The Bible and Sex OR Another Choice
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y Chris Fay
Each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.
1 Corinthians 7: 2
Today, sex is associated with everything. You cannot walk down the street or turn on the radio without seeing and hearing about sex. Whether directly or indirectly, businesses use sex to sell products from shampoo to Chevrolets. Clothing lines market their outfits by taking them off their models. A good network television show must have sex in order to compete in prime time. A movie must have sex. No sex? No Oscar. Anna Kournikova, the most marketable woman sports figure in the world has yet to win a tournament, but according to the million dollar endorsements corporations throw at her it is obvious that her sex appeal is far more intriguing and important than her serve; the public agrees. We as a society are obsessed with sex. However, we have become so desensitized to it that it is no longer viewed as something sacred, or an act reserved exclusively for married couples. Instead, sex is seen as something for anyone at anytime. A sacred bond? Just look at the divorce rates in the United States. Marriage means very little today. It is mocked on television "reality" shows where a man or woman chooses a suitor based solely on looks- and we think arranged marriages are strange and archaic? The question of premarital sex, whether to do it or not to do it, is one that has many opinions, points of view, and has fueled much debate. However by turning to the most read book of all time, we hope to uncover the proper guidance and understanding to life's most difficult questions, even if it leaves one more confused in the end.
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Unfortunately, the Bible does not come out and directly say, "Premarital sex is wrong," or "Sex is a gift that should be shared with as many people as many times as possible." The Bible is a tool used by many to answer the most thought-provoking questions, but at times one can pull out contradicting verses, which leaves even the most ardent believers scratching their head. Statistics is not the only thing that you can use to support almost anything. It is our job to do what countless theologians, scholars, and laypeople have tried to do for centuries; interpret the Bible.
Such a task however is extremely difficult on many levels. One of the most glaring reasons when trying to break down and analyze the question of premarital sex is that times have dramatically changed. Sexual context is vital to reading and understanding the Bible in order to learn about the Bible's sexual attitude. How can there be any similarities between today's Jaguars and antiquity's camels? Before looking at the Bible to see what it says on the issue it is necessary to get a better understanding of the eras and how they are related (if at all). Reasons for abstaining from sex vary from person to person, culture to culture, and generation to generation.
Currently one of the more popular reasons for waiting until marriage to engage in sexual relations in the United States is fear of getting pregnant. An unwanted pregnancy today can result in being forced to drop out of school or lose a job. How can this be connected to antiquity where women did not go to school or work? Furthermore, teenagers and adults today may look to abstain from sex because of the numerous sexually transmitted diseases (STD's), like AIDS, which are being passes sexually from person to person. Was this a concern over eighteen hundred years ago? Marriages in antiquity also took place at the age of about 13, which leads one to believe that sex before marriage was less of a temptation than it is today, where most couples are not pursuing marriage until their late twenties (Sands, 89). Finally, what about the issue of birth control? We live in an age where almost every college female is on the "pill." Basically, a 'worldview' opinion of this is, "If one can have sexual intercourse with no bad biological results, what is so bad about it?"(Bertocci, p. 268) The Bible however does not discuss birth control measures. So why are we using an ancient book in discussing a modern day question? The Bible does delve into the subject of premarital sex at great lengths, and it is our job to discern what God is really saying in the context of our everyday lives. Yes, the world has changed drastically, but by looking at the whole Bible, and not just a few random sound bytes, we can define our sexuality in accordance with God's will (Walters).
The Hebrew Scripture, or Old Testament, refers to premarital sex, or fornication, on several occasions in just the first three books, with the ultimate outcome being that one should abstain from sexual immorality and honor God with your body. This "sexual immorality" involves acts that prevent man and woman from becoming "one flesh," as stated in Genesis (Christian Evangelism and Healing). This relates to the most important passages of the Hebrew Scripture, when the Ten Commandments are conveyed to the Israelites, and adultery is said to be a mortal sin. But is adultery and premarital sex the same? By looking at the Old Testament book Leviticus, it is quite clear that God intends for everyone to have his or her specific partner. The third book in the Bible goes on to say that to "uncover the nakedness" of someone other than your wife or husband is to "defile yourself"(Leviticus 18:20). The modern teaching that intimacy among unmarried couples is okay as longs as it stops short of sexual intercourse does not fulfill God's wishes of purity and holiness as conveyed in the Old Testament. Chapter 18 of Leviticus later goes on to specifically outline those who one should "not have sexual relations with." The list is long and includes, "your father...your mother...your sister...your son's daughter...your daughter's daughter...your father's sister...your mother's sister...your father's brother...your daughter-in-law...your brother's wife...your kinsman's wife...your neighbor's wife"(NIV, Leviticus 18: 6-20). This leaves you with one choice, your husband or wife.
Marriage, in the eyes of God, is a beautiful thing that is supposed to bring two souls, two virgins, together and make one. In Deuteronomy, we read that for a marriage to be considered legitimate the union of souls cannot work if the wife was not a virgin at the time of a marriage. When the man "did not find proof of her virginity" the "men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous"(NIV, Deuteronomy 22: 21). Under the Old Covenant, parents kept as proof of their daughter's virginity the bloodstained garment or sheet from her wedding night. But what if the man committed adultery? Is this just another case of a double standard where women are being treated unfairly in the Bible? In practice women may have been punished more severely by having sex out of wedlock, however, the Bible appears to hold both parties equally accountable (Sapp). In Leviticus, God tells Moses, "If a man commits adultery with another man's wife-with the wife of his neighbor-both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death" (NIV, Leviticus 20:10).
Premarital sex, which is interpreted as falling under "sexual immorality" or "fornication" in the Bible, appears to be saying unequivocally that marriage is sacred and denounces sex with more than one partner. However, there are many instances in the Old Testament where God not only allows the act but also encourages it. King David, who is praised countless times in the Bible by God, is said to have had countless wives. Abraham had sex with at least four concubines and married his sister, something strictly prohibited in Ezekiel and Leviticus. Jacob had sex on his wedding night with a different woman, yet still remained in good standing with God. Solomon would have been divorced over 700 times, while Boaz had sexual relations with Ruth, and then he decided to wed her (Sponge, 37). Opponents to the belief that sex is something reserved exclusively for marriage also point to God's first instructions to man in Genesis; "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground"(The New Revised Standard Version, 2). Nowhere does it call men and women to "wait until marriage," a secular ceremony in the Bible. Also, under Old Testament law, casual sex was impossible; there was no such thing. For an unmarried man to have sex with an unmarried woman was to make an even more binding commitment than a normal marriage (Hastings). This falls a long the same line as the Christian teaching of consummation, as it is the responsibility of a couple to consummate the marriage after the actual ceremony before it is recognized as being legitimate.
The issue of premarital sex is a question that religions across the globe have both strong opinions and teachings. Michael Hartwig, author of The Poetics of Intimacy and the Problem of Sexual Abstinence, believes that church teachings are positively harmful when they institutionally mandate sexual abstinence for anyone who is not in a heterosexual marriage. Hartwig acknowledges that abstinence may appear to be a smart choice on the surface but that it prohibits sexual maturity, and "the different kinds of internal dispositions or attitudes that one must cultivate in order to initiate and sustain relationships of deep interpersonal intimacy" (Hartwig, 637). Hartwig sees abstinence as a denial of our call to become close to people. Abstinence hampers a person's ability to relate affectionately with others. Hartwig compares and contrasts the conservative Christian teachings of abstinence with a Jewish ethics that recognizes the divine mandates to be fruitful and to pursue sexual companionship embodied in Genesis chapter 1, which as you recall calls for people to "be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it"(NIV Bible, Genesis 1:28). Catholicism on the other hand defends chastity. Chastity is defined as "the virtue that excludes or moderates the indulgence of the sexual appetite. It is a form of the virtue of temperance, which controls according to right reason the desire and use of those things which afford the greatest sensual pleasures" (The Catholic Encyclopedia, 637). Chastity in Buddhism however is quite interesting. Members of Buddhist monasteries practice chastity through celibacy because it provides them with "insight, vast knowledge, and magical powers, among other miraculous advantages" (Eliade). Lastly, chastity plays a powerful role in Islam. Abstaining from sexual relations until marriage "is regarded as the state of spiritual and physical cleanliness"(Eliade). There are many however who feel that teaching and promoting abstinence is a terrible thing. Countless opponents argue that many religions would rather have teenagers pregnant, than admit sex does and will take place outside of marriage and support sex education classes along with the distribution of condoms in high schools. "Teaching abstinence is absurd," believes John Bellantoni, an advocate of mandatory sex education in all public schools. "It doesn't work and in the long run may be doing more harm than good for the children this practice is being forced upon" (Williams, 109). An unidentified teenage girl told NBC News anchor Katie Couric in an interview last year, "So many people say 'don't have sex' and stuff, but you go out and it's like the real world." Couric concurred with the young girl citing that "sex is everywhere and the average teen sees almost 14,000 sexual references every year. But just 165 of these sex messages refer to birth control, abstinence, pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases" (NBC News Transcript, April 15, 2002). Are religions fighting a lost battle?
St. Paul would completely disagree with Hartwig's argument that sex out of wedlock is natural. God has indeed given humans a gift, the gift to give life. However, according to St. Pau,l just because we have inherited that gift does not mean that we have the right to abuse it. "Everything is permissible for me--but not everything is beneficial," St. Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians. St. Paul goes on to warn the people of the port city of Corinth: Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God (NIV, 1 Corinthinas 6: 9-10)
St. Paul puts offenses such as idolatry, adultery, stealing, and slanderers, all interpreted to some extent as being in violation of one of the Ten Commandments, on par with being sexually immoral, which we have already decided falls along the lines of having premarital sex. St. Paul urges each and every one of us to "flee from sexual immorality" (Tant). Today's world has gotten so used to the idea of promiscuous relations and premarital sex that we fail to realize the holiness of our body.
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body(NIV, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Paul is clearly stating the importance of purity and virginity in these multiple passages. But he does not in any way devalue sex as being something terrible but just the opposite. Simon of Tournai restates this in one of the first comprehensive studies on premarital sex. A survey of forty-four theologians writing from1152 to 1327 revealed that most of those who wrote on premarital sex concluded that it was always a mortal sin. Simon believed that sex is natural, whether married or not. But in marriage it is good; outside of marriage it is bad (Dedek, 644). Hanibald of Hanibaldus disagreed. He viewed sex as completely unnatural when performed outside of marriage. In Hannibal's opinion, indiscriminate sex without any bond of long-term cohabitation is against the law of nature and highly unnatural. Nature requires not only a long-term union but also a permanent union because parents are obliged to save up for their children and leave them an inheritance. But what if the person is not caught or a child does not come about as a result of the sexual relations? This is a modern day question with the development of birth control devices. According to Hanibald the act is still "intrinsically evil," and there is no room for individual discretion or exception making (Dedek, 660).
The notion that every one of us is supposed to have one partner is reaffirmed by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus referred back to the idea of man and woman becoming "one flesh" and signifies the importance of marriage; something we as a culture have lost.
Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5: 32 (Cramer)
Jesus went on to add:
At the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female', and said, 'for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. Matthew 19: 4-5 (Cramer)
Jesus focused on a lot of issues in this teaching to the Pharisees. First, he shows how by divorcing a woman causes both the woman and her future husband to commit adultery. Even in marriage sex is not allowed, according to Jesus, unless it is with the first individual you had sexual relations with. What is the only ground for divorce? Jesus did not talk about physical or psychological abuse, though this may pertain to it indirectly, he did however speak about being unfaithful. Being disloyal is the most egregious crime a person can commit. When a partner in a marriage is unfaithful not only does he or she hurt his or her partner, but it also creates a domino effect destroying everyone in its path. Hebrews sums it up perfectly, "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral"(What the Bible says about.... Premarital sex). The idea Jesus is trying to present here is that marriage is indeed an extremely powerful commitment with awesome circumstances when done properly, however it has the adverse affects when one gives in to temptations and other worldly pleasures.
St. Paul, who spanned the known world educating Gentiles about Jesus and his teachings, advised the Thessalonians on "how to live in order to please God"(NIV, 1 Thessalonians 4:1). He touched on many subjects including how to view non-believers. But even before St. Paul instructed the Gentiles how to deal with spiritual non-believers he focused on the physical body, something contrary to religious practices where much of the teachings are based solely around spirituality. St. Paul cautioned the Thessalonians about the dangers of not practicing self-control. "Each of you should learn to control his own body. In a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God," St. Paul said (Sands, 222).
St. Paul and others indeed took a hard stance on sexual relations, and stressed the importance of abstaining from premarital sex. It is a wide held belief that the New Testament does not take a firm stance in sexual relations before marriage, but this is simply not true. Critics of the view that sex before marriage is not allowed under the Bible often points to the fact that Jesus dined with prostitutes, signaling that clearly Jesus did not think negatively of the act. However, opponents of this scrutiny simply see this as Jesus' unconditional love and ability to forgive the gravest of sins. He is not in any way condoning the acts of Mary Magdalene and other sexually immoral individuals. Jesus tended to associate with the societies outcasts as a way of saying, "It is not your job to judge," and "Look these people have asked for forgiveness, and I have granted it to them." This is only true of course "if we confess our sins...(He) will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness"(NIV, 1John1: 9). This last point offers hope to the over 70-percent of 18-year olds that have said they have had sex, many of which regret it. (Reimer)
Today, many people are attached to the romantic ideal of a life enriched with a variety of experiences, or a "variety is the spice of life" mentality. We love to be thought of as "well rounded" people always looking to move on to the next new exciting adventure. So why should we not keep that same ideal when talking about sexual partners? Is not monogamy monotony? It may be true that variety, when talked about in regards to food, friends, or extracurricular activities may be beneficial, however sex is uniquely different. One can wholeheartedly enjoy playing baseball today and then in seek of a change move on to the violin tomorrow and not suffer any serious mental consequences. Sex on the other hand is loaded with underlying physical and emotional attachments. The Bible teaches that sexual intercourse establishes the deepest kind of emotional and psychological bond between a man and a woman. Is it possible to have sex and not become emotionally attached? By reading and interpreting the Bible it appears the answer is a resounding No. Even if you never see that individual again you will always be connected in some form. "He who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her body," St. Paul said, lending credence to the power of sex and its ability to bring people together (NIV, 1 Corinthians 6: 16). In many ways you will always be committing adultery against your first sexual partner, even after you are married to your supposed true love.
Love. It is the principal virtue in the New Testament. Without "love, I am nothing," said Saint Paul in his first letter to the people of Corinth. But what is love and how is it different from lust? Jesus warned us "everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart"(NIV, Matthew 5:28). In Colossians, "lust" is reason to be "put to death"(NIV, Colossians 3:5). Job, a righteous figure in the Old Testament, said, "I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl" (NIV, Job 31:1). Saint Paul understood that the people of Corinth were having trouble distinguishing between love and lust, and he wanted to dispel all doubts by defining what love really is in order for the people to avoid falling into a life of lust.
Love is patient: love is kind. Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 (Cahill)
Surveys today however indicate that the vast majority of people, somewhere around 80-percent, believe that premarital sex is acceptable when feelings of love, like those described by St. Paul, exist between two adults (Lamb, C5).
Premarital sex is a sin, and somewhere over the years the virtue of chastity has been lost. Society tell us that we should practice "safe sex," and young teenagers must be educated and be given birth control mechanisms because "they are going to do it anyways." However, God has more respect and trust for us. Animals will do it anyways. People have a choice, a choice whether to believe marriage is honorable, or they can choose to fall into the trap society so desperately wants us to fall into. God created sex and He wants people to enjoy it, but it is only beautiful under the right circumstances. What about the incentive to "test drive before you buy the car?" It is a valid question, but I think the real question is-how would one feel about buying the car after it has been "test driven" by a half dozen drivers over a period of years? Furthermore, what would one do with a car that performed well initially but later had "engine trouble?" Now, with the "engine" gone, what similarities and things in common does the couple have to keep the marriage strong? Those who abstain from sex are not "joyless, undersexed, anti-life, anti-youth, and anti-progress"(McClymond, 221). In fact they are just the opposite.
Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 4: 31 (New Revised Standard Version, 741)
Remember: Sexual deprivation never killed anyone.
Bertocci, Peter A., "Extramarital sex and the pill." Christian Century. February 26, 1964. Pages 267-270.
Cahill, Lisa Sowle. Sex, Gender, and Christian Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
"Chastity." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appelton Company, 1908. Pages 637-639.
"Christian Evangelism and Healing." Questions and Answers.
http://www.layhands.com/IsPremaritalSexASin.htm, Retrieved on February 25, 2003.
Cramer, Robert Nguyen. Biblical Perspectives on Premarital Sex and Homosexuality.
Dedek, John F., "Premarital Sex: the theological argument from Peter Lombard to Durand." Theological Studies. December 1980. Pages 643-667.
Eliade, Mirea. "Chastity." The Encyclopedia of Religion. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987.
Hastings, James. Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911.
Lamb, Stephen E. "Premarital Sex Unwise and Risky--Even for Adults." Life. March 8, 2002. Page C05.
McClymond, Michael James. "The Last Sexual Perversion: An Argument in Defense of Celibacy."
Theology Today v57 no2. July 2000. Pages 217-231.
NBC News Transcripts: Teens Today. 2002 National Broadcasting Co.April 15, 2002.
New Revised Standard Version. The Holy Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989)
New International Version Holy Bible, Bible Gateway http://bible.gospelcom.net/
Reimer, Susan. "Abstinence works, but too many teens never get the message." SunspotNet. July 14, 2002.
Sands, Kathleen. God Forbid: Religion and Sex in American Public Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Sapp, Stephen. Sexuality, the Bible and Science. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977.
Sponge, John Shelby. Living in Sin? A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality. San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishers, 1988.
Tant, David and Flora. "Dealing with the Effects of Premarital Sex."
http://www.brasstacks.org/premarital-sex/tant.htm. Retrieved on February 25, 2003.
Walters, Albert. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. U.K: Cox and Wyman, 1996.
Williams, Harry Abbot. Poverty, Chastity and Obedience: The True Virtues. London, 1975.
"Weblog: Christians Should Require Premarital Sex, Says Theologian." Christianity Today.
August 30, 2000. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/135/32.0.html
"What the bible says about......Premarital Sex." Jesus Cares About You.
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