What Does the Bible Really Teach About Pre-Marital Sex?

So, a friend of mine commented on the absurdity of Jessica Simpson complaining that she hasn’t been able to marry her man yet because he keeps getting her knocked up… which made me search the scriptures and shockingly, completely changed how I saw the issue of sex before marriage!

I have always been under the impression that the scriptures taught that if you have sex with a young lady, you are to be married to that lady. Mostly from the law found in Deuteronomy 22:28-29

If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days.

Which is all fine and good, do not have sex with girls or you are going to be her husband forever. Luckily, our society does not follow these laws! But if we look at a few verses after this one, namely, Deuteronomy 22:23-24

If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife.

We see that it was a death sentence if you had sex with a young lady who was engaged to another man. By the way, the word “virgin” here can also mean “young lady”, they are almost synonymous. We assume that “virgin” is applied to both of these verses because the loss of virginity is the problem.

Based on these two verses, it can be logically concluded that you can have sex with your fiancée, you do not need to wait until marriage! There are no laws that state it is punishable for a man to have sex with his fiancée, only laws that state that it is punishable for a man to have sex with a young lady who is not his fiancée or with a young lady who is someone else’s fiancée. Surely this cannot be true! For all my life, especially my Christian life, I have been told (and accepted) that the scriptures taught us that we should not have sex before marriage. But it looks like these two verses indicate that we simply should not have sex before betrothal, and if we do, we should/must get married.

So, I decided to take a step back and Googled, “What does the bible teach about sex before marriage”… every verse that I found in the New Testament said absolutely nothing about sex before marriage. Seriously, almost every verse that is used to defend the biblical idea that we should abstain from sex before marriage is a verse that just says that we should not be sexually immoral (or sexually illicit). In other words, it is a completely circular argument — people are assuming that sex before marriage is included in the Greek term for sexually immoral, but that does not seem to be what the term means. Each of these verses use the same Greek word πορνεἱα (porneia), from which the word “pornography” is derived. Basically this word means, “having casual sex with people, especially without the intention of marrying them.”

Look it up for yourself, these are the common verses I found:

  • But that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. – Acts 15:20
  • Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. – 1 Corinthians 6:13
  • But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. – 1 Corinthians 7:2
  • I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced. – 2 Corinthians 12:21
  • And these… Galatians 5:19, Ephesians 5:3, Colossians 3:5, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Hebrews 13:4, Jude 1:7

That is it… that is all the Bible says about sex before marriage. In other words, as far as I can tell (unless someone can show me a verse that I missed) the scriptures merely state that if you have sex with someone, you should marry them; and if you are going to marry someone, you can have sex with them.

With all that said, I could be completely wrong, but I have been married for a long time, so I do not really need to worry about it. You should, however, err on the side of caution and follow what you and your partner believes to be true.

P.S. I am told by my wife that many young horn-dogs knew about this “loop-hole” when she was a teen. Of course they never had any real intention of marrying the young ladies they were trying to persuade. So, do please be discerning and do not fall for the trickery of boys who have no honorable intent.

Comments

  1. I don’t know if you’ve missed any other specific scriptures, but it should be noted that the biblical concept of betrothal is not exactly the same as a 21st century engagement. Wasn’t a betrothal a legal contract, extremely difficult to break?

    • Perhaps… but it is still sex before marriage. According to the Law you are required to marry the girl (and stay married to her).

  2. Tim Day says:

    Of course, if either of you ever have sex with anyone else, it’s adultery.

    • Well, it is adultery if you are married… otherwise it is probably best described as fornication, which would fall under the “sexually immoral” umbrella.

  3. Tim Day says:

    Of course, now you’ll have to do a blog on “how does the Bible define marriage.” :-)

  4. Chet Boyd says:

    Lew,

    You know I love you bro…but I really don’t think you came to the right conclusion, nor is it helpful or practical & just steers people into more pain…more sexual unions (which is not just physical but also a spiritual deal) that end in pain or start off on the wrong foot. The whole leaving ones father and mother and being joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh clearly give us the proper order of things…covenant relationship that is sealed with the sexual union. Also, I notice you didn’t mention lust. Lust is the sexual desire/fantasy for someone other than the one you are married to. So how do 2 individuals have sex before being marriage without committing the sin of lust? Another truth is just the utter sinfulness of our hearts that will look for any loophole to get what we want right then as your wife alluded to. Not to be too gross, but what she is failing to realize is that every guy is a “horn dog”. The main difference of those who act on that and those who don’t is the willingness of some to make a sincere effort to honor God, to discipline oneself, and to say no to the flesh. In response to that you mentioned “honorable intent” – please! Like the grandpa on Duck Dynasty says, “I don’t trust any guy. All guys will say the same thing, ‘baby I love you. Now let me get in your britches.'” Though I believe the verses you mentioned above give enough information to counter your conclusion, I’ll close this reply with 2 Tim 2:22, “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” Please don’t encourage young men & women to fall for the Enemy’s oldest trick, “Did the LORD really say….?”

    • Howdy Chet, I do not believe I have steered anyone into more sexual unions… I simply stated what I see the scriptures actually teaching on the subject. I have also stated that fornication and other sexual immorality is still wrong (e.g. more sexual unions is still bad). Unless you can show me some scripture that teaches otherwise, the bible seems to permit/condone sex before marriage in one particular case (e.g. betrothal/engagement). In other words, when it comes to sex there seems to be no difference between a marriage certificate and a promise of a marriage certificate. Especially in the OT when you were force to marry if you had sex.

      I did not mention lust, because that was not the topic I was approaching. Lust is a completely different sin that affects people whether they are married, engaged, dating, or just walking down the street. I think 1 Corinthians 7:9 applies best to this topic, “But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” But even that verse says nothing about abstaining until marriage, but that you should marry if you cannot exercise self-control (most likely what we would define as lust).

      I think it might be inappropriate to paint such a wide brush and accuse all young men as horn-dogs or as having ill-intent. Christ is more powerful than the sexual desires of a teenager. Surely it differs from man to man, each has to deal with their own vice and struggles in their own way. It is our jobs as parents to raise children who are discerning and hopefully able to see through the lies of the horn-dogs. Whether it is marriage or betrothal, hopefully our children will abstain until they are in that type of relationship that is committed to the point of “no return”.

      P.S. I believe the context of “youthful lusts” in 2 Timothy 2:22 encompasses much more than sexual desires.
      P.P.S. The Enemy may ask “Did the Lord really say…” but even Jesus quoted scripture when challenged by Satan. I see no problem with using scripture when answering Satan’s question.

  5. Lew… I appreciate your study of this topic. I haven’t studied it this closely, so it’s hard for me to comment on your conclusions. I’m glad that you’re continuing to try to differentiate between what is actually said in Scripture and how others interpret Scripture. There can be a big difference sometimes.

    -Alan

  6. Chet Boyd says:

    Lew,

    Thank you for your reply. Yes we have a duty to search the Scriptures to see what is really being said. My quote about “Did the LORD really say?” is more about your conclusion than your approach. I think this because, in my opinion, your conclusion neglects some of the Scriptures on the subject, the culture of the day, and God’s intent for His creation. In hindsight I should have taken a different approach in responding.
    Let’s go back to the OT and also understand the culture in which the Bible was written:
    1. The betrothal in the OT was much more serious than our engagements today (of which 15-20% are broken annually). The betrothal was a legal agreement, involved an oath (they technically became sons-n-law & daughters-n-law on that day), and involved a dowry payment. This is how in Genesis 19 Lot is able to say to the men of the city that his daughters are virgins and also to tell his “sons-n-law” who are engaged to his daughters that they should flee the city.
    But the union between the two would not be consummated until the wedding week when the groom would go with his bridal party to get the bride from her house along with her bridal party and take them all back to his father’s place or his place for the extended wedding week celebration. The wedding week was a week long celebration of the marriage that would be consummated on the first night of the feast (thankfully they did not make the couple wait until the end). If the man realized that his girl was not a virgin then that was big trouble for everyone (talk about a party killer). But the family would have proof if it was a false accusation (Deuteronomy 22:13-21). If the proof was given the man would be punished for “accusing a virgin of Israel of shameful conduct.”
    It is in this context of this culture that all of the NT teaching about purity, lust, & fornication exists. I believe the biblical writers were plenty explicit about God’s view on the matter even though there isn’t a verse that says, “When you are betrothed do not have sexual union with your fiance until the first night of the wedding feast.”
    I’m in 100% agreement with you that Christ is more powerful than our desires…my point was that if there is a pass that says, “hey you can do this without disobeying God” then people will do so…they will stop looking to Christ for help and they will stop attempting to exercise the discipline of patience.

    • Hey Chet, My conclusion is really just moving the allowable time from marriage to betrothal/engagement. It sounds like you have the same conclusion. Though probably you would say “the week before marriage” (which is still before marriage), even though betrothal could last over a year. I do agree that betrothal is different from engagement in the strict sense, as well marriage is different in today’s culture (over 50% of all marriages end in divorce, and they’re quite easy to obtain). But I do not think it really matters how easy or how are it is to get out of the engagement or the marriage. I think the point is that these people who are having sex with each other should be committed to each other and have committed their relationship to God… the paperwork is meaningless.

      You say that the writers of the scriptures were “plenty explicit”… but how can they have been explicit without actually being explicit? Can you demonstrate this explicitness? At the very least, I think I have clearly demonstrated that they were, in fact, not explicit. Earlier you simply said that the verses I used to prove my point (use the word πορνεἱα) countered my conclusion, but I do not think you’ve demonstrated why.

      Thanks for the great convo :)

      • Chet Boyd says:

        Hey Lew,

        I won’t try to address all your points at the moment since it is almost midnight. Here is the order of events as I understand them:

        1. Find a mate: while families may try to arrange things the young lady had the right to say no. Ex: Isaac & Rebekah.
        2. Betrothal: legal contract (called a “Shitre Erusin” with dowry info and other details…) If the relationship was broken after this was signed then there would be financial obligations. And the woman here is also protected financially if her man dies before the wedding.
        3. Groom goes and gets the bride and the wedding celebration begins. The marriage contract (called a “Chethubah”) would be signed on this first day and would be witnessed by 2 others…again protecting the woman. (In the time of Jesus this would usually be on a Wednesday…giving 3 days to prepare after the Sabbath and also the court was open on Thursday to hear cases if there was a problem.) The marriage would also be consummated on the first night.
        4. The celebration would continue for some days longer – depending on their financial situation etc…and taking a break for the Sabbath.

        I used to think more like you in terms of removing legal marriage definitions in society and just having a marriage commitment witnessed by the church, but an argument was given to me that I saw the wisdom of:

        1. God designed humans to live in a loving & committed relationship with 1 other.
        2. He did not just design marriage for those who acknowledge him but all people/societies.
        3. The closer a society is to God’s ideal of marriage the more just that society is…the less wickedness and chaos. Looking at societies…i see that the lower the view on marriage – the more abuse of women and children occurs. On the other side, a view of marriage closer to God’s perspective in a society helps protect women and children.
        4. That reasoning was sufficient for me.
        5. My response is to call myself and our church, and those we work with to be living testimonies of what God has called us to in this vital area of life.

        I too am enjoying the discussion – thanks Lew!

  7. I’m not aware of any betrothal procedures or marriage ceremonies that were in place when Adam and Eve were joined together. When Jesus cited the two, male and female, becoming one flesh as God’s joining them together, this confirms for me that something happens outside of the realm of law, culture, or church practice.

    Jesus’ words on marriage and divorce (forsaking or sending away) seem to me to apply any time people have sex, which as far as I can tell is the simplest possible example of marriage. This union may even occur before sex, if you add in the idea that the people to whom Jesus was speaking would have seen breaking a betrothal as divorce (I think I recall reading somewhere). That’s the serious underpinning of my earlier comment.

    If all that bears up under scrutiny, the standard becomes that one has sex with only one other person, of the opposite gender, for life. Through Paul, we have some exceptions.

    Legal and cultural marriage ceremonies recognize what God has done, but in themselves I’m not sure they bear on the discussion ” What Does the Bible Really Teach About Pre-Marital Sex?” since legal frameworks and cultural ceremonies change.

    That said, I think Chet has a valid point that the legal frameworks and cultural ceremonies help reinforce and show intent. When I sign legal marriage papers, etc, I send a pretty strong signal that I’m all in – and those protections also help guide me.

    Thanks for asking this question, Lew. You provoked me to spend some additional time searching Scripture today!

    • Thanks Tim, I am glad that this post sparked some thought and scripture searching. I am actually a pretty big proponent of remove legal marriage definitions (marriage is not defined by governments, it is defined by our God). Thankfully :).

      • Chet Boyd says:

        Sorry for putting this part on here 2x…but realized it would be better here than further up the thread:

        I used to think more like you in terms of removing legal marriage definitions in society and just having a marriage commitment witnessed by the church, but an argument was given to me that I saw the wisdom of:

        1. God designed humans to live in a loving & committed relationship with 1 other.
        2. He did not just design marriage for those who acknowledge him but all people/societies.
        3. The closer a society is to God’s ideal of marriage the more just that society is…the less wickedness and chaos. Looking at societies…i see that the lower the view on marriage – the more abuse of women and children occurs. On the other side, a view of marriage closer to God’s perspective in a society helps protect women and children.
        4. That reasoning was sufficient for me.
        5. My response is to call myself and our church, and those we work with to be living testimonies of what God has called us to in this vital area of life.

        I too am enjoying the discussion – thanks Lew!

  8. Hi, thank you for the post… it’s a new concept for me but it kind of really makes sense so it’s interesting.
    Nice :)