Pre-marital Sex and Christianity

Religion is not merely concerned with the definition of God and rituals for worship. A far more basic aspect of religion is the delineation of an ideal way of life – ranging from its moral foundations to various institutions like marriage, family, economy, law and so on. Thus every religion has in its own way laid down precepts governing personal behavior like sex and choice of partner. Pre-marital sex has been an important site of discourse since it embodies this conflict between personal desire and institutional requirements like marriage. Here are a few thoughts on premarital sex as is discussed in Christianity.

The Bible and Premarital Sex

Modern believers are a little perturbed that the Bible has so little to say about pre-marital sex. The Bible exists as the main spiritual resource for Christians and is actually a canonical collection books that ranges over different centuries, authors and continents even. Though it again lends itself to many variations in origin, language and commentaries, Christians obtain most of their moral, religious and social precepts from the Bible. The problem for the modern Christian seems to stem from the fact that there is no Hebrew or Greek word used in the Bible that specifically refers to sex before marriage. The Bible undeniably condemns adultery and sexual immorality, but whether is sex before marriage considered sexually immoral is nowhere explicitly mentioned in the Bible. The closest mention of the issue seems to come from 1 Corinthians 7:2, (ESV), which states “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband”. In this sense, marriage is being upheld as the cure for “sexual immorality” and would thus seem to imply that the latter includes all kinds of sex outside marriage, including sex before marriage.

If premarital sex is considered to be included in all forms of sexual immorality, the Biblical injunction against sex before marriage is made quite explicit in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 (NIV) – “It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable”

Sanction given to marital sex

The Biblical sanction to sex only among partners married to each other can also be implied on the basis of the high status given to marital sex. Sexual relations between a husband and his wife are to be honored and this constitutes the only form of sexual relations of which God approves. This is evident from Genesis 2:24 (NIV) – “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Yet another place where marital sex is clearly encouraged is Hebrews 13:4, (ESV) which states, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous”.

The emphasis upon marital sex as the only divinely and morally sanctioned form of sexual relationship in Christianity is present in some form or other in all major religions. In Bible and other Christian resources, sex between a husband and wife is held as the only authorized sexual relationship for the main reason of determining the identity of next generation. It is important to keep in mind that in the earlier times, the primary purpose of sex was procreation and not recreation as it exists in contemporary times. The main concern of any major social group, - religious, racial, ethnic or others – in its nascent stages is increasing its population so that it can stand up against dominant groups. For this purpose, it was important that sex between husband and wife was upheld as not simply a source of pleasure, but as a duty to the social group to increase its numbers. At the same time though unbridled procreation would not do in a patriarchal society like the ancient Jews and hence sex between marriage was made as the only sanctioned form of sexual relationship so that the paternity of children could be determined since in a patriarchy, name and identity travels from the line of the father.

In order to emphasize the procreational purpose of sex, the Bible upholds the pleasurable aspect of marital sex and mentions that God designed it that way. Song of Solomon and several other Bible passages such as Proverbs 5:19, “a lovely deer, a graceful doe, Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love”, clearly describe the pleasure of sex. According to such Biblical passages, God approves indeed wants, men and women to enjoy sexual activity within the confines of marriage. According to this notion, since God’s intent for sex is producing children, therefore for a couple to engage in sex before marriage is doubly wrong—they are not only enjoying pleasures not intended for them, but are taking a chance of creating a human life outside of the family structure that God intended for every child.

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Alternative opinions

However not everybody is convinced that the Biblical passages which eulogize sex are strictly referring to it within the constraints of the marital relationship. Modern scholars are seeking to challenge the dominance in the public sphere of conservative Christians who insist that the Bible incontrovertibly supports sex within the constraints of “traditional marriage”. Two such scholars are Jennifer Wright Knust and Michael Coogan who have upheld some of the earthiest and most inexplicable Biblical tales about sex and love like, Jephthah sacrificing his virgin daughter to God as well as Naomi and Ruth vowing to love one another until death, to show that the Bible’s teachings on sex are not as coherent as the religious right would have people believe. According to Knust, who authored Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire, the Song of Solomon is a paean to unmarried sex, outside the conventions of family and community1.

An essential part of about what the Bible and Christian scriptures say about premarital sex should involve understanding about the terms and the contexts in which they are used. Thus not only terms like premarital sex do not exist in the Bible, but even the perfect marriage as is understood today does not feature In the Bible. Biblical characters engage is all sorts of sexual behaviors that seem far from ideal today. Thus Abraham fathers children with Sarah and his servant Hagar. Jacob marries Rachel and her sister Leah, as well as their servants Bilhah and Zilpah. Lot offers his two virgin daughters to the angry mob that surrounds his house in Sodom. Jesus was celibate, as was Paul. Likewise despite the prohibition against homosexual relationship in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, some scholars have interpreted certain passages in the Bible as praising gay love. For instance, Knust also argues that King David “enjoyed sexual satisfaction” with his soulmate, Jonathan. “Your love to me was wonderful,” laments David at Jonathan’s death, “passing the love of women.”

The Christian societies, much like the rest of the world, is perturbed at the higher rates of teen pregnancies, abortions, divorces and many other consequences of sexual relationships that are far from ideal according to its religious prescripts. And yet both the larger society as well as sexual relationships of its members are bound to be in state of constant flux. It is seeking this balance between scriptural injunctions and modern individualist forces that Christianity faces as one of its main challenges today.

Reference:

  1. The Daily Beast -  What the Bible Really Says About Sex