My Opinion on Christian Premarital Sex

A few years ago, I posted a question in an online discussion group that my friend and I created which was exclusive to our Christian undergraduate peers. The question was whether or not premarital sex as a Christian is really a sin and against the Christian lifestyle. Knowing what I had been taught all my life (that sex before marriage is wrong) I had asked for specific Scriptural references. Several friends/members of the group jumped into the discussion to all point out the value of purity, sexual morality, and the special union two people share when they enter into a sexual relationship. Yet no one cited Scripture. I was no dummy–I knew what Christians thought of the subject, but I had wanted to know where they had gotten that idea! In my own studies, I had found nothing that explicitly said where it was absolutely wrong and forbidden.

My inquiry was ignited by a friend, who after spending time in Korea she learned that the Christians there (young and old) do not  have an issue with sex before marriage if the adult couple are in a committed relationship. This gave her (and me) a whole new perspective. I had never considered the possibility that it is even OK in Christian principle. I had just never questioned what had been told of me my whole life. This made me want to think more deeply on the issue rather than dismissing it as heretical. What basis do they have to believe that it’s OK? What basis do I have to believe that it’s not?

Supporting Arguments for Premarital Sex

I asked a family member what she thought. I just don’t know what to think! I said. She very wisely stated an answer that didn’t give an opinion one way or another, but guided me by pointing out that a lot of the Bible, as we know, was written to a culture in a specific era. She pointed out that where we see a lot of verbiage on the subject is in Paul’s letters to the churches, who usually writes concerning a specific issue among church people, not necessarily meant to be taken literally for all readers*. It seems that the issue concerning premarital sex is not mentioned in the Bible directly so that it could be left interpreted and appropriately applied among cultures, time, and individuals.

Not Commandments But Good Advice

When doing a more in-depth study (hermeneutical?) of the Biblical culture, it’s easy to understand why sex before marriage would be a very bad idea. Women were often stoned or outcasted for adultery and promiscuity. A woman was not considered pure unless she were a virgin and was utterly unfit to be a bride if she were not. In fact, to prove the bride’s stature and worth, part of the traditional marriage ceremony was to consummate the marriage in a tent and then show the guests the blood on the sheets to affirm that she is in fact not an adulteress nor promiscuous. Yet this is in lieu of a patriarchal, male-dominating, female subordinating culture in an era that offered no contraceptives–and Paul is merely adding good advice by instating to both men and women to not give in to these desires before marriage.

It’s Meant to Be Interpretable

So does this translate directly into our 21st century Western/globalized world? To answer that question we need to find out what exactly is meant when the Scripture speaks of (or implies) sex, just as we have to for everything else. Does Paul say in 1 Corinthians that we shouldn’t eat meat if it is a weakness for others? Not exactly. The message here is actually that we don’t want to turn others away from the faith with offensive behavior. So then, what is really meant in Scripture regarding sex?

I’ve read the Scriptures which talk about sexual immorality many times but no where is it explicitly said that premarital sex is wrong or that we should only have one sexual partner in our entire lives. Even monogamy is a question with some parts of the Old Testament. Yes, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians that it is better not to marry, but that marriage is better than burning with passion yet I am not convinced that not following Paul’s advice is a sin. He only says it is better. But again, we must look at the context. Is it better because of the culture they were living in at the time? Is it better for me? In fact, this passage seems to suggest that it is a choice made by the individual and perhaps it is a case-by-case decision. It can be better for some, not for all.

Define, define, define. That was drilled into my brain as a communication student in college in every single class. Everything I said, every term I used, needed to be defined or have an appositive. I learned to critique rhetoric by analyzing their terminology and definitions. Without a definition, even for a word that we may all know, it may not be received the same way it was meant. What does the Bible mean by “sexual immorality”, “purity”, “passion”, and “marriage”? Because these terms are not fully defined it leaves the reader with no option but to look at context and infer. Was this deliberate or just because the authors of these Scriptures assumed everyone would know what they meant? If it was the latter, then what about the translators who toil over every word to be sure that it is best translated into the most equivalent word that conveys the meaning closest to the original intent? Wouldn’t they have done a better job at making it more clear? It seems as though the authors left some of these things without explicit definitions with wisdom knowing that it’s better to leave it with more interpretability so that it could cross over to future believers of other worlds.

Culture Changes Meaning

Also, I just find it strange that the language that is used to describe women whenever the topic is about sex or marriage the Bible always refers to women as virgins yet when it talks about men, it uses the words “husband” or “man”. Could there be a double standard? Could it just so indicate the heavy cultural boundaries of that era, as I such described earlier? In this same chapter, Paul writes that if the man’s passions are too strong then he should just marry the virgin. Oh if only it were that easy these days! The modern world is so full of options and alternative lifestyles that women and men are in no rush to marry.

If I were living in the Biblical times, I would hope to get married so that I would have property and basically someone to take care of me, and basically so that I wouldn’t be outcasted or homeless. That of course isn’t the way things are these days (and we certainly don’t consider our independence a sin). There wasn’t any dating in the Bible (arranged marriages, usually) but if there were, they would be very short and public courtships, not as drawn-out and intimate as they are today. I read an article about a writer, a Mormon woman, who in had lived most of her adult life a virgin, yet at age 35 she was considered “un-datable”. She wrote, “I’m unwilling to believe that’s what God wants for anyone”, and I agree.

Culture, like time, is not static. It must change. Not everything is universal or timeless. Premarital sex, I think, is an example of standards and how things may vary. It may vary among time, culture, community, individual, or lifetime. My support for premarital sex is not to say that we should to do away with all and any standards regarding sex; simply, just in regards to the inference that Western Christians gleam from strict, antediluvian, patriarchal, and culturally relevant advice from an apostle.

Anyway, if I am completely wrong in my opinion of premarital sex, then this wouldn’t be the only thing I’ve gotten wrong in theology (after all, I only got a B in Intro to Theology!). Thankfully Christianity isn’t about being perfect but about grace.

*i.e. women instructed not to speak in church does not equal all women everywhere cannot utter a word in church, only that those who do not understand the teachings should not interrupt with stupid questions or disrupt with chatter. (Women in those days were not educated and were illiterate, so could not understand the teachings in the temples as well as the men who also probably spoke in a different vernacular that was probably used in the church).

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