Has God Indeed Said...? A Biblical Perspective on Sexuality, Part 1
by André Van Mol, MD
Today's Christian Doctor - Fall 2011
We are created as sexual beings, so sexuality rightly holds more than a passing interest to us. Likewise, sex sells, but the products offered are often flawed. Confusion lurks for our young people — older ones too — when encouragement for the loosening of sexual standards comes, as it sometimes does, from religious quarters. How should we respond?
God set forth precisely what He thought about sexual relationships in Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them;” and in Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”1 Jesus cited these passages again in Mark 10:6-9 and Matthew 19:4-6, and closed each reference by clarifying, “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
Notice that the Genesis verses precede the law of Moses, and therefore should not be dismissed as temporary cleanliness-code-type prohibitions. This is about a timeless covenant — in this case what the Jews considered a blood covenant, one only death could end — and it is from where we derive the “’til death do us part” vow of wedding ceremonies. Sex was for heterosexual marriage only. The Torah allowed for no other sexual union, in part because “they shall become one flesh.” It is a covenant with soul ties, a union both physical and spiritual.2
This is the biblical standard: sexual intercourse exclusively within a heterosexual covenant relationship of marriage. Our male and femaleness, when brought together in marriage and marital sexual union, exhibit a wholeness of the expression of the image of God that neither gender can portray alone. Were sexuality never again mentioned in Scripture after Genesis, the standard would still have been set. Yet this covenant relationship is spoken of in both the Old Testament and the New Testament as a central point and a priority. Ultimately, we are told the covenant between husband and wife is symbolic of a greater union, “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32).
Scripture notes acts of fornication being punished, in keeping with its recognition as sin. Deuteronomy 22:13-21 renders guidelines for handling a husband who claims his wife was found not to be a virgin, thus to have had premarital sex. If he lied, he pays; if she lied, she pays. Exodus 22:16-17 states that a man seducing a virgin must marry her if the father allows, but shall pay the full bride price regardless. It wasn’t a freebie, as critics claim.
Some scholars say passages in Song of Solomon approvingly describe sex without reference to marriage. This analysis is flawed. Verses 6-11 in chapter 3 describe the wedding procession and chapter 4 concerns the bride’s beauty. In 4:16, the marriage is consummated. Prior to the wedding, passage 3:4 speaks of her taking the king “into the chamber of her who conceived me,” but this chapter is titled “Bride’s Dream of Separation” in the NKJV Study Bible — a dream, not an action. There was indeed a marriage in the text. The book does speak of the pleasures of erotic love. Why wouldn’t it? The Bible is replete with pro-erotic love passages, such as Proverbs 5:18-19 (which specifies “wife,” by the way, as do many others). In 1 Corinthians 7:5, Paul told married couples “Do not deprive one another” sexually, save for short periods for prayer and fasting. Erotic love is certainly part of biblical sexuality, which is meant for the context of marital union, not before.
Critics contend that the only mention in Scripture against pre-marital sex is the Koine Greek word transliterated “porneia,” allegedly mistranslated as fornication. Since the Old Testament is written in Hebrew and not Greek, this would be irrelevant even if true, which it is not. The Jewish scholar/philosopher Philo Judaeus (born about 20 B.C.) considered the seventh commandment forbidding adultery to be inclusive of all sexual sin, which was a long list including prostitution, fornication, incest, bestiality and so forth.3 Forbidding fornication, among other practices, was common in Jewish religious teaching. It came from the Tanakh in the Old Testament.
As for the New Testament, Jesus said in Mark 7:21-22, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness. . . .” Notice how broad the listing is, including the Greek “moicheia” for adultery. This makes it awkward to reject porneia (in this case, the plural form “porneiai”) as a mistranslation of adultery not applying to fornication. The word is too complex, plus other words are employed to clarify the point. Biblical lexicons confirm this. More examples exist. Hebrews 13:4 states, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 warns, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers. . . .” Again, the word listings are broad. These prohibitions are not about mistranslating porneia or the other Greek words used. To reiterate, were there nothing in the Bible about sex other than the first chapters of Genesis, enough was written to know all sex outside of heterosexual marriage was far from scriptural order.
Premarital sex does not prepare you to be a better married lover.
Some presuppose, without justification, that premarital sex is the avenue to sexual compatibility and satisfaction, among other promises. This is a sales pitch, the error of which far too many have learned the hard way. Here are a few articles, selected from among many authors who found out premarital sex was not helpful: “Romances with Wolves,”4 “Why Wait for Sex? A Look at the Lies We Face”5 and “Why Wait Till Marriage?”6
Premarital sex is devoid of covenant — it is entrenched in doing something to achieve what’s in it for oneself. Covenant is about something larger than oneself. Dr. John Patrick often presents in his lectures that love outside of a committed/covenant relationship is inherently unsatisfying, thus leading to perversion to make up the difference. Premarital sex is a major cause of the problems of sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, divorce, wounded hearts and a guarantee of ruptured soul ties (since the two become one). God knew this and wanted to protect us. 1 Corinthians 6:18 gives good warning, “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.”
One does not learn good sex skills from sin. Finer sexual points are unique to the couple, learned together as they grow in intimacy. One might well find the experience gained from previous sexual relationships to be more of a hindrance than help. These physical skills are probably the least challenging element of the relational components that make for a good sex life. As for technical help to overcome skill ignorance or issues, seek the wise counsel of trusted and experienced married friends, Christian counselors and the plentiful Christian publications with frank guidance on this topic.
God gave us a sex drive, and our job is to manage it rightly. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 addresses this and warns of those who would mislead you or reject biblical sexual teaching, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter. . . . For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.”
Again, Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, and references to them by both Jesus and Paul, are the standard for sexual relations — one man and one woman in marriage. Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:18 forbid adultery with no reference to limitation or exclusion based on gender, as some allege. Leviticus 20:10 states, “the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.” Deuteronomy 22:22 specifies, “If a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband, then both of them shall die. . . .” Obviously, the sin was wrong for either gender. The seventh commandment against adultery, as stated previously, was deemed by the Jewish scholar/philosopher Philo Judaeus to include all sexual sin, and applied to all people. Jesus said in Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus both reinforced the prohibition as set forth in the Old Testament and raised the bar.
As set forth in Genesis 2:24, God’s intention for marriage was one man and one woman. Psalms 128:3 speaks of “your wife,” not wives. Proverbs 5:18-19 says, “And rejoice with the wife of your youth,” not wives, and does so with some erotic exuberance. Solomon’s many wives served to turn his heart toward other gods away from loyalty to the Lord (1 Kings 11:4), which is precisely why Deuteronomy 7:3-4 forbade Jews from marrying foreign women. The Book of Esther has been commented upon as allegedly approving of the harem system, and as being tacitly pro-polygamy. The text notes Esther was a commoner forced by edict of King Ahasuerus to participate in a beauty pageant, the prize of which was to be the replacement for Queen Vashti. Esther became queen, not a concubine. Paul visits the subject too. 1 Corinthians 7:2 notes, “Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.”
Certainly the Bible documents polygamy, which is not the same as approving and commanding it. This is one of the ways we know the Bible is historically reliable and not merely propaganda: it includes all the dirt on its main characters. It is important to be diligent to separate the recorded history of peoples and cultures from the timeless commands and instructions by which God specifies we are to live. The Bible is entirely accurate, but it is not all “thou shalt.” As a modern example, American literature contains ample record of spousal abuse, but we do not approve of it. Finally, the harshness of some of the books of the Law reflects how God views sin and our need for a savior, pointing us to the Messiah.
As a technical point, polygamy is not polyamory. University of Texas professor J. Budziszewski details in his book, “What We Can’t Not Know,” that polygamy is in fact a series of marriages between one man and one woman; it is several marriages, not a group marriage.7 Even so, polygamy is not the biblical standard.
Look for the second part of this series in next quarter’s issue, focusing on sexuality and the rights of women, prostitution, same-sex sexuality and other topics.
1 All Bible quotes are from the NKJV unless otherwise stated.
2 For more on the neurophysiology of this, see Hooked, by Drs. J McIlhaney and F. Bush, Northfield Publishing, 2008.
3 Gagnon, R. The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon Press, 2001) p.192.
7 Budziszewski, J. What We Can’t Not Know: a Guide. Dallas, TX: Spence Pub., 2003. p.36-37.