The English word “lasciviousness” is used six times in the King James version of the Bible. It is found in these passages Mark 7:22, II Corinthians 12:21, Galatians 5:19, Ephesians 4:19, I Peter 4:3 and Jude 1:4. In modern translations the word “sensuality” is used in place of lasciviousness.
Lasciviousness is a translation of the Greek word “Aselgeia” found in the original language of the New Testament.
Thayer’s Bible Dictionary defines Aselgeia as:
“unbridled lust, excess, licentiousness, lasciviousness, wantonness, outrageousness, shamelessness, insolence”
from a compound of (1) (as a negative particle) and a presumed selges (of uncertain derivation, but apparently meaning continent)
When we see a circular definition of a word(when it is used to define itself) we have to look deeper. The key descriptions of Thayer’s definition are “unbridled” and “excess”.
The key to Aselgeia’s definition is found in it’s word origin:
” from a compound of (1) (as a negative particle) and a presumed selges (of uncertain derivation, but apparently meaning continent)”
So Aselgeia came from two words ‘a’ and ‘seleges’ meaning “incontinent”.
We can then say without making a circular definition that Aselgeia literally means “incontinent” which is defined by Webster’s online dictionary as:
“(1) : lacking self-restraint (2) : not being under control”
So based on how the word is used in the Bible as well as how it was used in that culture Aselgeia referred to any uncontrolled indulgences of physical pleasures. We must be very careful of reading English words back on to Greek words. What I mean is where English words like licentiousness, lasciviousness, wantonness, outrageousness, shamelessness, insolence have to do with lack of control or lack of constraint or obsession they are right in helping us understand the meaning of Aselgeia. But if they stray from from the lack of control or lack of constraint about some activity then their definition would not accurately portray what Aselgeia was.
The meaning of lasciviousness and its modern counterpart sensuality is often associated with sexual addiction and sexual obsession. But in its original sense Aselgeia is not restricted to an overindulgence in sexual pleasure but it also refers to gluttony and drunkenness and could also apply to drug addictions or any type of addiction to some source of physical pleasure.
A drunken college party is a textbook example of Aselgeia.
Aselgeia is also translated in other passages as “wantonness and filth” although “filth” is actually not an accurate translation in the KJV version of II Peter 2:7:
“And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked”.
To be fair – “conversation” when the KJV was written meant “behavior or conduct”. So what they were really saying was “filthy conduct”. But “filthy” or “dirty” is not a correct interpretation of Aselgeia. The NASB correctly translates Aselgeia when it renders II Peter 2:7 as:
“and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men” – II Peter 2:7 (NASB)
I understand why the KJV translators translated it as “filthy” because of its context of talking about the homosexuals in Sodom and Gomorrah. But we must understand that homosexuality and all sexual perversion involves sensuality – an overindulgence or obsession with any physical pleasure.
While there are several other uses of Aselgeia – I think Mark 7:20-24 is a great place to understand what Aselgeia is in relation to other sins:
“20 And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.
21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,
22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:
23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
24 And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid.” – Mark 7:20-24 (KJV)
Christ is talking about the wicked desires and imaginations of men’s hearts that lead to wicked actions.
Now let’s examine each of these words in their original meanings:
“evil thoughts” – from ‘Kakos’ which literally means “bad” so this literally means “bad thoughts”.
“adulteries” – from ‘Moicheia’ which refers to the act of a man sleeping with another man’s wife.
“fornications” – from ‘Porneia’ which refers to all sexually immoral acts including pre-marital sex, adultery(‘Moicheia’ is a form of ‘Porneia’), prostitution, homosexuality, incest and beastiality.
“murder” – “Phonos” – Murder
“thefts” – ‘Klope’ – theft
“covetousness” – ‘Pleonexia’ – This word actually means greed, not covetousness and it is an incorrect translation of this Greek word which has been corrected in most modern English translations of the Bible today.
“wickedness” – ‘’Poneria” – Not to be confused with “Porneia” which refers to sexually immoral acts. This word refers to taking pleasure from causing others pain.
“deceit” – “Dolos” – deceit or guile.
“lasciviousness” – “Aselgeia” – uncontrolled desire, lack of restraint, excess and obsession with sensual pleasures
“evil eye” – “Poneros” & “Ophthalmos” – related to “Poneria” but in this case instead of enjoying causing others pain it is enjoying eyeing or watching others being caused pain.
“blasphemy” – slandering someone’s good name or reproachful speech against a deity
“pride” – “Huperephania” – pride and arrogance
“foolishness” – “Aphrosune” – foolishness, thoughtlessness or recklessness
So as we can see from this passage which uses Aselgeia with a host of other sins it represents overindulgence or obsession with the pleasures of the senses – or sensuality as we call it today. Aselgeia could definitely lead to fornication(sexual immorality) if someone is obsessed with sexual pleasure, but it can also lead to drunkenness, gluttony, drug addictions and a host of other obsessions and overindulgence with physical pleasure.
Unfortunately, many Christian sites like http://www.gotquestions.org attempt to center Aselgeia primarily on human sexuality.
Consider these statements as part of their definition of lasciviousness:
“Lascivious behavior may include the way we dress, when our goal is to appear sexy or sensual. Lasciviousness also encompasses viewing sexually explicit media. This would include salacious magazines, movies, and television, as well as outright pornography. Numerous studies have shown that pornography is highly addictive, and countless marriages have been destroyed as a result of it. It has also been determined that many child molesters, sexual predators, and even murderers have been influenced by such material…”
Aselgeia (which is what lasciviousness is translating) has NOTHING to do with a woman dressing sexy or dressing to appeal to the senses of men.
Aselgeia has NOTHING to do with people viewing “sexually explicit media” or erotic materials. I am not defending the porn industry but there is nothing wrong with a Christian viewing erotic materials or images that are pleasing to our senses – specifically our sexual senses.
Aselgeia is the overindulgence of the physical pleasure we receive from our senses. It is porn addiction, not the mere looking at and enjoying of erotic images in drawings, paintings, movies, magazines, or online.
But what is left out by many Christian teachers and sites like gotquestions.org is that we can overindulge in other physical pleasures as well and this word was not ONLY talking about overindulgence in the sexual arena. Gluttony, drunkenness and drug addiction are just as much aselgeia as is porn addiction.
See a related topic “Is God against us enjoying physical pleasure?”