Hot, Holy & Humorous

What Does the Bible Say About Premarital Sex?

My blog is aimed at married couples, so I don’t typically write on subjects that would be more useful for singles. However, I received a great question I want to cover:

What verses in the Bible are the basis of teaching abstinence/ban on premarital sex? My wife and I both grew up in Christian homes and environments where that was taught. But now as adults with kids/grandkids, I’m beginning to wonder if we were simply obeying parents or basic Christianity.

Premarital sex is such a big issue that I’m going to cover it in three posts:

  • Part 1 – What Does the Bible Say About Premarital Sex?
  • Part 2 – “But What About…?”: Challenges to the Church’s Ban on Premarital Sex
  • Part 3 – How to Maintain Sexual Integrity Before & After Marriage

What We Were Taught

I was also raised in the Christian environment where it was a given that premarital sex was wrong. The primary message I received regarding sex was “Don’t.” Don’t do it. Don’t think about it. Don’t have feelings about it. Don’t, don’t, don’t.

Well, until marriage, and then you’re supposed to somehow flip a switch! To which, many spouses mutter right here, “As if.”

When I became sexually active, I began to seriously question that wisdom. At some point, I convinced myself that premarital sex was either not wrong or an unrealistic view. After all, the biblical age of marriage for women was between 13 and 17 years of age, and I’d remained chaste that long. Why was I expected to abstain for another 10 years or so? Wasn’t that at the very least an outdated expectation?

Let’s look at what the Bible actually says about the issue of sex before marriage.

What the Bible Says

First off, you won’t find a scripture that says straight out: “Thou shalt not have sex before marriage.” I’ve looked. It’s not there. Yet we have numerous reasons to believe that God intends sex to occur within marriage.

Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start):

Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Genesis 2:22-24

Of course, there was no marriage ceremony for Adam and Eve with relatives and 200 guests in attendance. But God’s design is clear: The man and women leave their families of origin and unite in some way, and then sex happens.

From then on, the pattern essentially repeats:
A. Meet, court, and/or be arranged
B. Get married
C. Have sex
ABC, ABC … ABC. I could cover a lot more examples in the Old Testament, but let’s jump forward a bit.

In Ezekiel 16, God compares himself to a husband and Jerusalem to a wife. Here’s where you can see God’s view of sex and marriage.

Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.

Ezekiel 16:8

The woman is “old enough for love”—meaning that she is fully developed physically and thus of marriageable age—and what does the man do? He gives a solemn oath and enters into a covenant. Moreover, “uncovering nakedness” in the Bible is a reference to sexual sin, so “covered your naked body” is the opposite; that is, protecting her virtue.

Jesus also addressed this topic, not head-on but in a conversation about marriage and divorce. In Matthew 19:3-12, He’s approached by Pharisees wanting to test him, and they ask, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” Jesus answers that no one should separate what God has brought together and that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, is committing adultery. This isn’t the time for a deep dive on marriage and divorce passages; rather, look at what’s said next:

The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Matthew 19:10-11

The implication is that there two choices: faithful sex with your spouse (“between a husband and wife”) or no sex (“live like eunuchs”). Jesus makes no allowance for sex outside marriage.

Paul the apostle speaks to this expectation of sex within marriage as well.

But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.

1 Corinthians 7:2

and later…

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

1 Corinthians 7:8-9

The presumption is that if an unmarried woman wants to have sex, she should get married.

But—some argue—that was because a woman in that time could get pregnant and needed the physical and economic security of a husband.

First, the Bible has no problem in other places telling people to care for others they aren’t married to. God could have come up with another plan. But also, you don’t have to rely on this passage alone. There are more!

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

By the way, this is the passage that helped me heal and embrace God’s full forgiveness for my own promiscuous past. I am washed, sanctified, and justified through Christ—and if your history includes premarital sex, dear Christian, so are you.

However, did you notice that “sexually immoral” (Greek pornos) is distinct from “adulterers” (moichos)? This next passage makes the same distinction:

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

Hebrews 13:4

Pornos, translated as “sexually immoral,” is from the Greek root word porneia. Sounds familiar, right? Yes, that’s where we get our word pornography.

But while porneia is strictly defined as selling sex, in New Testament times, it had a broader definition that included various forbidden sexual practices, including sex outside marriage. (See this article for more.)

What Conclusions to Draw

The overwhelming message in the Bible is that we are to marry and then have sex.

Let’s not be surprised if this seems like a really hard teaching. We can say that’s because of our modern-day world, with all its sexuality and later ages of marriage, but the people Jesus addressed balked too. And He responded, “Not everyone can accept this word…” (Matthew 19:11).

Hey, some of what we’re called to do as Christians is difficult. We need God’s divine presence in our lives to make it happen. If you try to do it all in your own strength, you’ll either fail or wear yourself out.

Only a few verses later in Matthew 19, Jesus says, in response to a different question, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (26).

Next time, we’ll tackle exceptions to this sequence in the Bible and objections people raise. I suspect some of those will be in the comments to this post! But hang out with me, and I’ll get to them, as best I can, the next time around.

The final installment will be practical advice on maintaining sexual integrity—a phrase Ruth Buezis introduced to me that feels more accurate than “purity”—both before marriage and after, regardless of your past.

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Related posts: Are You a Single Christian Man? Should You Be Faithful to Your Wife Before You Meet Her? – FAITHFUL MAN®

74 thoughts on “What Does the Bible Say About Premarital Sex?”

    1. I think it is more difficult for women generally, but I have heard about and from men for whom it was also difficult.

      1. J. I suppose you have also heard I am sadly divorced now and while I am seeking to remarry, I am making sure that whenever I date, I take extra steps of caution to make sure I don’t give in to this temptation. I have heard of many people after divorce thinking it’s not that big of a deal.

        1. I am deeply sad about your divorce. I believe the reason God dislikes divorce is because of the heartbreak it brings to His children; if it can be avoided, it should. But that’s not always an option (and sometimes divorce is the right choice). Regardless, I pray for God’s healing and your peace.

          1. When the Bible tells us God gates something, it’s deeper in reason than the best theologians can offer. Did you know for example that divorce doubles the risk of a stroke, heart attack and breast cancer?

  1. This is a interesting topic with issues that can be hard to answer. Proven by science and bible we were designed to be married in out late teens. So we are marrying, now, way past our design. Next we need to go back to the 1st century, leaving all Church indoctrination behind, and grasped the fact that when you were engaged you were married. The fun can begin then. In fact some marriage ceremony were conducted when there were a couple of kids. So that is why Mary was in hot water and that is why she actually committed adultery. Once engaged in those days U was married. Marriage ceremony was a formality like baptism. SO when we study this we need to look at it thru different lenses. Another thing you missed is women were not designed to have multiple partners. The repercussions for females can be more devastating them males. Now I is done on the very short version of this reply.

    1. You say: “the fact that when you were engaged you were married. The fun can begin then.” That’s just not true. Yes, I know it’s a claim some scholars have made, and one part of it is accurate: that the betrothal was a contract that required specific legal steps to break, as would a marriage. But the Bible clearly delineates engagement and marriage. For example: “And who is the man that is betrothed to a woman and has not married her? Let him go and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would marry her.” Deuteronomy 20:7

      Then there’s Deuteronomy 22:13-19, which talks about a husband expecting his wife to be a virgin when they married (not his betrothed).

      How about the story of Jacob and his wives? Jacob is betrothed to Rachel, so why does he say after 7 years, ““Give me my wife, for my time is completed, that I may have relations with her.” (The word wife here could also refer to fiancée or bride.) And what does Laban do? He throws…a marriage feast, after which Jacob gets a wife (albeit not the one he wanted). See Genesis 29:21-28.

      Fast forward to Joseph and Mary, and you’ll see right from the passage that they were betrothed, she was a virgin, and later they got married (Matthew 1:18-25). Had she become pregnant, yes, that would have been considered a breaching of the betrothal contract, but there’s nowhere near enough evidence to suggest that this couple—or any other devoted Jewish couple—would be having sex pre-marriage.

      I don’t know this particular writer, but I found this article to lay out the issue well: Some Comments on First Century Jewish Betrothal Practices.

      Let’s be honest about what the Bible actually says and doesn’t say. Yes, there were variations in how betrothal and marriage were viewed, but there is far more evidence that couples waited until an official marriage moment than just got betrothed and started going at it like bunnies.

      1. When we take the whole Bible, look at history in the old testament time, and do not try to mix our modern day knowledge I strongly agree to disagree. That is the biggest problem I have with individuals today is that they look at the past thru the glasses of today. When you take ALL of the info that is available premarital sex was happening and if you had sex when you were betrothed it was not premarital. We call it being engaged and then the confusion begins. So again I have to strongly agree to disagree.

        1. I have done a lot of study into what betrothal meant, and it did not mean sharing a bed. Yes, there was a legal contract, but consummation happened after the “wedding.” (I put “wedding” in quotes because that also did not look like our weddings today, but it was still a recognized moment of union.)

          Also, using “premarital sex was happening” as support that God wanted it happening doesn’t pass muster. Read through the OT, and you can see there was also murder, rape, idolatry, oppression, false prophecies, and other stuff happening that God didn’t condone. No, premarital sex isn’t as bad as murder, but my point is that plenty of tales in the Bible are descriptive (telling us what happened) rather than prescriptive (telling us what should happen).

    2. I’ve been thinking a good deal in recent months about the Old (and New) Testament “standard” of teenage girls (14-16 years old) being married off to men in their mid-late 20s, which would be illegal or at best considered predatory in modern Western societies. I was apparently atypical in my attitudes toward sex as a teenager, but to the extent that depictions of lovesick teenage girls – especially those in affairs with much older or even married men – are accurate, I wonder if this was not the ideal arrangement, with a sanctioned focus for the girl’s sexual energies and intense emotions, with a much older husband whose brain was fully developed (which happens at 24-25 years of age) and could provide protection in every sense of the word, until his wife was old enough to know a thing or two. Today parents want more and other things for their daughters than marriage and children, namely an education and career which aren’t always compatible with child-rearing; so I couldn’t say if the old way was “better”, only that there have been tradeoffs and young women waiting until their 20s or 30s (or later) to marry may have had its costs.

      1. I’ve wondered about age of marriage as well. When my older son married, he and his bride were both 21 years old, and I heard from a LOT of people who thought they were too young to tie the knot. I don’t think that would be the right choice for everyone, but they were both from healthy families and were mature beyond their years. And honestly, I think it’s pretty awesome that they will have a full lifetime together.

  2. This is a very interesting topic, my brother and I were discussing the other day if this mandate was for non-believers as well as Christians. Hubby and I were talking about “if” one of us died young, and I mentioned that he wasn’t allowed to die young because I don’t know if I could go into another marriage without knowing that the physical relationship would be as good as what I have now… after 10 years I know what I like and how my body responds best… starting from scratch with no option to walk away seems horrible!
    But combining that with my belief that extra-marital sex isn’t okay, is really hard. So Hubby just isn’t allowed to die young. 😂

    1. I would think the answer to your question to be yes…and no. We’re all held to the same biblical standards, but it is Christ who enables us to live up to them. In the meantime we tend to expect non-believers to live like believers in their sex lives and other areas, putting the cart before the horse as it were in setting forth biblically-based moral standards without explaining the reasons for them (i.e., for our benefit and protection and not just as a kill-joy) or even people’s need for Christ. That said, the Church is to be God’s beacon to the world in calling out sin, while offering the only way out. So again sexual sin is something to be dealt with in non-believers, but within the larger context of our sin-nature.

  3. No marriage licenses in bible. But married in the eye of God the moment ( as said in the bible) “he went into her!”. The love of my yout and I may not have gotten a legal marriage license till after we were married in the sight God! Many lived by “Common Law” marriage until Social Security required proof of marriage to have spousal benefit. So government legalese is one thing. Marriage in the sight of God may preceded government legalese.

    1. Marriage contracts were not uncommon, and a covenant was usually part of marriage. So while there weren’t ceremonies and licenses as we’re used to, a moment when a couple went from betrothed to married did occur, and with it came responsibilities and privileges.

      Nothing about what I said here involves government sanction. Rather, marriage vows are far more about a promise between husband and wife and the testimony of their guest-witnesses. That’s been typical across cultures and eras throughout history.

  4. Good post. I can’t imagine being married and possibly having babies in my teens had I been alive during biblical times.
    I’m fine with those 18 and over getting married–providing they can support themselves and any children they might have. It is harder to do that nowdays than it once was.
    As far as the earlier comment about teen girls marrying men in their late twenties—most of the girls I grew up with preferred guys closer to their own age.

    1. Marriages 2000 years ago were more about pragmatism than preferences. A teenaged boy wasn’t yet able to support a wife and children, a 25-year old was. A 15-year old girl/woman might think that 16-year old boy/man is cute, but there’s no way he can take care of her. And part of attraction is socialization — we have been taught by modern society that the older guy is a pervert, that wasn’t the prevailing view 2000 years ago; today’s pervert was yesterday’s accepted norm, and frankly, that norm of 2000 years ago prevailed until the late 1800’s. And I will say when I was 15, I very much crushed on older guys; though most of my “dating life” was boys my own age, it was considered a major score to kiss a college boy, and a senior was more points than a freshman.

      1. Yeah, I think it’s particularly hard to apply the same standards to biblical times and our age because the life span was so different. Average life spans were really low, but that’s because they included infant and child mortality—which was, sadly, high. Still, people didn’t live nearly as long as we expect to, so getting married and starting that family earlier made a whole lotta sense! From what I’ve read, however, it appears most people got married as soon as they were biologically and financially able to do so; that is, teen years for women and perhaps a bit older for men.

      2. I think pragmatism would have played a bigger role in biblical times not because of a girl’s preferences but those of her parents (especially her father), although her input was likely considered. So which man a girl crushed on for his looks, height, etc. was less important than who had standing in the community and was able to support a wife and children, in addition to being deemed emotionally mature enough to do so. But I do recall Sense and Sensibility’s Colonel Brandon being deemed “too old” at 35 by the 16 year-old Marianne, so either times were a-changin’ by then or there had long been limits to what age difference would be considered appropriate.

  5. I believe these days people need to explain items In a way some will understand. My issue with some Church people is some judge a person if they had premarital sex. There is so much bad Marriage advice and some good wisdom on Marriage. Keep up the excellent insight.

    1. Not much of that sort of judging going on these days, because the solid majority of the church didn’t wait until marriage. And the church smiles at divorce these days. I used to be shocked when a married couple in the church got a divorce and then one (or both) married someone else in less than a year . . . and the CHURCH celebrated the second marriage as if there wasn’t one ounce of sin involved. I had ONE friend who waited until marriage, and she got married when she was 19. I have a few others who have only had sex with their husbands, but didn’t wait until marriage to do it. And the solid majority of my female friends (and yes, the guys, too) have sex with someone that they are NOT married to. It is because, as others have noted, that waiting until 25 or 30 (or even older) to be married first doesn’t seem realistic to them. And I’m talking about “nice” girls (and guys) who go to church. It’s the nature of the fallen world; a world that tells women that they can be just like men, and how getting married young can make it tough to have a “career.” In case you didn’t get the memo, women crave sex as much as a guy does, and if we have to wait until age 25 or 30, well, we aren’t going to wait that long.

      1. I don’t believe the church “smiles at divorce these days,” but they do allow for it more. The problem to my mind is that we should allow for it more (when it involves abuse and/or adultery), but we should allow for it less when it’s incompatibility or regular frustrations and then that involves PROVIDING HELP for those struggling. I do believe that waiting has been a particularly difficult message to get across to some in our culture, and even those who believe in waiting are highly reluctant to hold anyone accountable for not doing so. (I think my sons’ Gen Z slogan is “You Do You.”)

        Given that many people don’t wait, we need to do at least two things:
        • Help people understand the calling and benefits of waiting until marriage.
        • Help those who didn’t wait to repent and then embrace God’s forgiveness and blessing for the marriage they’re in.

        “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” John 1:9 (KJV21)

  6. From the Merrium-Webster dictionary:
    Definition of fornication
    : consensual (see CONSENSUAL sense 2) sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other

    Where the ESV translates 1 Corinthians 6:18 as ‘sexual immorality, ‘ it is accurately tralated as fornication in other translations. I believe scripture is very clear on the issue. That doesn’t make it easy by any means and I can’t pretend to have upheld this standard before marriage. However, there is another term that scripture is also clear about and that is forgiveness. God’s great grace and the forgiveness He provides through the death and resurrection of Jesus covers every failure.

  7. The problem with this question is what exactly do we mean by “marriage”? Because marriage in the Bible and marriage now are so different that they can barely be called the same thing.

    In Biblical times, people married much younger than we do now and their marriages were usually arranged family or community. Marriage was based on economics and not “falling in love”. In Jewish culture it was even considered a sin for a man not to be married by his early 20’s. In the Ancient Near East, being married was the norm and remaining single was luxury. Usually the people who had the luxury of remaining single were people who had already been married previously in their life and were now older and economically independent. People did not have to wait long after sexual maturity to finally engage in sexual activity. They did not have to spend years scrolling through dating apps just to find a suitable spouse and then marry at 30+.

    Modern marriage involves dating, “falling in love” and then marrying only when you are economically independant. The average age of first marriage is now 33 for men and 31 for women. That average is climbing. God did not design people to live sexless lives for that long.

    Marriage has changed so much that it is pointless to think that the Bible’s advice (written in a specific cultural context) can be applicable to modern marriage and dating except in the most broad, general sense. The church has already accepted dating, later marriage, marriage based on “love” instead of economics, women in the workplace, divorce, etc. You can’t put new wine in old wineskins. It makes no sense to accept all those other things and stubbornly insist that sex be reserved for marriage.

    People in the first century did not have to wait that long. The notion that a person could end up as a 30 year old virgin because they just hadn’t found a spouse yet was totally unheard of. (I know you’re going to mention Paul and Jesus; Jesus case was voluntary and Paul was probably married earlier in his life but was widowed or divorced and felt no need to remarry). The Bible does not so much as mention the possibility that a person could be unable to find a spouse despite looking for one. If people in the 1st century didn’t have to wait that long then why should we? Where is the justice in forcing people to do something that not even the underground early church had to do.

    What does the Bible say about sex before marriage? NOT APPLICABLE.

    1. You sound a lot like I once did, trying to rationalize decisions I’d made. Here’s the problem with all of it: you cannot point to a biblical prescription for or approved example of having sex outside of marriage. It’s never given a stamp of approval, no matter how old you are, what circumstances you’re in, etc. In fact, the opposite is true: with those who choose to engage in sex outside of marriage having negative consequences, and plenty choosing to wait and being seen as virtuous for that choice (at least in that area).

      Now, I agree that we shouldn’t be waiting until our 30s, but that’s a challenge to our culture not God’s Word. If you ask me, I think we—in particular the Church—should be doing more to foster finding a suitable mate earlier in life. We should be helping to shape people into mature adults who can enter marriage and in that proper context enjoy sexual intimacy to its fullest.

      But some of what you said just isn’t quite right. For instance, I have no idea where you get this: “In Jewish culture it was even considered a sin for a man not to be married by his early 20’s.” Unusual, yes, but a sin? I’ve never seen or heard that. Citation, please. And while economics and family connections were certainly a part of choosing a mate, love and attraction were also part of the equation. Just look at Jacob and Rachel, Elkanah and Hannah, the lovers in Song of Songs! (Frankly, I’d make a case that plenty of people still consider economics and family when choosing a mate, just less overtly and with love and attraction prioritized.)

      Anyway, if you think the Bible has nothing to say about this topic, then your perspective of its significance is far different from mine. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

  8. My husband and I married young. Right after college graduation. Our first baby is graduating soon before we turn 45. It was hard at first. We weren’t as financially as stable as we are now but we were hungry, driven, willing to lean on family and friends and fiercely devoted to our children. People now choose to wait to get married. I don’t think it’s necessarily because they aren’t ready but rather adults have told them they are too young and shouldn’t do it. Or they are waiting for their perfect soul mate. I laugh now and tell my kiddos that sometimes some things in the Bible can be hard to apply to todays times. However some things are super clear. “No sex with animals”. Waiting for marriage seems to fall into the really clear category. I agree that we should not expect people to wait until they are 30. But we should as a community encourage earlier marriage and be there to support and mentor those young couples so they thrive.

    1. You did it the right way. You also make observation that older people (mom, granddad, etc.) are doing everything to keep their young” (17-25) family member from even considering marriage. The pressure is especially strong on young women. You have never seen distress until you see a 40-something mom learning that her 18-year old daughter is head over heels in love with some boy she met at college, said boy being a 21-year old senior. Mom panics that the daughter won’t finish college, then law or med school, and won’t have some mega-career where she makes six figures every year for the rest of her life (and doesn’t have to depend on a man for her livelihood). Mom starts in on everything that is wrong with the guy she hasn’t even met yet. You know, things like “Why isn’t he dating someone his own age,” as if he is some sort of predator. Then grandma starts in. Then the older ladies at church get involved when she is back home for Christmas break, with great one-lines like . . . “Honey, don’t throw away your career,” and “You have plenty of time, don’t rush into marriage.” Everywhere the girl turns, the notion of having a serious relationship at age 18 is openly attacked. Of course, the old folks know that there’s a good chance of breaking the girl’s spirit if they work on her long enough. When returning to college in January, she, almost in tears, ends up breaking it off with the guy . . . . . guess what, another guy asks her out; he’s cute, but not really a keeper; she dates him off and on, she knows marriage is nowhere in sight, and for sure this guy isn’t the one, but doesn’t want to wait until she is 100 to have sex, and well, as things typically go, the new sort-of boyfriend and the girl end up having sex. It’s not true love. It never was. They last until the school year is over, and it’s over. The now 19-year old non-virgin returns home for the summer, and her family (and the old ladies at church) are so happy that the boy she was totally in love with is out of her life, probably forever at this point (she thinks he would never take her back now, anyway). Nobody back home seems to care that she isn’t a virgin anymore (they probably don’t even bother to know the answer to that question), as her virginity was never a top-level concern for any of them. Over the years that follows, she dates a series of guys, not having sex with all of them, but most of them; there’s also the occasional wild moment, like a spring break hookup. She eventually gets her romantic life back on the right path, and she finally meets another guy she falls totally in love with, gets married at age 32, and lives happily (as possible) ever after. But the 10 or so years — and more than she cares to admit sex partners — will always be there on her record, even though she has put it behind her. And on her wedding day, her bridesmaids (most of whom are friends from college days) all know that white dress isn’t legit. And the mom, grandma, and gossiping old ladies are at the wedding, too; when coming through the reception line, they have the audacity to say, “I was worried that this day would never come.”

      1. What a tale! HUGS. But I want to contradict one thing: “the white dress isn’t legit.” Who cares what others think, if God has said, “I’m ready now to bless this union that involves a commitment, exclusivity, mutuality, and intimacy.” You don’t lose your purity once and for all; God can make us white again. (“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Isaiah 1:18)

  9. The Talmud states “He who reaches the age of twenty and has not married, spends all his days in sin”. You can make the argument that this is hyperbolic but it illustrates quite well the Jewish attitude toward when a person should marry.

    A Rabbi is also quoted in the Talmud as saying “The reason that I am superior to my colleagues is that I married at sixteen. And had I married at fourteen, I would have said to Satan, ‘an arrow in your eye'”.

    Jacob literally made an economic arrangement with Laban in order to marry Rachel. Of course he was attracted to her, but the fact that he basically bought her (through work rather than money) does not help your case.

    The Song of Songs is almost certainly a fictional narrative. Even if the the two lovers in the poem (who aren’t married by the way) were inspired by real people the poem does not describe actual events. I highly doubt that two real people actually said all of those highly composed speeches to each other. Such a highly idealized work does not reflect the day to day reality of how people actually married at that time. The Song of Songs is a love poem. It was never meant to describe actual events. This isn’t a denial of inerrancy or whatever, it’s a recognition of the book’s literary genre.

    I say again, the Bible does not mention the possibility that a person could be single for a long period of time because they just haven’t found a spouse yet. That concept is foreign. Marriage was the norm. Remaining single was a luxury and was almost always voluntary. There’s a mention of people who have physical disabilities that prevent them from marriage (ie when Christ talks of people born eunuchs; I would argue that many kinds of physical or mental disability is in view here not just the lack of testes), but not a single mention of a person who just hasn’t found a spouse yet.

    Am I wrong? Then show me where in the Bible this is mentioned.
    Until then we just have to admit that the Bible does not address it and in the absence of clear biblical guidance then the Church has the prerogative to make a judgement call on what to do, which may even involve suspending some of the usual rules.

    It is now much harder to find a spouse than before.
    God did not design people to wait until they are 30+ to have sex.
    People are going to follow their biological design whether you like it or not.
    Solve this equation.

    ( PS, I recommend reading From Shame To Sin by Kyle Harper and The Body And Society by Peter Brown for some scholarly works on Greco-Roman sexual mores and Early Christian attitudes toward marriage/singleness. Present day values are NOTHING like the Greco-Roman values that Paul and others were writing against and long term singleness was almost always a voluntary practice in early Christianity).

    1. First off, Christians are not controlled by the Talmud. While there are interesting insights in how some rabbis saw things, the reality is that Jesus Himself countered a fair number of beliefs of rabbis in his time, so what the prevailing culture was is not indicative of God’s design. That said, the Talmud suggests 18–20 as the proper age of marriage for men, and the citation you provide can be translated to way you suggest OR “If a man does not marry by the age of twenty, he spends his whole life thinking sinful thoughts,” which falls right in line with Paul’s writings that “if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9). In that same chapter, you might want to note that he distinguishes the married and unmarried from the betrothed:

      • “To the unmarried…” v. 8
      • “To the married…” v. 10
      • “Now concerning the betrothed…” v. 25

      As to Jacob purchasing Rachel, yes, he lived at a time when a “bride price” was typical, but Laban was clearly over the top requiring 7 years of labor. Moreover, many cultures have used the dowry as a “get out of jail” card, meaning that the bride had something put aside in case she had to leave an abusive husband or became a widow. As much as that approach feels transactional now, to my mind it’s far less transactional than a lot of what happens these days regarding sex. Moreover, having to “earn” her might make a man think twice about just taking a woman for himself without a commitment.

      As for Song of Songs, I actually agree that it’s likely a fictional narrative, but it’s still one that’s inspired by God and illustrates key components of sexual intimacy. As to the charge that the couple are not married, most biblical scholars would disagree. They might say that the couple was not married at the beginning but certainly bound by the time they are physically intimate (about midway through the book).

      Honestly, your argument feels a lot like it comes down to these statements:
      • It’s hard to wait until marriage in today’s culture, so God shouldn’t expect it.
      • Some people in Bible times didn’t follow this prescription, so God doesn’t expect it.
      • Marriage itself is a squishy concept, so God can’t expect it.

      Except that God often calls us to Do Hard Things! That’s literally the calling: “And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, [Jesus] said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me'” (Mark 8:34). And people in every time and culture don’t follow God’s design while saying they follow God’s design. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12, 16:25). Hey, I’m sure I get things wrong too! But I think we need to humble about that and on our toes to seek what God really desires. And the notion that marriage was so different then doesn’t deny in any way, shape, or form that there was a defined relationship in which a commitment was made, husband and wife lived together, and sexual intimacy occurred. God did not sanction sexual relationships outside this covenant. If they occurred outside the covenant, a covenant was soon expected to happen, restitution made, and/or punishment delivered.

      Wrapping this up, yeah, this is tough stuff. But while so much of our culture has changed, people are pretty much the same as ever: broken but wanting intimacy, selfish but needing God’s guidance, given to sin but ripe for redemption. Promoting sexual integrity can save people from a lot of heartache while honoring God’s design for this meant-to-be-sacred act.

  10. Thank you, J! Glad to see this well thought out and researched article. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

      1. “If they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion”

        And if they can’t find a spouse? What then? Getting married isn’t just a matter of going to a store and buying a spouse.

        If there is any biblical advice on the topic then where is it?

        The fact is that there is no advice for such people because the concept simply did not exist in that period of time. Getting married was easy, it was remaining unmarried that was the hard part. People did not have to spend years scrolling through dating apps and playing the market before finally finding a spouse at 30. God did not design people to be virgins at 35, but if you follow “God’s way” under these cultural conditions then that’s how you’ll likely end up.

        When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 7:9 he was telling people that most people can’t handle long term celibacy. He wanted to avoid having large numbers of people who were frustrated, distracted, and (to use the vernacular) horny. Ironically, following his advice now creates the very problem he wanted to avoid.

        “If following a rule brought you to this then of what use was that rule?”

        Paul simply did not have to deal with this issue when he was writing. The concept did not exist. There is no dating in the Bible. In legal theory, when the law creates the very problems that it was designed to avert this is known as a Crisis. When there is a Crisis, only a State Of Exception can resolve the problem. When the Bible simply does not adress an issue then the Church must deliberate and decide what to do. Our society is not going back to a system of arranged marriages at 16. That world is dead. The world where a person can marry their high school girlfriend at 18, start a job at the local factory, buy a house with a picket fence, have 5 kids, and do it all on a single income is also dead. It isn’t coming back. Not in our lifetimes.

        The writer Michel Houellebecq describes our modern sex/dating market thusly:

        “It’s a fact, I mused to myself, that in societies like ours sex truly represents a second system of differentiation,
        completely independent of money; and as a system of differentiation it functions just as mercilessly. The effects of these two systems are, furthermore, strictly equivalent. Just like unrestrained economic liberalism, and for similar reasons, sexual liberalism produces phenomena of absolute pauperization. Some men make love every day; others five or six times in their life, or never. Some make love with dozens of women; others with none. It’s what’s known as `the law of the marketIn an economic system where unfair dismissal is prohibited, every person more or less manages to find their place. In a sexual system where adultery is prohibited, every person more or less manages to find their bed mate. In a totally liberal sexual system certain people have a varied and exciting erotic life; others are reduced to masturbation and solitude. Economic liberalism is an extension of the domain of the struggle, its extension to all ages and all classes of society. Sexual liberalism is likewise an extension of the domain of the struggle, its extension to all ages and all classes of society”.

        If you’re a Christian in this sex/dating market then you’re due for an awful lot of masturbation and solitude.
        You cannot operate according to how you wish the world was. You might wish that everyone could find a spouse at 18 but that is not how it works anymore. You have to take stock of how things really are and operate accordingly.

        I know for a fact that God did not design people to live sexless lives until they are 35. But that’s what is now happening. God doesn’t make laws arbitrarily. When a law no longer serves its original purpose then what use is that law?

        What solutions do you have? “Just get married earlier” isn’t a solution. As if none of us ever thought of that before…

        1. Raphael, you’re obviously smart and have read a lot, but your approach is basically to say that since it’s really, really hard in our culture, we shouldn’t be expected to follow the biblical prescription. Look, I agree that our culture needs to rethink some aspects of finding a spouse; for instance, I agree that marriage needn’t wait until the 30s and the Church could be part of helping people to get to know each other better, whether that’s friendship or potential mates. In fact, as cliche this sounds, I met my own husband (at age 24) at a Church singles’ devotional. Thank goodness for that Church and that singles group!

          As for the quote from Michel Houellebecq, is that the French author and poet who himself managed to marry three separate times? (For all the complaints, I’d say his issue wasn’t finding a wife but keeping one.)

          I just don’t see an out from God’s ethics simply because it’s hard. I personally don’t want to stand before the man who chose to be spit on, tortured, and nailed to a cross all so that we can be saved and say, “Hey, this wait-until-marriage thing is way too hard.” And this in particular—”I know for a fact that God did not design people to live sexless lives until they are 35″—is curious because a whole lot of people have done that and more, some of whom believed that God definitely wanted them to live a sexless life.

          If this is your story, I’m sorry. It hurts, and it’s sad, and we definitely need better options for good Christians to find one another, get married, and have a life (and bed) companion. But I cannot and will not re-interpret the Bible to my desires or current cultural complications.

  11. In response to Raphael’s comment there have always been people that struggled to marry—their stories have often been invisible. I don’t disagree with the example you gave of finding a factory job and supporting a family on one income—-and that for the most part those times have passed us by. I’m not sure many now want 5 children though—but that is a whole other discussion.

    My in laws married young and had their first child at 20. They would be ninetyish if they were still alive today. The early years of their marriage were hard. For a time my mother in law worked the night shift(as a mother of one child) for a time while my father in law went to school. I think such a situation would take an amazing amount of grit and perseverance. And for whatever reason the average 19- 20 year old of today doesn’t have that same amount of grit and perseverance.

    I think setting up young people for earlier marriage means we instill that grit and perseverance in them. You can’t just champion the idea of earlier marriage(and presumably having children younger without discussing the challenges. It might mean taking a job you don’t love to financially survive. It might mean staying at home with baby while your friends are having fun. You get the picture.

    1. Good points. My daughter-in-law finished her senior year of college and grad school while married, which made me extra-proud of her (and my son for supporting her financially and emotionally through that time). But a fair number of people questioned that decision at the time. It was important that she had both grit AND the support of extended family, including us.

      1. I juggled marriage and graduate school, so I definitely think this can be done; but we also didn’t have kids and I didn’t know ANY female grad students with young children at home (male yes, female no). An option that not many seem to consider (or follow, if they do consider it) would be the reverse of what many do – marry young (17-18), have children, THEN pursue higher education and a career when the kids are becoming independent at 15-16 (not “moving out” independent but not needing mommy to ties shoes, cook meals etc.). Of course only one spouse could do this at a time, but a wife who married young would be in her early-mid 30s at this point, so an education and career would still be worthwhile and she’d have a better head on her shoulders with the life-experience of raising children, as well as having a better grasp on her interests. There would be many hoops to jump through for this to work, namely finding a life-partner at a young age in addition to having the emotional maturity and aforementioned grit, but it could be a way to “have it all” as it were without waiting until one’s mid-20s or later to marry, and possibly even longer to start a family.

        1. That’s an interesting approach, and I kinda like it. One of the problems with how we do things now is that if you want to stay home with your children even for a year or so, you have a break in your work trajectory and it can be difficult to get back into the game, so to speak. Had my hubs and I had children sooner, then I could have focused on raising my children those first few years* and then gone to school and work when my kids did. Interesting to imagine what that might have looked like!

          *Quick note: I despise with a white-hot passion what I called the “Mommy Wars”—that is, women judging one another on whether you stayed home or worked full-time, had one kid or ten, homeschooled or sent your kid to public schools, whatever. Motherhood is difficult enough, and most of us are second-guessing our decisions all the time, so what we need is encouragement and support. Just want to say that in case anyone is inclined to comment on my choice or someone else’s.

          1. Another possible pitfall is the prospect of the wife being left with young children to raise and few job prospects with only a high school diploma, if the husband gets scared and leaves her. One of my committee members had a 20-something daughter whom he wanted to be “independent” in the sense of not relying on a man for an income, and I think education is viewed as a safety net for young women (for good reason). This would be another reason for parents and the Church to be heavily involved in a young couple’s life, providing support and accountability so that the above scenario doesn’t happen. It’s also a good reason for a larger-than-normally-accepted age gap we’d discussed previously, say 17 and 22-23, for the sake of the husband’s emotional maturity in addition to his already having finished college by the time he marries.

        2. Terry, I live in a college town and have a lot of interaction with students in health science related majors. There are definitely women in med school or in their residencies having children. Not all women but a handful.
          In your example though, who would the 17 and 18 year old women be marrying? And why 17? Most are still in high school at that age? I was technically 17 for a bit after graduating but most aren’t. My daughter graduated high school almost 6 years ago and almost none of her peers were interested in marriage that young.
          I am a nurse and there are some that come to nursing via the nontraditional student route. For some it works great. Others really struggle for having been out of school for so long and don’t finish their nursing programs. Or they are torn between showing up for a mandatory clinical rotation and having a sick child at home.

          1. I wouldn’t say that school and children are not compatible, just that I didn’t personally know any female students who were making it work (and the area of study might be relevant, as my program involved possibly months spent in the field). The suggestion of marrying right out of high school (or just before graduating) is not put forth as “the” way things should be, but an alternative to what has become standard practice, namely waiting until after college graduation or later to marry and start a family. I suggested the latter teenage years as a compromise between being emotionally mature enough to marry (which not everyone is at that age) and still young enough to have kids that would in turn be independent enough for mom to return to school in her early 30s. This certainly wouldn’t work for everyone; I myself barely dated in high school and would not have been ready to marry at 18. And any prospective husband my own age would have needed to be of equal or greater emotional maturity (which few guys are at that age, from my observation) or be significantly (5+ years) older than I for emotional, educational and financial reasons. But for the right couple with the right parental support growing up, who is to say that going about life “backward” in that sense would be wrong and not simply unconventional?

      2. Bravo to your son and his wife! Yes I absolutely agree, support of extended family is very important.

  12. “Your approach is basically to say that since it’s really, really hard in our culture, we shouldn’t be expected to follow the biblical prescription”.

    My approach is to say that the biblical prescription is, to some extent, contingent on it being easy to get married.

    This is what enables Paul to basically say “remain single if possible but if you’re horny then get married”. Embedded in that is the assumption that a person could easily get married if they couldn’t handle celibacy. Conspicuously absent is a mention of the possibility that the reader may find it hard to “just get married”. Sure there have always been a few people who found it difficult, but it wasn’t a systemic problem like it is now. Now there are a large number of people, (The Orphans I like to call them) who cannot handle celibacy yet also cannot easily get married.

    It isn’t just hard in our culture. It is unreasonably hard. It is harder than it was ever intended to be.

    Houellebecq is a novelist. The passage I quoted is from a novel. A major thesis of his work is that the Sexual Revolution did not create a communal utopia of Free Love, but instead it created a whole new set of winners and losers. Sex now functions like money and the free market always has winners and losers. But you can’t go back either. We can’t just put the toothpaste back in the tube and go back to how it was before the Sexual Revolution. The closest thing to “going back” is the scenario depicted in his novel Submission, namely the Islamicization of France/Western Culture. Another novel ends with the eradication of sex and sexual reproduction altogether, through genetic engineering and transhumanism. Neither scenario is a “happy ending” but they are endings…

    It’s all well and good to say that the Church and extended family needs to help people get married. How are you going to do that? More singles Bible studies, as if that ever helped anyone. Do you realize how terrible church is as a dating market? Do you know how few people find their spouse at church nowadays?

    You can make vague platitudes about fixing the problem or make lofty, long term plans that will not bear fruit in our lifetimes. But how does any of that help anyone in their day to day life right now?

    If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?- James 2:16

    1. You’re reading into the text with such statements as:

      This is what enables Paul to basically say “remain single if possible but if you’re horny then get married”. Embedded in that is the assumption that a person could easily get married if they couldn’t handle celibacy.

      Moreover, as a student of history, I am certain that there were times when it was difficult to get married. We are not uniquely positioned in our era. Look, if you don’t want to follow the biblical prescription, don’t. You have free will, given to you by God. But changing the Bible’s meaning because you don’t think it should apply isn’t the approach I take.

      And no, I wasn’t suggesting that we host a lot more singles devotionals. What I was saying is that the support of a church can be very helpful, and we need to do more of it. I’m just one person, so this isn’t my problem to solve, but in case you hadn’t noticed, I am doing what I can to equip people to find and maintain marriages. Each of us can also do our part with our local churches or beyond, and we can, bit by bit, really make a difference.

  13. Pingback: "But What About...?": Challenges to the Church's Ban on Premarital Sex - Hot, Holy & Humorous

  14. I’ve mentioned repeatedly that a core feature of marriage customs in that era was that being married was the default but being single was a luxury (and that it’s now the opposite). I’m not reading anything into the text. That’s simply the background cultural context of what Paul and others were writing.

    If Paul doesn’t assume that getting married was easy then why doesn’t he mention the possibility that it may be difficult and give his readers any advice on how to handle such cases? If he was aware of the possibility then it seems like a massive omission. The Bible is a finite book and it can’t possibly give advice on every life situation. That is why it is up to the church to deliberate and decide on what is to be done in response to issues for which there is no guidance.

    Sure there have been times where it may have been difficult to marry and there have always been people who couldn’t find a spouse. It is a massive failure of the Church that is hasn’t produced a working theology or moral program to adress that problem. They really are the Orphans. But it has never been as systemic as it is now. We have always had the poor but when massive numbers of people can no longer afford food or find work then you have to conclude that something strange is happening that goes beyond mere personal misfortune. (Have you seen the stats on how much less sex people are having than even 10 years ago? Among young single males it is staggering).
    The Extension Of The Domain Of The Struggle is unprecented. No other culture has ever had this happen. Not 1st century Rome, but Iron Age Canaan, not any other culture.

    So, what is to be done?

    1. I was objecting to the notion that getting a spouse is easy is embedded in Paul’s text. Paul wasn’t addressing the issue you’re talking about, so you can look at that scripture as one piece but you have to go through a lot of other passages and stories to get the other pieces and bring together the full image. The full image remains that sex should be happening in the context of marriage.

      If it’s too hard now to do that, that’s a failure of we humans, not God’s design. As to what is to be done, perhaps we should look to other times in the Bible when society was in a poor state. What happened there were prophets proclaiming God’s truth (though also competing messages from false prophets, to be fair), a call to revival and restoration, and the difficult but important work of rebuilding.

      Now, I realize that’s cold comfort for the single person today longing to have lifelong love and great sex, but every big change begins with small ones. Christians on the ground where they are need to reach out and help people come together in fellowship and, hey, maybe even setting up their friends if such friends are open to it. Helping one person connect may not seem like a huge deal, but it’s also a bit like the starfish story, where it makes a big difference for that one.

    2. I wonder if part of the problem today (to the extent that there is a problem) is the expectation that a spouse should be one’s “soul mate,” whatever this is supposed to mean. I can’t argue that married couples should be in love, but for a flawed human to be another’s all-encompassing, end-all-be-all…maybe not. My husband and I have always been closer to the “friend” than the “lover” end of the spectrum, which I much prefer to the alternative of arguing most days and taking breaks only for great sex. People shouldn’t have to lower their standards per se, but one remedy might be to re-examine expectations of what a spouse should be. Thoughts, J?

      1. This may be a weird answer, but one of the best books I’ve read about all this is The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After by Elizabeth Kantor (podcast affiliate link). It’s not written by a Christian but a professor of literature, but she addresses how we got to this notion of romance being the compelling reason to marry and why that’s not enough. I’ve recommended this book to a few single women, because I believe it does a good job of broadening one’s perspective of what makes a good mate.

        My son and daughter-in-law also benefited from reading The Sacred Search by Gary Thomas together, which puts forth the great idea that marriage is about someone who can walk with you on your spiritual journey.

        Of course that doesn’t preclude having great chemistry! I think that matters in a marriage. But the Bible shows a number of ways that people got married, yet then expects them to have good relationships and physical intimacy. So could we also foster attraction and desire? Dr. Arthur Aron, a social psychology researcher, has even suggested 36 deep questions that can make us fall in love with someone, and The Gottman Institute takes a similar approach called Building Love Maps.

        I also think that we have lived in the “you complete me” era of fantasized romance, and that’s way too much burden to put on any one person. I’m a better wife to my husband when I have friends, family, colleagues, and other connections who also meet my emotional needs, while allowing him to have special connections to me that no one else has.

        So yeah, I pretty much agree with you. I would hope we can all have that wonderful lover experience with our spouse, but maybe we’re expecting it all to be in place before we get married, and we just need some sparks to work with to ignite the fire that will last over time and provide warmth to our livse.

    3. Raphael I am curious what sort of moral program or working theology you propose to address the problem.
      As far as your comments about churches being dating markets I guess I have never looked at them to serve that function. I have no doubt that some meet their spouses that way though. I went to a religious school so some of my peers did marry their high school sweethearts.
      I think as people have become more mobile the church as a dating market is not the idea it once was. Some of my ancestors come from a town in a mountain valley in Europe—I have no doubt in the days before cars that Church was one way to meet people. Now people don’t stay in one place for their entire lifetimes and meet people in other ways.

  15. Paul was adressing the issue I’m talking about. Namely the issue of marriage, celibacy, and singleness. Paul recognizes that most people are not cut out for long term sexless singleness so he tells those people that they don’t have to live that way if they don’t want to. It’s better to find a sex partner instead of going through life distracted, irritable and horny. In the historical context of that culture Paul recommends getting married, an easy thing to do. Now that marriage means something completely different and is much harder to obtain then his advice needs to be recontextualized to work in our culture.

    But now if you follow the rule of “no sex until you’re married” then you’ll end up spending a long time distracted, irritable, and horny. Which is exactly what Paul wanted to avoid.

    Marriage is a good thing to strive for in the long term. But what is the short term solution?

    1. What I’m saying is that you’re reading into the text the idea that getting married is easy, not to mention that it has always been easy until recently (historically not true). Moreover, it isn’t just Paul that lays out such principles, but rather the whole body of Scripture spanning centuries.

      What you say follows a logical track, and thus seems to contain some good points. Indeed, I recognize it because it’s exactly what I did when I was living outside God’s design for sex. Looking back, I see it for what it really was: rationalization to do what I wanted to do.

      Again, I’m not saying restraint and finding a spouse aren’t difficult—they may well be! But God didn’t promise us a life of ease or excitement, but rather His presence, guidance, and peace.

      By the way, at this point, I feel I should mention one of my comment policies:

      Continuing the discussion past its usefulness.

      So you disagreed with me, I responded, you replied, I answered, and so on. And really, 3-4 comments into that discussion, if you’re still trying to make your point or have the last word, I may just move on. Both of us would be better served to use our time elsewhere.

      You can see the whole Comment Policy HERE.

  16. In response to Denise,
    My proposal is to change the message from “wait until marriage” to “wait until maturity”.

    If you’re a mature financially stable adult and you’ve hit your mid-20’s then what are you waiting for at that point?
    What’s so bad about having sex with the person you’re dating provided you’re mature about it and take the proper precautions to avoid pregnancy or STD’s. There’s always going to be some risk but that’s true for many things. You can do a lot to minimize them if you’re smart.

    When you’re 16 the “wait for marriage” message sounds reasonable. Most people hear that and expect to be married in a few years, so what’s a short wait compared to sex “God’s way”. Some people (an increasingly small number) really do get married in a few years so it works out for them. But when you wake up on the wrong side of 30 and you’re still single, that message is revealed for the pious fraud that it is. Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

    People have sex drives, even unmarried people. I don’t think we are going to get anywhere by shaming people and calling them sinners just for following their design. God didn’t design people to wait this long.
    You can pay all kinds of lip service to the idea of helping people marry at 18. But for some of us that boat has already sailed. We’re in our 30’s, 40’s, or older and we’re asking ourselves what the point is of waiting any longer.

    1. So, the only answer you will accept, Raphael, is for all of us to change our beliefs about God’s design based on our careful study of the Bible, consideration of God’s design, and faith in His timeless principles and embrace the idea that maturity is the only necessary factor because you think that makes more sense? No, thank you. I put a lot more trust in my Heavenly Father than whatever argument you’ve put forth here.

      But before I go, let me answer this charge:

      People have sex drives, even unmarried people. I don’t think we are going to get anywhere by shaming people and calling them sinners just for following their design. God didn’t design people to wait this long.

      I have not shamed anyone who didn’t follow through with God’s design. I’m the last person who should any such thing, given that I didn’t follow this plan myself! I have regrets about my choices, and I believe it was sin, but shaming me never worked either and I have far more confidence in God’s grace, forgiveness, and guidance to get on the right track, no matter what came before. What I am doing is calling people to the standard of holiness God set before us with the hope that we will pursue it as best we can.

    2. Sounds to me like someone in this position needs to grow themselves spiritually more & stop focusing on their worldly/fleshly desires. Learning to grow in Christ and deeply, genuinely trust Him more & trust that His timing is perfect (& coming to a place of peace over the fact that God may have different plans than what you envisioned for yourself) is what’s needed to combat one’s hyper focus on sexual desires and getting FOMO over sex & relationship goals and ideal life timelines. Also, I imagine self-control would grow as one focuses less on worldly desires and gains a more Christ-centered, eternal perspective. Prayer is a pivotal part of all this. God can change our focus and the desires of our hearts if we ask Him.

    3. Raphael,
      I have a question.. If you cannot find a wife and you want sex, who are you going to have it with.? A casual date, a friend with benefits or a sex worker.?

  17. I noticed you asking about this topic on one of Mike Winger’s 20 questions YouTube episodes recently. 😉

    1. Hahaha, yes! I did. I really did do research on the concerns Raphael brought up, and since I was thinking through all of that, I thought, “Hey, why not see what another studious Bible thinker has to say?” 😃 It was fun when he read my moniker aloud like “huh.” Yep, Mike, that’s me: hot, holy, and humorous!

  18. Sadly, I don’t think Mike really understood the question. He didn’t understand what you (or I) mean by marriage being different. He thought we were referring to the advent of same-sex marriage or polyamory rather than the change from an economic view of marriage to a romantic view of marriage. I doubt he (or any other teacher) would have responded by saying that a marriage based on romance or personal fulfilment wasn’t a real marriage. Have you ever heard of any pastors that taught that a “love marriage” wasn’t a valid marriage? It would have been insteresting to hear what he had to say if he had understood the question properly.

  19. A few more thoughts…..

    1) There has been some discussion of in other times of girls in their teens marrying men in their twenties…honestly that seems like a concept that is more protective of women’s virginity than men’s virginity. It seems that in previous time we made an idol of the woman’s virginity.

    2)I had my first period at age 11. Most experts today would say that physical growth is going on for many years beyond that. Brain maturity also isn’t finished at the same time “sexual maturity” might be. Most experts also agree that teens are more likely to experience pregnancy complications. I think we can at least let young women finish high school and make it to the age of 18 without pushing them into an arrangement that is a “sanctioned focus for the girls sexual energies and intense emotions”. I’m not even sure I understand what the intense emotions comment means. I have a young adult daughter and son—the comments about the girl’s intense emotions seems to suggest young men don’t struggle with intense emotions—or that all girls are intensely emotional.

    We can provide young women (and young men) with the proper teaching about premarital sex and hope that they will make the best decisions. Going back to times where we pushed girls who weren’t completely mature into young marriages is not the way. We have more information about physical and brain maturity than we had then.

    3)Comments about assuming finding a spouse as much easier than it is now. Some people have it easy–some don’t. I personally was certain I’d at least be engaged by age 22 but this didn’t happen. A young man told me that we were “unofficially engaged” then later changed his mind thus delaying the age I eventually married. That he changed his mind was for the best.

    We all have qualities that make it harder or easier to find a spouse. Some of us are better looking-some not so much. Some of us have sparkling personalities–some of us do not. I was painfully shy as a young woman.

    Some who wish to be married have to do some self analysis about we can reasonably expect in a spouse. Just about the time I became aware of my would be husband, a divorced man with a child showed interest in me. I definitely had no interest in someone divorced or someone with a child. But at that time it showed me that a person might have to reexamine what they desired in a spouse—or not be married at all.

  20. I left another long comment recently but I guess you don’t want to publish it. No matter.

    Here’s the crux. The Bible has no advice for people who can’t find a spouse. Since the Bible does not adress it then how can it be applicable?

    1. Okay, but then you’re asking the Bible to do something it’s not intended to do. It’s not a matchmaking manual. But it does have advice on the kind of spouse you should find, from which we can extrapolate some ideas on how to find a spouse.

      To me, that’s just like how the Bible does tell you exactly how to have great sex, but it does provide a whole lot of principles from which we can extrapolate what that looks like. That’s a lot of what I’ve done on this very site—provide specific advice on lovemaking based on biblical precepts.

      1. It doesn’t need to be a “matchmaking manual”.

        The New Testament presents two options for people

        1. Marriage and its accompanying sexual activity.
        2. Voluntary celibate singleness

        Unfortunately there’s no option presented for people who can’t fit into either category. If you can’t easily find a spouse, then what? Getting married was easy then, in fact it was the default. Remaining voluntarily single was the hard part in those days. It’s a reflection of 1st century culture that the New Testament does not so much as mention people who have hit 30+ and aren’t married yet because they haven’t found a spouse.

        Where is the third option? That’s what the Church must carve out.

        1. “If you can’t easily find a spouse, then what?” Then you don’t have sex. Our sexuality matters, but it’s not everything. If my husband dies tomorrow—God forbid—I will not have sex unless and until I marry again. And who knows if that will happen? (Even if it happens, it would not happen quickly, as I would certainly grieve for a long time.)

          If you don’t want to follow that prescription, then you’re choosing something outside God’s design. And the Church shouldn’t create a third option for morality. They could, however, better prepare people to seek and find a spouse, and especially to be the kind of person who is appealing to someone of the opposite sex who is also wanting a spouse.

          I met my own husband at a devotional hosted by a very active singles’ group at a church. I wasn’t actually looking for a relationship. Frankly, I was done with relationships at that point and was focusing on drawing closer to God. Maybe that’s why things worked out after all. Maybe???

          1. Your story sounds similar to mine, J, as I had more or less concluded that I couldn’t get married if I wanted to travel and have a career…then I went on a mission trip to Sicily along with my future husband…and we became friends, then started dating a few months later. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Bill Keller’s ministry ( – although I’ve told him about yours – but one thing he repeats often is that if we’re about God’s business, He will be about our business. In my case I wasn’t looking for a husband either but I apparently needed one, and it seems that many people meet their future spouses in the course of serving on a mission trip or other ministry. One young woman I knew who was already married but hadn’t been able to get pregnant learned she was expecting a few months after returning from a trip. What was it that Jesus said, “Seek ye first…and then…?”

  21. I married when I was 33. My husband was 38. In my early 20s, I wasn’t ready for marriage, it just was not on my radar and I hadn’t met anyone I wanted to marry. I was not immature, my road to maturity had already started, but in a different way. There was never any pressure on me, or indeed anyone ‘encouraging’ me to seek an early marriage, and for that I am grateful.

  22. I am late to the conversation here and don’t want to beat a dead horse or dig up old discussions that have already been answered. So, I will only add the inclusion of verse 25 from Genesis 2 which states that Adam and his wife were both naked and they “felt no shame.” If anything, one thing is clear from our modern debates and discussions: shame is prevalent in what so many of us experience. Thus, there does seem to be some value to God’s design, and we are remiss in our attempts to excuse that away. We can debate hairline issues, but we find that some form of covenant commitment was made before sexual activity was blessed. With Isaac and Rebekah, there are no details other than he brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he MARRIED Rebekah. So she became his wife” before anything else happened. (Genesis 24:66-67)

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