Premarital Sex in the Bible

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I regularly get searches coming to this site like the following one:

premarital sex is ok in the bible

This sort of thing is thrown around so often that I think a lot of people must think it's at least close to the truth. I even thought it was almost true for a while. It's actually not close to the truth, not in the slightest. Premarital sex was extremely uncommon in ancient Israel compared to today, and it thus doesn't come out anywhere near as explicitly in the more emphatic commands, but there's enough reason to think the laws of Israel condemned it very strongly in the few kinds of circumstances when it did have something to say about it. Since the new covenant commands against sexual immorality would have been assumed to rely on the Torah for what constitutes sexual immorality, Christians who follow the New Testament therefore ought to see sexual immorality as including premarital sex.

If it were viewed as perfectly ok, why is there a requirement that someone who sleeps with an unmarried woman would have to compensate her with a bride-price, whether her father consents to let him marry her or not? (Exodus 22:16-17) While some of the requirements for Levites serving in the tabernacle and temple were elevated beyond other Israelites (e.g. no deformities), the command to marry a virgin is grounded in the principle that he not profane his children (Leviticus 21:13-15), which suggests there's at least something less than perfect about such a marriage. Deuteronomy 22 treats premarital sex as tantamount to prostitution, and though the law only has a penalty for the woman that's likely because women can establish virginity in ways that men can't. (Besides, going to a prostitute is a sin just as much as being a prostitute is, and if it's prostitution then he's guilty and not just her.)

Now people are free to reject biblical teachings as a guide for how we ought to live. By and large contemporary Western society has done that. But I don't think those who accept the Bible as authoritative can get away with the sort of claim this person was searching for. The Bible doesn't always cooperate with our attempts to make it say what we want it to say. There may be some complex hermeneutical gymnastics someone could come up with to get around this, but it's not something that should come very obviously, and it seems to me that sort of thing will largely be driven by what someone would want the Bible to say rather than by what the biblical text should lead people to conclude.

37 Comments

Jeremy, while I am not trying to argue that premarital sex is OK, it doesn't require "complex hermeneutical gymnastics" to get around the arguments that you have put forward against it, but only the commonly held theological position that the Old Testament law is not binding on Christians today. So I would challenge you to come up with some New Testament arguments against premarital sex.

Actually I think that one of the reasons why premarital sex was not very clearly condemned in the Bible is that it was considered an oxymoron. If an unmarried person had sex with someone who was already married or betrothed, it was adultery, which is clearly condemned. But if two unmarried people had sex, they were not considered guilty, but to have thereby become married; the social obligations of marriage then had to be sorted out immediately. This is the meaning of your Exodus 22:16-17 example. (Your Leviticus reference is wrong.) It is also implied by 1 Corinthians 6:16: even a relationship with a prostitute is tantamount to the "one flesh" of marriage.

And this was true in the English speaking world right up to the 18th century, as only since then has a formal wedding ceremony been considered obligatory by church or by state. Still, in English "common law", a couple are legally considered to be married if they are living together in a sexual relationship, even if there has been no official wedding ceremony.

Peter, my argument is that the terms for sexual immorality in the NT assume a Hebrew conception of what counts as sexual immorality. How do we discover that? We see what kind of sexual behavior is prohibited in the Hebrew Torah, which is very clear on what is prohibited and what isn't. I do think you need a fairly complex hermeneutic to get around that, and I don't think the argument assumes that the old covenant commands simply apply straight out (or otherwise I'd be advocating that every teenage couple who sleeps together owes the girl's father a bride price).

The Leviticus reference error was actually because I was going to refer to that passage in making a side point, and I guess when I got up to do something with the kids and came back I just assumed it was the right reference for that point. I've fixed it now.

I don't think it's true that they were considered married, or otherwise there wouldn't be a stipulation that the father could refuse to allow them to marry. He'd get the bride price either way, but if he didn't want his daughter to marry the guy this law gives him that right. So maybe it's true that they're spiritually speaking as if they're married, but it's not actual marriage.

I do think I Cor 6 implies something like this, and I've long thought that, so I've never thought that there wasn't some argument from the NT for premarital sex being wrong. It's just that thinking through this Exodus passage as I've been reading through Douglas Stuart's Exodus commentary clued me in to one of its implications that I hadn't thought of before, the implication that what sexual immorality would be to a first-century Jew must include premarital sex because of laws like this.

I had been looking up scriptures on this subject and used the strong's concordance to look up the words in Heb 13:4

Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.

According to the strongs concordance, whoremongers is translated fornicators (premariatal sex which is also refered to as prostitution in some cases) and adulterers is used to describe people who commit adultery (marital infidelity)

I don't know what translation you're using that renders pornos as "whoremongers", but I think most scholars nowadays take it to be a general term for sexual immorality. That is in fact the exact term I was referring to in this post, although I was thinking of other passages. To figure out what it would have meant to the first-century Jew, we need to figure out what they would have considered sexually immoral, which ultimately won't exclude anything the Torah disallowed (although it might include more things).

My girlfriend and I are in love and want to marry we have made love and she feels guilty of sin. We are both divorced and she will loose alimony from her x that she needs. Marriage is a legal thing that lawyers end not God........God gives us the Love this strong between a man and a woman.

So is the alimony she is receiving more important than being in accordance with God's law?

Samantha, where does God's law says that you have to have a marriage recognised by the state? I remember a fictional legal case in which (I think it was to save tax) a couple get married in church but deliberately fail to sign the register, so that they are married in the eyes of God and the public but not in the eyes of the law. I'm not sure if Bruce's girlfriend would lose her alimony if they did that, and maybe US law is different from English law here, but would such a marriage be proper or sinful?

Isn't it an attempt to deceive the government and get around the spirit of the law by taking advantage of the letter of the law? Doesn't it then sound like what Jesus condemns in Matthew 23? The difference is that it's a human law and not the Torah, but Jesus did say to observe human laws.

The US made a mistake when the government got involved in the marriage business. It's only for taxation purposes that marriage, which is a religious sacrament, is connected to the government.

Even so, Jesus said to follow the law on matters related to taxation.

God is more concerned with the Heart than the flesh. He is only concerned with the flesh when it affects the heart. I think this is what Paul was saying in 1 Corin 10: 23 - 33. When you start to dig deeper into the history of the church you will see that there are some dark shady doings. Sin was a way to make money and you will see that it only took a few hundred years for the church to become corrupt and sway from what God had intended.

Fornication loosely used by the church as unmarried people having sex. Fornication: Intercourse between a married man and an unmarried woman was fornication (Today’s Dictionary of the Bible) Marriage was never performed by any pastor or priest in the old or new testament but it was a celebration that the brides family would host and it was the brides family that joined the two. Corruption and control changed that and is what we have today.

God’s perfect plan is marriage and God looks at the heart of man and mans intentions. The churches problem is it judges a man and then tries to justify it with scripture. We close the doors of heaven on the people of the world and hold what we think is more important. If we would just teach what Christ taught and focused on building our relationship with the Father we would all be better off and the world would have seen love instead of condemnation.

I am becoming more skeptical of things taught by the church and I have found that if people would read Colossians and seek God, they would be far better off. If we truly seek God he will direct our lives to what is right and what is wrong.

Look at the history of tithing and you will see that we are not bound by it and that the church has manipulated it to what they want. 2 Corin 8 and 9-6:15, we are not bound by the law or obligation, but read and see what the word says.

The church needs to clean its own house instead of telling the world how dirty it is. So is premarital sex bad or a sin? I think the church has condemned enough and we need to quit speculating what we think is wrong. The Bible is very clear on many issues and then there are times we need to go to 1 Corin 10: 23 - 33 and seek God.

A few hundred years? Have you read I Corinthians? That's more like 20 years!

The word in the NT translations as "fornication" is not restricted to a married man with an unmarried woman.

The church has always recognized whatever legal and cultural means a society has had for recognizing marriage.

if premarital straight sex is ok then homosexual sex is ok.......the only right thing is to get married in the name of God.......and sex is made for procreation too and not for sexual satisfaction

While I don't think the Bible allows either premarital sex or homosexual sex, it is much clearer that homosexual sex is not allowed in the Torah and the NT. There are specific statements against that. You need a more indirect argument like the ones discussed here for the former. Philosophically speaking, someone could easily hold a position that homosexual sex is wrong while thinking premarital sex is ok. I'm not sure why there must be a conceptual connection between allowing one and allowing the other. So I think your first statement is just false.

As for your third claim, that just seems to contradict the Bible pretty obviously. Have you ever read the Song of Songs? It's also a false dilemma to assume that because sex includes the purpose of procreation it must also not be for sexual satisfaction. I think a biblical case can be made with very little effort that sexual union has at least a few purposes: unity in marriage, expression of love, pure pleasure and enjoyment, and procreation. To reduce it to any of them and ignore the others is to deny God's intent for sex.

Jeremy, I am a 38 year old single female. I met a guy who is divorced from his wife. We are dating. He asked me to marry him and for the first time in my life I actually felt like saying yes. After that we had sex. I found out that the state not God has a one year grace period on his marriage even though the divorce papers have been signed by both parties. He was stupid to involve the State in his marriage. I agree that if too unmarried people have sex scripture teaches that they should marry with the fathers permission. This situation is more complicated becuse of his previous relationsip. I am wondering if I am in sin? I told myself that if I had sex with a guy ever again after waiting 10 years I would marry him. Should I wait until the grace period is over with or send him to vegas? I do not want licence from the state to marry but I do want to be married in the eyes of God.

Kate, I think this is a legitimate case where two morally important things might be pulling in different directions. If I had to go with my first thought on which is best, I'd say wait until the grace period is up but be committed now to do it then.

Kate, one thing occurred to me after I wrote my response to you, and that's the issue of his divorce. I don't know the circumstances of his divorce. I'm not one of those people who thinks divorce is always wrong. Jesus and Paul both give circumstances when it's ok. If those circumstances are the ones involved in this guy's divorce, then everything I said above stands. If not, then it's not so clear to me that I'd have the same view. If his remarrying would be sin because in God's eyes he's still married to his first wife, then I don't recommend that. You say that the state has a one-year grace period on his marriage. Again depending on the circumstances, some divorces have a life-long grace period in God's eyes. I'd consider that carefully and think through the issues of when you think remarriage is biblically ok to see if you think this is one of those instances.

You know what is lacking in all these responses? Scripture to back a persons opinion. I have been reading and studying and have been looking at church history and I will say that if you confess to be a Christian, then it is your responsibility to seek out answers.

Math: 6-33. Seek first the kingdom of God….. It doesn’t just apply for food, shelter and clothing but so much more. I put little to no faith in the teachings that come from church as it is man being taught by other men what the bible says. There is this brain washing that if you do not have some bible college degree you do not understand the bible. IF that is the case then you can throw out all that Paul wrote.

All answers are there for those that seek, and we will not all get the same answers as we are individuals. For one to have a drink of alcohol may be okay, but for another it may not so who is wrong? Neither for God knows what is best and some alcohol will cause problems and for others it will not. I was once told that bacon and any meat of a pig was bad, Romans clears that up.

So premarital sex, if you truly seek God you will get the answer, the biggest question will be this, will you truly seek God? There are things that the bible is very clear on and there are things that man has made up to suit themselves. You do not need a degree to get the answers, if that was so then the new testament would be null and void.

Jeremy Pierce you misunderstood the corruption that I was talking about in the church, but that is for you to seek out to understand.

I see plenty of scripture in this discussion. Not everyone gives scripture, and you supported nothing you said with scripture except the point that the kingdom should be our first priority (which has little to do with most of what you said). But there's plenty of scripture being discussed.

It's true that on some matters there's nothing inherently wrong with an action. So Paul says we should be interested in two things with those issues. If we can't overcome our sense that something is sin, we shouldn't do it. If someone else can't do so, we should refrain from doing it around them. But none of that means that we should say this about the things clearly stated to be sin. You speak as if Paul were a moral relativist, and that's simply not so. The issues he says are like this are precisely the ones where the act itself is not immoral, and so it would apply to thinks like drinking alcohol, which isn't in itself immoral but can be wrong for many people depending on lots of factors in their situation.

Of course it's right that seeking God first is more important than the issue of premarital sex, but my argument (from scripture) was that those who pay heed to what scripture says would conclude that scripture teaches enough to conclude premarital sex is outside God's plan for sexuality.

I'm not going to bother to try to understand something you're not going to bother to make clear. This is my blog. I made my argument. If you want to challenge it, it's your responsibility to make your argument clear enough for me to understand what you're talking about.

i have never commented here before but i thought it would be helpful to you if i gave you an honest opinion of your dialouges.
im not sure what the purpose of your discussions are. is it to help others who read them to gain new insight on our Lord's law or is it a "thinktank". I dont want to get anything started because I honestly do enjoy your smart discussions but frown on what occasionally comes across as an old married couple's bickering. im all for challenging a believer's faith to see why they believe what they belive so i think that a missions statement of sorts would be very helpful. honestly, i ran into you guys looking for devotions for my girlfriend and i to do on dates. we are both proud to be virgins are have promised to eachother and to God to remain abstinate. it sounds pround , but my girlfriend is by no means undesirable and i'd like to think i'm not totally repulsive either. remaining sexually pure is difficult no doubt but i believe that by founding our love for eachother under God's will keeps the constant temptation i feel at bay and allows me to see a much deeper beauty in her. i continue to search for tools to help lead us righteously through this difficult time in our lives but i have still found nothing and i leave here WANTING

just after reading my comment i noticed that i said "but i have still found nothing " in reference to things that will aid me and my girlfriend in loving purely. just wanted to point out that the Bible is my #1 man when it comes to anything but i would appreciate some thoughts on how to purely love.

William, I am not doing a devotions site. As the header at the top of my blog says, this is a site to discuss philosophy, theology, Christian apologetics, and politics, among other things (but those are the main things). In this case, I was defending a Christian teaching from an objection that is often raised against it (i.e. that the Bible doesn't really teach it). Thus I was engaging in Christian apologetics.

Such discussions can ultimately have some value in helping people to be sure that what they believe is the truth, but it isn't to serve a pastoral role, and I think that's what you're looking for. I think my primary hope is that nonbelievers will see Christian thinking put in a way that's intellectually defensible and the believers will rethink some of their less defensible positions. I'll challenge what I see as false beliefs in the church, and I'll defend Christian thinking from what non-Christians say against it. I've expressed my purposes for blogging toward the end of this interview if you want a more detailed statement.

If that's not what you're looking for, then I don't know if you'll find a lot of what you're looking for here. There may be the occasional post that serves the purpose you want, but I'm not very good at that kind of thing, and I focus on this blog on things I'm much better at and have some training that can help with.

I have read a lot of these posts.. but I am still unclear on something. Is it ok (according to the Bible) to be married in the eyes of God but not legally? We have a situation that invloves residency. My fiance is a fire-fighter who has to maintain a residency in the city limits. While he does have a house there, he lives with me in the country. I will not move to the city and if he quits his job he loses a pension, steady income and if he were to quit; he would resent it for years to come because he loves his job. We have been thinking seriously about having a religious ceremony and not become legally married. But are we defeating the whole purpose in trying to do the right thing when it would be essentially lying to the fire department? Any comments welcome; this decision weighs heavily on me. Thanks.

I'd say that lying to the fire department would be wrong in itself, never mind the other issues (which obviously some of the people in this discussion have disagreed about).

Jeremy,
So, is my faith just not stong enough if I am too afraid to ask him to move out and risk losing the lifestyle I have? Am I with-holding my own abundance by living with and having sex with a man that I am not married to? I know these seem like such obvious questions... but I am afraid to make a decision. Help.

Daisy, I don't know if it's necessarily an issue of how strong anyone's faith is (although maybe it is in particular cases; I don't know yours). Sometimes when people do things that are wrong, it's because of not trusting God enough. That's certainly true in my own case sometimes.

But I don't know if it's always that. Sometimes it's just an issue of obedience, and I do think this is something God has commanded us not to do.

Not sure if this blog is still alive, but would like to submit the following:

1) In the NT the word fornication is an inaccurate translation of Porniea.

The correct translation should be "Sexual Immorality" or "Sexual Deviance"
True/False?

2) It is necessary to understand the context of the statements to know which of the possible meanings apply. True/False?

Comment A) Women were treated more as an object than as a person And marriages more like an acquisition than an union. Therefore it is understandable that virginity was of utmost importance. That was the factory "freshness" seal. (sorry for how that sounds).

Comment B) Based on the rarity of actual Fornication (two unmarried people), it seems unlikely that fornication would necessarily apply to some or all statements of the original greek. Why? Let just look at the consequences for the woman

- Social consequence: it would be nearly impossible for a woman to get married if she were not a virgin. This has been true universally, regardless of religion until recently (we can discuss why later)

- financial consequences: It would be nearly impossible for a woman to survive financially without the help of a man because until recently women had only limited legal rights( could not own, could enherit etc)

From the above statements you can derive all the ills that could ensue from such a situation (unless the woman intended to pursue a career in prostitution in which case, the financial prospects might not be as dire): Dependence on aging parents, lack of physical protection, banishment etc.



I believe that the above statements are true and my conclusions are self evident that is why I have not bothered providing quotes. That said, if you believe otherwise I would love to know about it. Once we can settle the above points I will pursue.

1. "Fornication" is not a good translation of 'porneia', in the same way that "cat" is not a good translation of the French word for "mammal". The issue of whether it is a good translation is irrelevant. Cats are mammals, and fornication is one particular kind of act that falls under the more general category that 'porneia' refers to.

From 2a: Women were treated more as an object than as a person

I would dispute that. I would in fact argue exactly the opposite, at least if we're talking about the Mosaic law. This sort of statement commonly gets thrown around, but I've never seen a decent argument for it, and there's plenty of biblical evidence against it.

From 2b: it would be nearly impossible for a woman to get married if she were not a virgin

That may well have been true in ancient Israel. If so, it assumes they regarded fornication as wrong, which is what I was arguing. So that's merely an additional piece of evidence for the only real claim I was making in the post.

It would be nearly impossible for a woman to survive financially without the help of a man because until recently women had only limited legal rights( could not own, could enherit etc)

That's plainly contradicted by all the evidence we have. Read the treatment of Zelophehad's daughters in Numbers, for a clear example of women owning and inheriting property in the Mosaic law. Widows owned property as well. So your claim is simply false.

Now I'm actually not sure what your self-evident conclusions are or why what you've said is supposed to support them, so you might need to be a little more explicit about what they are, what your argument for them is, and why it has anything to do with what I've argued (and I'm suspicious that it might not). I can't evaluate an argument if I don't know what the argument even is or what it's supposed to be supporting. An argument involves premises, a conclusion, and reasoning that explains why the premises support the conclusion. All you've given are the premises.

You are right, there is no argument yet, I merely wanted to revisit the basic premises. If we can't agree on them, the construction of an argument seems a bit futile (that is my argument :-).

In any case, stepping back to my original statement 1 on "translation". Maybe this will be a clearer premise:

In the OT, there is no explicit prohibition of consensual premarital sex.

That notion is derived from our reading of the texts. Can we agree on that or not?

If we do, one question would be
"Whether consensual premarital sex is a sin or not, was that even a concern in OT times?"

The reason that is relevant is that if that was not on anybody's mind, then we can't use the OT to discuss it or determine whether it is a sin or not.

It seems to me that one of the possible reasons for a lack of direct prohibition is that it was not a concern. The bible has an abundance of explicit sexual prohibitions it seems at the very least odd that this most basic modern issue is not addressed directly.

It is my contention that consensual premarital sex was not a concern simply because of:
- the odds stacked against the female participant.
- improbability of running into an unmarried girl not already promised to a man.

Happy New Year.

I will continue my post later. In the mean time I would appreciate if you could agree or disagree with my first premise: "There is no explicit prohibition of consensual premarital sex in OT".

PS: About the following

"That may well have been true in ancient Israel. If so, it assumes they regarded fornication as wrong, which is what I was arguing. So that's merely an additional piece of evidence for the only real claim I was making in the post."

No. That does not necessarily mean it was wrong in the eyes of God.
a) Even the most sexually reprehensible men in history could insist that their brides be virgins. For no spiritual reasons I would guess.
b) Isralites had many customs that had nothing to do with spirituality. They even had laws that Jesus wanted no part of.

The list can go on. Hopefully we can agree on that.

In the OT, there is no explicit prohibition of consensual premarital sex.

Yes, that's true, if by "explicit prohibition" you mean something that singles it out rather than a prohibition that includes it without specifying the various sub-categories.

Lots of modern issues aren't addressed directly. Do you see any explicit prohibition of adults having sex with children? I don't. There certainly isn't anything addressing downloading of MP3s, speeding, or internet pornography. I don't find it at all strange that moral issues in one context don't appear explicitly in a revelation of God directed toward a different context that doesn't include those moral problems among its chief temptations.

So it seems that your point is an attempt to explain why the OT doesn't explicitly address the issue. I don't see any problem with that at all. I was under the impression that you thought you were disagreeing with me on something in my argument, but I don't think you have.

As to your second point, my post wasn't arguing that the Bible is correct. It was simply offering reasons to think the biblical authors would have included premarital sex as one of the things they would have seen as immoral sex and thus under the category of fornication. You can disagree with inerrantism and thus indicate disagreement with the biblical authors. But if the biblical authors saw it as part of fornication, then their condemnations of fornication mean that they would have condemned premarital sex as well. All I was arguing is that the Bible does condemn it, even if it doesn't do so explicitly.

This is an incredible (rare!) metered, well-reasoned discussion on a controversial topic, and I'm sorry that we don't see more of this. I'm also sorry that it seems to have ended here.

It seems to me that the crux of this issue is one of philology - you find a derivation of a word (porneia) in question, to the extent that the denotations attached to the word match the connotations we attach to the word today. This next part may be an example of what you call "hermeneutical" maneuvering.

If we assert that the Bible contains identifiable imperatives, and that the authority of those imperatives relates to their having been divinely inspired (that is, God's truth is induced into man, who writes down what he knows of God to the best of his intentions), then it seems to me that your basis for condemning premarital sex as falling under this category (porneia) is entirely based on cultural context. That is: because the men God chose to solicit his word lived in a particular society, a lot of His most clear and disambiguated directives can be held as rock solid (for example, the commandment not to bear false witness, not to kill - regardless of how we use "gymnastics," or literary comparison with other parts of the NT or OT, to justify things like holy war, capital punishment, etc.), while a variety of other secondary connotations can be identified as cultural in nature.

For instance, the commandment not to kill has a meaning: it tells us not to take an action end life; therefore, a society that considers a certain level of human existence no longer alive (not having a detectable heartbeat, as opposed to not having certain active patterns as surmised by a tomographical scan), or a society that conflates the value of other organisms (or even viruses) with the value of human life, would take different exceptions to the rule "not to kill" - we can imagine a society that (bound and limited by the facts of their own semantic markers alone) could never even comprehend the idea of immunizing people against pathogens, because this would involve first weakening and killing those pathogens (which are biological in nature), and then using their bodies in a procedure to allow our bodies to kill other pathogens that follow.

To me, it seems that the only strength in this argument that Old Testament law is what the New Testament points to is the old characterization of God as having "chosen" the people upon whom He conferred Mosaic law. And even that doesn't go far enough to imply that that people's semantic understanding of the words they used to convey God's meaning is perfect - only that it was the best available to God, in His infinite wisdom. I know a man who has wisdom over the subject of human nature; he will tell me instantly that in his greatest wisdom, NO human being is perfect.

This may fall well outside of the purview of your particular blog - but what I am suggesting is not outside the realm of reasonable interpretation. We no longer regard sex with women during menstruation as an abomination, nor do we levy any consequence on such an act, nor do we compel such women to live in huts far away from the commons any longer, and yet if we were to follow the law of the OT strictly to the letter of Leviticus, we would be in err not to do so. How can you support the assertion that Jesus intended for us to take the strictest interpretation of this term "fornication" as part and parcel to a word with a much older word that had a host of different connotations in an itinerary that we can not fully reiterate now (we might even say the connotations of those days were mutually exclusive to the ones that Theologians eventually saddled us with) from a language that we only have philological knowledge (that is, a dead language, with connotations we can only make an attempt to estimate)?

Thanks for the interesting debate!

Roger, you raise a host of issues that would take me quite a long time to respond to. My contention is that we (1) understand the law as it was understood and applied in its own culture, (2) derive any principles behind it that still apply given how the New Testament offers principles for understanding the Mosaic law and the aspects relevant to the particular law in question (e.g. continues it explicitly, cancels any continued application for Christians, rolls it back to a more fundamental principle, etc.), (3) understand how it contributed to the covenant with Israel and what sorts of principles behind that still apply in the new covenant, and (4) see how it contributes to the law being fulfilled in Christ and seeing what relevance that has for Christians' lives.

The key issue in your argument is that different conceptual systems might not have room for crucial concepts in other conceptual systems, and that seems right. But it doesn't follow that God couldn't communicate true principles to one culture that another one could understand by understanding the original conceptual system God communicated them to. The traditional methods of biblical interpretation insist that we pursue the historical and social background of the culture the Bible was originally written to so that we can then understand more fully exactly what God was saying to them, before we then figure out what role the particular passages play in the overall canon in order to figure out which aspects apply to us in what ways.

I don't have time to say a lot more toward the many issues you raise, but I've already said something about a lot of them. For example, I've treated the killing issue here, and I've treated the abominations issue here (and with a recent further point here).

Ultimately, I must disagree...but not because of "hermeneutical gymnastics". On one point, you are correct. It is difficult to ascertain the original meaning of fornication beyond the more generalized term of "sexual immorality". However, we can reasonably assume that a list of prohibited sexual behaviors would fall in that category. There is such a list in Leviticus 20, and premarital sex is not mentioned, nor any variation thereof. It seems, then, that the major objection to premarital sex is based on your reading of Exodus 22. It would be extremely helpful to possess a time machine at this point; we could simply travel back in time and inquire as to why a man had to pay the dowry for sleeping with said woman. However, we need only observe cultures that still continue that practice to understand why it was standard operating procedure in the ancient biblical world. The answer will probably not please you: women are property.

In ancient Israel, women were viewed as commodities, to an extent. Not only did women belong to the men, they served important labor functions for the family and community. When a man slept with a woman, he was essentially claiming her as his own. However, nothing is free. If he wanted milk, he had to buy the cow, so to speak. In other words, the dowry was required for a strictly economic exchange. It sounds cold and calculating, and also demeaning to women, but that was the fact of their culture. And yes, the family could refuse to turn their daughter over. After all, they never put her on the market in the first place. Or, to put it another way: If you borrow my mower without asking, I may charge you a "rental fee". But that does not mean you get to keep my mower after that. Note that God never mandated that rule, Moses did.

We have not exhausted all facets of this cultural phenomenon. Women were not only property; they were also the only way to access the bloodline. Therefore, the womb was sacred, and men were the gatekeepers. To have sex with the woman without going through the men in the family first was an act of subversion and theft. Not theft from God, but theft from men. This is why Joseph was afraid when he discovered Mary's pregnancy. He was not afraid of a lightning bolt from above-he was afraid of assault and battery from Mary's patriarchs. Furthermore, we do not see a case of "legal" marriage in the OT, as there was no such thing. Nor do we see a marriage ceremony until the NT; in the OT getting married was claiming the woman through sex, as evidenced from the numerous instances in which the first sign of the marriage is, "and that night, he lay with her".

It seems that not only is the concept of premarital sex a fallacy of hermeneutics that Jesus himself would never have understood, but one entirely of Western origin. It is possible that the concept arose as early as 500 A.D. in Europe, during the political heyday of the Pope. However, one thing is clear. Every time a Christian uses the term "premarital sex", God asks, "What the hell is he talking about?"

You don't have to think of women as property to consider it just to compensate a family for the fact that you're going to be removing her potential for contributing to the economic output of the family.

Where do you see a distinction in the Torah between God commanding something and Moses commanding it? Every list of laws I know of begins with a divine statement to Moses.

The act of sexual marriage constitutes the marriage, sure. That's clear throughout the Hebrew scriptures. Nonetheless, you have to ignore that the Torah begins with Genesis 1-2 to think that this isn't about marriage but is somehow just about a man claiming a woman as property through sex. The "one flesh" pronouncement, the commandment to leave father and mother to go to his wife (not for her to come to him to be his slave), and the terminology of helping him (rather than being his slave) should make this clear. It's certainly not symmetrical, as egalitarians claim. But it's nothing like slavery or treating women as property. The Torah doesn't allow that interpretation.

Your last paragraph makes it sound like Jesus would have been perfectly all right with Joseph having sex with Mary before they were married. Yet the very text you point to shows that such an idea would have been shocking. I disagree with your reasoning why it would have been shocking, but it's as if you cite it to try to make your point and then ignore the implications of it that don't fit with your conclusion.

First, I think its doubtful that the torah views women as property. Christopher Wright has some good arguments against this claim. In particular he notes
The fact that the legal penalty for the wife who commits adultery is execution weighs strongly against the idea that wives in OT Israel are legally no more than the property of their husbands. If adultery is merely an offence against another man’s “property” why destroy the property as well as punishing the guilty man? Furthermore, it would be quite exceptional, in as much as no other property offence in the OT is punishable by death.[4]

Second, with regards to the Dowry, here I think David Instone Brewer’s study of marriage and divorce in the bible is helpful. What is envisaged is a mohar, this money the husband pays to the father which is held in trust for the women, if the man abandoned or divorced the women the money would revert back to the women to ensure here financial security. Hence it does not function as payment for an economic asset but rather functions more like security to protect the women and her children from destitution should they be abandoned. The payment of the mohar was part of a marriage contract a man was required to pay to his bride.

What is envisaged in Ex 22, then is a man who seduces a virgin, has sex with her but does so in a casual context leaving her vunerable to being dumbed, and abandoned at a latter date.

This is made evident by the repetition of the law in Deuteronomy where the punishment is “he shall pay her father fifty shekels[c] of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.” the lex tallonis explains this: an offender is required to pay his victim what he unjustly took from them. 50 shekels was the standard mohar price. The man must pay this and also marry her and never divorce her. In otherwords he had sex without providing a marriage relationship and so the law compels him to give what he now owes in virtue of the sex.

Jeremy, I must say you sound highly hypocritical. You continuously argue as if you are right, yet as you said yourself this is a blog, a blog of your own, not a group or a corporation or anything of the sort. Not even a church group. Therefore, anything you say is merely your opinion and your interpretation of the Bible. Others may agree with you, whether on your entire argument or a single issue, but either way even if you were backed by a church organization, as long as anyone has a different viable argument, it is impossible to know for sure which side is right. So the only viable advice to give on any controversial Biblical issue is to seek God and let Him guide you towards what is right and what is wrong. I believe that if we confess to Jesus our sin and love all and hate none, we will be forgiven as it is stated in the Bible (Surely you know the verse I am speaking of.). But of course that is my interpretation and anyone who reads this has no inclination to believe me just as they have no inclination to believe you, Jeremy.

P.S. I think I'm the first person to use the name "Jesus" in this slightly over four year Christian argument. Strange, don't you think?

You charge me with hypocrisy and then say nothing about where the hypocrisy lies. If I were privately engaging in extramarital sex for years while condemning it, that would be hypocrisy. Taking a stance on something while admitting that this is a blog (a kind of forum where people quite often take stances on things) is not hypocrisy. It's not inconsistency. It's perfectly natural.

Now as for being my personal opinion, it certainly is. But it's also the historic stance of Christianity for two thousand years, and it's the majority opinion among Roman Catholics and evangelicals (and almost anyone else with a high view of scripture). I'm not claiming to speak for any particular group, but these arguments are not original with me, and the view stands in the long tradition of the entire history of the church.

As for your extreme skepticism about recognizing good and bad arguments, I think most people will be more reasonable. When someone gives an actual reason for a view, all it takes to disagree is to poke a hole in the reasoning. Explain why the argument is a bad one, and give a reason for why we ought to hold an alternative position. You haven't done that. You're simply ducking it by pretending all arguments are equally unconvincing. The conclusion we ought to adopt if that's correct, though, is not to hold whatever view you're most comfortable with. It's to hold no view at all. We should be equally open to all positions if no view is any better than any other. That means you have no reason to prefer your view to mine.

Oh, and by the way there are eight mentions of Jesus prior to yours, and those mentions involve specific discussion of his teaching. It's usually a good idea to take a few seconds to do a quick search of a discussion that you're claiming doesn't mention a name before making that claim, just in case it might turn out to be a significant discussion of that very person by name.

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