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On whether or not premarital sex is biblically permissible

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  • On whether or not premarital sex is biblically permissible

    Hey everyone! I'm currently writing a paper on Christian sexual ethics, and I wanted to elicit some different perspectives to give me some food for thought. To be clear, I'm not trying to argue against a traditional interpretation of Christian sexual ethics. But I am seeking some opinions on counter-arguments to the Christian left, particularly the idea that Scripture does not forbid pre-marital sex. I think this is a timely issue for the church today, because many people who identify as Christians are engaging in primatial sex and quite a few just openly see no problem with it. I am interested in arguments based on reason and logic, but the emphasis is on Scripture (because that will be my primary source of authority in the paper).

    One view that I'm interested in addressing is that of Jennifer Knust, a professor of religion at Boston University and an ordained American Baptist minister. I'm working my way through her book, Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire. To give you an accessible feel for what her view is, see this article: https://www.bu.edu/articles/2011/the...ons-about-sex/. Basically, she says that some biblical authors condemn premarital and extramarital sex, while others "present premarital sex as a source of God's blessing". She has in mind Song of Solomon, as well as the book of Ruth. Regarding Song of Solomon, she writes that sex and sexual desire is celebrated...and that, from the text, it appears as if the male/female subjects are NOT married.

    Regarding Ruth, she asserts that Ruth and Boaz had premarital sex on the threshing floor, before they were married (or, indeed, knew that they could be married). I wrote a different thread a while back (I think it was in the general Christianity sub forum) about this interpretation of Ruth -- the short of it is, I wrote a paper on this a while back and discovered that the interpretation is surprisingly credible, for a number of reasons. At the very minimum, Naomi sent Ruth to seduce Boaz. The best I can tell, the sex is implied rather than stated explicitly, so there is some room for interpretation here. There's liberal use of euphemism by the author, and all of it implies a sexual act and circumstance (we can discuss the details later in this thread, if need be). And though it is problematic for my own systematic theology, my honest interpretation of Ruth is that the probable meaning of the text is that Ruth and Boaz did have sex before getting married. There's just too many data points for me to effectively argue against.

    This is problematic for the rest of my understanding of Scripture, and it causes me to re-assess my assumptions. In doing so, I notice that most authors I have read (commentaries and academic articles) with a conservative perspective do not do a very effective job at arguing how the Bible forbids premarital sex. It seems to me that there's an over-reliance on the assumption that the Greek word porneia (πορνεία) includes premarital sex. Essentially, the term means "sexual immorality". So many authors engage in circular reasoning when they say that any passage using the term porneia potentially refers to premarital sex. Essentially the argument is:

    A) Sexual immorality (porneia) is forbidden.

    B) Premarital sex is sexually immoral.

    C) Therefore, premarital sex is forbidden.

    So we can see the problem with this logic. The very topic of discussion (whether or not premarital sex is immoral) is assumed to be immoral, and that assumption is used to "prove" it is immoral. Now, if anyone has some good sources (particularly extra-biblical) regarding the specific meaning in biblical times of porneia, I'd be very interested. So far, I've not read anything that can show that specific meaning (premarital relations) from Scripture alone. It seems as if the meaning to Paul was obvious enough that he didn't have to define it in detail, which itself might or might not be a clue.

    On the other hand, there are arguments from the liberal Christian crowd that have a certain degree of logic (though I would really like to see sources for some of the assertions and/or academic critique of the assertions from both liberal and conservative perspectives... I've haven't quite gone down that rabbit hole yet). Essentially, the argument is that women in biblical times were viewed as property. Having premarital sex with an unmarried woman was wrong because you were violating her father's property rights. Having lost her virginity, her "market value" is diminished. To marry her off, her father will now have to accept a reduced dowry for her from a suitor. Therefore, the offender owes her father money and must marry her if her father allows. This argument is reasonably articulated here: http://www.thechristianleftblog.org/...t-a-sin-or-not. They're looking at verses like Exodus 22:16-17 (penalty for premarital sex), Deuteronomy 22: 28-29 (penalty for raping a virgin), and Deuteronomy 21:10-14 (marrying female captives and sending them away afterwards if you aren't pleased by them). Other places in Scripture give guidelines for sexual relations (marriage, it appears) with female slaves (Exodus 21:1-7).

    And while the New Testament texts clearly show a preference for a monogamous marriage, even Biblical heroes had polygamous marriages. There's an argument that God allowed this practice, something less than his ideal for us, because of the social and cultural realities of the day. The problem with that argument is that it can be easily extended to the modern situation for Christians today. I don't see any biblical warrant for sexually promiscuous behavior, but if one accepts the liberal Christian argument that premarital sex was mostly about property rights, then one is left to wonder about the necessity for an all-circumstances biblical prohibition for premarital sex in today's age.

    In my mind, one of the stronger arguments revolves around 1 Corinthians 7, wherein Paul says that if your 'passions' are strong, you should get married. He does not offer frequent premarital sex as a remedy to fend off 'sexual immorality'. However, this argument has two weaknesses as I see it:

    1) In this section of text, Paul directly says that these instructions are from him because he has "no command from the Lord". It doesn't make his statements invalid, but it does weaken the argument. Additionally, in this letter Paul seems mistaken about how soon Christ's second coming will be, which highlights his own fallibility. Of course, others with a different eschatological understanding than I might not have an issue here.

    2) Additionally, if we're keeping the whole cultural property rights argument in mind, one can pretty easily dismiss Paul's argument here by saying that he's giving instructions for the cultural and social circumstances at the time the letter was written. He might be, and he might not be. But we know that what he's saying is not a direct commandant from Christ.

    So, does anyone have any thoughts here? I'm interested in:

    A) What arguments do you find most persuasive (either way)?

    B) Are there any good books/articles/commentaries you've read on this subject that you've found helpful? Particular emphasis on the meaning of porneia.

    C) How credible do you find the Christian left argument from the property-rights perspective?
    "If you believe, take the first step, it leads to Jesus Christ. If you don't believe, take the first step all the same, for you are bidden to take it. No one wants to know about your faith or unbelief, your orders are to perform the act of obedience on the spot. Then you will find yourself in the situation where faith becomes possible and where faith exists in the true sense of the word." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

  • #2
    The Old Testament penalty for premarital sex was forced marriage with no opportunity for divorce. It would be hard to make a case under New Testament expositions for even the possibility of pre-marital sex.

    2) Additionally, if we're keeping the whole cultural property rights argument in mind, one can pretty easily dismiss Paul's argument here by saying that he's giving instructions for the cultural and social circumstances at the time the letter was written. He might be, and he might not be. But we know that what he's saying is not a direct commandant from Christ
    Too right: and property rights don't play a part.

    In one place Paul says "I Paul, not God, say" and in another "I say, yet not I but God." (paraphrasing) - so Paul is certainly clear about what is and is not from God. It blows the whole "everything in the Bible is scripture" claim out of the water, all by itself.
    Last edited by tabibito; 08-07-2021, 03:51 PM.
    sigpic1 Cor 15:34 εκνηψατε δικαιως και μη αμαρτανετε αγνωσιαν γαρ θεου τινες εχουσιν προς εντροπην υμιν λεγω

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by tabibito View Post
      The Old Testament penalty for premarital sex was forced marriage with no opportunity for divorce. It would be hard to make a case under New Testament expositions for the possibility of pre-marital sex.
      Actually, it was paying a fine and marrying her (absent the no chance of divorce):

      16 When a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married, and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. 17 But if her father refuses to give her to him, he shall pay an amount equal to the bride-price for virgins.

      Ex 22:16–17.

      As far as I can tell, the penalty for raping a virgin is what you described:

      28 If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, 29 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.

      Dt 22:28–29.

      The New Testament argument for premarital sex would be essentially an argument from silence (discounting porneia as meaning premarital sex), coupled with situational (cultural/social) understanding of Paul's advice.
      "If you believe, take the first step, it leads to Jesus Christ. If you don't believe, take the first step all the same, for you are bidden to take it. No one wants to know about your faith or unbelief, your orders are to perform the act of obedience on the spot. Then you will find yourself in the situation where faith becomes possible and where faith exists in the true sense of the word." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

      Comment


      • #4
        28 If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes captivates her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act,...

        If you have doubts, see Exds 22:25-26 ... the word there is not "seizes" but "forces" (her to lie with him).

        The fine was exacted (100 shekels) for defamation if a man falsely claimed that his bride was not a virgin, along with "chastisement."

        Verse 28 has the man paying the bride price (50 shekels) whether or no the woman's father permitted a marriage. That was a change to the earlier law, where the two were to be married. (trying to trace that particular verse, but it has been many years since I studied the issue.)
        sigpic1 Cor 15:34 εκνηψατε δικαιως και μη αμαρτανετε αγνωσιαν γαρ θεου τινες εχουσιν προς εντροπην υμιν λεγω

        Comment


        • #5
          Exd 22:16 - Deut 22:28 is the same law but modified.

          Rape was a capital offence (at least in the case of a woman betrothed). Deut 22:23-26
          sigpic1 Cor 15:34 εκνηψατε δικαιως και μη αμαρτανετε αγνωσιαν γαρ θεου τινες εχουσιν προς εντροπην υμιν λεγω

          Comment


          • #6
            The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by tabibito View Post
              In one place Paul says "I Paul, not God, say" and in another "I say, yet not I but God." (paraphrasing) - so Paul is certainly clear about what is and is not from God. It blows the whole "everything in the Bible is scripture" claim out of the water, all by itself.
              Imprecise, assuming you refer to 1 Cor 7. Actually, Paul does not use the word "God," he uses "the Lord." Thus I tend to agree with the interpretation given in, e.g., the NET Bible notes: Paul is distinguishing between the instructions given by Jesus (i.e. "the Lord") while He was on earth (and recorded in the Gospels), and the instructions he himself was adding that related specifically to the situation at hand. It has ZERO to do with the question of the inspiration of Scripture. After all, Jesus Himself wrote nothing. No member of the Trinity wrote any Scripture, aside from the words on the tablets given to Moses, and "Mene, mene, tekel upharsim" on the wall.
              Geislerminian Antinomian Kenotic Charispneumaticostal Gender Mutualist-Egalitarian.

              Beige Nationalist.

              "Everybody is somebody's heretic."

              Social Justice is usually the opposite of actual justice.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by NorrinRadd View Post

                Imprecise, assuming you refer to 1 Cor 7. Actually, Paul does not use the word "God," he uses "the Lord." Thus I tend to agree with the interpretation given in, e.g., the NET Bible notes: Paul is distinguishing between the instructions given by Jesus (i.e. "the Lord") while He was on earth (and recorded in the Gospels), and the instructions he himself was adding that related specifically to the situation at hand. It has ZERO to do with the question of the inspiration of Scripture. After all, Jesus Himself wrote nothing. No member of the Trinity wrote any Scripture, aside from the words on the tablets given to Moses, and "Mene, mene, tekel upharsim" on the wall.
                Don't forget Jesus wrote something in the dirt.
                The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.

                Comment


                • #9
                  "Marriage must be honored among all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, for God will judge sexually immoral people and adulterers." (Heb 13:4)

                  Here "sexually immoral" is "pornos", a cognate of porneia.

                  Blessings,
                  Lee
                  "What I pray of you is, to keep your eye upon Him, for that is everything. Do you say, 'How am I to keep my eye on Him?' I reply, keep your eye off everything else, and you will soon see Him. All depends on the eye of faith being kept on Him. How simple it is!" (J.B. Stoney)

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by lee_merrill View Post
                    "Marriage must be honored among all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, for God will judge sexually immoral people and adulterers." (Heb 13:4)

                    Here "sexually immoral" is "pornos", a cognate of porneia.

                    Blessings,
                    Lee
                    I appreciate the input, but how does that relate to premarital sex? This Scripture speaks against adultery, which is not the same thing. If you're not married, you don't have a marriage bed to defile.

                    For clarity, I do think this and other verses make it clear that porneia and its cognates are meant to be inclusive of adultery.
                    Last edited by myth; 08-07-2021, 06:35 PM.
                    "If you believe, take the first step, it leads to Jesus Christ. If you don't believe, take the first step all the same, for you are bidden to take it. No one wants to know about your faith or unbelief, your orders are to perform the act of obedience on the spot. Then you will find yourself in the situation where faith becomes possible and where faith exists in the true sense of the word." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by myth View Post

                      I appreciate the input, but how does that relate to premarital sex? This Scripture speaks against adultery, which is not the same thing. If you're not married, you don't have a marriage bed to defile.

                      For clarity, I do think this and other verses make it clear that porneia and its cognates are meant to be inclusive of adultery.
                      And I'm observing, because I was aware I had preconceived notions.
                      The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by tabibito View Post
                        28 If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes captivates her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act,...

                        If you have doubts, see Exds 22:25-26 ... the word there is not "seizes" but "forces" (her to lie with him).

                        The fine was exacted (100 shekels) for defamation if a man falsely claimed that his bride was not a virgin, along with "chastisement."

                        Verse 28 has the man paying the bride price (50 shekels) whether or no the woman's father permitted a marriage. That was a change to the earlier law, where the two were to be married. (trying to trace that particular verse, but it has been many years since I studied the issue.)
                        I'm not sure I can read the text in Deuteronomy as an update to the earlier law. One specifically, casts the offender's actions as using force against the woman, and the other text does not. It looks to me like it's addressing two different situations: consensual premarital sex versus nonconsensual premarital sex.
                        "If you believe, take the first step, it leads to Jesus Christ. If you don't believe, take the first step all the same, for you are bidden to take it. No one wants to know about your faith or unbelief, your orders are to perform the act of obedience on the spot. Then you will find yourself in the situation where faith becomes possible and where faith exists in the true sense of the word." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Cow Poke View Post

                          And I'm observing, because I was aware I had preconceived notions.
                          We all have such notions. I'm trying hard to suspend mine and focus on the facts and the logic. I want to make a well constructed argument, because I've been disappointed with the arguments of some well known conservative theologians who have far more letters after their names than I do. It is really underwhelming to see them make arguments appealing to the porneia without any real attempt to define it. Or, another common issue....to use prohibitions against adultery to argue against premarital sex. The two are not analogous, but some theologians treat them that way.
                          "If you believe, take the first step, it leads to Jesus Christ. If you don't believe, take the first step all the same, for you are bidden to take it. No one wants to know about your faith or unbelief, your orders are to perform the act of obedience on the spot. Then you will find yourself in the situation where faith becomes possible and where faith exists in the true sense of the word." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Cow Poke View Post

                            Don't forget Jesus wrote something in the dirt.
                            I have always wondered what that was he wrote. ^_^
                            "If you believe, take the first step, it leads to Jesus Christ. If you don't believe, take the first step all the same, for you are bidden to take it. No one wants to know about your faith or unbelief, your orders are to perform the act of obedience on the spot. Then you will find yourself in the situation where faith becomes possible and where faith exists in the true sense of the word." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by myth View Post
                              Originally posted by lee_merrill
                              "Marriage must be honored among all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, for God will judge sexually immoral people and adulterers." (Heb 13:4)

                              Here "sexually immoral" is "pornos", a cognate of porneia.
                              I appreciate the input, but how does that relate to premarital sex? This Scripture speaks against adultery...
                              Well, sexually immoral people and adulterers, these are two different categories, and one of them is a cognate of "porneia".

                              And the contrast is between marriage and sexually immoral people and adulterers, showing that sex outside of marriage, premarital sex, is forbidden.

                              Blessings,
                              Lee
                              "What I pray of you is, to keep your eye upon Him, for that is everything. Do you say, 'How am I to keep my eye on Him?' I reply, keep your eye off everything else, and you will soon see Him. All depends on the eye of faith being kept on Him. How simple it is!" (J.B. Stoney)

                              Comment

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