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Is Fornication Really a Sin? Sex and the Single

I spent seven years as a singles pastor.  Can you imagine the issues I had to deal with regarding sex? How far can we go before marriage? What if we are engaged? What happens when we have already crossed that line? Is it okay to try living together if we don’t have sex? As well, I knew the issues of lust and temptation that come from magazines, internet sites, and promiscuous thoughts in general. While I was at seminary, I remember the head of the counseling department saying that by his estimation, half the male students were struggling with internet pornography. Half! If half this body of guys sold out to Jesus, selling everything they own to go to seminary, were this deeply involved in sexual struggles, how much more so the singles at my church?

Related Podcast Episode: Human Sexuality

Is Fornication Really a Sin?

Many of these are difficult questions. More difficult than one realizes, until pushed for an answer. We are dealing with sexual sin among sexual people. We are bound to attempt to find as many loopholes as possible.

One day I was blindsided by a question that, before then, I had considered a softball. A man walked up to me after my lesson and said that he had some good Christian friends (and by “good Christian friends” I mean he considered these friends to be good Christians), who questioned him about the issue of sex before marriage. They had suggested to him that, contrary to popular thought, the Bible does not anywhere condemn what is known in our language as “fornication.” They said that the word “fornication,” when it is used in the Bible, does not mean sex before marriage, but sexual immorality in general. According to their studies, the sexual immorality condemned in the Scripture does not include fornication.

After some quick research, I discovered that what they said was true . . . at least part of it.

Now, let me be up front here. Before I married Kristie, I did not do to well in the sex before marriage department. I regret it quit a bit. I don’t think I ever actually committed adultery, but for the most part I worked on a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” basis. I was a Christian at the time and the guilt was bad. However, I took some comfort in thinking that I had not crossed the actual adultery line (at least as far as I knew). Why? Because I knew that the Bible had a lot to say about adultery. You know, it was all that “take them out and stone them” stuff. But, while the guilt was bad, it was not as bad as it could have (or should have) been. After all, who was I hurting? God made me a sexual being. I was not coloring outside of the lines that much. After all, what does he expect? It is quite a killjoy to create sexual desire and then say, “You cannot touch.”

So, back to my question: Is fornication really a sin?

It is true that in the Bible, the word for fornication does not necessarily refer to sex before marriage. The Greek word translated “fornication” by the King James Bible is pornia (from which we get our word “pornography”). It refers to any unlawful sexual activity. BDAG (the standard and best Greek Lexicon) defines it as “unsanctioned sexual intercourse.” The sanctioning of a sexual activity is defined in the Old Testament by what it is not more often than what it is. In other words, we learn what is lawful with regard to fulfilling our sexual desires by creating boundaries of foreign territory considered sinful. Much of this law is covered in Leviticus 18. Take notice of the boundaries here:

Leviticus 18:6-21, 23

6 “None of you shall approach any one of his close relatives to uncover nakedness. I am the LORD.

7 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, which is the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness.

8 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness.

9 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister, your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether brought up in the family or in another home.

10 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your son’s daughter or of your daughter’s daughter, for their nakedness is your own nakedness.

11 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, brought up in your father’s family, since she is your sister.

12 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister; she is your father’s relative.

13 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister, for she is your mother’s relative.

14 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s brother, that is, you shall not approach his wife; she is your aunt.

15 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law; she is your son’s wife, you shall not uncover her nakedness.

16 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness.

17 You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and of her daughter, and you shall not take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter to uncover her nakedness; they are relatives; it is depravity.

18 And you shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.

19 You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness.

20 And you shall not lie sexually with your neighbor’s wife and so make yourself unclean with her.

22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

23 And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it, neither shall any woman give herself to an animal to lie with it: it is perversion.

That pretty much covers the law with regard to sexual sin, right? After all, to “uncover the nakedness” of someone is a euphemism about sexual relations. However, one thing that is left out here is sex before marriage. It does not say, “You shall not uncover the nakedness of someone who is not your wife.” Yes, there are a lot of parameters, but it looks like we might have found ourselves a loophole toward a sexual revolution in Christianity! Not so fast, singles. While it is true that this particular passage does not speak specifically to the sex before marriage issue, sex before marriage is nonetheless condemned in Scripture as sin.

Fornication and the Old Testament

Let me be honest. From what I can see, the Old Testament does not seem to come down too hard on men having sex outside of the bonds of marriage. It is another story for women. Notice here:

Deut. 22:13-14 “If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then hates her 14 and accuses her of misconduct and brings a bad name upon her, saying, ‘I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her evidence of virginity,'”

This introduces a situation where a man finds out that his wife was not a virgin before they got married. If the charge was found to be true, then the women was to be stoned (Lev. 22:20-21). At the very least, this demonstrates that, for women, the laws against sexual immorality included sex before marriage.

Passages such as Lev. 19:20 further confuse the matter, giving males more liberty.

However, the liberty is not carte blanche for men. Notice here:

Deut. 22:28-29 “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.”

Here, either through rape or consent (this is debated), we have an unwed woman and a man who sleep together. The woman has lost her virginity to the man. Due to this, the man is forced to pay a “fine” or properly marry the woman to cover her shame and make sure she is provided for. This shows that sex before marriage for men was not without its consequences in the Old Testament.

Fornication and the New Testament

The issue of sex before marriage becomes much more clear in the New Testament, as it is more explicitly forbidden to both men and women.

(This is not the time to discuss why the Old Testament is not more clear on this issue. It is my assumption that, like with so many other things, God, in the progress of revelation, did not express his full ideal in the Law of Moses, but conceded to some cultural norms like he did with slavery and polygamy.)

The word “fornication,” as I said above, does not necessarily mean sex before marriage. However, I do believe it is implied many times for two primary reasons.

1. Christ’s Condemnation of Lust

Mat 5:27-28 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

If sex before marriage was not forbidden, why does Christ say that lust is? Implied here is that everything from lust to adultery is forbidden by the sixth commandment. Sex before marriage definitely fits right in between.

2. Paul’s Admonishment to Marry Rather than Burn

1 Cor. 7:8-9 “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to stay single as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

The idea of “burning” here has to do with sexual desire. Here Paul tells all unmarried people that if they cannot control their sexual desires, they need to get married. Why? Because Paul assumes that one cannot fulfill this sexual desire outside of the marital bed. While Paul would love for them to remain single (1 Cor. 7:7), he believes that sex outside of marriage is a destructive sin and cannot be used as a gratifying release of our sexual passions.

While there are other passages that can be used to build the case that sex outside of marriage is indeed sinful, I believe that these are strong enough to bind Christian consciences.

God created sex. God created our sexual desires. Sex is good within the borders of marriage. For those of you who think that God is a killjoy for limiting sex to such a situation, please remember a couple of things:

  1. God created sex! How could he be a killjoy? Think about it. The very act about which you are complaining is an act he created.
  2. God knows better than you do what will satisfy you. It takes an act of faith to believe this, but it is not too big a step to take.
  3. Most married Christian men and women who, like myself, did not have a very successful single life would love to turn back the clocks and do it all over again. And this is not because we are not forgiven . . . we are. It is because we know the intimacy which is lost when you have already given yourself to another.

Our advice to you would be to wait. If it is too late, stop and wait. It is never too late to trust God in this matter. As cliché as it may sound, he really does know best. Fornication is really a sin.

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16 Responses to “Is Fornication Really a Sin? Sex and the Single”

  1. Phil Hertsberg 2015-09-03 at 10:12 am

    Shelby,

    Before you reply to my comment make sure you are living a Christian life and know the Bible.
    Fornication is a sin. Are you a Pastor or just a sinner trying to justify your actions.
    If you want to live in sin do that but don’t implicate others.
    People like you will burn in hell when Jesus returns

    • You clearly didn’t read the full article did you? I am going to copy and past the very last part of this article for you:

      “God created sex. God created our sexual desires. Sex is good within the borders of marriage. For those of you who think that God is a killjoy for limiting sex to such a situation, please remember a couple of things:

      God created sex! How could he be a killjoy? Think about it. The very act about which you are complaining is an act he created.
      God knows better than you do what will satisfy you. It takes an act of faith to believe this, but it is not too big a step to take.
      Most married Christian men and women who, like myself, did not have a very successful single life would love to turn back the clocks and do it all over again. And this is not because we are not forgiven . . . we are. It is because we know the intimacy which is lost when you have already given yourself to another.
      Our advice to you would be to wait. If it is too late, stop and wait. It is never too late to trust God in this matter. As cliché as it may sound, he really does know best. Fornication is really a sin.”

  2. Natasha Asare 2015-09-06 at 7:03 am

    Thank you very much. This piece helped?

  3. You are really fooling yourself here and trying to go against the word of God Jehovah?

    The bible clearly states that if you have sex without being married, you are committing fornication. It doesn’t matter if you are to be married or not, you are still having sex outside of marriage. The bible doesn’t have to spell out everything to you for you to understand this. It is a sin, simple as that and by trying to find a “loophole” in the bible is hilarious. God is perfect and perfect and has no loopholes. Please don’t fool yourself or try to make yourself or anyone feel better against this word of God. I am human and imperfect and have made mistakes too, we all are, but to pass judgement and say the bible didn’t tell me sue usually is bad judgement and you need to have a real bible study to get in terms with God. I applaud your effort, but understand a sin is a sin. To anyone reading this, don’t let the devil fool you and make you believe otherwise. A true Christian, don’t take my word for it, will come to understand through Gods Holy Spirit what is right and what is wrong.

    • and I will say the same to you…

      You clearly didn’t read the full article did you? I am going to copy and past the very last part of this article for you:

      “God created sex. God created our sexual desires. Sex is good within the borders of marriage. For those of you who think that God is a killjoy for limiting sex to such a situation, please remember a couple of things:

      God created sex! How could he be a killjoy? Think about it. The very act about which you are complaining is an act he created.
      God knows better than you do what will satisfy you. It takes an act of faith to believe this, but it is not too big a step to take.
      Most married Christian men and women who, like myself, did not have a very successful single life would love to turn back the clocks and do it all over again. And this is not because we are not forgiven . . . we are. It is because we know the intimacy which is lost when you have already given yourself to another.
      Our advice to you would be to wait. If it is too late, stop and wait. It is never too late to trust God in this matter. As cliché as it may sound, he really does know best. Fornication is really a sin.”

  4. But still this does not prove anything.when paul says to avoid ”burning”,he means avoiding sleeping around for the fun of it.if it is deplorabe like adultery ;why isn’t it punished like adultery ????why are people given a chance to mend their ways ????Exodus 22:16.

  5. Mr. Michael Patton,
    Thank you for your insight on this issue. Unlike the others that have demonstrated the sin of judging your sin because your sin is different then their sin is a mistake. Sin is sin no better no worse period. Yes, I have fornicated greatly in the past while in the service. Quite addicted actually. I am celibate today. I think it is silly to say just because you are fornicating as a Christian and other Christians are not I immediately receive a one way ticket to hell flame. Like I said before. Don’t judge others because their sin is different then yours. This is a mistake. Christ died on the cross for our sins past, present and future if we belive in him. That’s the gift. I’m not saying that we can sin wholesale. But your get where I’m going here. Like I said. I’m celibate now and will not fornicate again until marriage. But I am having a tough time with libido and sex drive restrained. I have a problem now with pornographic material. Namely online kinds. I try to stop, prayer about it and ask for relief from such sinful acts. But it presists. I just don’t know what to do. I only view such things maybe once a day or two. I have grand quilt from these things. I am familiar with the verse about looking a women with lustful intent then it adultery anyways. Doesn’t seem fair. I just try to relieve myself as little as possible then pray about it and ask for help on this.
    Well anyways. Thanks for the article. I DID read it in its entirety. It was very helpful but I would really like your opinions on porn and releasing sexual tension and still be a good and fundamental Christian in good standing with the Lord.
    Matthew McP

  6. Sex before marriage is not a sin People, just a very important life making decision.
    First of the definition of sin as defined is: “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law” us bible believers know that our divine law was handed down to Moses from YHWH! within those laws which you can find in: exodus, leviticus, numbers and deuteronomy, there is not found a law given by YHWH against this act. You cant “transgress” against a law that doesnt exist. Not everything that you do is a sin according to it’s definition. There are some choices and decisions that leads you to sin. From the beginning of the bible(Genesis) sin is introduced when Adam and Eve went against God’s word and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They went against God’s command. You are only sinning when you are going against God’s command. Do you not agree?

  7. This is great….I enjoyed reading it and it’s really a great lesson, thanks a lot for the wise words, I have fornicated before but never again..

  8. Chris the Christian 2015-11-08 at 5:26 am

    Interesting debate.
    I think this has clearly demonstrated that the church uses the term “fornication” in a technically incorrect way.

    Read Christian books, Go to a seminar, or youth group discussion or listen to any preacher and they all refer to sex outside marriage as a sin called “fornication”

    Ask an evangelical christian what fornication is, and 99% will say any sex outside of marriage.

    Why do you think the church has continued to propagate a wrong translation of the F word?

    Could it be because the bible doesn’t NAME sex outside marriage as a sin??
    In other words the church had to borrow a word and give it a different meaning or should I say stretch it’s meaning.

    I notice a number of folks believe its a Christians automatic ticket to hell!!

    My question in that is this..
    If giving into that particular temptation means you lose your salvation. i.e you are no longer under the blood and clothed in Christ’s robes of righteousness by Gods grace..

    Then .. Do you not think God would state so in a very clear way. Like include it in the 10 commandments or have it clearly written in the New Testament.. Not just possibly implied by Paul’s advice to marry not burn.

    I believe the vitals are clearly stated in God’s word. Other topics such as masturbation are not stated in black or white terms.

    We often read between the lines to see what might be being inferred when scripture is non specific on a topic.

    If it were all in black and white and not open to different interpretations we would not be having discussions like this one.

    And on a final note…
    Lets remember Adam and Eve were not married.

    So were they Fornicating in Eden!!??

  9. Fornication is sin John said take the book and eat it all sex before marriage is sin don’t overlook the word of God and make it another effect

  10. This has been a very good read. What if God’s heart is as soon as a man/husband(same word in greek or hebrew) takes a women/wife and lyes with her (marrys her/the 2 become 1 flesh). That man has chosen to begin a process of marrige with her and infact she will now be wth him all his days. This is taking into condideration all that was written in the article aswell as own research/journey with God.
    What if fornication in the bible is only when you have slept with more then 1 wife/women. Or slept with some1 but dont tell the next person that you sleep with that you have. What if Jesus was saying if you lust after another mans wife/woman Its adultary, well that fits the meaning and definition of adultry. What if paul in 1 corith 7 was saying if you cant keep away/touch and stay single to avoid abeing immoral or impure(having more then 1 sexual partner) rather marry/touch and choose 1 women and only her. What if in context of the whole bible its only a sin to chose one wife/women and the all of a sudden want another 1, coveting, etc.

    Non the less God is the only person who we where made for in truth, marriage is a blessing and not the critical ingredient of eternal life but Jesus is. We are completed with Christ not marriage per say.

    But i aggree with this article but have a few more ideas which i think we dont take into consideration interms of what scripture actually says and into which culture scripture was originally written to, how they did things, etc.

    God bless all.

  11. Hell0

    I don’t understand your statement here:
    Before I married Kristie, I did not do to well in the sex before marriage department. I regret it quit a bit. I don’t think I ever actually committed adultery,

    noun: adultery; plural noun: adulteries
    voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse.

    If your not married, you cannot commit adultery; therefore your sentence doesn’t make sense,

    What you were actually involved in before marriage that you consider “adultery” I do not know.

    I do know that before I commited my life to the Lord Jesus Christ, I commited many sins, fornication among them; but once saved, it would grieve me to do such things, and I stopped until I got married.

    I feel like I’m the one who Jesus spoke about that sinned much, and was forgiven much. And once forgiven so much how can I hurt my Lord by grieving his spirit that lives within me. How can I willingly shame my Lord?

    Jackie
    Wife of twenty-four years
    Mother of three awesome young people
    Committed my life to Jesus in 1990
    Community college graduate

    P.s. You spelled quit instead of quite in the quote above
    Quit = stop
    Quite = truly or considerably

  12. Hell0

    I don’t understand your statement here:
    “Before I married Kristie, I did not do to well in the sex before marriage department. I regret it quit a bit. I don’t think I ever actually committed adultery”

    noun: adultery; plural noun: adulteries
    voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse.

    If your not married, you cannot commit adultery; therefore your sentence doesn’t make sense,

    What you were actually involved in before marriage that you consider “adultery” I do not know.

    I do know that before I commited my life to the Lord Jesus Christ, I commited many sins, fornication among them . But once saved, it would grieve me to be a fornicator or date someone who thought it was ok do such things and I stopped until I got married.

    I feel like I’m the one who Jesus spoke about that sinned much, and was forgiven much. And once forgiven so much how can I hurt my Lord by grieving his spirit that lives within me. How can I willingly shame my Lord?

    Jackie
    Wife of twenty-four years
    Mother of three awesome young people
    Committed my life to Jesus in 1990
    Community college graduate

    P.s. You spelled quit instead of quite in the quote above
    Quit = stop
    Quite = truly or considerably

    • Jackie,
      In your post, you said:

      “If your not married, you cannot commit adultery; therefore your sentence doesn’t make sense,
      What you were actually involved in before marriage that you consider “adultery” I do not know.”

      I think that what Mr. Patton is referring to, is to commit adultery by having sexual relations with someone else who is married. To put it another way, imagine we have three people: Jim, Sally, and Tom. Sally and Tom are married to each other, but Jim is single. If Jim and Sally have sexual relations, then Sally would indeed be committing adultery. But isn’t it fair to say that Jim is committing adultery as well, in spite of being single himself, by having sex with a married woman?

      Just my thoughts.

      May the Peace of God through Jesus Christ be with you,
      Finn

  13. Brothers and Sisters. All God is looking for between a man and a woman regarding sexual life is ‘FAITHFULNESS’ I type in capitals. The very day you talked to that woman and proposed marriage, God heard you and became interested in your conversations. Why? Because he himself instituted marriage in the book of Genesis when he created Adam and Eve. The very day you had sexual intercourse, it became a bound and a covenant between the the two of you. That is why God said what he has joined together, no one should put asunder. Good. I want readers to read Matthew 1 : 18 – 20. I always ask my self two questions in the passage. Question 1 How can someone who is engaged or betrothed to someone before marriage, be considered as a wife before the eyes of God?. Question 2 How I can divorce someone I am not legally married to and not my wife? But we are only engaged (planning to marry), or How can I divorce someone I am planning to marry in simple English? All I am trying to bring out is this, For the part of Joseph he not have any sexual activity with Mary his fiancee, before the birth of Jesus Christ, but God said to Joseph “Don’t be afraid be afraid to take Mary your wife” in verse 20 NOTE To all readers: God did not say ” Don’t be afraid to take Mary AS YOUR WIFE but your wife. People are so much upset as to Sex before marriage is a SIN right? Let me tell you, the very day you had sex with that woman, (whether you are legally married or not as required by the state law or customary law) she became your wife instantly before the eyes of God and not man. To man he calls it fornication but to God he says, She is your wife or he is your husband. So remain faithful to that one man or woman you went in for. If you flirt around with other ladies or other men, you are committing FORNICATION. GOD HATES PROMISCUOUS SEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS, Go and pay your pride price and stay with the woman for life, until death puts you apart.

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