Is Premarital Sex Sinful?

PRE-MARITAL SEX ANDY GILL PATHEOS

I highly doubt that having safe and consensual sex, before marriage, is something God would hold against you; or, anyone for this matter…


If you’re an evangelical, the chances are, you’ve had a conversation that went something like this:

You: Hey bro, I’m struggling again…

Small Group Leader: How’s your prayer life going…?

You: I mean, it’s mediocre I’m praying every day but I’m not, like, “unceasingly…”

Small Group Leader [Shaking his head, interrupts, and puts his hand on your shoulder]: Broseph, you’re turning your back on God. You’re distancing yourself from his love. That’s why you’re struggling, just pray and read the bible more.

[also, your small group leader is Keanu Reeves]

So, I did just that; I prayed more and I dug deeper into the Bible.

Looking back I’m not sure I was searching for answers so much as I was searching for the annulment of my shame and the approval of this God.


Bible Verses Your Pastor Never Addressed…

Eventually, the more I read through scripture the more confused I got in regard to what my pastors were saying; because, nowhere in the Bible could I find premarital sex being explicitly condemned in the New or Old Testament. Reading on I saw that neither does the text incontrovertibly layout what exactly is considered to be sexual “immorality.”

There were King Solomon and his objectification of women seen through his “possession” of 300 concubines. Then there was Lamech who married two women [Genesis 4:19], and of course, I stumbled across King David, Abraham, and Jacob, each of these men infamously taking on multiple wives.

The Bible began to read more like an episode of Sister Wives than a book of black and white God-given morals [1].

All that to say, it wasn’t a secularized way thinking but my understanding of the text that handed me a different guide than the church taught me on Sunday morning.

“Let’s not even go into some of the Bible’s most chilling teachings regarding marriage, such as a man’s obligation to keep a new wife who displeases him on the wedding night (Deuteronomy 22:13-21), his obligation to marry a woman he has raped (Deuteronomy 22:28-30) or the unquestioned right of heroes like Abraham to exploit their slaves sexually. I wonder: Have the “biblical family values advocates” actually read their Bibles [2]?”

– Greg Carey [Professor of NT Lancaster Theological Seminary]

I began to wonder, “What if the laws and rules we’ve established around this idea of premarital sex were more of a cultural normality than any biblical mandate…?”

That Moment You Realized Your Pastor Has No Idea What They’re Talking About… 

I’ve come to find that many of our so-called “struggles” are not so much “issues” having to do with sin but rather, they’re issues having to do with uninformed teachings.

To clarify, what might separate many of us from God is not the way in which we’re living but rather our churches misguided moralistic teachings. This was a way of thinking that demonized sexuality, not just homosexuality, but anything having to do with sexuality that fell outside the confines of marriage.

We call this “repression.”

What if our sexual impulses were because we are normal humans biologically predispositioned this way? What if our natural desire to fornicate, and, this supposed separation from God, had nothing to do with our lack of reading the Bible, attending church, or praying consistently enough [3]?

You see, if God were omnipresent, and nothing could separate us from His love [Romans 8:37-39], why then would any single one of us need to work harder, in order to be in His presence?

We fight and we struggle against this overwhelmingly crippling amount of guilt and shame… all of us just pining for the approval of God; an approval that we’ve already received.

I think that if you were to ask Jesus or GOD Himself what you’re worst sin was He would respond,

“I don’t remember [4].”

Because, after all, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

One of the bigger more ironic sins is found in our modern day pharisaical leadership who’ve attached this awkwardly repressive stigma to a God-given gift; changing his doctrine; leveraging it for their gain; manipulating and coercing vulnerable congregants who are otherwise suffering…

We’ve dogmatized the Bible by making it into a set of rules that have become damagingly black and white.

Pete Enns says it best, “The Bible is not an instruction manual but instead a model for our spiritual journey.”

Is pre-marital sex a sin? My response is that I’m not sure this is the best place to start, regarding this topic. I think the better question is, “Is pre-marital sex the wisest thing for this particular relationship?”


Other questions to consider: Who defines what marriage is? Does God need a legal document certifying two people to then be officially married…?

[if you enjoyed this post head over and check out my Facebook Page to follow along with other and future “-ish”]

[1] Not to mention that in 2 Samuel 12:8, the prophet Nathan said that if David’s wives and concubines were not enough, God would have given the king even more. To be clear, polygamy and bigamy are not overtly condemned in the Christian Old Testament – but I mean, that’s if we’re being “biblical.”
[2] Greg Carey, What Does the Bible Actually Say About Marriage?
[3] This is not saying these practices and disciplines don’t work for others, it’s just saying that we don’t need to universalize them applying them to everyone.
[4] Rob Bell says this first and way better and far more eloquently here in this message.
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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Tara

    “Is pre-marital sex a sin? My response is that I’m not sure this is the best place to start, regarding this topic. I think the better question is, “Is pre-marital sex the wisest thing for this particular relationship and place in which you find yourself in life?” One of the wisest insights to have in being a pastor with people! Serving with youth and young adults, in desperate repairing needs of relationships in their lives (not exclusive to the adults in their lives), it is about being created in the image of AGAPE and how we are insights into the building up of God’s beloved kingdom of AGAPE. Yes, a macro topic but essential in talking through and living into! Thank you for the authenticity of this conversation!

  • http://www.www.patheos.com/blogs/andygill/ Andy Gill

    Thanks Tara :)

  • http://theoperspectives.blogspot.com/ James Goetz

    In short, after a recent reconsideration of morality, I believe that premarital coitus is sinful while premarital sexual activity short of coitus is okay between consenting adults.

  • Mireille

    The pre-emptive coupling of notions of sexuality and sin I think is generally unhelpful … sexuality itself isn’t sinful. Its a core part of being human and moves beyond sexual acts to notions of intimacy. Sexuality becomes harmful when it is practiced outside of other virtues, i.e. loving kindness, honesty, generosity. There are (christian) marriage relationships were the practice of sexuality is toxic. There are unmarried couples whose practice of sexuality is a celebration of good things. I know which I value higher. Marriage is little more than a legal construct. Adam and Eve were for all intents and purposes, “unmarried” and Isaac’s marriage comprised of simply “entering the tent”. What upsets me more I suppose is the evangelical discourse around gay Christians, allowing for the possibility of acceptance but only if one accepts a life long celibacy, relinquishing any same sex intimate relationship. Now that is unnatural cruelty.

  • http://www.www.patheos.com/blogs/andygill/ Andy Gill

    I feel like based off of this I would love having conversations with you on just about any of the topics I’ve written on… love what you had to say.

  • Miguel Madera

    No responsible orthodox Christian is saying or even implying that sexuality itself is sinful. For one among many, many examples, check out what the standard evangelical commentaries say about Revelation 14:4:

    It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb. (Rev 14:4)

    At first blush this seems to be implying that sexual relations are inherently defiling, but every evangelical commentary I checked rushed to point out that this is decidedly not the teaching of the Bible. Instead the passage uses a specific term indicating a ritual defilement. Song of Songs celebrates sex more than any poster here, and within the context of Scripture it’s celebrating married sex.

  • Hyweldda

    This is a conversation that Christians should be having. I agree with you that we seem to have unquestionably taken on the teaching that it’s wrong without sitting down and asking why. It seems to me that the real question is about monogamy not premarital sex. Leaving and cleaving and becoming one flesh is key here and not so much about when sex takes place. Marriage is thus ‘pre-marital’ and ‘post-marital’ in terms of sexual activity. Keep asking the questions.

  • Matt

    I’m currently exploring what God actually says about sexual ethics and I seem to have hit a roadblock. In Matthew 19, when Jesus is teaching about divorce, he says, “what God has united, let not man separate,” referring to the one-flesh relationship that exists in marriage. But exactly when do two people become one flesh? Is it the moment intercourse begins? Does it have something to do with the marriage covenant? Something else entirely? It would seem to me that it is wrong to leave a partner who you have become one with, but I just don’t know exactly when that happens. If it happens during intercourse, then it would not be wrong to have sex before marriage, but it would be wrong to break up and the two would be bound for life, almost as if they were married. If it happens when the two get married as part of the covenant, than there should be no problem with premarital sex (if done in an edifying way). Perhaps someone can help me understand this better. Thanks.

  • Mireille

    “One flesh” is a metaphor. it initially alludes to the episode in Genesis, when the rib was removed from ‘adam to create woman (bone of bone; flesh of flesh). but it also refers to the human condition of love that was as real to the narrator of Genesis as it is to modern readers. Bonding is a phenomenon of intimate relation and is sacred in a sense that it is beautiful, precious and contributes strongly to well-being. Only a fool would trample over love like that and jesus’ comments in matthew are wise and hopefully direct people to authentic, loving and committed relationships that mean for well-being (for both parties). The key as ever is authenticity.

  • Miguel Madera

    What does “flee from sexual immorality” mean? What does Hebrews mean when it says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous”? What could a powerful passage like Ezekiel 16 possibly mean if it’s ever—ever—okay to have sex outside a covenant of marriage?

    Christianity isn’t an intellectual game in which you get to use your theological education to help you jockey for the position granting you maximum coolness and plausibility in our culture. What you’re doing is granting permission to people to harm themselves.

    Jesus told the church at Thyatira, “I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality.” I say this very directly, Andy: I can’t grant Christian recognition to someone who teaches others to commit heterosexual and homosexual immorality. I say with sorrow, not joy, that your blog’s subtitle is the most honest I’ve seen in a while. For the sake of your soul, read Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism.

  • Mireille

    Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others.

  • Broseph

    The bible is written in black and white… Christianity today has been reduced to 50 shades of grey!… Let call a spade a spade shall we!.. Sin is sin

  • http://douglasryoung.net/ Douglas Young

    There’s another element to this subject that heightens its complexity… In the biblical times, couples married much younger than they do now, making premarital sex then a bit more difficult to be normative than it is today. Today we are expected to wait pretty much till we are in our 20s before we are considered “ready for marriage.” And yet abstinence is expected. That’s tough. Not impossible. But tough. I’m not certain our biblical forefathers and sisters had to wrestle with this subject like we have to…

  • Jas

    I think many people try to “pick” the bible and find leeways, that’s why we have religions. People doubt, or question, God’s word and try to make it their own. Like this blog.

    As you’ve discovered, it’s easy for critics and skeptics to argue that the Bible has nothing to say about pre-marital sex. That’s because they’re usually looking for negative statements. They want a “condemnation” or a “thou shalt not.” But the Bible expresses its perspective primarily in positive terms.

    “Have you not read,” says Jesus, “that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’” (Matthew 19:4-5; quoting from Genesis 1:27, 2:24). In this passage Scripture clearly states that sex is for marriage and marriage is for sex. Exclusively. That’s because sex is not just a matter of casual recreation. It’s not just a pleasurable way of expressing mutual love. It’s a question of two people becoming one flesh.

    This fits in perfectly with the apostle Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 6:16: “Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.’“ The same concept underlies Jesus’ unbending position on divorce: “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6). It’s also implied in the commandment against adultery (Exodus 20:14). In the biblical view, adultery includes any sexual activity carried on outside the bonds of committed marriage. This is why the writer to the Hebrews tells us that “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4). This teaching explains Joseph’s certain expectation that Mary would be “exposed to public disgrace” when it was discovered that she had become pregnant “before they came together” in marriage.

    We should add that God wants us to reserve sex for marriage not because it’s “bad” or “dirty,” but precisely because it’s such a unique, exclusive, and wonderful thing. Sex is a holy mystery. It’s a powerful bonding agent that shapes and affects the relationship between a man and a woman as nothing else can. To take it outside of marriage is like taking the wine consecrated for Holy Communion and using it for a frat house drinking party. This is why the writers of Scripture so often compare idolatry to the sin of fornication or adultery. It also explains why they use sexual purity and faithfulness between spouses as an image of our relationship with God (as, e.g., in Song of Solomon, the Book of Hosea, and the 16th chapter of Ezekiel).

    Where Isaac and Rebekah are concerned, it’s important to remember that different cultures have different ways of arranging and solemnizing the marital bond. Biblical culture was distinct from our own in this regard. Not surprisingly, the Scriptures don’t require all marriages to be sealed in a church ceremony or a state-authorized license. That doesn’t change the fact that genuine biblical marriage always includes a distinctly communal component. This is implied in a couple’s decision to “leave” their parents and “cleave” to one another (Genesis 2:24) — in other words, to initiate a new family unit as a part of the larger community.

    To express this another way, marriage involves a public commitment to build a strong and lasting relationship. This relationship is supposed to serve not merely as a foundation for the nurturing of children, but also as a building block of social stability. It’s the couple’s contribution to the well-being of the broader human community. In Bible times, the administration of this “communal” aspect of marriage was managed almost exclusively by the family. This is clearly reflected in Genesis 24’s description of the nuptials of Isaac and Rebekah. In 21st century America it also involves the state (and, for serious believers, the church).

    Something similar can be said about Mary and Joseph. “Betrothals” in ancient Judaism were not like modern “engagements.” A betrothal did stipulate that the couple refrain from sexual contact until after the wedding ceremony. But aside from this, the relationship it established was every bit as binding and permanent as what we normally think of as “marriage.” This explains why it would have required something like a legal “divorce” for Joseph to break off his agreement with Mary and her family (remember, “he was minded to put her away secretly,” [Matthew 1:19] when he learned that she was “with child” prior to their “coming together” [Matthew 1:18]).

  • Jas

    My response included my own opinion, and I backed it up with information from an amazing article I read online regarding this same issue.

    http://family.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/26204/~/where-does-the-bible-say-that-pre-marital-sex-is-wrong%3F

    My point is not to point gingers, or to come off as rude, I just want you to look at both sides of this issue, and REALLY dig deep into God’s word. God does not fit into a box, nor are we supposed to understand him. He is God for that specific reason.

  • http://jaredmoody.com Jared Moody

    Lately I’ve been observing how in many contexts we like hard rules because it’s easier than having to think and apply good judgement. I think “is this wise and beneficial” is a great place to begin in a topic frought with shame, guilt and taboo.

    Also, apostrophe typo in footnote 4 :P