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Sexual Morality, the Family, and the Bible

Sexual Morality, the Family, and the BibleThe New Morality, sexual liberation and "free love" movements have popularized premarital sex, extramarital sex, divorce, homosexuality, and pornography. Divorce now involves "no fault." Homosexuals simply have an "alternate lifestyle" and a different "sexual orientation." Cohabitation without marriage is a "domestic partnership." 

We no longer hear words like "fornication" and "adultery." How does the sexual revolution compare to Bible teaching about the family and marriage? What should a Christian believe about sexual morals?

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Who can possibly doubt that sexual immorality is increasingly practiced and accepted in our society?

All you need to do is turn on your TV or read your paper and you know our society faces an epidemic of sexual immorality.

* New Morality, Sexual Liberation, and Free Love philosophies defend premarital sex and often even extramarital sex. Companies and government are urged to provide benefits for "domestic partners."

* Each year in this country there are approximately half as many divorces as there are marriages. Most states allow "no-fault divorce."

* AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases are epidemic.

* The Gay Liberation Movement is determined to force people to accept homosexuality socially and morally. We are told that homosexuals simply have an "alternate lifestyle" and a different "sexual orientation," so we should offer them acceptance and tolerance.

* Contraceptives are distributed at government expense to unmarried teens, often right in the schools without parents' knowledge or consent.

* Abortion is legal with few restraints so women can cover up the consequences of fornication.

* Pornography abounds in bookstores and theaters and on the Internet.

* The entertainment industry justifies and popularizes all these practices in music, TV, and movies.

* Public school sex education assumes "everybody does it."

The purpose of this study is to consider whether these various activities are morally acceptable or unacceptable. In particular, we want to examine how these practices affect the family, marriage, and home life, especially from a Christian viewpoint.

From the outset we face the issue of what standard we should use to determine right and wrong.

* Many people assume that, if the government allows a practice, then it must be morally all right. But millions of Jews and Christians were murdered with government approval in Nazi Germany and in Communist countries. Nations have often allowed conduct that the Bible forbids. We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

* Others think a practice must be all right if large numbers of people approve of it. But consider the multitudes who demanded that Jesus be crucified. History shows that people who were right have often been in the minority. The majority view is often displeasing to God (1 Pet. 3:20; 1 Cor. 10:5). Jesus said most people are on the road to destruction (Matt. 7:13,14).

* Other people will justify a practice simply because they or some loved one is involved in it. But if we admit that people are fallible, then we must admit that maybe we and our loved ones are wrong. We must obey Jesus even if this means we must disagree with loved ones and family members (Matt. 10:34-37; Luke 14:26).

* Acts 17:24 - Right and wrong are determined by the Creator of the Universe. Because He made us all, He has the right to rule over all. Men will be judged according to whether or not we have conformed our lives to His will (John 12:48). Man's will often differs from God's (Prov. 14:12; Isa. 55:8,9; 2 Cor. 10:12,18; Lk. 16:15,18). Since the Bible is the revelation of God's will, we need to understand what it says about sexual morality (2 Tim. 3:16,17; 1 Cor. 14:37; Eph. 3:3-5; 2 Pet. 1:21).

This is actually the heart of modern disputes over sexual morality. Most disagreements occur because people do not use the same method to decide what they believe. If you believe the Bible is the infallible word of God, then it is inevitable that your conclusions about moral issues will conflict with the views of those who do not believe in the Bible.

There are clear and convincing proofs that the Bible is God's word (Jesus' resurrection, fulfilled prophecy, miracles, etc.). If you doubt that the Bible is from God, we would be glad to provide you with these evidences . But that study is outside the scope of the present discussion. For the sake of this study, we will assume you accept the Bible and will proceed to examine what it teaches.

I. God's Plan for Marriage

It is a fundamental fact that all of God's laws regarding sexual morality are related to His plan for marriage. All forms of sexual immorality are, in one way or another, violations of God's marriage law. To understand God's will regarding sexual morality, we need to start by studying His will for marriage, then we can see the relationship to sexual morality.

A. The Origin of Marriage

Genesis 1:26-28 - Man was created by God. God, as our Creator, has power to make the rules that govern us. God created both male and female and gave them the responsibility to reproduce and populate the earth.

Genesis 2:18-24 - Woman was created to be a companion for the man. God then ordained marriage saying man should leave parents and cleave to his wife. Man and woman were to become one flesh.


* Marriage is a relationship defined and ordained by God. Therefore, it must follow His rules. Man has no right to change those rules or to violate them.

* Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman: male and female.

* It is a relationship between one man and one woman: the two become one flesh.

* It is intended to be a permanent relationship: the two leave their parents and cleave to one another. The new relationship is stronger even than the ties to parents.

* The sexual union is to occur within this marriage relationship: the two become one flesh. God told the man and woman to reproduce, then He gave a relationship within which they are to participate in the act that results in reproduction. Whenever the sexual union occurs there is the possibility of a child resulting, and children need the security of two parents to raise them.

B. Other Passages that Confirm These Conclusions

Matthew 19:3-6 - Jesus expressly confirmed the account of the creation of male and female at the beginning and He quoted the original marriage law. He said this proves God intended man and woman to continue together: God joined them so they must not sever the relationship.

Note that, in answering a question about divorce and remarriage, Jesus appealed to God's original intent regarding marriage. This is exactly why we are beginning with a study of God's marriage law. All sexual immorality violates God's marriage law, and we need to understand the marriage law so that, like Jesus, we can apply it when questions of morality are raised.

Malachi 2:14-16 - God explains that the reason He hates divorce (v16) is that marriage is a covenant between a man and his wife (v14). God is a witness to that covenant, and He holds men to it (v14). If a man violates the covenant, he is dealing treacherously with his wife and God will hold him accountable.

Marriage is, by God's definition, a solemn mutual agreement between a man and woman to live together as husband and wife. God holds them to that covenant bond and will not free them from it, even if other people declare that the bond is no longer binding.

This passage also confirms the concept that God joins the two making them "one." His reason is that He seeks godly seed - i.e., it is for the good of the children. Children need a home with a mother and father who love them, care for them, and train them (Eph. 6:1-4). Divorce creates single-parent families and defeats God's plan for the raising of godly children.

Hebrews 13:4 - The marriage covenant includes the right and obligation to have the sexual union only with the companion to whom one has Scripturally made the marriage commitment. To have relations with anyone else is "fornication" or "adultery."

II. Sexual Immorality:
Violations of the Marriage Covenant

Having a basic understanding of the marriage covenant, let us consider various specific forms of sexual immorality. This will increase our understanding and appreciation of that law and will show us how sexual immorality relates to the marriage law.

A. Efforts to Abolish or Transform the Fundamental Nature of Marriage

Many feminist and humanist leaders wish to completely destroy the concept of marriage as revealed in the Bible. Some wish for men and women to make no commitments of any kind. Others propose a temporary renewable contract. Children would be raised by government agencies or by whomever the child prefers.

"Marriage has existed for the benefit of men and has been a legally sanctioned method of control over women ... Male society has sold us the idea of marriage ... In the past we women have been afraid to admit that marriage wasn't all it was cracked up to be because it meant we had failed. Now we know it is the institution that has failed us and we must work to destroy it ... The end of the institution of marriage is a necessary condition for the liberation of women. Therefore it is important for us to encourage women to leave their husbands and not to live individually with men" - The Document: Declaration of Feminism, pp. 11-12. "For the sake of those who wish to live in equal partnership, we have to abolish and reform the institution of legal marriage" - Gloria Steinem, editor of MS., in a speech at the IWY conference in Houston, Texas (reported in "To Manipulate a Woman").
Ti-Grace Atkinson, former president of NOW, "seeks to eliminate sex, marriage, motherhood and love, claiming that marriage is legalized servitude. That male-female relationship is the basis for all human oppression" (quoted in "To Manipulate a Woman").

All of this clearly contradicts God's plan for marriage. The Bible says that marriage was instituted by God, not by men (Gen. 2:18-24). It is designed for the good of all people, not so that one group of people may oppress of others. Like everything that God made, marriage was created "very good" (Gen. 1:26-28,31; 2:18,24).

Further, human reproduction is good only in marriage (Gen. 2:24; Heb. 13:4; 1 Cor. 7:1-9). If marriage is abolished, the human race would be left with no morally upright means of reproducing itself!

Those who seek to abolish marriage are flatly denying the message of the Bible.

B. Adultery and Fornication

Fornication refers to sexual relations between two people who are not married to one another. Adultery involves relations in which one or both parties are married, but not to one another.

Multitudes of people are living together outside of marriage. Some say marriage is "just a piece of paper," a legal formality. Others have a "trial marriage," saying they want to know if it will work before they make a commitment. Others justify sexual relations for those who are just dating, as long as they "care for one another" and "have a meaningful relationship." Still others get married and then cheat on their spouse.

1 Corinthians 6:16-18 - Fornication is wrong because it constitutes being "one flesh" with someone other than your lawful spouse. It violates God's intent for marriage.

Hebrews 13:4 - The marriage covenant includes the right and obligation to have the sexual union only with the companion to whom we have Scripturally made the marriage commitment. To have relations with anyone else is "fornication" or "adultery." [Ezek. 23; Jer. 3; Prov. 5:15-20; 6:29,32; 7:18-20; Ezek. 16:32; 1 Cor. 5:9,10]

1 Corinthians 7:2-5 - To avoid fornication, one is to satisfy the sexual desire only with "his own wife" or her own "husband." Your own lawful marriage spouse is the only one who has power over your body. This attitude makes the sexual relationship a beautiful expression of love and devotion for the one person with whom we have chosen to live for a lifetime. If we satisfy this desire with anyone else, it is fornication and destroys the beauty of the sexual union.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 - The Corinthians had been fornicators, adulterers, etc. Those who practice this cannot inherit the kingdom of God unless, like the Corinthians they cease the practice and are forgiven by God. [Col. 3:5-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-11]

Sexual relations before marriage are wrong, no matter how much we care for the other person, because we are not saving ourselves for marriage. In addition, we run the risk of having a child outside of wedlock, outside the relationship that God designed for the raising of children. It is the disregard for this principle that leads to millions of babies being born every year outside wedlock and millions more being murdered by abortion because they were conceived outside wedlock.

C. Divorce and Remarriage

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in recent years there have been exactly half as many divorces as marriages (Christian Inquirer, 6/82). This is a major problem leading to much heartache for all who are involved, especially the children.

According to the National Family Reporter, about one of every five children under age 18 is living with just one parent (as a result of divorce and illegitimacy). Many children are living with at least one step-parent as a result of divorce and remarriage (7/82). Thousands of children are being raised by someone other than their natural parents.

Matthew 19:3-9 [cf. Mark 10:2-12; Lk. 16:18]

Jesus was asked whether divorce can properly be obtained for just any reason a person might come up with. By appealing to the original marriage law He showed that God intended marriage to be a lifetime commitment. Breaking the marriage bond while our companion is still alive is contrary to His plan.

Divorce itself, in general, is contrary to God's will. God made one man for one woman. He said they should cleave to one another and the two become one - there is no room in God's plan for a third party. God joins the man and woman, so no human has the right to break that bond.

Further, whoever divorces his wife and marries again commits adultery unless he divorces her because she has been guilty of fornication. And whoever marries her who has been divorced also commits adultery.

Note that divorce and remarriage, on grounds other than fornication, is called "adultery". God joins a man and woman in marriage by witnessing their marriage covenant and holding them to it. He forbids their changing their mind, so He says no man can put their marriage asunder.

So, if man puts away his wife and marries another, he is having the sexual union with a second wife while God still holds him obligated to his covenant to have the sexual union only with his first wife. The sexual relationship in the second marriage is adultery, and it will continue to be adultery every time they have the sexual relationship, because God has still "joined" them to their first spouse and He will not "put asunder" that bond.

Unlike the Mosaic Law, which Jesus admits tolerated divorce and remarriage for other causes, Jesus' teaching allows one and only one cause - if ones spouse has committed fornication. The only one who is granted the right to divorce and remarry is the one who has been sinned against by his/her companion who committed fornication. [Cf. Matthew 5:31,32]

Other passages

Romans 7:2,3 - A married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives (cf. 1 Cor. 7:39). She is free to remarry without guilt only if her husband is dead. The marriage "bond" is a lifetime covenant commitment, and God holds people to the commitment they made, even if later they try to break it.

That is why a woman is guilty of adultery if she is married to another man. This woman is an "adulteress" because she has been joined in a marriage covenant with one man, and God holds her to that covenant for life. But she is having sexual relations with another man, and that, by definition, is adultery. This is true as long as her first companion is living.

1 Corinthians 7:10,11 - A married woman should not depart from her husband nor he from her. Again, divorce itself is not the will of God. But if divorce has occurred, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. The Scriptures allow neither remarrying nor remaining in a remarriage.

Divorce does not free her from her bond or covenant obligation to her first husband. Her only choice is to be reconciled to her husband (the one God recognizes) or else remain unmarried.

The teaching of the gospel on this point is considered very strict by most people. Jesus' own disciples considered it very strict (Matt. 19:10-12), but Jesus nevertheless did not compromise it or apologize for it. He continued to teach and defend it, and so must we.

D. Homosexuality

Homosexuality is another form of sexual conduct that is becoming more and more widely accepted in our society. Speak out against it in almost any public forum and you will be opposed and ridiculed. But God's word still speaks on the subject.

Leviticus 18:22,23; 20:13,15,16 - Under the Old Testament, a man lying with another man (or with an animal) was an abomination, and they were both to be put to death.

The term "lie" uses an older meaning of the word, referring to the sexual union. This is made clear by the expression "if a man lie with mankind as with womankind." [Cf. Gen. 19:1-11]

1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:9-11 - "Abusing oneself with mankind" is listed along with other sins that are "contrary to the gospel" and cause people not to inherit the kingdom of God (note also "effeminate"). This expression definitely refers to homosexuality, and the phrase is so translated in virtually all modern translations. (See also Thayer and other Greek dictionaries.)

Romans 1:26,27 - People are here described who refused to properly honor God, so they soon became involved in gross immorality involving improper use of their bodies (v20-25). Instead of having a natural desire for a woman, men burned in lust toward other men. This clearly refers to homosexuality, for it is a desire which is natural toward a woman, but not natural toward a man. This is condemned as "vile affections," "unseemly," and "error." It is classed with all kinds of other immoralities which lead to spiritual death (v28-32).

Again, God's intent for marriage involves sexual union between male and female (man and woman) within the marriage union (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:18-24). God created a woman for the man to be his companion. He did not create another man. A marriage between two men or between two women would be a perversion of God's plan. From the beginning of creation, God intended for man and woman to satisfy their sexual desires with one of the opposite sex, not one of the same sex (Heb. 13:4; 1 Cor. 7:2-5; etc.).

Homosexuality is not a "mental illness" nor an overwhelming inherited desire which people cannot control. It is a form of immorality, just like drunkenness, adultery, murder, or stealing, for which people will be held accountable at the judgment day (2 Cor. 5:10; Ecc. 12:13,14).

E. Pornography

Pornography is an $8 billion industry in America, according to the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography (via Congressman Dan Coats in the Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette). We have X-rated movies, magazines, bookstores, and stage shows. And much of what is shown on TV may never be called pornography, but that is exactly what it is.

What is modern pornography about?

Many people think pornography is just pictures of inadequately clothed women. That is now shown in TV programs and R-rated movies. Porn in "adult bookstores" and X-rated theaters has moved far beyond that. It is so corrupt it is hard to describe, yet if it is not somehow described people will never understand how urgent it is to oppose it.

According to the 1986 Attorney General's Commission on Pornography, modern porn now emphasizes depictions of actual sex acts, violent sex, rape, bestiality, homosexuality, group sex, and sexual acts with children.

Judith Reisman studied nearly 700 issues of Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler - so-called soft porn. She found 6000 depictions of children - an average of 8 or 9 per magazine. The majority of them showed children in sexual or violent situations (Gospel Anchor, 8/87).

Henry Boatwright, Chairman of the U.S. Advisory Board for Social Concerns, claims that 70% of the adult porn sold ends up in the hands of minors (Christian Inquirer, 11/84).

One survey showed that 55% of the men in prison for rape and 35% of those imprisoned for other serious sex crimes, said that pornography led to their crimes (Truth Magazine, 5/1/80.)

What is wrong with pornography?

A fundamental Bible principle, emphasized over and over again, is that God wants us to avoid activities that tempt to sin. We should not, simply for the sake of our own pleasure, knowingly do things that encourage ourselves or others to sin.

Specifically, in sexual matters, the Bible shows that, not only is it wrong to commit the physical act of fornication or adultery, it is also wrong to dwell on that act in our mind, desiring to do it with someone we are not married to. And likewise it is wrong to see or fantasize about seeing someone of the opposite sex indecently unclothed.

Proverbs 4:23 - Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. Major decisions of right and wrong are made in the heart. To make sure we decide properly, we must protect our heart - avoid the influences that lead us to want to do wrong. [Matt. 5:8; 6:13; Rom. 13:14; Proverbs 6:27; 1 Cor. 15:33; Prov. 13:20; 5:8; Jas. 4:4; 2 Cor. 6:17-7:1]

Matthew 18:6-9 - Jesus warns us to not tempt others (v6,7), then He warns us to avoid allowing ourselves to be tempted. We should cut off our foot, hand, or eye rather than allow them to tempt us to sin. This is not literal, but is an extreme way of showing us how important it is to avoid sin. And we avoid it by getting rid of what tempts us - people and circumstances, etc.

Genesis 39:7-12 - Joseph in Potiphar's house illustrates the point. Potiphar's wife tempted Joseph to adultery. He refused. She continued to tempt, so he refused to be around her.

Matthew 5:27,28 - Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. A person should not only avoid physical sexual union with someone other than his Scriptural spouse, he should also avoid "fantasizing" about improper sexual activities with someone other than his spouse. If it would be wrong to do the act, then it would be wrong to take pleasure in thinking about the act.

Proverbs 6:25 - Do not lust after her beauty in your heart, nor let her allure you with her eyelids.

This is not teaching that we sin every time an evil thought comes to our minds. The coming of the thought is the temptation, just like the thought that we should steal something or hurt somebody. Whether or not we sin depends on how we react to the thought. If we enjoy the thought, feed it, encourage it, and deliberately continue it, that is sin. If we reject the thought as evil and strive to reject it, we were tempted but resisted the temptation.

Philippians 4:8 - We should meditate on things pure, virtuous, praiseworthy, etc. We should examine our thoughts as to whether or not they would be the kind of thoughts that Jesus would entertain. If not, then we should not entertain them, but eliminate them and think on pure things. [Col. 3:2; Phil. 3:19; 2:5]

Many passages warn against activities that are "lascivious or licentious."

Mark 7:21-23 - Jesus lists things that come from within the heart of man and defile the man. Included is licentiousness/lasciviousness.

Romans 13:13,14 - We are to walk properly, making no provision to fulfill the lust of the flesh. This requires us to avoid licentiousness. [Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Pet. 4:1-4; 2 Cor. 12:21; Eph. 5:19; 2 Pet. 2:2,7,18; Jude 4]

These words are defined as follows: "arousing or exciting sexual desire," "inclined to, characterized by, or inciting to lust," "obscene or indecent," "[sexually] suggestive," "causing or intended to cause sexual excitement or lust."

Clearly, the very purpose of pornographic material is to put sexually suggestive thoughts in people's minds. Fantasizing on sexual activities with someone other than our lawful spouse is the very essence of pornography.

Many people can see that pornography is wrong because it is an obvious application of these principles. However, there are many other activities that are sexually suggestive in their nature, but many people do not realize they are wrong because they are not as extreme. The fact is, however, that they violate the very same principles we have been discussing.

When you understand the underlying principles why pornography is wrong, then you understand why all the following are wrong: suggestive jokes and language, modern dancing, sexually suggestive music, TV programs and movies, indecent apparel, and much of the clothing that people wear in recreational activities such as swimming, cheer leading, and some sports activities.

In fact just spending time in private with someone of the opposite sex when we or they are married to someone else, can be a dangerous situation. Many people have ended up in sin because they developed an attachment to a person because of time spent in private or intimate discussion.

The fact that people may not intend to be sexually suggestive does not change the effect of the act. We need to be constantly on guard for that which can lead to sin intentionally or unintentionally.


The decline of sexual morals in this nation can be clearly illustrated by considering the very highest political office in our land. A president has unquestionably had repeated sexual affairs with women other than his wife. Yet the media defends him, the public gives him high approval ratings, and millions idolize him.

Yet many of these same people express dismay about why we have an epidemic of venereal disease, premarital pregnancy, and children born outside wedlock! No wonder the morals of our society are in the gutter!

The solution is to respect God's plan for marriage both before we marry and after. Let us appreciate and maintain the beauty of marital love by keeping our hearts, our words, and our deeds pure until marriage. Then, on our wedding day we can present a pure vessel to our marriage companion as our expression of marital love and commitment.

Let us then maintain that purity after marriage by keeping our marriage vows and expressing sexual love only to our spouse as long as we both shall live. And let us teach our children that this is God's plan and that it is the only truly happy way to enjoy marital bliss.

Note: If you would like to study further about related Bible topics, we have a number of other study materials on our web site that should interest you. Please see the links listed below.

(C) Copyright 1999, David E. Pratte;
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Topics for further Bible study

Divorce and Remarriage
Living Together Without Marriage
Bible Inspiration: Infallible, Inerrant, Verbal
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