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The Bible and Premarital Sex
Too many Christians fail to grasp God’s intentions for marriage and content themselves with avoiding serious and technical violations of the commandments

Carol Brooks.

[Also See  Section on Marriage]


Come Out From Them And Be Separate

Sexual Purity in The Old Testament
Pagan Cultures Vs. Israel
The Torah

The Historical Books
The Prophets
The Book of Proverbs
Pre-marital Sex and The Old Testament

Sexual Purity in The New Testament
Calling Christians Back To God’s Original Standards
Was a Warning Not a Request

Instituted By God
What Marriage Ceremony?
Marriage Is a Biblical Blood Covenant
Lost Virginity?

Sexual Purity: Beyond Legalism
The Letter and The Spirit of The Law
Right and Wrong Questions


Introduction: A recent study shows that more than nine out of 10 Americans, men and women alike, have had premarital sex. These numbers extend as far back as women born in the 1940s, calling into question the general impression that people were more chaste in the past.

    "The reality of the situation is that most people had premarital sex, and it's been that way for several decades," says Lawrence Finer, director of domestic research at the Guttmacher Institute, a New York City-based non-profit organization that studies reproductive and sexual health.

    The study, which used statistics from the 1982, 1988, 1995 and 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, asked about 40,000 people ages 15-44 about their sexual behavior and traced the trends in premarital sex back to the 1950s.

    Of those interviewed in 2002, 95% reported they had had premarital sex; 93% said they did so by age 30. Among women born in the 1940s, nearly nine in 10 did. At the same time, people are waiting longer to marry; 2005 data show median age at first marriage is just over 25 for women and 27 for men. [1]

Postmodernism is gaining a clear and growing consensus in popular culture. An International Poll of college seniors revealed that “73 percent of the students said that when their professors taught about ethical issues, the usual message was that uniform standards of right and wrong don’t exist ('what is right and wrong depends on differences in individual values and cultural diversity’)…. Truth is whatever the tribe or the individual says it is." So we are left with each individual or community choosing his or her own ethical and moral standards. If those standards contradict, then so be it”.  [See Overview of Postmodernism]

In other words since Biblical moral absolutes have largely been declared obsolete and the word sinful" banished, many form of sexual activity, previously frowned on, are now tolerated and even accepted. See How The Bible Defines Sin

Sadly this applies even to Christians, many of whom have been seduced by the false message that once they are “saved”, they can never be “unsaved” and consequently live their lives pretty much as they wish with little thought to the injunction that without holiness, no one will see God [Hebrews 12:14]. [See Sections on Eternal Security and Holiness].

    … “The world's various forms of electronic media have a formidable, yet subtle, power of influence over the lives and thinking processes of the masses. Therefore it is not surprising that even believers today, especially those who access themselves continually to the various forms of this world's entertainment, are being easily induced and increasingly confused, even callous, toward what the Bible considers inappropriate behavior for those redeemed and born again in Christ Jesus.

    Allowing themselves to be saturated with the postmodern message, they have difficulty discerning the darkness it cultivates and consequently are blinded to the spiritual damage it intangibly inflicts upon them. For this reason it is eminent that believers grasp and consciously incorporate into their lives Biblical truths and realities regarding their "calling" by God. A divine calling which summons for a radical shift away from the behavioral patterns practiced by those who are enslaved to this postmodern, world system.” [2]

Come Out From Them And Be Separate
Over and over again, the Bible calls it’s people to holiness, the core meaning of which is not "good" but rather "set apart" … and therefore, good. Christians are repeatedly called to live their lives in a way that is markedly different from the lives of the people among whom they live, and not to be swayed by the values and perceptions of the world around them. [See Section on Holiness] Jesus’ very unambiguous words in John 17:16 tell us that although the believer is in the world, he is not of the world.

    "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world."

Paul tells the New Testament Christians not to let the world define their values, but to continue in the process of having their minds renewed, bringing their perspectives more and more in line with God’s way of thinking.

    And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. [Romans 12:2]

    “Come out from them and be separate” [2 Corinthians 6:17]

While Paul obviously makes a great distinction between the sacred and the profane, it is James who, as usual, doesn’t mince words..

    “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4)

“Separation” in The Old Testament
It is to be noted that that God’s instructions to be separate from the world did not originate in the Christian era but in the land of Israel…

    After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do; neither shall ye walk in their statutes. Mine ordinances shall ye do, and my statutes shall ye keep, to walk therein: I am Jehovah your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and mine ordinances; which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am Jehovah. [Leviticus 18:3-5]

While the principle of having one’s world view and consequent lifestyle dictated by God rather than the current culture can have a huge number of practical implications, this page has been confined to the topic of sex in general and premarital sex in particular.

So what exactly does the Bible say about sex? If you have given it any thought at all, you will have realized that sex was created by God even before Adam and Eve sinned. It is a subject frequently addressed in both the Old Testament and the New, never seen as dirty or undesirable, but a wholesome, and even desirable, part of life. Although the Bible is occasionally very explicit, as in the words of Solomon and the apostle Paul …

    'Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth. As a loving hind and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; be exhilarated always with her love' (Proverbs 5:18,19). 

    Let the husband render unto the wife her due: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power over her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power over his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be by consent for a season, that ye may give yourselves unto prayer, and may be together again, that Satan tempt you not because of your incontinency.  (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).

The Scriptures do not treat sex as the secular world does, but considers it considerably more than a mere outlet for passion.

Sexual Purity in The Old Testament
Pagan Cultures In the ancient world sexual purity was regarded as of little significance. On the contrary, sex pervaded every aspect of life in ancient times. Among the Greeks relationships outside of marriage carried no stigma whatsoever, but were in fact accepted, and even expected. Demosthenes said

    “We have courtesans for the sake of pleasure; we have concubines for the sake of daily cohabitation; we have wives for the purpose of having children legitimately, and having a faithful guardian for all our household affairs” [3]

Temple prostitution was a prominent feature of the cult of Astarte, while sexual rites prevailed at the shrines of Baal in Phoenicia, and elsewhere. While the temple of Aphrodite at Corinth had 1000 priestesses who were sacred courtesans, prostitutes, who often played an important part in official temple worship, could be either male or female. [Sadly, Israel strayed often from the one true God to worship Astarte. See Footnote I]

The homosexual exploits of the ancient Greeks was well known, while the mysteries of the Greek god Dionysius, god of wine and sexual pleasure, were celebrated with orgiastic rituals and drunkenness. His Roman counterpart Bacchus was worshipped by women with wild and excessive behavior. These Maenads, as they were called, indulged in exuberant drunken binges that often got violent

    Note: Largely unknown to most people is the fact that both Bacchus and Dionysius, along with the Maenads, his frenzied female worshippers, are all presented in a very sanitized version in The Chronicles of Narnia in which the Maenads dance with Silenus and Bacchus.. [See The Chronicles of Narnia]

Israel: However, in Israel, with the exception of idolatry, no sin was more repeatedly and forcefully forbidden than sexual sins, which were considered abominations that defiled the land and caused the perpetrator to be cut off from the people.

    (for all these abominations have the men of the land done, that were before you, and the land is defiled); that the land vomit not you out also, when ye defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. For whosoever shall do any of these abominations, even the souls that do them shall be cut off from among their people. [Leviticus 18:27-29] 

Under the Old Covenant, parents kept the blood-stained sheet from the wedding night as proof of their daughter’s virginity which they could produce should the husband ever accuse his wife of not being a virgin when he married her. So seriously was virginity taken that, it was considered nothing short of shameful should his accusation prove false. The man would then be chastised by the elders who would...

    fine him a hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days. [Deuteronomy 22:18-19] 

Note that …The emphasis is on the woman’s virginity is not a double standard favoring men, just as the commandment which says “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” does not mean it is permissible for a woman to covet her neighbor’s husband. Nor was the rite of circumcision a double standard favoring women. There is simply no way to physically and legally determine that a man is a virgin..

It is obvious that the concept of the God of Israel as a Holy God, and the Old Testament’s stress on chastity and holiness created a vast chasm between the culture of Israel and that of the surrounding nations.

The Torah
(the Five Books of Moses) which form the basis for Judaism’s legal and ethical parameters, protects chastity and has severe prohibitions against adultery, incest and bestiality (See Leviticus 18 and 20).  Four out of the twelve curses (a whopping 25%) against transgressions of the covenant, pronounced in Deuteronomy 27, are directed against several different sexual transgressions...  he that lay with his father's wife, his own sister or mother-in-law or any kind of beast.

The virtue of young women was safeguarded from practices like those of the Phoenicians who, according to Augustine, made a gift to Venus of the gain acquired by the public prostitution of their daughters, prior to their marriage. This was forbidden by the holy God of Israel.

    Profane not thy daughter, to make her a harlot; lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness. [Leviticus 19:29]

too was most stringently forbidden and punished

    Thou shalt not commit adultery. [Exodus 20:14]

    And thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbor's wife, to defile thyself with her. [Leviticus 18:20] 

    And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbor's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. [Leviticus 20:10]

    If a man be found lying with a woman married to a husband, then they shall both of them die, the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away the evil from Israel. [Deuteronomy 22:22]

Note that the reason that the Old Testament mentions adultery far more often that it does premarital sex is probably because people married at a much younger age than they now do and therefore adultery was likely to be the more pressing problem.

A Betrothed Woman, who was considered to be in the same category as the married woman, was punished for adultery, as was also the man found with her

    If there be a damsel that is a virgin betrothed unto a husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them to death with stones; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbor's wife: so thou shalt put away the evil from the midst of thee. [Deuteronomy 22:23-24]

However note that the woman was given the benefit of the doubt if a man found and lay with her in a field where her cries for help could have gone unheard. In this case only he was sentenced to die. [Deuteronomy 22:25-27].

Further insight into the Biblical attitude towards illicit or extra-marital sex is found liberally sprinkled throughout the Old Testament.

The Historical Books.
Adultery was considered a sin against a holy God… amply illustrated by the words of Joseph…

Joseph:  Joseph repulsed Potiphar's wife’s attempt to seduce him with the words "How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" [Genesis 39:9. Emphasis Added].

Eli’s Sons: The misdemeanor of the sons of Eli included a great arrogance in ignoring the law of Moses in regard to the sacrifices. They would not only serve themselves before God was served, but would not take the prescribed portion of the breast and shoulder, but whatever a fork brought up out of the pot. However apart from directly insulting God, it is also specified that they seemed to use their positions in the temple to seduce some of the women.

    Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And he said unto them, Why do ye such things? for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people. (I Samuel 2:22-23. Emphasis Added).

Amnon and Tamar: In the second book of Samuel, David’s son Amnon lusts after his step-sister Tamar who is said to be very fair. He could not marry her because of the close blood relationship therefore, with the help of a devious friend, comes up with a plan to circumvent the law. If he raped Tamar, David was faced with either putting his son to death or marrying the two according the law regarding violated virgins in Deuteronomy 22:28 (whereby if a virgin is violated by a man, the man had to pay fifty shekels of silver to her father as a ‘bride-price’. He had to marry her and was never allowed to divorce her… all of course if her father was agreeable). However Tamar begs Amnon to desist, saying

    "for no such thing ought to be done in Israel" [2 Samuel 13:12]

Tamar in quoting Genesis 34:7 is echoing the sentiments of the sons of Jacob in the matter of their sister Diana, who was defiled by Shechem, son of Hamor.

Shechem and Diana: When Shechem defiled Dinah, the sons of Jacob used a word (Hebrew nebâlâh) that, in it’s approximately 13 uses in the Old Testament, has largely been translated folly.

    And the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it: and the men were grieved, and they were very wroth, because he had wrought folly in Israel in lying with Jacob's daughter; which thing ought not to be done. [Genesis 34:7] 

The problem being that the word folly in modern usage conveys the impression of a lack of good sense or foolishness.  However nebâlâh conveys a much more serious transgression than mere foolishness. This emphasized by the fact that the same word is used when Achan stole both silver and gold from the people of Ai during a battle in which Israel was roundly defeated.

    And it shall be, that he that is taken with the devoted thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath; because he hath transgressed the covenant of Jehovah, and because he hath wrought folly in Israel. [Joshua 7:15]

Yet the Lord Himself called this transgression a sin.

    Israel hath sinned; yea, they have even transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: yea, they have even taken of the devoted thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also; and they have even put it among their own stuff. [Joshua 7:11]

Note: It does have to be acknowledged that both Shechem and Hamor acted honorably in that they wished to make whatever amends they could for the serious offence that had been committed. Shechem asked to marry Diana, which was agreed to by the sons of Jacob, with the provision that all the males were circumcised. Hamor and Shechem accepted and immediately carried out the terms. However the sons of Jacob used circumcision, which was the sign of the covenant of grace, as a means of deception and slaughtered all the males of the city.

The Prophets condemnation of unchastity ranked among the most pronounced of their denunciations of the evils prevalent in their days [See Isaiah 57:3; Jeremiah 9:1; 23:10, 14; 24:23; Ezekiel 16:38; 18:6; 22:10, 11; 23:48; 33:26; Hosea 4:2, 13, 14 and Amos 2:7].

The prophet Hosea emphasizes that playing the harlot is departing from God.

    My people ask counsel at their stock, and their staff declareth unto them; for the spirit of whoredom (zânûn) hath caused them to err, and they have played the harlot (zânâh), departing from under their God. They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills, under oaks and poplars and terebinths, because the shadow thereof is good: therefore your daughters play the harlot (zânâh), and your brides commit adultery. I will not punish your daughters when they play the harlot (zânâh), nor your brides when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go apart with harlots (zânâh), and they sacrifice with the prostitutes; and the people that doth not understand shall be overthrown. [4:12-14]

According to Strong’s the Hebrew word zânûn is a derivative of zânâh which indicates being wanton or a prostitute. It is figuratively used to commit idolatry.

    When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot (zânâh); for she had covered her face. [Genesis 38:15] 

    And the soul that turneth unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto the wizards, to play the harlot (zânâh)after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people. [Leviticus 20:6] 

    But Rahab the harlot (zânâh), and her father's household, and all that she had, did Joshua save alive; and she dwelt in the midst of Israel unto this day, because she hid the messengers, whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho. [Joshua 6:25]

    and have cast lots for my people, and have given a boy for a harlot (zânâh), and sold a girl for wine, that they may drink. [Joel 3:3] 

    therefore thus saith Jehovah: Thy wife shall be a harlot (zânâh) in the city, and thy sons and thy daughters shall fall by the sword, and thy land shall be divided by line; and thou thyself shalt die in a land that is unclean, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of his land. [Amos 7:17] 

Additionally, the prophets often included the defilement of women by their captors when they warned of the punishment that would befall the people for their sins. See for example Lamentations 5.

The Book of Proverbs repeatedly warns against illicit or extramarital sexual activity, warning that he who is enticed by a harlot is like an ox going to the slaughter. He destroys his own soul since her house is the way to Sheol.

    To keep thee from the evil woman, From the flattery of the foreigner's tongue. Lust not after her beauty in thy heart; Neither let her take thee with her eyelids. For on account of a harlot a man is brought to a piece of bread; And the adulteress hunteth for the precious life. Can a man take fire in his bosom, And his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk upon hot coals, And his feet not be scorched? So he that goeth in to his neighbor's wife; Whosoever toucheth her shall not be unpunished… He that committeth adultery with a woman is void of understanding: He doeth it who would destroy his own soul. Wounds and dishonor shall he get; And his reproach shall not be wiped away. [Proverbs 6:24-29, 32-33] 

    For the man is not at home; He is gone a long journey: He hath taken a bag of money with him; He will come home at the full moon. With her much fair speech she causeth him to yield; With the flattering of her lips she forceth him along. He goeth after her straightway, As an ox goeth to the slaughter, Or as one in fetters to the correction of the fool; Till an arrow strike through his liver; As a bird hasteth to the snare, And knoweth not that it is for his life. Now therefore, my sons, hearken unto me, And attend to the words of my mouth. Let not thy heart decline to her ways; Go not astray in her paths. For she hath cast down many wounded: Yea, all her slain are a mighty host.

    Her house is the way to Sheol, Going down to the chambers of death. [Proverbs 7:19-27]

Pre-marital Sex and The Old Testament
As mentioned, there were severe prohibitions against adultery and incest but what, if anything is said about premarital sex. Interestingly, there is neither a Hebrew or Greek word used in the Bible that precisely refers to sex before marriage. However we are told that if a man seduced a woman who was not betrothed or married, he was forced to pay the bride price and marry her, unless her father withheld his consent.

    And if a man entice a virgin that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely pay a dowry for her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins. [Exodus 22:16-17. Emphasis Added]

    If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, that is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he hath humbled her; he may not put her away all his days. [Deuteronomy 22:28-29. Emphasis Added]

Some believe that the Bible never explicitly states that a woman and man may not have sexual intercourse prior to marriage. As said by one author on The Jewish Virtual Library's web site… [Emphasis Added]

    I challenge you to find any passage in the Jewish scriptures that forbids a man from having consensual sexual relations with any woman he could legally marry. It's just not there!

    Nor is there any passage that requires a man to marry a woman after having consensual sexual relations with her. The passage forcing a man to marry the woman deals with rape (the man seizes her). It says nothing about consensual relations. Some say that consensual sexual relations create a common law marriage, which can only be dissolved through divorce, though the law on this point is not clear. [4]

He adds…

    This is not to suggest that Judaism approves of pre-marital sex or promiscuity. Quite the contrary: traditional Judaism strongly condemns the irresponsibility of sex outside of marriage. It is considered to be improper and immoral, even though it is not technically a sin [4]

I suspect that the situation is something akin to Polygamy which some believe to be an acceptable practice because it was practiced by some of the Old Testament patriarchs and The Bible does not specifically condemn it. However, the question that has to concern the New Testament believer is not what Jacob or Elkanah did, but what God’s original design for marriage was. [See Polygamy]

The same question has to be asked in the case of premarital sex, especially considering the  situation also set forth in Deuteronomy 22, which deals with a woman’s virginity on her wedding night. The law stated that if she was not found a virgin she was playing the harlot and had to be put to death. (Remember that if she was falsely accused of not being a virgin, the man would be heavily chastised and fined by the elders).

    then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the harlot (Hebrew zânâh) in her father's house: so shalt thou put away the evil from the midst of thee. [V.21]

It becomes necessary to harmonize a) Deuteronomy 22:28-29 which says if a man seduced a single unattached woman, he was forced to pay the bride price and marry her with b) Deuteronomy 22:21 which says a woman faced the death penalty if she was not found a virgin on her wedding night.

Why was the penalty for lost virginity that had been concealed the same as that for adultery? Probably because

    1) it seems unlikely that a woman who was raped would have waited for it to be discovered on her wedding night, but would have safely blown the whistle on him at the time, it happened.

    2) Similarly, disclosure of an affair with an unmarried man would only have forced him to marry her, if her father agreed.

Therefore one has to assume that the penalty for keeping quiet about lost virginity was so severe because she was presumed to have voluntarily had sex with a married man, which was adultery, defined as sex with someone married or betrothed.

Unlike adultery, premarital sex was not necessarily considered a sin deserving of the death penalty. It could be set right but only by the marriage of the parties involved. If it was not set right and kept hidden until the woman’s wedding night it was considered harlotry.

However, the Christian Bible is comprised of both Old and New Testaments, and we know (or at least I hope we do) that the Bible unequivocally condemns adultery and sexual immorality, the question has to be asked … Does the New Testament consider sex before marriage immoral?

Sexual Purity in The New Testament

Calling Christians Back To God’s Original Standards…
By the time of Jesus and Paul, the situation regarding moral ethics had gone down the proverbial drain, with the Jews reverencing neither women nor marriage. [See Footnote II for the Jewish prayer of gratitude that God had not seen fit to create them as women]. The prophet Hosea denounced the nation in no uncertain terms when he said.. There is nought but swearing and breaking faith, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery; they break out, and blood toucheth blood. [4:2]  

Some rabbis took great latitude in interpreted Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 24:1 when he said if a husband found uncleanness in his wife, he could divorce her. Spoiling the dinner or not being as pretty as another woman were all unceremoniously and conveniently lumped together under the banner of “uncleanness”, and the Jews were divorcing their wives left, right, and center..

    Also See Jesus and The Law… Jesus came down hard on the Pharisees lax approach to marriage, replacing their anything-goes version with just one justifiable reason to break the marriage covenant..

So when Jesus told the people that, although Moses had allowed it for the time being, divorce contravened God’s original intentions, and when Paul called married couples to treat the married state as reflecting the relationship between Christ and the church, neither were calling Christians to a new standard, but to adhere to the old standard set for them by God Himself so many centuries earlier.

    Moses for your hardness of heart suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it hath not been so. [Matthew 19:8]

    Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church” [Ephesians 5:22, 25]

…Was a Warning Not a Request:

The New Testament contains an abundance of verses that severely warn of the consequences of sexual impropriety. The Greek words pornei,  pornosporne etc (from which we get the English pornography) are all related and have usually been translated fornicators or whoremongers. But to answer the question of what meaning God intended the words to convey to the early church is only answered by examining the various contexts in which the words have been used. 

Prostitution: Porno is derived from the verb pernemi (to sell) and has connotations of male prostitution. The feminine form is porne, used in verses which refer to actual prostitution as when Paul talks about being joined to a harlot, or reference is made to Rahab.

    Know ye not that your bodies are members of Christ? shall I then take away the members of Christ, and make them members of a harlot? (Gk. pornē) God forbid. Or know ye not that he that is joined to a harlot (Gk. pornē) is one body? for, The twain, saith he, shall become one flesh. [1Corinthians 6:15-16]

    By faith Rahab the harlot perished not with them that were disobedient, having received the spies with peace. [Hebrews 11:31] 

    And in like manner was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way? [James 2:25]

Adultery “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity (porneia), makes her commit adultery. ” [Matthew 5:32]

Spiritual Prostitution: Then there is the figurative usage of the word as spiritual prostitution or harlotry…

    “Fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality (Gk. porneia)” (Revelation 14:8)

    And there came one of the seven angels that had the seven bowls, and spake with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the judgment of the great harlot that sitteth upon many waters; with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication (Gk. porneuo), and they that dwell in the earth were made drunken with the wine of her fornication (Gk. porneia). [Revelation 17:1-2]

Incest: “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality (porneia) of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife.” [1 Corinthians 5:1]

Premarital Sex: But the question arises as to whether or not sex before marriage is included in the definition of sexual immorality. Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth makes it abundantly clear that it is.

The wealthy and bustling metropolis of Corinth was the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire and probably home to people of many different nationalities and cultures. Paul along with Aquila and his wife Priscilla, preached the Gospel in Corinth and many believed and were baptized. However it was not long before Paul had to deal with numerous, serious problems in the Corinthian church… Certainly the beliefs and practices of the members of the Corinthian church seemed to run the gamut from complete abstinence to sexual practices that not even the pagan gentiles engaged in. [See Vs. 5:1].  Some were promoting abstinence in the marriage relationship, while others argued that it is best for one to deny as many physical needs as possible.

In his first letter to them Paul attempts to sort out several issues [See Footnote III], including a handful related to sexual immorality (Chapters 5,6 and 7). In chapter 5, Paul rebukes the church at Corinth for not only failing to exercise church discipline on a man involved in an incestuous relationship with his father’s wife, but for not mourning this enormous wickedness in their church. In chapter 6:12-20, Paul tackles those who feel that having sex with a prostitute is not contrary to God’s moral laws and not detrimental to one’s spiritual health.

However in the next chapter Paul says this… [Emphasis Added]

    But, because of fornications (Greek porneia), let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. [1 Corinthians 7:2]

Apparently so many were having sex outside of marriage (because of a lack of self control),that Paul directed that they should get married and have their own husband or wife.

What is particularly telling is that, in this verse, Paul uses the same Greek word as all the other New Testament verses that exhort Christians to flee sexual wrongdoing, and severely warns of the consequences of not doing so. In order to press home the point, lets look at some of these verses written to Christians who can, and do, fall into sexual sin.

    But as touching the Gentiles that have believed, we wrote, giving judgment that they should keep themselves from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what is strangled, and from fornication. [Acts 21:25] 

    Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall bring to nought both it and them. But the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body: [1Corinthians 6:13]

    Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. [1Corinthians 6:18] 

    Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. [1 Corinthians 10:8] 

    lest again when I come my God should humble me before you, and I should mourn for many of them that have sinned heretofore, and repented not of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they committed. [2 Corinthians 12:21]

    Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, [Galatians 5:19]

    But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as becometh saints; [Ephesians 5:3]

    Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry; [Colossians 3:5] 

    For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye abstain from fornication; [1Thessalonians 4:3] 

    Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them, having in like manner with these given themselves over to fornication and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire. [Jude 1:7] 

    and they repented not of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts. [Revelation 9:21]

Note that while there is a distinction made between fornicators/ whoremongers and adulterers, as evinced by the following two verses, both groups are equally under judgment..

    Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers (Gk. pornos) and adulterers (Gk. moichos) God will judge. [Hebrews 13:4]

    Or know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators (Gk. pornos), nor idolaters, nor adulterers (Gk. moichos), nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with men, [1Corinthians 6:9]

Extramarital sex is considered an unclean work of the flesh which is to be put to death. Christians are instructed to flee fornication and not let any uncleanness be even named among them. Those that commit fornication sin against their own bodies, which is not for fornication, but for the Lord;

In other words marriage is the “remedy” for sexual immorality. Which bring up the question that few have probably given much thought to… What “marriage” was being referred to?

Instituted By God
The institution of marriage was not an invention of man but instituted by God on the day He created woman to be a companion to man:

    The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."... So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep…. 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." For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh (Genesis 2:18, 21-24).

The temporary institution of human marriage was designed by God to be a type of the eternal relationship between Christ and His church.

    for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. [Ephesians 5:31-32]

[Sadly in our day and age, the sanctity of the covenant of marriage has been reduced to either a piece of paper which all too often means absolutely nothing. Or even a prenuptial agreement drawn up in anticipation of the time when the couple will no longer wish to live together].

However while the deeply spiritual significance of marriage is without question, it is interesting that there is nothing at all said about…

The Actual Marriage Ceremony? While a bill of divorcement is twice mentioned in Deuteronomy 24:1-3 (in a very general way without any details provided) what is truly fascinating is that the Bible provides very little guidance with regard to the procedure of a marriage.

The Old Testament established ample and detailed rites for all manner of situations.. There were regulations for cleansing after sexual relations purification rites for cleansing after childbirth, after coming into contact with a menstruating woman, a corpse or someone with a skin disease. Details were provided for ritual circumcision of male children. Yet in all this there was not one word about how a marriage ceremony was to be conducted, which is why in the Old Testament, marriage was solely a civil contract, not formalized by any religious ceremony.

The first couple that God joined together was Adam and Eve, set together in the garden with not a hint of a ‘church wedding’ or any other formal ceremony. Yet when Jesus spoke out against divorce in Matthew 19:6, He quoted Genesis 2:24 and said..

    So that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

The Bible is explicit that a married couple becomes one flesh and that this bond should not be taken apart. But the question arises, that if Adam and Eve did not have a formal wedding authenticated by an official piece of paper, and the Bible says absolutely nothing about the actual marriage ceremony, what creates this bond that should not be broken?

The answer may surprise those that have not given the matter any thought. Consider… although commitment is the last thing on the mind of a prostitute or someone who visits her, the Bible says they are one

    Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! (16) Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” [1 Corinthians 6:15]

There is a unity implied in the sexual act which is more than just metaphorical, but both physical and spiritual. In other words Scripture is clear that a single act of sexual intercourse – no matter how brief or superficial – makes two people one. There was no such thing as casual sex in the Old Testament. For an unmarried man to have sex with an unmarried woman was to make as binding a commitment as a regular marriage, since what God sees as binding between couples is not a wedding ceremony, or a piece of paper, but the most intimate of human commitment.. the act of intercourse itself.

    This critical piece fits the jigsaw. Adam and Eve experienced this special union, and yet there would have been virtually no similarity between their ‘wedding’ and modern Western weddings or legal arrangements. What God saw as binding was the act of intercourse itself. If we are to have God’s attitude, the act of sex should therefore be as binding as marriage and should be associated with lifelong commitment. This, too, fits what we saw in the Old Testament, that an unmarried man who seduces an unmarried girl is compelled by law to marry her. If there is doubt that she consented to the act, the woman has the right of refusal, but because he initiated sexual union the man loses all rights to choose independence. He is bound to her through a single sexual act.

    This might also explain the rather startling omission of any divinely-ordained wedding rituals. The most sacred aspect of entering marriage is not some religious ceremony but the act of sexual union, which should ideally involve the shedding of virgin blood. God’s Word could have instituted religious rituals associated with a couple’s first sexual experience, but that would suggest that only if those rituals occurred is sexual union binding, whereas it would seem that in God’s eyes any initial act of sexual union is sacred, and is equivalent to vowing a lifelong commitment. [5]

Marriage Is a Biblical Blood Covenant: A covenant is simply an agreement, or contract made between two parties to do, or not do something. The covenant God made with Abraham is an early example of a covenant, between God and His people

    And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee. [Genesis 17:7]

Covenants in the Bible were usually ratified by being sealed with blood, which meant formal consent given by both parties which made the contract valid. 

    The covenant made by God with Abraham in Genesis 17:4, was ratified or sealed with the circumcision of every male [Genesis 17:10].

    The Israelites were sprinkled with blood to seal the the covenant made with Moses on Mt. Sinai [Exodus 24:1-8]

    The ultimate covenant was sealed by Jesus’ blood. [Matthew 26:27-28]

However what is often overlooked is that marriage too is an life long covenant that is supposed to be sealed with blood through the consummation of the marriage. There is a deep spiritual significance in a virgin bride shedding blood on her wedding night. In the words of Grantley Morris

    It is sex, not a piece of paper that ties the knot. In God’s sight, any couple who have had sexual relations are no longer independent entities. They are ‘one flesh.’ Their lives are as bound together as Siamese twins. To separate that which God has declared to be one is clearly contrary to God’s ways. ‘Uncommitted sex’ is like an ‘uncommitted’ leap off a cliff – once you jump you are committed to the consequences whether you like it or not. [5] Also See Is Marriage to Unbelievers Prohibited?

Lost Virginity?

    If, like so many of us, you have already lost your physical virginity, do not imagine you have nothing left to preserve. Even without the shedding of blood, sexual union is just as real and as binding as ever. Consider the prostitute Scripture warns against becoming one with. Is she likely to be a virgin? And yet sex with this non-virgin still makes a person one with her.

    Be it through thoughts or whatever, all of us have tragically lost our virginity, but our past is not a valid reason for repeating a sin. In the words of Jesus, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). [5]

Sexual Purity: Beyond Legalism ...
The Letter Vs. The Spirit of The Law: The problem here is that too many Christians have failing to grasp God’s intentions for marriage and content themselves with avoiding serious and technical violations of the commandments.

The modern view that any form of sex is okay as long as it is "fulfilling", which means as long as it gives pleasure is a degraded view of sex, treating it as something an animal that has no other guidelines other than basic instinct does. Christians are required to apply themselves to understand God’s purposes for all aspects of their lives and to make their decisions in view of those purposes.

There is a huge difference between the letter and the spirit of the law and not even an intact hymen proves a woman has maintained God’s standard of sexual purity; it is simply indicates the purity God looks for…

Perfect obedience to God’s laws takes place in thought, word, and deed and the Pharisees were perfect examples of people who did a great job at keeping the letter of the law, but ignored the spirit of it.. They  practiced a vending-machine type of religion in which if they pushed the right buttons (prayer, alms, fasting etc.), God would dispense his blessings to them. Their exaggerated formalism, which insisted on ceremonial details at the expense of the more important precepts of the Law was, in fact, a perversion of God’s laws.

Beginning in the second half of Matthew 5, Jesus zeroed in on the spirit of the Law, considerably raising the bar. Jesus quoted several of God’s commandments showing how the scribes and Pharisees interpreted and outwardly obeyed each law, and then revealed what was God’s true intent in each case. For example, since the Old Testament laws only forbade the actual act of adultery, the spirit of the law was ignored and lusting was not considered as a violation of the law. However, Jesus, once again getting to the heart of the matter, said that even looking at a woman with desire constituted adultery (Vs. 27-30) [For Details See Jesus and The Law]

Similarly many Christians today would say that, while fornication or "going all the way" is out, "making out" is okay. However most, if not all, of the actions involved in “petting” are a natural lead in to intercourse.

    There is an integrity to the scriptural understanding of sexual relations, which includes all those initial activities which are natural part of intercourse. Thus Scripture often refers to the sexual act by simply mentioning the first stage of it; for instance, "uncovering nakedness" (see Lev. 18). That phrase does not mean simply having no clothes on. It means the kind of unclothing that involves moving toward having sexual relations.

    Scripture also uses the expression, "approach a woman" (Lev. 18:6, 19). This implies that there is an appropriate distance between men and women, and that to violate it is already to enter on the process of fornication.

    "Not touch a woman" is another biblical expression for sexual relations (1 Corinthians 7:1). It does not mean shaking hands, but the sort of touching that is the beginning of the process of sexual relations.

    From the scriptural perspective, engaging in the initial stages may be less serious than doing everything one could possibly do in the act of fornication. But just because a person does not bring the sexual act to completion does not mean that he or she has not begun to commit fornication. [6]

Right and Wrong Questions:
It is interesting that many modern people who claim to abhor "legalism" actually take refuge in this kind of legalism when it comes to sexual morality. They seek to make space for everything that stops short of a full-scale violation of the letter of the law, and do not consider the spirit, or purpose, of the law.

    "How far can I go and not sin?" is the wrong question, indicating that the person who asks it is not yet living the life of a disciple who puts his or her mind, heart, spirit, and strength into loving the Lord and accomplishing his purposes.

    The right question is "What can I do to be fully in the right place in this area? How can I live my life in all respects in a way that most corresponds to God's purpose and God's order for this area of my life?" [6]

Also See How Far Is Too Far?


Footnote I: Astarte, a fertility goddess and the supposed consort of Baal was known by a number of similar names, Ashtart, Asherah, Ishtar, Aserah, Ashtoreth etc. Adopted by Egyptians, and later by the Greeks, she was known as Aphrodite. Her Roman equivalent is the goddess Venus.

The hilltop shrines under the trees translated as “grove” in the King James Bible were called Aserah. Similarly in the Bible Ashtoreth is worshipped in groves, or is manifest in the grove itself.

    and they forsook Jehovah, the God of their fathers, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the peoples that were round about them, and bowed themselves down unto them: and they provoked Jehovah to anger. And they forsook Jehovah, and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. [Judges 2:12-13]

    [1Samuel 12:10]  And they cried unto Jehovah, and said, We have sinned, because we have forsaken Jehovah, and have served the Baalim and the Ashtaroth: but now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, and we will serve thee.

Solomon's fall from grace is blamed on his worship of Ashtoreth and other pagan deities

    For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not perfect with Jehovah his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. And Solomon did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah, and went not fully after Jehovah, as did David his father. [1 Kings 11:4-6]

Astarte is also likely to be the "Queen of Heaven" spoken of five times by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:18, 44:17, 18, 19 and 25). Entire families were involved in idolatry, with the children gathering wood, which the men used to light fired… which were in turn used by the women to bake cakes to this goddess. Obviously, this blatant idolatry provoked God to anger, especially when the people refused to stop worshipping her, claiming that it was this goddess that was providing for them. [Vs.44:17-19].


Footnote II: Few Jewish religious texts have provoked as much indignation and discomfort as the brief passage that is recited by traditional Jewish men at the beginning of the daily morning prayers: "Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler the universe who has not created me a woman." Which “appears as part of a sequence of blessings, found in the Talmud, that are meant to accompany activities that are performed in the course of waking up in the morning”… The "has not created me a woman" blessing is part of a subgroup that expresses similar gratitude for not having been created a gentile (i.e., a heathen) or a slave…. An old liturgical fragment from the Cairo Genizah contains a more positive formulation of the same themes "…who has created me a human and not beast, a man and not a woman, an Israelite and not a gentile, circumcised and not uncircumcised, free and not slave."

Some scholars have suggested that the Apostle Paul was alluding to an early version of this blessing when he declared, "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female…" [7]


Footnote III: A letter Paul received from the congregation contained a variety of questions on which the members sought his advice and counsel. They asked about marriage (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1), about the young women getting married (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:25), about the eating of meat from animals the pagans had sacrificed to their idols in their heathen temples (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:1), about the women in the congregation covering their heads in the worship services, which was a custom unique to Corinthian society that indicated their submission to the men (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:2), and about spiritual gifts (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:1). Last, but certainly not least, Paul had learned that some men in the congregation were denying there was a physical resurrection of the body from the dead (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:12). [8]


End Notes
All URL’s Accessed September 2010
Sharon Jayson. Most Americans have had premarital sex, study finds.

[2] Gary Nystrom. Fornication In A Postmodern World". http://www.biblicist.org/bible/immoral.shtml

[3] William Barclay. The Gospel of Matthew: Page 177

[4] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/sex.html#Promiscuity

[5] Grantley Morris. When is Sex Before Marriage Acceptable?

[6]Stephen B. Clark. Sexual Purity: Beyond Legalism

[7] Eliezer Segal. Who Has Not Made Me a Woman.

[8] An Overview Of The Book Of 1 Corinthians. http://www.christianinconnect.com/1corinthians.htm


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