WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE?
Such an innocuous looking question here…NO!
Well, I have been given the tough, “don’t talk about this in front of the children” subject here!
It’s a real “why don’t you just set me up for failure” one!
If I say “sex before marriage is wrong!” then I’m going to upset those who are living in a physical relationship outside of marriage. And if I say “well, it’s no worse than telling a lie” then I’m going to offend others. And God forbid if I say “it’s great! God is very happy. Best to make sure you’re sexually compatible before plunging into the icy pool of marital bliss”! I think I’ll be lynched by many of you before I get to the door!
So…maybe I shall just change the subject around a little and change the tough question to: Is it OK to eat cake on a Sunday?! Yay! Yes it is! End of message…Hm…somehow I think I’m not going to get away with that one!
QUESTIONS AND PARAMETERS
There are a whole bucketful of “spin-off” questions here. Ones that I have actually heard include:
“Why would God not permit sex before marriage? You’ve got to know that you are physically compatible with the one with whom you are going to spend the rest of your life – haven’t you? If the sex is bad it’s going to lead to all sorts of problems isn’t it? And the urge to get physical gratification from elsewhere is going to be too strong to bear – don’t you agree?”
“A man’s got to ‘sow his wild oats’ to get his needs out of his system – and to be fully proficient in the love-making department – no use fumbling around with no idea what you are doing – I just can’t believe that God would say ‘no’ to this”.
“What does God expect of someone who is not married and who needs to satisfy his sexual urges?”
“What about fondling and caressing without intercourse? Is this OK?”
“What about sex before marriage for ‘Gays’ and Lesbians and ‘trans’ people?”
AHHHHHHHH! My brain is about to explode!
So, before we begin, let’s set some parameters. Not all these questions are going to be considered here – but maybe this discourse will be the launch pad for further discussions in our housegroups and in our family and friendship groupings. My boundary of discussion is simply that of looking at what the Bible says about two people (a man and a woman) having sexual intercourse before being married in the sight of God and the Church in a ceremony that is bound by law. All else can follow on from the basic, fundamental, principles as understood from God’s Word…so…here we go then!
THE PROBLEM – 21ST CENTURY SOCIETY
There has ALWAYS been sex outside marriage. Even the Bible is full of it – Judah sleeps with Tamar (Genesis 38), David sleeps with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), temple prostitutes proliferate! But always it was frowned on, and there was an expectation that if you got a girl pregnant then you did the right thing and married her. Never has there been an age like the last 100 years where the “sexual revolution” has turned old values upside down. Films, TV, magazines and, most of all, the internet, have sexually stimulated a culture and declared that sex is good, and you must get as much of it as you can, as quickly as you can, with whomever you can!
At the same time marriage and family life has been breaking down. At the end of the Victorian age the divorce rate was 200 pa, in 1987 it was at 151 000 pa, reaching a peak in 1993 with 180 493 divorces. Figures have dropped since then…but so have the number of those getting married…almost 50% of marriages end in divorce…so increasingly we see co-habiting rather than marriage – and in 2021 51% of all births took place outside of marriage…there’s a lot of sex outside marriage going on there!
Unfortunately, it has to be admitted, the church has been the source of much of the problem with its unhealthy attitude towards sex. Origen in the early 3rd Century ad declared that sex was sinful – citing that it was only AFTER the “Fall” that Adam had sex with Eve (forgetting that God had commanded Adam and Eve to fill the earth BEFORE the “Fall”!). In the Middle Ages Yves of Chartres taught that sex must be abstained from for 5 days: on Thursday to honour the arrest of Jesus, on Friday because that was the day He died, on Saturday to respect Mary, on Sunday to commemorate the Resurrection and on Monday to respect the departed dead! This attitude continued through the centuries. In the outwardly prudish Victorian age some considered piano legs needed to be covered so as not to induce lust!
THE TRUTH – SEX IS GREAT!
Everything God has made is good – and He made us: Psalm 139 v 13-14 tells us –
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
That means, of course, that He made our sexual organs as well! And that means that they are good! When God made Adam and Eve they were naked and “felt no shame” (Genesis 2: 25) – so there was nothing wrong with their bodies at all. And the pleasure of sex is from God too – if you don’t realise that, then read Song of Songs sometime!
Sex is great…in its right context – within a monogamous marriage relationship. And the man and woman then have the joy of a full sexual relationship to enjoy. Remember that Jesus confirmed this when He said (in Matthew 19: 5-6):
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh”.
This is a quote from the first clear mention of marriage life – found in Genesis 2: 24 where we see three clear aspects to married life:
- A new relationship formed by leaving parents.
- A union of the couple in the love of marriage
- A physical union through the joy of sex.
Marriage is about 2 people being “glued” together: relationally, emotionally, psychologically and physically. All go together.
A well-known actor put it like this:
“What makes a great lover? A great lover is someone who can satisfy one woman all his life long. A great lover is not someone who goes from woman to woman. Any dog could do that”.
Sex is a part of the marriage relationship…but can it be right or OK outside of it?
Sex for pleasure is great – but it is also designed for procreation – and that, within this full marriage relationship – this was God’s command in Genesis 1: 28 –
“Be fruitful and increase in number”.
MANKIND HAS TRIED TO MESS UP GOD’S PERFECT WAY
Nicky Gumbel (“Searching Issues” 1997 p. 46) says this:
“Any sex outside marriage is a distortion of God’s good gift and falls short of His ideal”.
But does the Bible condemn any sex outside marriage as being wrong?
There’s no doubt about the Biblical attitude to adultery (sex with another person within a marriage relationship). Exodus 20: 14 says:
“You shall not commit adultery”.
And why? Because everyone gets hurt – the adulterer, their spouse, their children and parents etc, etc, etc. And God wants to protect us from getting hurt – because He loves us.
But what about sex BEFORE marriage – surely no-one gets hurt here…do they?
Well, before we look at that question we have to accept that ANY sex outside the marriage bond (within marriage or before marriage) is declared to be wrong by the Bible. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul not only declares that union with a prostitute is wrong, but also warns people to:
“Flee from sexual immorality” (verse 18)
– using a Greek word which means ALL sex outside marriage. So, it does NOT give an exception for “anyone living together in a stable relationship”. Stable relationships can be ended; engagements can be broken; marriage is meant to be for life. It is in the context only of a committed marital relationship that sex seals the relationship.
Just because sex outside marriage might FEEL good doesn’t make it REAL good!
“FATHER KNOWS BEST”
God loves sex because God created sex. God made sex good. Soooooo…how come He says, through His Word, that we should not indulge in it before marriage or outside marriage?
Well…we have to work from the basic premise that “Father knows best”. So, what might some of His reasons be? Nicky Gumbel identifies four:
- We risk hurting ourselves: when a physical relationship comes to an end we are hurt – everyone is hurt. Divorce is one way that this ends – and God hates divorce, because everyone is hurt. But when we are in a physical relationship even BEFORE marriage then we are at risk of getting hurt over and over and over again – and God does not want this for us. And research, even in the 1980s showed that those who indulged in pre-marital sex were more likely to indulge in extra-marital sex and were more likely to find their marriages ending in divorce.
- We risk hurting others: Men who sleep around are traditionally viewed as “studs”, but women who sleep around will be known by far-less-nice names and will be seen as “used goods”. We hurt others when we have sex with them outside marriage. When we are left with an unplanned pregnancy we are hurt. God wants the best for us.
- We risk hurting society: If we accept that the marriage relationship is one of the stable building blocks of society then sex outside of marriage – which breaks this relationship – hurts society. In fact research shows that family breakdown leads to an increase in crime – which hurts society; it leads to mental health issues – which hurts society; it leads to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases (AIDS and VD) which hurts society.
- We hurt God: breaking God’s Law cuts us off from Him.
“Free love” is never free! It has a huge cost to us, others and society as a whole – and most of all, it hurts God.
WHAT CAN WE DO!
God does set high standards – but only because He knows what is best for us. And, yes, it would be hard to stop if we are already “doing” this; and we might have to face the ire of a partner from whom we would be physically withdrawing (though many have reported that once the sex stops they wonder what they actually have in common with the other person! So it might be a real help to be able to reflect on the depth of the relationship in any case!). What can we do?
- “resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4: 7-8) – which actually only works if we “come near to God and He will come near to you”. We WILL be tempted to have sex outside of marriage – but temptation is not sin, and we must strive to resist.
- Confess and repent if we do sin – and God WILL forgive us…
This is what I know in my heart and in my spirit: God loves the one who keeps themselves sexually pure outside of the marriage relationship. AND…God loves the one who does not keep themselves sexually pure outside of the marriage relationship. A father – and God is the BEST Father ever – loves their child even when they do not like what they do. Father God wants the very best for us – He wants what is ultimately going to make us happiest. So, He does not want us to engage in sex before marriage (whatever our individual understanding of what this means is). If we want what is best for us (even though it might not feel like it) then we will obey the Father – because Father knows best.
But, if we do “fall”, if we do sin, then please know that this is NOT the unforgiveable sin. Neither is it ever too late to put it right.
In John 8 Jesus was challenged by those ready to stone a woman for her adultery. Jesus made the famous pronouncement “if any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”. He loves the woman DESPITE her sin – and, like a good father, when left alone with her it is written:
‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’ (v 11)
In a former church of which I was an Elder I worked very closely with a wonderful young couple. They had been living and “sleeping” with each other for a number of years – they loved it! But then they became Christians and felt very strongly God counselling them to do the right thing. They moved apart from each other, kept their bodies away from each other…AND GOT MARRIED AS QUICKLY AS THEY COULD!!! And God blessed them because of this.