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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






27 June 2005

Premarital Sex, Living Together, Ceremonies, and Marriage


Q: What Scriptures say to refrain from sex — not adultery or fornication, as one has to be married to commit these sins — between those who love each other and intend to marry? I can’t find anything against sex between two who love each other and are monogamous.

Q: Does having sex before the ceremony make it wrong? Do you become married in a spiritual sense when you have sex for the first time? Is the real seal on the marriage the first sexual experience, and not the ceremony itself?

Q: Is it a sin to have sexual relations with someone if we’re both not married? My mother and I are having a heated discussion about this. I am 51 years old; my husband passed away 2 years ago. I don’t intend to marry again. I want to be faithful to the Lord but to have complete abstinence seems a little old-fashioned to me.

Q: Could you tell me about sex before marriage? I’ve been racking my brains for ages with this issue; I know it's wrong but I want to be with my partner like that and I want to be a Christian. We aren't planning to get married for a long time, and I don’t want to wait that long to be intimate with him again. Can I still be a Christian?

Q: I have fallen in love with a woman I want to marry. She loves me as well. Previously, we had spent the night with each other in the same bed several times. After deciding that this may be a practice frowned upon by God, we were contemplating either living under the same roof without sexual relations and without sleeping in the same bed (in other words, as roommates) until the marriage.

Q: I asked my love to marry me and she accepted. Our parents agree. The problem: I cannot be with my wife for two years since she lives overseas. We met while she was in America for school. Before she returned home I proposed. At this point we became one, not through intercourse but through love. I’ll see her only once again before being able to wed her legally. But in heart and soul we are already in wed lock. My question is, if a man and a woman commit to marriage in all aspects of mind, body, heart, and soul, is intercourse a sin at this point?


A: Adultery is marital infidelity. Fornication is general sexual sin. including consorting with prostitutes, homosexuality, or moving from sex partner to sex partner, with or without marriage.

A general implication is correct: Ceremony doesn’t make a marriage. Commitment establishes the relationship. Yet Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6:16, “He who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her. For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’” Consummation seals the commitment. Thus, both a public declaration and a private action are part of marriage.

Sex defines and determines with whom you are “one flesh.” The commitment of your sex organ is final, no matter who your partner. Thus, you are, in God’s eyes, married when you have sex with another. One questioner specifically mentions monogamy: Monogamy means “one marriage” or “one marriage partner.” The Bible establishes no particular religious or civil rite and many governments recognize “common law” marriages, wherein living together, having sex, or merely representing themselves as husband and wife legally bind a man and a woman.

When a man and woman engage in sex without publicly representing themselves as married, they lie about their relationship. This happens among young people who may not be ready for the legal commitments or who want to maintain parental support while indulging their sexual desires. It also includes older people who live together without a public declaration or ceremony or a state license. They may do this so as to not lose pensions or possessions.

Paul wrote, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything. (1 Cor 6:12)” Married is married and single is single. There is no trial period, no “test drive.” There is no benefit, rather loss, in dallying with another outside a lifetime commitment. Be married or be single — but be truthful. Without the public confession of unity and commitment to remain united, it is easier for one or both partners to enter the relationship casually — then to throw it away just as casually.

It isn’t easy to be one flesh with one person: Commitment and focus are difficult to maintain even when bound by vows, witnesses, and laws as well by sex. Secret or private relationships are even harder to sustain, since you lack the benefit of the support of family and society. For the young man wondering about beginning the sexual relationship before the vows, God said, “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24)” Until ready to live together, man and woman should remain apart.

To the couple wondering about living together without sharing a bed and without sex, I ask first of all if you think that you can resist the temptations of proximity. Then consider your public testimony: What will the world assume about your shared living? What witness will it give about the Christian life? “Abstain from every form [appearance] of evil,” Paul advised (1 Thessalonians 5:22). Even if an action isn’t wicked, can it be interpreted as such by an outside observer?

One questioner knows that “it’s wrong” to have premarital sex, then wonders if she can do so and still be a Christian. Certainly, all Christians remain sinners. However, sinning with knowledge and intent is different from succumbing to temptation due to the weakness of flesh. In Matthew 4:7, Jesus referenced Deuteronomy 6:6, saying, “It is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Wilfully doing wrong dares God to withhold judgment.

Finally, sex only within the marriage is very “old-fashioned”: God fashioned it in the “good old days” of Creation, introducing it when He introduced Eve to Adam. His plan for those wanting sex remains simple: Be and stay married to one person. Depending upon laws, customs, and the like, the shape of the wedding may vary. However you promise yourselves to each other, consider what is legal in society and what is right by God’s Word. Does a secret relationship that you’ll “someday” reveal to others truly “honor your father and your mother”? Does wanting the state to not declare your relationship a marriage mean that, deep down, you don’t consider it a marriage, either?

“Flee from sexual immorality ...” said Paul, for “the sexually immoral person sins against his own body ... [which is] a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.... You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6:18-20)” Glorify God openly, honestly, absolutely. Compare who you are with whom God desires you to be. Marriage &mdash especially Christian marriage — testifies to the world about Christ’s relationship with his Church (see Ephesians 5:15-32).

Declare your intent to each other and to the world, make your promises, then live according to them. Christ did not take a secret bride when He claimed the Church as His own. The Church does not secretly worship Christ. Nor is Christ honored by men and women taking secret wives and husbands. His commitment was absolute, even through crucifixion and death. That same death forgives our sexual sins and restores us to live in integrity from this day forth, until death parts us.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

6 Comments:

Blogger CPA said...

That was a WONDERFUL answer that hit all the right notes.

01 July, 2005 15:27  
Blogger Bob Waters said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

02 July, 2005 20:34  
Blogger Bob Waters said...

Sorry, but I have to dissent on one point. I think you would have a difficult time establishing from Scripture that the very act of having intercourse, apart from the public declaration and the promises, make one husband and wife in God's eyes. I know that an old Lutheran tradition says that, but I don't think it's one that can be defended scripturally or in terms of simple logic.

To whom is a prostitute married? Or even a promiscuous person? If this old saw among conservative Lutherans is correct, there can be no such thing fornication in the sense of pre-marital sex. There can be only marriage and adultery!

To whom is an adulterer married? If a spouse forgives a wayward husband or wife, does that erring partner not then commit adultery all over again by returning to the marriage bed? Such conclusions would be unavoidable if the very act of having sex constituted marriage in God's eyes!

If the act of sex did, indeed, constitute marriage in God's eyes, we could not condemn pre-marital sex per se. In fact, there could be no such thing! Nor does Scripture equate being one flesh with a person (intercourse) with marriage; it merely mandates that a man or a woman should leave their parents and do so upon marrying.

I have to agree with Bob Schaibley, my ethics prof at River Forest during the Zimmerman era, that the old saw about becoming one flesh equaling marriage is neither scriptural nor logical. Rather, it's a matter of people sinning by becoming one flesh with persons with whom they have not promised nor purposed to live in the relationship which God intended for those who have become one flesh. God does not see them as married; God sees them, rather, precisely as you have portrayed them: as people who have given to one another that which He intended only a husband or a wife to receive.

Vows to live in a lifelong, mutually-exclusive relationship and the public acknowledgment of that relationship are as constitutive of marriage as intercourse. There can be no marriage in God's eyes without any of them.

02 July, 2005 20:40  
Blogger Caspar said...

Bob is right. Sexual intercourse before marriage is fornication, whether it is with the first and only person you've had it with or not. This lifestyle is not consistent with faith (1 Cor. 6:9-11) and such fornicators are to be excommunicated (1 Cor. 5:9-13).

Sexual intercourse alone does not a marriage make.

03 July, 2005 03:28  
Blogger Socrates said...

Best advice is choose who you want to know for the long term to be intimate with, and mutually at that of course. That could be one person or multiple persons, even simultaneously. Free love is best,... if genuine. That way people don't get emotionally distraught within relationships. Live in abundance. And yes, safety with regards to sanitation and disease concerns must be maintained as well. Prudence is required.

15 October, 2011 01:21  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about teenagers? If they have sexual relations will they face damnation before the lord? Is it a sin if they love each other and because of their love have relations?

05 October, 2014 11:01  

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