I had a big conversation with Trav today on the whole sex-before-marriage thing. Oddly, given my “Go on, prove it to me” post yesterday, I think I came out defending the traditional position, although perhaps not as assuredly as nayf or Richard did.
The comments said broadly what I’d expected them to, but didn’t really touch on what I’d hoped might be brought up; I’ll get to that in a minute. First off, there’s the interesting side-issue (although it perhaps relates more closely to the point I want to make than the other comments do) of Rob’s comment:
I always thought that adultery meant sex outside marriage, so sex to someone you’re not married to. Hence ‘thou shalt not commit adultery’ seems fairly clear.
Interestingly, as I understand it, marriage in the Old Testament (where the “Thou Shalt Nots” can mainly be found) was almost an issue of property law: adultery wasn’t a crime of infidelity or immorality, but was taken to mean the act of stealing another man’s wife. Thus, it didn’t address the idea of sex outside of marriage per se, only that of taking that which does not belong to you. And yet today to define the idea of adultery in any other way than any infidelity within a marriage relationship is inconceivable to most people. From this, then, I would suggest that the idea of adultery as presented in the OT, then, isn’t especially helpful in this conversation. But what it does do is neatly lead us on to what I think is the central point (of this and so much other doctrinal conflict around at the moment) – that of language, culture and context.
The thing is – as Richard and Nayf sort of touched on in the comments – is that the ideas of sex and marriage were inextricably bound together in the Biblical mindset. The way I understand it is that it wasn’t a case of talking about “sex outside of marriage” in the way we do today; linguistically and culturally the ideas didn’t make sense apart from each other. And thus to look to the Bible for a definitive statemented answer on this one is pointless, as the cultural definition of both sex and marriage has changed almost out of recognition since the Bible was written. The commands about sexual immorality are clear enough – but what constitutes morality other than the prevailing culture? (and if you’re still at the point of thinking about moral absolutes, please go back and read the preceding paragraph about adultery again)
The challenge, therefore, is to establish (in the absence of any clear guidance) whether the lack of reference to the issue is because it is simply a cultural issue and therefore does not warrant a mention, or whether it is supposed to be an implicitly supposed and accepted idea – and if it is the former, what are we supposed to do about it within our present context?
For what it’s worth, and for those who might be getting concerned about the state of my soul, I’m far from advocating sex before or outside of marriage (much as I may wish I were allowed to – but in my efforts to reassess the Bible contextually, this issue forces itself up for consideration and in the interests of honesty and all that lot I’ll confess it’s something I’m not 100% clear on right now.