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Is Fornication Really a Sin?

I spent seven years as a singles pastor.  Can you imagine the issues I had to deal with regarding sex? How far can we go before marriage? What if we are engaged? What happens when we have already crossed that line? Is it okay to try living together if we don’t have sex? As well, I knew the issues of lust and temptation that come from magazines, internet sites, and promiscuous thoughts in general. While I was at seminary, I remember the head of the counseling department saying that by his estimation, half the male students were struggling with internet pornography. Half! If half this body of guys sold out to Jesus, selling everything they own to go to seminary, were this deeply involved in sexual struggles, how much more so the singles at my church?

Many of these are difficult questions. More difficult than one realizes, until pushed for an answer. We are dealing with sexual sin among sexual people. We are bound to attempt to find as many loopholes as possible.

One day I was blindsided by a question that, before then, I had considered a softball. A man walked up to me after my lesson and said that he had some good Christian friends (and by “good Christian friends” I mean he considered these friends to be good Christians), who questioned him about the issue of sex before marriage. They had suggested to him that, contrary to popular thought, the Bible does not anywhere condemn what is known in our language as “fornication.” They said that the word “fornication,” when it is used in the Bible, does not mean sex before marriage, but sexual immorality in general. According to their studies, the sexual immorality condemned in the Scripture does not include fornication.

After some quick research, I discovered that what they said was true . . . at least part of it.

Now, let me be up front here. Before I married Kristie, I did not do to well in the sex before marriage department. I regret it quit a bit. I don’t think I ever actually committed adultery, but for the most part I worked on a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” basis. I was a Christian at the time and the guilt was bad. However, I took some comfort in thinking that I had not crossed the actual adultery line (at least as far as I knew). Why? Because I knew that the Bible had a lot to say about adultery. You know, it was all that “take them out and stone them” stuff. But, while the guilt was bad, it was not as bad as it could have (or should have) been. After all, who was I hurting? God made me a sexual being. I was not coloring outside of the lines that much. After all, what does he expect? It is quite a killjoy to create sexual desire and then say, “You cannot touch.”

So, back to my question: Is fornication really a sin?

It is true that in the Bible, the word for fornication does not necessarily refer to sex before marriage. The Greek word translated “fornication” by the King James Bible is pornia (from which we get our word “pornography”). It refers to any unlawful sexual activity. BDAG (the standard and best Greek Lexicon) defines it as “unsanctioned sexual intercourse.” The sanctioning of a sexual activity is defined in the Old Testament by what it is not more often than what it is. In other words, we learn what is lawful with regard to fulfilling our sexual desires by creating boundaries of foreign territory considered sinful. Much of this law is covered in Leviticus 18. Take notice of the boundaries here:

Lev. 18:6-21, 23
6 “None of you shall approach any one of his close relatives to uncover nakedness. I am the LORD.

7 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, which is the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness.

8 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness.

9 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister, your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether brought up in the family or in another home.

10 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your son’s daughter or of your daughter’s daughter, for their nakedness is your own nakedness.

11 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, brought up in your father’s family, since she is your sister.

12 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister; she is your father’s relative.

13 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister, for she is your mother’s relative.

14 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s brother, that is, you shall not approach his wife; she is your aunt.

15 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law; she is your son’s wife, you shall not uncover her nakedness.

16 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness.

17 You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and of her daughter, and you shall not take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter to uncover her nakedness; they are relatives; it is depravity.

18 And you shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.

19 You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness.

20 And you shall not lie sexually with your neighbor’s wife and so make yourself unclean with her.

22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

23 And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it, neither shall any woman give herself to an animal to lie with it: it is perversion.

That pretty much covers the law with regard to sexual sin, right? After all, to “uncover the nakedness” of someone is a euphemism about sexual relations. However, one thing that is left out here is sex before marriage. It does not say, “You shall not uncover the nakedness of someone who is not your wife.” Yes, there are a lot of parameters, but it looks like we might have found ourselves a loophole toward a sexual revolution in Christianity! Not so fast, singles. While it is true that this particular passage does not speak specifically to the sex before marriage issue, sex before marriage is nonetheless condemned in Scripture as sin.

Old Testament

Let me be honest. From what I can see, the Old Testament does not seem to come down too hard on men having sex outside of the bonds of marriage. It is another story for women. Notice here:

Deut. 22:13-14
“If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then hates her 14 and accuses her of misconduct and brings a bad name upon her, saying, ‘I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her evidence of virginity,'”

This introduces a situation where a man finds out that his wife was not a virgin before they got married. If the charge was found to be true, then the women was to be stoned (Lev. 22:20-21). At the very least, this demonstrates that, for women, the laws against sexual immorality included sex before marriage.

Passages such as Lev. 19:20 further confuse the matter, giving males more liberty.

However, the liberty is not carte blanche for men. Notice here:

Deut. 22:28-29
“If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.”

Here, either through rape or consent (this is debated), we have an unwed woman and a man who sleep together. The woman has lost her virginity to the man. Due to this, the man is forced to pay a “fine” or properly marry the woman to cover her shame and make sure she is provided for. This shows that sex before marriage for men was not without its consequences in the Old Testament.

New Testament

The issue of sex before marriage becomes much more clear in the New Testament, as it is more explicitly forbidden to both men and women.

(This is not the time to discuss why the Old Testament is not more clear on this issue. It is my assumption that, like with so many other things, God, in the progress of revelation, did not express his full ideal in the Law of Moses, but conceded to some cultural norms like he did with slavery and polygamy.)

The word “fornication,” as I said above, does not necessarily mean sex before marriage. However, I do believe it is implied many times for two primary reasons.

1. Christ’s condemnation of lust

Mat 5:27-28
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

If sex before marriage was not forbidden, why does Christ say that lust is? Implied here is that everything from lust to adultery is forbidden by the sixth commandment. Sex before marriage definitely fits right in between.

2. Paul’s admonishment to marry rather than burn

1 Cor. 7:8-9
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to stay single as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

The idea of “burning” here has to do with sexual desire. Here Paul tells all unmarried people that if they cannot control their sexual desires, they need to get married. Why? Because Paul assumes that one cannot fulfill this sexual desire outside of the marital bed. While Paul would love for them to remain single (1 Cor. 7:7), he believes that sex outside of marriage is a destructive sin and cannot be used as a gratifying release of our sexual passions.

While there are other passages that can be used to build the case that sex outside of marriage is indeed sinful, I believe that these are strong enough to bind Christian consciences.

God created sex. God created our sexual desires. Sex is good within the borders of marriage. For those of you who think that God is a killjoy for limiting sex to such a situation, please remember a couple of things: 1) God created sex! How could he be a killjoy? Think about it. The very act about which you are complaining is an act he created. 2) God knows better than you do what will satisfy you. It takes an act of faith to believe this, but it is not too big a step to take. 3) Most married Christian men and women who, like myself, did not have a very successful single life would love to turn back the clocks and do it all over again. And this is not because we are not forgiven . . . we are. It is because we know the intimacy which is lost when you have already given yourself to another. Our advice to you would be to wait. If it is too late, stop and wait. It is never too late to trust God in this matter. As cliché as it may sound, he really does know best. Fornication is really a sin.

179 Responses to “Is Fornication Really a Sin?”

  1. “I don’t think I ever actually committed adultery”

    Well, I would hope not. But it sounds like you are mixing up adultery and fornication. And for that reason Mat 5:27 is the wrong verse for this topic.

    The word for lust is the same as for covet. It’s desiring something that belongs to someone else.

    You would have to covet your girlfriend, right? Or you wouldn’t bother marrying her. But since she doesn’t belong to someone else, Mt 5 is the wrong verse for this issue.

  2. If you ever looked at a woman, or man, in that way…then you have committed adultery. So says Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount didn’t pull any punches.

    Yes. Impurities of any kind are sinful. In thought, word, or deed.

    Fornicators will not inherit heaven.

    But repentant fornicators will. I’m one of those.

  3. One can commit adultery as an unwed person by sleeping with a we’d person.

  4. Indeed once again, with Paul we see ‘Law & Gospel’. This is always St. Paul’s “method”, Jew, Roman and Apostle to the Gentiles, but also and always testifying to the Jews and Jewish Nation! (Acts 22-26)…Acts 24: 24-25.

    Surely, in 1 Cor. 6: 18-20, Paul sees the Christian’s body as belonging, not to the Christian himself, but the Lord, and the Holy Spirit! Not perfection of course, but true submission! Such is the general life of the Christian in this fallen world and age.

  5. Michael: You’re right, but I wonder why you confuse an already confusing issue by bringing adultery into it.

    Since covet and adultery are the same word, I wonder really if people look at this issue right. It’s wrong to covet your neighbour’s cow, but it’s OK to go to the cow sale auctions, to want a cow, then buy it. It’s wrong to covet your neighbour’s ipod, but its OK to go to the Apple store, to desire (covet one) and then buy it.

    My feeling is that the bible is talking about taking something that doesn’t belong to you rather than teaching that sexual desire is wrong, without which nobody would ever get married.

  6. Covering is covered in the 10th commandment. It is an insatiable desire for what one does not have. An inability to be thankful and content (Rom 1).

    The sixth commandment is about more than te actual act of adultery. It is about everything from lust to adultery. Jesus made that clear in Matt 6).

  7. That’s true Michael, but the parallel to coveting is inescapable. It’s not wrong to want stuff. Woman included.

  8. Of course not . . . Just within the boarders. And wanting is not the issue. It is wanting with an insatiable malcontent which continually breaks the tenth commandment. Breaking the sixth commandment does not need malcontentment. It is an ungodly engagement of our sexual drive.

  9. Perhaps Michael. But most women want to be wanted insatiably. It doesn’t have to be a sexual thing. Is it bad? If so, you destroyed all female romantic fantasies.

  10. i think fornication is considered as a sin in each and every religion. but the question is what is sin? what happens to a person who doesn’t believe in a religion engage in sexual intercourse without marrying. i think it happens every now and then. even we Christians do it. i think it’s essential in nowadays society. read more about what Sin is from this article

    http://www.worldtransformation.com/what-is-sin/

  11. Good article. One thing that should be noted is that premarital sex was not nearly as big of an issue in ancient times b/c people got married shortly after puberty. This business getting married in your mid to late twenties is very new. It’s not that God is a killjoy. It’s that modern western society has a very unnatural view towards marriage. Men hit their sexual peak in their teens but don’t get married until 10 years later when they’ve calmed down some. You can’t tell me that’s natural, especially when people got married early for 1000s of years and still do in most cultures.

  12. Ok Michael, you’ve made a strong case that fornication is sin, but how would you define “fornication”? What sorts of acts belong under the “fornication” category, which ones belong under “lust”, and which ones are proper expressions of love that are not necessarily sinful?

    Christians are very creative at finding loopholes, ya know… Especially young high school and college kids.

    In the midst of such confusion, a few Christians I know played it “safe” by waiting till their wedding day to kiss the very first time!

  13. Interesting topic, and certainly worthy of discussion. Full disclosure: my wife is the only woman I have ever slept with, but we did not wait until our wedding night. I do not feel that this was wrong. CMP essentially concedes that according to an OT description of sexual morality, this would be the correct view. But, he feels that the NT expands on this to exclude pre-marriage sexual activity. He does this by citing 1 Cor. 7:8-9 & Mat 5:27-28.

    Re: 1 Cor. 7:8-9
    -“Here Paul tells all unmarried people that if they cannot control their sexual desires, they need to get married.”-

    I don’t think it is clear from this that he does so because he feels any kind of premarital sexual activity is wrong. It seems like practical advice more than anything, which would be more clear if more of the passage were considered. In verse 6, Paul admits he is making concessions, not commands. In verse 10, Paul is giving commands “from the Lord”. The exhortation to get married falls squarely in-between. If Paul was really basing such advice on what he really felt was right/wrong, it seems doubtful that this wouldn’t have been a command.

    There’s other reasons to suggest getting married to eliminate burning passions. And that obviously would be the natural result of sex: children. Getting married assures that there are no unwed mothers, which would have been even more important then. Thus, I think it is dubious to build a policy of sexual morality based even in part on this passage.

  14. Re:Mat 5:27-28
    This passage makes it cler that the 6th commandment is more than just physical acts. Jesus is clearly expanding on the Law of Moses, similarly to Matthew 5:22 when anger and murder were equated. It seems to me that most would not consider any and all forms of “anger” as murder, but that Jesus was probably referring to a specific form/type of anger. I wonder if something similar is going on with lust.

    It seems to me that the key here is “adultery”. Which makes this passage especially curious for its inclusion, since the whole point is to demonstrate fornication, not adultery, is wrong. The conclusion in the article seems to be that if lust = adultery then anything in-between must be off limits as well. But I would suggest that perhaps the point is that Jesus is referring to lusting after others’ wives, not just any woman.

    I am no Greek expert, but it is my understanding that in the Septuagint, the same word used in the 10th commandment as “covet”. Further, that the Greek could just as easily refer to “wife” rather than the more general woman. Given that the context is a discussion on adultery and (later) divorce, I wonder why it isn’t translated as wife. Thus, it could easily be the case that Jesus is saying that there is more to the 10th commandment as well, that in fact breaking the 10th results in breaking the 6th. But none of that would lead to the conclusion that any/all pre-marital sexual activity is wrong.

  15. Sorry, the first sentence in the last paragraph above was unclear. It was supposed to say that the same word translated as “lust” in Matthew 5:27-28, is also “covet” in the 10 commandments. Which would seemingly make it a fairly specific reference to desiring someone that “belongs” to someone else, not just a “burning passion” for someone else in general.

  16. JB,

    I would question what is motivating your desire to attempt to circumvent the general position that is brought forth in the article. Whether lust or covet is the more appropriate term here is not important, but if we argue from the sake of coveting for the purposes of determining whether premarital sex is good/bad/in between we can come to a better understanding.

    Covet – verb (used with object) – to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others

    I want to focus primarily on the “without due regard for the rights of others” section in relation to this. As is seen in the OT, an unwed woman belongs to the nearest male relative in the sense of responsibility/provision/rights. So, engaging in premartial sex with a woman in this situation would show a disregard for the rights of that relative to exercise protective rights and mar his reputation as a good and trusted provider for the woman. The man engaging in premarital sex would be interjecting himself in the desired role of provisioner and stealing affection and respect from the original guardian.

    Apathy or acceptance of premarital sex by the guardian does not absolve the engager of the coveting/theft of those factors, but merely shows that the guardian is also filled with sin and in need of the same grace as the engager. There is a reason for the verses of Deuteronomy 22:20-21. If the betrothed woman is found not to be a virgin, she is stoned at the father’s door because he is responsible for the daughter. The punishment is both on the daughter for sleeping with other men and for the father for not protecting and permitting his daughter to play the whore.

    Or we could also go from the premarital sex results in the taking of the conjugal rights of the future husband in that they can no longer know each other intimately in a way that is pure and untainted by others’ influences.

  17. Follow up for more characters:

    You also state that because you engaged in premarital sex with your future wife that you do not find this to be sinful. However, you surely can see the slippery slope that leads to that line of thinking. You cannot do something that would be covered under the covenant of marriage before marriage in the anticipation of being married to this person, because frankly there can be no certainty of the marriage happening or not. Would you have viewed your actions as not sinful if you had not been married later? That is essentially the line you are attempting to draw in the sand.

    Is it sinful for me to go into my friend’s house and take his steaks? Is is still sinful if I took them and shared the steaks with him? The idea here is the heart behind the issue. If my heart issue is that I wanted steak more than I wanted to respect my friend and his desire or lack of desire to share it with me, then I am still sinning regardless of how the events shape up. Even if my friend had planned on sharing the steaks with me, until he invites me over to share them with him, I cannot be certain that I will be eating steak with him. In the same way, just because you wish to engage in sex with someone you think you are going to marry, you cannot be certain that you are going to marry them until you actually do and thus your heart desire is really to sleep with them and not to respect the martial rights as part of the covenant.

    Hopefully I articulated my point clearly there as I am typing in a bit of a hurry at work.

  18. Chad: “Would you have viewed your actions as not sinful if you had not been married later?”

    That’s definitely a pertinent question. However, one could ask the same question of any Christian, what if you were divorced later, how would that change things? Because in theory it’s the same. If you have sex you are defacto married. If you split up, you are defacto divorced.

    “As is seen in the OT, an unwed woman belongs to the nearest male relative in the sense of responsibility/provision/rights. ”

    I don’t think the bible draws a link between that and sexual morality. Otherwise adultery and or fornication would be completely equivalent. And very clearly they are not the same thing in the bible. The penalty for adultery was death. The penalty for fornication was marriage. ( or do you think marriage is equivalent to death? :-)

  19. @Chad

    -“I would question what is motivating your desire to attempt to circumvent the general position that is brought forth in the article.”-

    We all have our biases; I just chose to air my potential bias out in the open as others had done. I’d like to think I am an objective thinker, but so does everyone else. In any case, one can always question the motives of others.

    -“Whether lust or covet is the more appropriate term here is not important…”-

    I think it is very important. It provides context. Words are important.

    -“I want to focus primarily on the “without due regard for the rights of others” section in relation to this. As is seen in the OT, an unwed woman belongs to the nearest male relative in the sense of responsibility/provision/rights.”-

    So, let me get this straight… are you honestly claiming that women, until they are married, “belong” to their fathers? This is an aspect of the OT you would still affirm? In OT times, when people would have been marrying off their 12-year olds, this idea makes more sense than it does now, when we’re discussing adults who know very well what they’re doing.

    -“Apathy or acceptance of premarital sex by the guardian does not absolve the engager of the coveting/theft of those factors, but merely shows that the guardian is also filled with sin and in need of the same grace as the engager.”-

    You cannot argue that someone’s rights are being violated, if they voluntarily relinquish their rights. If you’re simply going to argue that “it doesn’t matter if they do, it’s still wrong”, then you’ve defeated your own line of reasoning. It’s wrong for some other reason.

  20. @Chad

    -“If the betrothed woman is found not to be a virgin, she is stoned at the father’s door because he is responsible for the daughter.”-

    Call me crazy, but you’re argument lacks rhetorical power if you need to resort to OT passages approving of stoning non-virgins.

    -“The punishment is both on the daughter for sleeping with other men and for the father for not protecting and permitting his daughter to play the whore.”-

    Oh no, keep in mind that if she had been raped, it was probably her fault too. The important thing here is that she wasn’t a virgin. Very upsetting.

    -“You also state that because you engaged in premarital sex with your future wife that you do not find this to be sinful.”-

    That’s not quite what I said. I do not think that it is OK *because* I did it; that is obviously nonsensical. I did it thinking that it was OK, and I still do. It remains a fact that the only person I have slept with was my wife, a woman who was 27 years old at the time, and hardly “belonged” to her father, who had little to do with her in the first place.

    -“You cannot do something that would be covered under the covenant of marriage before marriage in the anticipation of being married to this person, because frankly there can be no certainty of the marriage happening or not.”-

    What is up for debate is whether or not what we did is exclusive to “the covenant of marriage”. So, you’re simply begging the question by saying that doing something in anticipation of it happening is wrong.

    -“Would you have viewed your actions as not sinful if you had not been married later?”-

    That is a great question, and I would say that it depends on the circumstances of why the marriage did not happen.

  21. Does it not strike others that if these two passages are the defining go-to verses for defining pre-marital sexual morality, that Christianity has built a significant degree of its sexual snobbery and judgmentalism on a rather shoddy foundation? It seems to me like the unspoken principle here is “it’s always been this way, so there has to be a good reason for it”. Tradition is not value-less, but neither does it need to be immutable.

  22. Just a basic point that I think was missed:

    If it was a sin in the OT for a virgin young lady to fornicate then surely it follows that at the very least it must be sin for the man who sleeps with her – since he would be causing her to sin.

    How could he sleep with her and not be sinning if it was a sin for her to sleep with him?

  23. @Henry

    -“How could he sleep with her and not be sinning if it was a sin for her to sleep with him?”-

    Ah, but you forget that it’s those wily women who seduce us innocent men. Funny how times change. Just look at all the warnings in the Bible about women seducing men. I’ve never had that problem! Now, we warn all our daughters about men who only want one thing….

    Unfortunately, Henry, by the same logic it would have been OK for women to have concubines and multiple husbands – but we all know that wasn’t true. There was a double-standard.

  24. I should point out that Joseph and Mary were living together before they were married (if they ever did get married, which scripture does not record). I’m not suggesting anything was going on, but it shows that it wasn’t considered odd in the culture for people betrothed to be living together. In the normal course if events, we know what goes on when engaged men and women live together, even if it wasn’t in this special case.

  25. Not only were Joseph and Mary living together, but it would appear that they were spending time alone together, which was frowned upon. (Not part of the Torah, but often custom). Scandalous!

    See Song of Solomon as well were some insight on how the Bible views pre-marital sex. It starts with a kiss and excitement about their fresh love. Later, they discuss their bed, which – as I understand it – is often a euphemism for sex in Scripture. And, here’s the kicker: notice they don’t have a marriage ceremony until much later. Seems to me that Solomon and his lover would have received some very disapproving looks from Christians today, yet this is *scripture*. And, please, PLEASE don’t give me this crap about it being allegorical.

    Pretty good discussion on this same issue here:

    http://www.unc.edu/home/jasondm/OT-sex.html
    http://www.unc.edu/home/jasondm/sex.html

    Simply put: there’s not a good argument to be made for any/all pre-marital sex to be considered “fornication”. Fornication is, in fact, a sin. BUt one can’t help but note that of all the explicit sexual prohibitions in the Bible (adultery, rape, bestiality, incest), sexual relations prior to a wedding ceremony is not included among them. And, given that they seem to have attempted to be pretty thorough here, there’s probably a reason why.

  26. Good post Michael.

    In response to some of the comments above:

    So, when Jesus said to look at a woman with lust in your heart was a sin, he was REALLY saying that it was okay to have sex with her, as long as you didn’t look at her with lust in your heart. Good thing we have theology to clear that up.

  27. @Mark

    -“So, when Jesus said to look at a woman with lust in your heart was a sin, he was REALLY saying that it was okay to have sex with her, as long as you didn’t look at her with lust in your heart.”-

    No.

    Jesus was saying that adultery is not limited to physical acts, and that if you lust/covet someone else’s wife you’ve already committed adultery with her in your heart. There is a reason why Jesus uses the word “adultery” here, and not the more general “fornication”. Adultery is a specific offense involving married people.

    Of course, it’s possible that Jesus was simply speaking to married men, and that the object of desire here is not. That is why I find the use of the word “covet” (translated as “lust”) here so important. The implication is clear: she belongs to another.

    Again, you can claim that even if she wasn’t married, she would have “belonged to another” in that she would have been under the domain of her father/guardian. But that would be an odd approach, seeing as how most Christians don’t affirm this part of the OT as applicable. I am not even sure, to be honest, if that is even part of the Law of Moses, or if that would have simply been custom.

    I guess the more interesting question is whether, if it was part of the Law of Moses, if Jesus would have affirmed this part of the OT. This whole section seems to be Jesus’ demonstration that he does hold to the Torah, yet it is clear that He does not hold to it in the same way.

  28. That would make sense if Jesus was only speaking to married men in this context. He’s not. He says “everyone who looks on a woman” . . . The Greek word for “everyone” means “everyone.”

  29. Definitely. Jesus, the ought this whole section, ups the ante on all these “you have heard it said” laws. Jesus gets down to the principle of the sixth commandment extending its application to all those who are able to even lust. The idea is that there is no marriage required to break the spirit of the sixth commandment. All mouths should be shut by the end of Christ’s teaching!!

  30. Oh come on Michael and Mark. This verse is not applicable, end of story! Does the “everybody” include you looking at your own woman? No. So, the “everybody” looking at a woman isn’t actually everybody is it? But if you want to say its everybody, sure it can be the unmarried man looking at a married woman. That satisfies those determined to make it everybody. But the reality is, it doesn’t include some cases – your own woman for one thing. Then we come to argue who is your own woman. Certainly, a woman you were betrothed to was considered your woman in Jewish culture, for a start. That’s why Joseph could wander the countryside with Mary. Everyone knows the verse has exceptions, or married folks won’t be having sex. The argument then is, when is the exceptions? You won’t find any answer in this verse. I still think nobody will ever be married unless you start by coveting a woman. Did you WANT your wife before you married her Michael? I don’t even mean sexually. I just mean did you want her? I would hope so!! But then, you broke this commandment, which says not to covet/lust/desire a woman!!

  31. I think you are over exegeting and finding loopholes in some obvious stuff and pulling a text book red herring. First, covet is not simply want or desire. Lust is not either. It is to have an insatiable desire for something that is not yours. Of course there are proper ways to fulfill lusts and sl desires within the law (Mosaic and natural as Paul illustrates in Rom 7). But to lust sexually for something that is not yours (whether it be someone else’s wife or an unmarried woman) or to have an in contentment for what God has given you expresses the principles of the sixth and tenth cmamemts. Christ was talking to people who thought that they were not guilty of breaking the law. He showed th that adultery includes all lust outside of marriage just as mirder includes all ill-will toward another.

  32. But Michael… Isn’t it a simple fact, just a real simple fact that not all sex outside marriage is adultery? Can Jesus really be saying that to imagine to do something is adultery, when to really do it actually isn’t adultery?
    Come on.

    If you want to argue that adultery includes fornication, I’d be interested to hear the argument. But until then, this is simple misapplication of scripture.

  33. I have already argues it. But my ability to convince a party does not determine the strength of the argument. Everything from lust to actual adultery breaks the sixth commandment. That is Jesus’ point. Just like everything from hatred to murder breaks the fifth commandment. The context of Jesus’ argument makes this clear. It is a movement beyond the letter of the Law to the spirit of the law. His purpose is to show that even the religious leaders of the day were in desperate need of a solution that bypasses the keeping of the Law on their part.

  34. If lust breaks the spirit of the anti-adultery law, why wasn’t the original law anti-fornication too? I thought Jesus point was that doing something in your head is like doing it in real life. But you’re saying that doing something in your head can break a totally unrelated command.

    You said that the bad lust/coveting is an “insatiable” desire for something that is not yours. What exactly is insatiable anyway? you’re saying desire is fine, as long as its not insatiable? There’s a ton of leeway there in estimating what is insatiable. I guess then fornication is ok, as long as its fairly casual, and not too much strong desire is involved? A one night stand is better than two committed lovers?

  35. Just wanted to post here to say as a 32 year-old man that I married at the age of 29 to my wife who was 19 at the time. We both have Asperger’s which make us a unique match. She is the only woman I have ever slept with and she is in fact the only woman I have romantically kissed. (Of course, I have kissed other women such as relatives.) I consider that a joy. (Note, Michael knows my Mrs. so I’m sure he can heartily endorse my testimony.)

    Also, my Obsessive-Compulsive tendencies are going crazy with something I keep seeing in the comments.

    The 6th commandment is “Do not murder.” It is the seventh that says “Do not commit adultery.”

  36. Nick: there are multiple numbering schemes. Look up the 10 commandments in Wikipedia.

  37. I know there are others, but by and large, when we refer to the Ten Commandments, the 7th is adultery.

    Also, on principle, I do not use Wikipedia for discussions like this.

  38. I don’t know who you think “we” is, but Catholics and Luther disagree with your numbering. You are using the Jewish numbering. We are using the Christian numbering.

  39. @CMP

    -“But my ability to convince a party does not determine the strength of the argument.”-

    Very true. But, of course, that something is clear *to you*, does not actually mean that it is clear. I find it interesting that you think John was over-exegeting when it is clear *to me* that you are extrapolating more from the text than what is actually there.

    I could be wrong, but it isn’t as if one can go to the early church writings/fathers for an exegesis on this either. They are largely silent on this issue. The Didache, for example, simply prohibits “promiscuity” and “adultery”. I could be wrong, but I think most would acknowledge that not all who engage in pre-marital sex are “promiscuous”.

    -“Everything from lust to actual adultery breaks the sixth commandment. That is Jesus’ point.”-

    But “everything” from lust/coveting to actual adultery breaks the 6th commandment is NOT what Jesus said, nor – even if it was – does it actually tell us that pre-marital sex is wrong.

    Because if it was the 7th Commandment (thanks for the correction, Nick!), Jesus was addressing, the context is obviously “cheating on your spouse”. There is no question that Jesus is expanding the law here to include the spirit of intent! But is not clear that Jesus is equating “adultery = all non-sanctioned sex”. There was already a word for the latter: “fornication”, and Jesus chose not to use it. And we’ve already established that it’s clear the OT did not consider pre-marital sex as “non-sanctioned”.

  40. @CMP

    -“The context of Jesus’ argument makes this clear. It is a movement beyond the letter of the Law to the spirit of the law.”-

    Agreed! What is clear by what Jesus says here is that adultery is more than a physical act, that it includes lust. What is NOT clear is that Jesus is saying lust = fornication. Extrapolating that from what is written is reading what you want/expect into the text, IMHO. The only real argument offered here for interpreting it this way is that Jesus does say “everyone”. As John pointed out, however, clearly it doesn’t apply to “everyone”.

    Rather, it is clear that it applies to “everyone within this context”. So, the issue that needs justification is why we should interpret the context as “fornication” rather than “adultery”, And, when we consider the usage of the word “covet” (translated as “lust”) here – which does not actually refer to sexual desire – we wouldn’t consider it an allusion to the 10th commandment, where the context is obviously desiring something belonging to somebody else – which, again, is perfectly consistent which a discussion on adultery.

  41. John said it better than I could:

    -“…Jesus point was that doing something in your head is like doing it in real life. But you’re saying that doing something in your head can break a totally unrelated command.”-

    I think we all agree the point of Jesus discussion here is that doing something in your head is wrong, just as the physical act is wrong. Thus, it needs to be demonstrated that Jesus felt pre-marital sex is wrong, and that simply isn’t clear from a discussion on “adultery”. Stating that “everything from lust to adultery is wrong” assumes that marital sex and pre-marital sex are not on the same continuum of “sanctioned sex”. In other words, it’s assuming the very thing in question.

  42. Wow. Thanks for admitting that you did not do to well in the sex before marriage department. Your post brings back sad memories of those days at Stonebriar church when I had to watch you leading the singles. Your struggle was obvious as a newly married man (to a weak Christian), who did not live what he preached. I don’t remember you loving the people around, but treating so many with an indifference and snobbery more characteristic of a frat boy than a person who loved Jesus. I didn’t stay for long. I hope this new ministry can be a time for redemption and bring glory to Jesus.

  43. @CMP

    -“…covet is not simply want or desire. Lust is not either. It is to have an insatiable desire for something that is not yours.”-

    Can you elaborate on why this desire must be “insatiable”? I bring this up because it seems to me that you may defeating your own argument here. “Insatiable” is an odd standard. If one covets another’s possessions, that desire is, in fact, satiable – by stealing them. So, it would seem to me that if covet/lust is an extra-special type of desire, than it would be possible for someone to have this desire (and perhaps even engage in the activity?), so long as it is “satiable”. With a married woman, this desire is “insatiable” in the sense that fulfilling the desire is expressly forbidden. Not so with pre-marital sex.

    The trick bag here seems to be that you are admitting that there are acceptable forms of desire. If you claim that a single man desiring a single woman is “lust”, period, then you are arguing circularly. Otherwise, as I said before, you have to assume that pre-marital sex lies in the continuum of non-sanctioned activity (lust adultery), which again is arguing circularly.

    The only escape I see is flatly declaring *any* desire, sexual or not (lust/covet) & insatiable or not, for a woman you are not married to = adultery. But, as John pointed out, that seems crazy, as then any marriage that isn’t arranged probably was “adulterous” to begin with. But maybe that’s why we’re encouraged to be celibate…?

    -“But to lust sexually for something that is not yours (whether it be someone else’s wife or an unmarried woman) … expresses the principles of the sixth and tenth [commandments].”-

    Well, not quite, I don’t think. It seems that the emphasis in both cases was simply to not desire/lust/covet things that *belong to someone else*, no? Again, I’m no Greek expert, but my understanding is that the “woman” in Matthew 5 could easily be translated as “wife”.

  44. I imagine that it is from this passage that Paul got the idea that it is better to marry than to burn, which argues against sec before marriage.

    I am curious. Those who are arguing against my interpretation of Matt 6, do you beleive that sex before marriage/3″engagement (depending on customs) is not a sin.

  45. @CMP

    -“Those who are arguing against my interpretation of Matt 6, do you beleive that sex before marriage/3″engagement (depending on customs) is not a sin.”-

    Honestly, I would simply say it’s unclear. It’s not explicitly forbidden. So, we have to read into things if we are to get this prohibition. I can respect that some may think it is “clear” from certain passages that it is wrong, but others obviously do not. I would say when things need to be interpreted like this that it is probably a matter of conscience.

    I would say that if one feels it is wrong, for that person it is wrong. Complicating issues now is that, Biblical or not, chastity is part of “Mere Christianity” now. So, the world snickers when Christians have sex outside marriage. In this way, it almost feels like it *needs* to be wrong, because otherwise it will be seen as compromising, even if we were wrong all along. We’ve backed ourselves into a corner on this, and I think that motivates quite a bit of the interpretation in many (not necessarily yours) cases.

  46. Okay, I think I see what you all are saying about Christ’s statement about lust. You are saying that it is limited to a married man who lusts. I think Christ is broadening it more than this, but I can see how one could limit it.

    I suppose that the next strongest argument is Paul’s statement that it is better to marry than to burn. This is clearly not talking about married people, but unmarried burning for sex. If sex outside of marriage was not forbidden in Paul’s mind, why does he say this?

  47. @CMP

    -“If sex outside of marriage was not forbidden in Paul’s mind, why does he say this?”-

    What else is he going to say? “Go nuts, you crazy kids”? Nobody wants to have sex just a few times (that I know of), and promiscuity was always frowned on.

    Again, Paul makes it fairly clear that he is NOT giving them commands here. So, I think the better question is, if he felt sex outside marriage was wrong, why wouldn’t that have been included in the “command” section? I think it is significant that regarding sex he offers only wise advice and “concessions” but regarding divorce he offers “commands” from God. Seems the modern church has reversed things.

    Paul seems to me to be specifically addressing those who lose their self-control. The “burn” here is not talking about a small candle flame, but a consuming fire. Losing self-control is never acceptable, it leads to unwise decisions. And just as the married folks are directed to each other to keep their passions in check, so those who are going to lose self-control are wisely directed to marriage as a “concession”. There really is no advice given for those who aren’t going to be getting out of control. Remember, sexual *promiscuity* was specifically forbidden in the Didache.

    In any case, even if Paul *did* feel that sex before marriage was wrong, he didn’t bother to mention that fact. Once again, we are left to read between the lines, and they aren’t very clear. And they are in a spot where he isn’t offering revelation from God, but practical advice. I would say even more practical in that day, considering the stigma that would have been attached to an unwed mother in those days.

    I guess the question here is whether anyone who engages in pre-marital sex should be considered someone who loses their self-control, or not. Again, I don’t see such specificity from Paul, and I think that if someone takes that away from the text, it’s because they brought it with them.

  48. There is another difficulty with the text, which is the use of husband and wife. “Each man is to have her own wife, and each woman her own husband”. The word for wife and husband is the same as man and woman. So it can be read “each man is to have his own woman, and each woman her own man”. When we see in the bible something like “Abraham took another wife/woman named Keturah” does it mean he rocked up to the local synagogue/church and went through the ceremony? I don’t think so. Paul criticizes going to a prostitute, because you “become on flesh”. He doesn’t say anything criticizing your girlfriend. Without being an expert on the culture of the whole Mediterranean world, the implication to me is that if you are sleeping with your girlfriend she IS your woman/wife. In the modern world we know that too because we have a term “defacto wife”.

    Michael, as far as I see, the reason the text is so problematic on this question, is that the ancient world didn’t have this category of behavior. There was prostitutes, which are condemned. There basically was no casual sex, because there was no pill. So all there was, was sleeping with your own woman.

    Maybe I’m wrong on this Michael, but this is what I get from just reading the bible.

    So when Paul says “it is better to marry than to burn”, its because he isn’t aware of any other options. We don’t know what question prompted this sermon from Paul, but we can guess it is something like whether they should remain alone, perhaps because the second coming may be near. Obviously you burn if you are alone. The solution is to take a woman – obviously. Taking a woman, the word for this concept is “marry”. Not a concept that carries all the officialdom and ceremony that we assume it does today.

    So you ask Michael if sex before marriage is a sin. My question is: is there even such a thing as sex before marriage? Biblically, I don’t think it exists. If you try it, then you are married.

  49. @John post #19

    I think there are pretty clear teaching against divorce in the Bible, see Matthew 5:31-32. So if your argument is that you are “defacto married” by having sex and then “defacto divorced” when you split up, that would only be a viable defense in the case of sexual immorality. So either the premarital sex resulting in the “defacto marriage” is the sexual immorality, or the “defacto adultery” of cheating on the partner would be the grounds for the “divorce”. Then we can debate the methodical legal ramifications of all the “defacto” break up scenarios, but it seems rather pointless as your point seems to argue against itself.

    @JB post 20

    I did not claim that words are not important as you seemed to indicate with your line of thought. However, I did say that the debate between lust and covet was not important as the definitions of them are extremely similar, see Lust – a passionate or overmastering desire or craving; Covet – to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others. I would say that inordinate desire and overmastering desire are the same.

    As far as would I attest the “belonging” portion of women to the nearest male relative still, I would say yes I do and find it irrelevant to the age of the woman in question. Does that mean that I would sell her like a belonging or disrespect choices and preferences in a suitor, no, but until she is married I view it as my responsibility to protect my daughter (I do not currently have one). Whether this is protection from others or herself I see no real distinction. Obviously, she will sin, I will sin, others will sin against us, but the heart is the big issue here. I believe that it is cultural for us to hit the eject button on our children at 18 and give them a hug and a thumbs up and say good luck.

    More in next post…

  50. Not really sure what your point is Chad.

    I had the romantic notions of many folks here. Marriage is forever, blah blah. Then my wife left me, with a lot of nonsense excuses. Still, my opinion didn’t change. Marriage should be forever, but we don’t always get the choice, and we can’t live in loneliness on romantic notion. That’s my sad lonely opinion this New Year’s Eve. Happy new year folks.

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