Marriage is a strange and wonderous thing. It is a lifetime committment to another person whom you will be responsible to have moral sexual relations with. Yes, that is right. Outside of marriage, sex is immoral. It is as simple as that. Marriage is a passport to have sex. Not just to have sex, but to have mind-blowing sex. Marriage makes you responsible for your partner’s sexual satisfaction.
Question is where in the bible does it specifically state all that? The word(s) used for sexual immorality, πορνεία (greek: porneia) and זָנָה (hebrew: zanah), is unclear. It could mean anything from bestiality, incest, adultery, fornication, prostitution to lesbian/gay sex. The main idea of course is illicit sexual intercourse, but what does it mean when? There is a specific list in Leviticus 18, but there are also tons of other instructions that we don’t follow in there. We could get into a huge debate about the meaning of greek/hebrew words, but that is far from helpful.
Well, lets go all the way to the beginning.
“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
In Genesis 2:24, we are told that when a man commits himself to a woman (his wife), they are one flesh. In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus affirms this and adds on to it saying it is God who joins husband and wife together. Marriage is as relevant in the New Testament as it is in the Old Testament.
“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”
Exodus 2:14 is as clear as it can be “You shall not commit adultery.” The word used for adultery here is נָאַף (hebrew: naaph), which directly translates to adultery. If that wasn’t clear enough, in verse 17 it says “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife”. And if that isn’t clear enough, see Hebrews 13:4 – the word used for adulterer is μοιχεία (greek: moicheia), which is the greek version of naaph. Without a doubt, sex is only permissible within the boundaries of marriage. That is pretty clear.
“Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.”
1 Corinthians 7:1-2
Now, what about sex before marriage? Those verses pertain to people who are already married. Well, 1 Corinthians 7:1-2 pertain to both the single and married. The gnostic belief that everything of the body/flesh is bad and the spirit is good has seeped into the church and the Corinthians wrote to Paul about this matter saying that “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” They thought that sex was wrong, because it was pleasuring the flesh! They had swung the other way and thought that ALL sexual activity was immoral.
Paul replies, saying that the cure for sexual immorality is to get married and have sex with each other, instead of not having sex at all or having illicit sex. Verses 3 – 6 gives us the idea that sex is to satisfy the sexual desires and it is our “duty“. BUT only within a marriage. Marriage feeds sexual desires and allows people who are married to each other to have sex without sinning. (Note that Paul’s reply starts with a “but”. Meaning, he agreed in part with what they said, and the reason for this is found in verses 7 and 25 – 35.)
In the Old Testament, we have the story of Amnon and Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-19). Tamar was Amnon’s half-sister and he was in love with her. Tamar however was heavily protected because she was beautiful and a virgin. She would had hordes of men after her. So he devises a plan with the help of Jonadab and executes it, forcing himself onto Tamar.
Tamar called what he did a “wicked thing” that would make him a “wicked fool“. In that conversation, she offered a solution to Amnon. She said “Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you“. Her godly solution to his sexual desire is to marry! (Note that in those days, marrying your half-sister was quite acceptable.)
Without going into endless debates about the meaning of porneia, it is clear that God’s plan is that sex is permissible only within marriage and marriage is the solution for our sexual passions. That is great news isn’t it! We should all go around finding the most beautiful/sexy/luscious partner to marry and have a whole lot of sex. Hmmm but not quite.
“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body (each one of you should know how to take a wife for himself) in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.”
1 Thessalonians 4:3-6
Drawing close parallels with 1 Corinthians 7:2, John Piper concludes that “each of you should learn to control your own body” is better translated as “each one of you should know how to take a wife for himself“. In verse 4, Paul admonishes that men should not satisfy their sexual desires through immoral means – fornication/prostitutes/adultery/seducing other men’s fiances or wives, but to take their own wives.
He goes even further to say that we should do so “in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God.” In other words, marriage is not just to satisfy your sexual desires as pagans make it out to be. Marriage is so much more! Our sexual passions need to conform to Him, and our marriages need to be more than just a passport for sex.
The truth is, God’s purpose for marriage is so much bigger than what we make it out to be:
Partnership – Genesis 2:18
Pleasure – Proverbs 5:18-19
Purity – 1 Corinthians 7:2
Picture of Christ and the church – Ephesians 5:22-33 (v32)
It also comes with responsibilities, to name a few:
Provision – 1 Timothy 5:8
Procreation – Genesis 1:28
Sexual fulfillment – 1 Corinthians 7:3, 5
Love and respect – Ephesians 5:22-33 (v33)
Well, to my single friends, I say happy hunting. To my married friends I say, enjoy!