I’ve heard it said that the Bible doesn’t mention premarital sex as a sin. There are major implications to this on two levels. One, there is the simple and important question of knowing what is a sin and what isn’t. Two, and more importantly, if it is a sin (and why) has huge ramifications on God’s overall design for sex and how men are to view women and vice versa.
If you type “premarital sex” or “sex before marriage” into your English Bible concordance, nothing is going to come up. If you search for “adultery,” a married person having sex with someone who is not their spouse, you’ll get all kinds of occurrences. So I suppose this is where some get the idea that maybe sex is okay up until you get married, then you’re locked into that one person from thereafter.
If you’re used to reading the King James Version, you’ll note that it often uses the word fornication, which means sex-before-marriage. The NIV and other translations swap this out for the term sexual immorality, which is quite vague and does not give the surface indication that sex-before-marriage is a sin.
The Greek word used in the original New Testament text for fornication or sexual immorality is porneia (Matthew 5:32, 15:19, 19:9; Mark 7:21; John 8:41; Acts 15:20, 15:29, 21:25; 1 Corinthians 5:1, 6:13, 6:18, 7:2; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Revelation 2:21; 9:21; 14:8; 17:2; 17:4; 18:3; 19:2). Porneia is a separate Greek word from adultery, so we know it doesn’t mean the exact same thing. Hence, it makes some sense why the KJV translators would use the word fornication.
We also know that porneia brings about children outside of wedlock (John 8:41), so it is sex. Porneia is also the word used to describe the acts of the great prostitute in Revelation 17, and is the root for the word prostitute itself (1 Cor. 6:15). These uses are a pretty open-and-shut case that porneia means sex-before-marriage.
But porneia can also be done by a married person (Matt. 5:32; 19:19). A man sleeping with his mother or step-mother is considered a type of porneia (1 Cor. 5:1). So from these two examples, we see that porneia doesn’t exclusively mean sex-before-marriage.
It’s safe to say that adultery is the sin of when a married person has sex with someone who is not their spouse. And that porneia (KJV: fornication, NIV: sexual immorality) is the sin of any type of sex outside of marriage, which would obviously include sex-before-marriage, as well as prostitution and adultery.
More Than A Rulebook
Porneia is anything that goes against God’s design for sex. And it’s crucial that we get back to the point about God’s design. While there is value in analyzing the text to determine what is a sin and what isn’t, it has the feeling of etching out a rule book for the sake of a rule book. Like telling a teenager not to have sex before marriage, “because it’s bad,” without giving any further explanation. To approach any of God’s commands in this way doesn’t do justice to why a loving God would give them to us in the first place, nor do they provide much intrinsic motivation to follow them. We must always go back to the design, which thankfully Scripture does with crystal clarity on the matter of premarital sex.
God’s design for sex is laid out in the creation blueprint of Genesis 2:24: That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Some will say that this verse is only referring to marriage—that when a man and woman become married, they become one flesh. The apostle Paul disagrees. In 1 Corinthians 6:16, Paul says that anyone who has sex with a prostitute has become one flesh with her. You become one flesh with someone when you have sex with them.
This is why premarital sex is a sin. It’s also why so many find their hearts so broken and battered.
What “one flesh” means is that a whole person accepts all that makes someone else a human. It’s like taking a yellow piece of Play-Doh and mixing it together with a piece of blue Play-Doh. What happens? You get green Play-Doh, never able to distinguish or remove the yellow from the blue again. One flesh is not just about body parts, it’s about one’s entire being. It’s why we say the vows we say at a wedding…for better or worse…for richer or poorer…in sickness and in health. No matter what comes our way, I have accepted you and will protect you and be here for you. All of you. Not just the good parts. But also the annoying parts. The things I’d like to change. The weaknesses. The quirks. All of that becoming one with all of that in me, for a lifetime. That’s the environment God designed sex to create between two people. It coincidentally is also the perfect environment for raising children.
Sex was designed by God to be a part of the greatest self-sacrificing relationship possible. The byproduct of one-flesh-marital-sex was to be a strong society where children are loved and married adults are accepted and protected by their spouses. Sin has turned sex into an act of selfishness. The consequences on our society couldn’t be any clearer. This of course doesn’t end with premarital sex. Once sex becomes selfish, people are simply objects to be consumed. This objectification provides the booming demand for pornography, a sex-addicted Hollywood, and uncontrollable lust.
If you do the math, you can’t have multiple one fleshes with people. That’s why premarital sex does such damage to our souls, and to our society. You are sharing intimacy that can’t hold its own weight. You are doing a trust fall with no one to catch you.
Sin and our culture have taught us sex is about us and getting our desires met. God’s word tells us sex is about a lifelong commitment of accepting and supporting all of someone else. No matter how unpopular it gets, God’s word will remain our guide for finding true life and true freedom in understanding how we are to view sex, ourselves, and the men and women we share this world with.