widow ('ALMANAH) or one put away (GARASH) or a defiled woman (CHALAL) or a whore (ZANAH)" (verse 14)
     A widow is a woman who lost her husband in death. A put away woman is one who has been cut off from marriage. A defiled woman is one who has been involuntarily pierced (deflowered prior to marriage). A whore is the only other woman he isn't permitted to marry. There isn't a fifth prohibition mentioned in Scripture. Are we to assume that a woman having sex with her boyfriend would be acceptable for a High Priest to marry? What is the contrast to these four women?
     "a maiden (BTHUWLAH) of his own people he does take as a wife" (verse 14)
     This is the answer that Scripture gives. These four sexually-penetrated women are contrasted by the one type of woman he is permitted to take as a wife -- a virgin. A whore is a woman who willingly has sexual intercourse with any man other than her husband, regardless whether she charges money for her whoring or not. The only acceptable wife for the High Priest was a virgin.

Case #4: Deuteronomy 22
     "When any man takes a wife, and shall go in to her, and shall hate her, and shall make abusive charges against her and bring an evil name on her and say, 'I took this woman, and when I came to her I did not find her a maiden,' then the father and mother of the young woman shall take and bring out the proof of the girl's maidenhood to the elders of the city at the gate...But if the matter is true, that the girl was not found a maiden, then they shall bring out the girl to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done wickedness in Yisra'el, to whore (ZANAH) in her father's house. Thus you shall purge the evil from your midst."
     In Deuteronomy 22, we see that a girl was expected to be a virgin when she first married. All first-time brides were expected to be virgins. In this example, the girl was not found to be a virgin on her wedding night, and as a result, she was to be stoned to death because of her wickedness of whoring in her father's house. Did they determine she had been whoring because of all the men who came forward to say how much they loved her? Was she accused of whoring because she had been found squirreling away riches? What evidence made them realize that she had been previously whoring?
     "the girl was not found a maiden (BTHUWLAH)" (verse 20)
     This is the answer that Scripture gives. They knew she had to be whoring because it was discovered that she was not a virgin on her wedding night. Even a single act of sexual intercourse before marriage makes her a whore. Nobody could know whether she took money for her sexual acts, nor whether she had only one lover or hundreds. All that was required as evidence of her whoring was her lack of virginity, which they understood to mean she had been sexually penetrated. As a previously unmarried woman, the contrast to being a virgin was being a whore. There was no other option. If "the girl was not found a maiden", then "she has done wickedness...to whore in her father's house." Once again, whoring is contrasted with virginity.

Case #5: Ezekiel 16:17
     "And you took your splendid adornments, of My gold and My silver that I gave you, and made for yourself images of a male and whored (ZANAH) with them." (Ezekiel 16:17, The Scriptures)
     In Ezekiel 16, we see that the people were accused taking gold and silver and creating images of males in order to whore with these things. Whether understood literally or figuratively, this verse is clearly speaking of them whoring with some kind of man-made object made to resemble a penis. Are we to believe that this dildo they created is paying these people in order for them to whore with it? Or is the context clear that they were using these objects for sexual intercourse?
     "made for yourself images of a male and whored (ZANAH) with them." (verse 17)
     This is the answer that Scripture gives. The man-made objects were neither charging nor paying money for sexual relations with the people. Once again, whoring is seen as involving sexual intercourse without any concept of money changing hands.

Case #6: Ezekiel 16:30-35
     "How weak is your heart!" declares the Master Yahweh, "seeing you do all this, the deeds of a shameless whore (ZANAH). You built your arched place at the head of every way, and built your high place in every street. Yet you were unlike a whore (ZANAH), you scorned payment! The wife who commits adultery who takes strangers instead of her husband! To all whores (ZANAH) they give gifts, but you gave gifts to all your lovers, and bribed them to come to you from all around in your whorings (ZANAH). Thus you are different from other women in your whorings (ZANAH), because no one whores (ZANAH) after you, and in you giving a gift, while a gift was not given to you. Thus you are different. Therefore, O whore (ZANAH), hear the word of Yahweh!" (Ezekiel 16:30-35, The Scriptures)
     In Ezekiel 16, we see the clearest example yet of whoring. In verse 30, it says she does "the deeds of a shameless whore". What "deeds of a shameless whore" might that be? Accepting payment for sexual acts? Or are the deeds the sexual acts themselves? In verse 31, it says she was UNLIKE a whore in that she refused payment. So now we know that whores were expected to charge money for their "deeds of a shameless whore". Since Scripture says she does "the deeds of a shameless whore" but unlike a whore, she refuses payment, we can conclude that the "deeds of a shameless whore" are not the act of receiving payment. So again, what are "the deeds of a shameless whore" that are being discussed?

     The answer is in verse 32, where He compares her to a wife who commits adultery; who takes men other than her husband. So the "deeds of a shameless whore" are the same deeds of the wife who commits adultery. Even this passage clearly spells out what adultery is comprised of: taking men other than her husband. Does adultery require payment to be adultery? Does whoring require payment to be whoring? If the wife who commits adultery isn't taking payment for her sexual acts, what is her motivation or gain?

     Verse 33 tells us that instead of receiving gifts like whores usually do, this whore gave gifts TO her lovers. She bribed them to come to whore with her. Her motivation was not financial but purely sexual, and because of her insatiable desire, she was even willing to pay others to whore with her. So this woman who does the "deeds of a shameless whore" not only didn't gain financially, but she actually lost financially.

     Verse 34 says that she is "different from other women IN HER WHORINGS", so we know that her "deeds of a shameless whore" were still considered whoring by Elohim. She is still fully "whoring", still committing the "deeds of a shameless whore", even though she is different from most whores in some way. Elohim says that she is a different kind of whore (one who does not receive payment), but still a whore nonetheless.

     Then in verse 35, Elohim clearly identifies this woman who refused payment as -- a whore! This passage proves, beyond all doubt, that a whore is a whore whether she receives payment or not. A whore was expected to charge for her services, but she is a whore all the same. A whore is a woman who does "the deeds of a shameless whore", irrespective of whether she charges any money for her whoring. Even a whore who does "the deeds of a shameless whore" without asking for money is still called a whore in Scripture, and by none other than Elohim Himself. Let His Word be true and every man a liar.

Case #7: Whoring and Adultery
     "For because of a whore one is brought to a crust of bread. And an adulteress hunts a precious life." (Proverbs 6:26, The Scriptures)

     "But come here, you sons of the sorceress, you offspring of the adulterer and the whore!" (Isaiah 57:3, The Scriptures)

     "And I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Yisra'el had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Yehudah did not fear, but went and committed whoring too." (Jeremiah 3:8, The Scriptures)

     "Why should I pardon you for this? Your children have forsaken Me and sworn by those that are not mighty ones. When I had filled them up, they then committed adultery and they thronged to the house of a whore." (Jeremiah 5:7, The Scriptures)

     "Then I said concerning the one worn out in adulteries, 'Now let them commit her whorings, even hers!'" (Ezekiel 23:43, The Scriptures)

     "They slaughter on the mountaintops, and burn incense on the hills, under oak and poplars and terebinth, because its shade is good. Therefore your daughters commit whoring, and your brides commit adultery." (Hosea 4:13, The Scriptures)

     "I would not punish your daughters when they commit whoring, nor your brides when they commit adultery, for the men themselves go aside with whores, and offer with cult prostitutes -- a people that do not understand are thrust down!" (Hosea 4:14, The Scriptures)
     Adultery is shown in Scripture to be a subset of whoring. There is a continuous correlation between whoring and adultery throughout Scripture, just as there is a correlation between spiritual whoring and spiritual adultery. The whole point of whoring is to have sexual intercourse apart from marriage, whether the whoring involves payment or not.

     Scripture demonstrates that whoring occurs when a man has sexual intercourse with a woman who is not his wife (including when she prostitutes her body for hire). Scripture demonstrates that adultery occurs when a man has sexual intercourse with a woman who is another manís wife (including when she prostitutes her body for hire). This is why every single case of adultery is also whoring, yet not every case of whoring is necessarily adultery.

Case #8: 1 Corinthians 7
     "And concerning the matters you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. But because of whoring, let each one have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband...And I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am, but if they do not have self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn." (1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 8-9, The Scriptures)
     Although the Hebrew word "zanah" isn't used in the Greek Messianic Scriptures (New Testament), the equivilent Greek word "porneia" [G4202] is. Look carefully at this passage. Paul makes clear that the solution to the problem of whoring is marriage. Rather than whoring, they are to be married. If they don't have self-control, then they should marry. Sexual intercourse outside of marriage is always whoring, and the Biblical prevention against this whoring is always marriage.

Case #9: Hebrews 13
     "Let marriage be respected by all, and the bed be undefiled. But Elohim shall judge those who whore, and adulterers." (Hebrews 13:4, The Scriptures)
     In this passage, we find the Greek word "pornos" [G4205] (a variance of "porneia") which specifically refers to a male whoremonger. A more accurate translation of this passage would be "...Elohim shall judge whoremongers and adulterers", which is directly addressing the men. In any event, it is clear that a partition has been drawn between the marriage bed, and those who whore and adulterate. One is respected and undefiled; the others Elohim will judge. There isn't a third option.


     Individually, any of the above passages should be sufficient to demonstrate that "zanah" (whoring) cannot refer exclusively to prostitution, but rather to any sexual intercourse with someone other than their spouse. Collectively, no counter-argument can stand against them. The Scriptural evidence speaks for itself. Anyone who would argue for promiscuous sexual intercourse, despite these clear passages to the contrary, will no doubt argue face-to-face with Elohim when they stand before Him.

     I pray this information will be a blessing to those who are earnestly seeking Scriptural truth on the matter. I will conclude with a single passage that comprehensively defines a Biblical marriage, according to Scripture.
     "Again I passed by you and looked upon you and saw that your time was the time of love. And I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. And I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine," declares the Master Yahweh." (Ezekiel 16:8, The Scriptures)




"...In essentials we maintain unity, in opinions liberty, and in all things love..."

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