Patheos answers the question:

What Does The Bible Say About Sex Before Marriage?

woman on bed sad head on knees

The Bible frequently condemns sexual immorality of any kind. Both the Hebrew Bible (or “Old Testament”) and the New Testament forbid the believer from participating in fornication, adultery, and/or homosexuality. And, while the biblical standards of sexual purity have lost their footing in the modern era, nevertheless, the Bible still commands that believers live sexually moral lives.

One of the challenges in fleshing out what the Bible says about pre-marital sex is that the language of the Hebrew and Greek is not always clear on when they are referring to this specific sin. In English, we typically make a distinction between “fornication” (i.e., sexual relations between two unmarried individuals) and “adultery” (i.e., sexual relations between two people, where one or both are married to someone else). However, the biblical text is not so “cut and dried” linguistically. The Hebrew (na'aph) and Greek (moicheuo, moichao or moicheia) words for “adultery” mean essentially the same as our English word for this sin. However, the Hebrew (zanah; see also taznuwth or taznuth) and the Greek (porneia) words for “fornication” actually mean any form of sexual immorality, and certainly include fornication, but can also mean adultery, harlotry, and even (in a metaphorical sense) idolatry. So, “fornication” in the Bible is a “catch-all” phrase that would certainly condemn pre-marital sex but would also apply to other forms of sexual immorality.

Scriptural Insights on Pre-Marital Sex

Jesus, teaching that sinful thoughts lead to sinful behaviors, explained: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, …acts of adultery, [and] other immoral sexual acts.” (NASV Matthew 15:19) The fact that Jesus mentions “adultery” and “porneia” as separate sins suggests that, by “porneia” (or “fornication”) he is making reference to pre-marital sex. In the context of the chapter, Jesus is condemning all such immoral sexual behaviors, and He is suggesting that adultery and “porneia”/fornication are different kinds of sexual sins—the former committed by one or more married persons and the latter committed by an unmarried person.

In the Book of 1 Corinthians, Paul suggests that pre-marital sex was a concern in Corinth in his day. He explained, “because of the danger of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” (CJB 1 Corinthians 7:2) In other words, Paul is saying, since being single puts you at risk of having pre-marital sex—which Paul clearly sees as a sin—one should marry and thereby avoid that sin (in the thinking of the Apostle). Paul used the word “porneia” here, but the context makes it clear that it is pre-marital sex he is condemning, and that he is not referring to adultery in this verse.

In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, we read: “God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery.” (NLT Hebrews 13:4) In the Greek of this verse—when it refers to “immoral” people—the ancient text uses “pornos” (from the same root as “porneia”). However, the Greek word for “adultery” is “moichos”—which would be a traditional Greek word for that sin. Thus, when the text speaks here of “immoral” people “and those who commit adultery,” the Greek is clearly intending to refer to those engaging in pre-marital sex in addition to those practicing adultery. Both here are condemned as sinful and unacceptable for believing Christians.

While there are numerous other verses of scripture that employ the Greek word “porneia” (e.g., Acts 15:20, 1 Corinthians 5:1, 6:13 & 18, and 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Jude 1:7; Revelation 21:8), it is not always clear what kind of immorality the biblical author is referring to. As noted above, because “porneia” is a “catch-all” phase, it can mean “fornication” and likely often does. However, it is really only when that Greek word it is coupled (in the same verse) with the traditional word for “adultery” that we can know for sure that pre-marital sex is intended.

All of that being said, the Bible is quite clear on its views regarding pre-marital sex, adultery, and homosexuality. In a time when a statistically high percentage of the world’s population participates in one of these three activities, this is hardly a “politically correct” thing to bring up. Nonetheless, the Bible is not interested in political correctness. Rather, it is entirely focused on presenting the views and teachings of Jesus and the various biblical prophets who God has chosen throughout the millennia of the earth’s history. And they have been consistent in their witness of God’s call to His people to live sexually pure lives.

Bible Verses about Sexual Morality

  • Matthew 15:19 (NASV): "For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander."
  • 1 Corinthians 7:2 (CJB): "But because of the prevalence of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband."
  • Hebrews 13:4 (NLT): "God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery."

3/19/2024 4:07:38 PM
Alonzo L. Gaskill, PhD
About Alonzo L. Gaskill, PhD
Alonzo L. Gaskill is a Professor of Church history and doctrine. He holds a bachelor's degree in philosophy, a masters in theology, and a PhD in biblical studies.