I know you might be scratching your head right now asking “Isn’t premarital sex and pre-wedding sex the same thing?” Biblically speaking the answer is no they are not the same. These are two separate and distinct things.
This topic is crucial for young Christian couples who are dating or engaged to consider in this age where sex before marriage has become so common that a couple is considered weird if they do not have sex before marriage.
Does sex automatically make a couple married in God’s eyes?
Some Christians have tried to argue that there is no such thing as “premarital sex” because they believe the act of sex automatically makes a couple married. They reason based on this logic that the Bible does not condemn something that is impossible to happen.
But the Bible does not support this notion.
We will show here from the Scriptures that there really is such a thing as “premarital sex” and the act of sex itself does not automatically constitute marriage. Later in this article we will distinguish “premarital sex” from “pre-wedding sex”.
So if sex does not automatically constitute marriage what does?
Biblical marriage may be constituted in one of four ways.
Marriage Method #1 – A man seduces a woman into sex and her father consents to marriage
“16 And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.
17 If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.” – Exodus 22:16-17 (KJV)
One key word in this passage as it relates to the “does premarital sex exist” debate is the word “endow”. This occurs AFTER the man has seduced the woman into having sex with him and BEFORE she actually becomes his wife (is married to her).
The word Hebrew word that “endow” is translating is Mahar which means “to obtain or acquire by paying purchase price, give a dowry” – http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/hebrew/kjv/mahar-2.html
So we have just proven from Exodus 22:16-17 beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is indeed such a thing as premarital sex in God’s view of sex.
In this passage God was saying that if a man seduced a virgin who was not betrothed to another man and he had sex with her that he had to pay her father the bride price and her father would decide if he would allow the man to marry his daughter. The father had the power to refuse him even after the man seduced his daughter but he still had to pay the bride price because he violated the father’s property rights regarding his daughter.
But then the question must be asked – what is the lasting moral law here in Exodus 22:16-17 and what is the temporary civil law that applied only to Israel as a theocracy? There are two moral law parts in this passage and one civil law part in this passage.
The first part of God’s unchanging moral law in Exodus 22:16-17 is found here in this phrase:
“And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her”
Whether the woman is a virgin or not – God only honors sex AFTER the covenant of marriage has been established between a man and a woman:
“Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” – Hebrews 13:4 (KJV)
All other sexual relations between a man and woman outside of marriage are either whoremongering or adultery.
The second part about of God’s unchanging moral law in Exodus 22:16-17 is found in this next phrase:
“If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him”
In Numbers 30:3-16 we see that the only way a woman had the power to make vows of her own (which would include marriage) that could not be overridden by her father or her husband were if she was a widow or divorced:
“But every vow of a widow, and of her that is divorced, wherewith they have bound their souls, shall stand against her.” – Numbers 30:9 (KJV)
A father’s authority over his daughter is further reinforced by the general principle of the headship of man over woman (not just a husband’s headship over his wife):
“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” – I Corinthians 11:3 (KJV)
This passage above was not talking about marriage but rather that general authority of men over women and why women should wear head coverings in worship as a sign of women being under men. The marital status of the woman was irrelevant.
Under God’s moral law, a father transfers his ownership and authority over his daughter to her husband in marriage. If the woman’s husband dies or he sends her away in divorce then the chain of authority is broken and she is free to marry whom she will.
What is no longer required is that a man be forced to marry a virgin he has sex with. This was a civil punishment as part of the law given to Israel a theocracy and the New Testament tells us that God’s Old covenant law with Israel a theocracy has been replaced by the new covenant that God has made with the Church(Hebrews 8:13)
This leads us to the second Biblical method of a man and woman entering into marriage.
Marriage Method #2 – A widow or divorced woman could consent to or seek marriage on her own
“And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.” – Ruth 3:9 (KJV)
We see this situation occurring with Ruth who approached Boaz to see if he wished to marry her in Ruth 3:9. Since Ruth was a widow she had to the power to enter into marriage without seeking the consent of her father.
In the story of Ruth we see Levirate marriage being played out. Deuteronomy 25:5-10 describes the process of Levirate marriage where a brother or near kinsman was required to marry the wife of the dead relative to raise up an heir for his dead relative’s estate. Ruth had every right as the widow of a relative of Boaz to propose marriage to Boaz.
The only consent she needed was Boaz and then he confirmed with a nearer relative that he could in fact marry her.
Marriage Method #3 – A man rapes a woman and her father forces him to marry her
“28 If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;
29 Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.” – Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (KJV)
This is a very controversial passage of the Scriptures that atheists and others who hate the Bible, hate the Jews and hate the Christian faith love to use to try say the Bible promotes immoral activity. The argument basically goes “How could a loving God force a woman to marry her rapist?”
The problem is those who want to accuse the God of the Bible of issuing immoral commands are not looking at this from the perspective of the culture in which the command was given. In the time period this was given a woman’s virginity was her most prized position. Once that was taken she would have had a very difficult time getting married. In a Biblical world view the greatest crime the rapist committed was not in forcing himself upon her against her will – but rather in taking her most prized possession. In a way rape was form of theft.
Remember this same woman who had been raped could have been forced to marry this SAME man before he raped her by her father. Then she would have been compelled to have sex with whether she wanted to or not.
Some say there is no mention of the father’s consenting to marriage and that it must automatically happen. But we must remember that no passage of Scripture stands on its own. This passage does in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 must be understood in light of Exodus 22:16-17 which clearly shows a father must always consent to any marriage his daughter enters into (unless she is a widow or divorced).
So a father forcing the man to marry his daughter whom the man raped was a punishment against him and restitution for his daughter. The man had to care for her the rest of her life and he could not divorce her for ANY reason.
Now this does not mean a father HAD to have his daughter marry her rapist – it was his discretion.
The real problem people have with this passage is NOT that a woman might have to potentially marry her rapist. The real problem people have is the fact that God gives such power of a father over his daughter that he could force her to marry her rapist.
But again considering the culture of the time a father could be looking out for his daughter’s best interests. In their culture the worst thing that could happen to a woman was not being raped, but instead not being able to get married. If we understand this then we understand this is not something immoral that God is commanding.
Marriage Method #4 – Men could take women as captives of war and force them to be their wife
10 “When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God gives them into your hand and you take them captive, 11 and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire to take her to be your wife, 12 and you bring her home to your house, she shall shave her head and pare her nails. 13 And she shall take off the clothes in which she was captured and shall remain in your house and lament her father and her mother a full month. After that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. 14 But if you no longer delight in her, you shall let her go where she wants. But you shall not sell her for money, nor shall you treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her.” – Deuteronomy 21:10-14 (KJV)
This is another favorite passage of atheists and people who hate the Bible. God allows men to take women as captives of war and force them to be their wife.
A few things to mention about this. It was actually a mercy that these men would take back some of these women as wives considering all the men and their families had been wiped out in war. They had nothing and they would probably have died on their own.
Can we guess again what the atheist’s biggest problem was? It was men forcing women to be their wives against their consent. But God does not give people (including women) the same rights we do in our modern civilization. And God is ALWAYS right.
Does this mean we have to take captives when we go to war and force them to be our wives? Of course not. This passage allows the taking of captive wives – it does not mandate it.
5 principles we learn from Biblical methods of entering into marriage
- A man may not marry a woman without seeking her father’s consent if he is still alive unless the woman is a widow or divorced.
- A woman may not consent to marriage without her father’s approval unless her father is dead, she is a widow or she is divorced.
- Based upon the 2 previously proven principles of God’s moral law sex by itself DOES NOT constitute marriage. So it is possible to have premarital sex which is a clear violation of Hebrews 13:4 where God says the only sexual relations he honors is between a man and woman in marriage.
- A father may force his daughter to marry a man without her consent based on his headship over her.
- Men may force women to marry them when they are captured during war. Again this is not something we are required to do by the Scriptures – it is only an allowance to do so.
What we don’t see in the Bible about entering into marriage is also very important
Some very important things we don’t see are any requirements to have clergy or judges conduct marriage ceremonies, requirements for marriages to occur before witnesses, or for couples to seek the approval of the government or a church.
Contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church and laws of the United States or most western countries neither the church nor the government have any authority over marriage. God created the intuition of marriage long before the formation of governments or the church.
The authority to enter into marriage has always fallen under the authority of the family – and specifically that of the father, then the husband and only a woman if she is divorced or widowed and not a captive of war.
So is pre-wedding sex a violation of the Scriptures?
We have shown here conclusively from the Scriptures that premarital sex is a violation of God’s moral law. But what about “pre-wedding sex”?
Most of the time people enter in marriage at their wedding so we often confuse the too. But a couple’s covenant of marriage and a couple’s wedding may be two separate events. In fact a couple may enter into a marriage covenant without a state marriage license and without a wedding and the marriage may be considered binding and valid before God.
The only way such a “spiritual marriage” would not be valid is if the woman was not windowed or divorced and her father was still alive with her being under his authority.
So what this means is it would be perfectly Biblical if a man sought and received the consent of a woman’s father for marriage if the couple felt they could not wait for the wedding for them to enter into a covenant of marriage before God privately and then have sex BEFORE THE WEDDING.
Once the father has agreed to his daughter marrying a man the wedding date is only a formality. At the moment of betrothal the woman is free to enter in a marriage covenant with her husband in private – just between them and God and then they may freely have sex. The wedding at this point is only a formality to show the world their commitment to one another. But the couple could choose not even to have a formal wedding.
Are there dangers in pre-wedding sex even if it is not unbiblical?
Yes but only if the man and woman do not see their vows made in private as just as binding as those that would be taken before witnesses. But if a man and woman don’t see their marriage vows made in private as binding what makes us think they would take their vows made in public any more serious?
Premarital sex even amongst Christians today is at an all-time epidemic level. I believe we should look for all ways possible to take away temptations to premarital sex. Previously I have talked about Biblical courtship and couples not allowing themselves to be alone together before marriage as a major method of preventing premarital sex.
But because our culture balks at courtship and limitations of being alone together I think that this option of “pre-wedding sex” which is made right before God by a couple entering into their covenant of marriage privately after they are engaged is a valid option that Christian couples should consider to avoid the sin of premarital sex.
Why should a couple put themselves under this pressure once they are engaged? A wedding is simply a date and a celebration of marriage. It is not something that should hang over a couple’s head and possibly tempt them to sin because they think they have to wait to exchange vows until that day.