“Does the Bible really teach that premarital sex is wrong?”
Does the Bible really teach that premarital sex is wrong? (Of course, it does! But with Sola Scriptura, that might be unclear!)
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Does the Bible really teach that premarital sex is wrong? Well, as a Catholic, I know that it does. So, I suppose the real question should be: can a Protestant reasonably think that premarital sex is okay? I think that they can. And here’s why.
When the Bible condemns “fornication”, the Greek word porneia is used. It is an all-encompassing word for sexual immorality, and this can make things unclear to a Protestant. Take Hebrews 13:4, for example: it uses the Greek word moichos to condemn adultery. That’s very clear language. But, then, it uses porneia for fornication. So, the verse can, potentially, be seen as unclear on the latter.
Now, probably the most convincing passage against premarital sex is in 1 Corinthians 6. In this passage, “sexual perversion” is clearly banned. But again, that could be unclear, as “sexual perversion” can even occur within marriage. The thing here against becoming one with prostitutes offers what is probably the best argument. But even that, I think, could be seen as unclear. Paul could easily be seen as referring to literal prostitutes only. Obviously, should an otherwise-devout Christian have sexual relations with a current prostitute, that could cause grave scandal.
And, as far as I know, in every case of premarital sex in the Bible, there is no clear divine punishment for the sexual act. The only obvious penalty is in the realm of financial compensation. Even the Song of Solomon does not explicitly refer only to acts within marriage. In fact, in it, the lovers are separate. They don’t seem to live together, and there’s evidence that could be understood to mean that they weren’t even married (see 8:8, for example). And, judging from Scripture alone, as long as lovers intend to get married someday, their acts together aren’t always necessarily bad (see Exodus 22:16, for example).
To someone raised in the Catholic Tradition on this issue — including many Protestants who have borrowed the Church’s ancient teaching on this — these verses are clear. But to a Sola Scriptura Protestant, who demands formal sufficiency of Scripture, this wiggle-room can shake their world.
Catholics can say, “Well, the Bible is only materially sufficient” — meaning that, well, while the Bible implicitly or explicitly references every doctrine and dogma, you must still have the Church to interpret it, because the Church is the “pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). But Protestants don’t have that luxury. Formal sufficiency demands clarity, and when clarity is not there (as is frequently the case), questions like this arise.
So, in conclusion, to a Catholic, this is clear. But to a Protestant, not so much.