Most Jewish and Christian scholars define πορνεία (sexual immorality) to include premarital sex. However, where either the old or new testament mention specific sexual immoralities, it's never included.

In Leviticus 18 many specific acts are condemned, but not premarital sex. Likewise, Paul spoke specifically of incest in 1 Corinthians 5, adultery and prostitution in 1 Corinthians 6, and homosexuality in Romans 1. If premarital sex is indeed immoral, it is obviously the most prevalent form of immoral sexual acts by far, so then, why doesn't he repeatedly warn against it?


4 Answers 4


The reason premarital sex is not mentioned specifically is because engaging in sex was what consummated a marriage. In essence, the first time a couple engage in sex, they are married.

If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.
-- Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (KJV)

This is the case with virgins who are not betrothed. Betrothal, on the other hand, is considered to be legal marriage in every respect, waiting only for its consummation by sexual union.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

Joseph was compelled to "put away" Mary, because the evidence as he initially saw it suggested his wife had committed adultery.

Additional Comments

Paul, like every religious Jew who cared about righteousness, understood that Leviticus 18 was the yardstick against which all sexual activity was to be measured:

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Leviticus 18

If you aren't in the green circle, says God, then the land will eventually spew you out "when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you. For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;"

God is a nation builder, and best practice in regard to sexual union is essential in order to achieve it.

Chapter 7 of 1st Corinthians is Paul's attempt to deal with various questions that had been put to him by the Church at Corinth, and the very first issue he addresses is immediately relevant to the concerns of the OP.

It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
-- 1 Corinthians 7:2

Paul is advocating celibacy, which he elaborates on later, but he understands that not everyone is like himself. So, here he suggests: if you desire to touch a woman/man, then find yourself a wife/husband in order to avoid fornication.

In Paul's theology -- if you're having sex and are not of the "one flesh" mindset, then you're a fornicator or an adulterer. He couldn't be any clearer.


In our modern culture, sex is much less about having children than it is about pursuing pleasure. This clearly wasn't true of the Jewish culture as we have it depicted in the Bible, where sex was mostly about building families.

The underpinning principle in regard to sex is found right back at the beginning of the biblical narrative:

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
-- Genesis 2:24 (KJV)

This "one flesh" union can only happen ONE TIME.

  • 1
    Wasn't the commandment in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 just to protect the woman? (As seen in another instance of the same command in Exodus 22:16-17) More importantly though: As you said, sex was viewed differently in ancient Jewish culture. However Paul talked a lot to gentile Christians, who did have more "liberal" sex akin to today. Yet Paul's silence on the matter, is the source of my confusion. Mar 21, 2016 at 21:46
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    Paul wasn't silent on the matter, you just don't appear to want to see what he is saying. He used the Greek word porneia (Strong's G4202) in many of his letters to describe illicit sex. His use of it in 1 Corinthians 7:2 makes it abundantly clear that sex before marriage is fornication (porneia), because the only way to avoid it is for a man to have a wife, and a woman to have a husband.
    – enegue
    Mar 21, 2016 at 22:26
  • I agree with your interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:2, but this is still an allusion, in contrast to his numerous direct condemnations of nearly every other porneia. Mar 22, 2016 at 0:29
  • I have update my answer.
    – enegue
    Mar 22, 2016 at 6:45
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    It's not irony. Why would there be a specific need to forbid something that was already considered an abomination? The prohibitions start with, "None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him". The only reason a person takes the time to nit pick the law is to find loop holes to allow behaviour they know is forbidden. But, let me reveal an amazing bit of information that many don't consider: people are free to behave in any ways they please. The Law, however, is only for those who want to know what's right.
    – enegue
    Mar 23, 2016 at 10:19

Premarital sex is not the worst of sins, nor is it something to be winked at. The severity of the sin, I suggest, arises from the nature of each situation.

The entirety of Scripture is bound up with the notion of covenant. Though not strictly speaking a covenant theologian, I nevertheless recognize the importance God places on covenants. From the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis Chapter 12 to the new covenant in the blood of our Savior in Luke Chapter 22, there is a wealth of revelation in the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures about covenants. Important terms and expressions surrounding the Scripture's teaching on covenant would have to include,

  • the "I wills" of God (e.g., Genesis 12:2-3 and 7)

  • promises made and kept (or not kept)

  • oaths taken and honored (or not honored)

  • vows made, received, and fulfilled (or not fulfilled)

  • fidelity (or its opposite, infidelity)

The above elements of covenant have found their way into the marriage ceremony from the very beginning, when Adam recognized the wonderful thing God did in creating especially for him a fit helper ("an help meet," Genesis 2:18 KJV). Adam said,

"This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of man" (Genesis 2:23).

As a follow-up to Adam's words, the author of Genesis then said,

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh (v.24).

Jesus himself gave his imprimatur to the above words of Scripture, and he added the following truth for the benefit of his audience who came to him with a question about divorce,

"What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate" (Matthew 19:6b).

Inherent in the above information (which I've given only surface treatment!) are the concepts of exclusivity, faithfulness, intimacy, oneness, sacredness, permanence, and more.

All to say, in a biblical context premarital sex is tantamount to putting the cart before the horse. Sticking with this homey aphorism, if the horse is the covenant, then the cart would have to be the enactment of the covenant. Put differently, the covenant is the ideal and the becoming one flesh is the appropriate behavior in keeping with the ideal. Beliefs give rise to behavior; attitudes give rise to actions.

If, then, the beliefs and attitudes of the man and the woman prior to the public giving and receiving of vows are congruent with the biblical ideal, I suggest the "severity" of the act of premarital sex is one magnitude less than premarital sex which is the product of mere passion (or even lust) with little or no intention to fulfill the promise that the act entails.

I am not hereby saying that premarital sexual union is sanctioned by Scripture; quite the opposite, in fact. As my esteemed colleague in another answer observed, 1 Corinthians 7:1 makes perfectly clear that the sins of immorality include premarital sex between two single people who are not yet husband and wife. Paul’s advice to them is simple: Get married (7:2)!

In conclusion, we live in a time when marriage is both honored and dishonored. On the one hand, there is the LGBTQ community which insists they should not be deprived of this noble and time-honored institution and all the perquisites derived therefrom. On the other hand are the thousands of opposite-sex couples who claim they don’t need a marriage certificate to prove they love one another, so they live together (or “play house,” as Judge Judith Sheindlin puts it), thus depriving themselves of both the costs and the benefits of a spiritually and legally sanctioned marriage. What is wrong with this picture?

A saying I grew up with but which is still valid today goes, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage!” Sounds like the correct order to me. What thinkest thou?

  • "1 Corinthians 7:2 makes perfectly clear..." -- I would contend with this statement. Paul may be speaking about the desire of sex (which if unbounded can lead to immorality), which is the reason in 7:1 that not everyone can be celibate, and why the remedy given is sexual availability in 7:3. Plus, I know of no scripture that specifies a man can only call a woman his wife only after going through an ordained ceremony. In fact the opposite: "let your yes be yes...".
    – Matthias
    May 7, 2016 at 3:33
  • @MatthiasDailey: Yes, but . . .. Scripture is rife with all kinds of traditions within Judaism, each of which (e.g., parental approval, the bride price, a formal engagement which was taken just as seriously as the actual marriage, and sanctions which covered a host of possible complications) testifies to the sacredness of the bond between a husband and wife. Marriage, at least within the Judeo-Christian heritage, has never been entered into lightly. Furthermore, I suggest that a majority of both men and women subscribe to the ideal of a covenantal marriage ceremony before God and witnesses. May 7, 2016 at 17:03

This answer is extracted from my article, "Is Sex Before Marriage Forbidden in the Bible?" For the full version, please follow the link.

The Bible does not forbid sex before marriage

The reality is that the Bible is nowhere near as clear about sex before marriage as many Christians seem to think it is. In fact, though the Bible does generally condemn sexual immorality, there is no clear prohibition against premarital sex in the Bible.

No matter how upsetting this may be to some people with traditional moral values, that’s the fact of the matter

However . . . before you jump right into the sack, there’s more to it than that . . .

The Bible forbids adultery, and values marriage

The Bible simply doesn’t say much specifically about premarital sex. And some of what has been interpreted as applying to premarital sex doesn’t really apply to it.

What the Bible does condemn in no uncertain terms is adultery. However, even though premarital sex is traditionally considered fornication, it is not adultery. Adultery is when one or both of the people engaging in sex with one another is married to someone else. Strictly speaking, the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14) does not apply to sex before marriage.

The Bible presents marriage as a relationship that is sacred because from the beginning God created two human beings to be united into one. Based on this, we can conclude that:

  • If the people engaging in premarital sex think there is nothing wrong with promiscuous and adulterous relationships, and just want to sleep around with no restrictions or boundaries, it is a serious issue.

  • But if the people engaging in premarital sex value marriage and want to be in a committed, monogamous relationship, it is not such a serious issue.

Does the Bible give a green light to premarital sex, then?

No, it doesn’t.

But it doesn’t give a red light either.

Let’s take a closer look at the Bible’s yellow light on sex before marriage.

The Bible says that marriage comes from God

First, the Bible says that God created two people to be united into one, and that this relationship is to be honored.

In the first creation story, God creates man and woman together:

God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

In the second creation story, God forms woman from a rib taken from the human being that God had created (in Hebrew “Adam” means “human,” not necessarily “man”), and brings her to him so that the two may become one:

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:21–24)

(On the two creation stories and what they say about the relationship between man and woman, see my article, “Man, Woman, and the Two Creation Stories of Genesis.”)

In the New Testament, Jesus refers to the second creation story in establishing marriage as a relationship created by God:

Jesus answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4–6)

And just one more for now. In the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament, it says:

Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. (Hebrews 13:4)

This should be enough to show that according to the Bible, marriage is created by God, and is to be respected and honored as a God-given relationship. (Assuming, of course, that the people in the marriage are living in a godly way.)

The real question about premarital sex, then, is whether it contributes to marriage or damages marriage.

But before we get to that, let’s look at a few places where the Bible talks about premarital sex. The clearest ones are in the Old Testament.

The Bible takes a pragmatic approach to premarital sex

Let’s be honest. The Bible is full of imperfect people who do imperfect things. The only person who is presented by the Bible as sinless is Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 4:15).

In the Old Testament, laws could be quite harsh against those who broke God’s laws. Adultery, in particular, carried the death penalty (see Leviticus 20:10).

What about those who had sex before marriage?

Here, the law was more complicated, and more pragmatic.

If a woman got married, and it was then discovered that she was not a virgin when she got married, her offense was punishable by death (see Deuteronomy 22:13–21).

Yes, this was sexist and unfair. The same rule did not apply to men. But that was an earlier and more brutal age. This law was their way of assuring a man that his children were his own.

By the same token, if a man raped a woman who was pledged to be married, he was subject to the death penalty, while the woman was not to be punished at all (see Deuteronomy 22:25–27).

What if the woman was neither married nor pledged to be married?

In that society, it was assumed that an unmarried woman (who wasn’t a prostitute) would not allow a man to have sex with her, because the consequences for her would be catastrophic. So if an unmarried man did have sex with an unmarried woman, unless there was some proof otherwise, it was considered rape, and the man was to be punished for it—but not by the death penalty:

If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives. (Deuteronomy 22:28–29)

In other words, the man was subject to a large fine payable to the woman’s father (which was basically a bride price) and to the ancient Hebrew equivalent of a shotgun wedding, from which he could not escape through divorce.

Of course, these laws are not in force for Christians today. We have made huge social, scientific, and spiritual progress since then—which is why most of those harsh Old Testament laws simply don’t apply anymore.

In the Bible, acceptable sex is connected to marriage

But consider the pragmatic meaning of that law about sex before marriage. If two people engaged in sex before marriage, they were required to get married in order to preserve the woman’s honor and hold the man responsible for his actions.

Another way of saying this is that in Old Testament times, the laws about sex were aimed primarily at enforcing the sanctity of marriage.

In the New Testament, there are no such detailed laws about how to handle various cases of sex before marriage. Instead, there are more general injunctions to avoid fornication and adultery, and to honor marriage through faithfulness and purity in one’s marital life. (And purity did not mean abstinence from sex.)

From this brief survey of what the Bible says about sex and marriage, we can draw two conclusions that support the ones I stated above:

  • Promiscuous and especially adulterous sex with no intent to marry is forbidden in the Bible.
  • Premarital sex that leads to marriage, though not ideal, is tolerated in the Bible, and is handled in pragmatic fashion to preserve social order.

This is what I meant when I spoke earlier of the Bible’s yellow light on sex before marriage. The Bible does not forbid premarital sex as many Christians claim. But it does consider it non-ideal, and either requires or encourages those who engage in it to move toward marriage.

In short, the Bible generally teaches that sex should be connected with, or lead to, marriage.

But once again, the Bible does not forbid sex before marriage—as upsetting as that fact may be for some conservative Christians.

To apply all of this specifically to the question: the Bible does not condemn premarital sex because the Bible is pragmatic rather than dogmatic, and it is more concerned with the sanctity of marriage than it is with exactly how we get there.

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    @AndrewShanks Comments here are not for the purpose of discussing and debating answers. For that, please use a chatroom, such as: The Upper Room. Apr 11, 2019 at 14:49

The irony of this controversial subject is that the same Conservative Christians who love to quote from Proverbs, and Song of Solomon, seem oblivious to the fact that the author of Proverbs and Song of Solomon was a man who had hundreds of wives, AND concubines. Concubines were essentially sex slaves. Hence, the wisest man who ever lived, was also the world's most notorious womanizer.

Yet, nowhere in the chronicles of Solomon's life and exploits, does God, or any prophet scold Solomon for his voracious appetites for women. The only thing that concerned God was that Solomon allowed these women to corrupt him into worshiping and serving FALSE gods.

David, the man after Gods own heart, was also a man with an appetite for the feminine form. Yet it was said in 1st Kings that "all the years of David's life, he did not fail to keep Gods commands, except for the case of Uriah the Hittite." Which makes it pretty clear that having multiple women was not a sin in Gods eyes. Only having a man murdered in order to steal his wife.

And let us not forget Rahab the Prostitute. Who was considered righteous for how she acted to protect the spies. Some Evangelicals will try to claim that she changed her ways, or reformed. But nowhere does the bible say that. Even Jesus referred to her as Rahab the Prostitute.

What do all of these biblical characters who indulged in sex with multiple partners? They were all praised for their faith, and what they did for the Lord. They were NOT condemned for their sexual exploits. Why is that? Maybe its because God is far more concerned with what we do for Him, and His people, than He is about what we do in our bedrooms.

Remember, if you delve into the original Ten Commandments, they can all be boiled down to what Jesus said. Love the Lord your God with all your heart,mind, soul, and strength. And love your neighbour as yourself. Then Jesus capped it off by saying that He had a new command. Love each other as I have loved you.

The continuous pattern that emerges throughout Scripture is that God is far more concerned with who we worship, and how we treat each other, than He is with our private lives and sexual expression. Leviticus 18 sums up what God says as unlawful sex. But Evangelicals and Catholics alike, have turned sex into a taboo subject, and added their rigid Victorian rules and standards that were never meant to be. Married pastors and pastor's wives imposing rigid standards of sexual abstinence and purity on single adults that were never pronounced in the bible.

Modern day Pharisees. I always found it ironic that its always married church leaders, who grew up in supportive, loving Christina homes, and saw healthy marriages modeled before them, who never experienced living life alone as a sexually healthy adult, etc...who are badgering lonely, isolated singles to STAY PURE, ABSTAIN from all physical intimacy, etc...This serves as a modern day example of what Jesus said about how the Pharisees would tie heavy loads onto others, that they were never meant to bear, while never lifting a finger to help them. Thats exactly the scenario of when married pastors tell singles to be content in their singleness, and disbanding singles ministries, because too many people were going to meet someone! Duh!

They turn their backs on singles, by not encouraging singles to meet suitable potential equally yoked partners at church, they are forcing them out of the church, and back into the bars, in an effort to find some kind of companionship. One would think that a church would encourage singles to meet other equally yoked singles within the church. Not push them out the door! How sad.

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    This is much more of a rant about modern Christians than an answer to the question.
    – curiousdannii
    May 11, 2018 at 0:54

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