The Bible on Premarital Sex and Sexual Morality

Where does the Bible say that sex before marriage is wrong? Isaac and Rebekah didn’t have a church wedding. Apparently they just slept together and that was it! And what about Joseph and Mary? Why was it OK for them to travel to Bethlehem together before they were married?
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It’s easy to think that the Bible doesn’t say anything about premarital sex. But that’s because people usually look for negative statements: a condemnation or “thou shalt not.”

But the Bible expresses God’s perspective mainly in positive terms. And Scripture clearly states that sex belongs in marriage, between one man and one woman.

Sex is for marriage, and marriage is for sex

God wants us to save sex for marriage not because it’s “bad” or “dirty”— but because it’s unique, exclusive, and wonderful. Sex isn’t just casual fun. And it’s not just a feel-good way of expressing mutual love. It’s about two people becoming one flesh.

  • Jesus says, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19:4-5, ESV; quoting from Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24).
  • This fits with the apostle Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 6:16: “Do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh’” (ESV).
  • The same concept underlies the commandment against adultery (Exodus 20:14). In the biblical view, adultery includes any sexual activity outside of marriage. This is why the Bible says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous (Hebrews 13:4, ESV).

Sex is a holy mystery. It’s a powerful bonding agent that shapes and affects the relationship between a man and a woman as nothing else can.

That’s why the Bible often compares idolatry to the sin of fornication (sex between two people who aren’t married to each other) or adultery (sex between two people when one or both are married to someone else).

And it’s why the Bible uses sexual purity and faithfulness between spouses as an image of our relationship with God (see Song of Solomon, Hosea, and the 16th chapter of Ezekiel).

So, what about Isaac and Rebekah, or Joseph and Mary?

The communal aspect of marriage

Different cultures have different ways of arranging marriage and marking the marital bond. Not surprisingly, then, the Bible doesn’t require all marriages to be sealed in a church ceremony or with a state-authorized license.

Still, whatever the time and place, biblical marriage always includes a distinctly communal aspect. It’s first understood in a couple’s decision to leave their parents and cleave to one another. With that step, they start a new family unit as a part of general human society.

In other words, marriage involves a couple’s public commitment to build a strong and lasting relationship. That relationship isn’t only a foundation for the nurturing of their own children; it’s also a building block of social stability and a contribution to the well-being of the broader community.

In Bible times, that communal part of marriage was overseen almost exclusively by the family. (We see it in the description of Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage.) However, in 21st-century America, it also involves the state — and for serious believers, the Church.

What about Mary and Joseph? Well, betrothals in ancient Judaism weren’t like modern engagements. A betrothal did require that the couple not have sex until after the wedding ceremony. But aside from this, the relationship a betrothal established was every bit as binding and permanent as what we normally think of as “marriage.”

With that in mind, travel would have been OK. It also explains why Joseph would have needed something like a legal divorce to break off his agreement with Mary and her family when he learned that she was pregnant “before they came together” in marriage (Matthew 1:18-25).

Want to talk more?

If you’d like to talk more about love, sex, and marriage call us for a free over-the-phone consultation. Our licensed or pastoral counselors will be glad to help in any way they can.


Resources
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Reclaiming Intimacy: Overcoming the Consequences of Premarital Relationships

Boundaries in Dating

Referrals
Boundless

Articles
Why Wait for Sex?

Copyright © 2010, Focus on the Family.

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