What Does the Bible Say about Prostitution?
It’s a profession that many people look down upon, even if the woman or man involved feels that it is the only way they can provide for themselves and their families. And it is has been a profession for almost as long as time itself – historically recognized in Greek and Roman societies, and recorded in both history books and the Bible.
The debate about prostitution, especially God’s stance on prostitution, has been ongoing for centuries as well. The Bible discusses several stories involving prostitutes and even some allegorical representations of prostitution to depict the sinful behaviors of people.
But what does the Bible say about prostitution? Though the profession goes against God’s goal for marriage and sexual purity, the Bible displays God’s belief that all people – no matter the way they live their life – are His children. We are all in need of His love, guidance, and discipline to live in a fallen world that is riddled with corruption and can only be overcome with the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ.
God uses stories of prostitutes to not only show that no one is too far gone to be saved and loved by God, but that even professed Christians can fall into the traps of prostitution for the idols or prosperities of this world, needing God to save them. Let’s begin first with a foundational understanding of the Bible’s view on prostitution.
How Does the Bible Define Prostitution?
From the very start of the Bible, prostitution was a disdained business that went against everything that was moral and upstanding in society at that time. Though there are mentions of man’s wickedness in the days of Noah (Genesis 6), the first mention of prostitution occurs in the story of Tamar in Genesis.
A widow after her husband’s death, Tamar chose to take the matter of having children into her own hands, and disguised herself as a prostitute so her father-in-law, Judah, would be intimate with her and give her a child. When it is revealed that Tamar is with child, Scripture says, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has played the harlot; furthermore she is with child by harlotry” (Gen. 38:24). This prompted Judah to say, “Bring her out and let her be burned,” though she revealed items that Judah gave her when he thought she was a harlot (prostitute), convicting Judah of his sin and saving her life.
The books of Leviticus, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Nahum also mention prostitution, sometimes referencing Israel or groups of people in general regarding idolatry against God. There are also recognized examples of women who are actual prostitutes or committed acts of adultery or fornication themselves, such as Gomer and Mary Magdalene, which we will discuss later.
The general mindset the Bible portrays toward prostitution is that it is an act that not only dishonors God and all He has done for us, but leads to bondage to someone else, a nation or even a false god who doesn’t love the person the same way that God does. Prostitution causes people to disrespect their bodies, minds, and souls for a person, a false god, or a nation that doesn’t believe in the potential of the people or will love and support them as only God can.
Why Does God Have Hosea Marry a Prostitute?
One particular story about prostitution in the Bible is the tumultuous marriage between the prophet Hosea and a prostitute he has taken as his bride, Gomer. In the book of Hosea, God told Hosea he was to marry a prostitute and have children with her, in order to understand more of the unfaithfulness that Israel was displaying toward the Lord (Hosea 1:2).
Throughout Hosea and Gomer’s marriage, Hosea had to constantly find Gomer after she ran away and was unfaithful to him. Hosea became tired of having to bring Gomer back when she would let prostitution take her away from her marriage and children, but God wanted to demonstrate this as an example of His continued, redeeming love to the unfaithful nation of Israel.
God saw Israel in the actions of Gomer, rejecting the love of Hosea for prostitution the same way that Israel rejects the love of God for the false love of other gods, greed, and lust. But just as Hosea stood firm in his marriage to Gomer, loving her even when she was unlovable, God does the same for us, knowing we will turn from our lost ways and return to Him in happy reunion.
Why Does the Bible Use Prostitution as an Illustration of Israel's (and Our) Relationship with God?
Hosea is one of many examples the Bible uses to depict Israel’s, and our, mistreatment of God and willingness to exchange His steadfast love for that of the false and fleeting love of this world and its idols. Jeremiah 3:1-3 described the same scenario as Hosea, showing Israel as a harlot of many lovers but that the Lord, through Jeremiah, wanted Israel to return to Him, rejecting the evil and coming back to the loving peace God offers.
2 Kings 17:14-15 is more descriptive of what exactly the people of Israel did in rejecting God, mentioning in the Bible that they were “stiffening their necks” toward God and rejecting His statues and covenant, just as their fathers did before them. Israel was also following idols and nations of idols, imitating them in their words and actions even though God told them not to.
These examples were to show Israel that just because they were the chosen people of God, they were still susceptible to the same temptations as those who weren’t the chosen people. They had to follow God’s direction and learn to be able to reject evil temptations. The same applies to us as Christ followers. Just because we believe we are under the saving blood of Jesus doesn’t mean the devil won’t try all he can to tempt us away from our heavenly Father.
Did Jesus Interact with Prostitutes?
Jesus didn’t shy away from interacting with prostitutes, not following the perspective of the religious elite that prostitutes were out of reach for even God to help and love. Who can forget the notable confrontation Jesus had with the Pharisees over the woman caught in adultery, whom they brought to stone, and also to trap Jesus (John 8:1-12)?
He showed mercy to the woman by telling the men to cast the first stone at her if they had done no wrong themselves. When all had left, Jesus told the woman He didn’t condemn her and for her to go on and sin no more. Some also believe the woman who broke her bottle of perfume over Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair was a possible prostitute who felt the redeeming love of God through Him.
You can also see other stories of women with questionable pasts, like the Samaritan woman at the well, who were seen as worthy of God’s love in Jesus’s eyes. Although they were engaged in sexually immoral behavior, Jesus still saw them as people worth saving.
Why Is This Biblical Knowledge about Prostitution Important?
Though prostitution still carries the same negative connotation in our society today as it did centuries ago, the mission of God and Jesus to redeem those struggling with sin hasn’t stopped. We can read countless stories of missionaries who have freed women, men, and children from sex trafficking and prostitution through the powerful words of the Bible, while also leading several to come to know Jesus personally and to break out of the bondage prostitution has placed them in.
And just as God demonstrated throughout the Bible, we can be just as guilty of prostitution when we place our spouses, our careers, our children, and even spiritual self-righteousness above God Himself. When we make idols of things society deems as more important than a healthy relationship with the Lord, we are prostituting our minds, bodies, and souls to someone, something, or even some group that doesn’t respect the gifts we are offering.
Reading these stories is to remind us that prostitution is easy to become entangled with, even if we aren’t doing the physical act of sex. If we aren’t focused on God and standing firm on biblical principles against temptations to sin, we will find ourselves spiraling down into prostitution that has trapped so many before us.
God Redeems Sinners
Prostitution is a business in our world that is seen as shameful, sinful, and dirty in every way, and the Bible doesn’t see it differently. Several books of the Bible show how prostituting oneself to a person, a nation, or a god will never bring forth the comfort, love, and spiritual guidance one needs to live peacefully with God.
Though we read stories of prostitutes in the Bible being redeemed and learn of the struggles God faced in continuing to love the unfaithful people of Israel, the truth is that we can easily become prostitutes ourselves if we place others above God and His plan for our lives.
So, it is important to remember these stories, knowing that when we stumble – and we will – God is forever there with a helping hand and a redeeming heart.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/George Pachantouris
Blair Parke is a freelance writer for BibleStudyTools.com and freelance book editor who wrote her first book, "Empty Hands Made Full," in 2021 about her journey through infertility with her husband. She previously worked for eight years with Xulon Press as an editor. A graduate of Stetson University with a bachelor's in communications, Blair previously worked as a writer/editor for several local magazines in the Central Florida area, including Celebration Independent and Lake Magazine and currently writes for the Southwest Orlando Bulletin. She's usually found with a book in her hand or enjoying quality time with her husband Jeremy and dog Molly. You can order her book at Christian Author Bookstore - Xulon Press Publishing and visit her website at Parkeplaceediting.