Does the Bible prohibit sex before marriage?


In my experience, there is a very broad range of answers to this question. It has generally been assumed by moral ‘conservatives’ that the answer is self-evidently ‘yes’; by contrast, it has generally been assumed by moral ‘liberals’ that the answer is ‘no’, since there does not appear to be any specific prohibition in Scripture. The massive changes in our culture around sex and sexuality since the 1960s and the advent of contraception have put us at a very big cultural distance from the world of the Bible, and particularly the Old Testament, so there are significant challenges in the task of translation here.

I was recently pointed to this summary comment from a Jewish perspective:

In biblical times, a man was not prohibited from having sexual relations with a woman, as long as it led to marriage. The Bible never explicitly states a woman and man may not have sexual intercourse prior to marriage; therefore, no sanction was imposed for premarital sex, but it was considered a violation of custom.

The question immediately raise is: what is the status of such custom? I therefore offer here the piece I wrote for Premier Christianity the other week, in response to the less-publicised half of the motion passed at the Methodist Conference, and add a few reflections.


The wording of last week’s Methodist Conference motion is rather odd; it “recognises that the love of God is present” when people “enter freely into some form of life-enhancing committed relationship whether that be through informal cohabitation or a more formal commitment entered into publicly”. But it says nothing about how we know whether something is “life enhancing” and it makes no comment about the nature of “commitment”. The universalist assumption is that somehow God’s love is present, whether those involved are Christians, Muslims, or atheists.

But the implicit question it poses is: what is the Christian view of sex outside marriage? For those who are already married, the answer is clear: “You shall not commit adultery” is commandment seven of the Ten (Exodus 14), coming after murder and ahead of stealing. In its social context, where it was assumed all adults were married, and men were the main social agents, it was primarily a command to men not to have sex with another man’s wife. However, in the ‘casuistic’ regulations (dealing with cases, ‘If X happens, you must do Y’) of Deuteronomy 22:22, both parties to adultery are held to be equally responsible. None of these texts specify whether the man involved is married.

The main text in the Old Testament offering regulation of sexual activity is in the ‘epideictic’ passage (not dealing with cases, but in absolutes, “You shall [not]…”) in Leviticus 18. Sexual activity is prohibited with close relations, with a women during menstruation, with someone else’s wife, with other men, or with animals. But there is no explicit prohibition of sex before marriage.

The best explanation of this is simply that it wasn’t necessary. In ancient cultures, with no reliable method of contraception and with women dependent on their husbands for financial provision and social standing, sex could not be detached from marriage. The closest we get to a prohibition on sex before marriage is in the (casuistic) command in Deuteronomy 22:28: if a man has sex with an unmarried or unbetrothed woman, then they must marry. There has been much debate about this verse (should a woman be forced to marry the person who raped her?) but, along with other texts, it highlights the assumed context. Sex belongs in marriage; unmarried women and men abstain from sex; and even when they are betrothed (committed to marrying), they do not have sex until after marriage. And this makes sense of the earlier case, if a man accuses his newly-wed wife of not being a virgin (Deuteronomy 22:13–21); if she has had sex already, she is in effect another man’s wife, and the penalty is the same as that for adultery. (Note that the accusation cannot be made lightly; the penalty for false accusation is significant.)

This is the pattern assumed in the narrative of the creation of Eve in Genesis 2:24. The order is clear: “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The old social organisation is disrupted as the man leaves his birth family; the man and his wife form a new social unit (“hold fast” or “cleave” is language used elsewhere of tribes settling in their territory); and they then have sex. This pattern is reflected in the language of the Church of England wedding service: “May the union of their bodies strengthen the union of their hearts and minds.”


The subject of cohabitation or sex before marriage is not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament either. Instead, both in the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 15:19, Mark 7:21) and Paul (1 Corinthians 6:18, Galatians 5:19), we are urged to avoid porneia, translated ‘fornication’ or ‘sexual immorality’. But what did that include? For Jesus and Paul, their hearers and those reading the texts, this would certainly have included the prohibited activities listed in Leviticus 18. But the prohibition on prostitution was understood by Jews of Jesus’ day to exclude all forms of sex outside male-female marriage, including sex before marriage. The verb used for ‘promiscuity’ in the Greek version of Deuteronomy 22:21 is expornueo, the verb with the same root as porneia. We should therefore read all New Testament negative comments about ‘sexual immorality’ as including sex before marriage (including cohabitation) as well as sex outside marriage (adultery).

This is confirmed by Paul’s discussion of sex and marriage in 1 Corinthians 7. People are committing porneia, perhaps because of a misguided view that marriage belongs to this age, and ‘spiritual’ Christians are now living the resurrection life in which there is no marriage (Matthew 22.30)—but their sex drive has not abated! Paul’s solution to this is that “each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband”, implying that those committing porneia are not yet married, so the term must refer to sex before marriage.

All this is a reflection of the Bible’s anthropology. Created in the image of God, we are psychosomatic (body-soul) unities. What we do outwardly with our bodies should reflect our inner attitudes and dispositions. If we are not fully committed to someone in the lifelong covenant of marriage, then we should not fully commit bodily in the total giving of ourselves in sex. When our external, bodily life does not match our inner, spiritual life, then pain results.


The rise of cohabitation and casual sex has a serious impact on individuals and society as a whole. Mark Regnerus, in his book Cheap Sex, notes that there used to be a kind of social contract; the price men had to pay for sexual intimacy was the commitment and security of marriage that women wanted. But with the rise of sex outside of marriage, men tend to get what they want, while women lose what they used to have. It has been shown that cohabitation is far less stable than marriage, and those who cohabit prior to marriage have a greater rate of marriage breakdown. The losers in this are mostly women and children; 90% of single parents in the UK are women.

Sex is a good gift from God, but it is also powerful, affecting us deeply, with the potential to do great good (in ending loneliness and bringing intimacy) but also to do great harm. Perhaps that is why both Jesus and Paul talk about it so often, making it an even more important issue than it is in the Old Testament.


I am very conscious that an article like the above raises almost as many questions as it answers! How should we respond to the cultural norms that have shifted so far not only from the assumptions of Scripture but the teaching of the Church which was quite widely accepted until relatively recently?

There is a good Grove booklet exploring this question by Gary Jenkins.

Cohabitation is now so common that it is widely accepted as the social norm, and marriage (where it happens) is seen as confirming the existing relationship. What does the Bible, with its affirmation of marriage, have to say to this?

By exploring the biblical norms for sexual relationships, based on the example of God’s covenant love, this study offers a pattern of effective ministry to cohabiting couples, including those who come to the local church to be married. It holds together the need for biblical integrity with the demands of pastoral reality.

And on the thorny question of how the Old Testament treats women, and what sense we can make of this, see the work of Dr Sandy Richter. In this YouTube video she discusses these issues with Dr Preston Sprinkle, Director of the Centre for Faith, Sexuality and Gender.

PS to my regular readers, apologies for having two consecutive posts relating to sex. 91% of my posts don’t—regular service will be resumed in the next post!


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130 thoughts on “Does the Bible prohibit sex before marriage?”

  1. I think for this blog to make any sense we need to be clear that we are defining marriage as the registration of the relationship with the state—a modern phenomenon.

    In ancient Israel marriage was a matter between the families involved—no priest, elder, or temple involvement. This is not my area of expertise, but it seems that this concept carried through to the early church until the Middle Ages—it was not finally brought into church until the Council of Trent as I understand it. Subsequently, many countries brought it into the state—but not until 19th century in the UK.

    As regards, “In biblical times, a man was not prohibited from having sexual relations with a woman, as long as it led to marriage” —I am not convinced by this. The mohar (bride price) was dependent on virginity on a first marriage—and was a big deal, as Deuteronomy 22 indicates. It was the father’s responsibility to ensure her virginity until marriage—without that her subsequent marital prospects were considerably diminished.

    Reply
    • Hence: “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.” 2 Corinthians 11:2

      Reply
    • I think for this blog to make any sense we need to be clear that we are defining marriage as the registration of the relationship with the state—a modern phenomenon.

      I don’t think so, no — what we’re defining marriage as is something lifelong and exclusive. The ‘registration with the state’ bit surely comes in with the shift in living patterns that makes the state the only entity capable of enforcing these properties.

      Where people were well-known within their communities and wealth and living was highly tied either to land or reputation in the community, prohibitions against abandonment or adultery could be enforced by social pressure: everyone knew who was ‘married’ to whom, whether it was officially registered or not. But once people start to be able to travel to places where they are not known, where their marital status would not be obvious to everyone, how do you stop someone just upping sticks, abandoning their family, going somewhere else, and ‘marrying’ someone else? You need a system of being able to record officially who is married and to whom, rather than just relying on local knowledge.

      That can either be the state or the church, but the important feature is that it’s an entity which can be assumed to exist and to exert authority over wherever somebody might end up.

      But it’s not an essential or a functional change — it’s just a way of preserving the same essence and function of marriage in the face of a more mobile society.

      Reply
      • Yes.
        In that case can we treat committed cohabitation as a marriage? I think so. I believe that was the position of Andrew Cornes. I had an uncle who ‘married’ bought their home and had 2 kids and after 25 years revealed they had never signed any marriage certificate. It seems odd to suggest that they were never ‘married’?

        Reply
        • In that case can we treat committed cohabitation as a marriage? I think so.

          We could, but such ‘committed cohabitation’ is vanishingly rare. What proportion of couples who cohabit begin cohabiting as virgins, and stay together until death? I’m guessing to a first approximation zero — the first figures I can find are from the USA and are that two-thirds of cohabiting couples with children split up before their first child reaches the age of 12. And that’s couples with children, showing some depth of commitment and a reason to stay together — cohabiting couples without children probably split up at a much higher rate, but nobody researches that. And also that research doesn’t look at the history of the couples: two individuals who have previously cohabited with others getting together having a baby, and staying together until it is 12 will count in the stats as part of the one-third of cohabiting couples who stayed together, but would not, for Christian purposes, count as ‘committed cohabiting’ because they did not stay with the people they began cohabiting with.

          Given that, we shouldn’t really consider ‘committed cohabitation’ as a thing. It doesn’t (maybe two or three highly unusual examples in every generation aside) exist.

          Reply
        • Anyway the ‘commitment’ is neither tangible nor quantifiable.

          Because, of course, it is nothing but a sliding scale, or several simultaneous and incompatible sliding scales.

          Plus it is all totally unnecessary. If they want to commit, they can commit. They either keep their options open or grow up. Which of those 2 is the sort of society we should be promoting?

          I can hear the lawyer sharks licking their lips.

          We already had it and we (well, not we, but some people) foolishly threw it away. That is why I can never see why people see it as a debating topic, as though those who threw it away were in some way wise or even as wise as we.

          Reply
    • It seems that the Roman Church formally defined marriage as a sacrament in the 12th Century (https://yesterday.uktv.co.uk/history/article/brief-history-marriage/). There was clearly Church involvement prior to Trent. The origins of the Church of England lie in a dispute about marriage and divorce between Henry and the Pope.

      The 1549 Prayer Book has a service for the SOLEMNIZACION OF MATRIMONIE, which carries forward into the 1662 BCP, or course. In England, the 1754 Marriage Act regularised marriage which had to take place in a church. But in Scotland it remained the case that a marriage simply required the man and woman expressing their vows before two witnesses. Thus, Gretna Green became known as the place to elope to.

      Reply
  2. I understand your well made points.

    So we need some sort of central register, and unless the couple sign that the church should not recognise them as married? But presumably family and friends can?

    But there is not a biblical basis for a central register, and I am sure you can see the problems with it. There is, I suggest, no easy answer to this. But the biblical basis was once the families/community recognised a marriage – it was a marriage. Travel did happen in biblical times – the apostle Paul managed quite a lot?

    Reply
    • Andrew Cornes decided on a pastoral basis that he had to accept cohabitation as de facto marriage because it was the only workable pastoral position.

      When we joined our Anglican church here two years ago the Rector visited us, but he did not ask to see our marriage certificate—we would have been somewhat surprised if he had.

      Reply
      • Andrew Cornes decided on a pastoral basis that he had to accept cohabitation as de facto marriage because it was the only workable pastoral position.

        Okay; how did he deal pastorally with people who have lived with others before they began their current cohabiting relationship? How did he deal pastorally with cohabiting couples who split up and then began cohabiting with others?

        If he really ‘had to accept cohabitation as de facto marriage’ then presumably he had to treat cohabiting couples who split up as divorced, yes? And if the new relationship was involved in the break-up of the old one he had to refuse to recognise it, yes? After all that is the logical consequence of ‘cohabiting is de facto marriage’, isn’t it?

        Or did he not think through the consequences of what he was proposing?

        Reply
        • Okay; how did he deal pastorally with people who have lived with others before they began their current cohabiting relationship? How did he deal pastorally with cohabiting couples who split up and then began cohabiting with others?

          I’d still be super-interested in the answers to these questions, if you know them. Because given that these kinds of situations will come up, these are exactly the kinds of questions that it’s vital for you to have answers to, before you start doing things like advising people to pastorally treat cohabiting relationships as equivalent to marriage, right? Because the last thing you want is to be having to come up with answers on the fly when you’re suddenly in the middle of a situation where someone new has arrived in your church, and one partner of the long-standing cohabiting couples has left to live with the new person, and everyone is expecting you to just chill because hey it’s not like a marriage has broken up, right?

          Reply
      • When we joined our Anglican church here two years ago the Rector visited us, but he did not ask to see our marriage certificate—we would have been somewhat surprised if he had.

        I think you misunderstand what I’m saying about the purpose of the marriage certificate. The point of having a central registry is not that it needs to be checked at every opportunity, but that it can be used to resolve disputes when necessary.

        So for example if, after you had joined, someone else had turned up claiming that you had already married them in another city, and therefore your current living arrangements were irregular, you could challenge them to produce the marriage certificate in order to substantiate their claim.

        Reply
        • Hello S,
          I’m slow to respond here, but a marriage certificate is evidence, that could otherwise be hearsay: it is a matter of public record (as is a birth certificate). Without that I could not prove my parents were married, both now dead and I wasn’t there!

          Reply
        • Dear ‘S’

          Thanks for your interesting comments here. I would love to know who you are, and happy to keep that confidential. I cannot email you as your email address here is fake.

          Can you email me please? Thanks.

          Reply
    • But there is not a biblical basis for a central register, and I am sure you can see the problems with it.

      Well yes. There’s two domains here: there’s what are the essential ontological elements for a marriage, and the moral codes which flow from that; and then there’s the practicalities of how you administer a society.

      Those two domains are never going to mesh perfectly, but that’s hardly unique to the the issue of marriage: there’s always going to be friction when the practicabilities of the administration of a state rubs up against morality. Even in cases where you’d think it would be simple, like the law of murder, there are lots of complexities to try to reduce the disjunction between the law and morality, and many arguments about exactly where those should be.

      But the biblical basis was once the families/community recognised a marriage – it was a marriage.

      That’s fine, but just try getting that accepted today: ‘once your family and friends recognise you as married (to the first person you have sex with), you’re married, for life, and you can never split up or get together with anyone else’. Good luck to you getting people in the twenty-first century to sign up for that.

      Travel did happen in biblical times – the apostle Paul managed quite a lot?

      Yes, but the Roman Empire didn’t recognise the Jewish form of lifelong, faithful marriage — it was an easy-marry, easy-divorce culture — so would have had no interest in helping police the Jewish form. So even though it would have been desirable to have a state registry of marriages — otherwise what would stop Paul from ‘marrying’ a girl in every town he came to, abandoning each when he moved on? — the state wouldn’t have supported the infrastructure, so it wouldn’t have been practical to implement.

      Reply
      • This blog is generating many side issues—probably my fault by raising the definition of marriage. And, hopefully without complicating matters too much more, perhaps we need to clarify if we are speaking of believers within the church or wider society?

        But if we come back to the original blog question: “sex before marriage” you say:
        “That’s fine, but just try getting that accepted today: ‘once your family and friends recognise you as married (to the first person you have sex with)”

        —that suggests that sex creates marriage. In that case sex before marriage is impossible?

        BTW – how do you manage to get italics in your blog post?

        Reply
        • that suggests that sex creates marriage. In that case sex before marriage is impossible?

          That is the logical conclusion, yes. Sex with anyone else after that is, technically, adultery.

          BTW – how do you manage to get italics in your blog post?

          Just use the HTML i tags.

          Reply
          • Maybe that explains why adultery is seen as the major category rather than one sexual sin among many.

  3. Marriage is to reflect a legally, publically, declared faithful, covenant relationship- to reflect God’s covenant relationship with his people.
    So sex outside that covenant relationship, is the equivalent of idolatry. Hence fornication and adultery were not permitted.
    In passing in England and Wales co -habiting was often described as common-law marriage, but it confered few if any legal benefits and protections.
    Abraham description of Sarah as his sister caused huge offence and admonition as it could have led to adultery, breach of sanctity of their marriage sexual fidelity.

    Reply
  4. Indeed there is no explicit command in ancient Israel’s written law saying that an unmarried man and an unmarried woman should not have sex. Does that mean it is acceptable before God? There was no need for such a law in ancient Israel, because women simply did not behave like that, out of fear of pregnancy. There was no effective contraception and no welfare state handing out money to single mothers, and her family would disown her, after which her only option if she were not to starve would be prostitution. God gave laws only about things that were troublesome within the ancient Middle East. So the only single women who habitually had sex were prostitutes. Although prostitution was not explicitly prohibited outside Levite families, it was certainly a disgrace (e.g., Leviticus 21:9). If a virgin was seduced by a man then he had to marry or support her (Exodus 22:16). To God it was so important that a woman be a virgin when first married that the death penalty could be applied to brides who were found not to be virgins (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). There simply should not be any unmarried women who were not virgins (apart from widows and, sadly, deserted wives).

    What of new converts who have lived promiscuously? They are not virgins, so are they free to carry on? If it is a disgrace for a woman to lose her virginity when unmarried, then it is wrong for her to continue having sex while she is unmarried. Jesus said that Christians should have higher standards than people who sought to keep the Old Testament’s moral laws (Matthew 5:20). The fairly general words in the New Testament for sexual immorality obviously cover sex between singles.

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  5. Good article: but if bible ethics say sex before marriage is wrong, surely it does matter to know what constitutes a marriage – i.e. how a marriage is begun. Is marriage just a legal thing? Surely not – and if not, then how (from the bible) does one know if one (or anyone else) is married? Genesis 24.67 says ‘Isaac brought Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent, and she became his wife.’ No mention of vows or other ceremony. What about Song of Songs? Is this a song about a married couple? They don’t seem to be. But if they’re not, then is what they’re getting up to OK? If so, then what is not OK? And if not, then how is it to be reconciled with a ‘conservative’ view on sexual ethics? The CofE service says marriage is declared by vows, the joining of hands, and the giving and receiving of rings – but Genesis suggests sex is the defining thing. Perhaps the real point is that marriage among the people of God is really meant to reflect the covenant between God and his people (OT) or Christ and his church (NT) and that’s a more important point the bible is interested in.

    Reply
    • “The CofE service says marriage is declared by vows, the joining of hands, and the giving and receiving of rings – but Genesis suggests sex is the defining thing.”

      On this I am sure the CoE is right. Genesis does not say sex makes a marriage – I presume you are referring to “one flesh” – many (most?) Hebrew Bible scholars say this means “one family.” The idea that sex makes a marriage is found nowhere in Scripture, in its teaching or the narrative accounts – it is a reception history thing.

      Reply
    • Indeed defining marriage is critical for Ian’s argument.

      And whatever definition we put on marriage has to start from the only sanctified sexual relationship being a lifelong, faithful, monogamous one, and proceed from there, doesn’t it?

      See my https://inchristus.com/2015/05/15/what-does-the-bible-really-say-about-divorce-remarriage/

      From that:

      ‘Since it is true that adultery cannot occur unless there is some act of unfaithfulness, then where is the unfaithfulness when another believer chooses to marry a believing divorcee who was illegitimately put out of their covenant relationship by an unfaithful spouse?’

      Surely the whole point of a covenant — what makes it different from a contract — is that you cannot be ‘out out of it’? In a contract, if one party breaks the terms, then the other is free to consider the contract voided, quid pro quo. But in a covenant, once you’ve entered into it, you are bound by the terms regardless of what the other party does.

      The unfaithfulness, therefore, is unfaithfulness to the covenant promise, which is not voided by the actions of the unfaithful spouse, because a marriage is a covenant, not a contract?

      Reply
          • Yes – the US/UK definitions are different. In the OT ‘covenant’ is usually a translation of the Hebrew “berit” – used more than 260 times, and any analysis of such shows it has a wide semantic domain. And what is more, strangely, there is not one definitive example of marriage being described as a covenant. Furthermore, God terminated the ‘marital’ Mosaic Covenant with northern Israel – Jeremiah 3:1-10 and Isaiah 50:1 making this crystal clear.

          • Furthermore, God terminated the ‘marital’ Mosaic Covenant with northern Israel – Jeremiah 3:1-10 and Isaiah 50:1 making this crystal clear.

            I thought that the point was that God never broke the Mosaic Covenant — that no matter how much Israel broke the Covenant, God remained faithful throughout everything, and indeed that Jesus coming to Israel was the culmination of God fulfilling His binding dual promise to Israel under that Covenant, to save Israel and to make Israel the means of salvation of all nations?

          • Covenants on land relate to Dominant and Servient tenements (land) and there are positive and negative aspects. (For a thumbnail sketch see the Land Registry site (England+ Wales))
            Indeed they are akin to a covenant between God and his people. (And can probable be traced in the history of English law, to that formative source).
            In fact God made a unilateral, unconditional, covenant with Abraham, passing through the divided creatures. Indeed he is the covenant keeping God, in Christ Jesus, as faithful obedient man and as faithful, everlasting, covenant -keeping God.
            In the OT Haggai is a stunning application in action of our covenant keeping God.

    • Hi Paul,

      You say in the link that marriage is a “Legal/Social bond = The public ceremony that was officiated by community elders/certified licensed officials.”

      Where in the Bible does it say that?

      Reply
  6. Cohabitation was not a thought out praxis but something that society (and individuals) fell into because taboos loosened and laws brought about a new normality.

    The idea is that you plan your family much less seriously than you plan your job or house-purchase etc..

    To take cohabitation very seriously is a bit like a teacher calling a conference to give kudos and clout to their pupils’ less mature and more carnal or instinctive behaviour.

    Reply
    • To take cohabitation very seriously is a bit like[…]

      Well, more to the point, the more seriously you take cohabitation — putting obligations on cohabiting partners to support the other, adding rules about how shared assets will be divided in the event of the relationship ending, dealing with the ramifications on children, and so on — the more you just make it like a marriage (the ‘common law marriage’ idea that some people think exists in UK law, but actually doesn’t).

      And once you make it so that cohabiting means you acquire obligations (eg your cohabiting partner acquires a claim on your income for support should the relationship end, for example) then you run into the problem that some people don’t want those obligations. So you have to decide on when they kick in. After a certain period of time? In which case you’ll just get people lying about how long they have lived together, maintaining postbox addresses where they don’t actually live, etc; or (simpler option) you say that the couple can sign up to get ‘enhanced cohabiting protection’ status when they both want to and guess what? you’ve just reinvented marriage (albeit of a contractual, Roman Empire style rather than a covenantal, Christian style).

      By definition a cohabiting relationship is fundamentally unserious because if you make it serious it just turns into marriage.

      Reply
      • Yes, exactly. It is fundamentally unserious. And it trashes the longterm nature of life. How does it fit into a planned life pattern or planned life story? It doesn’t. It is vague and unplanned and chaotic – which has effects on people’s health and wellbeing.

        The silliest thing is to speak of ‘committed cohabitation’. That is, after all, marriage, as you say. But there is something holy about marriage that produces an irrational negative reaction. So it is a spiritual issue.

        Reply
      • S,

        On this point: “I thought that the point was that God never broke the Mosaic Covenant”

        God did not break it. Israel did. I suggest the text of Scripture is clear that: the MC was always conditional (e.g. Exodus 19:5) – and that the Abrahamic promise was unconditional – and it is that Abrahamic promise on which the new covenant is based on, not the MC.

        Reply
        • Did not Jesus, in his active obedience fulfill the Mosaic covenant, as true Son, Israel?
          A substitional active obedience, credited to believers, in union with him?

          Reply
          • Hi Geoff,

            Yes this is Reformed teaching. But why would Jesus need to fulfil the MC when it was terminated by a ‘divorce’? And why would Jesus need to credit any MC obedience to Gentiles – who were specifically excluded from the MC. As Paul says, they “do not have the law” Rom 2:14.

          • But why would Jesus need to fulfil the MC when it was terminated by a ‘divorce’?

            I think that’s the point, God didn’t ‘divorce’ Israel.

            And why would Jesus need to credit any MC obedience to Gentiles – who were specifically excluded from the MC. As Paul says, they “do not have the law” Rom 2:14.

            That verse is not exactly… clear.

          • Hello Colin,
            Are you not credited with Christ’s righteousness, his active obedience? Are you not in union with him, died and raised (both now but not yet)? Could it be suggested that there is no Good news of Jesus for gentiles without it? Certainly, I’d be sunk. We all would, and are, in breach of the first commandment or word, or the summation by Jesus.
            As you are aware the whole of Romans is the context, the development of the point along with other texts. As it happens, I’m aware of gentiles who are convicted by Romans 7 and have cried-out along with Paul, who can deliver me from this body of death? And into Romans 8, notwithstanding any theological wrangling over chapter 7. I do recall that in the past you have raised questions over Romans 7.
            But, as you also know, we need also to read it in the knowledge of gentiles being grafted into…
            Clearly we are well off-topic.. but maybe not. Why would gentiles adhere to any Christian, whole- Bible morality, ethics, theology? Other that sociological pragmatism? It’s brought us so far in the West (Tom Holland’s, Dominion). It’s built a launchpad for us to leave it behind, to jettison it, to progress, higher, further, faster. Why bother?

          • S
            That God divorced Israel under the Covenant is clear. That was the significance of judging the nation, both Israel and Judah, and driving the tribes out of their land. He himself departed from the land.

            I’ve not seen any reference here to the Jewish concept of marriage, but it was a three-stage process: betrothal (a legally binding pledge), the husband going away to prepare a place for his betrothed, and in due time returning to take her back to his father’s house and consummate the marriage.

            Israel’s marriage with Yahweh was never consummated. Thus the divorce consisted of breaking off the betrothal (for a time). The Church’s marriage is also not yet consummated. That will take place in heaven at the banquet to which the communion meal looks forward. There is only one Bride, Israel. The marriage will be with the faithful of Israel and redeemed Gentiles who are grafted in to Israel.

            Also at that time, Yahweh will raise faithless Israel from the grave, woo her in the wilderness and pledge himself to the nation again, and bring her back to the land, where they will serve him. Then land itself will be called married

          • That God divorced Israel under the Covenant is clear. That was the significance of judging the nation, both Israel and Judah, and driving the tribes out of their land.

            But God stayed faithful to Israel throughout the exile, and brought them back to the land. How does that square with the idea of a divorce?

            He himself departed from the land.

            It’s not possible for God to ‘depart’ from any part of Creation without it ceasing to exist, as God is the only thing which sustains Creation. God was never ‘in’ the land any more than He was everywhere else in the world — that’s one of the things the Israelites had to learn, that God was just as much present outside the land as inside it.

          • Steven,
            Where does scripture show that God divorced Israel?
            The OT, in effect, ends in a crescendo with the almost agonised suspended question, is there an unconditional or conditional covenant and the answer is both, both fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah as God and Man. He can’t give up his people (in contrast to ethnicity, nation), a remnant. He is faithful, a promise making promise fulfilling God.

          • Isa 50:1, Jer 3:8

            S, judging from your question, I don’t think you understand the OT at all.

            II Chron 6:2, 7:1f, Ezek 10.

          • ‘S, judging from your question, I don’t think you understand the OT at all.’

            Sorry, that kind of comment breaches my comment rules, and detracts from the otherwise good discussion here.

          • judging from your question, I don’t think you understand the OT at all.

            Well, okay, but instead of being rude you could explain what you mean.

            Or, I was going to say, you could explain what you mean as well as being rude if you prefer — I’m no cry-baby, I can take it — but I defer to our host on that.

          • I don’t mind being rebuked where deserved, but in this instance I stand by my comment. The anonymous and ever vocal S was not prepared to give any thought to my comment (Prov 18:2) and simply reacted, God was never ‘in’ the land any more than He was everywhere else in the world. To reply thus is not to understand what God was doing through the people of Israel. Sumer, Egypt and all the world were worshipping idols. When God called Israel out of Egypt, he said to them, “I will dwell among you and be your God.” A sanctuary was made for him, a tabernacle, later converted into a fixed house of stone. God dwelt nowhere else. But eventually Israel’s unfaithfulness was so incorrigible that he departed, as Ezek 10 records. He divorced Israel by driving her out of his property and he himself quit the house made for him. This is the context for the NT. The glory of Yahweh comes back to dwell among us, in the person of Jesus, and when he departs – from that same spot, the Mount of Olives – it is not in anger but in order that he might dwell in the heart of everyone who makes his peace with him.

  7. In general discussions about cohabitation can sometimes assume that they are marriage in all but name. But there is another central difference. The completely different stickability rates. If that is forgotten, then it is not the reality that is being discussed. Intentions that it become more stable never translate into reality however many decades society continues on.

    Likewise discussions about homosexual partnerships miss this point of different levels of fragility. Intentions that they become more stable never materialise.

    And likewise discussions about abortion miss the point that the intentions that it become rare never translate into reality even 1%.

    There is a reason why these things never materialise and it is the same reason in each case.

    Reply
    • Christopher, you mention:

      “The completely different stickability rates.”

      These statistics are slippery. Does the legal contract make the marriage stick? Or is that those who make a legal contract are more committed? I suggest very likely the latter.

      Reply
      • Does the legal contract make the marriage stick? Or is that those who make a legal contract are more committed? I suggest very likely the latter.

        That’s quite possible, but it only strengthens the point being made, which is that a cohabiting relationship is qualitatively different from a marriage (and indeed one of the differences is a lower level of commitment) and therefore treating it as ‘de facto marriage’ is inappropriate.

        Reply
        • Hi S,

          You said earlier:
          “I think that’s the point, God didn’t ‘divorce’ Israel.”
          But Jeremiah 3:8 says differently.

          “Israel’s marriage with Yahweh was never consummated. Thus the divorce consisted of breaking off the betrothal (for a time).”
          But Isaiah 54:5 and Jeremiah 31:32 say differently.

          The issue goes much deeper than isolated texts – although I could give you many more that allude to the MC ‘marriage’. The whole Bible marital imagery, from Eden to the marriage supper of lamb works on a marriage/divorce remarriage principle. Thus Jesus cames as the bridegroom Messiah offering a new marriage, a new covenant, to Jew and Gentile – as you say this marriage is yet to be consummated.

          A married Israel could not accept the offer of a new (different,i.e., “not like” the old marriage, Jeremiah 31:32) marriage proposal.

          I have not mastered those HTML tags yet.. 🙁

          Reply
          • The whole Bible marital imagery, from Eden to the marriage supper of lamb works on a marriage/divorce remarriage principle.

            What, like Liz Taylor and Richard Burton? That can’t be right, surely?

            I don’t really see what you’re getting at with the Isaiah reference — it doesn’t seem to be about divorce to me — and Jeremiah 31 is clear that it was the Israelites who broke the covenant, not God.

            Jeremiah 3 does seem to support your point but the imagery about the sisters in confusing. Is God supposed to be married here to two sisters, Israel and Judah, and to have divorced one but not the other? But surely (a) God can’t be married to two wives in the marriage metaphor, that would just be silly, and (b) Israel and Judah are, in terms of the Covenant, the same, because although the kingdoms may have split, the Covenant was with the whole people. So I’d say while it may at first look lend weight to your claim, it’s not entirely clear there isn’t something else going on.

            A married Israel could not accept the offer of a new (different,i.e., “not like” the old marriage, Jeremiah 31:32) marriage proposal.

            I think this must be where the marriage metaphor for the Covenants breaks down. But surely you’ve yourself pointed out, that the new Covenant is not the same as the old Covenant, so there’s no reason why the old Covenant should have to end before the new Covenant can begin. The new Covenant supersedes the Old, it doesn’t replace it. It’s not like replacing one marriage with another, it’s more like replacing four houses with a hotel in Monopoly: you can’t have the new Covenant unless you still have the old one to transform into it.

          • Colin,
            Is there not a culmination of the continuity and discontinuity of the New Covenant?
            The new covenant is, in effect, like a consolidating Act of Parliament; while it is new and applies to the future; it enfolds all previous covenants. It is retrospective and retroactive.
            An unconsumated marriage can not end up in a divorce, only in being rendered void, annulled – a non marriage, a sham?
            Is that what you are saying?

      • Hi Colin

        Yes – but the flaw in that is that you are speaking as though every age and culture has both categories of people (the committed and the uncommitted). Sensible cultures don’t have the second category of household ‘relationships’ in the first place, and nor did our own within living memory.

        If you have only the maturer option available, then everyone will know what the expectations and norms are, and will be happier for the boundaries.

        In any case, it is not the latter but both. Legal ties make things harder to get out of, and short term whims will blow over within this long-term overall structure. Naturally the other point that those who make a legal contract are committed goes without saying. Your presupposition that these are two mutually exclusive options baffles me.

        Reply
        • I am in that comment just making a point about the statistics.

          But as far as I can see we have not clarified the question whether we are talking about the world – or the church? I do not see we have any authority to dictate to the the world what to do. And I think to compel a couple in the fellowship of the church to register their relationship with the state would have no biblical basis?

          Reply
          • I agree on the final part. On the earlier part, the statistics and the coherence of natural law are two obvious reasons why one can and should – together with the absence of any reasons against.

            If one knows a better way and does not share it, what is the name for that?

          • On the earlier part, the statistics and the coherence of natural law are two obvious reasons why one can and should – together with the absence of any reasons against.

            We do not have any authority to dictate to the world what to do.

            We do have a responsibility to try to improve the world by persuading it to do better.

          • We don’t dictate. The facts dictate for us.

            It is quite wrong to assume the world knows the facts. Most don’t.

            The recipe that we should leave people in ignorance is obviously wrong.

  8. Paul, above, touches on this in referring to marriage as public. I would like to develop this by suggesting that marriage is a community matter. Traditional weddings involve the whole community in celebration. There are many illustrations of this in the Bible, particularly the New Testament.

    Why the celebration? Because in the public wedding (literally, joining) of the man and the woman a new kinship group is formed, which will normally produce children. These children represent the future of the community and so are a reason for celebration. The open and public commitment of the couple is made to the community which, when working well, will hold them to account but also support and help them.

    Perhaps the rise of statute law in relation to marriage corresponds to the decline in our Western society of true community as we head into increasing individualism.

    Reply
    • Community thing is shown in:
      (1) large quantity of people taking part
      (2) degree of joy
      (3) length of gatherings
      (4) expense of gatherings.

      Contrast this with unorganised arrangements and understandings that are secretive and between just 2 or a handful of people. This shows not only the decline but the sheer degree of the decline.

      But the ones who take the first route continue to be not only the most successful communities but also the happiest. So….

      Reply
  9. Certainly, Jesus attendance at a wedding and his parable of the bridesmaids bears witness to the public, community celebratory witness, aspect to marriage. It is a witness to a change of status and identity, legitimised publically, communally.

    Reply
      • I don’t know about that Ian. “To live is Christ. To die is gain”. With each passing year- nearer my God to thee.
        What an inheritance!

        Reply
      • Ian,
        Do you know whether this Peter Lewis is the same Peter Lewis who is the author of “The Glory of Christ”? Highly improbable I’d have thought, but it would be good to have confirmation from this commentator either way. Not to do so would be to discredit and misrepresent the author, possibly defamatory.

        Reply
        • Do you know whether this Peter Lewis is the same Peter Lewis who is the author of “The Glory of Christ”?

          Highly improbable, I agree. It’s not that uncommon a name. I say assume not and if the commentator claims to be the famous one, demand proof.

          Reply
    • It will be a good day for Ian Paul. 😉

      He knows well enough from his studies what awaits him when his earthly body dies and, frankly, it’s an exciting prospect! Not least because he will no longer have to deal with abusive and petulant comments on his blog. Some of us may mourn, some may celebrate, but Ian Paul I’m sure won’t care in the slightest.

      Reply
  10. “Mark Regnerus, in his book Cheap Sex, notes that there used to be a kind of social contract; the price men had to pay for sexual intimacy was the commitment and security of marriage that women wanted. But with the rise of sex outside of marriage, men tend to get what they want, while women lose what they used to have.”

    The absolutely bizarre and ridiculous – literally open to ridicule – suggestion in this point is that men want sex but women don’t really. Women can quite possibly have a much higher sex drive than men. Women often complain that their husbands and partners have lost all interest in sex, or can’t stay interested long enough to satisfy them. Regenerus has little understanding of human sexuality but this point is just laughable.

    Reply
    • I think the reference to the social contract accurately portrays the chief and most pressing priorities (not the only priorities) of men and of women at the time that that contract was in place. I guess that is what Regnerus means.

      The more independence either gender gets, the more opportunity to structure their lives around themselves alone, then the more greedy and short term they get. So we now see women acting much as men did in the 1970s – often being the chief instigators in partnerships and couplings, and also taking a throwaway attitude that would have been scorned had it appeared among men jettisoning their spouse for a Mark II in their twenties.

      Thus even the Daily Mail will run women’s features on:
      -Promiscuity after 60 – by women
      -Secret adultery – by women
      -Preferring younger sexual partners – by women.

      In each case, the woman is affirmed and approved in this (effectively) whereas a man who did any of these three and advertised it and wrote about it would be seen (rightly) as creepy. Why is the woman less creepy?

      What is true of the Mail will then be truer of some other papers.

      This is the degree of inequality we have. In the background is the narrative – anything men can do, why shouldn’t women do the same? Er – because these particular things that men are doing are bad ones, so they (the men) ought not to be doing them either. You can achieve equality by all scoring zero, but what value of equality is that?

      Lily James speaks about betrayal as though it is a mature, noble and praiseworthy act and the acme of women’s liberation. Books are published about why it is good to hate men (or a prayer is published on the topic of hating white people in the case of SPCK).

      Reply
    • Yes, women do have a sex drive. But I think that was the ‘social contract’ that was played out – women used to hold out for security before going for fulfilment of their sexual desire. It is to their loss it seems that such no longer happens.

      Reply
      • Good analysis, I would agree.

        In addition, how can one underestimate the magnitude of the step of surrendering one’s virginity where that went so strongly against norms? The understanding that this can be a life-shaping watershed is a wise one. Nor would this be much of an issue where it would be normal to marry pretty young anyway. This has always been the best combination together with a faster maturing – i.e. cut out the idea that adolescence must be a time of stupidity and regress.

        Reply
  11. The woman Jesus met at the well lived in a village that , at least, turned a blind eye to unconventional behaviour. I wrote a short story from the point of view of her ‘boyfriend’. It was Jesus who sorted it out.

    Reply
    • The more familiar assumption, backed by stories from traditional rural communities in the Middle East, is that a woman who is alone coming to the village well to collect water, in the hottest part of the day, is there because she has been ostracised by the community – which given her story would make sense.

      Reply
      • Indeed. Jesus both engaged with her situation and resolved her ostracism. It is striking that, when she returns to her village, relationships appear to have been healed…

        Reply
        • Seems to have been healed

          Exactly. She lived in that space between outright ostracism and total integration. Treading on eggshells. A grey life in a grey world. Not in the pure dogmatic world of theology.

          Reply
        • Well her story clearly caused a stir and roused curiosity in her village – but we know no more about how she resumed life in that community after that meeting with Jesus. The story does not tell us does it? This is true of many stories of dramatic change by Jesus – like Legion, the man healed by the pool or the woman with the flow of blood. We just do not know what it was like to adjust to real life and (re) enter society. So I am not sure we can claim healing or resolved ostracism here – we actually do not know. The challenge to the community may have been just too disturbing – at least at first.

          Reply
          • I like the fact that we don’t know how things panned out for people involved. The stories are therefore about Jesus. In my story I have the boyfriend lying in bed waiting for his woman to fetch water. He hears the commotion slowly approaching and imagines increasingly disturbing things until, just before the crowd escort Jesus to her door he flees. She finds her house empty of everything incriminating as her ex has taken everything of value.

  12. The above is largely about what the Bible says. There are some good ‘natural law’ arguments against non-marital sex, too.

    * If the short-term aim of courtship is to get the other to bed, it shifts from a ritual which is fun but requires some self-discipline into a manipulative game of chess.

    * The argument that it is sensible to try someone out in bed is false. Sex with someone you desire will always feel great. If you are having sex with a partner then you will be too involved to see emotional incompatibilities until they hit the relationship. In any resulting breakup you will be inflicting and receiving pain.

    * Consider whether your future marriage deserves the finest possible start, with the ecstasy of your first sexual union with your life partner.

    * Much is made of the possible physical consequences of non-marital sex. What of the psychological effects? Plenty of men plan to make their pile by their 30th birthday and then retire, but those who do get rich by 30 almost never retire, because by then the money has changed them. Promiscuity changes people, too. After a few break-ups of sexual relationships, people stop crying and start to shrug and say they can always find somebody else. Sex binds a couple together strongly, and I question whether human beings are able to take the breakdown of sexual relationships without doing harm to their souls. Their capacity to feel emotional pain is dulled; with it goes their capacity to share themselves fully in future. Sex is about total self-giving, and that is possible only within a permanently committed relationship – marriage. It becomes psychologically impossible after too much sex outside marriage.

    * If you are living with someone but have not made a permanent commitment, what if one of you falls lastingly ill? Would you walk out on somebody who is seriously ill, or will you commit massive time and effort to someone who has not made the same commitment to you? Living together makes it harder also to break up with somebody who proves to be unsuitable, because of the cost and disruption.

    * What if a baby is conceived? Unintended conception is quite common, and you are also dependent on someone else for your security. Will you marry someone whom you had not chosen to, or will you share responsibility for the killing of your own unborn child (abortion), or will you face a lifetime of emotional and financial tightrope-walking as a single parent?

    * Promiscuity carries the risk of disease, some serious and incurable.

    * Is hunting for sex when single really freedom, or is it slavery to your hormones and desires?

    * Many ‘sex addicts’ are really seduction addicts – witness their often continued promiscuity once married, even though they can have as much sex as they like with their spouse without need to chase after it.

    * A woman who gives her body to a man without demanding commitment cannot be sure whether he really loves her. She might eventually get a nasty surprise, one that is all the more painful after sexual bonding has taken place. Denying a man sex unless he marries her is the only way a woman can be sure that he is serious about her.

    Reply
    • A woman who gives her body to a man without demanding commitment cannot be sure whether he really loves her. She might eventually get a nasty surprise, one that is all the more painful after sexual bonding has taken place. Denying a man sex unless he marries her is the only way a woman can be sure that he is serious about her.

      True the other way around too, of course: a man might get a nasty surprise if he is fooled by a woman into thinking she loves him because she wants to have sex with him.

      Reply
      • Exactly. And two wrongs do not make a right. We had a society that did not particularly see these options as live possibilities, so how foolish to reject that. Life is about making progress not regress.

        Reply
    • I question whether human beings are able to take the breakdown of sexual relationships without doing harm to their souls.
      Yes, this is the kind of language we should be using. I would go further and say that probably the single most important reason why the young today are impervious to the gospel is that they have fornicated and, though there may be an instinctive feeling of guilt, society (peer wisdom) rapidly teaches them to suppress it. Ps 51:4. It has not helped (to put it mildly) that the Church has not been forthright in explaining that by losing one’s innocence sexually, one sins against God, against one’s sexual partner, against one’s future spouse if different, and against one’s own soul.

      Reply
      • If I remember correctly there is a profound insight on sexual union in a book from years ago, The Road Less Travelled – it is not only a bodily joining, but a metaphysical one, or a joinder, adhering and retention or transferrence of souls, spirits.

        Reply
        • It is possible to take a high view of marriage like that. I can imagine Solomon explaining to some quivering new virgin some such philosophical baloney; then concluding when he was met with a blank stare that all women are incapable of wisdom and higher theological comprehension.

          Reply
  13. For what it’s worth I’m not convinced that one can argue in favour of sex outside of marriage on the grounds that the bible (or at least the Old Testament) lacks an explicit rejection of it, but it’s not an unfair question to ask.

    The exchange between commentators here is certainly interesting though.

    Reply
    • Things can always fail to be explicitly rejected because of the presuppositions of the culture
      or of common sense
      or of natural law
      – or because they are so outside normality that they do not occur to one
      -or because they are too shocking to speak of.

      However, when moderns speak of ‘sex before marriage’ they often mean with multiple partners and/or without a view to marrying. It is quite clear that the Bible prohibits both of those. Formally ratifying an existing union is another matter.

      Reply
    • Matthew,
      From another angle , one commentator on John’s Gospel believes that chapter 7:53 ff (the woman caught in adultery) “should be retained for our benefit.”In which case, what are we to make of the fact after Jesus told her to go and sin no more, nothing else was said! One is tempted to ask the question: how and with whom she was able to live in practical termsa life of forgiveness – possibly living with the last of her male “escorts”?

      The argumento a silentio can open up all sorts of possibilities. While Jesus appears to have firmly asserted the indissolubility of marriage (based upon Genesis 2:24), is there evidence to suggest that he placed and embargo on remarriage? Is this an unfair question to ask?

      Reply
      • Hi Colin
        Hope you don’t mind me interjecting.
        I imagine the woman being about 14 years old. It was high festival time in the city. She was easily led by an older teenager. They were caught in what was probably an intimate embrace. Eg having a snog. Jesus wrote their names in the dust to fulfill the words of Jeremiah 17:13 They fled. They refused to come to the fountain of living water. See the previous chapter John 7:37 that precedes the story of the woman caught in adultery.
        These stories highlight Jesus as the faithful one. They are not there to support a theology of marriage that can then be used as an instrument to maintain orthodoxy in church milieu.
        What I get from these encounters with Jesus is how faithful he is. He is the ultimate groom. Can you imagine on the day of the Lord an angel turning up instead to explain apologetically that unfortunately Jesus has found another bride on the far side of the universe and ,sorry to waste your time, but hey it was never going to work out , was it?
        Sorry Ian to lower the tone of this erudite blog.

        Reply
      • Psephizo 8.3.19 Temptations – Luke 19-24 (and its specific synoptic differences from Mk and Mt) is steeped in the Joseph story point by point.

        (1) As the Joseph story clearly begins in Gen 37, the question arises about what to do with the ‘diversion’ story which is least part of the flow of the narrative. More of an aside. Luke’s answer is to make (at the start of Lk 22 – where it fits all too well and where it appears in one MS) his own diversion, the pericope adulterae, that (very remarkably, especially so within the passion narrative) has no connection with anything before or after.

        (2) It is the same as Judah and Tamar in shape:
        -Woman commits sexual sin
        -The punishment is named
        -The person naming the punishment turns out to be steeped in sin themselves 9in Genesis’s case, having been involved in the same event)
        -No punishment therefore takes place.
        This device of sameness of shape comes sometimes in Luke 19-24’s use of the Joseph story – e.g. the Emmaus story where interlocutor (apparently ignorant of events) is actually the protagonist of the events.

        The other main parts of the Joseph story 37-50 are acknowledged in Luke 19-24. Tamar would otherwise be absent.

        (3) This story is a step too far in Luke’s creativity and seems to contradict both Jewish and Christian norms. So it gets excluded. This is an easy task since (being a diversion as mentioned above, the narrative flows perfectly well without it).

        (4) But since it was originally in Luke, it was known to some before (or after) it dropped out and became a floating item. One of those to whom it was known was Papias.

        (5) Papias was familiar with Luke’s Gospel if he knew the Satan fall / snakes and scorpions saying of Luke 10. Given Papias’s date, and enthusiasm for accounts of Jesus’s life, it is highly likely that he would have been familiar with a gospel written c95.

        And of course the theology of this story is rather Lukan.

        Reply
        • Sorry I don’t follow… I see the story of the woman caught in adultery( John 8) follows naturally from John 7 if Jesus saying about fountain of water is referencing Jeremiah. Then the bit about writing in the dust follows on. This makes the story of the woman always a partof the original and can never have been a later addition. Am I right?

          Reply
          • The only problems are that the vocabulary is characteristic of Luke, not the Fourth Gospel, and early manuscript support is very weak.

            So most scholars do not take it as original.

          • It’s too much of a coincidence that it fits so well in the Lk22 init context. How many other floating things would slot in so effortlessly into a continuous narrative?

            That coincidence is compounded by the fact that the theology and vocab are both characteristic of that very same gospel.

            Then further compounded by the fact that one MS actually has it at that very place – which not by coincidence would be independently selected as far more suitable than any other contender. (Why would there be a ‘far more’ at all if it were not true? there would only be a ‘slightly more’ in such circumstances, given the number of pericopae that there are in a single gospel.)

            And the OT template point makes it stronger.

  14. While it is slightly off-topic and across the Pond, (it looksa the position world-wide) there are some interesting and pertinent points made in this discussion – transcript provided- “Christians and the Future of Marriage”:
    https://albertmohler.com/2021/03/10/mark-regnerus
    Here is a flavour from the early part concerning marrying late and some main factors:

    Albert Mohler:

    When I saw what you were doing, the first question that came to my mind was, “Okay, so this is going to eventually reveal a pattern, and the pattern’s going to come down to the fact that the rest of the world is more or less like the United States. That is, Christian marriage in the United States, or marriage among Christians in the United States. And at least by my reading, it turns out to be more the same than different….

    Mark Regnerus:

    Yeah. So, we found some good ideas, I think, but we also found the parallels between the United States and the rest of the world, both as Christians go and as the world goes, it’s clear that what happens here just doesn’t stay here. In a domain and a world that is connected within an instant now culturally, like Pat Deneen talks about, there’s a monoculture that’s saturating the globe. So indeed, what happens to Christians here and how they think about it and how we talk about it carries weight far beyond our borders, which is staggering and it feels like a grave responsibility.

    Albert Mohler:

    Right, it’s a rather chastening realization. As you begin the book, you talk about a Western recession in marriage. We’ve been noticing this for a long time, but some people thought it was temporary. It appears not. Explain that to us.

    Albert Mohler:

    Professor, one of the things that I’ve definitely noted lecturing and writing on marriage, sex, sexuality, family, children, procreation, contraception, all these issues for 40 years or so, but especially the last 30 years. One of the things I’ve noted is that Christians don’t think they’ve changed their mind. They are unaware of what were, at first, subtle shifts, but are now, I mean, absolutely seismic shifts in the way Christians think about it.

    Albert Mohler:

    You mentioned Christian parents saying, “Wait, don’t be in a rush, establish yourself professionally and all the rest.” They don’t recognize that they’re basically turning their back on 20 centuries of Christians history, two millennia, and saying, “We know better now.” But their reality window has shifted so much that I find Christian parents tend to panic now. I mean, parents of adult children. They tend to panic now when their children are about 29 and they realize, “Whoa, we’re in big trouble here.” But they were a part of the trouble from the beginning.

    Mark Regnerus:

    Right, exactly. The mentality of most people, probably of age 50 and up, especially in the broader Christian community, for the longest time was that marriage was this foundation, right? That you started this at a relatively young age, by 25-ish often. If you were a little late, no big deal. But it was a foundation, because it was something that you did together and then you weathered things together, could often be a little spell of poverty, et cetera, and from which you accomplished things. You built something because it was a foundation.

    Mark Regnerus:

    As if by means we don’t know, here we are 40 years later and we don’t really think of marriage as a foundation, we think of it as a capstone, like Andy Cherlin, the sociologist, talks about it. Which is a very different kind of thing than the foundation. It’s, “All right, we’re not building on it, we’re capping off a well-lived young adulthood by thinking that marriage is somehow this reward for the beautiful, for the successful,” and as you say, this kind of unravels over centuries of thought on this matter.

    Albert Mohler:

    Right. And by the way, I noted that you cited Andrew Cherlin here, and I watched his research as he was publishing it in articles, and then of course his most recent book came out. And the thing that gets me is… There are a lot of insights in what he writes, he clearly is tracking a lot of this very closely, but the overarching ethos of his research is, “Chill, don’t worry.” But I look at the same research and I’m very worried because I see more at stake here than the delay of marriage and the sociological redefinition of marriage.

    Mark Regnerus:

    Right, and I think he and you probably have different perspectives on both present and future goods. So I’m not surprised he said that, and that you are worried, and I don’t blame you.

    Albert Mohler:

    Marriage as a foundation versus marriage as a capstone I think really is a powerful metaphor for understanding where we are. Where people say, “I’m not able to get married now,” which used to be based upon achieving puberty and some capstones of adulthood. But those marks of adulthood were often granted rather than earned, as so the father who had a son and he had a farm, he would carve off a part of the farm for the son to begin and to establish a homestead. Given my own family background in the Anabaptist tradition generations back, that’s exactly how this started.

    Albert Mohler:

    But now, it’s assumed that the investment of parents is basically through, say, the college/university investment, maybe graduate school, and then after that there needs to be… Even though the educational process itself is extended and delayed, this extended adolescence and delayed adulthood, now there’s got to be another period of proving yourself financially and professionally and personally before you can even think about getting married.

    Mark Regnerus:

    Right. It’s ironic that the one thing that has long indicated marriageability in a man, which is the promise of adequate earning power, if not the reality, that’s still in place but it’s the only sort of thing that’s been carried forward. And added on top of it now, are all these additional priorities, both from his side of the equation and from her side of the equation.

    Mark Regnerus:

    So we have probably a lot more deal breakers than we used to. Well, partly because in a way that’s not true of the past, people can afford not to marry. And we risk, in doing so, investing with marriage this power and status that perhaps is too much for it, right? I mean, go back to Ecclesiastes and it seems a very practical, pragmatic, wise institution to enter into. And now, in some ways, we just think differently about it, as if it’s somehow… I wouldn’t say more sacred, but we invest it and endow it with meanings and expectations of it, including material expectations but also psychological expectations, that it might not be able to bear.

    Albert Mohler:

    Right. I mean, it wasn’t intended to bear by itself. It was intended to be something like a long, blessed travail. It’s not an accident that the most famous metaphor in the English devotional tradition for the Christian faith itself is a pilgrimage. I think of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. A pilgrimage includes flat land and arduous terrain, and marriage used to be what young adults entered into, a man and a woman, in richness and in poverty, in sickness and in health. But that’s gone now. You can only have health and you can only have wealth, otherwise there’s no reason to get married.

    Mark Regnerus:

    Certainly for entering into it. You think about the poverty thing, the capstone mentality today is not exclusively a domain or an idea that the middle class and upper middle class hold to. It’s the same vision that’s been sold to both the upper class, lower class, working class, and the poor. Everybody has the same material and psychological expectations of what marriage is supposed to look like, but only some of us have a ghost of a chance of reaching those unrealistic expectations.

    Mark Regnerus:

    So what happens is that the poorer among us, including Christians, feel like we can’t afford marriage, and so we don’t get married. So what you have is two people who can afford to and who have been successful enough to accomplish this together adding together their resources, while the people who desperately need the assistance, the pragmatic part of marriage, aren’t getting together, which exacerbates inequality and it’s why in the book I say, “Marriage may actually be the social justice issue of our time.” It certainly isn’t thought of that way by very many people.

    Albert Mohler:

    Well, the denial, effectively, sociologically, of marriage to many people, just based upon socioeconomic status is indeed a justice issue. And I see a justice issue very much in the fact that you’ve got the liberal elites who are living by a very different narrative than they’re selling the rest of the population. They get married, they stay married…

    Mark Regnerus:

    Exactly, right. Oftentimes they get married, albeit a little bit later, but they have the resource and the means by which to stay together, and they realize that it’s good for kids, even while they’re happy to shred those of us who want to say that in public and in writing. They’re actually living the thing that we know to be true, we all know to be true, for the sake of public esteem.

    Reply
  15. Ian,
    Do you know whether this Peter Lewis is the same Peter Lewis who is the author of “The Glory of Christ”? Highly improbable I’d have thought, but it would be good to have confirmation from this commentator either way. Not to do so would be to discredit and misrepresent the author, possibly defamatory.

    Reply
  16. We have become disconnected from realities known during experienced by our ancestors and this clouds are judgement on discussions of marriage. The natural result of a man and woman becoming one flesh is a new life, a child. We are given a share in creation and the creative process is God given. Man is given responsibility for his part in this process and woman is the life bearer. The husband and wife grow a family and statistics today show that children fare better in this settled environment. The breaking of the physical bond is given by Jesus as the only reason for divorce.
    Since contraception in the 1960’s we have corrupted the natural process and even diminished the blessings that God gives. When you see members of your congregation who have been married for 60 years, who still love one another deeply, we see a reflection of how God intended lives to be. There will have been difficult times but they have contended and won. They have children, grandchildren and gt grandchildren who love them.

    Reply
    • There are generations where that 50 to 60 year loving marriage is very normal.

      Marrying a childhood sweetheart was also normal.

      As were wooing and winning; dances; groups of friends and peers; home-making.

      In such circumstances, children have security and role models, and so do grandchildren ad infinitum.

      Contrast that with the week-long and month-long marriages that rear their ugly heads as soon as the sexual revolution is adopted and a society throws away what it knows to be good for short term kicks that are over in a second. There we can see the starkness of the difference and measure its degree (what is the proportion difference between 60 years not out and 60 days?).

      Reply
      • Yes. I weep for my grandchildren’s generation. Lasting bonds are not formed. I was pleased that my granddaughter had found a boyfriend. I was told that she was just dating. I said, that in my my day that meant holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes and a bit of kissing. We took time to find out if we liked each other enough after the first emotional moments! As Professor Peterson advises:
        “On your first date go to a coffee shop and talk to find out if you like one another!”

        Reply
      • I am afraid that these are yet more fantastical generalisations.
        I would guess that only one (maybe two) generations (my parents’) had that kind of courtship and that length of loving marriage.
        So that’s roughly 50 years out of millennia, in a tiny corner of the globe.
        Hardly representative is it?
        And certainly not representative of any of the models of ‘biblical’ marriage including those mentioned by Jesus and Paul.
        If this kind of marriage is that envisaged by the writers of Genesis and the Synoptics (although it wasn’t the kind of marriage found in late antiquity) as God’s intent for humankind, it’s rather extraordinary, is it not, that it has never been realised apart from in a corner of Europe in part of the 20thC?

        Reply
        • I have noticed by observation that the generations who missed being called up to fight in both world wars are more sanguine than those who suffered the battering psychological trauma of those who were in it. I’m probably wrong. Just my feeling. A lot of chronic family problems seem to stem from the way family history is carried as baggage from one generation to the next.

          Reply
        • False. The 5 characteristics I mentioned are so common and international that they are majority characteristics:
          lifelong marriage
          dancing in courtship
          groups of friends
          marrying someone from the same community
          having to woo and win them (how would they marry you otherwise?).

          What did I mention that was not common/international?

          Reply
          • 50-60 years
            ‘loving’ marriages
            dancing in courtship
            marrying from the same community
            having to woo and win

            None of these is universal.
            Never has been.

          • Whom are you disagreeing with? The person who said ‘universal’? That person is not me.

            I said:
            Common
            International.

            50-60 years is of course common but depends on lifespans, so we could say ‘lifelong’.

          • Well, neither common, nor international then.
            Cf. Islam, Judaism, no wooing and winning there (at least in Orthodox Judaism); loving marriages – not invariably; not necessarily lifelong – divorce; no dancing in courtship certainly; sex segregated groups of friends. (These also obtain in ultra conservative forms of Christianity – those who believe that the danger of sex is that it can lead to dancing!)
            At least some of these ‘nots’ are also true for most other ‘faiths’.
            The only one that is consistent in many faith groups is marrying in the community; and that can be extremely injurious to health.

          • How does picking out minority exceptions change that these are common and cross-cultural cross-era things? Doom-mongery? Most people rejoice to think of such pleasant things as that.

          • So, the whole Islamic world, Judaism, and other major (and minor) faiths are all minority exceptions?
            Think it’s time to decolonise your lenses.

        • Penelope
          Before the 1980’s divorce was not the norm. I agree that people did not have 50 or 60 years together because they did not live as long. If you reached 70 you were fortunate. Both my father and uncle died in their sixties. However we do have several couples in our congregation who are in their 80’s and have been married for 60 years. So there is nothing fantastical about this. And as the One Holy Apostolic teach of the Church is, and has always been, that marriage is for life, Christianity has taught that marriage is a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman.
          Islam on the other hand allows a man up to 4 wives – maybe you think this is a better teaching.

          Reply
          • Tricia

            What is fantastical is Christopher’s unhistorical belief that this model is common or international.
            I pointed out that his list was true for neither Judaism nor Islam.
            I’m not disputing better ‘teaching’, I’m calling out silly generalisations.

  17. Ian, No doubt you are correct in questioning the origins of John 7: 53ff. Nevertheless there appears to be widespread support among biblical scholars regarding its authenticity. The late Bruce Metzger is quoted as saying: “This account has all the hallmarks of historical veracity”.
    If that is the case then the manner of Jesus’ direct, yet in a sense, open-ended declaration to the woman (“go and sin no more”) does raise questions that come to the surface elsewhere in the New Testament. To be specific: where does it actually say, for example, that is impossible to remarry after divorce?
    Returning to the woman caught in adultery: exactly* how* does she live this “sinless” existence?
    The issues emanating from such scenarios are not simply academic in our own generation. They reverberate through the lives of so many ; not least the Christian community!

    Reply
    • “Go and sin no more”
      It must have been received by the girl to be applicable to the specific activity in question. No doubt she still failed in other areas. The command was a release into a blameless adulthood . Not an enormous burden to be an unimpeachable paragon of virtue.

      Reply
      • We are off topic here but I am inclined to read the teaching focus of this story as the men taken in hypocrisy rather than a woman taken in adultery. My main struggle with your take on the story it is the absence of any discussion about the men and their behaviour – including the one she was with. I have always read her as a deliberately set up by the religious leaders (how else do you ‘catch’ a couple in the act of adultery and then only focus on the woman?). Which quite possibly makes her a rape victim?

        Reply
        • I have always read her as a deliberately set up by the religious leaders (how else do you ‘catch’ a couple in the act of adultery and then only focus on the woman?).

          Given that we know from the text that the Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus into saying something they could use against Him, and given that she wasn’t actually ever going to be stoned (the Romans would never have allowed it), possibly the reason they brought only the woman and not both was because they thought a woman would be more sympathetic. So if Jesus said to stone her, they could more easily portray Him as cruel and overly harsh because she was a woman; or they might have thought that Jesus was more likely to take pity on a woman, in which case they could accuse Him (again) of disregarding the law of Moses.

          It’s important to remember that Jesus wasn’t being asked for his opinion in good faith. They weren’t coming to Him for confirmation of the death sentence.

          Sometimes people tell this story like the Pharisees were bloodthirsty, out to stone the girl, and if Jesus had said, ‘Yes, kill her, dura lex sed lex’ they would have gone, ‘Great, thanks, good man’ and got their stones out and begun pelting.

          But it wasn’t like that at all. They were trying to catch Him out, just like the question about whether they should pay taxes to the Romans. They were trying to give Him a question with just two answers, and either way they would have attacked Him.

          (And sometimes you get the impression some people think Jesus was just walking along when He came across this stoning about to happen, and He marched in and stopped it, put himself between her and the mob, shamed them into silence, saved the girl from death at the crowd’s hands. Which is just… so so wrong it’s hard to know where to begin. Maybe they’re confusing it with the woman at the well where Jesus is wandering along and meets her? Or maybe they just haven’t read it properly.)

          Anyway Jesus, as with the tax question, responds by undermining the standing of the people asking the question. With the taxes He points out that they use Roman money so they can hardly claim the moral high ground of non-collaboration, with this He points out they, also being sinners, have no moral standing to act as judge and jury.

          Reply
          • The colonnade was probably a good piece of home turf away from Roman eyes where the pharisees felt they could control events. Jesus was holding a seminar when they burst in.

    • It doesn’t say it is impossible to marry after divorce – all kinds of things are possible, and human beings do all kinds of things, good and bad. What it says is that if you marry after divorce then that is to commit adultery.

      Authenticity to Jesus rather than to John I assume you mean. That probably relies on the writing on the ground being an eyewitness detail because it lacks clear meaning within the bounds of the story. It might rely secondly on the sequence being too striking and true to life to be an invention. But ‘all the hallmarks’ seems a large generalisation, and how to justify it?

      Reply

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