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What Level Of Intimacy Should There Be Before Marriage?

Does the Bible limit the amount and kind of intimacy that men and women should have before marriage?  If so, what are these limits?

The Sanctity of Marriage

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.”

The author or authors of Hebrews tells us that marriage is an honorable institution and one that was created by God (Gen 2:24).  A man was told to leave his family and cleave to his wife…to leave and to cleave.  The two become one and are as one flesh.  This is the mysterious symbolism of the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and the Bride of Christ, the church.  These two become joined together and become one family.  Just as a man and a woman are to be joined together for life, so too are the church and Christ to be joined together for all time.  The betrothed or engaged Bride of Christ should present herself to the Bridegroom as a spotless virgin.  So too should a woman be joined with the man to become her husband and a man to be joined with the woman to become her bride.  Both should remain faithful and loyal to each other because in the Jewish tradition, as soon as the man and the woman became engaged, it was in effect, a contractual or covenantal agreement that could not be broken.  They were committed to each other even before marriage.  So too should a man and a woman remain chaste and should abstain from sexual fornication before marriage [1].

No Sex Before Marriage

The Bible is abundantly clear that there should be no sexual intercourse prior to marriage.  There are no exceptions anywhere given in the Bible and so even if a man and a woman are engaged to be married, it is sin for them to have premarital sex.  The Bible gives no allowance nor is there any tolerance for any sex at any time prior to their marriage.  To fail to do so will result in the anger of God being upon both of them and no one will be held guiltless if sex is involved before a couple is legally joined before God in a lawful marriage.  That is the way God intended it and it is one of the most grievous sins there are when even an engaged couple has sex before marriage.

Cohabitating:  A Recipe for Disaster and Divorce

Sadly, even some Christians, churches, Christian counselors and pastors look the other way or refuse to condemn couples living together before marriage.  In fact, the divorce rate is considerably higher. The Canadian General Social Survey of 1990 indicated that of the couples who had lived together prior to marriage, 63% of them had separated in only 5 years (by 1995) while only 33% of the couples who waited until marriage to live together had divorced.(1)  That means in Canada at that time the divorce rate doubled for those who cohabitated (lived together) prior to getting married.  The statistics today are even higher.  Yale University sociologist Neil Bennett reported that cohabiting women were 80% more likely to separate or divorce than were women who had not lived with their spouses before marriage.(2)  Beside this, the Bible tells believers that we are to “abstain from every appearance of evil” (1 Thess 5:22), even if there is no sin going on.  Imagine the people in your neighborhood who are not Christians and they see two professing Christians who decide to live together.  Can you imagine what the neighbors will think is going on, even if it isn’t? Also, this is just too much temptation for couples living together to not have sex.  Jesus equated looking at a man or a woman with lust in their hearts to adultery (Matt 5:27-28) so it would be nearly impossible to live together and never run into compromising situations where they must share a home, especially the bathroom.

What Level Of Intimacy Should There Be Before Marriage [2]

No Sex Outside of Marriage

1 Corinthians 6:15-20 “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!  Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’  But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.  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.”

There is no doubt that Paul is speaking to believers and to those who are married and unmarried and any sex outside or before marriage is like joining one’s self to a prostitute because the “two become one flesh.”  That is the person who has sex outside of marriage [3] is nothing less than a prostitute themselves and they become one with or the same as a prostitute and no believer should sin like this because our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit of God and we are not our own, but we were “bought with a price,” and that price was supremely costly; by the blood of the Lamb of God.  We ought to “glorify God in [our] body.”  This sin is one that is against the person’s own body, unlike other sins which are “outside the body” meaning that this is a grievous sin that destroys the temple of God (the body).

God has commanded us to “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; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.  For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thess 4:3b-7).  To “abstain from sexual immorality” means to not commit sexual fornication outside or before marriage “because the Lord is an avenger in all these things.”  That means that God is angered by this and will avenge or correct those who do such things in the strongest of manners.

Limits to Premarital Intimacy

There is nothing sinful for engaged couples to kiss or hold hands but anything more than this is clearly going no place good.  When we touch or stroke or pet in areas that are forbidden for unmarried couples, we are placing ourselves in a situation where we are tempted to go even further.  Human passions are hard enough to control as it is, including sexual thoughts, so by adding temptation to the mix only makes committing sexual immorality that much easier.  It also takes advantage of the other person and when this happens, you are taking advantage of the unmarried person to satisfy your own sexual desires for your instant gratification.  Paul speaks “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” (1 Cor 7:8-9). What Paul is saying is that if a person cannot control their sexual passion because they “burn with passion” it is better for them to marry because then there is a biblical place for having sex…and that is within and only within the confines of marriage.  So if you “cannot exercise self-control” then you “should marry.”

Conclusion

God will not hold those guiltless who fornicate before and outside of marriage.  God is the avenger of those who do such things.  He is angered by this and no one wants God angry [4] at them. That will not go well at all. The divorce rates are nearly tripled if a couple lives together before marriage so there are no innocent parties who live together before marriage because the temptations to sin is too much to handle and besides, if it looks evil in appearance, even if there is no sex happening because our witness for Christ is greatly harmed by our appearances because even the Gentiles (non-saved) recognize that this is wrong.  No believer should ever be joined with an unbeliever either because being unequally yoked will only make for heartbreak or also increases the likelihood of the couple being divorced (2 Cor 6:14).  Any level of intimacy is fine within marriage but this is not the case with those who are not married.  No one should defile the temple of the Holy Spirit because, in effect, they become one with a prostitute and God is an avenger of those who do such things.

Related reading: Christian Advice Before Marriage [5]

Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. (1) A Zet Daily Dispatch. “Cohabitation: A Recipe for Marital Ruin.”  http://www.ewtn.com/library/ISSUES/zcohabit.HTM (accessed June 7, 2014). (2)  Leader U. “Sociological Reasons Not to Live Together.” http://www.leaderu.com/critical/cohabitation-socio.html (accessed June 7, 2014).

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