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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56 comments on “Is Sex Before Marriage Forbidden in the Bible?
  1. Andrew mclain says:

    GOOD SUBJECT MOST INTERESTING HMMM

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 “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 Tony,

          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.

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. Richard Neer says:

    That’ll work! LOL!

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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)

  14. Ben 'Tosin says:

    Thanks Lee.

  15. 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.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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