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Does the Bible Forbid Pre-Marital Sex?

Updated on April 6, 2021

This article is geared toward those of you wondering if premarital sex is forbidden in the Bible. If you’re an American Christian living in the southern United States, you may have struggled with this issue. . I came across this question when talking with someone from that area with a Christian background. I thought my findings would be worth sharing.

The issue seems to based on different viewpoints and interpretations of the Bible. Conservative Christian preachers make a point to warn against the dangers of having sex before marriage. They say, “God doesn’t want you to,” “It is always lustful,” “The devil is tempting you,” and other opinions based on their personal negative views of sexuality. Occasionally they may actually cite Bible verses to support their personal beliefs, but I have found these citations to be taken out of context...


Old Testament

All of the scriptures from the Old Testament in the Bible were compiled between 3500‒200 B.C., when life was a bit different than how it is today. In the era when Exodus was written (1200‒500 B.C.), a man was required to pay the father of the girl he wanted to marry because women and daughters were the property of the husband. In fact, a man could have as many wives as he could afford—they were called concubines. Women were property owned by their man. That man could buy or sell his property at commonly held auctions. The legal age to sell or buy a woman was twelve and a half years. It was through auctions and private family deals that a woman was betrothed into marriage; she was not allowed to choose her partner. A man could give permission to another man to have sex with any woman that belonged to him.

Special rules governed premarital virgins. The price for a virgin was different than for a non-virgin. If you had sex with a woman you bought whom you believed to be a virgin and you found out that she was not, then you could return her and ask for your money back. You would have to show that there was no blood on the bed sheets (from a broken hymen).

So, when I read Exodus 22:16‒17 and Deuteronomy 22:13‒29, it makes sense that you must pay the difference to the father for violating his property without permission. If the people in Exodus times acknowledged a difference in monetary value between a virgin or non-virgin concubine, it would make sense that God’s word would forbid you to violate another man’s property (his wives and children) and be forced to repay him.

Either way, the Old Testament is clear: there is no divine punishment for premarital sex, only compensation to the father if you take his daughter’s virginity. Unfortunately people still to this day take the content from the Bible out of context to support their own opinions. If you’re concerned with accurate interpretation of a text, you must imagine yourself living in the era that it was written to understand its full relevance. It doesn’t make sense now because we don’t buy and sell our wives anymore. The message I get from those texts is about fairness and honesty. You must accurately represent what you are selling and, if it’s not what you say it is, then you owe the buyer the difference. Now that our society has evolved enough to realize there’s something wrong with owning humans, the message can still apply to tangible, non-sentient property.

New Testament

In the New Testament, evidence against premarital sex is centered around Paul's letter to the Corinthians as well as references in the book of Hebrews. Paul redefines the issue as “sexual immorality,” which seems like a reiterated warning against “casual and illicit” sex. Paul’s letter was written to a city of people participating in incest and other, more extreme expressions of sexuality. Paul’s advice was and still is wise but should be used only as a guide for you to make the right decision for yourself.

A much more relevant reference comes from Hebrews 13:4, where we are urged not to have “casual and illicit sex.” This passage is still totally relevant and important in today’s society. Casual sex may be unsatisfying when you’re not really close with your partner. Illicit or unprotected sex may increase our chances of getting STDs. Wise words. However, “casual and illicit” doesn’t necessarily equate to premarital. Premarital sex can in fact be monogamous and committed. You can have a committed, loving, monogamous (or polyamorous) relationship with your partner before, during, or after marriage. Furthermore, a couple can have casual and illicit sex AND also be married! The terms are not necessarily inclusive or exclusive.

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How do I interpret the bible?

Unfortunately, if you are trapped in a small town in the middle of the Bible Belt, you may be hard-pressed to find people standing up against the norm. The culture of some of these Christian communities doesn’t typically allow for dissent or interpretations of the Bible that are different than their established ones. Additionally, when you have believed that premarital sex is wrong for your entire life, your ego can’t really handle the idea that you might have been wrong this whole time. To doubt a belief you’ve held onto for so long can cause major cognitive dissonance—a rather unsettling feeling. If you believe that premarital sex is okay but you live in a community that opposes your belief, you may be happier in New York or California where the melting pot of cultures is so great that different views are honored rather than shunned.

So what should I do?

Remember that no matter what you do God will always love you and forgive you. God wants you to have sex in order to have children and live and prosper in happiness. God also wants you to have sex because she knows you’ll enjoy it and learn from it and grow spiritually. Remember God doesn’t just shine on your little town—she also shines on people that never get married (still allowed to have sex!), people that are homosexual (get to have gay sex!), and people who have multiple partners (lots of sex!). None of these people are going to hell. They are all forgiven because God is all-merciful. You should make your own life decisions and not leave them up to me or your priest or your friends or anyone else. We will just tell you what works or doesn’t work for us. Only you know what will work for you.


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