Does the Bible teach that sex before marriage is a sin? A lot of people aren’t sure. This is because we live in a world of tweets and quick soundbites where people rarely have enough time for context.
The thinking often goes: If there is no Bible verse that answers my question, then the Bible must not have an answer to my question. I used to get asked this question often when I did college campus ministry, and I still hear it as a pastor.
Where exactly does the Bible call sex before marriage a sin? Here are several verses to consider.
1. 1 Corinthians 7:2
“But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.”
In this verse, the apostle Paul describes any activity outside of marriage as “sexual immorality.” That means when we read of “sexual immorality,” it includes sex before marriage as one of many examples of sin.
2. Hebrews 13:4
“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”
What does an undefiled marriage bed look like? It looks like a bed that a husband and a wife share exclusively together. Any kind of sex that is before or outside or in addition to a married relationship of husband and wife is sinful according to the Bible.
3. Acts 15:19-20
“Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality....”
After the Jerusalem council met, the earliest group of Christians decided that Gentiles (meaning anyone who was not a Jew) could be Christians, but that they should refrain from sexual immorality, among other sins. In the wider biblical context, as we noted earlier, sexual immorality includes sex before marriage.
4. 1 Corinthians 5:1
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife.” (See also, Ephesians 5:3)
This one is interesting. A man was sleeping with his stepmom or mother-in-law outside of marriage. Paul is very clear that this is a grievous sin, one that not even non-Christians in the city of Corinth were guilty of doing!
5. Galatians 5:19-21
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (See also Colossians 3:5)
In this long list of sins, the sexual sins that Paul includes are “sexual immorality,” “impurity,” “sensuality,” and even “orgies.” It would be very difficult to argue that Paul gives approval of sex outside of marriage, given these strong words against sexual intercourse of various types and kinds. If elsewhere, Paul gives permission of sex between a married man and woman, then all other forms of sex are sinful.
6. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God….”
Here, Paul contrasts a believer’s self-control over his own body with living out of control, burning in passionate lust. The former is living a life that is pleasing to God and is holy, while the other is living a life that clearly does not know God. In which group do you think a hook-up culture that uses apps like Tinder is? Is sleeping with someone you met a few minutes ago demonstrating control over one’s body, or is it done in the passion of lust?
7. 1 Corinthians 7:8-9
“To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
Paul clearly spells out that for unmarried, single people, God desires abstinence from sex for them. If abstinence is not something they can live with, then they should seek to get married. It’s clear that sex within the context of marriage is not a sin, but outside of marriage it is sinful.
8. Genesis 2:24-25
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”
From the very beginning, God’s design for sex has been between a man and a woman in the context of marriage. This is not held out as the ideal, but this is supposed to be the norm for all sexual intercourse according to the Bible.
9. 1 Corinthians 6:18-20
“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
Finally, the last few verses that speak to the question of sex before marriage mention the basis of this difficult claim on our lives. A Christian is to refrain from sexual intercourse with other people because Christians belong not to themselves, but to God. We have been given the great gift of God indwelling us—the Holy Spirit lives within us—so when we join ourselves to others through one-night stands we are violating both our own body and the Lord who has purchased us by pouring out his own body and blood for us.
Concluding Thoughts on Sex
Sex is therefore not “just sex.” The Bible teaches that sex has meaning because marriage itself between a man and a woman is a beautiful picture of the gospel. Jesus, the Groom, sacrificially gives himself for his beloved bride, the church. Sex is ultimately a picture of this redeeming love that God has demonstrated by giving up his Son to save us.
If you've had sex before marriage, all hope is not lost. God is more than able to forgive you of all of your sins—even the sin of having sex before or outside of marriage. God is more than willing to forgive you of all lust and free you from all impurity through the cleansing blood of his Son, Jesus. Turn away from all sexual immorality and seek to live under God’s gracious and forgiving love.
For those of you who do struggle with burning passion, continue to wait patiently for the right time for you to enjoy the gift of sex. Pray for the Lord to bring you a faithful and God-fearing spouse. Sex is a wonderful privilege that comes with great responsibility. May the Lord bless you and keep you.
Episode 269 | Dr. Michael Horton and Adriel Sanchez answer questions about family devotions, feeling saved, God's command to slaughter people in the Old Testament, and how to understand God's work...