Is Sex Before Marriage Forbidden in the Bible?

Here is a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named Kimberly:

Hi Lee! I was wondering if sex before marriage is forbidden in the Bible. . . and if it is, why? I have a hard time understanding what could be so destructive about two people who genuinely care about each other having safe sex. I’ve been leaning towards the thought that sin is anything that keeps you away from God’s love. . . if this is true, then how would premarital sex fit into the equation? If you’re not hurting anybody, can it be so wrong? What about having multiple partners?

Just for the record, this is the same Kimberly who posed the Spiritual Conundrum that I responded to in the article, “It’s not fair that God made some people incredibly beautiful, and others just average!

Sex is a highly sensitive subject these days. Saying almost anything clear and definite about it is bound to offend somebody.

But . . . Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life is not designed to win any popularity contests. It’s intended to offer a deeper Biblical and spiritual understanding of many issues that we face in today’s world. So we’ll just charge right into it—and you, dear reader, can make up your own mind.

The reality is that the Bible is nowhere near as clear about sex before marriage as many Christians seem to think it is. In fact, though the Bible does generally condemn sexual immorality, there is no clear prohibition against premarital sex in the Bible.

So the short answer to Kimberly’s question is:

No, sex before marriage is not forbidden in the Bible.

No matter how upsetting this may be to some people with traditional moral values, that’s the fact of the matter

However . . . before you jump right into the sack, there’s more to it than that . . .

The Bible forbids adultery, and values marriage

The Bible simply doesn’t say much specifically about premarital sex. And some of what has been interpreted as applying to premarital sex doesn’t really apply to it.

What the Bible does condemn in no uncertain terms is adultery. However, even though premarital sex is traditionally considered fornication, it is not adultery. Adultery is when one or both of the people engaging in sex with one another is married to someone else. Strictly speaking, the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14) does not apply to sex before marriage.

The Bible presents marriage as a relationship that is sacred because from the beginning God created two human beings to be united into one. Based on this, we can conclude that:

  • If the people engaging in premarital sex think there is nothing wrong with promiscuous and adulterous relationships, and just want to sleep around with no restrictions or boundaries, it is a serious issue.
  • But if the people engaging in premarital sex value marriage and want to be in a committed, monogamous relationship, it is not such a serious issue.

Does the Bible give a green light to premarital sex, then?

No, it doesn’t.

But it doesn’t give a red light either.

Let’s take a closer look at the Bible’s yellow light on sex before marriage. Then we’ll look at some issues that are worth considering in making decisions about engaging in sex outside of marriage.

The Bible says that marriage comes from God

First, the Bible says that God created two people to be united into one, and that this relationship is to be honored.

In the first creation story, God creates man and woman together:

God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

In the second creation story, God forms woman from a rib taken from the human being that God had created (in Hebrew “Adam” means “human,” not necessarily “man”), and brings her to him so that the two may become one:

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:21–24)

(On the two creation stories and what they say about the relationship between man and woman, see the article, “Man, Woman, and the Two Creation Stories of Genesis.”)

In the New Testament, Jesus refers to the second creation story in establishing marriage as a relationship created by God:

Jesus answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4–6)

And just one more for now. In the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament, it says:

Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. (Hebrews 13:4)

This should be enough to show that according to the Bible, marriage is created by God, and is to be respected and honored as a God-given relationship. (Assuming, of course, that the people in the marriage are living in a godly way.)

The real question about premarital sex, then, is whether it contributes to marriage or damages marriage.

But before we get to that, let’s look at a few places where the Bible talks about premarital sex. The clearest ones are in the Old Testament.

The Bible takes a pragmatic approach to premarital sex

Let’s be honest. The Bible is full of imperfect people who do imperfect things. The only person who is presented by the Bible as sinless is Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 4:15).

In the Old Testament, laws could be quite harsh against those who broke God’s laws. Adultery, in particular, carried the death penalty (see Leviticus 20:10).

What about those who had sex before marriage?

Here, the law was more complicated, and more pragmatic.

If a woman got married, and it was then discovered that she was not a virgin when she got married, her offense was punishable by death (see Deuteronomy 22:13–21).

Yes, this was sexist and unfair. The same rule did not apply to men. But that was an earlier and more brutal age. This law was their way of assuring a man that his children were his own.

By the same token, if a man raped a woman who was pledged to be married, he was subject to the death penalty, while the woman was not to be punished at all (see Deuteronomy 22:25–27).

What if the woman was neither married nor pledged to be married?

In that society, it was assumed that an unmarried woman (who wasn’t a prostitute) would not allow a man to have sex with her, because the consequences for her would be catastrophic. So if an unmarried man did have sex with an unmarried woman, unless there was some proof otherwise, it was considered rape, and the man was to be punished for it—but not by the death penalty:

If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives. (Deuteronomy 22:28–29)

Shotgun wedding

Shotgun wedding

In other words, the man was subject to a large fine payable to the woman’s father (which was basically a bride price ) and to the ancient Hebrew equivalent of a shotgun wedding, from which he could not escape through divorce.

Of course, these laws are not in force for Christians today. We have made huge social, scientific, and spiritual progress since then—which is why most of those harsh Old Testament laws simply don’t apply anymore.

In the Bible, acceptable sex is connected to marriage

But consider the pragmatic meaning of that law about sex before marriage. If two people engaged in sex before marriage, they were required to get married in order to preserve the woman’s honor and hold the man responsible for his actions.

Another way of saying this is that in Old Testament times, the laws about sex were aimed primarily at enforcing the sanctity of marriage.

In the New Testament, there are no such detailed laws about how to handle various cases of sex before marriage. Instead, there are more general injunctions to avoid fornication and adultery, and to honor marriage through faithfulness and purity in one’s marital life. (And purity did not mean abstinence from sex.)

From this brief survey of what the Bible says about sex and marriage, we can draw two conclusions that support the ones I stated above:

  • Promiscuous and especially adulterous sex with no intent to marry is forbidden in the Bible.
  • Premarital sex that leads to marriage, though not ideal, is tolerated in the Bible, and is handled in pragmatic fashion to preserve social order.

This is what I meant when I spoke earlier of the Bible’s yellow light on sex before marriage. The Bible does not forbid premarital sex as many Christians claim. But it does consider it non-ideal, and either requires or encourages those who engage in it to move toward marriage.

In short, the Bible generally teaches that sex should be connected with, or lead to, marriage.

What about premarital sex today?

We are no longer living in the ancient Biblical cultures that existed two to four thousand years ago. At least in the West, premarital sex no longer carries the stigma for women that it did in those days. And the standards for men are, if anything, even more relaxed.

Is that good or bad?

That’s for you to decide.

However, if, as Kimberly says, two unmarried people who genuinely care for each other choose to engage in safe sex with each other, is that really so bad?

Of course, in some families and in some segments of society, there are still major stigmas attached to sex before marriage. Those who engage in premarital sex will have to deal with the attitudes of their families, their friends, and their community.

Beyond social strictures, though, is sex before marriage really so bad?

These days, many people are sexually active from their teenage years onward, and still go on to get married and have good marriages. Yes, I know, many also get divorced or have unhappy marriages. But that also happens to people who don’t have sex before marriage. The point is, engaging in sex before marriage doesn’t necessarily destroy the hope of entering into a long-term, faithful, and happy marriage.

It all depends on your attitude toward commitment and marriage.

Multiple partners or faithfulness to one partner?

Despite today’s freer sexual atmosphere, the Biblical and spiritual ideal is still a long-term, committed, monogamous relationship. Most commonly, this means committed and faithful marriage. For more on marriage and its spiritual source and foundation, see the article, “How does Marriage Fit In with a Spiritual Life? Is There Marriage in Heaven?

It’s just as true as it ever was that if you sleep around and engage in promiscuous sex with many partners, you’re heading for trouble both spiritually and in your prospects for genuine romantic and marital relationships. Marriage is based on mutual love, commitment, and trust between two people. It cannot coexist with promiscuity and casual sex with multiple partners.

In other words, as I said earlier, if you think there is nothing wrong with promiscuous and even adulterous relationships, and just want to sleep around with no restrictions or boundaries, that’s a serious issue. It will ultimately destroy your prospects for a real marriage.

However, as I also said earlier, if you value marriage and want to be in a committed, monogamous relationship, sex before marriage is not such a serious issue. Your longing for a real marriage relationship will move you in that direction if you remain committed to it.

Does this mean that there’s no problem at all with premarital sex from a spiritual perspective?

No, it doesn’t mean that.

Both spiritually and socially, premarital sex still carries risks.

For one thing, though you may be clear in your own mind that you want commitment, and eventually marriage, how can you be sure that your partner feels the same way? Regardless of what he or she says, it’s quite possible that the two of you have very different goals for the relationship.

Since sexual intimacy is very pleasurable in itself, and often creates strong bonds between two people, it can easily mask major differences between you and your partner at the deeper level of love, common values, and long-term commitment to one another.

Sometimes these differences don’t come to the surface until one of you starts talking about marriage. If serious differences do come out at that point, it can lead to a traumatic break-up, and a sense that you have just wasted many months or years of your life on a relationship that was nowhere near as real as you thought it was.

It works much better to start the relationship from the inner levels of finding out whether you truly belong together than it does to start it from the outer levels of physical sexual intimacy. For more on this, see the article, “Beyonce and Jay-Z Reveal the Secret: How to Start a Lasting Marriage”—and if you’re not into Beyonce and Jay-Z, just scroll down and start at the section titled “Top-down vs. bottom-up marriage.”

Of course, marriage is no guarantee either. But if your partner is willing to take that step with you, it does give greater assurance that he or she is just as committed to the relationship as you are.

It’s still your choice

So is sex before marriage forbidden in the Bible?

No, it isn’t.

Is sex before marriage recommended in the Bible?

Not at all.

The Bible simply presents some of the issues and consequences involved in sex without the intent to marry vs. sex within marriage or with the intent to marry.

It’s still your choice.

That’s as it should be. These are very personal issues, and very personal choices. No one else can make them for you.

However, before you decide to go all-in physically, do consider what you want from the relationship.

If you simply want to enjoy sexual intimacy with someone you feel close to, that is quite doable. But that may be all you’ll get out of the relationship. If you’re good with that, then you can at least go in with your eyes open.

However, if what you really want is a long-term, committed, faithful marriage, consider the possibility that starting out with sexual intimacy early in the relationship may make the kind of marriage you long for less likely rather than more likely.

If you spend the time to find and create an inner connection with your partner before fully engaging your physical drives and hormones, you’re more likely to start the relationship on a solid and lasting foundation of inner oneness. That inner oneness is at the heart of every true and lasting marriage.

This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.

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About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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175 comments on “Is Sex Before Marriage Forbidden in the Bible?
  1. Thanks for posting this, and for commenting on my blog with a link to this.

    I would like to make a couple comments:

    1) The OT law about a man having to pay the bride-price appears in two separate places. Exodus 22:16 is about seduction and Deuteronomy 22:28 is about rape. The father has the option of utterly refusing to give the daughter in marriage to the rapist. This is only for virgins. Now read Judges 21 and see what happened there.

    2) The law about adultery only applied to sleeping with a married woman. A married man sleeping with a virgin was not considered adultery. In fact, many men fought in battles and it is very likely that polygamy was commonly practiced, since there weren’t as many men as women. Deuteronomy 21 also speaks about taking wives from among women who were captured during a battle, and how to treat them honorably.

    Yes, in those times it was customary for a woman to stay a virgin before she was given to a man in marriage. But the norms were different. She would grow up either in her father’s house or as a maidservant. Then she was given as a wife to either the head of the household, or one of his sons, or perhaps a manservant. In addition, men would have multiple wives. So, today’s expectation that men would be monogamous is in fact hard for many men to sustain. In their genes, men are more promiscuous than women, and throughout history this went hand in hand with groups sending men off to battle. A great article on this is http://denisdutton.com/baumeister.htm

    Jesus nowhere explicitly rebukes polygamous families. He seems to support yibbum – the practice of marrying a deceased brother’s wife in order to continue his family line, as when the Sadducees asked him about it. One of his parables is about the “wise virgins” who all go in with “the groom”. Why would Jesus be using an institution he disagreed with?

    In addition to wives (who had a marriage contract), there were also concubines (pilagshim in Hebrew). These were most likely close to “official live-in girlfriend” today. They had to wait three wives between relationships, to avoid incestuous relationships between children who didn’t know who their father was. However, they were free to go and did not need a bill of divorce, which wives needed.

    Jesus did in fact say that divorce is something that was allowed to Israelites because of the hardness of their hearts. However, he did not say anything about taking a second or third wife, while continuing to provide for the first. In Judaism, and especially in the time Jesus lived and taught, conjugal relations were considered one of the basic rights of a woman in a marriage. If a husband could not take care of all his wives sexually, financially, etc. he was not to get married to them. So, rather than divorce, I would imagine Jesus would have advised a rich man to marry a second wife.

    I do not see any explicit rebuke of premarital sex, nor of a married man sleeping with other women, by Jesus. Also keep in mind that “wife” and “woman” are the same word in both Hebrew and Greek.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Greg,

      Thanks for heading over here, and for your good and thoughtful comment. I had forgotten all about the comment I left on your blog back in April.

      I’ll respond later to the substance of your comment. For now, I just want to say thanks for the link to the Roy Baumeister article. Fascinating stuff! It makes a great deal of sense, and I greatly enjoyed reading it.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Greg,

      Thanks again for your long and thoughtful comment. There’s more here than I can respond to in a reasonable length and amount of time. I do at least want to comment on the issue of polygamy vs. monogamy.

      It is true that there is no explicit rebuke of polygamy in the Bible, by Jesus or anyone else.

      By the same token, though we can speculate about what Jesus might have done in a particular situation, there is no actual record in the Gospels of his advising anyone to marry an additional wife.

      In the incident of the question about the resurrection based on the law of levirate marriage (Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40), Jesus did not take the bait, nor did he affirm the law of levirate marriage. He simply used it as a jumping off point to talk abut the reality of the afterlife.

      In general, when Jesus uses examples from the culture in which he lived, that doesn’t necessarily mean he approves of the behavior engaged in by the people in his stories. He is simply using the way people actually behaved as vivid examples pointing to deeper, spiritual principles. Personally, I happen to be a vegetarian. But when speaking to a general audience, I’ll still sometimes use common carnivorous expressions such as “meat and potatoes” and “Where’s the beef?” It’s not an endorsement. It’s simply using the memes of the culture.

      But back to the point about polygamy, the reality is that the Middle Eastern cultures of Bible times accepted polygamy (really, polygyny) as normal and acceptable behavior. And it was not something that was going to be rooted out of the culture any time soon. In fact, 2,000 years later, polygyny is still practiced in some parts of the Middle East. It is therefore simply taken as a given, similar to the institution of slavery, and no serious attempt is made to oppose it because it would be useless to do so in that context.

      However, looking at the Bible as a whole, we do see a general pattern of the story starting with monogamy, descending into polygamy, and then moving back in the general direction of monogamy—a direction that took several centuries after the beginning of the Christian era to come into full fruition.

      In both the first and second Creation stories in Genesis, there is a spirit of monogamy. In Genesis 1:26-27 God creates male and female in his image, and commands them to be fruitful and multiply. Then in Genesis 2, God creates Adam, and then Eve from his rib, and they become a monogamous couple, so that a man is to leave his parents and cleave to his wife (not wives).

      The first instance of polygamy in the Bible comes in the sixth generation of Cain’s line. Lamech married two wives, Adah and Zillah. And he is presented as having committed a homicide. So it’s clear that the origins of polygamy are in a corrupted line of human beings (Cain’s lineage), in an especially corrupt generation of that line.

      Moving forward to the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we see that there is a tendency toward monogamy. Abraham had only one wife at a time: Sarah, and later Keturah. It is true, though, that at Sarah’s suggestion, he fathered a child with Sarah’s Egyptian slave Hagar. Isaac had one wife, Rebekah. Jacob wanted one wife: Rachel. But through the trickery of his father-in-law, he ended out with two wives: Leah and Rachel. And due to the struggles between those two wives, he also fathered children through their respective slaves, Zilpah and Bilhah.

      So the example of the Patriarchs is that even though polygamy did occur, monogamy was preferred. And ironically, in these instances, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the men, are presented as preferring monogamy. The one instance of outright polygamy among the Patriarchs occured due to trickery, and taking concubines was the women’s idea, not the men’s. Granted, the men didn’t fight against it. Still, the men are presented as favoring monogamy.

      However, over time polygamy became established as a common practice for men who were rich enough to support more than one wife. The apex of this was Solomon, with his 700 wives and 300 concubines: clearly numbers meant to impress readers with Solomon’s great wealth and power.

      Turning to the New Testament, polygamy was still allowable, but the New Testament is notable for its general lack of mention of polygamyous relationships. And Jesus affirms the ancient saying that a man should leave his parents and be united to his wife (not wives, see Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9), implying a support for monogamy, even if it is not explicitly stated.

      Though it is not stated explicitly, the New Testament generally speaks in monogamous terms, referring to a husband and his wife, a wife and her husband, as if there were not multiple wives. No, it’s not explicit, and polygamy is not explicitly repudiated. But there is a general atmosphere of monogamy in the New Testament. And in Titus 1:5-6, among the qualifications of church elders is that they must be “someone who is blameless, married only once.” Clearly, religious and Christian culture was already moving back toward an ideal of monogamy.

      So while it is true that the Bible never explicitly requires monogamy, the general trend is that in early, pristine times monogamy was the practice, and polygamy entered only after humankind had fallen away from its original pristine state. Polygamy was then practiced throughout the lower spiritual states represented by the bulk of the Old Testament. And with the New Testament, after the Incarnation, when God began lifting humankind out of that low spiritual state, that old trend toward polygamy as humankind fell away from God and spirit was reversed. As humanity began moving back upward toward God and spirit, we moved away from the polygamy of our fallen state and back toward the monogamy for which and in which God originally created us.

      • S Ben says:

        I think polygamy indicates avarice, arrogance, pride and/or an unwillingness to exercise self-control. That may have been why the passage in Titus required that the Elder have only one life.

        • Lee says:

          Hi S Ben,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

          However, I think that is an overly harsh assessment of polygamy. I’m certainly not a fan of polygamy. But in cultures where it is allowed and common, it is an ordinary thing, not a scandal as it is in monogamous cultures.

          I would say, rather, that polygamy indicates a culture that has a low, unspiritual view of marriage, and that views women as secondary to men. Under polygamy it is impossible to achieve God’s intention for marriage, which is for two people to become one, because polygamy splits the marriage relationship among multiple partners. There is also no possibility of a true partnership, because women are seen as secondary and inferior to men. And there is therefore no possibility of a true oneness of heart, mind, and spirit, as exists in a true, God-given monogamous marriage.

          Keep in mind also that polygamy existed in ancient cultures in which men commonly fought and died in wars, and women could achieve social status and security only by being married and having children, especially sons. If polygamy were not allowed in those cultures, many women would remain single and childless, and would therefore have a very difficult life. So although polygamy does indicate a low level of society and of spirituality, in such a society it is not an unmitigated evil.

          Monogamy was re-established in Christianity, I believe, because Christianity was meant to bring humanity to a higher spiritual level, and eventually to return humanity to the state of equality in which God originally created man and woman. On that, please see:
          Man, Woman, and the Two Creation Stories of Genesis

  2. Ice Cube says:

    what about 1 Corinthians 7:2
    Doesnt that say it is a sin

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ice Cube,

      The whole first section of 1 Corinthians 7 is talking about marriage and faithfulness to one’s marital partner. It doesn’t say anything very clear about sex before marriage.

      • reikster says:

        I know this is super late but it talks about basically that you should marry “to avoid fornication.” So it is talking about sex before marriage in my opinion.

        • Lee says:

          Hi reikster,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

          I presume you are talking about 1 Corinthians 7:2 (KJV). However, the whole sequence of 1 Corinthians 7:1–16 (NRSV), in which that verse appears, is about the question of whether to marry or to remain single and celibate. Paul is giving his opinion that it is better not to marry at all (an opinion with which I disagree), but that if a person cannot abstain from sex, it is better to get married. It’s not really about premarital sex. It’s about having sex within a marriage vs. not having sex at all.

          See also a similar comment and my answer here.

        • reikster says:

          Hi,

          You said that it’s about having sex within a marriage vs. not having sex at all. But it obviously touches the subject of premarital sex. What is Paul talking about when he says “to avoid fornication” in your opinion?

          In 1 cor 7:9 it says “But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” So if they aren’t married AND they can’t contain themselves then they will burn (with passion) which is obviously a negative thing. So it says to avoid “burning” you should get married. And because it talks about containing I think it talks about sexual stuff BEFORE marriage.

          Can you please think about this? Because I really can’t see how can you interpet this otherwise.

          And thank you for answering!

        • Lee says:

          Hi reikster,

          Yes, it touches upon the subject of premarital sex. But that isn’t the focus of the passage.

          It is not a good practice to interpret the Bible by reading present-day issues into it. Today, premarital sex is a huge issue because in our more liberal culture, many people are engaging in it. In ancient Hebrew society it was not such a big issue because for women, engaging in it would be ruinous to their reputation and their life, so they generally avoided it. It was more common in “Greek” culture (i.e., the surrounding polytheistic culture). So yes, as I say in the article, the Bible generally discourages premarital sex. But once again, there simply isn’t any clear, unambiguous prohibition of premarital sex in the Bible. That’s probably because it wasn’t seen as such a major issue as it is today.

          The word for “fornication” in the original Greek of 1 Corinthians 7:2 (and elsewhere) is porneia. The root meaning of this word is “prostitute, prostitution.” Unmarried men (not to mention married men) who “burned with passion” were most likely to use the services of a prostitute rather than sleep with an unmarried woman who was not a prostitute simply because unmarried women in those days generally wanted to remain a virgin until marriage, since if they were found not to be a virgin, this could have severe consequences for them. That’s why the rules in the Bible about premarital sex require a man to marry a young woman whom he has slept with. Otherwise she was likely to be rejected by any prospective husband, disgraced in society, rejected by her family, and very likely forced into prostitution just to survive.

          Of course, in pagan society a considerable amount of prostitution was temple prostitution, which was also condemned in the Bible.

          The main point is that 1 Corinthians 7:1–16 is not really about premarital sex as we think of it today. Rather, it is about unmarried men who are unable or unwilling to restrain from sexual intercourse not resorting to prostitutes, but getting married instead. To think that it is talking about today’s issue of premarital sex is to read today’s culture into the Bible—which was written in a very different culture.

          Does all of this mean that premarital sex is just A-OK? No. I’ve said over and over again that I think it’s best not to engage in premarital sex. But does the Bible give an absolute rule against premarital sex? No, it does not. And most of the attempts by conservative Christians to force the Bible into making such a prohibition are based on a lack of understanding of the cultures of the Bible, and of the issues that Paul and other Bible writers were addressing.

        • reikster says:

          Okay I still think you are wrong but I dont think I can change our mind about this passage.

          So think about for example why prostitution is wrong. If you can have premarital sex then it should be fine, right? 1 Corinthians 6:15 for example proves that it is wrong. If you can have premarital sex why would it be wrong to be a prostute? It’s obviously sexual immorality. So therefore if the bible doesn’t condemn premarital sex why would it condemn prostitution.

        • Lee says:

          Hi reikster,

          We can’t just decide what the Bible says based on what we want it to say.

          The Bible says specific things. And there is no passage in the Bible that prohibits sex before marriage. In fact, as covered in the above article, the Old Testament has specific rules for what to do if people have sex before marriage. New Testament standards are generally stricter, but there is still no passage prohibiting sex before marriage. Only general discouragement of “fornication,” which, as I said earlier, applies primarily to sex with prostitutes, and only by derivation to other types of non-marital sex.

          I know you very much want the Bible to prohibit sex before marriage. But once again, you can’t just decide that the Bible prohibits something when there are no passages in the Bible that actually state such a prohibition.

          Further, sexual behavior is not a matter of stark blacks and whites, but of shades of gray. The Bible itself recognizes this when it specifies (in the Old Testament) the death penalty for adultery, but in the case of non-adulterous sex, does not specify the death penalty, but rather a requirement that the man marry the woman. In other words, the Bible recognizes that premarital sex will occur, and says that if it does occur, it should result in marriage.

          Today we live in a very different culture than that of Old Testament Hebrew culture. However, the Bible’s ideal that sex should occur within, or lead to, marriage is still the best practice. Couples that have every intention of getting married, if they have sexual relations before marriage, are not running afoul of the Bible’s rules if they do go ahead and get married. Those who do not get married are in a darker gray area.

          As for prostitution, it is certainly worse than sexually active unmarried couples who are faithful to one another and who look toward marriage. Prostitution has no intent of marriage. It takes no account of whether the clients are married or not. A prostitute will sleep with anyone who pays for it, regardless of marital status, general promiscuity, and so on.

          This is a very big topic, which cannot be adequately covered in a few brief comments. But once again, you can’t make the Bible say something it doesn’t actually say, no matter how much you wish you could.

        • reikster says:

          I’m sorry i’m not intentionally making the bible say what I want but in the light of all those verses I can’t see how it isn’t a sin. Maybe i’m not that smart then because I just can’t see your points.

          One final point. You said that it’s a gray area but if you can’t be sure if it’s a sin or not then you shouldn’t do it, right? Thats what the bible says, i’m pretty sure.

          Have a good day and sorry for bothering you with this debate.

        • Lee says:

          Hi reikster,

          No problem. The issue is that the Bible does not mean the same thing by “fornication” that we mean today. That word has much more serious implications than two people who are in love having sex without being married. However, I do agree with you that it’s best not to do that. It’s just that this is an ideal, not an absolute commandment of the Bible. Adultery is absolutely prohibited. On non-adulterous extramarital sex there are mixed messages, making it a matter of interpretation and individual choice.

          However, if you believe it is a sin, then I would certainly recommend you not do it. Violating our own conscience is not a good thing.

        • Lee says:

          Hi reikster,

          I should add that sin is knowingly and intentionally doing something that one knows to be wrong and against God’s commandments. That’s why Jesus said:

          If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,” your sin remains. (John 9:41)

          If people do something that is wrong and evil without knowing or realizing that it is wrong and evil, it is still evil, and it still causes harm, but it is not sin, and it does not put them in danger of damnation.

          In today’s increasingly secular society, many people do not know or believe that having sex before marriage is wrong. Therefore when they do it, even if it is not the best thing to do, and there can be a number of negative consequences, it is not sinful for them. On the other hand, people who do believe that sex before marriage is wrong and against God’s commandments, if they go ahead and have premarital sex anyway, are guilty of sin because they have acted contrary to their faith and their conscience.

          This is why many, if not most people who have premarital sex today are not endangering their eternal souls even though they may reap negative consequences such as STDs, broken relationships, a jaded view of sex, and so on. Meanwhile, people who don’t believe premarital sex is wrong and have sex within faithful unmarried relationships while looking forward to a faithful monogamous marriage relationship have only very mild negative consequences from their premarital sex, and can move seamlessly into marriage without doing much damage.

  3. Nate says:

    Hi lee,

    I know this topic is quite old, but I was wondering what the backing is exactly for the claim. I really hope that in no way you feel I’m telling you your wrong, I’m a genuine reader asking a true question from someone who seems to be Intelligent on the subject.

    Thanks,

    Nate

    • Lee says:

      Hi Nate,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your question. I’m not sure which particular claim you’re referring to. But in general, as stated on the About this website page:

      For inspiration Annette and I turn especially to:

      1. The Bible, as seen from an intelligent, spiritual perspective
      2. The writings of scientist, philosopher, and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)
      3. Our lifetime of experience in this amazing world!

      This particular article draws most heavily on the Bible itself. But its perspective is influenced by Swedenborg’s book Marriage Love, and of course also reflects my own thinking, study, experience, and perspective on the subject.

      • Nate says:

        Hi Lee,

        I’m sorry I made such a sweeping claim, I suppose biblically is the point I care about most. It’s clear that many churches around the world, including my own, condemn the act, so wouldn’t it stand to reason that someone would have drawn the same conclusion?
        Thanks for the reply!

        Nate

        • Lee says:

          Hi Nate,

          Once again, it’s a little hard to reply because I don’t know exactly what you’re talking about.

          If you’re talking about condemning premarital sex, I’m well aware that many Christian churches condemn it. But as the above article points out, the Bible itself is nowhere near as clear-cut on the issue as many Christians, and Christian churches, seem to think. The Bible unequivocally condemns adultery. But there simply isn’t any clear condemnation of premarital sex in the Bible.

          As I said in the article, although this may be upsetting to many Christians, it is the fact of the matter.

          As I also said in the article, that doesn’t mean unmarried people should just jump into the sack whenever and with whomever they happen to feel like it.

          But as for the hard-line position many conservative Christian churches take on premarital sex, that’s really a matter of opinion and interpretation, and not the clear teaching of the Bible on the subject.

        • Nate says:

          Hi Lee,

          I guess what I’m confused on most is the definition of fornication being sex before marriage, and how that seems to appear clearly in several verses. I’m truly wondering what your argumentation is against that. Also If good works is a fundamental facet of getting to eternity, wouldn’t going against orthodoxy be potentially hazardous to the soul?

          Thanks for your responses,

          Nate

        • Lee says:

          Hi Nate,

          “Fornication” as used in the Bible is usually interpreted as a broad term for promiscuous and extramarital sex. Yes, some Christians interpret the verses in which it appears as prohibitions against premarital sex. But those verses are not very specific, and their meaning is a matter of interpretation. There is nothing comparable to the clear commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).

          I’m not saying premarital sex is a good thing. I happen to think that it’s generally not a very good idea. I simply don’t see a clear prohibition against it in the Bible comparable to the clear prohibitions against adultery. This suggests that engaging in premarital sex is nowhere near as destructive and contrary to God’s will as adultery is.

          And realistically speaking, I simply don’t believe that millions of sexually active unmarried couples are condemning themselves to an eternity in hell—whatever other complications they may be creating for themselves.

          As for “going against orthodoxy,” orthodoxy is a human and institutional thing. For those who believe in and follow a particular orthodoxy, such as the Roman Catholic Church, yes, going against it is potentially hazardous to their soul. But even for them it’s not really a matter of going against orthodoxy per se, but rather of going against their conscience, which tells them that it’s important to follow the teachings they see as orthodox. For such people, violating orthodoxy involves violating their conscience—which is the real problem for them.

        • Nate says:

          Hi Lee,

          I see what you’re saying there, but why in your opinion has no one else arrived at the same conclusion. I’m fearful too because it i were to say anything like this to my pastor he’d condemn me every which way.

          Thanks for all your replies!

          Nate

        • Lee says:

          Hi Nate,

          Others have arrived at the same conclusion, as you’ll see if you do a few Internet searches on the subject. And still others (as you know, and as the same Internet searches will show) have arrived at a very different conclusion.

          You’ll have to make up your own mind.

          Meanwhile, if your pastor would condemn you every which way for saying such a thing, I’d recommend that you not say such a thing to your pastor. 😉

          Once again, I’m not recommending premarital sex. I’m simply saying that there is no clear prohibition against it in the Bible. Many, if not most, articles on the subject will at least agree on that. But then they’ll make arguments one way or the other based on various relevant statements and stories in the Bible, and their interpretations of those passages.

          So once again, you’ll have to make up your own mind.

    • Nate says:

      Hi lee,

      I feel as if there is still somehow a major risk with accepting the idea that it’s not a sin, a major risk to our souls that is. Also I suppose I should have elaborated further on my last comment, why haven’t any of the major religious establishments arrived at the same conclusion? For example the Catholic Church

      • Lee says:

        Hi Nate,

        I would certainly encourage you to follow your own conscience on this. And once again, I do think it’s better not to engage in sex before marriage. And especially if that is also your belief, it would certainly be best for you to abide by that belief in your own life.

        However, I believe that most of the major religious organizations have taken far too hard-line a stance on sexual and relationship issues. This is one of the reasons many people are abandoning those old, established churches. It is fine and good for people to have high moral standards for themselves. But when institutions attempt to impose very conservative moral values on everyone else, the natural human desire for freedom, self-determination, and responsibility for one’s own moral and spiritual life causes many people to rebel against those externally imposed strictures on their life and actions.

        The Catholic Church and other churches are, of course, free to adopt moral standards that are stricter than what is presented in the Bible. But for those who aren’t part of those institutions, and who read the Bible from a more objective perspective, it’s not at all clear that such strict sexual standards are commanded in the Bible. Certainly the Bible condemns adultery. But as I point out in the article, it simply isn’t as clear and explicit on many other issues of love, marriage, sex, and relationships as many of the Christian churches are.

        Keep in mind that the Bible was written several thousand years ago, in a very different time and culture. Many of the laws given in the Bible were designed for those very different times and cultures. For example, the Bible absolutely commands animal sacrifices on many occasions and for many purposes. But no Christian today believes that we must still engage in animal sacrifice. Discerning and deciding which commandments in the Bible are still in effect and which were designed for a bygone time and culture is a complex task—and in many ways a very personal one. While church institutions can help us with that, they, too, are merely groups of human beings who share a particular attitude and perspective toward God, the Bible, and human life and behavior.

        If you feel comfortable in one of these churches, and feel that it has the best understanding and interpretation of the Bible and how we’re meant to live, then I would encourage you to abide by the teachings of that church. But in the end, you must still make up your own mind what you believe. Even many faithful Catholics disagree with the Catholic Church on some issues. In this day and age, we can’t just close down our minds and give all authority to a human institution such as the Catholic Church. We must think for ourselves, and consider whether that church, or another church, or no church at all, makes sense to us and seems worthy of our adherence.

        So I would once again encourage you to think out these things for yourself. If you are a member of a church that shares and supports your views of the Bible, God, faith, and life, then it is a good thing for you to live by what you believe in and what your conscience tells you is right, as your church teaches and guides you.

        • Nate says:

          Hi Lee,

          That makes sense, but my institution seems to believe that anyone who has sex with someone they’re in love with is considered a sin that you spend all eternity in hell for. It’s confusing and I’m wondering how you feel about that, and what if it’s not considered a good thing in Gods eyes even if there’s a case against that, and it turns out we condemned ourselves.

          Thanks for your help Lee,

          Nate

        • Lee says:

          Hi Nate,

          You’re welcome. Once again, you’ll have to make up your own mind whether or not you agree with your church on this subject.

          However, since you asked: No, I don’t believe people will spend eternity in hell just for having sex outside of marriage. The Bible forbids adultery. But when it comes to non-adulterous “fornication,” it would be more accurate to say that the Bible frowns on it.

          Also, I believe that when the Bible talks about fornicators not inheriting the kingdom of heaven, it’s talking about people who see nothing wrong with promiscuous sex, and who sleep around with different partners just for the pleasure of it, with no regard whatsoever for marriage or morality.

          I really don’t think the Bible is talking about people who are in a faithful and committed relationship with one partner, who value marriage, and who look forward to a faithful, monogamous marriage with their partner.

          Of course, it does get complicated when people become sexually involved outside of marriage, but then end out breaking up and not marrying that person. This is still not the end of the world, and I don’t believe people will go to hell even for that. But the reality is that especially for people who consider committed, loving, faithful, monogamous marriage to be important, having sex with one’s partner creates a strong bond that is often difficult and painful to break, and that leaves a piece of oneself behind if that relationship does break up.

          In other words, sex isn’t something that we should take lightly and do just for the heck of it. People who view sex this way, and who don’t grow out of it as they mature, will wreck their ability to be in a good, loving, and spiritual marriage. This, I believe, is what the Bible is talking about when it condemns fornication: promiscuous sex with no belief in or dedication to faithful, monogamous marriage.

          Another article here that might be helpful to you, even though it doesn’t deal specifically with sexual morality, is this one: If You Think You’re Going to Hell, Please Read This First

          In general, I don’t believe that any one “sin” will send a person to hell. Rather, I believe that it is the good or evil character that we build up over our lifetime on earth that sends us either to heaven or to hell. Another article along these lines that might be helpful: What is the Unpardonable Sin? Am I Doomed?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Nate,

          To put what I’ve been saying to you in a larger context: I do not see evil and good as a black and white thing. Rather, I see evil as having many shades of gray. There are some things that are very evil, and if persisted in and not repented from, will land a person in hell. Adultery is one of those things, since it is a direct violation of marriage, and breaks trust and promises between married partners.

          Non-adulterous extramarital sex, on the other hand, is more of a shade of gray. It, too, can be quite bad, if the people doing it are completely immoral and promiscuous, and have sex whenever the opportunity arises, with whomever happens to be available, with no regard whatsoever for marriage or faithfulness to a partner. In that case, it is a very dark shade of gray.

          On the other hand, it is a light shade of gray if two people who are in love with one another and who expect to get married to each other in due course have sex within that relationship, and do not have sex with anyone else. Though they are not married, they are in a quasi-marital relationship in that they are in love with one another and are faithful to one another. Perhaps it’s not ideal. But the people involved do value what makes a marriage a marriage, even if for whatever reason they have not gotten married.

          It sounds like your church thinks in fairly black and white terms about sex and marriage. I would suggest that an approach that recognizes the complexities and shades of gray that exist in human beings and in human relationships is a healthier and more realistic approach. And I believe such an approach is generally supported by the Bible—especially the New Testament, which takes much more account of the motives and intentions behind particular actions than the Old Testament does.

          For more on the meaning of “sin” in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, see the article: God, Forgiveness, Freedom, and Hell – Part 4.

          The basic idea as it relates to your question is that if a couple’s intention is to be faithful to one another, and to get married when they feel they are ready for marriage, then for them it is not sinful to have sex because their sexual relationship with one another is one that looks toward marriage and prefers marriage rather than violating marriage and considering marriage to be unimportant.

          Of course, there are some people who simply don’t believe in the institution of marriage, but who in fact live in faithful, monogamous long-term relationships. In that case, they clearly believe in the spirit of marriage, even if they don’t believe in the cultural and legal institution of marriage. For a related article, see: Real Marriage vs. Legal Marriage.

          I hope this clarifies for you more of the reasons why I believe the way I do about non-adulterous extramarital sex.

        • Nate says:

          Hi Lee,

          I really do get where you’re coming from the more I think about it. However I was wondering if you could read this article:

          http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVanswers/2008/06-19c.html

          what do you think of it?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Nate,

          I think that minister is building a big claim (that all extramarital sex leads to hell) on a very small foundation.

          The definitions of the Greek words for “fornication” that he quotes actually do provide quite a bit of support to the questioner’s statement that the word means “prostitution”—and metaphorically, “idolatry.” The dictionary definitions say that this was the original meaning, from which the word got broadened to mean extramarital sex in general. But the meaning of “prostitution” (or “harlotry,” to use the old-fashioned word) is still primary. And that is the basis of my statement that when the word “fornication” (or “sexual immorality”) is used in the Bible, it’s talking about people who see nothing wrong with promiscuous sex, and who sleep around indiscriminately.

          The minister who wrote that article and the article that prompted the reader’s question is doing what evangelical and fundamentalist Christians tend to do: taking a gray area and making it very black and white.

          Notice that neither article talks much at all about consensual sex between two unmarried people who are in love and who sleep only with each other. The first article keeps talking about going to prostitutes–which your average unmarried sexually active couple these days thinks is just as terrible as your average married couple does. The author of the articles is glomming together into one big evil heap very different sexual behaviors that are quite distinct from one another.

          Even when he does talk about unmarried couples who have sex only with each other, he paints a picture of their inevitable ruin, going through more and more partners, and going on to marriages that almost inevitably end in divorce. But he provides no evidence or statistics whatsoever to support his claims and implications.

          Some people do follow the downward path he describes. But many people who have premarital sex do not. They go on to get married, and stay married.

          Meanwhile, marriages in evangelical Christian circles are no more stable than those in society as a whole. And unfortunately, conservative Christians, including conservative Christian pastors, are often caught in sexual scandals. The very black-and-white nature of their thinking, and their overly heavy focus on the evils of divorce, tends to cause them to stay in failing marriages, but then succumb to their sexual drives and have extramarital affairs or even use the services of prostitutes.

          In other words, the black-and-white thinking of this pastor is not only wrong and not well-founded in the Bible, but it actually does real damage.

          People who think in black-and-white terms tend to think of themselves as either on the “good” side of the line or on the “evil” side of the line. As long as they think of themselves as being on the “good” side of the line, things are fine. But the moment they do anything on the “evil” side of the line, they commonly think that everything is lost, so that it really doesn’t matter if they engage in even worse actions, because they’re already goners anyway. So they go on a downward spiral and think of themselves as totally lost and damned to hell.

          For some examples of this, read through the comments on my article: “If You Think You’re Going to Hell, Please Read This First.” These poor people have been told by conservative Christian pastors they’re going to hell, often for some rather minor offense—and that idea just gets into their head and burns, and causes them to give up on life and consider themselves goners. It’s a terrible thing to do to a person. And it’s totally contrary to how Christ himself treated those who had fallen onto “the wrong side of the line” according to the religious authorities of the day.

          Thinking in terms of shades of gray avoids that sort of absolutism and people falling away from morality in a big way just because they committed some relatively minor infraction. For those who think that there are gradations of evil, so that some things are only a little evil, whereas other things are very evil, when they step over the line and do something wrong, they have an easier road to getting themselves back on the strait and narrow. They do not think they’re totally lost just for one infraction, but can pick themselves up, realize that was a mistake, and get themselves back on track.

          This minister who is making broad-brush claims that all extramarital sex is terribly evil, and will result in eternal hell for those who engage in it, is doing precisely what Jesus accused the scribes and pharisees of his day of doing:

          They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:4)

          These pastors cause their followers to believe that all sorts of actions that the Bible gives no clear teaching about are terribly evil, and will send one straight to hell. And they attack and disparage anyone who steps over this artificially harsh line that they themselves (not the Bible) have drawn in the sand.

          It’s unrealistic, and it causes pressure to build up in their followers until they break out and do something really bad. And the same thing happens to many of these pastors themselves. That’s why there are always conservative pastors and politicians in the news who have been caught cheating on their wives, seeing prostitutes, visiting gay bars, and so on.

          It’s not right. And it’s what results when human beings lay down harsh black-and-white laws that aren’t given in the Bible. This is precisely the sort of thing Jesus criticized the religious authorities of his day for doing. They had built up all sorts of traditions forbidding a multitude of actions and behaviors that weren’t actually forbidden in their Scriptures (our Old Testament).

          In short, I believe that these conservative Christian pastors, who lay heavy, non-Biblical burdens on their followers, are our modern-day scribes and Pharisees.

        • Nate says:

          Hi Lee,

          That’s a long list of reasoning, and I completely understand all of your view points, they seem extremely well founded. But many conservative Christians around the world would call you a heretic and a Pharisee of modern day. Please DO NOT think I’m accusing you of that in any way shape or form, it’s just hard in a confusing world to know who to trust. I guess what I’m asking is how would you respond to such awful claims?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Nate,

          The appeal of these conservative pastors and churches is precisely that people feel they can turn off their brains, believe what the minister says, and think that this makes them good with God.

          But God gave us a thinking mind for a reason. Though churches and pastors do have an important role in leading and guiding their flocks, we’re not meant to abdicate our responsibility for our own spiritual life to other human beings. At the core of Christian belief is the idea that each one of us has a direct relationship with God in Jesus Christ.

          All of this is one more way of saying that ultimately, you’re going to have to make up your own mind about what you believe is true and false, right and wrong.

          I don’t recommend that you take my word as authority any more than that you take the word of the minister of that church in Nebraska as authority. Christ himself is the only true authority, and in the end, as Christians, our faith and our salvation is between each one of us individually and Jesus Christ. You’ll need to ponder these things in your own mind, pray on it, and come to your own conclusion who and what to believe.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Nate,

          As a matter of fact, I do regularly get called a heretic, a woof in sheep’s clothing (that’s one of my favorites! lol), and many other not-nice things by people who visit this site—not to mention in discussions I have with traditional Christians elsewhere around the Internet. Sometimes I even get called those things in person, to my face.

          As for the people who say such things in comments here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life, I mostly just delete their comments before they even appear on the site, in accordance with our comments policy. There is no benefit in wrangling with them. Their minds are made up, and its a waste of our readers’ time and emotional energy to engage with these people. Many of them are “drive-by shooters” anyway, and would never see my replies. So it’s also a waste of my time to engage them.

          But my main defense against such attacks is that the beliefs these people hold to, and call me a “heretic” for not believing, simply aren’t taught in the Bible. They are the product of two thousand years of human misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the Bible. See: “‘Christian Beliefs’ that the Bible Doesn’t Teach,” and the articles linked from that piece.

          My belief is that the Bible is very plain about things we are to believe and do that are critical to our salvation.

          Yes, there are many other issues on which the Bible does not give clear guidance. On those issues, it is necessary for us to engage in study and interpretation, with the help of human teachers and guides.

          But when it comes to what is required of us to be saved and go to eternal life in heaven, the Bible is very clear and plain, and no human interpretation is necessary.

          Unfortunately, the basic teachings of Protestantism about salvation simply are not stated plainly and clearly in the Bible, if they are stated there at all—as the above-linked article points out, and as the articles linked from it show in more detail.

          So when people attack me for being a heretic, if I do engage them, I mostly point out that the beliefs they hold to and that I reject are not actually taught by the Bible—even if those accusers believe that they’re taught in the Bible—but that these beliefs actually come from known human theologians who invented them at a particular time in human history. And I challenge them to quote me any verses from the Bible that actually teach those doctrines in clear language. They cannot do so. But they then fall back on claiming that that’s obviously what the Bible means. Which I find almost laughable, if it weren’t so sad. The latest example of one that I didn’t delete (because it was not so insulting and accusatory as many such comments are) is in a recent comment, and my reply, here.

          These accusers are quite literally “teaching human precepts as doctrines” (Matthew 15:9) and “making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on” (Mark 7:13).

          So I don’t get too worried “when people insult me, persecute me, and falsely say all kinds of evil against me because of Jesus” (Matthew 5:11, slightly paraphrased). No matter how sincere they may be, and no matter how much they may believe that what they’re preaching is God’s own truth straight out of the Bible, and that I’m teaching falsehoods that will put people’s immortal souls in peril, I know from many years of close study of what the Bible actually says that these accusers are very much mistaken. They have had their minds confused by the teachings of human theologians that are not in or from the Bible.

          In fact, in my experience, their minds have been so profoundly shaped and molded by these human doctrines that they cannot even read and understand the plain words of the Bible anymore. All they see there is their own human-invented doctrines, even when the plain words of the Bible clearly and explicitly deny those doctrines. I have spent many hours with some of these believers, quoting passages in which the Bible plainly denies their beliefs. But they still hold firmly to those beliefs anyway. Their minds are made up, and they’re not interested in being confused by the Biblical facts.

          I’m aware that I, too, hold many beliefs that aren’t specifically taught in the Bible, and that require human interpretation. But when it comes to the essential beliefs about God and salvation, every one of my basic beliefs is stated plainly and clearly in the Bible’s own words, without the need for human interpretation beyond a basic comprehension of language and the ability to read and understand the written word. For more on this, see: “Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach.”

        • Nate says:

          Hi Lee,

          As far as your conscience is concerned, does what other people say have an weighing effect on how you think and feel? Also as far as your guidance from the Holy Spirit, do you fee you arrived at this conclusion with Its help? One thing I feel i often find is that people deny the idea that they could possible be wrong, on both sides (especially the conservative), so I was just wondering what you’re influence was on the conclusion (on a slightly deeper level)

        • Lee says:

          Hi Nate,

          Conscience is formed mostly from what we were taught and inculcated with when young. So yes, what others say does have an effect on our conscience. Once we reach adulthood, we can rethink and revise our conscience. At that point, what others think may have a fairly sizable effect on the conscience of extroverts, who tend to think of themselves as “part of the gang,” whereas what others think will have a much lesser effect on the conscience of introverts, who are more likely to keep their own counsel and consult largely with their own internal thought processes.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Nate,

          Yes, I think the Holy Spirit guided me. But I wouldn’t claim any kind of authority on that account. I generally think that the truth is able to speak for itself. And I think that people can have an inner sense and perception of what’s true if their thinking hasn’t been too corrupted by false doctrine. Unfortunately, there’s an awful lot of false doctrine floating around, which causes a lot of people to ignore reality in favor of dogma.

          Could I be wrong? Of course. I’m not God. I’m not infallible. Perhaps I’m totally wrong, and the universe is run by a malevolent being who loves to torture us. Or perhaps the Pastafarians are right and we should all be looking to the Flying Spaghetti Monster for inspiration.

          But my understanding of the universe is based on a belief that God is all-loving, all-wise, and all-powerful. And from that flows the rest of my conclusions and beliefs about the nature of the universe, our place in it, and our purpose here on earth. For more on this, see: God is Love . . . And That Makes All the Difference in the World

        • Nate says:

          Hi Lee,

          Once again thank you for all the reading and time you’ve spent answering my questions I really do appreciate it. I wanted to basically lay out my entire situation as of this day and ask what you think I should do.

          I grew up in a Christian home and found myself on the Presbyterian side of belief and faith in God as I grew older.

          I’ve been dating my girlfriend for a year now, we are extremely in love and I have genuinely felt Gods hand guiding me with grace and mercy the whole time I’ve been with her, she’s nothing short of an incredible blessing.

          Recently she’s brought up the topic of sex and of course being brought up in the church I listed a million reasons why we shouldn’t do anything, but I eventually fell into things that aren’t sex directly, but end with the same results.

          Since then she’s been pressing the issue a bit more as she believes she feels ready for it, so I earnestly set out to see if there are any truths to the articles I read months before on how it may not actually be wrong.

          Just today I slipped up and ended up doing the acts I spoke of earlier with her, it was all out of love though.

          After she had gone I went to my room and prayed for Gods guidance on the subject and I opened an old devotional I received as a gift; the devotional is supposed to be across the span of one year so each entry is dated. Naturally I opened to today’s date on right on that page happened to be an entry on sexual purity.

          This has caused extreme cognitive dissonance and I was wondering how you as a minister and teacher (of sorts) would respond to something like that.

          Is God telling me no?

          Thanks again,

          Nate

        • Lee says:

          Hi Nate,

          It seemed clear enough from the beginning that your questioning on this subject was not merely abstract, but personal.

          As for what God is telling you, since I’m not God, nor am I in your shoes, I really can’t tell you that. That’s between you and God. The most I would hazard to say is that perhaps, at minimum, God is suggesting that you think carefully about how you wish to move forward, and that you should value sexuality as a gift from God, not to be entered into lightly, and to be treated with honor and respect. But as to whether God is telling you “no,” only you can decide that.

          Before going on, I would be remiss not to deal with a practical reality. I do not know how old or young you are, so forgive me if I’m telling you things that are obvious to you, and that you’ve already dealt with. But here goes: If you are going to engage in sexual relations with your girlfriend, I don’t care what your church believes or teaches on the subject, you must have a conversation with her about birth control (if you haven’t already), and be sure that the two of you are using a reliable method of birth control. (And no, “rhythm” is not a very reliable method of birth control.) Don’t just assume that your girlfriend is using birth control. For reasons we don’t need to discuss here, some unmarried women, not to mention teenage girls, want to get pregnant—and they don’t always inform their boyfriends of that desire. So don’t leave it to chance. Especially since it is your girlfriend who is moving things forward, you need to be sure that you don’t inadvertently get her pregnant. If you think you have cognitive dissonance now, it is nothing compared to the cognitive dissonance you’ll experience if you discover a few months down the road that you are about to become a father. ’Nuff said.

          As I just said, from what you describe, it is your girlfriend who is moving things forward on the sexual front. This suggests that she doesn’t believe that premarital sex is wrong or sinful. Or that if she does, she doesn’t think that’s a sufficient reason not to do it. And like it or not, that is the general trend in Western society today. The wider society does not consider premarital sex to be evil or sinful. Many people, in fact, consider it to be a good thing.

          If that is your girlfriend’s belief, then you have a difficult choice to make.

          If that choice hasn’t been made already. You weren’t crystal clear on whether you have actually had sexual intercourse with your girlfriend. And there is a difference between doing “everything but” and having intercourse. “Everything but” tends to lead to intercourse. But intercourse itself is the ultimate physical expression of union between two people.

          So I should have said that if you haven’t already crossed that threshold, you have a difficult choice to make. If your girlfriend believes there is nothing wrong with premarital sex, and you refuse to have sex with her, whether you or your church or anyone else thinks it’s right or wrong, she is very likely to consider your refusal to be an indication that you’re not really in love with her after all. And that could well lead to the breakup of the relationship. I’m not saying that’s a good reason to have sex, because it isn’t. But it is the way many people these days think about sex and relationships. And if you decide that you really don’t believe in having sex before marriage, you’ll have to take the risk of losing your relationship with her as a result.

          The other side of the coin is the standard response of many churches: If a boyfriend or girlfriend is going to break up with you because you won’t have sex with him or her, then you have to question whether that person is truly committed to you, and interested in you for your mind and spirit rather than just for your body. Usually this is spoken of boys and men who want to have sex with their girlfriends. But these days, it can work the other way as well.

          Once again, only you can decide what you believe and how you want to move forward.

          If you and your girlfriend have already had sex, then that decision has already been made. And it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to put that genie back into the bottle. Once you’ve started having sex, it’s very difficult to stop, especially if the two of you are very much in love. The only way you could stop, and salvage the relationship, would be if both of you came to believe that it was a mistake, and mutually committed yourselves to walking it back. But I doubt this would happen in your case, since your girlfriend seems to think that premarital sex is not a problem.

          If that’s the case, then you’re already on Plan B. Plan A would be waiting until after you’re married to have sex with your partner. Plan B (for you) is having a sexual relationship before you get married.

          If you’re on Plan B, then the main consideration is that you not allow the fact that you’re sexually active to detract from your intention and dedication to get married when the time is right, and live your life in a committed, faithful, monogamous marriage.

          Ideally, you will do that with your girlfriend. And if that is how things unfold, then I don’t think you have a lot to worry about. Though you may feel that you’re jumping the gun, and it would have been better to wait, you can at least feel that “all’s well that ends well.” And don’t believe those church people who tell you that if you have sex before marriage, your marriage will almost certainly fail. It’s just not true. Your marriage will succeed or fail, not based on whether or not you had sex before you were married, but based on your commitment to each other and to continuing to grow as a person. For a little more on this, see the final two sections of this article: How does Marriage Fit In with a Spiritual Life? Is There Marriage in Heaven?

          If you and your girlfriend do continue on in the relationship, and in time get married, then as I say, I don’t think you have a lot to worry about. The only caution is that you make sure you’re not getting married just because you think it’s the “honorable” thing to do now that you’ve had sex with her. Regardless of that, you must feel certain in your mind and heart that she is the right person for you emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. For more on that, see: How to Know if Mr. or Ms. Right is Right for You: Pointers from Gloria and Emilio Estefan. Even after having sex with her, if at some future time you come to the conclusion that she is not the right match for you, then believe me, you should not marry her. It will only lead to heartbreak and divorce.

          If you and your girlfriend do have a sexual relationship, but end out breaking up, you’ll have a harder road to travel. Believing as you do in the importance of sex and marriage, you’ll likely feel that you have failed and fallen, and that now your hopes and dreams of a good and loving marriage are dashed.

          But that’s not true. Yes, it will be more difficult. But not impossible. We humans are imperfect by nature. We rarely, if ever, get through our teenage years and into adulthood without making some serious mistakes. The question is whether we learn from our mistakes, pick ourselves up, and get ourselves back on course. And that is possible even after we make sexual and relationship mistakes. Painful, but possible.

          The main thing, as I said earlier, is to maintain your belief in and commitment to ending out in a faithful, committed, monogamous marriage with a woman you love, who loves you in return—and with whom you share your basic values and goals in life. If you can maintain that ideal and commitment in your mind and heart, then even if you don’t get there in the ideal way, you can still look forward to a good and loving marriage.

          I believe that God is well aware of our shortcomings, and forgiving of our mistakes. God does not just look at our behavior. God looks at our heart. And if we maintain a good heart that cares about things such as love and marriage, God will continue leading us forward toward that goal.

          And as always, the decision is in your hands.

          I hope this helps.

      • Nate says:

        Hi Lee,

        Thank you again so much for your extensive responses and the time you’ve taken to talk to me, I truly appreciate it.

        As far as everything is concerned I’m quite conflicted, I’m treating it as a sin as that’s what I feel God wants of me, but I will never ever judge you or say your downright wrong about anything, as you have a clear founded concise idea that you were lead to by the Holy Spirit, and I’m sure you can respect my decision as something that I felt guided too; instead of either of us condemning the other as an idiot or something of the sorts.

        I was wondering one thing though, if it is wrong and people do it, and don’t think it’s wrong, what happens?

        If it is indeed right then we needn’t worry about it, but as you stated neither you or I are I infallible, what if someone lives in some sort of unknown (and this impenitent) sin.

        Thanks,

        Nate

        • Lee says:

          Hi Nate,

          You’re very welcome. And as I’ve said from the beginning, only you can decide what you will believe on this issue, as on every other issue related to Christian belief and life. You asked me what I believe on this subject and why, and I’ve done my best to answer those questions. But it’s still up to you what you will believe and how you will act based on your beliefs.

          And as I’ve also already said, I very much encourage you to live by your own conscience and beliefs. Whether or not your conscience is fully accurate in understanding God’s ultimate truth (and which one of us does fully understand God’s ultimate truth?), your conscience is where God speaks to your mind and life. So to violate your conscience is to violate God’s presence and guidance in your spirit.

          About your question, I make a distinction between evil and sin. Evil is anything that’s harmful and contrary to God’s will. Sin is knowingly and intentionally doing something that’s harmful and contrary to God’s will. (For more on evil vs. sin, see: God, Forgiveness, Freedom, and Hell – Part 4.)

          When we commit a sin (as defined above), it damages our immortal soul by creating a rift between us and God, since it puts us in conscious opposition to God’s will.

          When we do something that’s actually evil, although we don’t believe it’s evil, it still causes damage—but not to our immortal soul, because we are not violating our conscience, and we have no intention of acting against God’s will. But since it’s evil, it still does cause some collateral damage.

          To use the example of your major question here:

          People who believe that premarital sex is wrong, sinful, and against God’s will, but go ahead and do it anyway, cause serious damage to their soul because they have violated their conscience and knowingly violated God’s will, causing a rupture between themselves and God, and setting themselves on a course of thumbing their nose at God’s teachings and God’s will. If they do not repent, and bring themselves back into line with their conscience and their beliefs, this course will lead them downward toward hell. (They may also, however, come to believe that their conscience was wrong, and revise their beliefs. But that’s a tricky road “after the fact” for many reasons.)

          People who do not believe that premarital sex is wrong or against God’s will won’t bring about any such damage to their soul, or any such rupture between themselves and God, because they are acting in good conscience and have no intention of violating God’s will. However, premarital sex still does carry risks, such as breaking up with the person after having been sexually intimate with her or him, which causes “cognitive dissonance” (to use your term) in their mind, a painful sense of loss and separation, and damage to their sense of innocence, joy, and love in future relationships.

          So although for those who don’t believe there’s anything wrong with premarital sex, engaging in it won’t set them on the road to hell as it does for those who sincerely and strongly believe that it is wrong, it can and often does cause damage when, for example, the relationship doesn’t progress into marriage.

          However, once again, the damage it causes is nowhere near as serious as the damage caused by committing adultery. And many people who have had premarital sex do go on to have happy, loving, committed marriages even if they don’t end out marrying the person they first had sexual relations with. As in so many areas of life, we humans commonly have to learn the hard way through painful mistakes. But God can still raise us up to heaven if we learn from those mistakes, and re-commit ourselves to a spiritual path of love for God and love for our fellow human beings.

          I hope this answers your questions.

        • Nate says:

          Hi Lee,

          So I was obviously taught growing up that it is a sin, and I think If I ever were to give in and have sex with here id have to treat the act as sinful and struggle through it until I could beat it or marry her if God permits it.

          Does that struggle in your eyes warrant forgiveness?

          Thanks,

          Nate

        • Lee says:

          Hi Nate,

          And as I’ve now said numerous times, I would very much encourage and advise you to follow your conscience on this.

          However, I’m not sure I understand your question. Forgiveness from what? If you haven’t actually had sex with your girlfriend, what do you feel you need to be forgiven for? We all have our struggles. The acid test is whether or not we do the right thing in the end.

      • Timeka Mason says:

        This is clear in the book. That Adam and Eve were not supposed to have premarital sex. Adam was told not to eat of the tree in the center of the garden. So it clear that fornication took place.God then married them and sent them off. That’s how Cain was conceived. They weren’t sleeping with one another at that point. But was sleeping with falling Angels through fornication. Go back and read. So it’s very much clear that premarital sex is a sin.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Timeka,

          Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

          However:

          • The Bible itself does not make any connection between the trees of the garden and sex. There is no biblical reason to believe that God’s commandment not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil had anything to do with sex. I know this is a common idea, but there is simply no sound biblical basis for it.
          • Adam and Eve were “married” (though the Bible doesn’t actually use that word) in Genesis 2:23–24, as soon as God formed Eve out of Adam’s rib. This took place before Eve and Adam disobeyed God’s command in Genesis 3. And there is no mention of them having sex prior to this. Indeed, it would not have been possible for them to have sex before Eve existed. So they were “married” right from the start, with no possibility of having premarital sex. Premarital sex has nothing to do with God “sending them off.” That was a consequence of disobeying God’s command not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
          • The Bible doesn’t say anything about “sleeping with fallen angels.” It says that the “sons of God” took wives from the daughters of human beings. And this didn’t happen until Genesis 6:1–2, long after the time of Adam and Eve, and after multiple generations of humans had already been born.

          In short, there is simply no biblical basis for the idea that Adam and Eve’s fall and expulsion from the Garden of Eden had anything to do with sex. And it would not have been possible for them to have premarital sex, since they were married the moment Eve was formed from Adam’s rib. They were expelled from the Garden because they disobeyed God’s commandment not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

          So please, whoever told you these things, don’t pay any attention to them, because they are teaching you things that simply aren’t in the Bible.

  4. Tony says:

    hi lee

    I been watching some videos on youtube recently about MGTOW which stands for “men going their own way” and it talks about female nature and the state of the relationship between man and women when it comes to marriage especially in the west it’s very interesting stuff.
    here’s a link if your interested https ://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVXdxaaRiAU

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tony,

      I listened to the video. It sounds to me like these “MGTOWs” are men who have had bad experiences with women, and have become cynical about women as a result.

      It is true that women can be gold-diggers, sleep around, take advantage of men, and so on. But that doesn’t mean this is the “true nature” of women any more than the fact that men can be sexist, abusive, and regard women as little more than sexual property and beasts of burden makes that the “true nature” of men. I would say, rather, that these represent the lower nature of women and of men, and the dominant nature in women and men who are driven primarily by self-interest, greed, and a desire for power.

      The view of women represented in the video is just as unbalanced, partial, and cynical as is the view of men in some of the more strident (and rather outmoded) parts of the feminist movement.

      Are all men sexist pigs? I don’t think so. I also don’t think that all women are gold diggers out to control and castrate men. Some men do view women primarily as sex objects. And some women do view men primarily as wallet objects. But many women and men don’t fit that rather black-and-white mold. Many men and women have grown to love and respect the opposite sex for their own uniqueness and value. And many heterosexual couples operate on a much higher level, in which their mutual differences are complementary and make a greater whole together.

      On some points the perspective promulgated in the video is just plain hypocritical. For example, men commonly sleep with multiple partners, either sequentially or concurrently. To attach highly insulting and pejorative names to women who do the very same thing is biased and wrong. Why should women be held to a standard that men aren’t? If men want to criticize women for sleeping around, they should look in the mirror first. I’m not saying it’s good to sleep around. Just that it’s wrong to maintain a double standard in which men who sleep around are “studs,” but women who sleep around are “sluts.” Both are doing the exact same thing. So let’s be fair and equal about our labels and our attitudes. If women who sleep around are “whores,” then men who sleep around are also “whores.”

      It’s unfortunate that these “MGTOWs” apparently got tangled up with the wrong women. But the manly thing to do in the aftermath of such an experience is not to go all negative and cynical on women, but to pick oneself up, learn from the experience, and work on bettering both one’s own attitudes and actions and the quality of one’s relationships with women. Declaring that all women are bad and adopting a men-against-women gender-wars stance is the height of immaturity and a fine example of sour grapes.

      The reality is that both men and women fall all along the spectrum from selfishness and greed on one end to love for one’s fellow human beings and love for God on the other end. And the more we, both men and women, grow away from selfishness and greed toward mutual love and love for God, the more healthy and satisfying our relationships with one another will become.

      For more on this, please see: How does Marriage Fit In with a Spiritual Life? Is There Marriage in Heaven?

  5. Tony says:

    It’s true that the person in the video can seem cynical and there is some exaggeration in what he says but he does bring up some truth about society in america especially when it comes to the law and the legal side of things, and that’s just america there’s also Japan when there’s a huge number of people both men and women that choose to opt out of relationships and marriage simply because of social expectations heaped onto them especially the Japanese man there. It’s really sad to see this.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tony,

      Laws do vary greatly in different countries, and even in different states within the U.S. and within some other countries. However, in most U.S. states, the legal system is nowhere near as stacked against husbands as it used to be when it comes to issues of divorce, child custody, child support, and alimony.

      It used to be that unless the mother was a complete basket case (a junkie, down-and-out alcoholic, etc.), the children would almost automatically be given to her in the event of a divorce, and the husband forced to pay child support and alimony. But that’s just not the case anymore. Fathers can and do successfully gain joint or full custody of their children if they seek it and can show that they’re able to provide a good home for the children. And in some cases, the mother is actually required to pay child support to the father if he has full custody of the children.

      In other words, these “MGTOWs” aren’t the only ones who considered the old system unfair, and the legal system is in the process of redressing that unfairness.

      I still think these “MGTOWs” are largely a product of sour grapes and cynicism over their failed relationships with women. Certainly there are still many injustices in our world, and in some cases men do get the short end of the stick. But that’s no excuse for going all-out negative against women.

  6. Tony says:

    hi lee

    by the way I was wondering when we die and we can’t take our physical bodies with us can we still have sex in heaven or is there no such substitute for it?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tony,

      Good question. Though we do leave our physical body behind, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a body in the spiritual world. Instead, what we have is a spiritual body, made of spiritual substance. And that body feels and is just as real to us in the spiritual world as our physical body, made of physical matter, is to us here in the material world.

      Further, in the spiritual world men are still men, and women are still women, and our spiritual bodies have all the parts that our physical bodies do. That’s because the human body is an expression and reflection of the human soul, right down to the least detail.

      So yes, we can still have sex in heaven. And it is still the outward expression of the inner love that brings a married couple together. And because in heaven we’re able to outwardly express our inner thoughts and feelings more fully than we are here on earth, sex in heaven is, if anything, even more beautiful, joyful, and soul-satisfying than it is for couples here on earth who deeply love one another and express that love physically through making love with one another.

  7. Richard Neer says:

    Yup, don’t sweat it, Lee.

    I’ve been called worse by better!

    Maybe you should adopt a new nickname of “duck”…. ;-p

  8. Richard Neer says:

    That’ll work! LOL!

  9. Mathew says:

    i have gone through the discussions and felt to respond briefly. when Adam was given Eve she was perfect and virgin. no human law and conscience approve premarital sex. in my study marriage is holy and anything done outside marriage and before marriage is sinful. no law is necessary to condemn it other than the conscience. Jesus is coming to receive a virgin bride. let the Lord give strength to keep the temple of God holy. Jesus is coming soon. He is righteous demand everyone to be filled with the Holy Spirit that everyone would produce the right fruit and have self control over every emotion. He is our savior today but we will meet him as judge. let the peace of God be upon everyone.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Mathew,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and well-wishes.

      It’s true that when Eve united with Adam she was a virgin, as was Adam. And I continue to believe that this is the ideal for married couples: that their first experience of physical sex be with each other once married.

      However, it’s also true that marriage as we think of it today didn’t exist at the time of Adam and Eve, nor throughout the entire Bible story. It has only been within the past 500 years, or 1,000 years at most, that getting married meant having a religious ceremony that is witnessed and recorded in church registers—and later, in government registers.

      Adam and Eve were not “married” in the sense that we think of that today. And in the entire Bible, there is not a single description of a marriage ceremony, because such ceremonies did not exist. There were wedding feasts to celebrate marriage. But marriage itself was seen as taking place when the man had sex with the woman. We can see this in the various stories of marriages in the Bible, such as that of Isaac with Rebekah, and of Jacob with Leah and Rachel, in which they were considered “married” when the man slept with the woman.

      So technically speaking, according to the Biblical concept of marriage, there is actually no such thing as “premarital sex”–at least, not for women. Once a woman had sex with a man, she was considered married to him. And if for some reason she was not considered married to him, she was considered a prostitute. For men, the situation was somewhat more complicated. But the general principle was still that when a man had sex with a woman who was not a prostitute, he was considered married to her.

      From this reality about the Biblical concept of marriage, we can draw various conclusions. But at minimum, it should be clear that we can’t just assume that what the Bible says about marriage applies to what our society today calls “marriage,” because what we call “marriage” today—a church- and government-recognized coupling that begins with a religious or secular wedding ceremony—didn’t exist in Bible times.

      This makes it tricky to draw hard-and-fast conclusions about premarital sex today based on the very different culture of sex and marriage in Bible times.

      Once again, I still believe that the ideal today is for people to first have sex with their partner in marriage after the wedding. But given what I’ve just said, and what I covered in the above article, there’s plenty of room for interpretation, and there are many gray areas. Reducing it all to a simple, black-and-white “premarital sex is evil, and you’ll go to hell for doing it” simply isn’t supported by the Bible.

  10. Tony says:

    Hi lee

    It seems from what I read online that marriage rates in the US have been falling and that they are continuing to drop, is that true and if so do you think the government would impose something like a bachelor tax and try to force single men to marry?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Tony,

      Yes, marriage rates in the U.S. have been declining, though there is some indication that this trend may soon bottom out. See: “U.S. marriage rate hits new low and may continue to decline,” by Lois M. Collins, at Deseret News National.

      And I think a bachelor tax would be a terrible idea. As the article linked just above shows, it is among poorer, less educated people that marriage rates are lowest. That’s partly because people in those lower income brackets don’t think they can afford to be married. Also, women don’t see financially strapped men as good prospects for marriage. To impose a tax on unmarried men would only make the situation worse by making their financial situation worse.

      Beyond that, for a marriage to be a good and stable one, it must be entered into in full freedom, by personal choice, on the part of both partners. Measures that vitiate that freedom and choice by pushing people into marriage for external, financial reasons will only backfire. They will cause people to get married for the wrong reasons, resulting in more divorces down the road.

  11. Ben says:

    Hi Lee,
    Thanks for your good work . But please, is it true that the word that was translatee ‘joined’ in Gen2:24 means sex in Greek(or is it Hebrew)?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ben,

      You’re very welcome. And no, the word translated “joined” in Genesis 2:24 does not mean sex. Its primary meaning is to be joined firmly together, as if with glue. The Hebrew word is דָּבַק (dabaq). You can read its full definition and derivation here. The verse is not talking about sex, but about being firmly and faithfully joined together in a relationship with one another.

  12. Ben 'Tosin says:

    Hi Lee,
    Thanks for your articles. I’m getting to understand the Word of God better with them.
    But on sex before marriage I have these questions. Firstly,
    Fornication:
    sexual intercourse between people not married to each other.
    Adultry: voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse.
    From the above definitions, one can safely conclude that all adulterers are fornicators but not all fornicators are adulterers. The Bible stance is clear on adultry (which is more or less like a branch of fornication), but for fornicators that are not adulterers, wether they are having sex with marriage in mind or not, it seem the Bible is not categorically clear.
    Paul addressed some of the works of the flesh (of which fornication is a part) in some of his writings. For instance:
    1 Cor 6:9-Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither FORNICATORS, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind….
    Also Gal 5:19-21
    Paul makes it clear that fornicators will not inherit the kingdom of God.
    Question 1: Don’t you think fornicators (wether they are in love and intends to be married to each other or to someone else in the long run) risk making it to heaven? Don’t you think they risk their salvation by fornicating for whatever reason?
    Question 2: Kingdom of God and Heaven, are they the same or different? If they are different, is it then possible that fornicators will not make it to the Kingdom of God according to Paul’s writings, but then could make it to heaven?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ben,

      I certainly do not recommend engaging in extramarital sex. However, the Greek words used in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Galatians 5:19 have as their primary meaning “prostitution,” and from that they gain a more general meaning of “fornication.” So Paul was likely referring to something more serious than two unmarried people engaging in consensual sex. Keep in mind, though, that in the culture of Paul’s day, the rules about sexual intercourse were much more stringent than they are in the West today.

      Beyond that, I do agree that fornicators will not go to heaven. But I would interpret that as meaning that people who continue to engage in fornication in the afterlife, when they would ideally be preparing for heaven, will not go to heaven. That’s because with the exception of a few people who have deeply committed themselves to celibacy and are good people, everyone who goes to heaven will be married by the time they reach their permanent home in heaven. There will be no need for them to fornicate, because they will be in a loving, faithful, committed marriage.

      Anyone who in the afterlife rejects such marriage and prefers promiscuous sex will be headed toward hell, not heaven. That is why I emphasize in the article that the lightness or seriousness of extramarital sex all depends on whether we would prefer marriage and are headed toward marriage or whether we reject marriage and prefer to engage in promiscuous sex.

      It is not the sex by itself that sends us toward heaven or hell, but rather our inner attitude toward sex and marriage. So although extramarital sex can and does cause all sorts of complications for us here on earth, by itself it will not determine whether we go to heaven or hell.

      About your second question, the kingdom of God includes not only heaven, but also all good, loving, and spiritual people here on earth. So the kingdom of God is broader than heaven, since it spans both worlds: earth and heaven.

      People who love to engage in promiscuous sex are not in the kingdom of God because they are focused on their own physical pleasure rather than on loving God and the neighbor—which is the basic requirement for being a part of the kingdom of God. I believe that promiscuous, self-centered sex (and of course, sex for money, which is prostitution) is what Paul and the rest of the Bible writers are really talking about when they speak of “fornication.”

      People who have sex within committed but unmarried relationships are certainly in a gray area. However, I do not believe they are “fornicators” in the sense that the Bible uses the term, provided that their goal and intention is to enter into a loving, faithful, monogamous marriage when they are able to do so.

      I would only add that human sexual and romantic relationships are immensely complex. We do not know what is going on in the minds and hearts of other people. So everything I say here is meant to be guidelines for our own romantic and sexual activities, not a basis for judging other people’s romantic and sexual activities. In fact, in the final chapter of his book on marriage love, Swedenborg concludes by saying:

      The upshot of this is that no conclusion must be drawn about people having marriage love or not, either from the way their marriage looks or from any immoral behavior they appear to exhibit. Therefore:

      Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. (Matthew 7:1)

      (Marriage Love #531)

  13. Ben 'Tosin says:

    Thanks Lee.

  14. Corey Scott Lennox says:

    I know someone else already mentioned this, but passages from 1 Cor. 7 seem to very specifically disagree with premarital sex. Why would Paul prescribe marriage as a solution to “immorality” and “burning with passion” if it was okay to have pre-marital sex?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Corey,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question.

      As I say in the article, the goal and ideal is a faithful, committed, monogamous marriage. It’s not that “it’s okay to have premarital sex.” It’s that people are going to be sexually active regardless of what the Bible or the preacher or anyone else says. It’s a complete fantasy to think that everyone these days is going to be a virgin when they get married. Would it be better if they were? Sure. But in the real world that’s not going to happen. And as explained in this article, the Bible is fairly pragmatic when it comes to premarital sex. If it leads to marriage, it’s a case of “all’s well that ends well.” If it is adulterous and destroys marriage, it is condemned and dealt with harshly.

      In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul also deals pragmatically with issues of sex and marriage. As he says, he prefers celibacy. I think he is wrong about that. Jesus himself said that God created created us male and female in the beginning to be joined in marriage (Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-8). But Paul does recognize pragmatically that people do have sex drives, and that if they don’t get married, they will “burn with passion.”

      Premarital sex is not the ideal. But for people in today’s freer society, it provides a pathway toward marriage if people do not “burn with passion” for many different sex partners, but confine themselves to a faithful sexual relationship with a single partner in a way that is sort of like marriage even if the two aren’t actually married.

      In other words, premarital sex, if it is not engaged in promiscuously with many different partners, can help people today not to “burn with passion,” but to keep their sex drive running along a more focused and faithful path until they reach a time when they are able to get married and satisfy their sex drives in the best way, which is within a committed, faithful, monogamous marriage.

  15. Peter says:

    Hi, I like you view on premarital sex, my lady and I cannot gat married as she would lose a substantial pension which I couldn’t afford to replace, we are older and we cannot have kids. If all things were equal, I I would marry her, however I do not want to be a deadbeat, especially if I croak 2 years into the marriage, she would be in very bad shape financially. It helps me to know that God may recognize our struggle and wish to love God and each other.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Peter,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      This is exactly why Jesus said that marriage as we know it here on earth does not exist in the afterlife. These financial considerations are important here on earth, where we need the physical means of survival. But they often get in the way of real marriage, which is a union of minds and hearts. Along those lines, you might be interested in this short (for me!) piece: “Real Marriage vs. Legal Marriage.”

      Meanwhile, we wish you and your lady the best of happiness together!

  16. Hi Lee! I’m still here, reading most of your articles. I have decided to become a Christian but I’m “afraid” of some of the Catholic doctrines. I want to do it by heart, and not because I want to be part of something. I happen to have premarital sex with my girlfriend (sorry if it’s a very personal detail, but it’s the truth)… but I don’t regret it. I don’t feel myself a sinner for it. You know, we’ve been a long time together and we can’t just marry now (economical and social issues)… so we have intimate relations. Catholic church says that it’s a mortal sin commiting this and not repenting. I happened to make some research about the original words of “fornication” and I found this article I’m posting you down here. Do you think it’s contradicting your words? It’s a very interesting subject.

    https://www.epm.org/resources/2010/Feb/3/has-christianity-made-its-own-meaning-fornication/

    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      Good to hear from you again.

      And thanks for the link. I did read the article. But it seems to spend the bulk of its time speaking about the nature of language and translation rather than focusing on the subject at hand, which is what the Bible means by the Greek word porneia, commonly translated “fornication,” and whether the Bible forbids all non-marital sex.

      To make a long story short, the author of the article seems to be trying to say that porneia means all sex outside of marriage, including premarital sex. But the examples he gives mostly don’t support that.

      The author says that the word porneia has a variety of meanings according to the context in which it is used, and I agree with him about that. But in most of the passages he quotes, it seems not to be talking about premarital/extramarital sex in general (when neither of the people is married), but about either adultery or about prostitution, including temple prostitution.

      (And contrary to the author’s statement, temple prostitution was not “one of the organized religions of the day.” Rather, it was a practice common in many of the religions of the day. That would be like saying, “animal sacrifice was one of the organized religions of the day.” No, it was a common practice in many of the religions of the day.)

      I do agree with the author that sexual intercourse is ideally meant to occur within marriage. But I simply don’t find the Bible so “clear” as he says it is about premarital and non-marital sex (in which neither of the people is married). The Bible definitely prohibits adultery, and forbids temple prostitution, and prostitution in general—which commonly involves adultery. But the Bible simply isn’t as clear on non-adulterous, non-prostitute sex as the author tries to show in the rather brief portion of the article in which he actually talks about the subject he is supposed to be addressing.

      If there are any specific Bible passages he quotes that you want me to comment on, I’d be happy to do so. But for now I’ll hold off on a verse-by-verse rebuttal of everything he says in the article.

      As for your situation, I think you’re aware that it’s not the ideal. But as I say in the article, and as is commonly observed by many people in today’s society, marriage isn’t always an immediate option for various external reasons. And it’s unrealistic to think that all adults (or even all teenagers) are going to hold off on sex, sometimes indefinitely, until marriage becomes possible.

      The main thing, as covered in the article, is one’s attitude toward marriage.

      If one doesn’t value marriage, and just wants to have as much sex as possible with as many different women (or men) as possible, then yes, extramarital sex is not a good thing.

      But if one does value marriage, and aims for marriage, but simply isn’t yet in a situation where marriage is possible, and has sex with one partner faithfully while waiting for marriage to become possible, though it’s still not the ideal, it is not a “mortal sin,” and it does not destroy the possibility of entering into a good, loving, and faithful marriage when the time is right.

      But all of this is covered more fully in the above article.

      Basically, I wasn’t very impressed with the article you linked to. The quoted passages just don’t do a very good job of supporting the author’s contention that the Bible is very clear in condemning all non-marital sex.

  17. Stephanie says:

    I’m not sure if you’ll even see this, but I thought I’d ask.
    I have gone back and forth on the whole premarital sex thing. Growing up in a Pentecostal church, I was always taught it was wrong. But as a 27 year old (I’m a virgin), I just don’t know anymore. I’ve done a lot of research and it does seem to me that premarital sex isn’t explicitly mentioned in the Bible as a sin. Anytime someone says that it is, they are using verses that say sexual immorality, which to me could mean much more serious issues like rape or incest. The only time Jesus himself says “sexual immorality” is in Mark 7 and it’s when he’s talking about unclean things, and how can we even know what falls under sexual immorality?
    I’m not in a relationship and never have been, but I hope someday I will be. I may wait until marriage, I may not.
    I used to not feel guilty about thinking about sex before marriage. Most of my friends are Christians and had sex before marriage and they are all happily married now (and some of that sex was engaged with men who they dated prior to their husbands). None of them dealt with terrible consequences and are still people that are Christians. The only reason I’ve been thinking about it lately is I’ve been trying to date. I also have really bad anxiety issues and tend to focus it onto something (even if it’s irrational to worry about). I’ll obsess over my teeth or more recently, I was worrying about death. So today’s topic seems to be premarital sex.
    I also don’t want to admit this but I also masturbate sometimes. I don’t really think of a person while doing it, I just want to get the urge out and it makes me feel good. I’ve never felt guilty about it until last night, but once again, I was having anxiety and sometimes I think it’ll focus it on whatever may be on my mind. But I really don’t feel like masturbation is a sin. (feel free to comment on that).
    So I keep going back and forth. It’s hard because one thing has been taught to me my whole life and even my parents enforce it to this day, but on the other hand, I can’t find a clear cut source in the Bible that really states it’s a sin.
    So I’ll say this one last thing then ask my three main questions.

    I personally believe that a long as I have faith in God’s plan, love Jesus and try to model my life after him (loving and helping others, not condemning them), and try to follow His teachings. I even stumbled across this passage
    “Someone came to Jesus with this question: ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’
    ‘Why ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. ‘There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.’
    ‘Which ones?’ the man asked.
    And Jesus replied: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
    And the only sexual sin he lists is adultery.
    My point is, sometimes I think Christians are too hard on themselves and others. We devour the Bible and turn it into a book of sins rather than God’s word. We try to make it some hard and confusing path to make it to Heaven. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I don’t think God is trying to confuse us and send us to hell.
    And so I think the things I listed above are what it truly takes to be a Christian (having faith in God, loving Jesus and trying to be like him, and following his teachings). And so I assume if we do these things, Heaven is there for us when we die. (Feel free to comment on that even though it’s unrelated).
    So I guess here’s my questions:

    1. Earlier you stated it kind of depends on how you feel. If you believe it’s a sin and pursue sex, it can create a wedge between you and God. But if you don’t believe it’s a sin, it won’t. But what if you don’t know? What if you can’t come up with a clear answer no matter how much you pray and research it? If I do the things I listed above (what I think “gets us to Heaven”) but have premarital sex, or even think about it, would God really send me to hell if it is a sin? I just feel like if God knew I loved Him, He wouldn’t, but I don’t want to be wrong.
    2. And I guess it’s kind of the same question but if I were to be in a relationship and have sex, then die in a car wreck before marrying him, and then I get there and it turns out premarital sex is a sin, would I go to hell? Even if I wasn’t sure if I was even sinning or not?
    3. And I guess I’ll take it a step further. What if a Christian screws up, feels lonely or whatever, and has a one night stand. And then they die before they can pray about it. Will God have mercy on that person because He knows their heart and that person loves Him?
    4. And I guess I’ll add one more (sorry). Masturbating couldn’t possibly be sinful, right?

    • Stephanie says:

      Oh and I meant to add one more thing when I was talking about being taught it was wrong. One reason I’ve questioned it is, I was always taught interracial relationships were wrong and that the “Bible says so” (which it clearly does not). My mom said that’s what mixing yokes meant. So that’s another reason I am kind of questioning a lot of what I was taught.
      Not questioning my belief in Jesus, I definitely believe in Him and have felt Him. I just wonder how much is true, how much of the Bible we can know for sure is accurate, and how much people might twist or wrongly translate His teachings.

      • Lee says:

        Hi Stephanie,

        These are big questions!

        Interracial marriage deserves a whole article of its own. Meanwhile, here’s the quick version:

        The idea that the Bible prohibits interracial marriage is based no passages in which the Israelites are prohibited from intermarrying with the surrounding nations. However, the reason they were prohibited from those marriages was not that the surrounding nations were of a different race, but that they were polytheists and idol worshipers, and they would likely pull the ancient Israelites away from the worship of the one Lord who was their God.

        There are a number of important men in the Bible who married foreign wives and were not condemned for it because they remained faithful to God and to their religion, and the woman they married generally followed them in that. For some discussion of these things, including several examples of major figures in the Bible marrying foreign women, please see this article:

        What if My Partner and I Have Different Religious Beliefs? Can Interfaith Marriage Work?

        As its title suggests, this article is mainly about interfaith marriage. But the same general principles apply to interracial marriages. The important thing in marriage is not the race of the partners, but whether they share common beliefs, ideals, and values with one another. Marriage is primarily a union of minds and hearts. The color of the people’s skin is unimportant compared to the reality of an real, inner, spiritual marriage between them.

        Your question about the Bible is a huge one, and not one that I can answer satisfactorily in a comment. However, here are some articles that I invite you to read about the Bible and its meaning and purpose:

        I realize that’s a lot of reading. But it’s a big question!

        As you’ll see if you do decide to read these articles, my view of the Bible is quite different from that of much of traditional Christianity. I don’t think the Bible is about being absolutely correct on every subject, including science and history. Rather, I think the Bible is about leading us to believe in God, to repent from our sins, and to live a good life of loving and serving our neighbor, which puts us on the pathway to eternal life in heaven. Compared to that, the literal accuracy of every statement in the Bible is unimportant.

        But once again, you’ll have to make up your own mind about these things. I would simply encourage you to read and consider what these articles have to say, and decide for yourself whether it makes sense to you.

        And as always, if you have any questions as you read, please don’t hesitate to ask.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Stephanie,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and questions.

      Of course, some of the things you mention are personal issues that you’ll have to make up your own mind about. In particular, you’ll have to decide for yourself whether to have sex before marriage or wait for marriage. On that, I would only say not to let yourself get pressured into it. If you’re not completely comfortable with it, don’t do it. In general, I think it’s great to wait for marriage. But many, if not most people these days don’t, and as you say, they commonly go on to have good and happy marriages. Once again, I believe the most important thing is whether you wish for a good, loving, and faithful marriage and keep that as your ideal. And of course, adultery is a big no-no.

      Now about your specific questions:

      1. God will not send you to hell if you’re doing something in good conscience, or even if you’re confused and unsure about it. The only thing that sends us to hell is when we knowingly and intentionally do things that we know very well are wrong, but don’t care because we’re focused on our own pleasure, money, and power regardless of how it affects anyone else or what we have to do to get it. Given that the Bible doesn’t actually prohibit premarital sex, the main reason not to have premarital sex would be the possibility that it might get in the way of a good marriage down the road. In some situations premarital sex just isn’t a very good idea. But that depends greatly on your own personal situation, and once again, is a decision only you can make for yourself.

      2. Sin is not the same thing as evil. Evil is anything that’s wrong, whether or not you realize it’s wrong. But sin is intentionally doing something that you know is wrong and against God’s commandments. You can’t sin by mistake. You can sin only by thumbing your nose at God. If you have no intention of going against God or violating God’s commandments, then that will become clear after you die, and you will go to heaven, not to hell.

      3. We don’t go to heaven or hell based on one good or bad action, but based on the whole pattern of our life and our choices, and the character we build through those choices. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone does things that in a better moment they would not do. God doesn’t hold those one-time events against us. God knows that we humans are weak and fallible, and God is very merciful. It’s only when we establish a whole pattern of doing things that are wrong, and that we know are wrong, over and over again that we put ourselves in danger of hell.

      4. The Bible not only doesn’t condemn or prohibit masturbation; it doesn’t say anything at all about masturbation. If masturbation were as evil and sinful as conservative Christians say it is, don’t you think the Bible would have at least mentioned it? There is nothing wrong with masturbation if it is done reasonably and in moderation, and it isn’t getting in the way of an actual relationship with another human being. However, I have covered the subject of masturbation much more fully in a whole series of articles starting with this one:

      What does the Bible Say about Masturbation? Is Masturbation a Sin?

      The other articles in the series are linked from the end of this one. For a much fuller answer about masturbation, I invite you to read these articles.

      I hope these answers are helpful to you. If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. These can be tough issues to find clarity on, since there is so much angst and so much faulty teaching on sexual issues especially in the more conservative end of Christianity.

      • Stephanie says:

        Thank you so much. I spent about 2 hours just praying about it all last night and still feel confused. I agree that the Bible doesn’t necessarily prohibit premarital sex but I also see how sex was definitely created for marriage. So I’ll think on it and when it gets to that point, pray and see what I feel is right or not for me. Like you said, it’s hard recognizing another truth when I’ve been taught a certain thing for so long. Could you answer me one more thing – I assume most pastors have researched this topic as well and surely they’ve come to the same conclusion – that it’s not prohibited – so why do they continue to preach against it? Do you know any pastors that don’t preach against it? Or is it more that they preach it was created for marriage so people make assumptions?
        Thanks!

        • Lee says:

          Hi Stephanie,

          It’s a big issue. I expect you’ll have to spend considerable time in thought, study, and prayer before coming to a solid answer for yourself. And once again, I do believe that saving oneself for marriage is the ideal. It’s just that if we don’t achieve the ideal, that doesn’t mean we’re automatically doomed, and that our future marriage is doomed as well.

          I can’t speak for all of the other pastors out there. But I do know that a lot of them make all sorts of claims that are based neither on the Bible nor on common sense. It is quite common for pastors to speak on the basis of traditional views that have developed over the centuries, but that don’t really have much to back them up except for a lot of human ideas and theories.

          That’s why in the end, you’ll have to make up your own mind based on your own study of the Bible and your own consideration and study of the matter. It’s fine to get ideas from various pastors to learn, to consider a variety of viewpoints, and to decide what makes the most sense to you. That’s why I encourage you to read and study for yourself, and make your own decision based on what you learn and what has the ring of truth to it.

      • Rami says:

        Hi Lee,

        Not to interrupt the flow of this discussion but I did want to quickly drop in and address your fourth point, which is one of the few areas in which we, in some sense, disagree, and in where our larger patterns of thought diverge.

        I’m not saying that masturbarion is necessarily sinful or prohibited by The Bible (my mind has yet to be made up), but I think I would take issue with basing it this idea that if it were so evil and sinful, The Bible would say something about it. That seems akin to saying, ‘if video piracy were so evil The Bible would say something about it.’ Well it obviously doesn’t, but it *does* talk about theft, and from that we can infer that video piracy is evil.

        Likewise, The Bible doesn’t talk about masturbation at all, but it does detail a broader idea of sexual immorality, and whether or not masturbation falls into this picture of sexual immorality is a different matter.

        I don’t think I need to tell you, of all people, the importance of the bigger picture, but I feel as though some of the viewpoints expressed in some of your articles don’t base themselves on that bigger picture, and rest more on the absence of a specific condemnation. The Bible does indeed have its share of ‘This is wrong,’ but also plenty of ‘This is good,’ and if something is at odds with good, then we can infer that it’s wrong.

        I know you have more to your argument then simply ‘The Bible doesn’t condemn it, so if it’s such a big deal shouldn’t it do so,’ but I just don’t think that works in terms of forming our moral consciences.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          It’s true that not everything that’s wrong is prohibited in the Bible. For example, the Bible doesn’t condemn child marriage or adults having sex with children, but I believe that both of them are very wrong.

          About your example, the Bible obviously cannot list every item that we’re prohibited from stealing. But video piracy is stealing, hence the name. So it’s covered by the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.”

          When evaluating an action that’s not directly commented on in the Bible, we can certainly extend biblical principles in our consideration of whether it is right or wrong.

          However, another criteria is, “Does it do harm?”

          Evil is not just some arbitrary category of things God has declared to be evil. Things are evil, and God declares them to be evil, because they do harm to other people and to oneself. So in considering whether something not directly covered by the Bible is evil and sinful, we need to ask the question of whether, objectively and intrinsically, it causes damage.

          As covered in the various articles here on the subject, there’s no credible evidence that masturbation, practiced reasonably and in moderation, does any harm. On the other hand, there’s a huge amount of evidence that child marriage and adults having sex with children causes real emotional, physical, and social harm.

          So no, my argument that masturbation is not evil and sinful is not based just on the fact that it’s not condemned nor even mentioned in the Bible. I bring that up because it is commonly claimed that the Bible condemns masturbation, but that’s simply not true. Rather, my argument is that the Bible doesn’t condemn masturbation because in fact, there’s nothing wrong with masturbation when it is kept in its proper place and perspective.

  18. Sara says:

    Hi Lee,

    Thanks for your post! I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of that pre-marital sex is not a sin. I myself, believe if you are engaged in a mature and committed relationship that it is okay to have premarital sex, understanding and discussing the situation and it’s importance. Although, my partner and I have obvious doubts. I’m wondering if you can answer or provide any further insight!

    1) if premarital sex is okay, at what age/maturity is acceptable to engage in sex?
    2) all scriptures in the New Testment only mention sex between husband and wife. Therefore doesn’t that exclude any relationship outside from that commitment being a sin? (Ex. 1 Corinthians 7: 2 and 1 Corinthians 7: 8-9)
    3) why is there such a precedent that Christians must stay virgins until marriage? Why is it uncommon to hear of ministers denying pre-martial sex as a sin?

    Once again, I have highly respected your point of view and honest reflection. I appreciate any sort of guidance you can provide.

    Thanks a lot!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Sara,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and questions. I’m glad you found the article helpful.

      On your first question, practically speaking, people are going to decide for themselves when they think they’re old enough to have sex. And it’s not really my job to tell people when they should or shouldn’t have sex.

      Having said that, here are a couple of semi-objective factors to keep in mind:

      Biologically, sex is inextricably linked to reproduction. This means that based on biology, girls should not have sex until their bodies have matured enough to carry a baby to full term without health risk to themselves or to the baby. There are several years in the life of an adolescent girl when she is capable of conceiving but her body has not yet fully matured to the point where she is ready to bear a child. Despite the present-day availability of contraceptives, this should be taken as an indicator of when a girl is ready for sex: basically, when she has physically matured into a woman. And if girls shouldn’t be having sex before that age, neither should boys.

      So the biological answer to your question is: It’s acceptable for people to have sex when they have reached physical adulthood. Exactly when that happens is a matter of debate, and it also varies in different individuals. But it’s older than when a lot of adolescent boys and girls are having sex.

      Spiritually, sex is meant to be a physical expression of an inner union of minds and hearts between two people. For such a union to take place, it is necessary for each of the partners to have reached a level of maturity at which they are fairly clear in their own mind who they are, and who they aspire to be. Just as our physical body takes a certain number of years to reach adulthood, so our mental and emotional self takes a certain number of years to reach maturity. Before that time sex is more likely to be an expression of confusion or social pressure or a lack of love and support than an expression of a union of minds and hearts between two people.

      In other words, the spiritual answer your question is similar to the biological one: It is acceptable for people to have sex when they have achieved mental and emotional adulthood. Only then has their character settled enough that it’s possible to have a clear sense of identity, and know whether another person is a match for them in terms of thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and values. Once again, it’s a matter of debate when people reach psychological and emotional adulthood, and it varies for different people. But once again, it’s older than when a lot of people are having sex.

      So in general I would say that it’s best not to be in a big rush to have sex, but to reach a reasonable level of physical and psychological maturity before taking that leap.

      As for why so many people are having sex so much earlier than they are really ready for it physically or emotionally, I believe that present-day society has made a major error in practicing age-segregation for children and teenagers.

      In earlier societies, children and teens were integrated into the adult world. Each age group looked both to adults and to older children and teens for their role models.

      Today, we increasingly segregate children and teens into their own age groups for most of their day, and isolate them from the adult world. This takes away their ability to look upward for their role models and norms. It causes them instead to look “sideways” to people of their own age group—who are no more developed or mature than they are.

      I believe this practice of age-segregation is a major cause of children and teens engaging in all sorts of unhealthy practices, including engaging in sex way too early, that were not as common in earlier, more age-integrated societies.

      A major reason boys and girls have sex too early is that they feel a lack of love, affection, and participation from parents, older children and teens, and society in general. This is inevitable if we separate children and especially teens from their parents and from the adult world for the bulk of their days and their time, such that most of their natural interaction with parents and adults takes place when both are already physically and intellectually spent from a full day of work (schoolwork, for the children and teens), and do not have enough energy left for a full and healthy relationship with one another.

      In other words, I believe that our current system of age-segregated schooling in isolation from adult society, taking up most of most days of our children and teens, is largely responsible for girls and boys having sex earlier and earlier, when they are neither physically nor emotionally ready for it. I believe that if children and teens were re-integrated into the adult world through a system of learning and apprenticeship integrated into the working adult world, many of our current social and sexual problems among adolescent boys and girls would mostly fade away.

      I realize that this goes beyond the question you asked. However, the very reason we have to ask at what age it’s okay to have sex is that our present-day social and educational system has departed very far from a healthy, well-integrated society in which children and teens learn to be adults by being fully integrated into the adult world as they had been for many thousands of years up until very recently.

      • Sara says:

        Hi Lee,

        Thanks for the information and insight you provided for me! I completely agree that biologicaland spiritual maturity can be reached hand-in-hand. That answers my questions towards age and approximately when is it acceptable since it’s not forbidden.

        Do you have any other insights for my questions 2 & 3?

        Once again, thank you for putting your time into responding.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Sara,

      In response to your second question:

      In Bible times, for females especially, the social consequences of getting pregnant out of wedlock were often catastrophic. While there was no legal prohibition on having sex before marriage, doing so subjected the woman to such severe risks that it simply wasn’t a good idea. That’s why the biblical laws that do apply to premarital sex are largely about requiring the unmarried man to marry the unmarried woman he had sex with, and prohibiting him from divorcing her.

      In that society, pragmatically speaking, if you were going to have sex, it would be best just to get married. That is Paul’s main point in 1 Corinthians 7:1–16. It wasn’t so much to prohibit premarital sex as to say, “If you’re going to do it anyway, just go ahead and get married.”

      A lot of what the Bible says about sex and marriage is embedded in and relates to the then-existing social circumstances surrounding sex and marriage. Given that we live in a very different society today, simply taking biblical statements about sex and marriage and plunking them onto the people of today’s society isn’t a very workable plan.

      Jesus himself said that the rule about men divorcing their wives that was given in the Law of Moses was due to “the hardness of their hearts,” and was not how things were from the beginning. So we know that at least some rules given in the Bible are adapted to the times and cultures in which they were given. Arbitrarily saying that that’s true of the Old Testament, but not of the New Testament makes no sense. The New Testament was also written at a particular time in a particular culture, and had to be adapted to that culture.

      Our task today is to distill out the principles behind the rules that were given, and use those principles to discern what our rules of behavior should be today. That is precisely what the various articles on sex and marriage here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life are meant to do.

      About sex before marriage being a sin, if it is a sin, it must do some harm. Sin isn’t just some arbitrary category of behavior that God has labeled “sinful.” If something is a sin, it’s because it does harm to oneself and to other people; and God says something is a sin based on the fact that it does harm.

      So the question to ask about sex before marriage is: “Does it do real, serious harm?”

      If it does, then engaging in it is evil, and if we’re aware that it’s evil and do it anyway, it becomes sinful.

      If it doesn’t do any real or serious harm, then how can it be considered evil and sinful?

      This is not to say it doesn’t do harm. But we have to think realistically about premarital sex based on what evil and sin actually are, and not just on what we have been told is evil and sinful. So as you think about whether premarital sex is sinful, ask yourself the question: Is it hurting anyone? And if so, exactly how is it hurting people, and what are its negative consequences?

      The reality is that some premarital and extramarital sex (among unmarried people) does cause serious harm, and other premarital and extramarital sex doesn’t. If we can come to an understanding of why some sex is harmful and some sex isn’t, then we can come to an understanding of what extramarital sex is evil and sinful and what extramarital sex is merely less than ideal.

      Once again, sleuthing that out is one of the major purposes of the articles about sex and marriage here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life. And as you’ll see if you read the various articles here, a major criterion is whether any particular premarital and extramarital sex moves the people involved in it toward or away from a future healthy, loving, monogamous marriage relationship.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Sara,

      In response to your third question:

      What can I say? Over the centuries traditional Christianity has departed so far from the Bible and what it teaches that most of what it says is just plain wrong. Its basic doctrines are found nowhere in the Bible (see, for example, “Today’s Christianity: Vastly Void of Truth”), and the conclusions it draws based on those false, unbiblical doctrines are therefore wrong and not really Christian at all.

      About remaining a virgin until marriage, once again, in the cultures of Bible times it was socially catastrophic for a woman to get pregnant outside of marriage. (The sexual rules for men were much more relaxed.) Women had their social status primarily in relation to men, and from bearing children, especially sons, for their husbands. To have a child with no husband not only carried no status, but it was considered so shameful that even the young woman’s family commonly would disown her, and she would often be forced into prostitution just to survive.

      In other words, the precedent that Christians (mostly Christian girls and women) must stay virgins until marriage is based on more traditional societies in which a woman was valued primarily for producing sons for her husband.

      That is no longer the case in most societies today. Yes, it is still culturally valued for women to bear children. But women are also valued for other contributions to society that have nothing to do with childbearing. So if a woman is “ruined” for marriage (itself an old-fashioned culturally-based idea) by having sex and getting pregnant out of wedlock, that is no longer an effective social death sentence on her, nor will she be forced into prostitution or beggary to survive. Today a woman can have a job and a career and support herself even if she has no husband and her family has disowned her. And if you ask me, that’s a very good thing.

      Given that we have made so many social advances, and women are no longer valued solely as wives and bearers of children, our societal rules about sex must also change. This doesn’t mean that it’s now A-OK to do whatever feels good. There are still negative consequences of stupid, thoughtless, and promiscuous sex. But it does mean that our rules no longer have to be adapted to a society in which, with rare exceptions, bearing sons for a husband is the only thing a respectable woman can do that is considered beneficial to society. (Aside from a whole lot of very hard labor for her husband and her family.)

      In other words, traditional Christianity is still living in the distant past culturally and doctrinally. And even so it has largely missed the point of the rules about sex and marriage that were given in the Old and New Testaments. Meanwhile, it has added many new rules that simply aren’t in the Bible at all, such as prohibiting masturbation, which is nowhere forbidden or even mentioned in the Bible (see, for starters, “What does the Bible Say about Masturbation? Is Masturbation a Sin?”).

      Mind you, I still think that remaining a virgin until marriage is an excellent thing for those who are able to do it. But the idea that those who don’t remain virgins until marriage are terrible sinners and are on the broad highway to hell is just plain unrealistic, old-fashioned, and unbiblical. Nowhere does the Bible say that everyone who has premarital sex will go to hell. It’s simply not there. The Bible is pragmatic about sex and marriage, and it is adapted pragmatically to the realities of the cultures in which it was written.

      We, too, should be pragmatic in our views and our rules about sex and marriage, and adapt them to the culture in which we now live.

      And the reality is that many people simply are going to have premarital sex, because the likely results of engaging (semi-responsibly, at least) in premarital sex are nowhere near as catastrophic as they were in Bible times.

      Although I still believe that waiting for marriage, and first having sex with one’s partner in marriage, is the ideal, I also recognize that ever since the Fall of Humankind in Genesis 3, we humans have been living in a less-than-ideal society, and we ourselves are in a less-than-ideal state. So our effort must be to do the best we can in the culture, and with the character, that we actually have, aiming always, when it comes to sex and marriage, for a future healthy, loving, faithful, monogamous marriage.

      • Sara says:

        Wow thank you so much for your responses! This answers so many questions of mine. If you don’t mind clarifying one more subject for me: I’ve often read that fornification doesn’t mean pre-martial sex. Although when you use the simple dictionary tool that is the exact definition. How does this mis translation make sense?

        • Sara says:

          Also,
          If premarital sex is okay, then is it free to lust anybody who’s not married? Because it’s mentioned you can lust after your husband or wife so under the context of premarital sex being okay is it the same concept?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Sara,

          Premarital sex is “okay,” in my view, only if it is within a committed relationship. In that case, it is at least something like sex in a committed marriage relationship. But it’s still extramarital sex, and that is not the ideal. So I would not say it is perfectly okay. Just okay in the sense of not being as terrible as traditional Christianity generally thinks it is. People who have faithful, non-promiscuous premarital sex commonly go on to have good, loving, and faithful marriages. People who sleep around, on the other hand, have some serious emotional and spiritual growing up to do (aka “repenting”) before they can be in a healthy, loving, and lasting marriage.

          About “lust,” you have to understand that as the Bible uses that word, it means a burning desire to have sex with someone (or do some other forbidden thing) so strong that if you can find or make an opportunity to do it, you will go ahead and do it. Lust (and “coveting” in the Old Testament) refer to the burning desire that will cause you to break one of the other commandments, such as those against murdering, committing adultery, stealing, and bearing false witness.

          In other words, “lust,” as the Bible uses that term, is not mere fantasizing about having sex with someone, knowing that it will never really happen, and having no intention of making it happen. Rather, it is an active desire and intention to have sex with someone, such that we will do it if we can. For more on the meaning of “lust” in the Bible, see:
          Is Masturbation Always Sinful? Does it Always Come from Lust?

          It is unfortunate that traditional Christianity has cheapened this word as if it means any kind of idle sexual thoughts and fantasies. That’s simply not what the word “lust” means.

          Based on what the word “lust” actually does mean, no, we’re not free to lust after anybody who’s not married. That would mean that we intend to have sex with all sorts of people, and will do so whenever we can get or make the opportunity to do so.

          But if your question is (as I suspect) whether it is okay to fantasize about sex with anyone who is not married, though that is not as serious, since we don’t have any intention of actually doing it, it’s still not the greatest idea in the world to fantasize about sex with everyone around you that you find sexy—friends, neighbors, coworkers, and so on.

          Of course, such thoughts are going to float through our minds. We’re only human, and our sexual desires are a strong part of who we are as human beings. I don’t think we need to beat ourselves up if the thought of having sex with some acquaintance or coworker floats through our mind from time to time.

          However, if we actively cultivate and engage in sexual fantasies about people we know, it can get in the way of having healthy and respectful relationships with them in real life. We will tend to superimpose our sexual fantasies on our real-life relations with them. Pretty soon, if we’re not careful, we’ll either say or do something inappropriate and disrespectful toward them or we’ll start thinking maybe we want to make our fantasies into a reality.

          Of course, if it’s someone we really think we’re compatible with and want to have a relationship with, that may not be such a bad thing. But even then, a healthy spiritual relationship should not begin with sex, but with making an inner connection of minds and hearts. That’s the whole reason why jumping straight to sex at the beginning of a relationship isn’t a very good idea. It puts the cart before the horse. Once we’re having sex with someone, it’s hard to step back and make sure we have the kind of deep inner connection and friendship upon which a true and lasting marriage relationship is founded. For more on this, see:
          Beyonce and Jay-Z Reveal the Secret: How to Start a Lasting Marriage

        • Lee says:

          Hi Sara,

          You’re very welcome. I’m glad to help.

          In answer to your question about fornication, the words commonly translated “fornication” in the Hebrew Bible (zanah) and in the Greek Bible (porneia) come from roots referring to prostitution and adultery. However, they are also used for illicit sex in general, and metaphorically of worshiping idols and other gods, which was seen as a form of adultery against God. They are sometimes applied specifically to adultery itself, sometimes to sex with prostitutes, and sometimes to illicit sex more generally.

          Basically, if a particular kind of sexual relations is not allowable, then it was considered fornication. But for the most part it was applied to very wrong sexual relations that involved adultery or prostitution or flagrant promiscuity. It could apply to ordinary premarital sex, but it is usually applied to much more serious forms of forbidden sex.

          As for its application today, I think that using it as a general term for any form of extramarital sex, and lumping them all together, is missing the point of its usage in the Bible. Clearly the Bible is referring to serious sexual sin when it uses these words. It is talking about sex that violates marriage and the spirit of marriage. Treating sex between a boyfriend and girlfriend who hope to get married to each other in the future as if it is of the same severity as sleeping with prostitutes or committing adultery or engaging in promiscuous sex with many partners cheapens the meaning of “fornication” as that word is used in the Bible.

          Once again, I’m not saying that sex before marriage is a good thing. Technically it is a type of fornication. But it is a mild one if it is between partners who are committed to each other and faithful to the relationship, and hope for marriage one day. The problem is, they might not get married to each other, and then they’ve had sex with someone other than their partner in marriage, which is generally frowned upon in the Bible. However, when the Bible uses the word “fornication,” it is usually speaking of much more seriously wrong forms of extramarital and adulterous sex that violate marriage or the spirit of marriage.

  19. Rod says:

    I think this article is a bit misleading, & played it safe to fit what our feel good nature wants to hear.
    I believe if you look at God’s view and intention for marriage & sex, both new and old testament….
    Sex IS Marriage.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rod,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for stating your opinion about what God thinks.

      You are, of course, free to think what you want about God’s view and intention for marriage and sex. But you’re not God. So if we’re to give any credence to your opinion about what God thinks and intends, you’d have to supply some actual quotes from the Bible saying things such as, “Sex IS marriage.” I can’t think of anywhere that the Bible says this. And there are many places in the Bible where people who aren’t married have sex. In fact, one of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” is based upon the fact that there is non-marital sex. So your statement that sex is marriage doesn’t ring true biblically.

      If the New and Old Testament are your source for what God’s view and intention is, you’ll need to show the passages where the New and Old Testaments actually say what you think God’s view and intention is.

  20. Me says:

    I think that premarital sex should be defined. Does one mean premarital with anyone or with the person they are going to marry in the future. Also, it is unrealistic to expect people in their, let’s say 30’s, not to ever have sex yet because they have not met the person they want to marry. But when they do desire a deeply connected sex life you’d think they’d want to get married or else they are just using each other. Also, I currently know Orthodox Russian Born Again Christian girls who are given purity rings from their fathers on their 13th b-day promising to remain a virgin until married. But they marry at age 16…dumb. Like it’s easy to wait that long. I am a Born Again Believer and trying to get out of a 38 year abusive marriage. I blame the church for me staying in it this long……and after putting up with, not only and abusive man, a man who always bathed about every 3-4 weeks, had very poor bodily and oral hygiene, heavy smoker, and smells, etc., I’m not against premarital sex. Gotta make sure the guy’s not gross.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Me,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughts and story.

      Born Again style churches tend to be very strict in their rules about sex, even as both their leaders and their people regularly break those rules. It is better, I think, to be more realistic about sex, and recognize that there are many shades of gray, not just blacks and whites. For example, as you point out, sleeping with the person you are intending to marry before you get married is different from sleeping with someone whom you have no intention of marrying just because you want to have sex. The difference is the intention to enter into a faithful marriage vs. the lack of any such intention.

      Born Again style churches also tend to be very bad about recognizing that spousal abuse destroys a marriage. Those churches are so set on “preserving marriage” that they can’t recognize when no marriage exists to preserve. On that subject, please see:
      “God Hates Divorce” vs. “Do Not Be Unfaithful to the Wife of Your Youth”

  21. Me says:

    Sex, any time, IS A MARRIAGE. You are married to whomever you have sex with. I can’t believe you are justifying multiple partners and feeding your sexual appetite with the scriptures. To teach that sex anytime, as a norm, is very ungodly. It is an exception to the rule. Even the woman at the well had 5 husbands. When you do find that special someone you have to screw, then you should also have the desire to legally marry them. Oh, but I forgot, you’re just satisfying yr normal sexual appetites. With no comittment. You’re sad.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Me,

      I would suggest that you read the article more carefully.

      However, in partial agreement with what you’re saying, in Middle Eastern cultures in Bible times it was a general rule that if a woman had sex with a man, she was either considered married to him or was considered a prostitute or adulteress—in which case the prescribed punishment was death (though prostitutes were commonly tolerated anyway, and Jesus himself commuted the sentence of death on the woman caught in the act of adultery).

      For example, even though Jacob intended to marry Rachel, when on the wedding night her father put her sister Leah into Jacob’s marriage bed instead of Rachel, Jacob was considered married to Leah because he had had sex with her, regardless of the fact that he had no intention whatsoever of marrying Leah (see Genesis 29:14–30). Also, as covered in the above article, if a man raped a woman who was not married or promised in marriage, he was expected to marry her and was not allowed to divorce her.

      For a woman who was eligible to marry, the act of having sex with a man was what sealed her marriage to that man. So for women, sex commonly either sealed a marriage or it sealed her fate as a prostitute or adulteress.

      However, the rule that sex = marriage did not always apply, especially to men. Men commonly had sex with prostitutes, but were neither considered married to them nor were they prevented from going on to marry one or more virgins and being considered righteous and socially acceptable men.

      For example, Judah had sex with his daughter-in-law Tamar (the wife of his deceased son Er), thinking she was a prostitute, and there were no negative repercussions for him, nor was he considered married to her. When he got news that she was pregnant, he decreed that she should be put to death. Only when she gave proof that he was the father did she escape that fate. And still the two of them were not considered married even though that one instance of sexual intercourse with Tamar resulted in her bearing him twin sons, who became the fathers of two of the three lineages of the tribe of Judah. (See Genesis 38; Numbers 26:19–22.)

      I could give many other examples—such as that Abraham had sex with Sarah’s slave woman Hagar, and Jacob had sex with both Rachel’s slave woman Bilhah and Leah’s slave woman Zilpah, but they were not considered wives of Abraham or Jacob. At most they were concubines. Meanwhile, socially their sons were considered sons of Rachel and Leah rather than sons of Bilhah and Zilpah.

      In short, even in the Bible it is not a hard-and-fast rule that “sex, any time, is a marriage.” So although I understand your sentiment, that just isn’t what the Bible says, nor is it always the human reality.

      Still, as I said in the above article, the ideal remains that two people would have sex for the first time on their wedding night, and would then remain married for the rest of their lives.

      It’s just that we humans very commonly don’t live up to the ideal. And God doesn’t reject us just because we are very far from perfect. Who among us has lived a perfect life? God does not condemn us for our past actions, but instead calls us forward to a better life.

  22. Samson says:

    Hello, Lee!

    I have been reading your stuff for awhile now, and you are the only person who doesnt make me feel like a rotten human being.

    First, let me say my English skill isn’t great due to being born deaf, and I struggle immensely at conveying my points. So bare with me here.

    I am a severely physically disabled man who might never find love in this world. I am 36 years old, very confident, have lots of female friends.

    I was also a member of the Baptist Church up until my health forced me to stop attending church.

    I read your article about pornography and your full understanding of us human beings need an outlet to satisfy our sexual “needs”, and it made me feel so different than I was before.

    I was fearful, ashamed of myself, and thought God hated me.

    Now let’s get to my dilemma.

    From what I understand, God wants us to get married. If we cannot control our sex drive ( which I honestly believe no one can, as I have tried my very best to stay pure as possible but keep failing over and over again), then we are to seek a wife than to burn with passion.

    Seeking a wife is not always possible, especially for people like myself who are severely disabled and are unattractive to women as a result. Yes, we are unattractive because, in my case, I cannot provide for a wife financially, let alone for a family. And my medical expense per month is over 1,000 USD, and that doesn’t include frequent visits to the Emergency Room, which might cost up to $5000 ( thanks to Medicaid; I pay absolutely nothing in medical expenses out of my own pocket.)

    According to the Social Security Rules, people who are on SSI will lose benefit when they get married to a working spouse.

    Since this is the case, marriage is not advisable for people who receive SSI, unless they get married to someone who is also on SSI. However, two disabled people on SSI will see their benefit drastically reduce to the point where living together makes absolutely no sense financially.

    I don’t want to go too deep in this to save some space here. But do you understand where I am coming from? Disabled people, especially ones who can’t work due to severe medical problems, will not have marriage in their plans in this life, unless ( let me repeat this ) “UNLESS A MIRACLE HAPPENS”, such as a woman who is fine with taking a severely happened man as her husband and care for him.

    We know that is not likely to happen.

    Yet, I am human and a sexual driven one. And if I cannot find a wife because of a bad card I was dealt at birth, would my loving Father who is in Heaven ( Jesus Christ) be mad at me for having sex with one of my female friends for the sake of meeting my sexual needs? Is it really a sin for me to have sex because my body is dying for it?

    Since ignoring my sexual needs doesn’t work for me, but rather make things worse for me, and even give me bad motives, does God seriously want me to continue avoiding sex until the day I depart from my physical body? If my female friends feel sorry for me and agree to help me with my sexual urge, does God label me a sexually immoral sinner?

    Please help me with this because from what I understand so far, God wants us to get married, and unfortunately, not everyone is able to get married, and not everyone of us can control our natural sex drive given to us by God Himself.

    Oh one last question:

    If a miracle does happen that I find myself a girlfriend but she is unable to take care of me financially, would God be upset with me and deem me a sinner for refusing to get married to her in hopes to keep my medicaid benefit and social security income that is responsible for taking care of my daily necessities, while at the same time staying faithful and truthful to my girlfriend as a husband and wife would?

    Samson.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Samson,

      Thank you for stopping by, and for telling your story. I’m sorry to hear about your struggles, but glad that the articles here have lifted a load of unnecessary guilt off your shoulders. Life is hard enough without adding even more weight by imposing unbiblical and unrealistic rules on people. Yes, of course, faithful and monogamous marriage is the ideal. But our life here on earth is often very far from the ideal. And I do not believe God frowns on us or condemns us for making compromises that, while not ideal, at least help us to keep our head above water until we leave the strictures of this world behind and enter those heavenly mansions that God has prepared for us.

      And let me start off by saying that I believe government rules that make it difficult or impossible for poor, disabled, and severely ill people to marry are themselves immoral and wrong. But this is a spiritual blog, not a political blog, so I won’t go into all of the destructive effects of those laws. Besides, you’re already well aware of the damage they are doing in your own life. I will only say that God does not hold us responsible for the effects of circumstances that are beyond our control—including the distorting effects of bad laws. If the legal system is structured such that your continued life and health require you not to get married, that is not your fault.

      Based on that, if you were to find a woman who would marry you, but you cannot do so because it would threaten your life and health, I do not believe God would look askance at you for forming a relationship that is a marriage in every way except for being a legal marriage sanctioned by the state. On that, you might be interested in this article: “Real Marriage vs. Legal Marriage.” Having said that, I am not a lawyer. If the possibility of a faithful, stable, loving relationship with a woman should come up, I would recommend getting legal advice to make sure that whatever living arrangements you may make with her don’t inadvertently put your life and health in jeopardy.

      Meanwhile, as covered in a number of articles here on this site, you’re in the same position as many millions of people who for one reason or another are not married and don’t have any immediate prospects of getting married, and yet still have the normal, and very strong, sexual drives that most human beings on this earth do have.

      And first, although you didn’t bring it up in your comment, I want to assure you that no matter what your former pastors and churches may have told you, there is absolutely nothing in the Bible condemning masturbation, and there is no reason to feel guilty or ashamed if you masturbate to satisfy your sexual drives and desires. Nor is masturbation going to cause you any physical or mental damage, assuming you do it in moderation as needed to satisfy your sexual desires. For more on this, please see my series of articles on masturbation starting with: “What does the Bible Say about Masturbation? Is Masturbation a Sin?

      Further, when the Bible talks about “lust” and “burning with passion,” it is not talking about merely fantasizing about having sex. It is talking about a driving desire to have sex that will cause us to actually do so if we can find or make an opportunity to do so. This is also covered in the series of articles on masturbation.

      However, if you do have that burning passion, and masturbation just isn’t going to do it for you, then yes, ideally it would be better to get married than to burn with passion. But for you (and for many others) as you’ve said, that isn’t a possibility at this point in your life, and may or may not ever be a possibility while you’re still living on this earth. Therefore we are not dealing with ideal situations here, but rather with gray areas and compromises that many people must make in order to do the least damage possible, and to keep open the possibility of a future marriage.

      So given that we’re talking compromises, not ideals, here is my advice if the simple fact of the matter is that you are going to have sex with women: Don’t sleep around. Pick one woman, and stick with her as long as you can. As long as you are having sex with her, don’t have sex with anyone else (regardless of whether she is having sex with anyone else). Be clear with her about the fact that this is not a relationship that is leading to marriage, and make sure she is okay with that. In this situation, the two most important things are “monogamy” of a sort and honesty about the relationship. If you can’t be married, but you are going to have sex, then you can at least avoid engaging in promiscuous and dishonest sexual relations.

      Just to be clear, I’m not recommending that you have a sexual relationship that isn’t leading to marriage. I am, rather, saying that if you are going to have sex outside of marriage, put limits on it so that you don’t do too much damage to your future prospects for marriage here on earth or in the afterlife. If you get into the habit of sleeping with multiple women either simultaneously or one after another in quick succession, that is very damaging to your spirit, especially if your hope and longing is for a faithful, loving, monogamous marriage in the future. If your ideal is to be in a monogamous marriage, practice something as close to monogamy as you can in any sexual relationships that you might have.

      I hope this answers your questions, and is helpful to you. Feel free to continue the conversation if you have further questions or issues you want to explore.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Samson,

      One more thing I forgot to mention in my earlier reply: Obviously, if you’re going to have sex outside of marriage, having sex with married women is strictly off-limits. That is adultery, and it is specifically prohibited in the Bible. It doesn’t matter if it’s an “open marriage,” or if she and her spouse are okay with it, or anything else. Just don’t do it. See: “What if I’m in Love with Someone Who’s Already Married?

      You probably already know this, but I wanted to add it not just for your sake, but for the sake of anyone else who may be reading in.

      • Samson says:

        Thank you very much, Lee, for your speedy reply. I appreciate it very much.

        I stumbled across your article some time 2 months ago when I was severely depressed and hopeless about life. I typed in google “ Is Masturbation a sin?”

        And your article comforted me and assumed me that God loves me. I decided to explore through your numerous articles, and that’s when I began showing my face to God again.

        I thought God hated me. I knew I couldn’t live up to these rules I was aware of, and therefore thought I was heading straight to hell.

        As a 36 year old man who so happens to be severely physically disabled, one of my biggest problems is finding my soulmate. It’ seems so impossible to happen. And like I told you in my previous message, my natural sexual drive doesn’t make things easier.

        I brought my problem to my pastor and his suggestion was that I first seek the Kingdom of God and all these things would be given to me. Knock and the door would be open, seek and I shall find, ask and I shall be given, but first seek the Kingdom of God.

        But how does one seek the Kingdom of God?

        I was born in a Christian home. And I grew up as a Christian myself. I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe He came to earth some 2,000 years ago and died on a cross for our sins and rose from the dead on the 3rd day. I live a peaceful life. I cause no harm to anyone. I do not sleep around with random women. In fact, I do my best not to in respect for the Lord. Yes, I am not perfect and I have messed up a few times and disappointed God. I think we all have some point in our lives.

        However, my Pastor seems pretty robotic.

        He believes if I take my problem to the Lord, then the Lord will solve my problem.

        But how do we take our problem to the Lord, aside from praying to Him?

        My countless prayers to God over the past 12 to 14 years about my sexual struggle have not been answered. God has not sent me a wife like my Pastor said He would. He suggested me to wait ( hello, I am to avoid masturbation, and any other sexual activity outside of legal marriage until the Lord responds to my situation.) This makes me so frustrated and defeated. And to my Pastor, this makes me look weak and impatient.

        I then joined the JW Church. Because my Baptist pastor was just not helping my situation at all. His advice was not realistic, at least not for people in my situation. But guess what? The JW organization was even more harsher than I could ever imagine. I had to get out of there as soon as possible.

        I became suicidal.

        I felt like I was never going to enter heaven because I was never going to find a soulmate, and my sexual nature was a disgrace to God. Yes, the Baptist Church teaches that once we believe in Jesus, we are automatically saved. But they argue that if we live in sin, then we are not saved.

        I honestly feel like God directed me to you. I needed answers, honest answers, answers that make sense and include my situation, and God saw that I needed answers, and I met you 2 months ago when I was thinking about ending my life.

        Now, I did say I have many female friends, none of which I am having a sexual relationship with. But the topic was brought up a few times and one of them seems understanding and willing to help out. But my true desire is to have a wife and a monogamous relationship with her. And I am pleased to read your article about real marriage vs legal marriage. It has answered my question.

        Thanks, Lee.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Samson,

          I am glad and thankful that God directed you here before you became so desperate and depressed that you ended your own life. Don’t get me started on the horrible wrongness of those supposedly “Christian” teachers who, in Jesus’ words, “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others” (Matthew 23:4), when Jesus himself said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

          The first and most basic error these so-called “Christians” make is the feeling that there is something intrinsically wrong and dirty about our sexual nature and our sexual drives, so that they must be denied and suppressed. But God gave us that sexual nature and those sexual drives. It is just plain wrongheaded to think that we can pray to God to take away something that God gave us. Do they think God made a mistake in making us sexual beings?

          And yes, the ideal is to get married and have a sexual relationship within a marriage relationship. Sex, as God created it for us humans, is a physical oneness that is meant to express a spiritual oneness: a oneness of minds and hearts between two people. For more on this, see my article, “Is There Sex in Heaven?

          However, God also created us as biological beings here on earth. And the very first commandment God gave to the people whom God had just created was, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). So the idea that we can just pray to God and God will take away the sexual drives that God put into us to ensure that we would “be fruitful and multiply” is not only wishful thinking, but just plain wrong and unbiblical thinking.

          Further, the commandment in the Bible is “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18). It is not “You shall not have sex outside of marriage.” Nowhere does the Bible say that all sex outside of marriage is sinful and will cause you to go to hell. Yes, the Bible discourages fornication, but that word really means something closer to what we would call “promiscuity.” It is about debasing and debauching our sexual nature by letting our “little brain” run our lives and sleeping with anyone and everyone who strikes our fancy regardless of morality and propriety.

          It is not, for example, about having a girlfriend (or boyfriend) and having a faithful, ongoing sexual relationship with that person. In Old Testament times, such an arrangement would be considered a marriage. In the times of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), there were no wedding ceremonies. When a man and a woman got together in a socially accepted relationship (usually arranged by their families) and consummated it by having sex, they were considered married. It was only later in history that wedding ceremonies developed to formalize that relationship. So the idea that having had a wedding is what makes a person married is, once again, unbiblical and wrong.

          Having said that, now that having a wedding ceremony is the way our society recognizes marriages, I think it’s a very good idea to have a wedding with a minister or JP and with family and friends present. However, this is not a biblical requirement, but a social one. In our society, having a wedding makes the relationship into one that is accepted as a marriage.

          Unfortunately, the mass of so-called “Christian” pastors and teachers have made up many rules that are not in the Bible, and have imposed them upon people, creating the aforementioned “heavy burdens, hard to bear,” which they lay on the shoulders of all of their followers. I am glad to be able to help you throw off those burdens and gain the rest from guilt and shame that comes with knowing who God really is, and what the Bible really does (and doesn’t) teach.

          As for your specific situation, I think that from the articles you’ve read here and our conversation so far, you have what you need to know in order to move forward and make a decision. Once you know the truth, your course of action becomes clearer, even if it may still not be easy. It’s not my job to tell you what to do. I would only suggest that you hold onto your ideal of a future loving marriage, and don’t give up on the possibility that it might happen while you are still living here on earth, as remote as that possibility may seem. And if it doesn’t happen here on earth, God will provide you with a partner in the spiritual world, where all of your physical handicaps will be gone. See: “Can you Fall in Love in Heaven if you Haven’t Found Someone on Earth?” and: “Will Sick or Disabled People Return to Good Health in the Spiritual World?

          Meanwhile, if you have further questions or issues that you want to discuss, once again, feel free to continue the conversation.

  23. rex415 says:

    Hi Lee, I realize this thread is a little old, so you may not get this. Please, let me apologize in advance for such a long post. However, I wanted to take a few minutes to commend you for the excellent insights you are bringing to real world issues that the “modern” church seems to ignore or give cookie cutter answers to that just feel wrong or unhelpful to so many Christians. Unfortunately, heavy burdens are laid on their shoulders and many walk away from the faith. For many people, it’s hard for them to understand that God meets them in their moment in time and knows their own unique circumstances. This is one of the beautiful things about a personal God known through Jesus. The God we see in Jesus is not a legalistic control freak in the sky… He is a compassionate, understanding, merciful, gracious, and loving heavenly Father who sees the shades of gray in life.

    This particular thread caught my attention because I’ve been studying sex, culture, and customs in the ancient Biblical world for well over 15 years now. Additionally, I’m 46 years old and have been a Christian my entire life, covering the gamut in denominations from Pentecostal to Baptist to Methodist to Episcopalian, so I know what the far right and far left look like. I’ve also experienced the pain of an unwanted divorce, and know what the “heavy burden” felt like when I had to get back out into the dating world. What you have explained and outlined here to many commenters contains so much truth that I wish more Christians could know. For example, your definition of “sin” as something that causes harm or violates your conscience… this is the true Biblical definition of sin. I loved one of your comments where you said, “God doesn’t arbitrarily make some acts sinful…” this was spot on. This is why Paul could say that 1) love does no harm to a neighbor, and therefore fulfills God’s law. 2) all things are lawful but not all things edify. 3) All things are clean and all things are pure… the point is there is nothing God created that is inherently sinful unless we make it sinful by causing harm or violating our conscience. Hence, the reason why adultery, prostitution (especially cultic prostitution), incest and rape are condemned.

    Very few people understand the customs, culture, and circumstances Paul was dealing with when writing his letters. You’ve done a wonderful job of explaining the vulnerability of women and the catastrophic situations that could arise for a free woman in the ancient world if she had sex with a man she wasn’t married to. In that patriarchal society, controlling a woman’s sexuality was of utmost importance. If she became pregnant out of wedlock then the family would not only get less for her bride price (if anyone would marry her at all), but they would also have a situation on their hands where a child wouldn’t have access to inheritance from another family, potentially causing financial strain on their own. This was a really big deal when most of the population was poor and literally lived hand to mouth. Knowing who the father was and ensuring proper inheritance and lineage was imperative for the community to survive. Even widows usually had to return to their family of origin or have a male guardian. When you understand this, it’s easy to ask yourself the question “would having sex with this person cause harm?” and come up with a resounding “YES”!

    I also really appreciate how you articulated the context of the word “fornication” and it’s application and meaning in the ancient world. The word Greek “porneia” and Hebrew “zanah” were referring to some really bad things. Few can appreciate how different and less advanced the ancient world was. Idolatry and its association with prostitution was a very real problem for both the Israelites and the early church. It was the single biggest battle Paul had to fight in order for the church and the message of the gospel to survive. In Corinth, for example, many of the prostitutes conducted their trade in honor of the fertility gods and goddesses… they didn’t have to be working in an actual temple for this to occur, it was part of the religious culture. Additionally, many of the other prostitutes were part of the enormous sex slave trade that was sanctioned… it was literally legalized human sex trafficking, and a lot of it included pedophilia. And, to throw in a practical matter… there was no birth control or disease control. People can’t imagine the harm done to a community when children were being born by the droves not knowing who their fathers were, infanticide rates were through the roof, and the children that did survive were usually sold back into the slave trade…horrible stuff that we can’t even imagine. Most of what Paul was up against would land you in prison today, and then there were the obvious cases of adultery and incest that he was calling out in the church. Every single one of these situations work harm to the individuals, families, and community as a whole. It makes perfect and wise sense for Paul to tell the young community of believers that if they were going to have sex then the best thing would be for them to marry. If they didn’t the young church would implode from within. Trying to compare the above scenarios to what we often talk about today with regards to sex, dating, and marriage is like comparing apples to oranges, or maybe even apples to spaghetti 😉 You hit the nail on the head when you said that we can’t just copy a few passages of scripture out of their cultural context and paste them into a time and place 2,000 – 4,000 years later… it doesn’t produce good fruit.

    Another thing I find interesting is that few people realize that when Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, historians believe there were anywhere from 3 – 5 house churches in the city. Paul was not writing to 3 billion believers in Corinth… he was most likely writing to less than a thousand. My point is that some estimate the population of Corinth in the first century at around 100,000. That means the church was the extreme minority and was under persecution and pressure from a massive pagan influence. If the church didn’t stay in harmony and stick together, the gospel would have been polluted, and the church would have never survived. From a social systems standpoint, the very best way to make sure a community survives is to make sure the men and women get along, and that begins with protecting the women. If you were going to be sexually active, then marrying them and providing for them financially did just that.

    You also wrote about how much of what we receive today in church about sex and marriage from the Bible comes from doctrines that are mostly human opinion. This is spot on in my opinion. The earliest Church Fathers (Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, Jerome)… beginning in the early 2nd century all came from a staunch Neoplatonism Greek philosophy that was embedded in their cultural lenses for hundreds of years before Jesus was ever even born. How can we have 1,000 years of the Old Testament being written by Jews where sex was celebrated and seen as a gift from God, and then within 100 years do a complete 180 degree turn and make it the very essence of sin itself. It makes no sense at all, especially when you realize that the New Testament was written by Jews. Once you see the transition to the Greeks, that’s when sex and women became demonized. God didn’t all of a sudden change his mind after Jesus was resurrected… there was a change in cultural influence. We can read the Song of Solomon, stories about Esther, Ruth and Boaz, and David with his many wives and concubines, and many other examples to see that sex was never an issue with the Jews.

    A healthy and faithful monogamous marriage is God’s best and ideal and what we should desire the most, but I think the fact that God allowed for polygamy and concubinage with the Israelites when they were a clan is a great example of how He can be OK with less than the ideal. Just like you said, a tribal society often had many more women than men due to war, so something had to be done to address the situation. Rather than turn the women to the streets they took them in as wives and concubines in their families, were responsible towards them, and provided for them. Was it ideal? No. Was it sin? No. Did it address a real social situation in the most pragmatic way possible? Probably so. Applying this same type of understanding to our modern situations is challenging, but it is necessary, and I want to thank you again for your inspired efforts in addressing some of the most taboo topics we face today.

    Please keep up the excellent and thoughtful work… you are a voice that is making a difference.

    – Rex

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rex,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your good, long, and detailed thoughts. Thanks also for your kind words about the work Annette and I are doing here at Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life. I’m glad you’re finding the articles here helpful and refreshing. There’s an awful lot in traditional “Christianity” that is neither biblical nor Christian.

  24. rex415 says:

    Hi Lee,

    Thank you for taking the time to read my previous comments… it was great to hear back from you. When you have some time, I’d appreciate your thoughts on a recent essay I came across that was very interesting. This is one of the first I’ve come across where the author tries to articulate how the Greek word porneia evolved in its use from the OT, into 2nd Temple Judaism, then to Paul’s writings, and finally the early church fathers.

    I value your expertise and insights… you’re a rare find on topics like this. As you’ve stated before in several comments, the reality of people’s lives today and the “instruction” they are being told by “them of old time” ties heavy burdens around peoples’ necks. The end result is a church that loses credibility because it is perceived as being out of touch with reality. Like you, I am trying to be a voice of reason to many single people in today’s world who struggle with their faith and Christianity, so your thoughts will help further my efforts 🙂

    https://www.academia.edu/1368753/PORNEIA_The_Making_of_a_Christian_Sexual_Norm

    There were a few things that stood out to me:
    1. It seems apparent when Paul uses the word porneia in the NT he’s referring to slavery and prostitution.
    2. The early church fathers continued to narrow the use to control sexuality in general. This is evident by the sex for procreation only and rules on what days and how often married couples could have sex. Seems like it didn’t take long for the Phariseeism to get established in Christianity!
    3. The honor/shame element of the ancient patriarchal society can’t be underestimated. I think we often miss the point with the “why” things are done a certain way because we don’t understand what a particular culture was like.
    4. The patriarchal society continued the double standard in the early church by refusing women the right to divorce a husband who was committing adultery, even though the husband was not only allowed to divorce a wife in adultery but was even encouraged to do so if it continued… AND marrying a divorced woman was off limits (ouch!)
    5. Ultimately, a picture is painted where a free man in the 1st century we either having sex with his wife and/or sex with prostitutes/slaves… a very black and white situation with no “middle ground”.

    I’d really like to get your take on a few things as I consider these implications in our current modern situation.

    1. What’s your general opinion on the author’s premise and findings?
    2. Other than saying “sex with honorable women versus sex with dishonorable women”, the author never gives any real reasons why this should be avoided. It seems like the only options for sex were either marriage or sex with a woman who wasn’t attached to a family… in other words a slave or prostitute. So, we’re left with a great divide between their world and our world. Are we really supposed to compare today’s situations of “boyfriend and girlfriend”, or engaged couples who have sex, to the ancient world’s prostitution and sex slave rings simply because today’s adult women are not “property” that is attached to a family and considered free individuals, and it’s not marriage? I have a really hard time drawing that comparison, yet it’s the very situation and comparison that “traditional” voices are telling the flocks of single people today. We’re leaving them with solutions where they feel controlled, and unnatural. Solutions that say their only options are to sin or suffer. Would you agree with this?
    3. Throughout the Bible and in the early church (as referenced in the essay), early marriage was practiced to “maintain honor” and keep teenagers from getting sucked into sex with the “dishonorable”. These marriages were arranged and a given… a very practical solution to their situation. I’ve often wondered what the scriptures would say if the most practical thing for their situation would have been for them to wait until they finished several years of college, got a job, and then could support a family when they were somewhere in their mid-20’s. Any thoughts on this one?

    4. Any thoughts you have on my comments below would be great 🙂

    It’s always so easy to give surface level answers to questions, but that never gets to the heart of the matter. And, unless we get to the heart of the matter we won’t be able to apply the understandings to our current situations. For example, a typical response of, “well it’s not married sex, so it’s sin” seems so short-sighted, provides no practical advice, and I think misses the point. I’d be willing to bet that most people would think about prostitution as being wrong because it’s promiscuous and it’s sex for hire (which are both true). However, this is a typical Western mindset response. Whenever I do my research, I always try to relate everything back to Jesus’s love command… how would I want to be treated if I was in their shoes and in their cultural and social circumstances? When we understand that women were property that was transferred from family to family in an honor/shame patriarchal society, then some deeper understandings start to surface. By applying the love command we can ask ourselves questions like:

    “Why were prostitutes considered dishonorable?” Perhaps because they allowed themselves to be “owned” by many men, because they didn’t have one “man” they had no social status, they were in constant danger with respect to disease and pregnancy, and they sold their bodies for sex…”
    “Would I want to be a woman who was in this situation, shamed, dishonored?…No”. Ok, then as a follower of Jesus, I would not want to contribute to shaming or dishonoring someone else. How does this apply to our situations today?
    “Is the situation about caring, giving, and being responsible and accountable in relationship? Or, is it about abusing, using, and taking what you can get with no accountability for your actions or to the other person?”. Since the latter is what is taking place and not the former, as a follower of Jesus, I don’t want to be part of wrong relationship or “unrighteousness”.
    “What type of fruit is produced from the entire situation? Is it life giving, making good memories, or does it produce hardship and perpetuate a cycle of suffering?” As mentioned in my previous comment, these situations destroyed women, children, spread disease, were the root of much idolatry, and exploitation was inevitable. So, as a follower of Jesus, I would not want to be a part of or contribute to this harmful environment.

    Thank you again for your insights and expertise. It’s not easy offering “fresh insights”, but no one who ever made a difference was ever accused of going with the status quo!

    Rex

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rex,

      Thanks for your continued thoughts and questions. There’s a lot here—enough to fill several full-length articles, if not several books. I won’t be able to respond to all of it. Instead, I’ll zero in on some of the key issues (as I see them), broken up into more than one comment in response to yours. If I miss something that you especially want a response to, please let me know.

      First, thanks for the link to the article on porneia. It’s a good piece. I learned some things from reading it. In particular, the distinction between sexually violating a respectable woman and sexually using a non-respectable woman, such as a slave or a prostitute, is a useful and valid one, I think. I also found the tracing of the evolution of the meaning of the Greek word porneia from several centuries before Christ to several centuries after Christ interesting and informative.

      What I didn’t find in the article was, as you said, much coverage of why things were the way they were in the sexual dynamics of those ancient (to us) cultures. Perhaps that’s asking too much of the author, who is largely doing a word study. But I always want to know, why? About as close as the author gets is in this sentence on the fourth to fifth pages of his study (pages 366–367 in the periodical reproduced in the PDF):

      Greek men were fixated on the issue of legitimacy, and they found the solution to their concerns in the strict regulation of the sexuality of honorable women.

      Legitimacy was a big issue for men in all of the cultures of the day.

      Today we take for granted birth control, abortion, DNA testing, and so on. Further, today in-vitro fertilization takes away the old certainty that if a woman bears a child, it is her biological offspring.

      In all earlier societies, none of this present-day technology existed. Yes, abortion was possible, but very dangerous. And there were certain methods of birth control as well, but these were generally neither safe nor particularly effective. Sometimes it was obvious that a woman’s child was not her husband’s if, for example, the baby had racial characteristics that matched neither the woman nor her husband. But the only thing they knew for sure was that if a woman carried and birthed a baby, it was hers. And the only way to ensure that it was her husband’s was to strictly guard and prohibit a woman from having sex with anyone else, both before and during marriage.

      This was the pragmatic reason for the common double standard in those societies in which a respectable woman’s sex life was strictly regulated and guarded, whereas there were no such strictures on a respectable man’s sex life. If a man fathered children by a woman other than his wife, that wasn’t a problem under the law because such children had no claim on his name or inheritance. However, if a married woman bore a child that was not her husband’s, the child, if not obviously illegitimate, would indeed have a claim on the husband’s name and inheritance. This created an intolerable situation for the men of those societies, which led to respectable women being hemmed in by many sexual restrictions that did not apply to men. Though it seems very unfair to women, it would also have been unfair to men if a woman could have sex with whomever she pleased, pass the baby off as her husband’s, and require him to provide for the child of another man.

      Of course, the whole system was rotten to the core from today’s perspective. What about the children a man fathered by disreputable women, who had no claim to any name or inheritance at all? The culture was based on valuing and respecting some human beings and devaluing and disrespecting others, often based on criteria that were entirely beyond their personal control. We don’t get to choose our parents. This led to a whole underclass of disposable people who could be used or abused at will, and who generally led desperate and painful lives.

      In short, individuals were not valued as individuals in those days. One’s worth was determined only partially by one’s own integrity. The greatest factor in one’s worth was not one’s personal character, but one’s position in the family, clan, and society. Even setting aside the terrible injustice of such an arrangement, it is ultimately a toxic cultural situation that cannot be sustained long-term. Eventually societies that operate in this way are bound to collapse as they generate more and more “disposable” people, who will eventually rise up and dethrone their “respectable” masters and mistresses. Or the society will fall into such decay that it either disintegrates from within or becomes ripe for external conquest.

      This is also the pragmatic side of the early Christians’ attempts to enforce strict sexual morality upon both their women and their men, so that their small nascent community did not fall into disintegration and death. Their leaders recognized that if they allowed laxity in sexual relations, it would result in cultural and interpersonal chaos in their small communities, tearing them apart from the inside out as legitimate and illegitimate children and relationships got all mixed together in a way that simply wasn’t sustainable in the cultures of the day.

      There were also more fundamental issues at work. But I’ll end this comment here, and take up a new subject in a separate comment.

      • rex415 says:

        Hi Lee,

        Thank you so much for the thoughtful detailed response. What you’ve articulated truly has been a confirmation to me for many of the things I’ve actually thought about and journaled, but no one else has ever mentioned to me. In describing the practical difference between their society and ours today, we can easily see the tremendous social strides we’ve made towards equality.

        A few of your insights truly resonate with what I have felt in my spirit, especially considering the small size of the fledgling community:

        1. In short, individuals were not valued as individuals in those days. (it was all about legitimacy and status)

        2. Even setting aside the terrible injustice of such an arrangement, it is ultimately a toxic cultural situation that cannot be sustained long-term. (excellent point… drastic inequality in the classes leads to demise)

        3. This is also the pragmatic side of the early Christians’ attempts to enforce strict sexual morality upon both their women and their men, so that their small nascent community did not fall into disintegration and death. (I totally agree, and I also think the integrity of the gospel message could have been compromised with too much “mixing” in the pagan world… especially if there is prostitution associated with idolatry. The last thing Paul wanted was for the new church to bring any type of sexual practice into worship. To me, this scenario shadows what the Israelites went through in the OT, and why God became so angry with them.)

        4. Their leaders recognized that if they allowed laxity in sexual relations, it would result in cultural and interpersonal chaos in their small communities, tearing them apart from the inside out as legitimate and illegitimate children and relationships got all mixed together in a way that simply wasn’t sustainable in the cultures of the day. (Such a great and practical understanding… I’ve thought the same thing, and especially since the community was so small in the earlier years. It would have been swallowed up in no time.)

        Thank you again, and this has been very helpful 🙂 I’ll be diving into your other insights now and over the next few days!

        Rex

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rex,

          You are most welcome. Glad you’re finding some confirmation of ideas you’d been contemplating for some time. I’ll look forward to hearing your further thoughts, reactions, and questions.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rex,

      As with many studies done in more liberal academic environments today, the one you link to makes certain statements based on contemporary feminist scholarship. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I do welcome more gender balance in academia and scholarship. However, I do not believe that contemporary feminist theory gets at the root of the issues even when it comes to gender imbalance, double standards, and so on.

      The idea that women were “property” in earlier patriarchal societies is one of my particular pet peeves. There was a word for people who were property in those societies: “slaves.” And women were not slaves—unless they actually were slaves. Of course, many men were also slaves. And a male slave had lower status in society than a free woman. In some societies women could even own slaves.

      Yes, women had considerably lower social and legal status than men did. But they were not the property of their husbands, even if they were under their husband’s tutelage, any more than children are the property of their parents because children are under the tutelage of their parents.

      One piece of evidence often cited for the “property” status of women was the practice of a man, or his family, paying a “bride price” to a woman’s father when he married her. However, it was also a very common practice in many ancient societies for a woman’s family to pay a dowry, which might become the husband’s property, or may be held in a sort of trust for the bride. So if a woman’s family actually pays for her to get married, how does that make the woman “property”? It defies logic.

      It would be more accurate to say that money (or goods equivalent to money) commonly changed hands at the time of a wedding. This had nothing to do with a woman becoming her husband’s property. But it did have to do with a woman being considered valuable, in one way or another, in those societies. A “bride price” (I put it in quotes because I think it is a misnomer) had more to do with recognizing a woman’s value, and compensating her family for raising her to be a good woman, than it did with any “purchasing” of the woman. In those days, unlike sons, who would commonly work in the family business and bring wealth into the family, raising a daughter would be a financial loss to a family, since it was expected that she would go away and become a social and financial asset to another family. Therefore socially and financially, the “bride price” made it worthwhile for families to go to the expense and work of raising daughters who would not, as adults, contribute financially to their families of origin.

      I know this may sound like a tenuous distinction to some. It’s all too easy to jump on the “women were property” bandwagon. But I don’t think the “woman as property” idea properly captures what was actually happening in those cultures. And the fact that just as many societies practiced dowry as “bride price,” and that sometimes these were intermingled, such as the “bride price” becoming part of a woman’s dowry so that the money didn’t even go to her family of origin but became part of the woman’s own wealth, shows that the “woman as property” motif just doesn’t hold water. It was a much more complex situation than that idea implies.

      And once again, it blurs the distinction between women and slaves. Slaves were property. Women were property only if they were slaves.

      Also, the idea that women were mere downtrodden wenches with no say in their families and clans cannot stand in the face of the stories of actual women contained in the Bible and other ancient literature. Women were often quite powerful in their influence even in heavily patriarchal societies. For some biblical examples, please see:

      Is the Bible a Book about Men? What about Women?

      It is an irony that feminist theory often makes women to be lesser beings than they actually were in earlier cultures. Certainly women did not have the social status that men did. And that is a testament to the low level of those cultures. But the idea that women were mere property does a disservice to their actual position in those cultures.

      But let’s move on to what I believe is a more fundamental issue determining everything about a culture, including its treatment of women—in a separate comment.

      • rex415 says:

        Hi Lee,

        Great insights on the modern feminist perspective. I have often wondered about the dowry, and much of what I’ve researched about Jewish and Roman marriages often mention this important aspect of the marriage contract. It was almost like it was “insurance” for the woman in case things went sideways. However, with the absence of what we know as our modern “middle class”, it seems that most dowries would have been relatively small… not providing much “insurance” for the woman’s well-being if she was discarded by her husband. I do think a good portion of women in that day would have been in very difficult times if their husbands simply divorced them… shamed by their families and relegated to the fringes.

        Your description of a relationship of tutelage and subordination seems to be the most accurate description that takes all of the evidence into account. The analogy of children not being property but still being under the tutelage of their parents is excellent and one that I will use for myself and in my conversations moving forward.

        Thank you for the new nuggets of info! I’ve been reading many of your articles over the past several months, but I’m really diving in now… I look forward to continuing the discussion 🙂

        Rex

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rex,

      Feminist theory generally evaluates cultures and societies based on how they treat women compared to men, and based on the relative status of women and men. And that, in my opinion, is not wrong. (See, for example, “A Test for Religious Groups: How do they Treat Women?”) However, I don’t think it gets to the root of the issue of why there is gender inequality in virtually every human society known to history, and why earlier societies are overwhelmingly, if not uniformly, patriarchal, assigning a much higher value to men than to women.

      A more basic issue, in my view, is whether a society is fundamentally materialistic or fundamentally spiritual. Another way of saying this is whether a society focuses primarily on material wealth, power, and pleasure, or whether it focuses primarily on loving and serving God by loving and serving fellow human beings—“the neighbor,” in biblical terminology. Everything else about a society, including its pattern of gender relations, flows from this basic issue of whether it is primarily materialistic in focus or whether it is primarily spiritual and God-centered in focus.

      Specifically on gender relations, we can trace, in the first three books of the Bible, a step-by-step fall from an original gender equality in the first Creation story in Genesis 1, through the beginnings of gender imbalance in the second part of the second Creation story in Genesis 2, to outright dominance of men and submission of women as a result of the Fall described (metaphorically, of course) in Genesis 3. Here are two articles that trace this biblical fall from gender equality to gender inequality in somewhat more detail:

      And see also:

      I won’t repeat everything in those articles here. However, I will point out that what led to the decisive Fall of humankind in Genesis 3, and the “curse on Eve” that included her husband ruling over her (but see: “Curses or Consequences: Did God Really Curse Adam and Eve?”) was Eve, and by implication Adam also, trusting her senses rather than trusting what God had told her:

      So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6, italics added)

      She knew very well that God had commanded them not to eat from this particular tree, because it would result in death to do so (in this case, a spiritual death rather than physical death). But she trusted her senses instead, and followed them over the commandment of God. And that is what led to her becoming subject to her husband’s will.

      In other words, in the mythological stories of the first chapters of Genesis, radical gender inequality is the direct result of trusting in and following our senses—a form of materialism—rather than trusting in and following God—which is the very definition of a spiritual orientation and the resulting spiritual life.

      Following this out into all its detail and ramifications is much more than can be done here. However, one of those ramifications is that in biblical time, marriage and “respectability” for women especially, and also for men, was all about material wealth and property.

      First of all, the more wealthy a person or family was, the more respectable they were. The highest “bride prices” and dowries were associated with wealthy families—both the groom’s family and the bride’s family. The amount of the dowry or “bride price” generally tracked with the value placed on both the woman’s family and the man’s family, not to mention on the bride and the groom individually. A great part of the motivation of marriages in the upper classes was then, and often continues to be today, the forming of financial and political alliances between wealthy families, clans, and nations.

      Further, the main reason men in ancient cultures were so fixated on the issue of the children of their wives being legitimate (i.e., their own biological children) vs. illegitimate (i.e., some other man’s biological children) was that legitimate children were entitled to inherit all or a portion of their father’s wealth and property, along with his name, which, for the eldest son, meant becoming the head of the family, clan, or nation.

      In short, marriage in ancient times was all about personal wealth and power.

      Even for women, marrying into a wealthy family was hugely desired and desirable. A woman who married a wealthy man could count not only on high status and prestige in society, but on a good life with all of her wants supplied, and honor and prestige for her children as well.

      It may seem strange to our modern eyes, for example, that Rebekah so quickly agreed to marry Isaac sight-unseen. (See the story in Genesis 24.) But the great wealth that Abraham’s servant carried with him told her what she needed to know. This Isaac, whom she had never seen (but who was also a relative, another plus) was the son of a wealthy man, who would therefore come into great wealth himself. Rebekah knew that she would have high status in the family and clan that she was marrying into—and she couldn’t say “yes” fast enough!

      This is also the literal-level basis for Jesus’ almost universally misunderstood statement that in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage. Jesus wasn’t saying that people aren’t married in heaven. He was saying that marriage as it existed in that society—as a matter of property, wealth, inheritance, and social prestige—did not exist in heaven. For more on that, please see: “Didn’t Jesus Say There’s No Marriage in Heaven?”—especially the section titled, “And they can no longer die.”

      In general, in a society and culture that focuses primarily on material wealth and power, women will be pushed to a low status in society, and what status they do have will be based primarily on their ability to bear sons who will inherit their father’s wealth and carry on his name in the world after the man dies.

      The ancient cultures in which the Bible was written, not to mention nearly all human societies on earth for at least several thousand years before and after Bible times, were highly materialistic societies. They were focused primarily on the externalities of food, clothing, money, wealth, political power, personal pleasure, and so on.

      In Old Testament times, the culture was so materialistic that there wasn’t even a definite belief in an afterlife and a spiritual realm. Even “salvation” in the Old Testament is entirely about being saved from conquest by other nations, being saved from poverty, infertility, and crop failure, and being saved from other material disasters. “Spirituality” as we know it today didn’t exist in the cultures of the Old Testament. Even their primary acts of worship were purely material—focused on animal sacrifice, which is the ritual slaughtering of a physical, flesh-and-blood animal.

      It is in the New Testament that the issue of material goods and wellbeing vs. spiritual good and wellbeing first becomes a major issue. This is a continual theme in Jesus’ preaching and teaching to the people. For one example, see:

      Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood

      We think of today’s society as materialistic. But our societies have nothing on the materialism of earlier societies. Yes, money and power continue to be major drives of many people in this world. But greater principles of freedom, individual worth, fair dealing, justice, and so on have been enshrined in our laws, constitutions, and culture in a way that simply wasn’t true of earlier societies. Their laws were all about money and power. Even “justice” was all about money and power. The idea that an individual human being had intrinsic worth did not even occur to most people in those days. Jesus was just as radical for treating women and outcasts as if they were valuable people as he was for challenging the existing religious and doctrinal orthodoxy.

      This discussion could go on much longer. But for now, I would simply underline that when it comes to men, women, marriage, sexuality, and so on, the fundamental issue is not how women are treated in relation to men. That is a symptom rather than a cause. The underlying cause of all of man’s inhumanity to woman is individuals and societies valuing material wealth, power, and pleasure over the core spiritual values of loving God above all and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

      And the fundamental difference between marriage in ancient times, as reflected in the Bible and its surrounding cultures, and marriage today is that marriage in biblical times was primarily, if not entirely, a social, political, and financial affair, whereas today, for the first time in recorded human history, marriage is beginning to be re-established on the basis of spiritual values such as mutual love, shared beliefs values, the overall wellbeing and happiness of both the man and the woman, and of their children, and what a married couple together can do for “the neighbor” of the society in which they live. This is a new thing on the earth. And it changes the whole nature of marriage specifically, and of gender relations in general.

      • rex415 says:

        Hi Lee,

        I must say that I have given a lot of thought to your perspective of materialism and then legitimacy even being an offshoot of that materialism as the defining factor for marriage in the ancient world. I’ve literally studied this subject for thousands of hours over a decade and a half, and never quite seen all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together like this, but I think you’re right. And, as you say, these circumstances would almost by default make it the source of inequality and the reason for marriages being so contractual and even mechanical in the ancient world. This makes a lot of sense to me, and I do think it gets to the heart of the matter while shedding an enormous spotlight on what was important, why it was important, and how much different (in a positive way) things are for us today.

        The social system in place made it easy for marriage to come by through an arrangement. Husbands are admonished to “love their wives as Christ loves the church”, but under the system at work, I can imagine how challenging and forced this may have often been. This basic instruction is a good example of you referencing how the New Testament addresses the issue of material goods and wellbeing vs. spiritual good and wellbeing.

        Another interesting insight (I would be curious to know if you have any additional thoughts on this) is that because of the social structures in place, we can see how those societies were actually more materialistic than what we live in today. This is the exact opposite of what we always hear in the pulpit today. We do live in a consumer driven society, and we certainly have our problems with materialism. However, it seems like the church demonizes the social progress we’ve made by trying to reenact an antiquated approach to family life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in church and felt like the message was all about “if we could just do it like they did in the 1st century!”.

        You stated, “The idea that an individual human being had intrinsic worth did not even occur to most people in those days. Jesus was just as radical for treating women and outcasts as if they were valuable people as he was for challenging the existing religious and doctrinal orthodoxy.” It was these very power systems and social structures that Jesus preached against. There always seems to be such a negative spin on “western culture” because it places an emphasis on the individual. Yet, as you mention, it is the individual that mattered so much to Jesus… even at the expense of the family.

        Maybe our approach in the West, when handled maturely, with an inner moral compass and spiritual eyes, is actually an evolution that humanity has been waiting on for a long time. Focusing on the interior goods of mutual love, shared beliefs and values, the overall wellbeing and happiness of both the man and the woman, and of their children, and what a married couple together can do for “the neighbor” of the society in which they live will bring about more good and abundance for couples and the community.

        With this paradigm shift comes new methods for approaching and determining who we should marry and when… and, I think God is just fine with that. I believe He ultimately cares about the motives of our heart and our growth in a positive direction. Sometimes we may take one step back in order to take two steps forward along the way, but that’s life in a fallen world and what is so precious about grace and love over law.

        Thank you again… so many things are coming together. I’ve been reading as many articles as possible, and I’m sure I will have more questions and comments along the way. It’s been a pleasure corresponding with you, and I look forward to our continued discussions.

        Rex

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rex,

          Glad you’re finding the articles and discussion here so helpful in your thought processes.

          About materialism and our current Western culture vs. the cultures of Bible times:

          It is good to recognize that having much wealth is not the same as being materialistic, nor is living in poverty an example of being non-materialistic. Materialism is not an external situation, but an internal attitude. Poor people who are focused entirely on getting daily food and shelter can be just as materialistic as wealthy people who have every material perk and possession they could possibly want right at their fingertips.

          Jesus admonished the poor people who flocked around him for being materialistic, only he did it in plain, ordinary language (as well as in metaphorical language) rather than in abstract philosophical language. He told them not to build up treasures on earth, but to build up treasures in heaven. He told them not to worry about food, drink, and clothing, but to seek God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness.

          His message for wealthy people was not much different. However, if he saw that they had their heart all tied up in their wealth, he would advise them to give up their wealth and follow him instead. By this he didn’t mean just to walk around after him, but to follow his teachings. The idea that Jesus required all wealthy people to give up all of their wealth ignores the wealthy followers of Jesus who did not give up all of their wealth. See: “You Cannot Serve both God and Money.”

          It is a fallacy to think that because our Western political and economic systems have produced great wealth for many people, and have made it possible for the vast bulk of the population not to have to worry every day about whether they’ll have enough to eat, this means that we’re more materialistic today than we were 2,000 years ago when the bulk of the population had to struggle and slave away just to make sure they had even one good meal in a day.

          I believe, perhaps counterintuitively to the mind of many religious folks these days, that when our basic bodily needs are no longer a serious problem, but we have a way to satisfy them reasonably well by doing a reasonable amount of work five or six days a week, that is when we finally have a better opportunity to no longer be materialistic, but to begin to focus more on our spiritual life. This is not a political and economic blog. However, I do not think it is an accident that since the Age of Enlightenment, when, I believe, the Second Coming of the Lord began to take place (see: “Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?”), the political and economic systems of large segments of the world have changed radically, such that we are no longer in the situation where a few royalty live like royalty, while almost everyone else lives in grinding poverty. As a minister colleague of mine is fond of saying, the average person in the developed world today lives better than all of the kings of England.

          Today, many more people have the opportunity to focus their lives on accomplishing something good for their fellow human beings rather than spending all of their waking hours scrabbling for food, clothes, and shelter. And though many people have chosen not to do much of anything for anyone else, many people have chosen to devote their lives to making life better for other people and for society and the world in general. That, I would submit, is a testament to the fact that despite the great wealth of the developed world, we are living in a far less materialistic society today than what existed 2,000 years ago when God came to earth as Jesus Christ in order to stem the downward tide of humanity, and set us on an upward course once again.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rex,

      Now let’s bring all of this together, and bring it to bear on the issue of porneia, illicit sex, in biblical times vs. today.

      In biblical times, the prohibitions on sexual immorality had primarily to do with ensuring social order in general, and legitimate successors for a man’s property and name in particular. Yes, as I say in the above article, the Bible forbids adultery and values marriage. And there is, of course, deeper spiritual meaning to that. However, in the biblical cultures themselves, that valuing of marriage and forbidding of adultery, and other illicit sex that stood in the way of sound marriage, was mostly not about spiritual wellbeing or social justice or even morality vs. immorality. It was about ensuring proper lines of succession, financial inheritance, and political, social, and financial cohesiveness within a culture and with other nations and cultures.

      This was the reason for the famous or infamous double-standard on women’s sexual behavior vs. men’s sexual behavior. It wasn’t just that men had some special perverse desire to be the lord and master of women—though that did also play a role. It was because men were determined to pass on both their genes and their wealth to sons (and daughters) who did carry their own genes.

      And that goes back to basic biological and evolutionary forces—which, of course, are natural, material forces.

      In nature, individuals do not matter. The species matters. Individuals matter only in their ability to pass on superior genes that will ensure the survival of the species in a highly competitive environment. Strong individuals (not in the sense of raw physical strength, but in the sense of being the best “fit” for the environment in which they live), will overpower weaker individuals in passing on their genes, thus strengthening the gene pool as a whole, and providing greater assurance of the continuance of the species.

      And so a man’s desire to pass on his own genes, and to ensure the success of his own genetic line by providing his genetic progeny with all of his wealth and his social and political positioning, goes back to basic biological forces that have been in force since the beginning of biological life on earth.

      Ancient cultures, including the biblical cultures, were driven primarily by these material and biological forces. That was what caused them to create and enforce the particular social structures in which they lived, including its rules about men, women, sex, and marriage.

      Yes, God was working within those cultures to draw humanity upwards toward a higher way of life. But a crucial fact missed by the vast bulk of religious biblical commentators is that in doing so, God was working with people in a highly materialistic, unspiritual time in human history. God therefore had to work within the highly materialistic mindset and culture of those people. The idea that the ancient Jews, or even the early Christians, were highly spiritual people, and that’s why they got to be in the Bible, is a fundamental mistake that runs through the entire history of Judaeo-Christian thought and theology. For a related article, please see:

      How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads

      This is also a critical error made within the Christian Church from its earliest post-apostolic days right up to much of Christianity today when it comes to interpreting the Bible’s teachings and strictures about man, woman, sex, and marriage. There is a basic assumption running through most or all “Christian” commentary (I put it in quotes because post-apostolic church rapidly became Christian in name only—see “Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!”) that the rules on sex and marriage given in the Bible are especially spiritual because the people of Bible times were especially spiritual.

      That is a major fallacy. It has vitiated “Christian” teaching about sex and marriage almost from the beginning of Christianity.

      Most of the rules given in the Bible about sex and marriage were given precisely because the people were not spiritual.

      Why did Paul spend so much time telling the Corinthians and others how not to behave sexually? It was because the Christian communities he was addressing were continuing many of the same sexual immoralities, driven by lust and desire, as they had before they became Christians. He had to give them hard and fast rules precisely because they had a very physical-minded view of sex and marriage, which inclined them to have sex in any way that felt good and was acceptable in the wider culture, rather than from any real marital love or commitment.

      In other words, on the literal level, nearly all of the rules on sex and marriage given in the Bible are addressed to people who are materialistic and unspiritual, driven primarily by physical urges and desires. For such people, strict laws, with strict penalties for disobedience, must be laid down and strictly enforced. Otherwise society will fall into ruin as people follow every urge that comes from between their legs rather than following their heads and living in a moderate and sensible way.

      Even today, people who are driven primarily by physical and material drives and desires must still be hemmed in by strict laws and severe penalties for breaking them. We still throw the book of the law at people who flagrantly violate basic ethics and morality, and cause harm to people in doing so. If we didn’t, even our society today would disintegrate into chaos.

      However, what’s different today is that for the first time in recorded human history, many people are beginning to live based on an internal moral compass, and higher principles, instead of just following the money, power, and pleasure. In other words, for the first time in history, a truly spiritual culture and society is beginning to emerge from the materialism that has prevailed in human society since ancient times. And for people who live based on an inner sense of morality and ethics, the old external obedience- and law-based morality is no longer necessary, even if it can still provide some guidelines for good behavior.

      This theme of making a transition from purely external, law-based “obedience” morality to an inner “faith”-based morality runs throughout the New Testament—both the Gospels and the Epistles. Unfortunately, the biblical term “faith” has been so badly misinterpreted and mangled in an overly intellectualized “Christian” theology that it almost can’t be used anymore with its original biblical meaning of living according to a higher law based on an inner devotion to what is just and right. See: “Faith Alone Is Not Faith.”

      Back to the point on sexual morality today vs. sexual morality in biblical times:

      In biblical times, sexual morality was all about ensuring a stable society and the proper passing on of property and wealth, as well as forging advantageous financial and political ties.

      Today, for people who are no longer focused primarily on material wealth and power, sexual morality is primarily about providing the best path toward true inner spiritual marriage—which, contrary to the false doctrine of present-day Christianity, is an eternal state and relationship.

      That’s why in the articles about sexuality and marriage here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life, the primary question about any particular sexual activity is, “Does it lead toward faithful monogamous marriage, or does it lead away from faithful monogamous marriage?” Any sexual behavior that tends to vitiate and destroy people’s ability to engage in true spiritual marriage based on mutual love, shared values, and so on, is immoral from a spiritual (not merely a materialistic) perspective. Any sexual behavior that values and leads to—or at least can lead to—true spiritual marriage is good, or at least not terribly evil.

      In order to craft a sexual morality for today, in comparison to the sexual morality that existed in Biblical times and in the history of a corrupted “Christianity,” we must put all of the old drivers of “morality” based on material wealth, power, social standing, and so on, on the back burner. Yes, they have some importance, and shouldn’t be ignored altogether. But their importance pales in comparison to the importance of building a character in children, teens, and adults that looks toward, values, and is able to engage in faithful, monogamous, spiritual, and eternal marriage.

      The beginnings of such a morality are contained in the above article, and in some of the articles about true spiritual marriage linked at the end of it. For now, I’ll leave you to read those linked articles if you so desire, and to continue the conversation according to your interest.

      • rex415 says:

        Hi Lee,

        I think these two comments you made are very insightful and one’s that began to surface in my mind but were never able to quite materialize…

        “The idea that the ancient Jews, or even the early Christians, were highly spiritual people, and that’s why they got to be in the Bible, is a fundamental mistake that runs through the entire history of Judaeo-Christian thought and theology.” And… “There is a basic assumption running through most or all “Christian” commentary that the rules on sex and marriage given in the Bible are especially spiritual because the people of Bible times were especially spiritual.”

        If we take an honest look at society during the Roman empire, for example, these people were killing physically and mentally handicapped people with wild animals for sport and fun… they actually enjoyed this. And, as we’ve discussed before, prostitution and even pedophilia was out of control. The thought of visiting multiple prostitutes on any given weekend was no big deal and just accepted at normal. Humanity was in a much lower evolved spiritual state at this point in time.

        You also state, “In biblical times, the prohibitions on sexual immorality had primarily to do with ensuring social order in general, and legitimate successors for a man’s property and name in particular.” And… “In other words, on the literal level, nearly all of the rules on sex and marriage given in the Bible are addressed to people who are materialistic and unspiritual, driven primarily by physical urges and desires. For such people, strict laws, with strict penalties for disobedience, must be laid down and strictly enforced. Otherwise society will fall into ruin as people follow every urge that comes from between their legs rather than following their heads and living in a moderate and sensible way.”

        Given my previous comments, I totally agree with this. In fact, several months ago I made a lengthy journal entry on how it seemed to me that marriage was the vehicle that was prescribed to make sure things didn’t get out of control. It was a practical solution to maintaining order. This is where everything you’ve outlined about the materialism and need for legitimacy within that social structure was the driving force behind the reasons for why they did what they did. One can only imagine the situation Paul was walking into… it was a ticking time bomb, so like you said, he had to lay down some strict guidelines.

        An analogy that comes to mind is a middle school teacher walking into a class of 30 out of control 5th and 6th graders… fights are breaking out and no one is able to get anything done. The teacher has to give them all assigned seating for the rest of the year and enforce class rules in order to keep the peace and be productive. Compare that to a college level class where students are more mature and have an “inner moral compass”. They’re allowed to sit where they want, share notes and have productive discussions. They keep the peace themselves, and I think this is more like where we are today.

        My above comment falls in line with your thoughts, “However, what’s different today is that for the first time in recorded human history, many people are beginning to live based on an internal moral compass, and higher principles, instead of just following the money, power, and pleasure. In other words, for the first time in history, a truly spiritual culture and society is beginning to emerge from the materialism that has prevailed in human society since ancient times. And for people who live based on an inner sense of morality and ethics, the old external obedience- and law-based morality is no longer necessary, even if it can still provide some guidelines for good behavior.”

        If we look across the trajectory of human history as a whole, and even within the Bible itself, we can see humanity progressing in awareness and consciousness. With this progress and evolution is going to come new social situations and circumstances that have to be addressed, and new situations and new circumstances often require new solutions. Many people try to copy and paste a literal reading of scripture on to these new social realities by saying that “you can’t let culture dictate morality”, but I think this misses the point completely. The biblical authors were using principles in their time and place to make their best decisions. It seems to me that wisdom tells us to use the biblical principles of love, mercy, understanding, etc… and apply them to whatever our situations may be. This is what it means to live under grace, love, and the spirit of the law instead of the letter of the law, which is not the same thing as letting culture dictate morality.

        Additionally, the average person who cares about truth and spiritual growth now has access to information from literally millions of sources at their fingertips through the internet. The days of one person in town (the pastor) having all of the answers (his viewpoints and interpretations) are long gone. People can do their own asking, seeking, and knocking and learn more about the ancient world than anyone in the centuries before us. The ability to track and analyze the influence of Greek philosophy and thought over the centuries before and after Jesus, and then see its impact on the development of the church and its doctrines would never have been comprehensible to the degree it is now. I believe this is one reason why the church has lost credibility in a lot of people’s eyes, and more and more people are truly doing their best to nurture their relationship with God on a very personal level.

        Any thoughts you have on my comments are greatly appreciated, and I would like to know what you think about a few other things:

        1. Many conservative viewpoints on biblical sex and marriage stress the issue of “purity” and the prize of virginity. Then they often use the reference of Christ as the bridegroom and the church as his pure bride to support this. How do we answer this? Based on the premise of materialism and legitimacy, it seems like that may have been the best way for them to describe things? I feel that a purity of heart is the overwhelming message in the New Testament.

        2. Building on the purity theme, we rapidly saw the early church turn virginity into a spiritual value that was even higher than marriage. It became an act of works righteousness that made them holier, undefiled, and closer to God (in their eyes). Not only is this completely contradictory to the Jewish roots of Christianity, but it undermines the righteousness that we have in Christ. As if somehow by observing strict treatment of the body and observance to external rules they would be more acceptable to God.

        Thanks again for all of the time you dedicate to reading and responding to the many questions and posts that appear on your site. It truly is a blessing, and while no two people will ever see everything the same way, it is so enriching to meet similar minds and hearts.

        Rex

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rex,

          Yes, the idealization of ancient cultures flies in the face of all the known facts of how the people of those times actually lived. Yes, today there are people who enjoy bullfighting, cock fights, and so on, in which animals die. But I can’t really imagine in this day and age filling a stadium full of people who are there to watch various classes of undesirable people get disemboweled by gladiators and wild animals. Yes, we have movies of that sort of thing today. But everyone watching those movies knows that no humans or animals are actually getting sliced and diced. The fact that one of the main entertainments provided by the Roman state for its citizens was these gory spectacles says all that needs to be said about the nature of those societies. And though the ancient Israelites didn’t have such spectacles, they were, like the people around them, a bloody lot, not only in the many wars and battles they fought, but in their practice of execution by stoning and other barbarous practices. The fact that these were some of the best people God could call on in order to provide a lasting Word of God for humanity shows just how low humanity had stooped spiritually in those times.

          Incidentally, it is also not an error that the Word of God was written during those spiritually low and culturally brutal times. The guttural nature of the people of those days provided a very concrete literal sense for the Word of God that would not have been possible in more spiritual and philosophical times. This meant that the written Word of God was complete from the highest divine level through all of the levels of human awareness and spiritual development down to the very lowest level to which humanity could fall. It is therefore able to speak to people in all states of spiritual development or lack thereof—unlike more “advanced, high-level” religious and philosophical texts that are able to reach only the educated, philosophically advanced, and spiritually aware segments of the human population. The Word of God does not leave anyone out in elitist fashion.

          About the evangelical Christian “purity culture” of the 1990s and 2000s, as you’re probably aware, Joshua Harris, one of its key proponents, has now entirely disavowed what he wrote in his best-selling books on pre-marital purity. He has also recently announced that he and his wife of 20 years are divorcing, and that he no longer considers himself a Christian. This all seems emblematic of the general demise of the whole premise that teens and young adults who practice strict sexual “purity” will set themselves up for a long and happy married life. Life, and marriage, just aren’t that simple. Harris has apologized to people whose sexual and marital lives were harmed by what he wrote in those books as a young adult. (Does a 21-year-old really have the experience to write a manual on healthy preparation for marriage?) He has also made a particular apology to the LGBTQ+ community for his earlier opposition to marriage equality.

          If Harris had grown up with Swedenborg instead of with evangelical Christianity, perhaps he would still be a Christian. It is to his credit that he was willing to recognize his earlier errors. But I suspect even that wouldn’t have happened if all the unrealistic things he believed about sex and marriage had not been smashed by his own deteriorating marriage, which is now ending in divorce. In my experience, people heavily embedded in conservative religious movements usually require a serious life crisis in order to break free from all of the false doctrine and theology they have been taught, and have embraced and defended.

          As far as Christ as bridegroom and the Church as the bride, since when has the church—which is made up of human beings—ever been pure and clean in God’s sight? If God required purity in God’s bride, the Church would never make it to the altar. There is no biblical basis for the idea that God requires complete purity in human beings in order to love us and want to spiritually marry us. In fact, the book of Hosea presents a graphic picture of the wanton nature of humanity when God commands the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute in order to depict God’s relationship with God’s people, the Israelites. Further, as the above article points out, nowhere does the Bible prohibit sex before marriage, and it certainly doesn’t prohibit any kissing, hugging, or physical contact before marriage. All of this is a product of the sex-addled imaginations of conservative Christians, who have absolutely no idea what sex and marriage are all about. They deny that marriage is a spiritual and eternal relationship, and consider it to be a merely earthly relationship whose primary purpose is procreation. They are the blind leading the blind, and they are falling into their own pit.

          No human being is pure. The idea that we can “preserve our purity” is silly and ridiculous. We start out impure. Our job is to gradually cleanse ourselves so that we can have a good life instead of an evil one. And at no time will we ever be entirely pure:

          What are mortals, that they could be pure,
          or those born of woman, that they could be righteous?
          If God places no trust in his holy ones,
          if even the heavens are not pure in his eyes,
          how much less mortals, who are vile and corrupt,
          who drink up evil like water! (Job 15:14–16)

          Evangelical “purity culture” is entirely unrealistic. It assumes that human beings—and young, inexperienced, foolish human beings at that—are capable of achieving a level of purity that not even the angels of heaven can fully attain. The result has been young people with major phobias and complexes about sex, who are often incapable of handling the messiness and the beauty of real marriage with a fellow flawed flesh-and-blood human being. What sex they do have is likely to be rather cold and insipid because of the sneaking suspicion inculcated in them by their false teachers that sex is inevitably a dirty, animal thing unbecoming a “true Christian.”

          It is better to recognize that we humans are impure, and lay out a pathway by which we can move away from the worst forms of impurity and toward more healthy ways of expressing our sexuality and our deep desire for oneness with another person. That is a basic premise behind many of the articles about sex and marriage here at Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life.

          If, in your second numbered point, you are referring to the movement of “Christianity” toward exalting celibacy above marriage, I completely agree. This only shows that the Christian Church had (and still has) no understanding whatsoever about the God-given nature of marriage as a highly spiritual and eternal union of two people into one. The Christian Church has, almost from the beginning, had a wholly materialistic, physical-minded view of marriage. That is why it put so many strictures on sex and marriage, and why it ultimately elevated celibacy above marriage as a more “spiritual” state. The exact opposite is the case, as Swedenborg covers in detail in his book on marriage love.

          God did not create two sexes, and give them sexual organs with exquisite abilities to feel pleasure, in order to prohibit us from using and enjoying them. The very first commandment God gives to humans in the very first chapter of the Bible is to “be fruitful and multiply,” or in plain terms, to have sex and have babies. Sex is not some taboo in God’s eyes. It is the physical expression of the greatest gift that God has given to humanity: the gift of marriage, in which two people can become one in spirit, in body, and in life. In downgrading, denigrating, and nearly destroying God’s gift of the supreme beauties and pleasures that are possible in a loving marital and sexual relationship, Christianity has set its face against the great love that our Creator has for us, and the great joy that our Creator wants to give to us.

          This is not to say that sex and marriage can’t be corrupted into horribly destructive things. As we’re well aware from thousands of years of human experience, what God created to be the highest and best experience of relationship that humans can have with one another, when corrupted, becomes the worst, most damaging, most exploitative, and most destructive experience possible to human beings. That is a reflection of the general principle that the best things, when corrupted, become the worst things. The lowest and worst hells are opposite to the highest and most beautiful heavens. Despite that danger of corruption, we humans are still meant to aim for the highest. And though most of us have a long way to go in order to achieve the full beauties that are possible in a mutually loving spiritual and physical marriage, it is a goal well worth doing the hard work required to achieve it. This will not happen by clinging to some false and unattainable “purity culture.” Rather, it will happen by recognizing how far we are from being pure, and doing the hard work of expelling our wrong desires, thoughts, and feelings from their ruling perch in our mind and heart, and replacing them with better, more thoughtful, and more loving desires, thoughts, feelings, and actions.

          For a lighthearted approach to this theme of a commitment to personal spiritual growth as an essential requirement of good and lasting marriage, please see:

          How to Attract the Opposite Sex—and Keep ’Em

  25. K says:

    Speaking of extramarital sex, an article (https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2015/may/19/equality-and-polyamory-why-early-humans-werent-the-flintstones) argues that early humans were into polyamory.

    I guess the research is jumping to conclusions using known biology and traits of hunter-gatherer societies today, as Swedenborg said that humans began monogamous and later slid into non-monogamy (as described in Conjugal Love)?

    • Lee says:

      Hi K,

      Thanks for the link. Interesting article. However, despite its rather conclusive ending, it would be more accurate to say that this is a matter of much debate, on which we do not have any solid conclusions.

      Honestly, Swedenborg’s statements about the nature of early humans are not, in my mind, his most convincing and reliable ones. In his day there was very little science on early human life. The theory of evolution did not even exist yet. The general assumption was that God simply created us out of thin air about 6,000 years ago. Even Swedenborg didn’t have a lot to go on by way of an alternate timeline for humanity.

      We now know that the human species goes back much farther, not just thousands of years, or even tens of thousands of years, but hundreds of thousands of years, with hominid roots going back several million years. We also know that humans didn’t just pop onto the scene fully formed, but developed from earlier species. Swedenborg did not know any of this because the science involved did not yet exist.

      This means that it’s a very tricky proposition to attempt to harmonize Swedenborg’s view of early humanity, based largely on the early chapters of the Bible interpreted spiritually rather than literally, together with various ancient Greek and Roman mythical and poetic writings, with present-day scientific knowledge of human origins and evolution.

      I, for one, am loath to make any hard-and-fast statements about it. About as far as I’ve gotten is to believe that the stories of the creation of humans in the first two chapters of Genesis are not about God literally creating human beings, but about when hominid animals first developed a spiritual awareness, and thus became human according to Swedenborg’s definition of a human being, as a being with the higher spiritual levels of consciousness in addition to the earthly level of consciousness that lower animals have.

      About sex and marriage among early humans, once again, I think the jury is still out on that. It’s quite possible that some segments of humanity were monogamous as Swedenborg said early humans were, while others were not. After all, the Bible implies that there were other humans on earth in the times of Adam and Eve and the following generations when it simply assumes that the various male offspring detailed in the early genealogies somehow found mates, presumably without engaging in incest with their siblings and other close relations.

      In other words, the story of Adam and Eve and the generations that follow could well be the story of only one strand of humanity, rather than the story of all humans on earth. Perhaps that strand was monogamous, while others were not. One thing the article you linked does argue fairly convincingly is that human culture is not monolithic, but is complex and varied across the the earth and its continents, regions, and cultures.

      These, at any rate, are some of my rather tentative thoughts on this subject. For a more organized and informed attempt at correlating Swedenborg’s ages of humanity with what we know from history, mythology, and paleontology, see:

      The Five Ages: Swedenborg’s View of Spiritual History, by P.L. Johnson

      • rex415 says:

        Hi Lee,

        Thank you again for the very thoughtful responses… just a couple of comments and questions to your reply in my previous post:

        1. I am aware of Joshua Harris, but I was unaware of the impending divorce and him leaving the faith… very sad. If the teachings around sex and marriage in our times leave people frustrated, repressed, anxious, and even oppressed, shouldn’t we question whether they are correct? When these things happen they tend to manifest in very harmful ways. And, I always think about Jesus and his teachings about how law was mad for man, and not the other way around.

        2. Many people interpret Matthew 5:19 and its reference to “one flesh” meaning sex and therefore a prohibition on premarital sex. How would you respond to this? I always felt the one flesh reference in this context was referring to the full life a husband and wife share together, not just the act of sex.

        BTW, I read your article How to Attract the Opposite Sex—and Keep ’Em and thought it was great! While we often have to jump through many hoops in today’s world to attract our mate, it takes much more to maintain that attraction and keep them. A lifetime of growth, support, fun, love, and a commitment by both people is a tall order, but one that I do believe is well worth it.

        Rex

        • rex415 says:

          Hi Lee… apologies, but I forgot to ask one more thing. In one of your earlier responses on the materialistic nature of the ancient society you said that the church has made a big error in assuming that most of the Biblical advice on sex and marriage was especially spiritual, precisely because the people were so unspiritual… it was more pragmatic in nature. “In biblical times, sexual morality was all about ensuring a stable society and the proper passing on of property and wealth, as well as forging advantageous financial and political ties.”

          How would we respond to folks who look to the Matthew 5:19 passage and claim that the advice is spiritual since God designed marriage?

          Thank you again for all of your time with this…I’m just dotting as many “I’s” and crossing as many “T’s” as possible… hour insight is a great service!

          Rex

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rex,

          As with everything in the Bible, Matthew 19:5 contains both material and spiritual messages. In its literal sense, the Bible is all about ancient Hebrew culture, and later about Hebrew culture embedded in Greek and Roman culture. But within that literal, cultural meaning, there are deeper spiritual meanings that are universal, and that apply to our inner life (which will then be expressed in our outer life), and not just to our outward behavior. See:

          How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rex,

          1. The announcement by Joshua Harris and his wife that they are getting divorced is quite recent. It prompted a whole spate of articles and blog posts about evangelical purity culture, from all different perspectives. However, Harris has apparently been moving away from his former hard-line (and unbiblical) stance on “courtship” instead of dating for several years now.

          As much as I disagree with the fundamentalists and evangelicals, I do have some sympathy for them—at least, for the ones that aren’t just full-on hypocrites. They believe that they must take the Bible literally, because they can think only in literal terms. Rejecting the Bible in its literal meaning would, for them, mean rejecting the Bible, which would mean rejecting Jesus Christ, and their faith. So they cling to all sorts of beliefs that to outsiders look outlandish because they feel that they have to.

          Still, those beliefs are wrong, and most of them are not even stated in the Bible—which is the really ironic thing. Most of the basics of Protestant theology were originated by human beings, and are not in the Bible itself. But they are taught that this is what the Bible says. They believe that the Bible teaches faith alone, God as three Persons, that only Christians can be saved, that it’s what you believe that matters, not what you do, and so on. And when they read the Bible, that’s all they see in it, despite the fact that the Bible never actually says any of these things. It is truly a marvel.

          When it comes to sex and marriage, most of what they believe and teach is, likewise, never stated in the Bible. When it comes to “purity culture,” as shown in the above article, the Bible never even gives a clear prohibition against sex before marriage, let alone prohibiting hand-holding, hugging, and kissing as “purity culture” does. It’s just a whole lot of rules piled upon rules that have nothing to do with either the letter or the spirit of the Bible. What the Bible actually teaches has long since been replaced by human-invented doctrines.

          And the greatest irony is that in practice, they violate their own principles wholesale. They preach salvation by faith alone, and reject “works righteousness” in theory. But in practice, they lay down law after law that must be strictly obeyed, and condemn to hell anyone who slips up on the least one of them. They are the ultimate in law- and obedience-based religion even while preaching that we are “saved by faith alone, apart from the works of the law” (to use Luther’s mistranslation of Romans 3:28. The word “alone” does not appear in the original Greek).

          Young men and women who accept their pharisaical teachings who slip up and even kiss someone they are attracted to feel that they’ve become eternally impure, and will roast in hell. Then, quite commonly, they go all the way to the other extreme, and plunge into unrestrained sex. Alternatively, they hide their indiscretions and pretend to be pure within their church and community, but feel secretly guilty, and are never able to enjoy a full and happy love life even after they get married. They feel that they are “spoiled,” and that sex is inevitably impure and tainted with evil for them. Plus, the whole atmosphere and attitude about sex in their churches is that it is dangerous, “fleshly,” and just a little bit dirty even for married couples. It is a terrible shame to do that to one of God’s greatest gifts to humankind.

          As I said earlier, in my experience, confirmed fundamentalists and evangelicals are rarely able to throw off the heavy yoke and burden that has been laid upon them by their churches’ false and unbiblical doctrines unless they have a major life crisis, such as a divorce. I suspect that Joshua Harris’s marriage has been failing for many years, and that this caused him to radically question his hard-line evangelical beliefs.

          Unfortunately, many people who have had their fundamentalist faith smashed in this way go all the way over into atheism. The ranks of atheism are full of former evangelicals and fundamentalists. And strange to say, many of them still have the same literalistic view of the Bible. It’s just than now they reject what the Bible says (literally) instead of embracing it. I’ve had debates with atheists in which I suggested that the Bible has a deeper meaning. The atheists completely rejected this as a ridiculous idea. Underneath it all, they were materialists while they were Christians, and they are still materialists as atheists. They simply cannot see anything of the deeper spiritual level of human life. The Bible, to them, is therefore a closed book.

          Speaking of atheists, if you haven’t already read it, here is the first of a five-part series that you might enjoy:

          God Is Unconvincing To Smart Folks? – Part 1

          (I had looked this article up to link in response to another recent comment, and thought you might be interested as well.)

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rex,

          2. Literally, of course, becoming “one flesh” does refer to sexual intercourse.

          However, sexual intercourse, in a positive sense, is a correspondence and reflection of an inner oneness between married partners. When two people who are inwardly one express that inner oneness physically, it flows into lovemaking, which is the closest two people can be to one another physically, just as the married couple are the closest they can be to each other spiritually. This, of course, is true only of couples who are spiritually married. For other people, sexual intercourse is an expression of biological and emotional drives. However, even that can change into a sex life that expresses an inner oneness for people who find and develop that inner oneness with a congenial partner.

          In the Bible’s spiritual meaning, “flesh,” in a positive sense, represents a person’s fundamental inner goodness, or will, or “ruling love.” When two people become “one flesh” spiritually, they are joined together in their inner primary will or love, and from that they become joined in their thoughts, their actions, and their lives as well. Here is how Swedenborg puts it in Arcana Coelestia #10169. The translation is a bit old-fashioned, but I think you’ll get the idea, though you may need to read it a couple times:

          From these considerations it is evident that love which is indeed conjugial [marital] is a union of two people on inner levels, on the levels of thought and will, and so on those of truth and good since truth belongs to thought and good to the will. One in whom that love is present loves what the other thinks and what the other wills, and so also loves to think in the same way and to will the same things as the other does, consequently to be united to the other and become so to speak one human being. This is what is meant by the Lord’s words in Matthew,

          And the two will become one flesh; therefore they are no longer two, but one flesh. Matthew 19:4–6; Genesis 2:23–24.

          See also Marriage Love #156b. (Scroll down to 156b. Unfortunately, Swedenborg repeated a whole series of section numbers here, which really messes up references to these sections.)

          Glad you enjoyed the “How to Attract the Opposite Sex” article. I had a little too much fun writing that one! 😀

  26. rex415 says:

    Hi Lee,

    Thank you again for such thoughtful and thorough responses… I truly appreciate it! I’d like to highlight some of the comments you made, and give you my take… please let me know if you have an opinion on my responses. And, then I have a couple of interesting questions at the end that I’d like for you to consider.

    1. You stated, “Most of the basics of Protestant theology were originated by human beings, and are not in the Bible itself. But they are taught that this is what the Bible says. They believe that the Bible teaches faith alone, God as three Persons, that only Christians can be saved, that it’s what you believe that matters, not what you do, and so on. And when they read the Bible, that’s all they see in it, despite the fact that the Bible never actually says any of these things. It is truly a marvel.”

    – It has taken me a while, but I truly believe that the first message of the gospel and what the scriptures and New Testament actually state within the context of the first century quickly became heavily influenced by the earliest followers who were of Greek and Pagan origins. I do believe the Holy Spirit works in spite of human bias and error, but the perspective that the earliest church had it all right and developed the perfect “orthodoxy” on doctrine and moral practice because the Holy Spirit was behind their every move and outcome seems hard for me to grasp. I say this because the things many of these early converts believed and taught were rather outlandish. For example, a close study of the culture in that day reveals one where they viewed women as literally “deformed or incomplete versions of men” who were also much less intelligent. All of this is evident in the writings of the early church fathers. And, if Paul was attempting to bring a sense of liberty and equality to women, the early church fathers used the scriptures to oppress them and exercise authority over them. To your point, women were not property unless they were slaves, but they were never considered on par with men. I also find it interesting that the two things the Greek and Pagan philosophers of the day were most suspicious of were women and sex. And, it was these two things that they became the most controlling with. If they could use scripture to subordinate women as much as possible then they would do the same with sex. All of this coming from men who knew nothing of the female anatomy, human biology, and who completely contradicted the goodness of sexual pleasure as expressed throughout 1,000 years in the Old Testament. One of the biggest mistakes that I believe has been made over the span of Christianity is reading scripture through a Greek lens, which speaks to your point above. The NT was written by Jews, so understanding the Jewish origins brings a much clearer understanding of the text rather than trying to read it through a Greek philosophical lens.

    2. You stated, “And the greatest irony is that in practice, they violate their own principles wholesale. They preach salvation by faith alone, and reject “works righteousness” in theory. But in practice, they lay down law after law that must be strictly obeyed, and condemn to hell anyone who slips up on the least one of them. They are the ultimate in law- and obedience-based religion even while preaching that we are “saved by faith alone, apart from the works of the law” (to use Luther’s mistranslation of Romans 3:28. The word “alone” does not appear in the original Greek).

    – This has been an area of hypocrisy that I have witnessed in the church over many decades. On one hand, they say that if you do anything differently than “how it’s done in the Bible”, or “how it’s done in the NT”, then you are going against the Holy Spirit. Then they turn around and pick and choose for you which of these to follow literally and which ones to side step… seems like nonsense to me. I believe a close study of Paul’s writings and theology will reveal a life that is free of rules yet constrained by love. It is literally impossible for love to fulfill God’s law if some things are just inherently sinful. I do not see how a man could possibly write, “The letter kills but the Spirit gives life”, “I died to law that I might live for Christ”, “Christ is the end of Law for righteousness”, “It is for freedom that Christ set you free… use your freedom to serve in love and not harm one another”, “You are not under law but under grace”, “All things are permissible but not all things edify”… and then turn around and write a new set of “commands contained in ordinances”. All of this aligns with Jesus and his teachings about loving God above all else and loving our neighbor as ourselves… fulfilling the Law and the Prophets.

    And all of the above aligns with an assertion that you’ve often made in comments and other articles… that God is “pragmatic and reasonable” with us. He knows that life and this world is not perfect, so He allows for less than the ideal without condemning us. The principles of no harm, help when you can, and use wisdom permeate scripture, and anywhere people live by this inner moral compass then they have God’s law written on their hearts…

    I believe the entire message of the gospel and gist of the NT is that we are saved by God’s grace which should translate into His love being expressed through us in how we live our lives. Jesus is the logos (logic) and perfect Word, so we can experience that oneness with our creator on the most personal level.

    3. You stated, “…in my experience, confirmed fundamentalists and evangelicals are rarely able to throw off the heavy yoke and burden that has been laid upon them by their churches’ false and unbiblical doctrines unless they have a major life crisis, such as a divorce. I suspect that Joshua Harris’s marriage has been failing for many years, and that this caused him to radically question his hard-line evangelical beliefs.

    – I can relate to this experience. When I was 29 I married the love of my life… I truly loved her more after we were married than the 3 years we dated up to our marriage (even though I was head over heels in love with her while we dated!). We went to church twice a week, had good jobs, a house and a white picket fence… a year into the marriage I was blind-sided when she said she wanted a divorce. She said she got married for the wrong reasons, and six weeks later the divorce was final. I forgave her, wished her the best, and still pray for her happiness to this day.

    The whole situation caused me to take a much closer look at everything I had been told and taught. My view of God as this black/white judge over my life was not very workable or accurate as I started to delve deeper into my studies and prayer. Doctrines of “exclusivisim” didn’t add up to any sense in my spirit, and it went against many things that I found in scripture itself.

    Additionally, a literal reading of scripture forced an ancient world into a modern situation… it was as if the Bible was God, and to do differently was to go against God. Jesus said he would leave us a “Helper” in the Holy Spirit. He never said He would leave us a book; however, we would need this book to learn about Him and the purpose of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

    When it came to the issue of premarital sex as we know it in today’s world, it seemed more and more apparent that this was another layer of “works righteousness” with strict rules that had no care or account for the many different situations that people might find themselves in today’s world. It was very easy for married preachers and couples to quote scripture from an ivory tower without having any understanding of the shoes that many people in the congregation were walking in. Try telling a middle-aged divorced man that he had to suck it up and dive into marriage again right away if he desired and even needed intimacy and companionship (and that’s assuming he could find someone to marry right away). Never mind that he may have just lost half of his life savings, a wife he loved, and may only get to see his kids part of the time… I see no grace, compassion, love, or understanding coming from that perspective… I see no Jesus in that perspective at all. Jesus embraced those who were in challenging situations and understood that life was not black and white and had to be treated with human need and circumstances in mind. Jesus was pragmatic with people… and this is how we should view God.

    Furthermore, the masses of individuals who love God with all their heart but have serious questions about strict teachings from religious authorities now have access to information and resources that weren’t available 20 years ago, much less 200, 500, or 2,000 years ago. As intelligent believers do their own diligent asking, seeking, and knocking, they are finding all sorts of holes in many things religious leaders have just passed down to them as eternal truths. Even as well intentioned as many of these leaders may be, they too were very limited to their own experiences and perspectives. Your insights regarding the materialistic nature of society and its force on the reasons “why” certain things were done a certain way regarding marriage, sex, and relationships between men and women is an excellent example of this. And, your additional insight that there’s an underlying false assumption that all of the advice given to the people in the 1st century was especially spiritual in nature because the people were spiritual is truly eye opening. Most of what was given was about being pragmatic and keeping things running smoothly within the community and keeping people away from very harmful situations… this perspective has been completely lost by traditional interpretations, missing the point. More and more people are seeing the truth, freedom, and benefit in applying principles to varying life situations rather than living by rigid rules… I believe this is a sign of spiritual maturity and progress of humanity in general and what the scriptures point us to.

    I’d love to hear any comments you may have about my thoughts… I have a couple of specifics I’d like to ask you in my next post…

    Rex

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rex,

      On your first point:

      By the time the New Testament was written, Greek (and also Roman) culture had already heavily affected Judaism. Even those Jews who were not Hellenistic Jews were affected by living within a Mediterranean region that had been heavily influenced and colonized by Greeks and Greek culture from Alexander onward. Yes, the New Testament was written by Jews, but it was written in Greek, not Hebrew.

      Though I agree with some of your assessment of the negative influence of Greek philosophy on early Christianity, not all Greek influence was bad. In particular, where Hebrew culture and religion was heavily external and behavioral in focus, Greek philosophy introduced a sense of deeper meaning within external things, and of self-contemplation and self-awareness, especially in its Platonic strain. Jesus drew heavily on this sense of deeper spiritual meanings and realities, and of the inner human experience, in his teachings in general, and in his common method of teaching through parables. Without that Greek influence on Hebrew culture, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for Jesus’ Jewish followers and early Jewish converts to Christianity to make such a radical transition from a law- and obedience-based religious paradigm to the inner faith- and spirit-based paradigm of Christianity.

      However, I do tend to agree that when it came to the status and treatment of women, the Greek influence was not good. Yes, Hebrew culture, like all cultures of that day, assigned women a lower status than men. But women were seen as originally created in the image and likeness of God just as men were (Genesis 1:26–27). Even the second creation account of woman being created out of man does not picture woman as a “defective” man, but as a “helpmeet” for man. And woman’s subordination to man is connected in Genesis 3 to Eve’s disobedience to God’s commandment. It is not presented as essential to the nature of woman, but as a result of falling away from God’s commandments.

      Further, though the law in the Hebrew Bible was generally addressed to men, it was assumed that it applied both to women and to men. Men were not some special class of human, nor were women a special sub-class. Except where the law was applied explicitly to men, such as in the law of circumcision, men and women were equally subject to the law. And when punishments were meted out, though there were still vestiges of communal punishment for individual sins, for the most part, the individual, whether man or woman, was subject to the penalty. A husband not penalized for his wife’s sins; the woman herself was penalized.

      And as you say, marriage and sexuality were considered good, God-given, and the ideal state. Priests were not celibate, but married. As for sexual pleasure, though it does have its panegyric in the Song of Solomon, elsewhere it is not talked about all that much. Solomon was, unfortunately, a bit of a playboy. Okay, he was a big playboy, having 700 wives and 300 concubines according to 1 Kings 11:1–3. Probably not the best example to follow. Aside from its political pragmatism, his view of sexuality was clearly physical-minded. Even though subsequent religious scholars have often spiritualized the Song of Solomon, the Song itself is all about the woman’s physical attributes and the physical pleasures associated with them.

      Solomon’s “fleshly” view of sexuality was probably representative of the ancient Hebrew people in general. They did not have any truly spiritual view of anything, including sexuality. When the Hebrew Bible speaks of a man “loving” a woman, though it may have included an appreciation of a woman’s virtues, it probably had little in common with what we think of as romantic love today. The story of Isaac and Rebekah, for example, makes a point of mentioning Rebekah’s physical beauty and her virginity (Genesis 24:15–16).

      Still, pragmatically, the ancient Jews saw sex as a good thing. There was none of the sense of dirtiness and shame about sexuality that later invaded Christianity.

      Another area in which Greek and Roman philosophy and culture invaded Christianity in a negative way was in the development of his doctrine, and particularly its doctrine of the nature of God. It is telling that the early treatments of the Trinity of Persons had to use Latin and Greek philosophical terminology and concepts to define the nature of God as a “Trinity of Persons.” There were no terms in the Hebrew and Greek Bibles themselves that could be used in defining the Trinity of Persons, because it is not a biblical concept.

      In general, though, I would say that the downfall of Christian doctrine and practice was not fundamentally a product of “infection” by Greek philosophy, but rather of corruption by the basic human vices of lust for wealth, power, and pleasure, together with the materialism and physical-mindedness that usually accompanies these human motives. Once such corruption begins to take over the human heart, any material available, whether it be the Bible or Greek philosophy, will be similarly corrupted in order to provide support for the corrupt desires of the heart.

      In particular, I believe that the doctrinal fights that resulted in the invention and adoption of the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons were motivated, not by a desire to preserve true Christianity (which it did not do), but by a desire to crush doctrinal enemies and eject them from the church. This motivation is on display in all of the “anathemas” attached to early creeds promulgated by various factions, and by their excommunicating and banishing the people on losing side of the doctrinal battle. This had nothing to do with Christian love and charity. It had everything to do with consolidating the power of one’s own faction. And the fact that the seminal council from which the first statement of the Trinity of Persons as orthodoxy was issued was presided over by a Roman emperor is a major piece of evidence that these early creedal battles were about power, not about truth.

      The same goes for the demonizing of sex, and the demotion and even demonizing of women as Christian history progressed. There is no benefit for the church in sidelining and dispossessing half of its members who happen to be women. But there is perceived benefit in doing so for men who want power, and want to subject others to their will. In this game, women were an easy target, because they were already considered to be of lower status than men. So a power-hungry church leadership reduced women even further in status, misreading Paul’s statements about women and marriage and turning them into a manifesto for the subjugation of women, when in context, Paul was attempting to do exactly the opposite.

      Yes, corrupt Greek philosophy did have an influence on this demotion of women within Christianity. But those who wish to subject women to the control of men are just as willing and able to draw from the Hebrew scriptures in establishing their position as they are to draw from the Greek scriptures and from Greek philosophy. They routinely ignore the initial creation of women side-by-side with men in the first Creation story in Genesis 1, and focus entirely on the second Creation story in Genesis 2, and the results of the Fall in Genesis 3, proclaiming these to be God’s original intentions and eternal rules about the relationship between man and woman. I know I’ve referred you to them before, but for those reading in, this subject is covered in these two articles:

      1. What are the Roles of Men and Women toward Each Other and in Society?
      2. Man, Woman, and the Two Creation Stories of Genesis

      In summary, I would say that Greek philosophy had both positive and negative influences on early Christianity. And I would say that the corruption of Christianity did not come only or primarily from “infection” by Greek philosophy, but from the corrupting influence of a desire for power, wealth, and pleasure in the post-apostolic Christian leadership.

      There was also a long slide in Christianity away from a focus on actively loving and serving the neighbor as the true measure of a Christian and toward a focus on doctrinal correctness and correct belief, culminating at length in the utterly unbiblical Protestant notion that we are saved by faith alone, and that good works do not contribute to our salvation.

      • rex415 says:

        Hi Lee… great thoughts as always!

        Just a couple of insights from my side… The abuse of power is known all too well throughout humanity, and religion is often the sword that is wielded. I agree completely that this had a large role to play in many of the doctrines that were formulated later in Christianity, including the general subjugation of women. Your point about Platonism causing humans to look inward is a good one, and it did provide some fertile soil for the teachings of Jesus and the apostles to take root. However, the overall dualistic nature of Platonism, I think, caused much of the problems in early Christianity and made it easy for an already empowered male social system to identify females as the obvious scapegoat for all of the problems.

        I really do like your perspectives on the three references to man and woman in relationship through the first three chapters of Genesis… especially the part about God creating them equally from the beginning. And even in the second creation story, Eve is taken from his rib or side… not his foot. To me, this speaks to the equal walk that men and women should take in relationships.

        A final thought is that equality does not equal sameness. I feel the sexes were made to complement each other with their strengths and weaknesses as similar yet slightly different creatures. Your reference to the Eastern symbol of the yin and yang is a great analogy that hits this point right on the head… I like it a lot!

        Rex

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rex,

      On your second point:

      Yes, fundamentalists and evangelicals pick and choose which parts of the Bible they will follow and which they will not, just like all other Christians, and also Jews. Given that we no longer live in the times and cultures that existed when the Bible was written, it is simply not possible to follow every commandment in the Bible. Some of them, such as not killing, committing adultery, stealing, and bearing false witness, are, or should be, universal to all cultures. But others were specific to the cultures of the times in which they were given.

      Evangelicals and fundamentalists cannot admit this because it would invalidate their view of Scripture as the literal, inerrant Word of God. But in practice, they ignore some commandments given in the Bible while enforcing others. Their pattern in doing so has more to do with their present-day culture than it does with any consistent Bible-based principle. Why, for example, to they strictly hold to the law given in Leviticus 18 and 20 against men having sex with men, but cheerfully ignore many of the other commandments given in the same range chapters? The real reason is that they are culturally opposed to homosexuality, but not to, for example, wearing clothing made of two different fibers, or trimming their beards, or eating pork.

      It’s too easy a solution to say that Jesus has fulfilled the law, so that we don’t need to follow it, and that we are saved by grace and not by the law. Why, then, do they apply some parts of the Old Testament law, but not other parts of it? If they had some consistent basis on which to determine which laws to follow and which not to follow, it might be defensible. But there is no such consistent basis; it is simply which laws they are culturally disposed to follow, and which laws they are culturally disposed to ignore.

      Even the idea that we must impose any Old Testament laws that are affirmed in the New Testament does not hold water. How many evangelicals still believe that slaves are to obey their masters? But Paul affirmed this in the New Testament. Meanwhile, more and more Bible-thumping churches are ordaining women, or at least allowing women to speak in church, not cover their heads, and so on, even though Paul clearly stated that women are not to speak in church, and are to keep their heads covered. Today’s culture no longer supports that sort of differential rules between men and women. So the evangelicals are being forced to abandon those particular culturally-based New Testament rules in order not to lose all of their followers in today’s changing culture.

      Turning to the bigger picture, the change from ancient Judaism to Christianity was not that Jews had to obey the law whereas Christians were free from any law. Rather, the change was from the law being a purely external, obedience-based phenomenon enforced by penalties and rewards to the law being an internal phenomenon based on what is right and what is good for other people and for oneself. As you mention, in biblical terms, the Law and the Prophets were not abolished, but were to be “written on the heart.”

      Ancient Israelites did not have to understand why particular laws were given. They simply had to learn the law and obey it. Those who obeyed were rewarded. Those who did not were punished. It was not their job to question the law, or even to understand the reasons or the righteousness of the laws. Only to obey them.

      This was no longer to be the case for Christians. Living under the “law of faith” (Romans 3:27) or under love as “the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8–10) does not mean living without any law, or in a lawless way, but rather following the law for internal reasons. This includes breaking the external or civil law when following it would do more harm than good. For a Christian, blindly obeying the law based on fear of punishment and hope for reward does not cut it. A Christian will live in a lawful way based on an internal “faith,” or understanding of what is right, and based on acting in a loving manner that will benefit their fellow human beings (“the neighbor”), especially in long-term and spiritual ways.

      When the rich young man in Matthew 19:16–22 asked Jesus what good thing he must do to get eternal life, Jesus did not respond by saying, “You don’t have to do anything. You just have to believe in me.” Rather, he gave the man a series of things to do, starting with keeping some of the basic behavioral commandments in the Ten Commandments plus the biblical commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. When the man said he was already doing all these things, Jesus gave him yet another, and more difficult, thing to do. Protestants tend to interpret this as Jesus making the man into an object lesson of how it is impossible to keep the commandments. But the story says no such thing. It starts from obeying the core commandments, which the man was doing, and progresses to making an even greater commitment to living out of love for the neighbor.

      In our own lives, we make the same progression from external obedience to living according to an internal moral compass.

      In our growing-up years, our parents must impose various rules on us in order to keep us from harm, and develop a sense of right and wrong in us. Some of these rules, such as curfews and rules for what we can and can’t eat, are rather arbitrary. When my boys were teenagers, I made a rule that I would not buy them any breakfast cereal for which sugar was the first or second ingredient. It was arbitrary, but simple. All they had to do was look at the ingredients on the cereal box, and they could figure out for themselves whether or not they could have that cereal. However, the purpose of all this rule-making is, as I said, to protect them from harm and to get them into the habit of distinguishing right from wrong.

      As adults, many of these external, behavioral rules fall away. Adults can come home any time they want to, even if it’s 3:00 AM. They can eat whatever food they want to, even if it’s total junk. But the hope is that by that time they will have internalized the purpose of those rules, and will follow a reasonable sleep cycle and a healthful diet. If occasionally they pull an all-nighter or have a junk food session, there won’t be much harm as long as their regular practice is to get decent sleep and eat decent food. And now they decide all of these things for themselves rather than having them be imposed by parental authority and punished with a spanking or a grounding if they disobey, or rewarded with a trip to the ice cream parlor or the amusement park if they make a special effort to obey some rule that they don’t really like.

      The transition from ancient Israelite / Jewish religion to Christianity was just such a transition from external, behavioral obedience to strict and not always understood laws in order to avoid punishment and get rewards to one of having an internalized set of laws or principles according to which we live. These tend to be less rigid and more flexible because the point isn’t to strictly obey the law, but rather to act in such a way that good, especially long term good, comes from it. This requires adapting the rules to the particular situation. But it is all based on a much more consistent internal law, which is the law of faith and the law of love, or as you put it, “the principles of no harm, help when you can, and use wisdom.” So it is not a lawless life. Rather, it is a life guided by deeper laws, of which the external, behavioral laws are meant to be reflections.

      Even when we have made this transition, the external laws are not useless. Most of them we will keep, most of the time, because most of them do guide us to do no harm and to help when we can. But faith and love, or an understanding of right vs. wrong and a concern for others’ wellbeing, now transcend particular cultural expressions of law, and act both from a more universal principle and from a more specific and fitting application of the law in specific cultural and individual situations.

      However, without having had the earlier, more external and behavioral training, we would never make it to the point where we had an internalized set of laws and principles by which we live. If children are brought up with no rules, being allowed to do whatever they want with no repercussions, they will group up into irresponsible and even dangerous adults. Both in the Bible and in our individual lives it is necessary to go through a period of law-based living before we can arrive at the deeper level of faith-based living, and ultimately of love-based living.

      That is why Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). “Fulfill” is not a synonym for “abolish,” as so many traditional Christians seem to think. Nor does it mean that Jesus perfectly obeyed all of the Old Testament laws, and thereby superseded them. He emphatically did not obey all of the Old Testament laws, and had several sharp arguments with the religious leaders of the day on exactly this point. Rather, “fulfilling the law” means filling it with deeper meaning, and raising it to a higher level. Some laws that were merely cultural, given “due to the hardness of your hearts,” as Jesus said (Matthew 19:8), would indeed fall away. But the underlying purposes for which they were given did not fall away. Those purposes now had to be adapted to the particular current cultural and personal situations of the people, which would cause those same deeper principles to be expressed in different external laws and different outward behavior.

      To use the example of homosexuality once again, same-sex intercourse was condemned both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament because in those cultures sex was an inherently unequal relationship. This was acceptable between men and women because women were seen as inferior to men. But it was not acceptable in Judaeo-Christian circles because in those circles all men were considered equal to one another under the law and in the eyes of God. For one man to penetrate another was to reduce the penetrated man to the status of a woman. It was therefore an act of socially harming another man on the part of the man who did the penetrating.

      Culturally, all same-sex sex among men that was practiced both in Old Testament times and in New Testament times was between two men of unequal status, whether consensual or non-consensual. In Old Testament times one of the most common instances same-sex sex was when a conquering army raped the men of the defeated army (which would normally be all the able-bodied adult men who could fight and defend a city or region) in order to show their power over them and humiliate them. In New Testament times, Greek and Roman culture that allowed same-sex relations still did not allow it between men of equal status. Even today, unequal sexual relationships are rightly condemned as abuses of power. The idea that two men of equal status could have sex with one another without shaming or reducing the status of the one who was penetrated was outside the realm of thought in the cultures of Bible times.

      Today, we increasingly view sex and marriage as a relationship between two fully equal partners. Therefore the old universal condemnation of same-sex sexual relations no longer stands, though the particular types of unequal and exploitative male-on-male sex that were the objects of the condemnation of male-with-male sex in the Old and New Testaments are still condemned today. The underlying principle is that we are not to sexually debase and humiliate other people. That underlying principle still applies today. But the particular behavioral rules pursuant to it are changing because of our changing views of the nature of marital and sexual love—a change that is much for the better, I might add.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rex,

      On your third point:

      My first marriage went through a similar arc, though it took over twenty years for my ex-wife to finally leave me, in the midst of my own mid-life crisis. Obviously it did not cause me to lose my faith. But it did give me a good push along the path I had already been following, of looking at my beliefs through a deeper and more nuanced lens. As far as my church’s particular beliefs about marriage as an inner, spiritual union, the breakup of that first marriage was actually a relief. I no longer had to try to squeeze my actual non-functional marriage into my concept of what marriage was supposed to be all about.

      In ancient times, divorce was a disaster for the divorced woman, often forcing her into prostitution, and also making her vulnerable to slave traders. Meanwhile, marriage was a merely external bond, without the internal bond of a oneness of mind and heart that is the general goal of marriage today. Without love and an inner connection to hold marriages together, there had to be strict externally imposed marriage and divorce laws (or cultural rules) in order to keep society from descending into chaos.

      Today we live in a very different culture—and thankfully so. A divorced woman is no longer in grave danger as she was in ancient times. It’s not a particularly desirable situation, and it can still be quite difficult. But women today can hold down a job and support themselves and their children after a divorce. And the laws generally require the ex-husband to do his part to support the children, and often his ex-wife as well, if she has set aside her own career path in order to tend to her husband and their children. It may not be a perfect system, but it does overcome the primary reasons for which divorce had to be strictly limited in ancient times.

      At a deeper level, in today’s society we are making a transition from a state in which the glue that holds marriage together is external to a state in which that glue is internal. To make a long story short, we therefore have to allow divorce now in the case of marriages in which there is no oneness of mind and heart. Otherwise we are enforcing marriages that God has not joined together.

      This is yet another example in which the external rules must change because culturally and spiritually we have entered a time in which the conditions under which the old laws were laid down no longer exist. Having said that, I do still support some strictures on divorce, mainly on the legal and financial front, so that unspiritual people don’t abuse marriage, and their spouses, for their own social, political, and financial benefit.

      About the rest of your thoughts, I am in general agreement, and don’t have further particular reactions right now.

      • rex415 says:

        Hi Lee,

        I’ve often had a difficult time with the church’s hardline stance on divorce. I felt they were more than likely taking Jesus’s statements out of context and creating prisons for people in the process. To me, this was very evident in the church’s initial stance on refusing women the right to divorce, and then not granting the right to remarry. The result of this stance was the option of living in misery and abuse or living a life a loneliness. I doubt this is what Jesus had in mind… He came to set the captives free, not bind them with situations of misery.

        There are many ways that a marriage can be “adulterated” without sex outside of the marriage occurring. I feel that physical, emotional, and psychological abuse are the “spirit of adultery”, and are not consonant with love in the least bit. These situations violate the marriage vows and should be addressed appropriately to save the marriage if possible. If a loving marriage does not follow, then no one should be forced to stay with anyone who doesn’t love them… and they should be free to find someone who does.

        Here’s a very interesting comprehensive analysis on the most recent divorce statistics in the US. https://www.wf-lawyers.com/divorce-statistics-and-facts/

        Rex

  27. rex415 says:

    Hi Lee,

    Thanks again for your time and thoughts. Below are two situations where I have some thoughts, but I’d love to hear any input you may have. And, while I’ve considered these for a while, I do believe they support your premise that marriage is the ideal, pre-marital sex is not specifically prohibited, and that God is pragmatic with us.

    Situation #1… I’ve spent years studying and researching the book of I Corinthians. This is the one book that seems to set the tone for what we see and hear in most circles regarding Christian sex ethics and marriage. Traditionally, I Corinthians 7:9 has been translated as “if they cannot control themselves, then they should marry. Better to marry than to burn.” However, I have found through multiple scholars and authors that the earliest Greek translations do not read this way. Rather, it actually reads, “if they are not exercising self control, then they should marry…” Here’s a URL that points this out, even by the most conservative of scholars.

    http://www.thisexplainsmore.com/2013/06/better-to-marry-than-to-burn.html

    I think it’s interesting how this subtle shift in the verb is changed in all of our English translations. By changing the tense of the verb it becomes easier to push an anti-sex agenda that the early church fostered and passed down through the centuries. In reality, it seems like Paul was most likely referring to widowers and widows who were engaging in sex with each other, and his recommendation was that they go ahead and marry. This of course was pragmatic advice, would protect the woman, and help keep the peace in the community… it was the ideal. If we consider that Paul addresses the church as a whole to avoid harlotry (chapter 6), then it make very logical sense to note the next three groups of people being in sexual relationship with each other (chapter 7).

    If we look at 1 Corinthians 6 and 7 from this perspective, we can get a picture of Paul:

    1. Telling EVERYONE in the community to avoid the prostitutes and sex slaves, and I do believe this had strong ties to idolatry. The book of Acts supports this when it was decided that the Gentiles should avoid meat sacrificed to idols, porneia, and things strangled with blood. The word “fornication” or porneia is situated in the middle of two prohibitions that are tied directly to idolatry.

    2. Beginning to address three different groups of people, and each of these groups are in direct relationship with each other in a sexual sense. This is something that I believe is overlooked and not given much attention because, again, it doesn’t fit the traditional conservative narrative. a) The first group he addresses is married couples, telling them essentially to meet each other’s needs and not commit adultery. c) The third group he addresses is a couple who it betrothed to each other, and he tells them it’s fine to marry if they want to (interesting how it’s the man’s decision). We can now see b) the second group is the unmarried (widowers) and widows who are “not exercising control with each other”. Paul tells them the BEST thing they could do would be to simply go ahead and marry. He does not command them to marry, and he doesn’t tell them they are being immoral; however, for the sake of avoiding harm to the individuals, the families, and the nascent community, marriage would make for a more peaceful, stable, and loving situation. Again, pragmatic advice focused on the ideal, not a command set in stone tablets.

    Situation #2… A friend of mine who recently got married posted on Facebook, “Without a covenant there is no sex…” You and I both agree that committed, faithful marriage is the best and what everyone should desire and aim for, but the Bible simply does not make the statement that my friend made. Is this conclusion drawn because the few times sex is referred to in the New Testament it is in the context of marriage versus porneia? In other words, since marriage is the only perceived option then it must require a covenant?

    I find this take interesting because it ignores the pragmatism that we see in the very pages of the Bible itself. As you’ve articulated well, man was in a much lower state in general throughout the Bible, and especially so spiritually and socially. Having said that, we see clearly that when social circumstances necessitated less than the ideal, God never condemned the actions. We can look at some of the patriarchs wanting more children, so they had sex with their wives’ maidens as surrogates. Then there’s the very real situation of King David’s time when there were more women than men due to war, so polygamy and concubines were a standard part of the culture in order to maintain some sense of order.

    I don’t bring these up to suggest that we should revert back to those practices at all, but I do believe it proves your point and principle that God is pragmatic with humanity in general when they are trying to do the best they can to address changing social situations. This demonstrates God operating within the shades of gray in real life situations.

    And, if everything as we know it today in terms of premarital sex was a simple black and white matter in the Bible, why didn’t God simply state in the Law, “A man must only have sex with his lawful wife”. That would be a pretty cut and dry case, like the situation with adultery.

    – Rex

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rex,

      A few thoughts on your situation #1:

      To an extent that few non-translators realize, translation is an art, not a science. It depends upon translators understanding what the original is saying, and then saying that in the target language. This means that translations will be bent toward the translators’ understanding of the text.

      One result of this is that translations of the Bible sponsored by or done within various branches of Christianity are bent toward that branch’s doctrine and interpretation of the Bible. It’s not so much that translators intentionally translate in a way that supports their doctrine—though that does happen as well—as that translators necessarily translate the text in the way that they understand it, and they understand the text through the lens of their particular doctrine.

      There are many passages in standard Bible translations that I think are completely wrong. For example, the NIV and the NRSV translate a particular word in the book of Leviticus as “a penalty for sin,” which accords with Protestant penal substitution doctrine, but which is not what the original Hebrew word means. The original Hebrew word simply means “a sin offering.” But due to their penal substitution doctrine, Protestants see Jesus’ sacrifice, and by extension the Old Testament sacrifices, through the lens of sacrifice as a penalty for sin, and they have therefore translated it accordingly in two of their more contemporary translations. (I have in mind to write an article about the real meaning and force of the Old Testament sacrifices, and of the motif of Jesus as a sacrifice for sin.)

      Translations of Paul’s letters also run afoul of this issue. Traditional Christian Bible translations commonly make his statements more absolute, or even different, than what the Greek actually says. (There are some examples of this in my article, “Wives, submit to your husbands.”) Then, in a sort of doctrinal feedback loop, those doctrinally influenced translations are used to further support the doctrine of the branch of Christianity that produced the translation. Most commonly the result is a hard-line “Bible-based” doctrine that is not, in fact, very well-supported in the original languages of the Bible.

      It is particularly ironic that 1 Corinthians 7 has been used in this hard-line way, given that this is the very chapter in which Paul explicitly states not once, but twice that something he is writing is his opinion, and not a commandment of the Lord:

      To the rest I say—I and not the Lord . . . (1 Corinthians 7:12)

      Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that . . . (1 Corinthians 7:25–26, italics added)

      Paul seems to be at special pains, on these complicated issues relating to sex and marriage, to let his readers know that much of what he is saying are his thoughts on the matter, not absolute commandments from the Lord. But traditional Christians turn around and do exactly what he was trying to avoid: they make his statements into absolute divine commandments.

      On the specifics, I do think Paul was being quite pragmatic in his statement that “It is better to marry than to burn.” However, I don’t think he is limiting it to widows and widowers. The word commonly translated “unmarried” in 1 Corinthians 7:8 is agamos, which is a general word for being unmarried, applied to both men and women in the New Testament. And though I have no problem with translating the opening words of verse 9 as “if they are not exercising self control,” I don’t think we have to limit this advice to people who are already having extramarital sex. If two unmarried people are going to have sex, then in that culture it would also probably be best for them to go ahead and get married.

      Remember, in that culture there was no inner marriage based on oneness of minds and hearts as there is in our culture today. Sex and marriage were largely external things based on biological drives, the desire for children as heirs, and various other social, financial, and political concerns. This means that there was no danger, as there is today, of a married couple having internal “irreconcilable differences” that would cause their marriage to go sour and be a non-marriage. As long as a marriage was working socially and sexually, it was a good marriage. Romantic love and an inner sense of oneness was not one of their expectations of marriage.

      Keep in mind also (and this will come up again in response to your situation #2) that in ancient Hebrew culture, and in many other cultures even up to this day, a marriage was sealed and made official by the act of the bridegroom having sexual intercourse with his bride. This is reflected in a number of stories in the Bible, such as that of Leah being substituted for Rachel by their father on Jacob’s wedding night, so that even though Jacob’s intent was to marry Rachel, he was now married to Leah by the act of having sex with her. Based on this cultural view and practice, part of what Paul was saying to the unmarried was, “Look, you’re basically married anyway because you’re having sex with each other (or are about to). So go ahead and recognize it with a socially and ecclesiastically recognized wedding.”

      I would also add that in 1 Corinthians 7 Paul explicitly ties one piece of advice to current conditions. In verse 26 he says, “I think that, in view of the impending [or present] crisis . . .” (italics added). How much clearer could he be that what he is advising is specific to the current circumstances in the world? Once again, to take such statements and make them into universal absolutes is to ignore the clear statements and signals that Paul himself is giving that they are his own views adapted to the particular circumstances of the day.

      Unfortunately, the biblical literalists simply cannot accept this sort of “situation ethics.” So they violate the plain statements of the Bible in order to support their doctrinal stances, which they then claim are based on the Bible in its literal meaning. Clearly it is not the Bible, but their doctrines that are their litmus test of truth.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rex,

      On your situation #2:

      I presume what your friend means is, “Without a covenant there can or should be no sex.”

      I would say that in the biblical cultures, it was the other way around. Without sex, there was no covenant. And the corollary was that if there was sex, then either there was a covenant of marriage or there was prostitution or fornication.

      Sex was seen as either sealing a marriage or as a case of illicit sex either in the form of engaging with a prostitute or loose woman, or in the form of taking a young woman’s virginity without the intent of marrying her, which would cause serious damage to the woman and her family. Old Testament law required a man who did the latter to marry the woman he had slept with. However, Old Testament law and practice was much looser than that of the New Testament about men having sex with prostitutes. Even such a revered figure as Judah had sex with a woman whom he thought was a prostitute, and he was not considered guilty for that, but for violating the law of levirate marriage.

      But in general, no, as you say, and as the above article also points out, there is no law either in the Old or the New Testament saying, “A man must only have sex with his lawful wife.” There could have been such a law, but there isn’t, because that wasn’t actually the law or the practice in Hebrew and Jewish / Christian culture in OT and NT times.

      About “some of the patriarchs wanting more children, so they had sex with their wives’ maidens as surrogates,” though the Bible stories are sometimes read that way, that’s not what they actually say. In the stories, it was the wives who gave their female servants (or slaves) to their husbands so that their husbands would have sons who would be considered their own (the wife’s) sons by proxy, and would inherit their husband’s name and property. This took place both when Sarah gave her servant Hagar to her husband Abraham to bear a child with, and when Rachel and Leah gave their servants Bilhah and Zilpah to their husband Jacob to bear children with (twice each).

      The present-day atheist and feminist narrative of “salacious and rapacious patriarchs having sex with their wives’ slave girls” cannot stand in light of what the text actually says, and in the context of the culture of the time. Certainly it was a low-level and superficial culture when it came to sex and marriage. But this was not a case of men ruling the roost and having their way with whatever women they wanted, regardless of their poor downtrodden wives’ rights and wishes. It was a case of women using their female servants as a means of increasing their own status in the family and clan through bearing sons for their husbands by proxy.

      • rex415 says:

        Hi Lee,

        Thank you again for you time and such thorough responses… I have a lot to digest, think and pray about! I especially like the point you made earlier about the human ego and tendency to abuse power and status when it is in those positions. And, I can see clearly where women would be easy targets to promote an agenda in this situation.

        I’d love to get your take on my summary below while I continue reading and absorbing your responses.

        In summary… as I’ve stated before, I think there is a lot of credence to what you articulate about the intent of the rules and laws around sex, marriage, and relationships being mostly a material and pragmatic solution to lesser developed societies, both materially and spiritually. It seems to me that when illicit sex is talked about in the Bible during its culture, it was sex that typically worked harm to the individuals, families, and their social order. When we look at sex with slaves, prostitutes, or “loose women”, we can make the connection that the risk for illegitimate and even “fatherless” children, promiscuity and a total lack of self control, exploitation of individuals even by not considering them as individuals or equal in God’s eyes (which Jesus and the NT tried to stimulate in the hearts and minds of people), and the resulting harm to one end of society and the harm that brought to the social order as a whole are the culprits for “why” things were considered wrong.

        Ultimately, accountability, responsibility, and social order were the driving forces. This is probably why sex with concubines was never considered “illicit” for the Hebrews because the man knew they were his children, the woman was cared for, and in general society still flowed. I do not think this is what the Biblical authors had in mind when we see the modern word, “fornication”. Marriage, on the other hand, provided legitimate children, legitimate heirs, the opportunity for something more mutual, and overall social stability in the best sense… this is all blessed and good.

        Without understanding the historical and cultural context, the modern person often fails to realize that many of the things that made their social solutions pragmatic are the very things we consider immoral and illicit in our modern world. As an example, marrying a 14 year old girl or owning slaves (you aptly pointed this out) are rightfully rejected as sinful because of the destruction they cause. However, I feel we must be insightful enough to recognize the inverse may also be true. Spiritual and social progress will lead to fundamental and necessary changes in society and social order, creating very new situations and circumstances for people to live in. As you have mentioned in previous responses, we are experiencing many new situations for the first time in our recorded human history… and these are good things.

        Because of this, something done at one point in time centuries ago may not carry the same weight in our present situations. The concept of dating, getting an education for many years, marrying for internal and more spiritual purposes really wasn’t even feasible to the ancient world. However, marriage at the ages of 13 – 16 was feasible as was running the family business and arranged marriages.

        If we understand the “why”, we can then begin the difficult process of applying the principles to our time. By extension, we need to look at our current situations and reflect on the harm they cause and use that as a gauge (this is where your scale comes into play!). We need to ask ourselves if we are responsible and accountable for our actions and any children that may result. We need to ask ourselves if we are caring and have concern for the other. We need to ask ourselves if we truly have their best interest at heart and are free of all falsehood. If we do these things, then we can see where there will be some situations, while less than the ideal, are allowable depending on the individuals and their circumstances. Additionally, we can also see where these principles will steer us clear of adultery, prostitution, and a promiscuous lifestyle because of the harm that results. When we understand our relationship with God and the scriptures from this perspective, we can see that we may not always get an A+, but maybe we got an A- or even a B+ on a difficult exam. Few parents would “ground” their children for bringing home these grades.

        I hope you’re having a great weekend.

        Rex

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rex,

          Yes, that captures the gist of it.

          One thing I would especially highlight from your summary is that evil is evil because it causes harm.

          A simplistic, childlike view of right and wrong is that it’s wrong if you get in trouble for it. Or in religious terms, it’s wrong because God said not to do it, and God will punish you if you do. In the OT, that punishment was almost entirely material, social, and financial, and confined to a person’s earthly lifetime. In the NT, the punishment shifted to eternal damnation in hell. But for those who think in these simplistic terms, the essence of it is the same: It’s wrong because God said so and will punish you for it. Conversely, it’s right if God has commanded us to do it, and will reward us if we do, either in this life or in the next.

          If that concept of right and wrong is held in simplicity by people of an unsophisticated mindset, it brings about good because it provides such people with a motivation to avoid doing what is wrong and harmful, and to do what is good and constructive instead. God therefore allows us to have this view of right and wrong, and even presents such a view in numerous places in the Bible.

          However, that is not the real reason things are right are wrong. Really, something is wrong if it causes harm. And it is right if it brings about good, especially if it brings about long-term good. And though the NT still caters to people in the old simplistic punishment-and-reward concept of right and wrong, the NT is intended to move us forward, toward a sense of right as what helps people, and wrong as what hurts people.

          Even in the OT, the concept of evil as something that causes harm is very much present. Here is the first prohibitive commandment God gives to humans in the Bible:

          And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for on the day that you eat of it you will die.” (Genesis 2:16–17)

          Notice that God did not say, “for on the day that you eat of it, I will be angry with you and will punish you.” No, he said, “for on the day that you eat of it you will die.” This, of course, refers to a metaphorical, spiritual death, not a literal, physical death. The whole story is metaphorical and spiritual, not literal. But the relevant point is that God commanded humankind (adam) not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because doing so would harm them.

          The basic, pragmatic definitions of good and evil, then, are:

          • Good is anything that is beneficial and constructive in its effects.
          • Evil is anything that is harmful and destructive in its effects.

          This applies at various levels, physical, social, moral, and spiritual, intensifying as it goes up the ladder. And it applies in various time frames, short-term, long-term, and eternal, also intensifying as it goes up the ladder.

          In a culture such as that of Old Testament times in which the primary focus is material, social, and this-world, evil is what causes material, personal, social, and financial harm. In their literal application, this is the sort of harm that the laws given in the Old Testament were designed to avoid—as you can see if you read the various rewards and punishments prescribed for various good and evil behaviors, which are almost all material and social.

          Still, when people live and think at this materialistic, obedience-based level, obeying these laws prescribing good behavior and proscribing evil behavior does constitute moral and even spiritual good for such people, even if the laws may be culture-specific, and not universal. Being a good person in the context of their own culture, with all of its rules and customs, for such people constitutes being a good person spiritually as well, even if it is a rather low-level spirituality. Though there will be missteps and setbacks, such people will generally have a good life with plenty of self-respect and respect in the community. When they pass on to the spiritual world, they will be among the good spirits that form the lowest “natural” or “earthly” level of heaven. This level of heaven is full of people who live good and honest lives because that is what God and their human (angel) leaders teach them to do. They do what they are told willingly and cheerfully, whether or not they fully understand why, just as they had on earth. On earth, by following their cultural and religious rules, they lived lives that brought about benefit rather than harm to their fellow human beings and to themselves. They continue to do the same in heaven.

          In the New Testament, the locus of good and evil shifts to a more internal location. However, the same principle applies: Good is what benefits people not just physically and socially, but spiritually. Evil is what harms people not just physically and socially, but spiritually. Today we have the practice of psychology, which delves into the area of the good and evil effects of various attitudes, actions, and experiences on people’s mental and emotional health—which is closely connected with our spiritual health. And today, though many people still live by the maxim, “It’s not wrong unless you get caught,” many others are moving beyond that, and living from an internal moral compass that guides them on what not to do because it causes harm, and what to do because it benefits people, the environment, the world, and so on.

          This is a shift from an external to an internal compass on matters of good and evil. But the same general principle applies: good actions are good because they bring about beneficial and constructive results, whereas evil actions are evil because they bring about harmful and destructive results.

          Another way of saying this is that God commands us not to do evil things, but to do good things instead, not because God will be angry at us and punish us if we disobey, and will reward us if we obey, but because God knows that when we do evil things it hurts us and our fellow human beings, whereas when we do good things it helps us and our fellow human beings.

          Yet another way of saying this is that God commands us to do good and not to do evil because God loves us and wants us to be happy. The commandments of God are not for God’s sake, but for our sake.

  28. rex415 says:

    P.S. – I want to spend some time this weekend exploring the posts you recommended on atheism… I really do agree that their literalism and materialism has them imprisoned in their own minds… it’s unfortunate.

    Rex

  29. rex415 says:

    Hi Lee,

    Not sure why I wasn’t able to submit this reply to your recent comment above that ended with, “Yet another way of saying this is that God commands us to do good and not to do evil because God loves us and wants us to be happy. The commandments of God are not for God’s sake, but for our sake.”

    In short, YES, YES, and YES… the whole response is very much in line with my take on this topic. And, if people would stop for a minute and reflect, it’s this very understanding and approach that allows us to live in freedom and live a good life for ourselves and all of those around us, regardless of the time in history, place, culture, etc… it is the very essence of the Spirit, it’s timeless… it can be applied anywhere at anytime.

    Rex

    • This aint my real name says:

      1 Corinthians 6
      [9] Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
      [10] Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God

      1 Corinthians 7:8 KJV
      I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.

      1 Corinthians 7:9 KJV
      But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

      I know this is an old post and if I have to email this to you then I will. I know of the meaning of fornication and whatnot (porneia) but I have questions.

      1 what does 1 Corinthians 7:9 truly mean. Could you delve into it for me as I saw your explanation earlier but it was unclear to me

      Then my second question is. My bible is KJV so maybe its a bad translation.

      What does “neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers” so on so forth. Will inherit the kingdom right? If fornication means adultery and prostitution then why would it be said twice in near succession like it is?

      • Lee says:

        Hi This aint my real name,

        Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and questions.

        The message of 1 Corinthians 7:9 is quite straightforward. Paul is saying that if you’re unmarried or a widow, and you are not able to abstain from having sex, or are not, in fact, abstaining from having sex, then it is better to get married so that you can have a legitimate partner to have sex with. The “burn” part most likely means “burn with passion”—i.e., have uncontrollable sexual desires. However, some interpreters think Paul is referring to burning in hell due to sexual sin.

        About your other question, first I should mention that in Hebrew idiom—which the Jewish writers of the Greek New Testament also commonly used even in Greek—it is very common to put together words that are synonyms or have closely related meanings in order to intensify and broaden the meaning. For example, Exodus 14:9 speaks of “Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops.” This sounds a bit repetitive to our ears, but it is very common in Hebrew literary style. The string of “fornicators, idolaters, adulterers” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 has the same ring of using similar words in a series, especially considering that idolatry was seen as a form of adultery against God.

        However, each word does also have its own particular differing shades of meaning when used by itself and when paired with other similar words. “Fornication” when used by itself can refer to illicit sex in general. However, when used together with “adultery,” its purpose is to include non-adulterous illicit sex as well, so that the sense of the whole phrase is, “Anyone who engages in any sort of illicit sex.”

        As for the particular types of non-adulterous illicit sex commonly referred to by “fornication” in the Bible, keep in mind that this was a very different culture than our culture today. There was no widely available safe and effective birth control. Having sex was very likely to lead to pregnancy. Also, virginity was highly prized in a young woman. A woman who was not a virgin would likely be unmarriagable, and was commonly forced into prostitution if her family disowned her.

        As a result of this and other societal forces and customs, young people and unmarried people didn’t just sleep together willy-nilly as many do today. It was too dangerous. Even for men there could be serious or even lethal repercussions as he was either forced to marry the young woman he slept with (see Deuteronomy 22:28–29) or her family took revenge on the family of the man who slept with her (see, for example, the story of the rape of Dinah and its aftermath in Genesis 34).

        Because of all this, the most common form of non-adulterous extramarital sex was sex with prostitutes. This was socially accepted because a prostitute was already a “fallen woman,” and most likely her family had already disowned her. This meant that a man sleeping with her would not be forced to marry her, nor would there be any issues of her family taking revenge upon him. The very word “fornication” in Greek comes from the Greek word for “prostitute.”

        So although “fornication” could refer generally to non-adulterous extramarital sex, in practice, the most common form of that was sleeping with prostitutes, including (pagan) temple prostitutes. That is what Paul is primarily referring to when he forbids both adultery and fornication in one sentence. Of course, this also forbids women from being prostitutes.

  30. rex415 says:

    Hi Lee,

    I hope your week is going well… Just a quick question regarding Paul’s reference to Christ’s marriage to the church.

    Recently, I’ve heard some arguments that say because Paul references the Genesis 2 account of marriage in Ephesians 5:31, “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.” in relation to Christ and the church that this is the foundation for a prohibition on any sex outside of marriage.

    Personally, I think this is stretching the verse and context beyond the original intent. It seems to me that this is analogous to OT references of Israel’s relationship with God.

    Also, since it was assumed that all Jews would marry early in life shortly after the onset of puberty, it only made sense that getting married was the most practical and acceptable means, especially considering the impact of having children. Given this, it only makes sense that this example would be used to describe the oneness of relationship.

    Just curious if you have any thoughts on this?

    Rex

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rex,

      Thanks. Back atcha!

      Of course, sex within a mutual, loving marriage is the ideal. Everything else is less than ideal. However, since when do we humans always achieve the ideal? Especially when we’re young and foolish? According to the Bible, none of us do:

      All we like sheep have gone astray;
      we have all turned to our own way. (Isaiah 53:6)

      Holding everyone to the highest ideal, and condemning them to hell if they fail to achieve it immediately, from youth onward, is unrealistic, impractical, and unbiblical. The Bible is full of examples of people going astray, and God providing a path back toward a good and righteous life. This applies to going astray sexually just as much as it does to going astray in other areas. That’s why here at Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life we take a more realistic and nuanced view of various sexual activities and practices based on whether they can be bent toward faithful, monogamous marriage or whether they lead away from and destroy faithful, monogamous marriage.

      It is important to pay attention to what the Bible actually prohibits and condemns, and to take that seriously. By the same token, it is important to pay attention to what questionable behavior the Bible does not prohibit and condemn, but treats pragmatically, providing pathways from there to a good and righteous life. The Bible is not arbitrary in its commandments and practices, so that we can just arbitrarily decide that even if the Bible doesn’t prohibit some particular behavior, we can go ahead and prohibit it ourselves, and then claim that our prohibition is “biblical.”

      About Jews marrying early in life, shortly after the onset of puberty, though this was very common in the case of girls, it was not at all common for boys. Girls were indeed commonly married off early, as soon as they could bear children. Not so boys. They were expected to be able to provide for their wife or wives. This usually meant growing to full adulthood and acquiring their own flocks and herds or establishing themselves in some trade. So the common pattern was young women, often teenage girls, marrying fully adult men.

      This is why, for those biblical husbands and wives whose ages we know, the wives were regularly considerably younger than the husbands. Sarah was ten years younger than Abraham. Isaac was probably at least twenty-five years older than Rebekah, though we don’t know Rebekah’s age for certain. And in an extreme case, Jacob was likely at least sixty years older than Leah and Rachel. Perhaps some of these ages are not historically accurate, but are more in the realm of cultural stories. However, the general pattern we see in the Bible is that men were considerably older than women at the time of marriage.

      This meant that for girls, marriage commonly came shortly after puberty and the onset of sexual thoughts and desires. For men, however, there was often a considerable period of time after puberty when they were not married, and had no socially ideal outlet for their sexual drives and desires. This is one of the non-sexist reasons that society commonly looked the other way when men had sex before marriage, often with prostitutes, whereas women were expected to be virgins on their wedding day. (Mind you, I’m not saying this was a good thing; only that it was a matter of pragmatism in those cultures.)

      Perhaps a more significant corollary of this age difference at the time of marriage is that even without the cultural attitude of the time that women were of lower status than men, the practical reality was that most commonly a teenage girl, often as young as thirteen or fourteen, and sometimes even younger, would marry a fully adult man—sometimes a far older man. Even though it was a marital relationship, as far as the interpersonal dynamics between the two, it started out more like a parent-child relationship.

      Under these circumstances, it seemed only natural that the wife would obey her husband. He was an adult. She was still a girl. Even in those days, teenagers were still teenagers. They were still relatively inexperienced. They still needed adult guidance in order to avoid making foolish and sometimes very costly mistakes. At the time of marriage, the responsibility of guiding and disciplining the young girl was transferred from her parents to her husband. And once such an interpersonal pattern is established, it tends to persist throughout the rest of the marriage.

      This practical reality puts a whole different light on the biblical assumption that a wife must obey her husband.

      Today, the situation is very different. Men and women are much more likely to both be adults when they get married, and they are likely to be much closer in age to one another than was common in biblical times. Further, men and women are now commonly considered to be equals legally and socially, which was not the case in Bible times. Based on this new cultural reality, it makes little sense to continue to apply the old pattern of wives being subject to their husbands’ will in today’s marriages. For a related article, please see:

      “Wives, submit to your husbands.”

      Back to the biblical dictum of a man leaving father and mother and becoming one with his wife, today’s cultural practice of waiting until both the man and the woman are at least young adults, and also of marrying a partner who is of a similar age, is far better than the ancient unequal marriage relationships that resulted from teenage girls marrying adult men, not to mention from the general attitude that women were of lower status than men. How can two people really become one when one is like a child compared to the other? When there is no equality of maturity and character between a husband and wife, there is also no real oneness of heart and mind—which is the deeper meaning of a man and woman “becoming one flesh.”

  31. rex415 says:

    Hi Lee.

    Thank you again for the thoughtful response, and I do believe you circling back to the Biblical witness of the ideal and then pragmatic alternatives is the healthiest perspective. Just some of my additional thoughts below, and I’d love to get your take when you have the chance.

    I don’t think that many modern readers of scripture realize that throughout the pages of scripture you never find the concept of “forced celibacy”… except for virgin daughters and sometimes widows who were closely guarded by families. It is assumed that there was always a sexual outlet, at least for the male.

    In the OT, as you mentioned, prostitution was an outlet for men with the prohibitions revolving around temple, adulterous, and forced prostitution. I do agree that during this time, men were often much older when they married, and this may have something to do with polygamy being a part of the society. and a blind eye being turned to prostitution. In no way am I condoning prostitution, but I think the point is that the natural God-given sex drive of humans is recognized.

    Regarding the age of Jewish marriage… from all the research I’ve done around the Jewish culture in the 1st century, it appears that the men were younger. Josephus claimed he and his wife were both “proper virgins” when they married. And, in the Mishnah they speak about a man needing to marry before the age of 20 because if he didn’t then there was the rhetorical question of “what was he really doing”. He certainly wasn’t fulfilling his obligation to be fruitful and multiply. There seemed to be an emphasis placed on both the male and female being a virgin, but this was only pragmatic if marriage occurred within a reasonable time after puberty. And, the early church enforced early marriage on its members to keep them from getting wrapped into the horrific injustices of the Greek and Roman culture (this was discussed in the article I referenced on porneia).

    I think this shift in earlier marriage probably had to do with monogamous marriage coming into play with the Roman empire and the tribal/warrior aspect of Israel disappearing. Polygamy and concubinage still existed, but it was limited to the wealthy. Additionally, the roles of a carpenter, tent maker, or farmer were easier vocations for younger men. I also believe that Jesus’s teachings led people to see the hypocrisy of the patriarchal system calling prostitutes dishonorable when they were in fact the ones that were contributing to and ultimately causing the demise of the women involved. The whole male power system marginalized the women but didn’t want to take responsibility for the outcomes.

    Paul wanted to continue the trajectory that Jesus set, so as we’ve mentioned in earlier posts, he admonished the early church for “porneia”, which almost certainly involved sex with prostitutes and slaves which was directly connected to idolatry, adultery, rampant promiscuity, sex trafficking, and exploitation in general… irresponsible, illegitimate, and immoral to say the least.

    However, Paul also recognized the natural sex drive of humans and knew that the unmarried and widows were either having sex or going to have sex. His recommendation (not a law in stone) was that it would simply be better if they married. You mentioned in a previous comment about the danger a man would often face from another family if he slept with a “guarded” daughter or widow. This is such a great point and was a very real and practical concern. For this group of people in the early church to not marry would have caused a lot of social disruption and factions in the church. Even still, we can’t look past the point that there was always a sexual outlet for the individuals involved.

    In the biblical world, the thought of any man having celibacy forced on him for many years at a time was not a social reality or a concern for them to address. We didn’t see this take place until the early church came on the scene. The combination of power, control, dualism, and a deep suspicion of women and sexual desire brought about hardline rules, shame, guilt, and threats of hell that infected much of Christianity for over 19 centuries. And I believe none of this was ever the intentions of the Jewish tradition, Jesus, or the apostles. As you have so rightfully pointed out, the bible is our very witness to this with the examples of saints from the OT, the life and teachings of Jesus, and the overall message of the NT in general. If anything, the underpinning of the teachings of the NT paved the way for societies to evolve and handle their situations in a reasonable and loving manner.

    Regardless of whether or not the male was younger or older, you make a great point in that for the first time in human history, we are dealing with social situations where BOTH the female and the male are older when they marry, especially in the more developed and modern countries. This changes everything, and the main driver behind it is the fact that women 1) have freedom and 2) are beginning to be treated as equals in society. It’s the combination of both of these things along with scientific and technological advances (birth control, DNA testing, etc…) that have brought about radical changes in the past 70 years.

    A woman’s identity and status is no longer tied to whether or not she is married, who she is married to, and how many children she has given birth to. Today, a woman has the freedom to get a higher education, earn a tremendous amount of money, mutually decide who she wants to marry, and even decide when she wants to have children (if at all)… all of these experiences and freedoms are experienced over time in one’s life. Ask this same woman if she would rather get married her sophomore year of high school, be completely dependent on her husband, and start having as many children as possible. I’m pretty sure the answer is no, and for very good reasons… the evidence bears this out, and this is a VERY good thing.

    When religious authorities comply with the changing societal shifts and say, “Ok, this is a good thing for you, BUT you can’t experience your God-given sexuality.” then the obvious response is “WHY?”. An answer of “Because I said so” doesn’t carry much weight, so then the default becomes, “Because God said so”. Adults naturally begin to question these types of heavy handed responses, and they begin to do their own homework on the situation. When they begin to realize WHY things were actually done a certain way at certain times in history and then realize the concerns of that time are no longer concerns to current situations, they come to a deeper understanding and make different conclusions, and mature decisions that benefit and don’t cause harm based on their personal needs and situations. The end result is power and control being taken away from institutions and placed in the hands of the individual who has a personal relationship with God.

    I’d love to get your thoughts on what I’ve discussed above, and I have a related situation stemming from a recent conversation with a friend of mine. I’ll make that in another post since this one is already a bit lengthy.

    Thank you again… you have no idea how much I’ve appreciated our discussions. Your willingness to take the time to answer everyone’s questions in such a thoughtful and thorough manner is one that is not surpassed by anyone else I’ve come across on the internet. It’s a blessing and a gift to so many people.

    – Rex

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rex,

      On most of this I don’t have a lot to add. It looks good and reasonable to me.

      I would only caution that the rules laid down by religious authorities don’t necessarily correspond to what the people are actually doing. In fact, one of the ways we know some of the behaviors that were common in a particular culture is by looking at what behaviors were prohibited in their laws. You don’t write laws against things nobody does, but against things that a significant number of people are doing.

      If the Mishna laid down a rule that men should marry by the time they are twenty, ironically, this may actually be evidence that men were not marrying by the time they were twenty.

      I, too, have read that there was a trend toward men marrying younger by New Testament times. However, in traditional Middle Eastern culture right up to the present, the pattern of older men marrying younger women, and even taking child brides, has continued to be quite common. This suggests to me that a significant age differential between men and women at the time of marriage continued to be a part of Middle Eastern culture right through New Testament times and beyond.

  32. Captain Taiwan says:

    https://www.alexbersin.com/2015/03/theres-no-such-thing-as-premarital-sex.html

    If you could read this article and let me know what you think id appreciate it.
    It has some evidence that pre marital sex is a made up sin because it doesnt exist as a thing anyways.

    As far as my original comment goes. It makes since what you said about the repitition and also the “burn” thing makes sense as well so thank you for that. Sex before an official marriage is not nearly as bad or bad at all in comparison to sex with multiple people

    • Lee says:

      Hi Captain Taiwan,

      Thanks for your comment, and for the link. Yes, having sex with someone you’re heading toward marriage with is relatively mild compared to having sex with multiple partners.

      About the linked article, I agree with some parts of it and disagree with others. I could take them all point-by-point, but that would be tedious. So I’ll get right to the key points:

      1. The idea that having sex equals marriage to the person you had sex with applies primarily to cultures in which the people are materialistic and not spiritual—which was the case for the cultures that existed in Bible times.
      2. Even in Bible times, sex did not always mean marriage. It could also mean either engaging in prostitution or committing adultery, neither of which was considered a binding in marriage.

      To take the second point first, despite Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 6:16, quoted in the article, about becoming united to a prostitute in body when one has sex with a prostitute, in Bible times having sex with a prostitute was not equated with being married to her. For example, in Genesis 38 Judah had sex with a woman whom he believed to be a prostitute, and though there were repercussions, none of them had to do with his having had sex with a (putative) prostitute, and he was not sanctioned for that. More to the point, he was not considered married to the “prostitute” that he had sex with.

      It would be more accurate to say that in Bible times, if you had sex with a woman, you were either considered married to her, or you were engaging in adultery or prostitution with her. Adultery was prohibited, and was punishable by death. Prostitution was tolerated, and men were not punished for using the services of a prostitute.

      If a not-yet-married man had sex with a prostitute, he was not considered married to her. Thus, there was such a thing as premarital sex in Bible times—at least, for men.

      On the first point, in a materialistic, unspiritual culture, there is an argument to be made for sex being equal to marriage.

      It is true that in Bible times, when a man and a woman got married, the marriage was “sealed” and made actual by their having sex. Prior to that, they were not considered married, no matter what celebratory ceremonies might have taken place. A woman might be pledged to be married to a man for many years before actually becoming married to him when she had sex with him in the marriage bed.

      This is why, for example, in the story of Jacob marrying Leah and Rachel in Genesis 29:14–30, after the wedding feast was over, when Laban substituted his daughter Leah for his daughter Rachel in Jacob’s marriage bed, and Jacob had sex with her, Jacob was considered married to Leah, not Rachel, even though his intent was to marry Rachel, and that’s the marriage that the feast was supposed to be celebrating. It was not the festivities, but who he had sex with that made the marriage.

      It is also why, as quoted in the above article, the law was laid down that if a man slept with a woman who was not married or pledged to be married, she became his wife, and he was not allowed to divorce her (see Deuteronomy 22:28–29). His having sex with her was considered tantamount to marrying her. What followed was merely the formalization and social recognition of that marriage bond.

      However, all of this is based on cultures in which marriage is a purely external affair, with no internal, spiritual component to it.

      In those days, people didn’t marry for “love” as we think of it today. Yes, the Bible talks about Isaac loving Rebekah, and so on. This could lull us into thinking that they had the same sort of romantic and even spiritual love that couples often have today. But romantic love did not come on the scene until some time in the past few centuries, and it only became common within the past century at most. The “love” that men had for women in those days was largely a combination of natural biological sex drive and appreciation of the value of a good woman for her beauty, her fertility, and her family connections—and of course, for her virginity.

      Marriages were usually arranged by parents and other relatives. It was quite common for the bride and groom to meet on or shortly before the wedding day. How could they possibly “fall in love,” as we think of it today, when they had never even met each other?

      In such a culture, it was necessary to have strict rules about marriage and divorce because there was no internal bond holding married couples together. Marriage had to be both contracted and held together by external social and legal strictures and customs. It made no difference if the two were “compatible” or “in love.” This was irrelevant to the reasons for their getting married, and for the couples’s, and their clan and culture’s, reasons for their remaining married. Those reasons had to do with money, property, family and political ties, sons, inheritance, carrying on the family name, and so on—all of them purely external material and worldly matters. There was nothing internal or spiritual about it.

      This is why, in materialistic cultures in which there is no inner spiritual marriage, but only external social and legal marriage, having sex came to be equated with being married—and if it didn’t bind two people in marriage, they were either adulterers, or they were prostitutes or were using the services of prostitutes.

      In a culture that does have an ideal and practice of inner spiritual marriage, in which not just the bodies, but the minds, hearts, and yes, spirits of two people become one, the situation is very different.

      A spiritual marriage is not defined by the two having sex with one another, nor is it defined by a church wedding, nor is it defined by a marriage license conferred by the state providing the couple with various legal benefits. None of these things are what binds two spiritually married people together in marriage. Rather, what binds such couples together is a oneness of mind and heart. Based upon that inner oneness, they may have a church wedding, they may get legally married, and they will almost certainly have sex. But once again, none of those things constitutes or defines their marriage. Rather, they are all results of or adjuncts to the marriage. The marriage itself is an inner oneness in which God binds two hearts, minds, and lives together into one.

      In such a culture, and in people who aspire to this spiritual ideal and reality of marriage, having sex with someone does not constitute marriage with that person. If a teenager or young adult in such a society has casual sex with various people before growing up emotionally, becoming a real adult, and forming a true inner marriage, that person is not married to any of the people that he or she had sex with earlier. That’s because there was no inner spiritual connection or oneness with those people.

      To sum up:

      • When there is no inner spiritual marriage in a culture, sex does constitute marriage if it is not an instance of adultery or prostitution, because all that holds a marriage together in those cultures is external physical, material, and social bonds.
      • But in a culture in which there is inner spiritual marriage, sex may be the expression of marriage, but it does not determine marriage; marriage is determined by the inner oneness of the two people.

      Mind you, as I said in the above article, I don’t think it’s a very good idea to have sex with various partners before marriage even in today’s culture that recognizes and engages in inner spiritual marriage. But in a culture that practices marriage as an inner oneness of minds and hearts, there can indeed be premarital sex, and none of those sexual encounters constitutes or creates a marriage, even if they do tend to muddy the waters on the way to genuine marriage (for those who actually do move on to real marriage).

      This, of course, is a huge subject; I can’t really do justice to it here, even with this rather long reply. However, here are some more articles that cover many of these points in more detail. Some of them also provide more of the biblical basis for what I have said above:

      1. Real Marriage vs. Legal Marriage
      2. How does Marriage Fit In with a Spiritual Life? Is There Marriage in Heaven?
      3. Didn’t Jesus Say There’s No Marriage in Heaven?
      4. Marriage in the Resurrection: The Deeper Meaning
      5. Marriage in Heaven: A Response to Randy Alcorn and John Piper

      Yes, that’s a lot of articles! And some of them are fairly long. But if you want real answers, you’ll have to take the time and and make effort to get them. If you have further questions as you read, please don’t hesitate to ask.

  33. rex415 says:

    Hi Lee,

    Here’s the other situation that circles in my mind… I may have actually answered some of it in my previous post, but for some reason I can’t seem to tie it all together, maybe you can help.
    My friend is a teacher at an Orthodox Jewish school. He’s not Jewish and teaches there because he doesn’t teach any religious studies. The women are not even allowed to touch another man in any way… not even to shake their hand. And they are very strict on any premarital sex. This is obviously part of their culture and tradition.

    I also have friends who are from Iran. They’ve told me that the majority of the population in Iran hates their government due to oppression and by extension their religion. They’ve also said that they believe the U.S. is at least 70 years or more ahead of their society socially, and many of the millennials and generation Z’s have revolted for the most part. In the past, men would simply visit prostitutes until they married since they couldn’t touch a “guarded” daughter or widow of a family. But now, since both the men and women go to school, are delaying marriage, and marrying for different reasons, they all have sex before marriage. These friends of mine say the masses don’t see the pragmatism of the religious teachings due to their circumstances, and they feel most of what is done for the sake of tradition is rooted in power and control by the men and families.

    Do we take the situations above as simply being loyal to tradition? Is this where religion and the aspect of control comes into place, and people often simply adhere to “the traditions of men”, as Jesus would say? It seems like religion is more about piling on rules over time resulting in control as opposed to relationship and pragmatism. The latter of these seem to be the direction the New Testament message points us to, setting the stage for people adapting to changing circumstances and adopting a model of internal discretion rather than outward obedience to rules.

    Maybe it’s just that these cultures are so drastically different that we simply have a hard time relating, and I’m sure the same would be true for them. I’ve studied the honor shame culture of the Middle East and Mediterranean. I understand the focus is not on the benefit of the individual, and their society is more communal across the board. However, I don’t think it’s fair to say they are right, and we are wrong anymore than it is to say that we are right, and they are wrong… things are just different.

    To me, this is where the influence of culture comes into play on determining the harmfulness of actions. We don’t get to choose our parents, where we’re born, etc… So, it seems like God would expect us to live in our place and time and within our cultural construct without having to adopt the practices of a completely foreign lifestyle. Otherwise, the entire planet would have to try and conform to the cultural norms of some other place and time. Maybe, God actually appreciates the diversity of his creation 😉

    Thoughts??

    Rex

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rex,

      It is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid accepting the reality that our entire earth is in the midst of a massive paradigm shift that is progressively smashing and destroying all of the old cultural and religious patterns, and putting entirely new ones in their place.

      This paradigm shift did indeed start in Christian Europe a few centuries ago with the arrival of the Age of Enlightenment. However, the Enlightenment rapidly dethroned the institution of Christianity itself from its former reign over the intellectual, social, and political life of Europe.

      After Europe destroyed its own worldwide military and political power through those disastrous two world wars in the first half of the twentieth century, the epicenter of the paradigm shift toward reason, science, and technology moved from Old World of Europe to the New World of America. And though the United States is showing some signs of the beginning of its loss of global leadership, as of now it remains the world leader in smashing the old paradigm and bringing in the new. That is why even in Iran, as you say, the young people compare themselves, not to Russia or China, nor to France or Great Britain, nor even to their Middle Eastern neighbors such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia, but to the United States.

      However, even this ascending reign of science, reason, and technology over the old religious traditions and superstitions is only the external manifestation of a much deeper, spiritual paradigm shift.

      There have been several such paradigm shifts over human history. The most recent prior shift was the one that took place at the time of the Incarnation of God as Jesus Christ. Cutting through the false travesty of “Christianity” that took over within a few centuries of Christ’s death, and that has reigned in the Western world ever since (see: “Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!”), that previous paradigm shift was a shift from a mere external, behavior-based religion of obedience to law to a more internal faith-based religion—which, in the true biblical sense of the word “faith,” means a religion based on an inner acknowledgment of and dedication to the truth. (See: “Faith Alone Is Not Faith.”)

      Unfortunately, as I just said, that paradigm shift was fairly quickly derailed. However, it did bring about massive change in the cultural and religious life of much of the world, spreading out from its origins in Palestine.

      Judaism itself went through a huge upheaval a few short decades after Jesus’ life on earth, and became an almost entirely different religion due to the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD. No longer able to engage in the external rituals of animal sacrifice and Temple worship, Judaism became a religion of learning and of moral law, even if there were still strong vestiges of the behaviorism of the original Jewish paradigm.

      Not many centuries later, the advent of Islam completed the job of destroying the remaining vestiges of old pagan, animal sacrifice-based religions in the entire Mediterranean world. And over the ensuing centuries, paganism and animal sacrifice was rooted out of all but the poorest and most isolated areas of the world. Today it survives only in some areas of Africa, Asia, and Amazonia, and even in these regions it is rapidly succumbing to the onslaught of civilization.

      Of course, in any paradigm shift, there are always vestiges of the old culture and religion. Many areas of the Middle East continued in the same cultural patterns, even if modified by Islam, that had been in existence since Old Testament times. Islam itself was in many ways a revival of Old Testament style religion, only without the sacrificial worship.

      However, today the world is going through a much more extensive and universal paradigm shift that is quickly reaching even the areas that have resisted change in past times of upheaval and revolution.

      Though some Swedenborgians see this “New Church” as a revival of the original Christian paradigm, which they see as a church governed by “faith,” or in more ordinary terms, truth and doctrine, I believe something much more fundamental and radical is taking place. While I believe it is still essentially Christian, this new paradigm moves beyond the faith-based Christianity that was established after Christ’s life on earth. That transition to a faith- or truth-based paradigm was as much as could be accomplished at that time, and was also a necessary step to move toward the final paradigm shift, which is the one we are going through today.

      Today’s paradigm shift is a shift from faith-based to love-based religion. It is what Jesus originally preached as the core of his message: love for God and love for the neighbor. But the people of 2,000 years ago just weren’t ready for that, so the faith hammered by Paul became the motif and pattern of the first Christian church.

      However, although today reason, science, and technology seem to be the reigning paradigm, rapidly sweeping through the earth, and supplanting old cultures and religions, there is, as I say, something deeper going on.

      That deeper thing is that people now believe more and more that they should orient their lives and guide their behavior, not just by what they believe but according to their love.

      Moving back to your specific area of inquiry, one manifestation of this that has been sweeping the earth is the radical new idea that sex and marriage should be based on love. It may seem obvious to many people today, but love as we conceive of it today—as an inner “soulmate” connection between two people—was absolutely not the basis of sex and marriage in any culture or society in the world up until very recently. Marriage was not the union of two equal partners based on an inner connection and shared values. It was the unequal union of a dominant man with one or more submissive women based on ties of family, clan, nation, wealth, childbearing, inheritance, and carrying on the family name. Love as we understand it today had little or nothing to do with it.

      This radical new concept of sex and marriage based on an inner connection rather than on external family, social, financial, and political ties is rapidly sweeping through all the cultures of the world, including the non-Christian ones. Even in Muslim and Hindu countries where arranged marriages based on family connections and financial and political considerations used to be the norm, monogamous marriage based on love is taking over among young people, while the old cultural forms of sex and marriage are being rapidly rejected. Hollywood has nothing on Bollywood when it comes to romcoms and the celebration of monogamous marriage based on romantic love.

      This shift from external cultural, social, and financial reasons for marriage to internal reasons of love, connection, and shared values between two people is now, thanks to the wonders of the Internet and global communications, taking over even in conservative Muslim countries such as Iran. Young people want love, not arranged marriages that please their families.

      Of course, being young people, driven by hormones and without any real guidance from their old-fashioned parents and clergy, they are doing all sorts of confusing of sex with love, just as young people in the more “advanced” Western countries are doing. They are throwing off the yoke of their local religions, which are still stuck in the old paradigm, but they don’t have anything really solid to replace it. So they are learning by the trial and error method, with an emphasis on the “error” part.

      Yes, we can wring our hands about imposing “Western values” on them instead of valuing and validating their local cultures and religions. But it’s a little too late for that. The cat is already out of the bag. Besides, the traditional “Western” and “Christian” values are being smashed right along with traditional Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and every other traditional system of religious and cultural values. The West may have been the epicenter of the earthquake, but that earthquake has shaken and is shaking West and East alike, from their foundations.

      No matter what we may think of it, young people all around the world are getting a taste of the new paradigm, and they want it. It is being held back in some areas more than others by authoritarian and despotic governments and religious institutions. But those governments and religious institutions will, in time, be swept away if they refuse to reform and get with the program.

      Mind you, these paradigm shifts from living out of obedience to law to living out of an understanding of the truth to living out of what will ultimately be love for our fellow human beings (“the neighbor”) and God does not mean that now we will be lawless, irrational hordes running wherever our “feelings” lead us. Yes, some of that is happening. But the reason we had to go through a phase of obedience, then a phase of truth, before reaching the dawning phase of love is that we had to build the foundations upon which a genuine love-based society could be built. Those foundations are reform of our outward behavior based on laws of decency, then reform of our thinking through gaining an understanding of the truth, before we could then act from love, through our understanding of what is true and right, into good and constructive behavior. A real love-based paradigm includes a good understanding of truth and a commitment to good outward behavior.

      Transitions are always messy. And the huge paradigm shift that is now enveloping our world is hugely messy. But there is a method in the madness, and it is leading toward a better society, even if it may not always seem that way.

      It will take some people and some parts of the world longer than others to reach this new and better social and spiritual pattern. But it is coming, and it is coming worldwide, because now, unlike any previous time in human history, the entire world is becoming a single broad and diverse community, in which common values are becoming the worldwide core even in our differing cultural manifestations of them.

      I could go on, but this is enough for now. We are now living in the times prophesied in spiritual and metaphorical language in the final chapters of the Book of Revelation:

      Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1–5)

  34. rex415 says:

    Hi Lee,

    Thank you for such a well written and thought-provoking response. I’ve been considering much of what you’ve written for several days and have a few comments. Your perspective on the current paradigm shift is one that I am in full agreement with… a few of your comments were:

    “There have been several such paradigm shifts over human history. The most recent prior shift was the one that took place at the time of the Incarnation of God as Jesus Christ.”

    “However, although today reason, science, and technology seem to be the reigning paradigm, rapidly sweeping through the earth, and supplanting old cultures and religions, there is, as I say, something deeper going on.”

    “That deeper thing is that people now believe more and more that they should orient their lives and guide their behavior, not just by what they believe but according to their love.”

    “Mind you, these paradigm shifts from living out of obedience to law to living out of an understanding of the truth to living out of what will ultimately be love for our fellow human beings (“the neighbor”) and God does not mean that now we will be lawless, irrational hordes running wherever our “feelings” lead us.”

    “It will take some people and some parts of the world longer than others to reach this new and better social and spiritual pattern. But it is coming, and it is coming worldwide, because now, unlike any previous time in human history, the entire world is becoming a single broad and diverse community, in which common values are becoming the worldwide core even in our differing cultural manifestations of them.”

    My comments… any additional thoughts or insights would be more than welcome 🙂

    I believe there is evidence of a paradigm shift and a new age for humanity around every 2,000 years, at least from a Biblical perspective. We see obedience to law come into play about 2,000 years prior to Jesus, with salvations through God’s grace and love entering the scene with Jesus. And now, about 2,00 years later we are beginning to see a fuller manifestation of love being lived out on a more global and interconnected level due to new knowledge, technology and communications that have changed the world. This is all in alignment with your thoughts on Obedience + Truth + Love Application… and it all takes time to manifest!

    This interconnectedness coupled with science is proving what you say about a deeper spiritual truth being revealed. Science is now in the phase of proving the spiritual world through quantum physics, light, vibrational energy, and even neuroscience.

    Additionally, the massive amount of data on Near Death Experiences is being taken very seriously. I’ve studied NDE’s for many years, and they almost unanimously point to love fulfilling God’s law. NDE’s are also evidence of the existence of hellish states, but they also point to continued spiritual growth beyond the grave. They demonstrate the existence of both good and evil in the spiritual realm.

    The one thing we always see is change and the progression of humanity. It only makes sense that it would take time for humanity to implement the breadth and depth of the gospel, especially on a social level. The thought that longstanding injustices would take time to overcome is only reasonable and realistic. In fact, we must expect humanity and society to evolve. The subsequent approach to handling relationships must also change, especially when the very application of the gospel involves social issues and relationships between people.

    Are we supposed to think that humanity was supposed to stop progressing in the 1st century? That we wouldn’t grow in knowledge and new understanding that would lead to newer and broader applications of love? That our social situations wouldn’t evolve and progress, and as a result so would our approaches to handle them? And, isn’t the gospel of God’s grace and love in Christ the very thing that would provide us the framework to adapt and adjust, even if it meant doing things differently and for different reasons? Or, are we supposed to stay legalistically rooted in the past regardless of what we learn or how much situations may change?

    We now ask “what is the loving thing to do in a given situation?”, and that has given us changes that could never have been experienced immediately in the ancient world. Only in the past 150 + years have we abolished slavery, allowed women to freely divorce abusive marriages, allowed women to remarry without guilt or shame, and given complete social freedom and equality to women and people of all races.

    These positive applications of the gospel are going to bring about radical changes and new radical questions on how to handle life. As a result, only now are people able to marry for the internal, equal, and more spiritual reasons you mention.

    In a previous post we discussed the hypocrisy of picking and choosing which verses to read literally and which ones to set aside due to cultural differences. The above are prime examples of the church adapting to the culture, and this type of adaptation has always happened throughout history. We are already seeing the next two practical cultural battles with homosexuality and cohabitation. In time, I believe the church will have to adapt to these changing social realities too… and it’s already started.

    As a side note, regarding homosexuality, I found it interesting in a comment on another article that you mention that lesbianism is never discussed in the Bible. Most people look to Romans 1:26 to refute this. However, I’m not so sure this is such an airtight argument. While it’s possible lesbianism is what this passage is referring to, it’s certainly not clear. It never mentions that women were doing unnatural things with other women; whereas it is explicit about men with other men. People don’t stop to think that the unnatural actions could have been many other things, such as anal sex, violence, etc… We just don’t know.

    Additionally, nowhere in the Torah is lesbianism ever mentioned, and it seems that Paul would almost certainly be drawing on references to the sexual prohibitions in Leviticus. And, since “penetration” was the prime indicator of sexual status in the ancient world, it seems that two females participating in oral sex with each other might not be the most obvious conclusion.

    In closing, as you say, things are a bit messy in the middle of a big shift, especially when the shift involves situations as personal as sex, relationships, and marriage, but ultimately a greater good will result from it. It’s not always easy living through these changes since believers like ourselves have to pioneer these new shades of life in the most faithful and reasonable ways possible. Perhaps the waters will be a little smoother in a few decades.

    Here’s an interesting and insightful blog post on the internet and its impact on religion… I think you might like it: https://theepoch.org/3-reasons-the-internet-is-killing-your-religion-and-you-dont-even-know-it/

    – Rex

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rex,

      Thanks for your thoughts and responses. Overall, I’m with you. A few random responses to particular points:

      Though the periods between paradigm shifts are long, measured in centuries and millennia, I don’t think it’s as neat as “every 2,000 years.”

      Taking the Incarnation as the reference point, the prior big paradigm shift was the Exodus and the giving of the Ten Commandments, which is traditionally dated in the 13th century BC, though some Bible scholars date it as far back as the 16th century BC. (Those who think these things didn’t happen historically date the composition of the Ten Commandments much later.) The giving of the Ten Commandments was the beginning of the era of external obedience to formalized law, which Swedenborg calls “the Israelitish church” or “the Jewish church.”

      The major paradigm shift prior to that was marked by the Flood, but that is part of the early mythic, or purely correspondential (in Swedenborgian terms), history, which is not really datable. The first more-or-less datable event is the Call of Abram in Genesis 12, which is traditionally placed in the 21st century BC. The period from the Flood to the Exodus is what Swedenborg calls “the ancient church.”

      The period prior to that, from Creation to the Flood (all in mythic history) he calls “the most ancient church”

      Going forward from the Incarnation, according to Swedenborg, the Last Judgment predicted in the New Testament took place during his lifetime, in the mid 18th century. This formed the paradigm shift from the first Christian church to the New Jerusalem church. Historically it was the paradigm shift of the Enlightenment.

      At any rate, none of these falls into a neat 2,000 year period. However, they are in that general order of magnitude.

      Moving on, I wouldn’t say that science is “proving” the spiritual world. Science is the study of the material universe. The spiritual world is outside of its purview, and not “provable” through science. However, I do think that modern science is compatible with a modern view of spirit. Of course, it is not compatible with old religious ideas such as the world being about 6,000 years old and heaven being in the sky above us.

      About abolishing slavery, I would say we have done this legally and in cultural aspiration, but we have not yet actually ended slavery. Slavery is still widespread in the world. It’s just that it is no longer legal and no longer socially acceptable. As for actually eliminating it in practice, we still have a whole lot of work to do. Ditto for many of the accomplishments regarding more equality and freedom for women. The big shift is that though the ancient wrongs of slavery and gender inequality still exist in our world, whereas before they were widely accepted as normal and even as ordained by God, now they are seen as wrongs to be overcome.

      But these are somewhat minor niggles. As I say, overall, I’m right with you.

      Thanks also for the link. I like many of the author’s thoughts. However, I think he’s a bit optimistic about how enlightened people are becoming these days, and how the Internet is increasing knowledge, erasing differences, and doing away with old religions and religious views.

      Yes, for some people it is. But others spend their Internet time in echo chambers of online forums where everyone agrees with them, and if they don’t, they’re run out of those forums on a rail. The Internet has made it much easier for people with backwards beliefs and toxic beliefs to connect up with hundreds and thousands of people who agree with them, while avoiding hearing the voices of people who disagree with them, thus creating even more polarization in people’s beliefs.

      Related to this, “smart” search engines “learn” what sort of search results people want, and give them more of those results. A person who disagrees with you politically or socially will see a very different “Internet” than you do.

      And . . . some people spend their Internet time looking at funny and adorable cat photos. 😛

      I would say that the Internet in itself doesn’t change people’s minds. Rather, it intensifies whatever mindset people approach it with. The Internet is a very powerful tool. But it is still a tool, whose use depends upon whose hands that tool is in.

    • AJ749 says:

      Hi Rex 415 i thought your comment was a very good read, as you say you have studied NDE literature, do you think that NDEs point towards the spiritual world that swedenborg saw ?

      I know i have already asked lee whos answer is very comforting but i am intrigued for the answer of someone who isnt as connected to swedenborg as lee ( No offence intended Lee )

      • rex415 says:

        Hi AJ749,

        Based on what I’ve read about Swedenborg’s view of the afterlife, I do believe that our modern day studies on NDE’s do have a lot in common and support a lot of what he describes. The idea of different “levels” in the afterlife seems to be supported, and that correlates with continued spiritual growth.

        Swedenborg is detailed in a lot of his descriptions and experiences of the afterlife. While most NDE accounts are very vivid, many don’t go into quite as much structured detail. I’m not saying that I believe Swedenborg is incorrect, it’s just that many NDE’s don’t reveal as much.

        I also agree with the concept of spirits rejecting God’s love and creating their own hell… there is a choice here. Many NDE’s speak to people crying out for God’s love to save them, and that is when they do begin to advance towards His light. A lot of people claim that hell isn’t real, but if we take an honest look at all of the evidence I do not believe this is remotely possible.

        Another aspect of NDE’s that is supported by Swedenborg, and what Lee has done such a great job of explaining throughout this web site, is that God knows and understands the heart and intentions of everyone. This is why I believe that Christ, as the eternal Word or “logos”, can be found throughout the history of the world through creation and even in other religions that are geared towards a true love and pursuit of God. I believe these people experience Christ and heaven in the afterlife. As Christians, the opportunity to know Jesus as God incarnate gives us the purest access and fullest relationship possible.

        As Lee aptly puts it, people who refuse to believe in the spiritual world and afterlife simply do not want to take the time to make an objective pursuit of truth. If they did, they would see that what Swedenborg describes, NDEs, quantum physics, the supernatural and paranormal, and the Bible itself provide more than enough evidence for rational individuals to believe. Once people experience the reality of the spiritual world, then the reality of the resurrection and God’s ultimate love stares them right in the face.

        On a personal level, in 1987, my mother was in a coma for over two months and was clinically brain dead for 6 days. She not only survived, but she has thrived 🙂 She had her NDE experience, and she describes the beautiful colors, fields, meadows, and music… all of which was so much more than what we experience here in the physical. She also talks about how she could actually see the prayers of people for her ascending towards heaven and how she could feel the complete presence of Jesus. She even speaks of the evil that exists in the afterlife and how it wanted to keep her from the light, but it had no authority to do so. And, like many people who experience NDE’s, my mother is one of the most gracious and understanding people you will ever meet. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff and feels that man has done a lot to complicate God’s simple message of love.

        – Rex

        • AJ749 says:

          Hi Rex thank you for the detailed reply, i do love how NDEs prove swedenborg wasnt just seing what he wanted to see but saw what we all go through, and if you look at the other areas of the paranormal (e.g Spirit communications) theres tonnes and tonnes of evidence why we shouldnt contact the spirit world or even aknowledge that their are spirits around us just as swedenborg said

  35. rex415 says:

    Hi Lee,
    First, thank you again for all of your detailed responses to many of the comments I’ve submitted throughout your site. They have truly been helpful. I wasn’t sure if I should post this as a continuing comment or if I should submit it as a new question since it touches on some of the things we’ve discusse, so I’ll let you decide what’s best 😊

    It would be so very helpful if you could discuss how to take culture into account when reading and applying scripture. You’ve mentioned the differences in culture many times when discussing the rules and prohibitions around sex and the Bible, and I agree that there’s a lot that we experience that is different in our world. But, how does culture impact our interpretation and application of scripture, and what influence does culture have on what we may regard as sin? The typical response from the church is to understand the Biblical culture and context and then simply try to replicate the same outcome to a completely different culture and context. There’s this constant battle that seems to take place between the church and our culture… our culture is the way of the world. It’s almost as if we all just lived in Israel then everything would be ok.

    I feel there’s a lot of confusion in the Western world in how to read and apply scripture to our everyday lives. Preachers hold people’s feet to the fire over customs from a completely different time and place, especially when it comes to sex. The premise seems to be that since the Bible was written within the customs of an honor shame culture in the Middle East that every place on earth should abide by those particular “rules” no matter how unreasonable or stressful it may be to the individuals involved. Yet, the very means that make these customs suitable for a particular time and place are conspicuously absent from our own situations. For example, there are no arranged marriages, early marriage is foolish at best, and equality between the sexes is a must for us.

    I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen leave the church because of these unrealistic expectations. And, the reality is that these aren’t rebellious people, they just see the church as being so out of touch with the realities of life here in the west.

    I grew up in very conservative circles where many portions of the New Testament in particular were taken very literally, especially with regards to sex and marriage. The basic premise is that God’s Word defines what is right and wrong, and not the culture. However, as I grew older I began to see a lot of things that were “wrong” in the New Testament that were regularly practiced in our Western churches. At first, it was small things like head coverings for women, or women taking some small leadership roles. But then, I noticed larger things like divorce and remarriage.

    As has been discussed in several comments, 1 Corinthians chapter 7 is the hallmark used by the church to promote sex only within the bounds of marriage. However, I witness the same people not apply the literal reading of the chapter when it comes to a woman who divorces her husband actually remarrying (7:11). Apparently, any sex outside of marriage is a sin no matter what, but it’s OK for a woman who leaves a believing spouse (perhaps for valid reasons) to remarry. This completely contradicts Paul’s instructions to the church, yet women today remarry regularly within the church, and it’s completely acceptable.

    Recently, I had a fantastic discussion with a Christian friend who spent the first 20 years of her life growing up in Ethiopia but has been in the U.S. for the last 22 years. She started talking to me about the cultural differences and how she felt it was necessary to adapt to the situations in which we lived. And, she felt scripture should be adapted too. Basically, you can’t compare an individual in Ethiopia with an individual in the U.S., and an appropriate solution or response in one place may not be appropriate in another. In other words, it may or may not be sinful depending on the context of the situation. She feels the church has not done itself any favors by rigidly applying customs from a completely different part of the world to millions of single and divorced people, making themselves the official “sex police” of their difficult situations.

    The context of our discussion revolved around a current situation I am helping another friend through where his wife has just decided to file for divorce. He is devastated and will need plenty of time to heal. My friend from Ethiopia went on to tell me how that situation would almost never occur in her home country, and if it did, then a replacement wife would easily be found in fairly short order. The men would find an available woman in the town or village, she would marry him, and then be relegated to the house. Furthermore, she said the whole notion of attracting a woman, dating her, and getting her to fall in love with you and then eventually agreeing to marriage was completely foreign. Additionally, all of the women typically married around the age of 16 because the community was fearful of them becoming pregnant out of wedlock. My friend said she knew that freedom of choice meant too much to her at an early age, so she did everything she could to make it to the U.S. by the age of 20. When she finally arrived, she said she enjoyed dating for a while and eventually met her husband, and they now have been married for 11 years and have two amazing children.

    My friend from Ethiopia then commented that there are several things that humans need to survive. She said we must eat, drink, eliminate waste, breathe, sleep, and procreate (have sex). If any of these is thrown out of balance, suppressed, or over-indulged, then the whole person suffers. She brought her comments back to my friend who is going through the divorce, and, as a Christian, she said he deserves the grace and mercy of companionship, even as a newly single man. The prospects of him having to negotiate marriage in the U.S. are completely different than the cultures in other parts of the world, and that it should be more than OK for him to experience this healing in his life here in the U.S. without having to wait indefinitely in hopes for someone to marry him again. She said the situation would be handled much differently in Ethiopia, but at the end of the day, he would not be alone there.

    Shortly after having this conversation with my friend from Ethiopia, one of my very best friends, who is an immigrant from Iran, vacationed with me for about a week. In discussing relationships in the U.S. compared to those in Iran, he felt very strongly that the process of dating, getting to know someone, and even potentially cohabitating before marriage was a much better way of pursuing a mate than the arrangements associated with the customs in the Middle East. He lamented about the rampant adultery by both men and women and the unhappy marriages that existed in his home country because people often don’t know each other before they are thrust into the commitment of marriage.

    Is it not possible that just because things were done a certain way in the Bible doesn’t mean that there aren’t alternatives that may suit other situations better? Even though the Bible is inspired, are we wrong to assume that just because something was handled a certain way in the Bible that it is the only acceptable way regardless of the situation? Maybe I’m oversimplifying things, but isn’t love and wisdom should enough to accommodate any culture or situation, even if that means doing some things differently?

    I hope you’re doing well, and thank you in advance for any words of wisdom! – Rex

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rex,

      As I’m sure you’re well aware, these are enormously complicated questions.

      The short answer is yes, of course particulars of morality and behavior must be adapted to particular cultures. And given that there are thousands, if not millions, of different cultures and subcultures in the world, even this “short answer” is enormously complex. It takes actual human beings embedded in those cultures to figure these things out within their own cultures. And since the cultures themselves are changing in a changing world, it’s not something we can just do once, and be finished with it. It’s an ongoing, unfolding process.

      This doesn’t mean that there are no universals at all, and that everything is just relative. In every stable culture there are rules against murder, theft, deception, adultery, and a few other basic wrongs that, in the Judaeo-Christian world, are embodied in the Ten Commandments. However, exactly what these rules mean in particular cultures may vary—especially when it comes to sex, marriage, and adultery.

      Beyond that, although the variety among cultures and subcultures is nearly infinite, there are some general categories into which cultures can be sorted. And the general category into which a culture falls will determine how moral rules function within that culture.

      From a Swedenborgian perspective, the big three categories of cultures are:

      1. “Natural,” or obedience-based
      2. “Spiritual,” or understanding-based
      3. “Heavenly” (traditionally “celestial”), or love-based

      These same categories apply to individual people; and a culture is characterized by the category into which the bulk of its people fall.

      In a “natural” culture, people are focused on outward behavior, and on outward success and failure. These are “honor and shame” or “rules-based” or “punishment-and-reward” cultures. The people in such cultures don’t think deeply about principles of right and wrong. Their minds are primarily engaged on outward “natural” issues, including outward behavior. Things are right or wrong based upon authority. If the rules of the culture say something is good, then it’s good. If the rules of the culture say something is bad, then it’s bad. People who do what is good according to those rules are good people. People who do what is bad according to those rules are bad people.

      This may seem artificial to people in Western cultures today, because despite the fact that we have laws, we are not embedded in a “natural,” obedience-based culture. Our culture is primarily a “spiritual,” or understanding-based culture. And we seem to be in transition to a “heavenly,” or love-based culture. We think of things as being right or wrong, not based on what some external authority says, but based on whether it makes sense, or on whether it is good, loving, and fair. Individual citizens are supposed to learn and internalize the principles on which a good and healthy society is based, and act upon those principles from their own internal compass. We bristle at authorities telling us what to do. We want Freedom!

      But that’s not how “natural” people who live in “natural” cultures think, or work. “Natural” people don’t think of it as their job to figure out what’s right and wrong, still less understand why those things are right and wrong. Their job is to learn the rules, and abide by them (or break them). And they understand that they will reap the consequences of their good or bad behavior at the hands of the authorities in their culture, and at the hands of their community as a whole.

      This was the sort of culture that existed at the times and in the places that the Old Testament was written. And when the New Testament was written, the culture was only just beginning its transition from a “natural” to a “spiritual” paradigm—a transition that, unfortunately, never really took hold. Christianity fairly quickly reverted back to a “natural” rules-based, obedience-and-reward system. Only today, since the time of the Enlightenment and (from a Swedenborgian perspective) the Second Coming, has any significant part of the world’s population started to make serious progress out of the old “natural,” authority-based honor and shame model.

      That is why there is only now such upheaval about following the particular laws and rules laid down in the Old and New Testaments. Up until fairly recently , human culture had not changed all that much from the culture of Bible times. Most people were still focused largely on right and wrong outward behavior, based on the rules of right and wrong behavior that their civil and religious authorities laid down for them and imposed upon them. And most people were focused on material and physical pleasure and success vs. material and physical pain and failure.

      In this type of “natural,” authority-based culture, it is necessary to have strict rules, strictly enforced. Those rules, and the punishments for disobeying them, do vary from culture to culture. But the core principles as embodied in the Ten Commandments tend to be fairly standard across cultures. The particularities of how, for example, sexual and marital relations work within a particular culture vary. But within every culture, if marriage as understood by that culture is violated, then it is condemned as adultery, and is punished. Without this authority-based, punishment-and-reward system in place, the people in such cultures would break out into all sorts of misbehavior precisely because they do not have their own inner moral compass to guide them. They rely on external authorities and laws to keep them on a sound path in life.

      In such a culture, since the people are focused on external behavior, and on external success or failure, their measure of good or bad will be based on whether a particular course of action leads to worldly good or bad for them and their family. In ages past (and in some cultures still today), if their actions led to their being appointed to an honorable position of leadership in the town, favored with a fine parcel of fertile land, and marrying a beautiful wife or a well-off husband, then they knew that it was good behavior. Other people were meant to see their public honor and success, not to mention their crop of fine children, and emulate their good behavior.

      But if their actions led to their being dragged up onto a platform in the town square, stripped to the waist or completely naked, and given a hundred lashes while all the men, women, and children of the town watched, then they knew that it was bad behavior. Yes, these public spectacles were great entertainment in those brutish days. Especially if the townspeople believed that the punishment was deserved, they crowded around, jeered, shook their fists, and shouted for blood as the man or woman tied to the whipping post cried out and fainted in pain. But public punishment also served as a stark warning: If you do what that miserable human being did, you will be the one getting stripped, beaten, and humiliated in front of everyone you know. There was nothing subtle about the punishment or its message.

      This practice of public, physical punishment was the norm in Old Testament times. When an Israelite attempted to entice other Israelites to worship other gods—an especially heinous crime in that culture—the consequences were to be public, physically painful in the extreme, and lethal. Deterrence was an explicit goal:

      Stone them to death for trying to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Then all Israel shall hear and be afraid, and never again do any such wickedness. (Deuteronomy 13:10–11)

      These sorts of brutal public punishments may seem artificial and draconian to us. But that is how the people of those cultures knew right from wrong. Most of them were illiterate. They couldn’t learn right and wrong from books. They had no internal moral compass. They required an external, physical and worldly “compass” to keep them pointed in the right direction. (And yes, this low level “eye-for-an-eye” system did over time get abused and twisted by the civil and religious authorities into horribly corrupt and oppressive systems that had far more to do with power, wealth, and oppression than with punishing and warning against destructive behavior. But that’s another discussion—and also the reason that the “iron age” of humanity came to its end.)

      In such an external, authority-based culture, if all of the laws were suddenly abrogated, all the civil and ecclesiastical authorities were suddenly to disappear, and all of these physical, this-world punishments and rewards were no longer in effect, society would quickly descend into an amoral, brutish, “Animal Farm” type of existence. The result would be the self-destruction of the population.

      That’s why much of the Bible is written on the basis of strict law, and severe punishments for disobedience, and material rewards for good behavior. Such an arrangement was necessary to keep the people of that time—who were not at all internal or spiritual in character—on a decent path, and maintain some sort of stability and justice in society. In the Old Testament especially, if you read about the rewards for good behavior and the punishments for evil behavior, they are almost entirely physical and worldly punishments and rewards. For the good, the promised rewards are wealth, fertility, abundant flocks and herds, beautiful wives who will bear them many children, honor in society, victory over enemies, and many foreign slaves to do their bidding. For the wicked, the threatened punishments are poverty, barrenness, failure of crops and herds, hunger, public punishment and humiliation, defeat, deportation, and enslavement at the hands of their enemies.

      Today, a significant segment of the world’s population has transitioned to a “spiritual,” understanding-based character. Some have moved on to a “heavenly,” love-based paradigm. In both of these character types, discernment of moral vs. immoral behavior is based primarily on an internal compass rather than an external one. People of such character act rightly, not because some authority tells them they must, nor due to fear of punishment if they don’t or desire for reward if they do, but in the case of the spiritual, because they recognize that it is the right way to act, and they are committed to right action, and in the case of the heavenly, because they are motivated by love and concern for their fellow human beings, and they do not want to act in any way that would bring harm to other people, or to the world as a whole.

      It’s not that such people have no rules, and “anything goes.” Rather, the rules have been internalized, and they now act upon them from their own internal motivation rather than based on external motivation. (This also means that such people must have gone through a period of childhood, and probably young adulthood as well, in which rules were taught and imposed from the outside. Otherwise they would have had no moral compass to internalize.)

      Such people, when they do engage in wrong behavior, are likely to be self-correcting rather than requiring external punishment to get them back on a good path. They will notice that their words and actions are having harmful effects for themselves and for other people, and will engage in the needed personal course correction based on that awareness.

      For spiritual and heavenly people, the old rituals of public punishment and humiliation are counterproductive. They only bring about an erosion of respect for the civil and religious authorities. Further, being physically punished or facing material penalties does not have the same effect upon them as it does upon “natural” people who put their hearts in their physical and material well-being and pleasure. In fact, many spiritual and heavenly people will willingly endure physical pain and material deprivation in order to accomplish the higher goals that they have in mind. This includes suffering pain and deprivation at the hands of civil and religious authorities who oppose the changes such people are working to bring about in society.

      It was precisely because Christianity was moving beyond a “natural” state to a “spiritual” state in its early days that the usual methods of brutal public punishment and humiliation used in those days to suppress dissent—the most famous or infamous being crucifixion—utterly failed to stamp out the new heresy. Instead, these methods caused it to grow deep roots and thrive until it took over the whole culture. (But then it promptly got corrupted and started practicing all the brutalities that its martyrs had suffered earlier.)

      Returning to the present, it is because so many people today have moved beyond the “natural,” authority-based, punishment-and-reward stage of human life that many of the moral laws are “breaking down” these days. It’s not that there are no more rules and no more morals. It’s that people are acting based on internalized moral codes. And in a changing culture, their moral codes don’t always match the old culturally-set standards. However, what’s happening in society is perceived by people still engaged in the old authority-based paradigm as “a breakdown of morality.”

      And truth be told, things can and do get messy. Sometimes people who act on the basis of an internal compass have to learn the hard way, by trial and error. This may involve misbehaving for a while until they start feeling the effects of their actions. When there aren’t immediate and stark results for bad behavior, such as being being put in the pillory on the public square for committing adultery, it can take people longer to discern right from wrong, and to move toward right behavior. Hence, in the area of sexuality, people may sleep around for a while, since there seem to be no immediate ill effects, before finding it empty and problematic, and moving on to a faithful, monogamous relationship.

      Ideally there would be people and institutions teaching right from wrong in a less authoritarian and more understanding-based manner. Unfortunately, the old religious institutions still persist, and still have a loud voice in the moral sphere. And unfortunately, very few of them have moved beyond the old “natural” authority-based stage of humanity. And so people in today’s culture increasingly ignore them and flout their rather simplistic, low-level rules, which were designed for an earlier time and culture.

      There is the additional complication that even in a society that has many “spiritual” and “heavenly” people, there will still also be many “natural” people who continue to require external punishments and rewards. Thankfully, we are moving away from corporal punishment and public shaming. (I’m old enough to remember elementary school teachers putting misbehaving boys and girls over their knee and spanking them in front of the entire class—which would get most teachers fired these days, if not sent to prison.) But societal order does still require punishment for behavior that harms other people. It’s just that these days, for adults the punishment usually comes in the form of monetary fines, public service, and prison time. Meanwhile, school principals, teachers, and parents have come up with less physical and less humiliating punishments for children and teens. But they are still disciplining them when they seriously misbehave—or at least, they should be.

      So as you can see, these are very complex issues indeed. One could write a whole book on the subject, but this is already getting long, so I’ll stop for now. I will only add that more and more people are now acting from an inner sense of right and wrong, which may not always be accurate, but it does prompt them to do their best to live in a decent and ethical manner, even if they do sometimes have to learn through trial and error. The “breakdown of morality” is really just a messy transition from externally imposed morality to a greater and more inward morality. And it’s taking us a while to get there.

      For a related article touching on the spiritual stages humanity has gone through, please see:

      “The World is Going to Hell in a Handbasket!”

      If I’ve missed some important part of what you’re asking about, please feel free to continue the conversation.

  36. James White says:

    Fornication translates to porneia.
    Porneia mostly means prostitution, but it also means sex out of marriage in the Strongs Greek dictionary.

    If sex before marriage exist then how is sex out of marriage ok? Because sex before marriage fits into that. Because if its before that means its not sex inside of marriage. So I’m confused.

    • Lee says:

      Hi James,

      It’s not that sex outside of marriage is okay. It’s that what we think of as sex outside of marriage today is not what the Bible is talking about when it speaks of “fornication.” The definition of porneia in Strong’s Greek Dictionary is:

      harlotry (including adultery and incest); figuratively, idolatry:—fornication.

      The word porneia comes from the Greek word for “prostitute.” Our English word “fornication” comes from the Latin word fornicatio, which is derived from a word that means “brothel.”

      There is a reason these words refer to brothels and prostitution. In those days, a respectable young woman was expected to be a virgin when she got married. This was somewhat less so in the pagan cultures that Paul was preaching in, but even Greek and Roman culture prized virginity as a key part of a woman being suitable for marriage, as did the Middle Eastern culture of the area. No man wanted to marry a woman who was not a virgin.

      Because of this, young women did not just sleep around the way many do today. If they did, it would ruin their chances for marriage, and likely lead to their being disowned by their family and forced into prostitution or slavery. It was also common for a young man who slept with a virgin to be forced to marry her. (See the above article for the commandment about this in the Hebrew Bible.) This meant that if an unmarried man wanted to have sex, and wasn’t interested in getting married, his main and sometimes only option was to have sex with a prostitute. Or if he came from a well-to-do family, he could have sex with the female slaves.

      The idea that young men and women would just casually have sex with one another was not something that was contemplated in those cultures. Aside from the aforementioned virginity requirement for women, keep in mind that safe, effective, and widely available birth control did not exist then as it does today. Any young woman who had sex regularly would soon become pregnant. Even if she had sex only once, the chances of a pregnancy were quite high. And a woman who got pregnant out of wedlock was considered a prostitute if the father of the child did not marry her.

      This is not to say that sex outside of marriage is just fine. As I say in the above article, I think it is better to wait until marriage. Realistically, though, in today’s culture most people just aren’t going to do that.

      And to say that “fornication” in the Bible refers to today’s casual sex between unmarried people is to yank the Bible’s statements about “fornication” completely out of context, and therefore to miss the point. Fornication referred primarily to adultery and sex with prostitutes, because that’s the type of extramarital sex that was common in those days. Under Hebrew law, if a man had sex with an unmarried and unbetrothed (promised in marriage) virgin, that was not considered fornication. It was considered de facto marriage. Once again, see the passage from Deuteronomy 22:28–29 quoted in the above article.

      • James White says:

        https://www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/the-problem-of–porneia-

        So how do people come to this confusion?

        I understand what youre saying but but how can I conclusively tell someone this when the easy argument for them is to say what this article does? And you’ll see a number of verses brought up for biblical backing. I’d recommend you read them because he says that they cover all versions of porneia even pre marital sex. I’m not saying youre wrong. I just wish everything was alot more solid because both sides of the argument seems like theres details missing to me. Or maybe im just not picking them up

        Also I want to say this. You replying to everyone is a truly great thing it shows you truly care because I’m assuming you have a life outside of your computer. Even if you don’t. Its still really thoughtful youre going back and forth with people who need it and I thank you for it.

        • Lee says:

          Hi James,

          Thanks for the link.

          First, our word “pornography” is from two Greek words. Not just porneia, but also graphein, “to write.” Pornography is “written fornication.” For more on this, see:
          What does the Bible Say about Pornography? Is Pornography Sinful?

          But mainly, the linked article simply asserts that porneia “refers to any form of sexual activity before or outside the relationship of monogamous marriage between a man and a woman,” without providing any support whatsoever for this assertion. The author claims that “Every Greek lexicon or dictionary of the NT is in agreement” on this. Maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s wrong. We don’t know from reading the article, because he has not quoted or linked to the definition of porneia in a single Greek lexicon or dictionary. We’re just supposed to take his word for it.

          In my last reply I already quoted for you the definition in Strong’s Greek Dictionary, and it says no such thing. So that’s one Greek lexicon or dictionary that already demonstrates that the author’s assertion is incorrect.

          Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines porneia as:

          a. properly, of illicit sexual intercourse in general . . .
          b. In accordance with a form of speech common in the O. T. and among the Jews which represents the close relationship existing between Jehovah and his people under the figure of a marriage . . . , πορνεία is used metaphorically of the worship of idols . . . .

          See the full definition from Thayer’s, with all the commentary and examples, here.

          Thayer’s, also, does not say that porneia “refers to any form of sexual activity before or outside the relationship of monogamous marriage between a man and a woman.” It simply says that its “proper” (i.e. non-metaphorical) meaning, is “illicit sexual intercourse in general.”

          This raises the question of what is defined as “illicit sexual intercourse” (which I will shorten to “illicit sex” hereafter). That is a matter of culture and of opinion. The author of the article has expressed his opinion about what constitutes “illicit sex.” But once again, he provides no support whatsoever for his assertion that the Bible in general, and the New Testament in particular, defines “illicit sex” as “any form of sexual activity before or outside the relationship of monogamous marriage between a man and a woman.”

          In fact, we know right off the bat that this is wrong, because polygamy is practiced by many prominent figures in the Old Testament who are blessed by God, nor is it ever forbidden in the Bible, including in the New Testament. About as close as the NT comes is saying that church deacons should be “the husbands of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:12, KJV). And biblical scholars don’t even agree on the meaning of this. The New Revised Standard Version translates it as, “Let deacons be married only once,” which actually makes it even more restrictive. (Does the author believe that if a man’s wife dies and he remarries, he is engaged in “fornication” with his second wife?) However, nowhere in the Bible, including the New Testament, is there a general prohibition of polygamy. So right from the get-go, the author of this article is mistaken when he claims that the Bible, or the New Testament, defines “fornication,” or “illicit sex,” as any sex outside of monogamous marriage. There is no such definition of “fornication” anywhere in the Bible.

          I could go on analyzing his definition of “illicit sex,” but this much should demonstrate that the author has done precisely what he says we must not do. He writes:

          We must never read back into the NT the meaning of our modern English words. Rather we must allow the NT to define its terminology in its own way.

          But this is exactly what the author has done. He has read his own definition of “fornication” back into the New Testament instead of allowing the New Testament to define its terminology in its own way. Nowhere does the Bible, including the New Testament, ever define “fornication” as “any form of sexual activity before or outside the relationship of monogamous marriage between a man and a woman.” That is simply the author’s opinion, and the opinion of the segment of Christianity to which he belongs.

          His claims look impressive because of all of the quotes from the New Testament he provides that use the word “fornication.” But if you read them carefully, you will see that none of them actually defines the word “fornication.” So we’re left to assume that the NT is using the word as the author does. And as we’ve already seen, that assumption is factually incorrect on at least one point. Why, then, should we accept the rest of his definition of illicit sex, when he hasn’t provided one whit of actual biblical evidence for it?

          He also seems to want to ignore the Old Testament altogether. But you can’t understand the New Testament without recognizing its complete dependence upon the Old Testament for its meaning. For Jews in New Testament times, the Old Testament still constituted the defining Scriptures upon which their beliefs and practices were based—or at least, on which they were supposed to be based. The writers of the New Testament, including Paul, came from a Jewish background. (Luke is a possible exception, but that is heavily debated.)

          That is why we must turn to the Old Testament to gain some idea of what was considered “illicit sex” by the Bible writers, including the New Testament Bible writers. And as my article above shows, based on references to specific passages in the Bible, the Bible itself simply doesn’t support the opinion of this author and his Calvinist brethren about the meaning of “fornication,” or “illicit sex.”

          Once again, in Bible times, sex before marriage between a man and a woman neither of whom were married nor promised in marriage, and neither of whom was a prostitute, was not considered “illict sex,” but was considered de facto marriage. Once again, see Deuteronomy 22:28–29.

          This creates its own complexities if we attempt to apply it to present-day cultural patterns of sexual relations. However, the main point is that the Bible simply doesn’t support the author’s opinion about what constitute’s “fornication,” or “illicit sex.” The Bible also records prominent men having sex with concubines and even with prostitutes (or women whom they thought were prostitutes), and these men are never condemned for this sex that the author of the linked article considers “fornication.”

          In short, I find the article both unconvincing in its claims and poorly researched even when it comes to the basic meaning of the words on which he bases his arguments. There are several other inaccuracies in the article, but this should be enough to make the point. The author does not have a clear and solid grasp of sexual ethics and practices in Bible times. His arguments are based more on modern opinions than on biblical fact.

        • James White's Brother says:

          Hey thanks for the reply. I wish I was able to word things better to let people I know personally understand this pount of view. But they are stubborn and they say they have the Holy ghost so they are right but I do understand what you mean. If only I could get them to read other points of views and then trying to support their beliefs rather than disregarding anything other than their opinions my life would be easier. Thank you very much for your response though. If pre marital sex exist its not a an outright sin. If it doesnt exist (this was brought up in another comment) then we must teach people that sex is alot more important and “tying” than what people think of it now.

        • Lee says:

          Hi James,

          Your words aren’t the problem. The problem is with people who already believe they have the truth, and will therefore not listen to any words that don’t agree with their already existing beliefs, no matter how eloquent, and no matter true.

          As far as the “Holy Ghost,” all sorts of cult leaders and charlatans have sworn up and down that the outlandish things they are preaching come from the Holy Ghost, and that we must therefore believe them. That’s why God gave us the Bible. If a “Christian” cannot show me where the Bible says what he tells me I must believe in order to be saved, then I don’t care what the “Holy Spirit” has said to him or her. The real Holy Spirit doesn’t contradict the plain teachings of the Bible, nor does it make up teachings essential to salvation that aren’t in the Bible. God is not so incompetent as to be unable to teach us the basic, essential teachings for salvation right there in the plain text of the Bible. And the fact of the matter is that most of the things these “Christians” teach are not only not taught in the Bible, but are flatly contradicted in the Bible. About Protestant teachings in particular, see:

          The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 1: God is a Trinity of Persons?

          (And the remainder of the eight-part article.)

          It doesn’t help that much of “Christianity” has decreed that the human intellect must be kept in subjection to faith—and by “faith” they mean whatever the church teaches, regardless of whether it is actually true or taught in the Bible. You’re just supposed to turn off your brain and believe it no matter how irrational and unbiblical it may be. Such people have no real concept or knowledge of truth, because they are not seeking truth. They are simply holding to church dogma. I have found through extensive experience that trying to sway them is utterly useless. I once spent eight hours debating a fundamentalist Christian, and quoting to him Bible passages that flatly contradict his beliefs, while challenging him to show me even a single Bible passage that said what he believed—which he could not do. It didn’t even make a dent in him. Despite the fact that he could not show me even one Bible passage that taught what he believes, he ended by telling me that unfortunately, I am going to hell because I believe the wrong thing. And I ended by telling him that I’m glad that’s God’s decision, and not his!

          So I would suggest not banging your head against a wall by trying to convince people who don’t want to be convinced. All you get is a very sore head. 😉

        • James White's Other Brother says:

          That is very true. I’m in a tough position myself that id rather express in private with you than publicly here but my situation calls me to bang my head unfortunately. I dont wanna give up on what my life is but at the same time convincing is rather hard to do for me.

          Also btw do you have a link on the sabbath? If not do you think we are to keep it? I understand times changing and Jesus fulfilling the old law but does the 10 commandments follow the notiong of “old law” or was Jesus just talking about the other set of laws for the Israelites? If you have a link id love to see it.

        • Lee says:

          Hi James,

          Life does send us some very complicated situations that don’t lend themselves to easy solutions. That is part of the testing, sifting, and developing of our character that is our purpose here on earth. By the same token, sometimes no matter how hard we try, the situation we’re in is simply not sustainable, and something’s going to break sooner or later whether we like it or not.

          About the sabbath, I don’t have an entire article devoted to it here, but I do have an article on the Ten Commandments that contain brief commentary on all of the commandments, including the one about the sabbath:

          The Ten Commandments: Our Spiritual Inventory List

        • Lee says:

          Hi James,

          About premarital sex and sin, of course, I’d recommend re-reading the above article, which covers the main principles on this question.

          Beyond that, it does no good to have fixed and rigid laws when the reality is that most people in the culture aren’t following those laws and aren’t going to follow those laws. Then you have to:

          1. Consider which laws are really most important, even essential
          2. Start where people are, rather than where you wish they were

          As the above article points out, when it comes to sexual sin, what the Bible actually, and decisively, condemns is adultery, which is the violation of marriage. The commandment against adultery will never be outdated. Even in today’s “modern” world, adultery destroys marriages, relationships, and lives. That is the most important law when it comes to our sexuality.

          As for the rest, it’s not a matter of black and white, but of shades of gray. What good is it to say that premarital sex is sin when the bulk of people, including the bulk of Christians—and yes, this includes conservative Christians—are going to do it anyway?

          To use a non-sexual example, the 1936 film Reefer Madness was originally intended to dissuade people from smoking marijuana, but has now become “an unintentional satire among advocates of cannabis policy reform.” Similarly, stark warnings about premarital sex destroying young people’s lives and sending them to hell in a handbasket are likely to strike many young people today as more funny than worth being taken seriously.

          As stated in the above article, the fact of the matter is that many people today have sex before marriage, and then go on to have good, loving, faithful, and long-lasting marriages. The idea that premarital sex is going to destroy your soul and your chances at marriage just doesn’t ring true, because it isn’t true in today’s culture.

          And as also pointed out in the above article, the Bible simply doesn’t have any general commandment against premarital or (non-adulterous) extramarital sex, no matter how much fundamentalists might wish it did, and might try to convince people that somehow, it does even when it actually doesn’t.

          This means that premarital sex is a matter of judgment on our part. Personally, I think it’s not the ideal, as I have also stated in the above article. But people are going to make up their own minds about this no matter what I, or the church, thinks. And if the church tries to push a message about premarital sex that’s at the level of Reefer Madness, it’s only going to cause young people to disrespect and abandon the church.

          As for sex binding people together, in some sense it does. However, that depends heavily upon what’s in their mind when they have sex. If people think of it as just a casual thing, then having sex, while it does create some level of connection between two people, does not make some deep, indelible marriage between two people that can never be erased.

          The reason having sex was de facto marriage in Bible times was that the people of Bible times were almost all almost entirely physical-minded and unspiritual. Their religion and their thinking was purely in their behavior. They had no real, inner religion or spiritual awareness. Therefore their marriages, also, were entirely external connections. What we think of today as married partners being “soulmates” and having an inner, spiritual connection basically didn’t exist in those days. And since there was no real, inner marriage, marriage was based on external physical and social factors. Therefore having physical sexual intercourse with another person was counted as “marriage” in society.

          Today, things are very different. Today we do have a concept of inner marriage as a oneness of minds and hearts, and many people do experience this, or at least aspire to it. True spiritual marriage is not determined by whether two people have sex, but by whether they have a oneness of minds. The physical sex is meant to be an expression of that inner union. And for people who have a concept of inner, spiritual marriage, and who aspire to it, having physical sex without the inner connection does not create a marriage, even if it may create some confusion and cognitive dissonance.

          For some of the concepts and principles behind real, spiritual marriage, please see:

          How does Marriage Fit In with a Spiritual Life? Is There Marriage in Heaven?

          Unfortunately, today’s “Christian” church is still largely materialistic and physical-minded in its concept of marriage. This is witnessed by its wrong idea that there is no marriage in heaven, based on something that Jesus didn’t actually say. (Hint: Jesus did not say, “There is no marriage in heaven.” See: “Didn’t Jesus Say There’s No Marriage in Heaven?” and its follow-up articles) Therefore today’s “Christian” church continues to cling to the old, external cultural (not biblical) rules about premarital sex, which no longer match today’s general understanding of marriage as in inner spiritual or psychological union rather than a merely physical and earthly connection that ends at death.

          Recognizing real, inner, spiritual marriage doesn’t automatically make all premarital sex okay. But it does provide an entirely different perspective on it. And as discussed in the above article, that perspective is to look at any sexual encounter through the lens of whether it leads to, or at least doesn’t violate, loving, mutual, monogamous marriage, or whether it does violate such marriage and leads away from it. Many people today who engage in premarital sex still have loving, faithful marriage as their ideal and goal. For them, having sex before marriage may sometimes confuse things, but it doesn’t destroy their ability to have a good and loving marriage in the future.

          All of this is why, in the various articles on sexual and relationship issues here, we take a pragmatic approach. We advise holding loving, faithful, monogamous marriage as an ideal, and evaluating particular sexual behaviors based on whether they keep that ideal open, even if what we’re doing right now is not that ideal. Engaging in highly promiscuous and unfaithful sex before marriage and between marriages tends to lead us away from good and healthy marriage—in which faithfulness is a must—and is therefore not a good idea. Adultery, of course, breaks the ideal of faithful marriage, and is therefore very bad. But having sex with one partner for whom we feel love and affection, and whom we don’t cheat on, still keeps the ideal of faithful, loving, monogamous marriage open, even if the people engaging in such a sexual relationship aren’t there yet.

          Are such relationships the ideal? I don’t think so. But we humans rarely achieve the ideal, especially when we’re young and foolish, and driven more by our little brain than by our big one. Life is a process. As long as we’re aiming for what is good, and learning from our experiences and our mistakes, we can continue to move toward the ideal until eventually we begin to achieve it.

          I hope these additional thoughts are helpful to you as you sort these issues out in your own mind.

        • James White's Dad says:

          I will take what you say and read and understand it and reply. But while reading your other stuff and finding things about you on Google I came across this

          https://www.neverthirsty.org/bible-qa/qa-archives/question/is-the-article-faith-alone-does-not-save-accurate/

          I dont know if you ever seen this or not but I read your article.

          I do think that you are not saved by faith alone. Its faith and work but as I am too tired to truly understand what you’re article and what the article I posted is trying to get across I will have to delve into both when I wake up as well as look at what you said in a sane mind. Nevertheless I thank you again

        • Lee says:

          Hi James,

          Yes, I have read that article (it was referred to me by another reader), and responded to it at length here:

          Response to a Calvinist Critique of my article “Faith Alone Does Not Save”

          And yes, reading and evaluating articles with a well-rested and sane mind is a very good idea! Sleep well!

  37. Mitsurugi says:

    Hello Lee. If I were you id scroll down to where I put “LONG STORY SHORT”

    I had to warn you because I wrote too much and I’m not deleting

    I’m going to very telling and honest with my questions

    First I want to explain my situation.

    I met my current girlfriend through the internet. I used to be agnostic. A hardcore one. That dearched for flaws and contradictions in the Bible.
    I met her online as I said and we just conversated. She’s very intelligent when we learned more of another I learned she believed in God as I did. But the Christian God. The one I now serve. She told me she follows whatever is in the Bible. Me at the time thought “how could such a smart girl believe in this book when its been proven to be false”
    So I searched and learned that the Bible does a very good job explaining itself and defending itself if you study it truly instead of just reading it and casting judgement. My only issue I currently have is where did Cain and Abels wives come from. Where did all the people after Adam and Eve come from? Other than that I never see contradictions in the Bible.
    Example. In the past I looked at the ten commandments and thought “if thou shalt not kill then God why are you killing nations and telling people to go to war and whatnot?” Well after eating my humble pie I learned that theres mistranslation in the Bible and kill in that commandment is actually murder. That deletes the contradiction right there because murder is the unlawful and unrighteous killing of someone innocent

    I digress. I became a follower of the Lord. And I began my journey of becoming a better person under Him. I was never one to do bad things in general but I was not a holy person at the same time. Used too many bad words.

    Time passed. My girlfriend came to my city.(I met her online. We talked for about 6 years. We liked one another but refused to date because we werent doing a long distance relationship even though we refused to date anyone else) but before I move on I failed to mention that she’s a pastor’s daughter. Apostolic family. They are really about it. No cutting hair. No makeup. No clothes that reveal anything. None of that and they dont force it either. They truly believe that is whats needed for them specifically, spiritually and i respect that I never had a problem with that and it helps my conscience now knowing that people cant see what she has since I’m so far away.

    Again I digress but her dad being a pastor is very important.

    She came to my city on a church trip.

    We had time alone that was granted by her siblings (her parents weren’t apart of it) and we made out alot. That was bound to happen…ive wrote too much to delete but I know this isnt what’s important and I’m just typing away.

    LONG STORY SHORT

    After her fateful visit. It took two months for me to muster up the courage to ask her to come see her. She was a junior in college. She graduated now.

    I asked her dad he agreed but I wanted to spend time with her alone to get the intimacy that I had in the car.
    She agreed that I spend two weeks with her and a week with her family and church but no sex.

    I spent two weeks with her in her college dorm. The no sex thing failed after the first two nights. Hindsight is 20/20 so it was foolish to believe we wouldn’t. Her family doesnt know I ever visited her solely because I dont want her life to be ruined. Which after meeting her dad it would be atleast until I marry her.
    We both love one another. I already considered her my wife the second i laid my hand on her. And she considered me her husband and after that visited ive constantly visited her for weeks at a time throughout the years. But the feelings she had about me has turned into fear for her that she messed up. She still loves me and wants to be with me but she doesn’t think thats enough for what we did to not be wrong.
    So now we no longer have that oneness of mind. Just the oneness of heart and body.

    My question to you. Biblically where do we stand? I know thats a loaded question with the context ive given. But how do we marry if we arent? Since you’ve stated that marriage has evolved from just having sex(it was both of our first times and weve only been with one another our entire lives and we plan on keeping it that way)
    But yeah where do we stand? We had the same idea then it drifted since I left the first time and the other visits were more sexually influenced because its hard to have sex and then go away from one another for half a year or so. So it goes from wanting to see another because you miss eachother to missing having sex.

    If we havent sinned then where do we go from here? How do I get her to see that everything will be alright? And while it may have been a mistake to sleep together. We haven’t sinned. I have more questions that dont have as much personal issues involved and its just my curiosity but I’ll stop here.

    Just again
    Long story short.

    We love another. Had sex but its completely hidden from our pastor(her dad AND spiritual leader)
    Wheres the right and wrong in that spiritually and biblically?

    Then also if we arent married then how do we become married?

    And i guess to piggyback off of that

    “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”

    What does this mean exactly?
    Are these steps to marriage(requirement) or is this saying what marriage should look like before the one flesh or is my perspective messed up on both of those questions?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Mitsurugi,

      Thanks for telling your story. Your situation is a fairly common one: people in love and wanting to be married, but having sex before they’re married. Not that this makes dealing with the situation with her and her family any easier, but at least it may be a comfort to know that you are not alone in what you’re going through.

      It sounds like her father and her church take a very literal view of the Bible. That makes it more difficult, but not impossible to get through this and have a good outcome.

      Short version: As long as you go ahead and marry her, then biblically you are okay.

      If you break it off, then she is left with a serious problem with her family and her church. She would have a secret that if she tells, it will cause her great distress in her family, church, and social relationships, and if she doesn’t tell, it will cause her great distress within her heart and spirit.

      In talking to her about this, and addressing her issues about her church, the Bible, and sinning, I would suggest two Bible passages to focus on. First from the Old Testament (also quoted in the above article):

      If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives. (Deuteronomy 22:28–29)

      Laying aside the “fifty shekels of silver” part, the message here in the Old Testament is that if a man has sex with a virgin who is not promised in marriage to anyone, then he must marry her, and he is not allowed to divorce her. This rule is given in the context of rape (“seizes her and lies with her”) because in those days a virgin normally would not sleep voluntarily with a man, because it would ruin her life. Today, the social situation is different. Your girlfriend did voluntarily sleep with you, and she probably feels very guilty about that, given her conservative Christian background. But the Old Testament commandment is still the same: the two must get married.

      Second from the New Testament:

      To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:8–9)

      Laying aside Paul’s opinion that it is better overall not to get married, the message here is basically the same as that of the Deuteronomy passage: if an unmarried couple “is not practicing self-control” (translation: if they’re having sex), then they should get married.

      In today’s day and age, if the two people have no inner connection, and are just having sex to satisfy their sex drive and nothing else, then I wouldn’t recommend following this biblical injunction. It was aimed at people in a day and age when there was no real inner marriage and no spiritual connection between married partners. Marriage was mostly just an external and social thing. Yes, some married partners did develop an affection for one another. But rarely was there any real spiritual connection or oneness between them. Today, by contrast, the most important thing in a marriage is that the two should be one in mind and heart. The rest flows from that.

      In your case, the two of you do have an inner connection. You spent six years in conversation with each other before you ever came together in person or had sex. You established a connection that is not based merely on sex drive and physical attraction. And you want to be together. So in this case, biblical principles would counsel that you get married whether you understand the Bible only literally or whether you understand it spiritually as well.

      As for exactly how and when this happens, that will be for you to work out with her, and with her family. But the first step is to come to an agreement with her that the proper thing to do, having both made an inner connection and had physical union (sex), is to move toward getting married. I think even her father would agree with this, given that he takes the Bible quite literally. Whether and when to tell him that you have already had sex is a whole different question. That will ultimately have to be your girlfriend’s decision, consulting with her own conscience.

      But in the end, if the two of you do the “honorable thing” and get married, I think her family will come to accept you, and accept the marriage as legitimate. It would be following biblical principles of how to handle this particular non-ideal situation.

      • Mitsurugi says:

        I agree with everything you have said. I have one question before I reply with more (I gotta go to work unfortunately) but the verae said “if they are caught in the act” what does this mean? I know its a dumb question but its not saying that if nobody knows then nothing is required right? Because if so then that would leave the woman in peril in those times because she wouldnt be a virgin.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Mitsurugi,

          This probably had to do with a woman’s testimony “not being admissible in court” (i.e., she wouldn’t be listened to) compared to a man’s testimony. If a man was caught in the act of raping a woman, there was no question of “he said, she said” (in which case, in those days, he would almost always win). It was a clear case of rape, with witnesses to testify to it.

          As far as the woman no longer being a virgin, she might get away with it, or she might not. Young women were (and in some cultures today still are) commonly examined prior to or at the time of marriage to see if their hymen is intact. Any medical doctor today can tell you that this is not a foolproof test. But it was a common practice, and if she were found not to be a virgin on the wedding night, her husband could divorce her, and she would be disgraced. So it was very risky for a young woman to have sex and not tell anyone.

          Of course, reality was messy then just as it is now. It didn’t always work out so neatly. But today, in most cultures young women no longer have to submit to chastity checks. It is mostly a matter of conscience whether they will have sex, and whether they will tell anyone. However, if young couples are keeping secrets from each other, that does not bode well for their future relationship.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Mitsurugi,

      About “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, and also quoted several times in the New Testament), literally this means that the two will form their own household together apart from their parents, and will be physically united through sexual intercourse.

      But this being the Bible, there is always more to it than that.

      “Leaving father and mother” also means becoming self-responsible adults, no longer under the care and tutelage of one’s parents. As adults, we must make our own decisions, and take responsibility for those decisions and for our own life. In relation to you and your girlfriend, you are both adults now. You must consider things for yourselves and make your own decisions. This doesn’t mean you can’t seek advice from parents and mentors. But ultimately, your life is in your own hands now. You are no longer answerable to your parents, but answerable to yourselves, and once you get married, to each other.

      I counsel young couples who are getting married that now their most important (human) relationship is with each other, not with their parents or their families of origin or their friends. Once they are married, they must not put these other relationships ahead of their relationship with each other by, for example, listening to their parents, but not listening to each other when they decide what to do on important matters. Of course, our relationship with God is still above all other relationships.

      In the deeper meaning, becoming “one flesh” means two people becoming spiritually one through a oneness of minds and hearts, beliefs and values, loves and goals, and so on. This is the oneness of true spiritual marriage.

      • Mitsurugi says:

        So while I do love the premise of that. Where is the evidence in the Bible that the requirements of a spiritual marriage has progressed to be oneness of everything not just flesh.(spirit mind and heart) because yes it makes sense that things have progressed but ive failed to see evidence on where its stated that things have progress or will progress. I may be wrong but I remember seeing Jesus saying that Marriage will be a shadow of things to come. Maybe I’m misqouting but that seems familiar. Maybe you recall? And maybe that has something to do with the progression or lack thereof

        • Lee says:

          Hi Mitsurugi,

          “A shadow of things to come” is from Colossians 2:17 and Hebrews 10:1. But if you read these verses in context, you will see that they are talking about the law and its demands, rituals, sabbaths, and so on. These are what are a “shadow of things to come.” I.e., they are symbolic of greater, spiritual things that Christians will grow into, as covered throughout the epistle to the Hebrews.

          In general, the Bible focuses on, and speaks plainly about, what we need to believe and do in order to be saved. Many other topics of Christian faith and life are not spelled out so clearly. That is why there are so many debates about “what the Bible says” on different topics.

          Jesus labored greatly to get his listeners to think less materially, and more spiritually. (See “Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood.”) And he said to his disciples:

          I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:12–13)

          They could not bear them because they were still thinking materially, not spiritually. Therefore Jesus could not say many things to them about the deeper spiritual realities of life—including the deeper spiritual realities of marriage. People’s view of marriage was still very “fleshly” in those days. This materialistic mindset was also why Jesus spoke to the people mostly in parables.

          Consider that even in Christianity, it was several centuries before polygamy was completely rooted out. Kings, especially, wanted to have multiple wives in order to bear many sons so that they could be sure of producing an heir to the throne. Infant and child mortality was high in those days. If even in Christianity polygamy still existed for some centuries after Christ, how could the Bible speak of the deeper spiritual type of marriage that would eventually become part of Christian culture? Even today, many Christian theologians and preachers still think that marriage is a merely earthly and physical arrangement whose primary, and almost only, purpose is procreation.

          Only people whose minds are open to seeing the spirit within the letter of God’s Word will see the deeper realities of spiritual marriage there. This is among the things that is hidden from the foolish and the materialistic because it is a pearl of great price.

          I would only ask you to consider in your own mind whether your relationship with your girlfriend is a merely physical, biological, and social thing, or whether there is something deeper to it—a connection of minds and hearts. If you experience that spiritual union of marriage with the one you love, then you will begin to understand the deeper meaning of the “parables” in the Bible about a man and his wife “becoming one flesh.”

      • Mitsurugi says:

        Hey Lee

        I have not truly had the time to delve but I will.

        This is a little unrelated but this verse.

        Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

        With the definition you have. Basically saying the Bible uses fornication to describe prostitution and idolatry(because people prostituted their faith)
        Why the repetition?
        What does this verse mean to you?

        Also since these are sins. Jesus said that prostitutes will enter heaven before priest if they believe. I forget the exact verse but mainly its because of their faith. Prostitutes have a higher chance of entering heaven than priest if they believe. But still doesnt that contradict even a little? I’m not trying to “get you” I’m a believer but I think asking you this way as if im trying to prove a point would help me if someone were to ask me. So please dont misunderstand. Just looking for an explanation and you are good at that. Regardless one more thing. I think to truly incorporate a full answer. With the question I already asked as context.

        https://medium.com/@belover/prostitutes-in-the-bible-7d6404f0efe8

        I have to study up myself as I just looked at this for about a minute but since im going to go to sleep soon I decided to see your point of view on the article. Ever since ive found this article ive been trying to see prostitution in the Bible and how its being used more than anything to help resolve my issue since “porneia” is the source of my issues really. Once I prove that none of the examples mean pre marital sex then I can build my spirit and knowledge in other areas in my journey and life with God.
        Thanks for the time and effort again.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Mitsurugi,

          About 1 Corinthians 6:9–10, Paul was likely drawing on the “Holiness Code” in Leviticus, and other ancient Jewish lists of sexual sins, in these verses. And about the repetition, as I believe I’ve said before, this is very common in ancient Hebrew style, which is reflected in the Hebrew-influenced style of the New Testament. Also, sleeping with a prostitute was considered fornication, especially in the New Testament, but it wasn’t necessarily adultery, since an unmarried man could sleep with an (unmarried) prostitute, and that would not be adultery. So including both adultery and fornication in the list covers more ground than including only one or the other would.

          As far as prostitutes entering heaven before priests, first, this was a rhetorical device to drive home just how wicked the priests were. Second, the assumption is that the prostitute would stop being a prostitute before entering heaven. Jesus spared the woman caught in adultery, but his final words to her were, “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). Even if a good-hearted prostitute did not cease from being a prostitute here on earth, she would have to cease being a prostitute in the afterlife if she wanted to go to heaven. There are no practicing prostitutes in heaven. Only former prostitutes who have repented from their sin. Just like any other sinner.

          About the linked article on prostitution, though it makes some interesting points, it pushes its argument a little too far.

          First, two of the three women the author holds up as “prostitutes” were not actually prostitutes. Tamar only dressed up as a prostitute in order to press her case with Judah. And as the article itself says, Delilah is never identified as a prostitute. Just because Samson had used the services of a prostitute before marrying Delilah, that does not mean Delilah was a prostitute. There is a great tendency by Christian writers to identify various “uppity” women in the Bible as prostitutes even when the Bible itself makes no such statement. For another example, Mary Magdalene is traditionally considered to have been a prostitute, but the Bible says no such thing.

          Further, the article starts out by saying, “In the Bible, prostitution is never wrong”—which only shows that this author has apparently not actually bothered to read the Bible. For example, temple prostitution is explicitly forbidden for Israelites, and in the Jewish Temple:

          None of the daughters of Israel shall be a temple prostitute; none of the sons of Israel shall be a temple prostitute. You shall not bring the fee of a prostitute or the wages of a male prostitute into the house of the Lord your God in payment for any vow, for both of these are abhorrent to the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 23:17–18)

          A search for “temple prostitute” in the Bible shows a number of other places where temple prostitution, and using the services of temple prostitutes, is condemned in the Old Testament. The author of the linked article is simply wrong about this.

          It would be more accurate to say that prostitution was tolerated in ancient societies, just as it is tolerated in many societies today. And yes, a few prostitutes did become heroines in the story. As far as Rahab being one of Jesus’ ancestors, that is disputed by Bible scholars. There is nothing in the Old Testament identifying Rahab the harlot of Jericho with Rahab the father of Boaz mentioned in Matthew 1:5. Bathsheba also was not a prostitute. Nor was Tamar, as I’ve already said. So the idea that there were prostitutes in Jesus’ genealogy is more inference than fact.

          I should also mention that the New Testament lays out more stringent requirements with regard to sexual sin than does the Old Testament. For example, Jesus explicitly overturned the Old Testament allowance for a man to divorce his wife “for any cause.”

          Back to the article, much of it seems to me to be a re-reading of ancient culture as if it were the same as present-day Western culture. It was not.

          Today, our culture is very sexualized. Sexual imagery and innuendo is all over the place, including in advertising and in popular movies and TV shows. But in ancient societies in general, sexuality was a much more pragmatic thing. There wasn’t the widespread media that could depict and act out all sorts of sexual fantasies. Some of these things did go on, but it wasn’t the pervasive thing that it is in today’s society. The primary purpose of sex was to bear children. A secondary purpose was to satisfy the usual biological male sex drive. In general, there was not today’s idea and ideal of romantic love. That didn’t come along until a few centuries ago. And there was certainly no concept of spiritual marriage as an inner union of minds and hearts. When the Bible speaks of a man “loving” a woman, it had more to do with finding her physically and socially attractive than thinking of her as a sympatico soulmate.

          Keep in mind that women were seen as inferior to and subordinate to men. A married man and woman were not “partners.” Women were not valued in that way. They were not seen as equal to men, such that they could be a “partner.” A woman was not property (as is often claimed by today’s feminists), but she was, in a sense, an “asset” of a man. She was not accorded “human dignity” and all that goes with it as we strive to do today. She was appraised for her quality as a woman, wife, and bearer of sons, and given value accordingly. She was a human being, but she was a secondary human being. Many of today’s movie depictions of romantic love between men and women in ancient times are really more about today’s society than about ancient society. I could go on, but I think you probably get the point.

          For all of these reasons, though once again, the article you linked does make some interesting points, overall it does not present an accurate or realistic picture of women and prostitution in Bible times.

        • Mitsurugi says:

          I think I understand what youre saying with prostitution. It seems I need to find the differences between ancient culture vs whats sin.

          Prostitution was fornication.

          Fornication by and large is a sin.

          But in the society you were in. You wouldn’t be punished for the services of a prostitute..
          I’m sure its deeper than that as well.

          You have one of the more unique point of views so its hard to research exactly how you came to these conclusions but I also have a Bible so all I can do is pray and read and ask as I come along. Thanks you though

          As far as the repetition goes. Im a little confused on that if I’m being honest. You said earlier that the verse with fornication and adulterers and prostitution will not go to heaven is repitition thats common in Hebrew/Greek. Or one of those and brought up the example of horses and chariots.

          Surely horses and chariots are very different right? Chariots are like carriages. Am I missing too much context or are there better examples of repetition out there? Because horses seem a little more vague than chariots. Meaning that “horses” in that sense could be two horses carrying something together just like a chariot would. Assuming that’s why it’s saying horses and not horse. I don’t know thats the best can make of it

        • Lee says:

          Hi Mitsurugi,

          Keep in mind also that people who are more enlightened and have a greater capacity for doing good are held to a higher standard. Jesus put it this way:

          That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. (Luke 12:47–48)

          Ancient Hebrew society was a very low-level, materialistic culture. It therefore had rather basic rules of right and wrong. That’s all that the people of those times could understand and handle. In the New Testament, higher rules are given because Christians are meant to think less materialistically and more spiritually.

          In other words, “sin” is not an absolute standard, but is adapted to the capabilities and spiritual level of particular people and cultures. Of course, there are some universals, such as the rules contained in the Ten Commandments. But how exactly these work out is on a “sliding scale,” so to speak, based on the particular people and cultures to which they are being applied.

          An example of this in relation to sexual sin is that your average teenagers and young adults today who have been brought up with a rather loose sense of sexual morality will not be held spiritually liable for engaging in premarital and extramarital sex. They do not believe that it is wrong or evil, so they are not violating their conscience or their moral code by engaging in it. But those who, especially as self-responsible adults, have adopted for themselves a moral code that includes not having sex outside of marriage will be held responsible to a much greater degree if they go ahead and do it anyway.

          Another way of saying this is that there is a difference between evil and sin. Evil is anything that is harmful, destructive, and against God’s will. But sin is intentionally doing something that we know and believe is contrary to God’s will. As Jesus said to the Pharisees:

          If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,” your sin remains. (John 9:41)

          Doing things that are evil will cause damage whether or not we realize it is evil. For example, being sexually promiscuous is not a good idea, and it does cause many problems in people’s lives regardless of their moral code or lack thereof. But only if we know that something is evil and do it anyway does it become sin, and therefore spiritually chargeable to us. Note that spiritual law is not the same as civil law.

          About the repetition, the actual quote I gave was, “Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops” (Exodus 14:9). If you read the chapter, you will see that it was an army of chariots that pursued the Israelites. In today’s idiom we would probably just say, “Pharaoh’s cavalry.” But in Hebrew idiom, using pairs of words that have similar meanings is a very common part of writing style, meant to intensify the story and its telling. There are also spiritual reasons for the “repetitiveness” of the Bible’s style. But back to the literal style, no two words mean exactly the same thing, so using synonyms together paints a more vivid picture that one word alone would.

          Context will usually tell us how to read particular words and phrases. But when reading the Bible, it is good to know that if we see two words that mean similar things, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are talking about two different things. It may just be a case of stylistically intensifying the story and its meaning. Think of an artist drawing a line, and then drawing another line right next to it. Yes, they are two distinct lines. But if you step back from the drawing, they will merge together and become one heavier and more noticeable line.

          For another example, in Revelation 4:11 the twenty-four elders seated before the throne of God say:

          You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.

          In saying “Lord and God,” are the twenty-four elders addressing two different beings? No, there was one being seated on the throne (see Revelation 4:9–10), and they are addressing that one being using two different titles, “Lord” and “God.”

          If we understand this about the style of the Bible, it can save us much misunderstanding and confusion.

          Applying this to lists of sexual sins, yes, we can analyze each word and phrase separately, and do our best to determine which exact sexual sin each is meant to refer to. And it’s not wrong or fruitless to do this. It is important to gain an understanding of exactly what the Bible is saying.

          However, the overall effect of these lists of sins is to say, “If you engage in sexual behavior of any kind that you know very well is wrong and against God’s commandments, you will be held responsible for that behavior, and you will be punished for it.” The particular sexual sins are less important than the overall intention of the person either to keep God’s commandments or to break God’s commandments.

          People whose intent is to keep God’s commandments will, over time, learn through teaching and experience what sort of sexual behavior is good and what sort of sexual behavior is bad, and they will do the work of avoiding the bad and engaging in the good instead. But people who don’t care about God or what God wants them to do will not even bother to learn what is right and wrong. They will engage in any type of sexual activity that happens to feel good to them. And for such people, “feeling good” is mostly about gaining physical pleasure for themselves, regardless of any ill effects for themselves or for anyone else.

  38. Mitsurugi says:

    Hi Lee

    Ok so then to recap how I feel about this. Marriage and all.

    The meaning of marriage can change depending on the culture and times you are in. For example. There can be and has been at a point in time in the Bible where marriage was not a marriage until sex was had.

    But we have evolved over time to take more responsibility spiritually. And a spiritual marriage(which wasnt the norm and wasnt nearly as achievable) is the oneness of mind,soul and heart?

    Thats my current take on marriage after this conversation.

    My current take on sex before marriage is that.

    It exist but God has never declared it as sin/fornication. But due to cultures of the time it was simply not wise for women to do so. Fast forward. It still is not a sin but women have the same sexual freedoms as men nowadays but its still not wise to have sex with multiple people. Not because its sin but because its not healthy in all aspects of your life. Thats what I’m getting from you there.

    Im sealed on marriage if that’s the case. If you disagree let me know but questions still pop up in my head about sex.

    Prostitution is a sin right? because its fornication which you said.
    And prostitution is the form of fornication the Bible uses almost exclusively.

    Sex outside of marriage is also fornication but this doesnt mean sex before marriage is sex outside of marriage. Just adultery? I’m still a little lost on the sex outside of marriage part of porneia if thats even apart of the definition. I know its been posted alot here but it keeps coming into my mind that the phrase “sex outside of marriage” fits into the definition.

    So I got marriage down I believe. But still confused on bad sex and good sex.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Mitsurugi,

      Yes, I think you’ve gotten the idea about marriage. It changes depending upon the spiritual state of the people and the culture. Today, marriage is not just a social and family connection, but also a spiritual connection, meaning a oneness of minds and hearts. Not for everyone, of course. Some people and cultures are still very worldly and physical-minded. But for those able to engage in it, there is now an inner marriage that was rare to nonexistent in earlier ages of humanity.

      About sex outside of marriage, and adultery:

      Sex outside of marriage is adultery only if one or both of the people engaging in it are married to someone else. If neither one of them is married, it’s not adultery. That’s just the basic definition of adultery: being unfaithful to a partner in marriage.

      As for fornication, that’s a moving target, which is why it’s so hard to define exactly.

      In Bible times, it was common for men to sleep with prostitutes, and also, of course, common for prostitutes to sleep with men. This was tolerated in Old Testament times, but in New Testament times, for Christians, it was frowned upon and generally considered to be fornication, or illicit sex. Also, in general, in Bible times the rules were much stricter for women than for men. “Good” women were expected to be virgins when they married. There was no such requirement for men.

      Since women were expected to be virgins, the primary form of extramarital sex in those days was sex with prostitutes. So that’s what the New Testament injunctions against fornication are mostly about.

      Today’s situation, in which there is widely available birth control and the social climate has changed, so that both men and women (as well as teenage boys and girls) can have sex freely without a lot of social stigma and with a very low risk of pregnancy, was simply not contemplated in Bible times. Therefore taking the Bible’s statements about “fornication” and applying them to today’s very different culture and situation is, at the very least, applying biblical rules to situations they were never designed to deal with. It’s like making rules about computer usage or video games based on the Bible. Those things didn’t exist in Bible times, so there are no rules about them in the Bible. (See: “What Does the Bible Say about Video Games? Part 1.”)

      This means that we’re treading new ground today trying to figure out what for today is sexual sin, and what for today is fornication.

      Adultery is still on the naughty list. But as for the rest, as I’ve written in multiple articles here, the primary criteria, I believe, is whether any particular sexual activity leads toward faithful, loving, monogamous marriage, or leads away from it. General promiscuity and frequenting of all different prostitutes tends to weaken and cheapen a person’s ability to engage in a loving, faithful, monogamous relationship. They are therefore, in my view, included in “fornication” for today, and should be avoided. On the other hand, a faithful, loving, romantic, but unmarried, relationship is a lot like a marriage, and commonly leads to marriage. It is therefore, in my view, not included in “fornication,” or illicit sex, for today, for most people who engage in it.

      I say “for most people” because it does depend upon the people’s own moral code. As I’ve explained previously, “sin” is not the same as “evil.” An action is sin only if the people engaging in it know and believe that it is wrong—or at least did know when they first started doing it. (Our judgment and conscience get clouded when we continue to engage in behavior that we know is wrong.) Most young people today don’t believe that sex before marriage is wrong. For them, it is not sin.

      However, if someone grew up in a religious atmosphere and does believe that sex before marriage is wrong, then for them, it is sin if they go ahead and do it anyway. It’s not the most serious kind of sexual sin. What’s forbidden in the Ten Commandments is adultery, not premarital sex. So people who have sex before marriage are not breaking the Ten Commandments. But if they believe it is wrong and engage in it anyway, then they are violating their conscience, and for them it is sin. And based on biblical principles, the solution for that sin would be to go ahead and get married. (But once again, I don’t believe that is a one-size-fits-all solution in today’s world. If there is no inner connection between the two people, then getting married only adds injury to insult.)

      Now, all of this may sound like I’m saying that as long as people don’t believe premarital sex is wrong, then there is no problem with it it all.

      That is not what I’m saying.

      As I’ve also said multiple times, I believe it is best to wait until marriage before having sex. I recognize that practically speaking, many people today are not going to do that. And I don’t think they’re terrible sinners headed straight to hell if they do have sex before marriage. However, I think that having sex before marriage is getting things backwards, and is less, not more, likely to lead to a good marriage.

      Why?

      Because today, marriage is not meant to start with sex, as it did in Old Testament times, but to start with a connection and union of minds and hearts. In other words, it is supposed to go from the inside out, not from the outside in. If the first thing two people who are attracted to each other do is jump into bed, it short-circuits the process of making an inner connection first. It puts the body and the sex drive in charge, when the mind, and the inner oneness, are supposed to be in charge. That inner union, once formed, is meant to be expressed in the physical union of sex. But it takes time to make that inner connection. That’s why it is best to wait on the physical sex part.

      Ideally, when the couple has made that inner connection, including a period of engagement when they’re looking toward marriage, they would then get married, and start their sexual life together having already forged an inner connection. However, once again, when it comes to us fallible human beings in this goofed-up world, things don’t always follow the ideal path. For example, a couple (such as you and your girlfriend) might make an inner connection over time, but not wait until marriage to have sex. And while not ideal, as long as the relationship does proceed to a good loving, faithful, monogamous marriage, it’s a case of “no harm, no foul.” Maybe not ideal, but in the end, it got the job done.

      For a related article, please see:

      Beyonce and Jay-Z Reveal the Secret: How to Start a Lasting Marriage

      I hope this helps.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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