|Keep the marriage bed pure…or don’t.
Premier Christian Radio is a well-known radio station in the UK. One of their most
Unbelievable?, hosts many debates. In a recent debate, Dianna E. Anderson and Sara Long debated the issue of whether or not Christians ought to save sex for marriage. Diana defends the negative, while Sara maintain the affirmative. The debate can be heard here.
In classic Unbelievable fashion, the debate was not allowed to be…well..a debate. Typically Unbelievable runs their debates in more of a “you tell your side and I’ll tell my side” structure. A more appropriate title for what takes place would be “dueling monologues”. During the debate, I found myself disappointed with both sides. I was disappointed in the negative for obvious reasons, like maintaining the negative. However, I was also disappointed by the affirmative. Not for being the affirmative, but for giving too much cushion to the negative.
What Sara demonstrated was a false understanding of how Christians should present the truth with gentleness and respect. Gentleness and respect does not mean giving up the truth. You can’t defend the truth by giving up the truth. However, it seems to be a growing trend in the world that the only way to show your opponent respect is to give some credence to their viewpoints. This is a mistake. Christians ought to be gentle in vocabulary, tone, and emotion. However, there is nothing ungentle or disrespectful about maintaining that someone is wrong, nay, DEAD wrong.
Although this will evidently self-identify me as glib, this quotation is the moment of capitulation for the affirmative:
It would be glib to say it’s obvious. It would be glib to say you can open up and find a “thou shall not have sex before marriage” verse.
Apparently Christians must maintain that it would be glib to believe the Bible is clear and explicit about premarital sex. And what’s the justification for this? The fact that we can’t find a verse worded in the exact, precise, English structure that Diana and Sara have concocted. Since no verse says, in this structure: “thou shall not have sex before marriage”, it would glib to assert the Bible clearly teaches thou shall not have sex before marriage.
I would like to ask Sara if it would be glib to assert the Bible teaches the doctrine of the Trinity. After all, a verse that says, “God exists as a Trinity; one in Being yet, three in co-existing, co-eternal Personages.” That verse doesn’t exist.
I would like to ask Sara if she thinks it would be glib to assert the deity of Christ. After all, no such verse exists where in Jesus says, “Although I am 100% man, I am also 100% God.”
I wonder if Sara thinks it would be glib to assert the Bible clearly teaches it is wrong to rape a human being. After all, “thou shall not rape another human being” is a verse absent from the Scriptures.
Clearly, this kind of absurdest literalism is biblical lunacy. The Bible does not have to meet our idiosyncratic, English sentence structure demands in order to teach something with clarity.
Dealing With the Texts:
A discussion on the Bible’s teaching is necessary. Not only to demonstrate that the negative holds no water, but to also demonstrate to the affirmative that she ought not maintain a belief that the orthodox view on this issue is “glib” when considered clear, giving some reassurance to the sinful consciences of those who maintain the negative.
To briefly scratch the surface and demonstrate the not-so-glib assertion that the Bible is clear on premarital relations, Jesus’ words in His famous sermon on the mount will bring much light to the subject.
Matthew 5: 27-28
“You have heard it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Apparently, we can sleep with people outside of marriage, provided no lust is involved…How is it possible lust is sinful but premarital sex isn’t? How can lust be adultery if a person is not married?
This verse is radical. This verse teaches that lust is a form of sexual deviance any time it is directed toward someone whom the one lusting is not married to. The reason lust is sinful, as the context bears out, is that it is a kind of adultery. Lusting after your own spouse is like sleeping with your spouse; it’s not sinful. However, lust is sin, and it’s sin because it’s adultery. The key is that Jesus was teaching this to single people as well; this verse applies to everyone. Clearly, all forms of sexual intimacy outside of marriage are wrong, because the most basic sexual instinct, the desire itself, outside of marriage is wrong.
1 Corinthians 7: 2 & 9
But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband…But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
This verse teaches, explicitly, that such a thing as “sexual immorality” exists. The negative on this issue would still maintain that not all sexual behavior is pleasing to God. However, what is Paul’s primary solution for sexual immorality? Marriage. Clearly, Paul is teaching that sexual immorality happens outside of the marital bed. If not, how would marriage help? If sexual immorality has nothing to do with the context it’s happening in, then marriage wouldn’t help the problem at all. If sexual immorality is say, sinful sexual positions, those could take place in and outside of marriage. If anything, marriage would increase the temptation if the sin at hand has nothing to do with marriage.
The only logical, consistent, and albeit possible explanation for Paul’s call to marriage is that Paul views sexual sin as happening outside of it. Marriage is supposed to help dissolve sexual temptations. Men want to have sex, Paul says get married.
Paul doesn’t want men to burn with passion. He would rather men have an outlet for that passion, then burn in it. Yet, the negative is presenting the idea that the outlet for passion can be found at anytime. What makes this claim so amazing is the context of the verses above. Paul is praising singleness! He says in verse 6 that “I wish all were as I myself am.” He immediately recognizes that singleness is a gift and not all have it, but Paul does wish that everyone could be single. He says following in verse 8 that “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.” Thus, Paul is calling everyone who can be single to be single. However, he began in verses 1-2 and continues in verse 9 the one thing that prohibits us from being single: sexual desire.
If sex outside of marriage isn’t sinful, Paul has no reason to call people to marriage. His primary motivation for marriage in this section is avoiding sexual immorality and burning with desire. If we could extinguish those things without marriage, certainly Paul would call us to that. Thus, Paul clearly believes marriage is the context for sex, other wise his advice for the unmarried people burning with desire would sound something more along the lines of “have at it!”
1 Corinthians 6:15-17
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.
The first thing to take note of here is that sex is described as “two becoming one” which is clearly from the context of the first marriage in Genesis, and is reiterated when Jesus uses the phrase while teaching on marriage in Matthew 19:5. Clearly, sexual union is two becoming one flesh, and that union is never mentioned outside of the marital context in the Bible. The two ways to do talk about a biblical doctrine is the Bible’s positive and negative teaching. Many times one is overlooked. We don’t just need negative verses (this is bad…don’t do this…) but positives as well. And premarital sex is never spoken of in a positive light in Scripture and is never taught in Scripture. The only time sex is spoken of positively is in the context of marriage. This text, along with Ephesians 5, introduces a powerful philosophical argument. In Ephesians 5 “becoming one flesh” is used, yet again, in a marital context. However, the even larger context is using marriage as metaphor for the Christ and the church. Thus, marriage, and the sex within it, are considered sacred things.
It’s holy. The above text does the same thing. The body is said belongs to the Lord, and that our members are members of Christ. Verse 19 states that are bodies are “Temples”, a place of worship. The idea of Paul’s small portion here is that sexual immorality is a picture of idolatry. It’s a picture of misplaced intimacy. Marriage, faithfulness and intimacy to one forever, is a picture of a mutual and permanent, monogamous intimacy and faithfulness of Christ to His bride; His one bride. To sleep around is to picture a betrayal akin to switching religions around. We are called to intimacy to one person; and to One Lord. This is why Hosea, in picturing Christ was to sell what he had to purchase and marry someone who slept around. Gomer’s sleeping around reflects an idolatrous church.
Another important idea in the text is that of prostitution being sinful. Why would it be? If sex outside of marriage is perfectly permissible, then why would prostitution be sinful? And if the answer to that is the fact that prostitution is wrong, not because it is pre/extra marital sex, but on the grounds that it is for profit, then by their own standard we need a “thou may have sex outside of marriage, but may not profit financially from it” verse to believe that.
The last portion of the debate escalated into a discussion concerning how sex is dealt with in Christian homes and there was a lot of unity between the two sides. I believe the characterization was grossly generalized and grossly inaccurate.
(That’s another false way of establishing respect and love. Emotions are always calmed when common ground is found, so often times one side capitulates somewhere to find any kind of agreement. Usually, over generalizations are how common ground is found: it’s called Friends by Common Enemy.)
During the debate, both parties criticized the “scare-tactics” used by Christians in trying to teach their kids purity. Often times people are shamed and guilted out of sex, or are shamed and guilted for their sexual history. Although I have no personal or academic evidence to support the idea that this is happening as often as was implied, it raises an important principle for Christian parents and leaders: emphasize God’s holiness.
Although I think the consequences of sex can and should be involved in the discussion some, it is not biblically faithful nor pragmatic to use STIs as the means by which we discourage promiscuity. The reason being it still establishes idolatry in their hearts.
If STIs are the reason we discourage fornication, or, if “fantastic marital sex” is the incentive for purity, we are simultaneously telling our kids one thing: your comfort should be the driving-force behind your decision making.
However, for most people their comfort and pleasure is already the motivations behind their decisions. That’s why they choose promiscuity; it feels good. We attempt then to change their decisions by giving them the exact same theological foundation which produced those decisions in the first place. Although I try to avoid cliches, that is fighting fire with fire.
We ought not to stress STIs (things that won’t feel good) or great future sex (things that will feel good) in order to convince them not to pursue a passion that will… feel good.
We need to be stressing the holiness of God. God’s holiness is our motivation; God’s Law is our foundation; God’s pleasure is our incentive. We ought to desire purity because we delight in God’s Law. If God’s holiness is the foundation of our decisions, then fornication will be rejected even if all possibilities of future discomfort are eradicated. Our children don’t need a foundation that idolizes their comforts and teaches them to base decisions on what will and won’t feel/look good. They are born with that disposition. That is precisely why they choose premarital sex in the first place; their pleasure is what matters most.
If kids refuse sex because of STIs they are doing so because STIs are painful and embarrassing. Thus, they learn that their comfort is the most important of all things. And that foundation will never bring about purity. When faced with the option of safe-sex, they realize that their STI chances decrease, and, their odds at receiving pleasure remains the same. Thus, they will always choose sexual pleasure. After all, we told them too.
Diana Anderson wrote a book attempting to dismantle the orthodox, biblical view of purity. Her book, which can be found here, is described in this way:
“This honest and soul-searching exploration is ground-breaking, a must-read for contemporary Christian youth – indeed for everyone, young and old, women and men – seeking to understand and live happily with their sexual selves and religious beliefs without overwhelming guilt and fear. The result is her game-changing redefinition of purity that shatters Evangelical Christianity’s stranglehold on young believers’ minds and bodies as they make their difficult way toward becoming adults. Certain to ignite heated discussions both pro and con, DAMAGED GOODS brings a breath of fresh air into contemporary Christian beliefs about sex, faith and politics.”
One of the Spirit’s roles is to convict of our sin. Her desire to open the floodgates holding back our sexual proclivities without guilt is exactly how false teachers send people to Hell. They teach people to sin, and numb them to the call of the Spirit convicting them of it.
We ought to never appreciate someone who boasts in “redefining” “strongholds” of Evangelicalism. We should never be excited for theology which claims to be a “Breath of fresh air.” We want apostolic teaching, we want Jesus. We want historic, 2,000 year old doctrine that is unchanging and has been once for all delivered. We want biblical truth, not new and fresh sounds to tickle itching ears.