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Sex Is Marriage
© 09.23.19 D. Eric Williams

Part of the fallout over the apostasy of Josh Harris was a revisiting of the "purity culture" that sprang up around his ministry. I found it interesting that so many people came out against the purity culture and claimed the books and teaching of Josh Harris had all but destroyed their lives. I can see both sides of this argument; Joshua Harris did not base his teaching on sound Bible exegesis and therefore biblical foundations to (his version of) the purity culture were lacking. On the other hand, the idea that Christian men and women should abstain from sexual intercourse previous to marriage is a godly principle. In reading the comments made concerning the horrors of the purity culture I ran across a few "Christians" who said the idea of abstaining from sex before marriage was unreasonable. Most people commenting on the topic didn't come right out and say that, but even then, if you read between the lines there are many who don't seem to think it's a big deal to cultivate a physical relationship with one person after another previous to marriage.

The problem is people really do not understand what the Bible teaches about sex. Most folks are familiar with what Paul says to the church in Corinth; And don't you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, "The two are united into one" (1 Corinthians 6:16). However, it seems very few Christians have actually considered the ramifications of his words.

You see, in the Bible, sex is marriage. There is nothing in the Bible that says a man and a woman must have a wedding ceremony in the church after having purchased a license from the state. Indeed, marriage is predominantly presented in the Bible as an agreement between families. Moreover, the "marriage" itself takes place with the sexual act. Consider the situation of Isaac and Rebekah. Abraham sent his servant to Aram to find a wife for his son. Negotiations took place and agreement was made between the families. Then, when Rebecca was brought back to Isaac, Isaac brought Rebekah into his mother Sarah's tent, and she became his wife. He loved her deeply, and she was a special comfort to him after the death of his mother (Genesis 24:67). Thus, Rebecca became the wife of Isaac upon having sex with him.

This understanding of sex as marriage is reflected in the Law. For instance, if a man forces an unattached virgin to have sex with him, the law demands that he take her as his wife without an option of divorce. Thus, suppose a man has intercourse with a young woman who is a virgin but is not engaged to be married. If they are discovered, he must pay her father fifty pieces of silver. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he may never divorce her as long as he lives (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). In truth, the law simply recognizes what is already a fact. Hence, the man must pay an established bride price because he had performed the act of marriage with the girl. In other words, he had established the marriage bond prior to any negotiation.

The young woman did not have a choice in the matter of establishing the marriage bond and so she is afforded protection against divorce and the socio-economic hardship divorce would bring. Yet, the woman is not required to marry the man even though the man is required to pay the bride price; But if her father refuses to let him marry her, the man must still pay him an amount equal to the bride price of a virgin (Exodus 22:17). The father may refuse to give his daughter in marriage to the man for variety of reasons one of which would be the refusal of the young woman to enter into the union (cf. Numbers 36:6).

The point is, the only event in the Bible that establishes a marriage is the act of sexual intercourse - there is no ceremony corresponding to "The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony" as found in the Book of Common Prayer, for instance. The celebrations we see in the Bible surrounding the establishment of a marriage bond are simply that: celebrations to acknowledge what has been negotiated and consummated. In short, according to the Bible, there is no marriage without sex and in a very real sense, sex is marriage.

This should be obvious in light of what Paul said to the church in Corinth. For some reason most Christians read his words and ignore the fact that he is quoting not only the creation account but the words of Jesus Christ himself who used the same language to establish that marriage is between one man and one woman. And, according to our Lord Jesus Christ, that has to do with the two becoming one flesh through sexual intercourse.

This is the reason it is wrong for people to have "sex before marriage." In reality, when a person has sex with more than one partner throughout their lifetime, they are entering into a covenant bond with more than one person. As Paul points out, even the most "casual" of sexual encounters establishes the same bond that takes place in a recognized marriage. The sin of sexual immorality has a unique effect upon us. To have sex (even with a prostitute) means that "the two are united into one" (Genesis 2:24. Matthew 19:5-6, 1 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 5:31). In other words, the two have entered into the bond of the marriage covenant. This happens even when no promises of fidelity have been verbalized. Granted, it's not a covenant in the sense of two people agreeing together concerning their relationship. However, it is a covenant in that it is a joining of two people in a relationship not designed to be broken. The bond of sexual intercourse is designed to be life long. It reaches to the depths of the person and is only broken with violence to the individual. Each time it is broken, there is damage done to both participants. In a later article I will draw upon a number of studies that examine the emotional, mental and spiritual damage done to a person who participates in premarital sex with multiple partners. In this article I simply want to point out that there is no such thing as casual sex or sex without consequence. Each time a person has sexual intercourse they are bonding with their partner in a way that transcends a mere physical encounter.

Therefore, the warnings against cultivating a physical relationship in dating are legitimate. These warnings rightfully extend to hand holding, hugging and kissing. For, as anyone with any sense knows, those activities are simply unconsummated sex. Physical contact between a man and a woman is designed to excite each participant and draw them along the path of sexual intimacy. A person can argue to the contrary but that doesn't change the truth. I'm not saying that if a guy holds hands with his girlfriend they'll end up in bed before the night is over; I am saying that a physical relationship is subject to the law diminishing returns and the thrill found in holding hands will soon fade and each participant will naturally crave greater intimacy. Again, that's just the way God designed us. It's only the naive or willfully stupid person who would deny such an obvious fact.

In light of all we have touched on so far, I would like to suggest a few guidelines for dating (or, if you prefer courtship) for Christian men and women. This is not meant to be an exhaustive discussion of the topic but does provide some things to think about as you consider dating, courtship and marriage.

All Dating Is a Consideration of Marriage
From the point of view of a young man every young woman he asks out on a date is a potential sexual partner. This is true unless the man finds something mildly repulsive about the woman.1 It is only then a young man would date a woman "just as friends." Now, I can't say how women feel about this but the fact that men think this way speaks against the idea of casual dating.

Invite Familial Accountability
A lot of people are down on the idea of parental authority reaching beyond the familial roof these days, and obviously any perversion of biblical authority has no place in the kingdom of God. Nevertheless, it is foolish to suggest the authority of parents evaporates when a child turns 18 or 21. I am not suggesting a 25-year-old has the same relationship to his parents as a 15-year-old but when it comes to courtship, dating and marriage, the parents (and other family members) do have a role.

For instance, if a young person has an interest in someone they should ask for the advice of their parents and other family members. I will go so far as to say that if the Christian parents of a young man or woman say "no" to a potential suitor, then the man or woman seeking the advice should not pursue that admirer.

In addition, a man or woman on the lookout for a marriage partner should cultivate the input of those to whom they are accountable within their church family. This should not replace the natural family component but will act as a complement.

Ask the Big Questions First
It should go without saying that a Christian has no business dating a non-Christian and it would be typical for a person to know whether or not their potential date is born again or not. However, if there is any question, this should be the first question one asks of a possible companion.

Assuming this question has been answered prior to the pre-date interaction, the young man and young woman should ask their potential suitor to describe their Christian beliefs. You need to find out if there is a theological compatibility between you two before you develop an emotional attachment.

The preliminary interview is also the time to ask questions about past sexual history; find out if the person you want to date is a virgin or not. Again, this information should be gathered before the relationship begins in earnest.

It should also be clear that you need to consider your behavior in light of the answers you receive. For instance, before you ever have this discussion with the companion in question, you need to decide if you are willing to overlook their past sexual sins. Long before you have even met this person you should have thought through your decision. Here is another area where parents and spiritual mentors can be of service. Don't kid yourself. If you have not come to a settled conclusion concerning these sorts of questions, you will find it difficult to make a sound choice once you have begun to interact with that very attractive potential spouse on a one-to-one basis.

Establish a Hands-Off Policy
Some people may think it prudish and unrealistic to say that a young man and a young woman who are dating should abstain from physical contact. However, this is one area that I find agreement with Josh Harris and others of his sort within the purity culture. Some may suggest I am going beyond the Bible with this prohibition against hand holding, hugging and kissing. I would disagree. In the first place, those kinds of behaviors portrayed in the Bible take place only in a covenanted marriage relationship. While it is true the Song of Solomon does not identify the relationship between the man in the woman in the song it must be taken within the larger context of Solomon's wisdom literature and the Bible as a whole. In other words, the physical relationship of the man and woman in the Song of Solomon must be understood as that of a man and woman in a covenant relationship.

While some may say physical intimacy short of sexual intercourse is harmless, I can't think of any reason from Scripture to encourage a pre-sexual-consummation relationship with someone you will not marry. In the final analysis, such a relationship is purely self-centered. It is not about showing actual love to a person but is about how it makes you feel. Granted, it's enjoyable to hug and kiss an attractive partner but apart from marriage the focus is on self not the well being of the other person. Nor does it bring glory to God. In short, it is not Christlike to cultivate a physical relationship with another person simply because it is enjoyable.

Make the Pre-Marriage Relationship Brief
One of the dumbest things a person can do after they have decided they want to marry someone is to extend the courtship. Frankly, this is simply asking for trouble. If you have decided you are going to marry a person it is normal for the natural inhibitions one might feel for expressing physical love to diminish. Indeed, it is unrealistic to expect a man or woman to prolong their unmarried relationship without increasing the struggle against sexual temptation. I've never understood the reason for long dating relationships or long engagements. If you're not going to marry someone why date them? If you're going to marry a person, why have a long engagement? Just do it! - get married that is.

Sex is marriage and engaging in a sexual relationship or a series of sexual relationships prior to "tying the knot" invites a lifetime of heartache and trouble. For the most part, Christians have simply adopted the dating practices of the world and tried to baptize them with a variety of "goody-two-shoes" add-ons that really don't make any difference. Christians should acknowledge that the temptation to have a sexual relationship without commitment is powerful. At the same time, they must understand that there really is no such thing as a sexual relationship without commitment. According to the Bible, there is a bond created between a man and a woman in the act of sexual intercourse. Indeed, the Scripture presents the truth that sex is marriage. In light of this, it is crucial for Christians to approach the practice of dating and courtship with a previously considered commitment to sexual purity.

1. Jeanne Marie Laskas, Answered! Life's 25 Toughest Questions, (Readers Digest, March 2006), 146.

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