Libertarians calls for legalizing prostitution, claiming that it is a “victimless crime;” that is, no one is forced to buy the services of a prostitute. (Forcing people to be prostitutes is another matter entirely, and libertarians would agree entirely with moralists on this issue.) The view is not limited to Libertarians. Based on the stats from my political quiz, legalizing prostitution is far more popular than the behavior of elected politicians would indicate.
Surely letting prostitutes go free is un-Christian pause. Right? Maybe not. Let us look at what the Bible Law actually says. Let us look at some quotes on “whore” and “harlot” from the Law books.
29. Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore; lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness.
OK, so parents cannot sell their daughter’s sexuality. Few today would disagree with that principle. Note that this prohibition is on the parent, not the prostitute.
9. And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.
Yikes! That’s a severe punishment! But note that this is applied to specifically to priest’s daughters. The Levites had special restrictions; this prohibition does not necessarily apply to laypeople. However from Deuteronomy:
13. If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her,
14. And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid:
15. Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel's virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate:
16. And the damsel's father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her;
17. And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter's virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.
18. And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him;
19. And they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days.
20. But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel:
21. Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father's house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.
Well, here we do have what appears to be a blanket penalty for harlotry, and the penalty is death. By this standard U.S. law is merciful. But I will quibble and note that the penalty was for playing the whore in her father’s house. Note that “playing the whore” has no reference to payment; this is about fornication in general—while still living with the parents. To do so was disrespect of parents and fraud to future husband. Disrespect to parents was a death penalty offense in general. The passage above does not necessarily generalize to prostitution/fornication in general. For example, what of a widow or orphaned woman?
Let us go back to the prohibitions on priests:
13. And he [priest] shall take a wife in her virginity.
14. A widow, or a divorced woman, or profane, or an harlot, these shall he not take: but he shall take a virgin of his own people to wife.
A priest must take a virgin for a wife. Harlots are on the forbidden list along with widows and divorcees. Why does there need to be a mention of harlots if harlots in general are to be disposed of? A redundancy? Or are some harlots to be spared.
Here is a passage that looks general, though there is no penalty mentioned.
17. There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a Sodomite of the sons of Israel.
18. Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the Lord thy God for any vow: for even both these are abomination unto the Lord thy God.
Well, 23:17 does look like a blanket prohibition, however, the word translated in the King James as “whore” is a different word than elsewhere: q@deshah vs. zanah according to Strong’s (Look at the KJV+ tab on E-Sword). The New King James translates this as a ritual prostitute. The surrounding pagans were using temple prostitutes, both male and female to help fund their temples. This was forbidden to the Hebrews.
Admittedly, it looks like I am loophole searching to claim that the physical enforcement against prostitutes was not general. If I were to stick with just the law books, my case would indeed be weak. The law books are ambiguous on the subject. Given the general negative view on sex outside of marriage, it is easy to extrapolate the other way. My own wisdom on interpreting the Law is limited. Let’s consult with someone who had more wisdom, King Solomon:
1 Kings 3:
16. Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him.
17. And the one woman said, O my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house.
18. And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house.
19. And this woman's child died in the night; because she overlaid it.
20. And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thine handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom.
21. And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead: but when I had considered it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, which I did bear.
22. And the other woman said, Nay; but the living is my son, and the dead is thy son. And this said, No; but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son. Thus they spake before the king.
23. Then said the king, The one saith, This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead: and the other saith, Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living.
24. And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king.
25. And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.
26. Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it.
27. Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof.
28. And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment.
This case is listed right after God grants Solomon wisdom; Solomon’s judgment here is given as an example of wisdom. Solomon first demonstrates wisdom by resolving a dispute between two harlots! If harlots in general were to be stoned to death, then there would have been no need to resolve this dispute. Solomon should have had them executed. But he didn’t, so it appears that under some circumstances harlotry was indeed legal.
Or consider Hosea 1:
2. The beginning of the word of the Lord by Hosea. And the Lord said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord.
God commands a prophet to marry a whore! This would be strange if such a woman was under a death penalty.
It is interesting to note why Hosea is commanded to do so. It was to be a metaphor for the fact that the land had committed whoredom; that is, the Hebrews had gone after other gods. Throughout the Bible, whoredom is used as a metaphor to describe when God’s people dabble in other religions. This goes all the way back to Exodus:
15. Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;
16. And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.
7. And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations.
This metaphor extends throughout the prophets. For people of God to dabble in other religions is like a wife that sells her body despite the fact that her husband loves and takes care of her. God describes himself in terms of a very jealous husband in these passages.
Note that harlots under a death sentence in the Law were all women who had alternative sources of income: daughters living with parents, Levites (they get tithes), and wives.
All this is not to suggest that prostitution or fornication is moral; it is merely to suggest that we are not given a mandate to prosecute. And this is before taking into account the New Testament, which calls for a great deal more forgiveness to sinners.