Fornication and Sexual Purity


     There is little emphasis and teaching today, comparatively speaking, pertaining to moral and sexual purity.  Many do not even know what "fornication" is.  In my Internet work, involving great numbers of people on a regular basis, many young people do not think anything is wrong or that it is a sin for two single people to engage in sexual intercourse.  Some religious leaders and groups are now taking the position that as long as "no one is hurt," sexual intercourse outside of marriage is not necessarily a sin.  Alas, as moral standards change in America, most who do enter marriage are not virgins.  Many elect to cohabitate, thinking such is just an innocent and different lifestyle choice.  In this study, we shall examine the teaching of the Bible to ascertain the Bible truth pertaining to fornication, a biblical term and concept, as we shall see.

     Man, indeed, is shown in scripture to be a social being (Gen. 2: 20, 18). In view of man's social needs, God did make provision (Gen. 2: 24). This provision involved "marriage," not cohabitation or casual sex as the animal world practices. I shall quote from an article that appeared in the Rocky Mountain News (Denver, Co.), August 24, 2002, p. 23A, by Terry Mattingly, titled "Religious Community Reluctant to Criticize Cohabitating Couples" regarding the matter of cohabitation.  First, editor Mattingly observed:

"'Pastors are getting very gun-shy when it comes to issues of marriage, family and sex' (Mattingly said quoting Scott Stanley, dm). Certainly, cohabitation would be right at the top of a list of these issues, along with premarital sex. They are so tired of getting beat up because they have hurt people's feelings.'"

     Mattingly wrote in quoting Michael McManus, founder of Marriage Savers: Helping Your Friends and Family Stay Married as follows:

"Some church leaders have fallen silent on this issue because they no longer believe that sex outside of marriage is a sin. Their silence is understandable." (See I Corinthians 7: 2-5.)

     Mattingly statistically observed:

"The Marriage Savers network is active in 163 cities and towns in 39 states and, wherever he travels to speak, McManus said he never sees more than one or two hands raised when he asks, 'How many of you have ever heard a sermon on cohabitation?' McManus is convinced most pastors simply do not know that 5 million unmarried Americans - 60 percent of all couples - are living together."

     Consider the below dissuading facts about those who cohabitate.

"Data from the University of Wisconsin provides a painful bottom line: Couples that cohabit before marriage increase their odds of divorce by 50 percent. Researchers found that only 15 out of every 100 cohabitating couples were married after a decade…Pastors do not know that these women face higher levels of depression and lower levels of communication and commitment. They are more than 60 percent more likely to be assaulted, and their children are endangered as well," wrote Mattingly.

     In order to biblically set the scene for our study, I shall introduce two relevant passages:

"18: Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. 19: What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20: For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's," and, "1: Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2: Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband" (I Cor. 6; 7).

     In a too often biblically illiterate society, many Bible terms either lose their meaning or have them replaced. "Fornication" is a classic example. Some say fornication can be simply passionate kissing; sexual intercourse with prostitutes (multiple); and premarital sex only (see addendum 1). The Greek word translated "fornication" is porneia. Porneia is found 26 times in the Greek New Testament. W. E. Vine states porneia (fornication) "is used of illicit sexual intercourse.." (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). Henry Thayer defines "fornication" as "illicit sexual intercourse in general… distinguished from adultery (moicheia) in Matt. 15: 19…used of adultery…in Matt. 5: 32, 19: 9 (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 532). The granddaddy Greek work says of fornication, "The N. T. is characterized by an unconditional repudiation of all extra-marital and unnatural intercourse" (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 6, pg. 590).

     The church at Corinth was not free of sexual impurity, including fornication (I Cor. 5: 1f.). Paul cogently commands them to "purge out" the fornicator and not tolerate such sin (Ibid.). One chapter later, Paul penned the following thought provoking words:

     "16: What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh" (I Cor. 6).

     The sin of fornication is observed as especially consequential:  A sin against one's own body, a violation of "property" belonging to another, and constitutes "one body" (I Cor. 6: 18, 19, 16). Notwithstanding the fact that the marriage bond is considered for life, fornication in the marriage relationship is presented as grounds for divorcement (Matt. 5: 32, 19: 9, cp. Jere. 3: 8, Gen. 2: 24, Matt. 19: 4f.).

     While many wink at fornication today, if under the Law of Moses, one married one who had previously fornicated with another, the death penalty was to be enacted  (Deut. 22: 13-21). Such teaching while it cannot be religiously implemented today, certainly shows the seriousness of fornication or biblically illegal sexual intercourse (see addendum 2).

     While we are not under the Law of Moses as a system today, yet, there were many moral codes and laws that certainly have relevance (See, "A Study of Moral Law"). Under the Law, when one robbed another (fornication) of virginity, there was an obligation to marry:

     "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" (Ex. 22).

     Notice the word "entice" (used eight times, cp. Judges 14: 15, 16, 16: 5, 15). The famous enticement line typically is, "I love you and want to marry you, but I just cannot wait!"

     Yes, as you may have guessed, there are objections offered by some to extracting moral truth today from Exodus 22: 16.

     An objection to allowing Exodus 22: 16 to morally influence us today is: "To apply Exodus 22: 16 today would mean that all marriages would have to be dissolved and the man marry the previous woman with whom he committed fornication."  In order to make a parallel argument, you must have a parallel circumstance. There is no evidence that disrupting a biblical marriage is the answer to violating one’s virginity. Sin is often very disturbing, even after one has repented and is trying to seek out ways to rectify.

     Another objection is: "Since we have no provision for 'endowment' and a fine according to the ‘dowry of virgins,' the fornication part of Exodus 22: 16 is not applicable." While there are "add on" instructions that certainly would involve the Law of Moses for their activation, such does not negate any residual moral teaching (see Exodus 21: 22-25, 22: 19).

     Still another objection against applying Exodus 22: 16 is: "The Jew had to marry in such cases because she would be put to death when she married another."   It is true that a woman robbed of her virginity could be put to death upon marrying another man (Deut. 22: 13-21). However, it does not logically follow that the death penalty circumstance is the limited reason as to why the man is required to marry the woman, all things equal and understood.  Do we think that if there were no death penalty, the teaching of Exodus 22: 16 would not have applied to the Jew?

     I have been told that, "If you say Exodus 22: 16 applies today, then you are 'a debtor to do the whole law' and are 'fallen from grace'" (Gal. 5: 3, 4). Circumcision, the reference of Paul in Galatians 5, was never a moral law (cp. Gal. 5: 6).

     One of the most commonly offered objections to extracting relevant moral truth from Exodus 22: 16 is stated as follows: "If you view Exodus 22: 16 as a moral law, then you must say that in the case of rape, the man is obligated to marry without the right to ever divorce" (Deut. 22: 28, 29, see addendum 3).  Living under a different civil legal code today can and does affect how one would exercise moral responsibility.  For instance, under the theocracy in which many of these moral laws were written, there was understood provision.  The role of the father was viewed as very authoritative; hence, the girl did as instructed. Most women today would refuse to marry one who forced her, I should think. Does this, then, mean that a male today who forces a virgin has no moral responsibility?  No.  The challenge would lie in how he would resolve his moral duty in such a case.  If the forced female agrees to marry, how would the absence of the right of divorce apply in view of Matthew 5: 32, 19: 9?

     While there is difficulty answering this question with complete certainty, such does not change any resident moral duty observed in the teaching.  The lack of the divorce option was part of his punishment for forcibly robbing the virgin of her virginity.  Many today have trouble appreciating this particular law due to their lowered view of the value of virginity and how it should today be highly esteemed in terms of a marriage mate.

     Here is the objection that seems to engender strong emotion:  "If you say Exodus 22: 16 applies today, then many men have sinned against virgins and have failed to perform their responsibilities toward them!" Since when is an adverse consequence of a particular sin allowed to obviate the sinful act or the attendant responsibilities?

     We must appreciate the word "entice" and what it entails, the value of virginity, and moral responsibility and consequences. Why would it only apply to the Jews and not universally to all? Sexual intercourse is a sacred act ("one flesh") that is only allowed in the marriage commitment state (Heb. 13: 4). Allow me to be understood, I am not advocating that the illicit act of sexual intercourse (fornication) automatically constitutes marriage (Ex. 22: 16 disproves such). However, I do believe there is serious correlation between the "one flesh" idea associated with the sex act and the teaching of Exodus 22: 16. Again, sexual intercourse is to be viewed as a part of marriage and all such conjugal activity outside of God ordained marriage is fornication, debased and shameful, notwithstanding what man and even some in religion think (Heb. 13: 4)!

     Allow me to inject a quote that I think stresses the need of sexual purity and abstinence of sexual intercourse before marriage:

"Young people today need to be taught to abstain from sexual intercourse and remain pure virgins before marriage. So many problems in marriages today stem from the fact that they are not virgins when they marry. Young people are bringing wounded emotions and diseased bodies into their marriages because of prior promiscuous affairs. STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) are so widespread that the statistics are shocking. There are 12 million new cases of STDs annually in the United states and 67% of these occur among persons under the age of 25. In fact, every year one out of six teens contracts an STD. 100,000 to 150,000 women become infertile each year as a result of STDs.¹ Others endure years of pain as some of these diseases are incurable. What a tragic price to pay for sexual sins. The Bible is right when it says fornication is a sin against one's own body."

     Parents need to teach their children about the consequences of fornication and why sex is to be viewed as sacred. Virginity today is to be highly valued and considered regarding any prospective mate.  To rob one of her virginity entails moral responsibility!  (See the article titled, "Virginity".)

     Addendum 1: There are those who contend that porneia (fornication) in Matthew 5: 31, 32 and 19: 9 only means premarital sexual intercourse and that there are no grounds for divorcement and marriage to another once the marriage is in place. We must remember, though, Deuteronomy 22: 13-21 is not addressing the right to divorce or allowing any provision for such based on premarital fornication, just the fact that the fornicator would face the death penalty under the Law. Moreover, the contextual action of both texts in Matthew as well as the syntactical teaching of the verses themselves seem to preclude premarital fornication and focus only on fornication that is committed when and while the marriage is a reality. Having said this, I do think it wise and honest today for one to divulge to a prospective marriage mate the fact of their fornication or lack of virginity. Also, it is apparent that porneia as used in the Greek vernacular does not limit itself to sexual intercourse with a prostitute and is not short of sexual intercourse, inclusive of homosexual perversion (cp. Jude 7).

     Addendum 2: Christianity does not mitigate fornication, but it has no provision for the death penalty, not being a theocracy or a system involving the civil, as did the Law of Moses (cp. Rom. 13: 1-7).

     Addendum 3: While many commentators view Exodus 22: 16, 17 and Deuteronomy 22: 28, 29 as parallel, I beg to differ. The key expressions, "entice" (Ex. 22: 16) and "lay hold on her" (Deut. 22: 28) are significantly different, one simply expressing "persuasion" and the other means "force." The context of the teaching in Deuteronomy 22: 28, 29 is also different and must be considered, vs. 22f.).