There are various matters pertaining to sex that raise questions as to whether the Bible regards them as appropriate. We will consider the following such matters:
- Is heterosexual sex between two unmarried people a sin?
- Is the practice of homosexuality condemned by the Bible?
- Does the Bible condone prostitution in some instances?
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible.]
Is Heterosexual Sex Between Two Unmarried People a Sin?
Many people, including a number of Christians, apparently believe that heterosexual sex between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman is not a sin if it is by mutual consent. However, the Bible seems to indicate otherwise.
In regard to this matter, we will consider several scriptures that refer to fornication, fornicators, or sexual immorality.
1 Corinthians 6:9b-10: Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers . . . will inherit the kingdom of God.
1Corinthians 6:13b: Now the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord . . . .
1 Corinthians 6:18a: Flee sexual immorality.
1 Corinthians 7:2: [B]ecause of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.
Galatians 5:19a-21: Now the acts of the flesh are evident, which are adultery, fornication . . . and the like; of which I tell you . . . that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Ephesians 5:3: But fornication . . . , let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints. . . .
1 Thessalonians 4:3: For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality. . . .
Unfortunately, the Bible itself does not define fornication, fornicators, or sexual immorality. However, according to Harper’s Bible Dictionary, fornication (or sexual immorality) in the New Testament refers to almost any form of sexual misconduct (that is, sexual activity outside of a marriage relationship).
The Tyndale Bible Dictionary states that fornication, in a general sense, refers to every kind of illegal sexual intercourse; that is, any intercourse except that between a husband and wife. Tyndale goes on to say that fornication, in a more limited sense, refers to immoral sexual activity between unmarried people.
Strong’s Concordance notes that fornication (or sexual immorality) refers to illicit sexual intercourse in some scriptures, and includes, or is distinguished from, adultery in other scriptures. Two examples are of the latter are 1 Corinthians 6:9b-10 and Galatians 5:19a-21, which we previously quoted.
Although the sources that we have cited provide some perspectives regarding the meaning of fornication, we still need to define sexual activity and sexual intercourse.
Webster’s Dictionary does not attempt to define sexual activity, but it does define sexual as “having or involving sex,” which Webster does not clearly explain. In the context of what we are discussing, the closest that Webster comes to defining sex is with the term sexual intercourse, which Webster defines as both “heterosexual intercourse involving penetration of the vagina by the penis” and “intercourse involving genital contact between individuals other than penetration of the vagina by the penis.” This implies that sexual intercourse involves any type of genital contact by one person with another (i.e., it does not necessarily involve penetration of the vagina by the penis).
Whether this definition or some other definition of sexual intercourse was in the minds of those who wrote the scriptures cited above is somewhat uncertain. Suffice it to say that if a person is in doubt about such matters, but wants to be sure that he (or she) is abiding by biblical teaching, it would be best for that person to exercise self-restraint. In other words, before marriage to someone, any type of contact with their genitals should be regarded as inappropriate and, therefore, should be avoided.
Billy Graham says on pages 264-265 of his book entitled Answers to Life’s Problems, “Many people today have discarded the Bible’s clear teaching on sexual relations outside of marriage, simply because they are absorbed only in their own pleasures and desires.”
In another of Graham’s books, The Secret of Happiness, he declares on pages 106-107,
Immorality is glorified today. The Scripture teaches that God hates immorality! The idea of purity is scorned, immorality is laughed at in school – “God is old-fashioned!” What else can we expect but that thousands of our young people are growing up to be immoral?
And, Graham states on page 24 of World Aflame, “The Bible teaches from the beginning to the end that adultery and fornication are sin, and the attitude of churchmen does not alter its character.”
Furthermore, a man may be guilty of sin if he looks lustfully at a woman to whom he is not married, even if he does not actually engage in a physical act of sexual intercourse with her. Jesus Christ stated in Matthew 5:28, “I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
This raises the question as to what it means to lust? According to Strong’s Concordance of the Bible, the Greek word translated in Matthew 5:28 as lust means, “to set the heart upon, i.e., long for. . . .” And Webster’s Dictionary defines the verb lust as “to have an intense desire or need: crave; specif: to have a sexual urge.”
Thus, if the sex act is just in the form of a desire in a person’s mind rather than an actual physical act, it is a sin, with the possible exception that it may not be a sin if it is immediately dismissed from that person’s mind.
Is the Practice of Homosexuality Condemned by the Bible?
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 teach that it is wrong to engage in homosexual practices. However, the book of Leviticus also forbids eating certain foods, such as pork and shrimp (Leviticus 11:2-3, 10), and Christians today do not regard these foods as forbidden. As a result, a number of people argue that it is no longer necessary to regard homosexual practices as wrong.
However, there are sound reasons to believe that homosexual practices are still wrong. In this regard, Norman Geisler, Ph.D., and Thomas Howe, M.A., assert on pages 92-93 of their book entitled When Critics Ask,
[I]f the laws against homosexuality were . . . abolished, then rape, incest, and beastiality would not be morally wrong either, since they are condemned in the same chapter with homosexual sins (Lev. 18:6-14, 22-23).
[E]ven in the Jewish levitical law there was a difference in punishment for violating the . . . law of eating pork or shrimp (which was a few days isolation) and that for homosexuality which was capital punishment (Lev. 18:29). [Note: Other sources indicate the punishment may have been banishment sometimes, rather than execution.]
[T]he moral prohibitions against homosexuality are still enjoined on believers in the NT (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10; Jude 7).
Romans 1:18-27, especially verses 26-27, is one of the New Testament scripture passages that strongly indicate homosexual practices are still to be regarded as sin. Romans 1:26-27 states with regard to people who practice homosexuality,
For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
And, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 indicates that, like other people who lead a life of incessant sin, those who engage in sexual activity with a person of the same sex will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Graham asserts on page 172 of The Billy Graham Christian Workers Handbook,
No matter how we may rationalize the practice [of homosexuality] . . . Romans 1 makes it clearly the product of a reprobate mind . . . When we come to Christ, we are called upon to repent of our sins and no longer to practice the ungodly patterns of living.
But, what about people who are born with homosexual tendencies; i.e., people whose homosexual orientation is inherent, rather than a choice? Why should they be condemned for a trait that they did not choose to possess?
Although a number of people claim that they were born with homosexual tendencies, adequate proof is lacking. On page 30 of his book entitled Homosexuality and the Christian, Mark A. Yarhouse, PsyD, states,
When we look at the causes of homosexuality, we simply do not know why some people experience same-sex attractions or have a homosexual orientation. There are probably many factors that contribute in one way or another, with these factors varying from person to person. In the final analysis, does the cause of same-sex attraction fundamentally change the Christian sexual ethic? No. We are all called to live the way that God reveals is good for us in terms of sexuality and sexual behavior.
Even assuming that some people do have an inherent homosexual orientation, the Bible indicates that they will be held accountable for controlling their sexual behavior, just as heterosexual people will be held accountable for controlling their sexual behavior.
Graham declares on pages 60-61 of Till Armageddon,
Perversion is considered a biological abnormality rather than a sin. These things are contrary to the teaching of God’s Word. And God has not changed. His standards have not been lowered. God still calls immorality a sin and the Bible says God is going to judge it.
And, on page 22 of World Aflame, Graham states, “Nothing can alter the fact that God calls perversion sin.”
Does the Bible Condone Prostitution in Some Instances?
Hosea 1:2 states, “When the Lord began to speak by Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea: ‘Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry [i.e., a prostitute]. . . .’” Does this scripture passage indicate that in some instances God condones or excuses prostitution?
Gleason L. Archer, on page 294 of his book entitled Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, states,
From the standpoint of Hosea himself, looking back on his domestic tragedy, it was quite clear that when God had encouraged him to marry Gomer . . . who He foreknew would be unfaithful to Hosea after he had married her, this amounted to a divine directive to marry a harlot. This does not necessarily mean that she had already shown a tendency to sexual promiscuity when he was courting her or that she was already a woman of ill fame when he married her.
Hosea’s unhappy marriage was intended by God to serve as a heartrending illustration of the apostasy of the northern kingdom, whose citizens had turned from the worship of Yahweh [God] to the worship of the various Baals of the degenerate religions of Canaan and Phoenicia. God, of course, foreknew that Israel would prove false to Him in later centuries, even when He first took her as His covenant wife . . . in the days of Moses at Mount Sinai. Yet in His marvelous grace He bore with her infidelities, welcomed her back in her times of repentance and revival, and kept faithful to her even though she repeatedly betrayed His love. Even so was it to be with Hosea. Gomer would be unblemished in the beginning of their marriage, but would stray from him later on.
In retrospect, therefore, Hosea interpreted God’s encouragement to him to enter into this unhappy match as a directive at the very start: “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry” . . ., even though the Lord may not have used such shocking terms. . . .
Geisler and Howe note on page 297 of their previously mentioned book that the situation regarding God’s knowledge that Gomer would ultimately be unfaithful to Hosea was “similar to the angel of the Lord calling Gideon a ‘mighty man of valor’ before he had fought a single battle,” as recorded in Judges 6:11-12. They go on to say, “God knew that Gideon would become a great leader in Israel even though he was not yet.”
Subsequently, on the same page of the same book, Geisler and Howe make several other comments about prostitution, including the following:
[T]he passage does not condone harlotry. . . . The fact that the grave sin of idolatry is depicted as spiritual harlotry reveals God’s disapproval of harlotry.
Hosea was commanded to marry a harlot, not to commit adultery with her.
[T]he command in 1 Corinthians 6:16 not to be joined to a harlot is not a command never to marry a woman who was a harlot. Rather, the command is directed against those who were having sexual relations outside of the marriage relationship.
Any type of sex outside of a heterosexual marriage relationship is a sin. This includes sex between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman, as well as adultery.
To be obedient to biblical teaching, people with homosexual tendencies should abstain from sexual intercourse with members of their own sex, just as heterosexual people who are not married to each other should abstain from sexual intercourse with each other. Furthermore, the Bible provides no support for the belief that a so-called “marriage” between two homosexuals can provide justification for a homosexual relationship.
It is important to understand that each person is held accountable for his or her actions, not for their tendencies or orientation. Both homosexuals and heterosexuals need to exercise appropriate self-restraint with regard to sex.
As for prostitution, the Bible does not condone it under any circumstances.
Certainly, overcoming sexual temptations can be very difficult. However, if we are to be the holy person that God wants each of us to be, we must be willing to be chaste in our sexual relationships. Being chaste necessitates that we allow God, through His Holy Spirit, to control our thoughts, as well as our actions. [For a discussion regarding being holy, click on “Can Anyone Except God Be Holy?”]