Friday, July 01, 2005

Ask the Pastor: Premarital Sex, Living Together, Ceremonies, and Marriage

This is just too good to leave on Pastor Synder's blog. I'll post it here, too! We humans are very sexual and, in certain moments and situations, we can come up with the darndest and creative excuses! This post is funny, sad and helpful all in one.

Q: What Scriptures say to refrain from sex — not adultery or fornication, as one has to be married to commit these sins — between those who love each other and intend to marry? I can’t find anything against sex between two who love each other and are monogamous.

Q: Does having sex before the ceremony make it wrong? Do you become married in a spiritual sense when you have sex for the first time? Is the real seal on the marriage the first sexual experience, and not the ceremony itself?

Q: Is it a sin to have sexual relations with someone if we’re both not married? My mother and I are having a heated discussion about this. I am 51 years old; my husband passed away 2 years ago. I don’t intend to marry again. I want to be faithful to the Lord but to have complete abstinence seems a little old-fashioned to me.

Q: Could you tell me about sex before marriage? I’ve been racking my brains for ages with this issue; I know it's wrong but I want to be with my partner like that and I want to be a Christian. We aren't planning to get married for a long time, and I don’t want to wait that long to be intimate with him again. Can I still be a Christian?

Q: I have fallen in love with a woman I want to marry. She loves me as well. Previously, we had spent the night with each other in the same bed several times. After deciding that this may be a practice frowned upon by God, we were contemplating either living under the same roof without sexual relations and without sleeping in the same bed (in other words, as roommates) until the marriage.

Q: I asked my love to marry me and she accepted. Our parents agree. The problem: I cannot be with my wife for two years since she lives overseas. We met while she was in America for school. Before she returned home I proposed. At this point we became one, not through intercourse but through love. I’ll see her only once again before being able to wed her legally. But in heart and soul we are already in wed lock. My question is, if a man and a woman commit to marriage in all aspects of mind, body, heart, and soul, is intercourse a sin at this point?

For the answers, read here: Ask the Pastor: Premarital Sex, Living Together, Ceremonies, and Marriage

I'm also posting the answers here, just in case.

A: Adultery is marital infidelity. Fornication is general sexual sin. including consorting with prostitutes, homosexuality, or moving from sex partner to sex partner, with or without marriage.

A general implication is correct: Ceremony doesn’t make a marriage. Commitment establishes the relationship. Yet Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6:16, “He who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her. For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’” Consummation seals the commitment. Thus, both a public declaration and a private action are part of marriage.

Sex defines and determines with whom you are “one flesh.” The commitment of your sex organ is final, no matter who your partner. Thus, you are, in God’s eyes, married when you have sex with another. One questioner specifically mentions monogamy: Monogamy means “one marriage” or “one marriage partner.” The Bible establishes no particular religious or civil rite and many governments recognize “common law” marriages, wherein living together, having sex, or merely representing themselves as husband and wife legally bind a man and a woman.

When a man and woman engage in sex without publicly representing themselves as married, they lie about their relationship. This happens among young people who may not be ready for the legal commitments or who want to maintain parental support while indulging their sexual desires. It also includes older people who live together without a public declaration or ceremony or a state license. They may do this so as to not lose pensions or possessions.

Paul wrote, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything. (1 Cor 6:12)” Married is married and single is single. There is no trial period, no “test drive.” There is no benefit, rather loss, in dallying with another outside a lifetime commitment. Be married or be single — but be truthful. Without the public confession of unity and commitment to remain united, it is easier for one or both partners to enter the relationship casually — then to throw it away just as casually.

It isn’t easy to be one flesh with one person: Commitment and focus are difficult to maintain even when bound by vows, witnesses, and laws as well by sex. Secret or private relationships are even harder to sustain, since you lack the benefit of the support of family and society. For the young man wondering about beginning the sexual relationship before the vows, God said, “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24)” Until ready to live together, man and woman should remain apart.

To the couple wondering about living together without sharing a bed and without sex, I ask first of all if you think that you can resist the temptations of proximity. Then consider your public testimony: What will the world assume about your shared living? What witness will it give about the Christian life? “Abstain from every form [appearance] of evil,” Paul advised (1 Thessalonians 5:22). Even if an action isn’t wicked, can it be interpreted as such by an outside observer?

One questioner knows that “it’s wrong” to have premarital sex, then wonders if she can do so and still be a Christian. Certainly, all Christians remain sinners. However, sinning with knowledge and intent is different from succumbing to temptation due to the weakness of flesh. In Matthew 4:7, Jesus referenced Deuteronomy 6:6, saying, “It is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Wilfully doing wrong dares God to withhold judgment.

Finally, sex only within the marriage is very “old-fashioned”: God fashioned it in the “good old days” of Creation, introducing it when He introduced Eve to Adam. His plan for those wanting sex remains simple: Be and stay married to one person. Depending upon laws, customs, and the like, the shape of the wedding may vary. However you promise yourselves to each other, consider what is legal in society and what is right by God’s Word. Does a secret relationship that you’ll “someday” reveal to others truly “honor your father and your mother”? Does wanting the state to not declare your relationship a marriage mean that, deep down, you don’t consider it a marriage, either?

“Flee from sexual immorality ...” said Paul, for “the sexually immoral person sins against his own body ... [which is] a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.... You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6:18-20)” Glorify God openly, honestly, absolutely. Compare who you are with whom God desires you to be. Marriage — especially Christian marriage — testifies to the world about Christ’s relationship with his Church (see Ephesians 5:15-32).

Declare your intent to each other and to the world, make your promises, then live according to them. Christ did not take a secret bride when He claimed the Church as His own. The Church does not secretly worship Christ. Nor is Christ honored by men and women taking secret wives and husbands. His commitment was absolute, even through crucifixion and death. That same death forgives our sexual sins and restores us to live in integrity from this day forth, until death parts us.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

To Ask the Pastor, send email to

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.


CPA said...

Like I said over there, that was a great answer. The one thing I could have added is this: when a man and a woman want to live together or have sex before being married, we tend to look at it as "Why can't we live/sleep together?" when often the best question is "Why aren't you getting married?" As the pastor pointed out a lot of times the answer is that there is some benefit of being single we want to retain. In that case, it's the desire to keep that benefit that's the problem. In a lot of cases it's "I'm not sure we're ready". And in that case, then how are you ready for sleeping together? If God sees a couple as married when they first become "one flesh" then that first night throws upon you all the burden of lifelong commitment. Why not assume that burden with the public support and help of society?

Bob Waters said...

Sorry, but you are not married in any sense just because you have sex with another person. To whom is a prostitute married? Or even a promiscuous person?
Does adultery negate the first marital bond, and establish one with one's paramour? In that case, if the husband or wife forgives a wandering spouse, is that spouse not committing adultery all over again by going back to her?

This saw has been around conservative Lutheranism for some time, but as Bob Shaibley, my ethics prof at RF during the Zimmerman days pointed out, it is neither scriptural or logical. If it were true, there could be no such thing as fornication between a man and a woman- only marriage and adultery.

Caspar said...

Bob is right. Sexual intercourse before marriage is fornication, whether it is with the first and only person you've had it with or not. This lifestyle is not consistent with faith (1 Cor. 6:9-11) and such fornicators are to be excommunicated (1 Cor. 5:9-13).

I am disturbed by Pr. Snyder's answer in this regard. Sexual intercourse alone does not a marriage make.

Drew said...

A great guide for those young men and women who are considering or are active in sexual conduct with their parter is I Loved a Girl by Walter Trobisch, a German Lutheran pastor who served in Africa in the mid-20th century.

CPA said...

Pastor Snyder was talking hypothetically about a couple who was (or was thinking of) engaging in sexual intercourse together with the intention (stated, at least) of assuming the obligations of fidelity and mutual support. He then went on to say, in that case, why does the couple not actually be married?

So his primary purpose is to argue that even in the hypothetical case outlined, one should wait for a formal marriage. As a result, in the practical aim of his counselling, the difference between his point of view and Bob and Caspar's is largely theoretical.

And certainly, even if he is arguing for recognizing "common law marriage", comparing that to prostitution is absurd. The argument would not be "intercourse alone make marriage" but "intercourse, together with an intent (implicit at least) to assume the obligations of fidelity and support incumbent on it," makes marriage. And that means intercourse in prostitution and adultery by definition do not make a marriage.

Argue against Pastor Snyder's view, if you like, but don't absurdly caricature it.

Bob Waters said...

So 1 Corinthians 6:16 is absurd?

I quote Pastor Snyder: "Sex defines and determines with whom you are “one flesh.” The commitment of your sex organ is final, no matter who your partner. Thus, you are, in God’s eyes, married when you have sex with another."

I concede the possibility that Pastor Snyder might not have wanted to say that- he does speak of the constitutive element of committment- but the notion that sex per se is marriage is an old saw among Lutherans which at the very least is best avoided even in the context of making a broader point.