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 Wasn’t that at the very least an outdated expectation?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,Genesis 2:22-24
“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.
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
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.