Is Premarital Sex a Sin? Bible Scholars Respond
Before I quote the Bible scholars, here is my input on the topic:
I think it’s pretty damn obvious that the Bible condemns pre-marital sex.
Or, to put it conversely, the Bible supports celibacy, chastity, abstinence, and virginity (I more or less use all those terms interchangeably but recognize some have more precise definitions).
Based upon about every blog and forum post I’ve ever seen on this topic, the only people asking if the Bible really does forbid pre- (or extra-) marital sex are those who were brought up in the Christian faith at some point, want to have pre-marital sex, but would realize they would probably feel guilty if they did so.
Or, this topic is raised those who have already had pre- or extra- martial sex and feel guilty about it.
Then you have the folks who claim the Bible is totally VAGUE about sexual sin, whether we are talking about hetero pre marital sex or any and all homosexual behavior, or they insist they see absolutely no condemnation of pre-martial sex in the Bible.
Just like a car thief would probably claim not to see any biblical passages at all that say stealing is wrong, or claim that biblical passages of stealing are so vague that we can never really know for sure what the Bible says on the topic, I am sure. Convenient how that works, isn’t it?
All of these people are looking for loopholes to pork around and not feel guilty about it.
Hence, the astonishing, frequent obtuse claims I’ve seen increase in number online the last several years of, “golly gee, I’ve studied the bible extensively on this topic and see absolutely no evidence God is opposed to singles having sex prior to marriage.”
Some guy just dropped by this blog last night or early today in one of the posts to ask if the Bible really expects celibacy of everyone, and oddly, wanting me to define celibacy. I’m not just picking on him, because there again, I’ve seen so many similar claims come up on-line the last few years.
Of course you do not… because you don’t want to see it. Please stop deluding yourself.
Is Premarital Sex a Sin? Bible Scholars Respond
- Dr. Jerry Walls:
- Recently, one of my students raised some fascinating questions that more and more people today seem to be asking, namely, “Is premarital sex a sin, and whether the Bible is really clear on the matter. Here is how he posed the question:
“I will qualify this to say that my girlfriend and I aren’t doing anything; however, we were both fairly surprised to discover that the “sex in marriage only” thing is not really there.
Everyone talks about it, but I have as of yet been unable to find it.
It’s a particular area of interest for me, because if the popular Christian notion of abstinence is wrong, we have been mentally and emotionally abusing quite literally millions of people.
In the Old Testament, sex before marriage leads to marriage (Exodus 22:16).
In the New Testament, we mistranslate the word porneos as “fornication,” which we take to mean sex before marriage, whereas this is clearly not the case.
The Bible uses the same word talking about reasons for leaving a marriage, which sex with a woman besides your wife is clearly not premarital sex.
Most sites and sources I have found say that verses prohibiting “sexual immorality” are talking about sex before marriage, but the argument here is circular.
What is sexual immorality? Sex before marriage.
Why is sex before marriage immoral? Because the Bible prohibits sexual immorality.
My aim is not to say that we should all just go off and have sex with whomever we please, but the supposed Biblical prescription simply isn’t there, and I’ve done a good deal of research and asked some very knowledgeable people.”
Dr. Ben Witherington III responds:
As ought to be clear from 1 Cor. 7, virginity in a woman was highly valued before marriage. In that text she is called both the betrothed and a virgin.
In early Jewish law if you had sex with a woman you were considered married to her or you had shamed her. See the story of Mary and Joseph.
Porneia can refer to all sorts of sexual sin including deflowering a virgin.
What that whole discussion by your student ignores is: firstly, there was no dating or physical intimacy prior to an arranged marriage in the vast majority of cases.
The notion of dating doesn’t exist in Jesus and Paul’s world.
Second, honor and shame cultures placed a high value on sexual purity.
Notice how prostitutes were stigmatized. Women were mainly blamed for sexual immorality.
Finally Jesus gave his disciples two choices in Mt. 19— fidelity in heterosexual marriage or being a eunuch! This means no sex outside marriage.
Dr. Bill Arnold responds:
For the Old Testament side of things, it’s interesting that the only text your student interlocutor mentions is the Book of the Covenant stipulation that a man who seduces a virgin should pay her bride-price and make her his wife (Exod 22:16).
What the student fails to observe is that the premise of this legal stipulation is that the man has, in fact, gotten the process reversed. He should have negotiated the bride-price, then married her, then had intercourse.
The point of the law, as with many other laws in the Book of the Covenant, is that he has willfully done something wrong and must now make amends.
The text the student is citing in your discussion actually supports your position, and not his.
Also, although perhaps not directly related to the question of premarital sex, the single most neglected datum from the OT related to marriage is Gen. 2:24-25.
I never thought in my wildest dreams that this text would become controversial in our day, but it elevates the idea of heterogeneous marriage between one male and one female, regardless of how we conceptualize a state-defined and sanctioned certificate of marriage. The biblical concept is clear enough.
Dr. Lawson Stone responds:
… The key point, here, is not just the agricultural or economic one, but the fact that sexual activity exists in a total weave of life, relationships, economics and community. Marriage recognizes this.
Moderns, however, only think of sex individualistically as an act of pleasurable intimacy between the man and woman.
They have no notion of sex as an act embedded in the social matrix, economic life, and trans-generational history of their community, to which they are accountable for all their actions.
…. The idea that extramarital sex is fine is only imaginable in the post-sexual revolution world of not just easy contraception and abortion, but a world in which no particular significance for society as a whole attaches to sex.
In modern life, we don’t really have “intercourse” in the full sense of that word–we just copulate.
Thus despite being a sexually saturated society, modern or post-modern life remains starkly devoid of sexual satisfaction.
The nature of marriage as a covenant in the OT uniting a man and woman, in the context of family, community and God, calls for public recognition. Unlike the privatistic piety of contemporary life, biblical faith was communal and public.
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