Category: (1) Is sex a sin?


The modern dictionary definitions of fornication (voluntary sexual intercourse between persons not married to each other, which would include adultery) and adultery (voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than the lawful spouse) are simple enough, but the Bible gives us greater insight into how God perceives these two sexual sins. In the Bible, both are referred to literally, but both are also used figuratively to refer to idolatry.

In the Old Testament, all sexual sin was forbidden by the Mosaic Law and Jewish custom. However, the Hebrew word translated “fornication” in the Old Testament was also in the context of idolatry, also called spiritual whoredom. In 2 Chronicles 21:10-14, God struck Jehoram with plagues and diseases because he led the people into idolatry. He “caused the people of Jerusalem to commit fornication” (v. 11, KJV) and “to go lusting like the fornications of the house of Ahab” (v. 13 NKJV). King Ahab was the husband of Jezebel, a priestess of the lascivious god Baal, who led the Israelites into idol worship of the most egregious kind. In Ezekiel 16, the prophet Ezekiel describes in detail the history of God’s people turning away from Him to “play the harlot” with other gods. The word “fornication,” meaning idolatry, is used numerous times in this chapter alone. As the Israelites became known among the nations round about them for their wisdom, riches, and power, which was a snare to them as a woman’s beauty is to her, they were admired and courted and complimented by their neighbors, and so drawn into idolatrous practices. The word “fornication” is used in connection with pagan idolatry because much of pagan “worship” included sex in their rites. Temple prostitutes were common in the worship of Baal and other false gods. Sexual sin of all kinds was not only accepted in these religions, but encouraged as a means to greater blessings from the gods for the worshippers, particularly in the increase of their flocks and crops.

In the New Testament, “fornication” comes from the Greek word porneia, which includes adultery and incest. Porneia comes from another Greek word that also includes indulging in any kind of unlawful lust, which would include homosexuality. The use of the word in the gospels and the epistles is always in reference to sexual sin, whereas “fornication” in the book of Revelation always refers to idolatry. The Lord Jesus condemns two of the churches of Asia Minor for dabbling in the fornication of idolatry (Revelation 2:14, 20), and He also refers to the “great harlot” of the end times, which is the idolatrous false religion “with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication” (Revelation 17:1-2, NKJV).

Adultery, on the other hand, always refers to the sexual sin of married people with someone other than their spouse, and the word is used in the Old Testament both literally and figuratively. The Hebrew word translated “adultery” means literally “breaking wedlock.” Interestingly, God describes the desertion of His people to other gods as adultery. The Jewish people were regarded as the spouse of Jehovah, so when they turned to the gods of other nations, they were compared to an adulterous wife. The Old Testament often referred to Israel’s idolatry as a wanton woman who went “whoring after” other gods (Exodus 34:15-16; Leviticus 17:7; Ezekiel 6:9 KJV). Further, the entire book of Hosea likens the relationship between God and Israel to the marriage of the prophet Hosea and his adulterous wife, Gomer. Their marriage was a picture of the sin and unfaithfulness of Israel which, time after time, left her true husband (Jehovah) to commit spiritual adultery with other gods.

In the New Testament, the two Greek words translated “adultery” are nearly always used, from their contexts, to refer literally to sexual sin involving married partners. The only exception is in the letter to the church of Thyatira which was condemned for tolerating the “woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess” (Revelation 2:20). This woman drew the church into immorality and idolatrous practices and anyone seduced by her false doctrines was considered to have committed adultery with her.

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The term “one flesh” comes from the Genesis account of the creation of Eve. Genesis 2:21-24 describes the process by which God created Eve from a rib taken from Adam’s side as he slept. Adam recognized that Eve was part of him—they were in fact “one flesh.” The term “one flesh” means that just as our bodies are one whole entity and cannot be divided into pieces and still be a whole, so God intended it to be with the marriage relationship. There are no longer two entities (two individuals), but now there is one entity (a married couple). There are a number of aspects to this new union.

As far as emotional attachments are concerned, the new unit takes precedence over all previous and future relationships (Genesis 2:24). Some marriage partners continue to place greater weight upon ties with parents than with the new partner. This is a recipe for disaster in the marriage and is a perversion of God’s original intention of “leaving and cleaving.” A similar problem can develop when a spouse begins to draw closer to a child to meet emotional needs rather than to his or her partner.

Emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, financially, and in every other way, the couple is to become one. Even as one part of the body cares for the other body parts (the stomach digests food for the body, the brain directs the body for the good of the whole, the hands work for the sake of the body, etc.), so each partner in the marriage is to care for the other. Each partner is no longer to see money earned as “my” money; but rather as “our” money. Ephesians 5:22-33 and Proverbs 31:10-31 give the application of this “oneness” to the role of the husband and to the wife, respectively.

Physically, they become one flesh, and the result of that one flesh is found in the children that their union produces; these children now possess a special genetic makeup, specific to their union. Even in the sexual aspect of their relationship, a husband and wife are not to consider their bodies as their own but as belonging to their partner (1 Corinthians 7:3-5). Nor are they to focus on their own pleasure but rather the giving of pleasure to their spouse.

This oneness and desire to benefit each other is not automatic, especially after mankind’s fall into sin. The man, in Genesis 2:24 (KJV), is told to “cleave” to his wife. This word has two ideas behind it. One is to be “glued” to his wife, a picture of how tight the marriage bond is to be. The other aspect is to “pursue hard after” the wife. This “pursuing hard after” is to go beyond the courtship leading to marriage, and is to continue throughout the marriage. The fleshly tendency is to “do what feels good to me” rather than to consider what will benefit the spouse. And this self-centeredness is the rut that marriages commonly fall into once the “honeymoon is over.” Instead of each spouse dwelling upon how his or her own needs are not being met, he or she is to remain focused on meeting the needs of the spouse.

As nice as it may be for two people to live together meeting each other’s needs, God has a higher calling for the marriage. Even as they were to be serving Christ with their lives before marriage (Romans 12:1-2), now they are to serve Christ together as a unit and raise their children to serve God (1 Corinthians 7:29-34; Malachi 2:15; Ephesians 6:4). Priscilla and Aquila, in Acts 18, would be good examples of this. As a couple pursues serving Christ together, the joy which the Spirit gives will fill their marriage (Galatians 5:22-23). In the Garden of Eden, there were three present (Adam, Eve, and God), and there was joy. So, if God is central in a marriage today, there also will be joy. Without God, a true and full oneness is not possible.

Premarital sex involves any kind of sexual contact prior to entering into a legal marriage relationship. There are a number of reasons why Scripture and traditional Christianity oppose this. God designed sex to be enjoyed within a committed marital relationship. To remove it from that context is to pervert its use and severely limit its enjoyment. Sexual contact involves a level of intimacy not experienced in any other human relationship. When God brought Adam and Eve together in marriage, He established the “one flesh” relationship. Genesis 2:24 tells us that a man will leave his family, join to his wife, and become “one flesh” with her.

This idea is carried through in the New Testament as well; we see it in Jesus’ words in both Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7. Paul elaborates on that idea in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, in his discussion of God’s lordship over our bodies as well as our souls. He says that when a man has sex with a prostitute, they have become “one body” (verse 16). It’s clear that the sexual relationship, no matter the context, is special. There is a level of vulnerability one experiences in a sexual relationship which should only occur within a committed, trusting, marital union.

There are, in general, two contexts for premarital sex. There is the “we love each other and are committed to each other, but just don’t want to wait to be married” sexual relationship, and there’s “casual sex.” The former is often rationalized with the idea that the couple will surely marry, so there’s no sin in engaging in marital relations now. However, this shows impatience and disrespect to oneself, as well as the other person. It removes the special nature of the relationship from its proper framework, which will erode the idea that there’s a framework at all. If we accept this behavior, it’s not long before we’ll regard any extra-marital sex as acceptable. To tell our prospective mate that they’re worth waiting for strengthens the relationship and increases the commitment level.

Casual sex is rampant in many societies. There is, in truth, no such thing as “casual” sex, because of the depth of intimacy involved in the sexual relationship. An analogy is instructive here. If we take a sticky note and attach it to a piece of paper, it will adhere. If we remove it, it will leave behind a small amount of residue; the longer it remains, the more residue is left. If we take that note and stick it to several places repeatedly, it will leave residue everywhere we stick it, and it will eventually lose its ability to adhere to anything. This is much like what happens to us when we engage in “casual” sex. Each time we leave a sexual relationship, we leave a part of ourselves behind. The longer the relationship has gone on, the more we leave behind, and the more we lose of ourselves. As we go from partner to partner, we continue to lose a tiny bit of ourselves each time, and eventually we may lose our ability to form a lasting sexual relationship at all. The sexual relationship is so strong and so intimate that we cannot enter into it casually, no matter how easy it might seem.

So, is there hope? When a Christian engages in premarital sex, or when one who has lost his/her virginity comes to Christ, the Holy Spirit will convict of the sin, and there will be grief over it. However, it’s important – even vital – to remember that there is no sin beyond the reach of the blood of Jesus. If we confess, He will not only forgive, but will cleanse us from “all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Furthermore, in addition to the forgiveness (which is in itself glorious), God restores. Joel 2:25 tells us that God is able to restore the years that the locust has eaten, and that’s what premarital sex is—a locust that consumes our sense of self, our self-esteem, and our perception of forgiveness. Scripture also tells us that when we come to Christ, we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), so one who engaged in premarital sex prior to conversion is recreated by God into a new person; the old is gone, the new has come.

Finally, we know that, as Christians, we’re being renewed by the Holy Spirit each day we walk with Jesus. Colossians 3:10 tells us that our new self is being renewed day by day after the image of its Creator. There is no sin without hope. The power of the gospel is available to all who trust in Jesus for forgiveness.

In the proper setting, sex is not a sin. In fact, sex is God’s idea. In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus states with godly authority, “At the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” The creation account is thus the foundation for the institution of marriage, which was validated by the Creator Himself and established to be a lifelong union between one man and woman.

The very fact that God created humanity as “male and female” reveals that we are created as sexual beings. And God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” cannot be fulfilled without sex (Genesis 1:28). Sex is a God-given mandate, so there is no way that sex is a sin if done with one’s lifelong marriage partner of the opposite sex.

The word sex is not found in the Bible. The numerous mentions of the word in society, and the world’s tendency to sneer, have given the word a certain amount of notoriety. But God never intended it to be a dirty word.

The Song of Solomon follows a loving relationship between a husband and his wife through the betrothal period, wedding night, and beyond. The description of the husband and wife’s pleasure in chapter 4 is discreet yet unmistakable in its meaning. That description is followed in 5:3 with God’s approval: “Eat, friends, and drink; drink your fill of love.”

It is only outside of marriage that sex is sinful. God made it very certain that the marriage bed must be kept pure (Hebrews 13:4). Sexual activity outside of marriage is called fornication. First Corinthians 6:9-10 says, “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men . . . will inherit the kingdom of God” Engaging in sex without the benefit of marriage is immoral, and “it is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:18).

If the Bible’s message on abstaining from sex until married were upheld, there would be far fewer sexually transmitted diseases, far fewer abortions, far fewer unwanted pregnancies and unwed mothers, and far few children growing up without both parents in their lives. Abstinence saves lives, protects babies, gives sexual relations the proper value and, most importantly, honors God.

In no way is sex between a husband and wife a sin. Rather, it is a beautiful expression of love, trust, sharing, and unity. Sex is God’s gift to a married couple for pleasure and procreation.