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  • Writer's pictureJosh Reading




There is this weird idea that sex itself makes a marriage.

I don’t mean, it makes a ‘good marriage’ rather, what is claimed occasionally, is that if a person has sex with another consensually, then apparently this was a ‘biblical marriage’.

However, is this true? The answer is a simple NO.

Just having sex consensually does not make one married before God, or before anyone else for that matter.

There can be an argument that formal legal marriage before the government is unrequired scripturally, but there is no valid argument that marriage is simply between two individuals created solely through consensual sex. If you want a blog that addresses marriage and government I have written one already.

The argument some try to make regarding the approval of sex before marriage or rather, sex as marriage is virtually one from silence. It is a constant case of reading modern individualism and self-determinism onto the text of scripture.

In another blog I will speak specifically to God’s purpose for sex, this blog is specifically about what makes one married and why sex itself although required for covenant is not in itself marriage.

Sex outside of the marriage covenant is sin. WHAT IS MARRIAGE?

The earliest mention of marriage is Genesis 2:24, which gives the basic framework for marriage.

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Gen 2:24

Jesus then specifically quotes this text in regard to marriage and divorce in the context of a specific understanding of marriage in Matt 19:4 – 6. God defines marriage. Marriage involves three parts. 1. Leaving the father and mother This is a specific transfer of allegiance from parents to his new bride. It is important to note that nowhere in Jewish history nor theology did just ‘having sex’ establish marriage as a personal bond between two people. It is a blessed leaving and a blessed cleaving. It should go without saying but Jesus, who quotes this text makes it clear that God’s created order and design is one man and one woman. Anything other is outside of God’s design. 2. A joining This word here in Hebrew denotes a relationship that is functionally inseparable. Jesus emphasises this in Matt 19. At all times this was done through communal ceremony. Although forms may change in specifics the communal dynamic of giving and joining has not. There has always been the terms of covenant, we even see this with Israel and God at Sinai. The context being the nature and terms of covenant.

This was not simply a broad personal commitment but one specifically done. In the human relationship of marriage, this was to be witnessed and supported by the community, thus we have the question from the teachers in Matt 19 who fought over the clauses within which they could divorce. Public and communal commitment brings accountability and support, individual commitments are isolated, unblessed and unsupported.

3. Sexual union – becoming one flesh

Though all sexual encounters establish a sense of "one-flesh" (1 Cor 6:16) scripture is absolutely clear not every one-flesh relationship is equal to marriage. Why? Because sex itself does not establish marriage. There is a broader context within which marriage is established. That being the intentional blessed leaving (which was supposed to be through parental blessing) and intentional cleaving. If sexual union takes place without the first defining factors, it is not marriage, it is sin.

Scripture shows contexts within which someone who has already had sex may marry but it is also clear that the consensual sexual encounter does NOT make one married (Ex 22:16 – 17) Sex does not make one married and sex outside marriage is sin

I will show this in more detail through some texts some actually try to use to argue that either sex outside marriage is ok or that even ‘sex is covenant’.

IS CONSENSUAL SEX MARRIAGE? There are no examples of people in scripture just deciding they are married or that sex by itself makes a marriage. Sexual Union may have at times meant at couple should get married but not that they are married. It is important to note, the discussion around marriage is not whether sexual union is unnecessary. Marriage clearly involves sexual union but sexual union does not make a person married in itself, sometimes it made them dead. Horses have four legs but not everything with four legs is a horse. Marriage is sealed with sexual union but sexual union does not in itself make one married.

As earlier said, some try to make arguments from what they perceive as silence because scripture does not always use the same social language modern western culture does (usually to soften sinful behaviour).

Sex outside of marriage is sin

Through the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 15:19, Mark 7:21) and Paul (1 Corinthians 6:18, Galatians 5:19), we are urged to avoid porneia. This is often translated either ‘fornication’ or ‘sexual immorality’.

For those listening to Jesus and Paul, the intent is clear. The activities noted as sinful include the activities listed in Leviticus 18 but those listening understood all forms of sex outside marriage as under the prohibition on prostitution. Think about that for a second.

In the Greek version of Deuteronomy 22:21, the word used for ‘promiscuity’ is expornueo (the same root as porneia)

All corrective comments about ‘sexual immorality’ in the NT include sex before marriage (including cohabitation) as well as sex outside marriage (adultery).

The Apostle, using the same verb makes this clear,

“But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.” 1 Cor 7:2 – 3 verse 9 elaborates on this, “Now to the unmarried[a] and the widows I say: it is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Cor 7:8 – 9) Paul identifies that sexual immorality is having sexual relations outside of that “with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband”. One who cannot control themselves should get married.

Additionally, Paul says “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).

It is important to note, Paul’s words here cannot be limited to adultery. The Gentiles in the Roman context consider adultery a crime. Sexual activity outside of the marriage covenant was fine so believers are not to engage in “the passion of lust like the Gentiles,”

What separates Christians from other Romans was that Christians, like the Jewish people, believed that sex outside of marriage was sin. This is reinforced again in Revelation 14:4 in praising the young virgin men, who have not given themselves to sexual immorality but remained chaste. In actual fact, as with 1 Thes 4, the control of or the lack of control over one’s bodily instinct in sexual immorality is aligned with a true knowledge of God (Rev 4:4; 1 Thes 4:5). Christian’s are not to act like those “…who do not know God” (1 Thes 4:5)

Sex outside of marriage is sexual immorality and having sex clearly does not make one married.

Paul, as an unmarried man, made it clear in 1 Cor 7, that given the possibility marriage was the answer to the sexual immorality occurring.

So, in short, if you are having consensual sex with your girlfriend, with your boyfriend, stop it. If you truly plan on getting married, get married, stop the excuses. If not, stop and run from sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:18) confess your sin not only to God but to a mature believer, seeking healing in that (James 5:16) and seek the Kings rule and righteousness in your life (Matt 6:33)

Sexual immorality, including sex outside of marriage is consistently condemned in Scripture (Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:13,18; 10:8; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Jude 7). Jewish and Christian Community tradition and marriage

The traditions that flowed from the Old Testament, the foundation for the New was explicit condemning pre – marital sex. In such tradition, it is recorded that Joseph, the son of Jacob was insistent that he and his future wife, Asenath, remain pure until their wedding day. Genesis 41:45, 50-52 mentions this marriage but the Jewish broader story reinforces the conditions and goal for sexual intimacy remaining explicitly for marriage

Jews and Christians naturally disagreed on many things but in regard to this matter there was full unity.

Passages people try to use to justify sex either before or ‘as marriage’

Malachi 2.

The argument from this text is essentially “Malachi 2 shows us that Marriage covenant is a private affair and only need be witnessed by God himself” The argument is secondarily made that this is apparently the first explicit mention of marriage in the scriptures, thus it is used as a form of focal verse through which all should be interpreted. The idea is simply not true. Nowhere in the text does it say that this was a private affair, that is reading ‘onto’ the text.

God is evidently and must be a witness to the covenant, he is the ultimate binding factor.

In context, however, the process of marriage was a specific giving of the bride and groom, there is no sense within which this was done privately. That is a totally western way to read the text. The idea that anyone simply made private decisions and blessed their own decisions is simply not contextually a reality. Secondarily, one does not have to use the word ‘marriage’ for the verse to be specifically about marriage. Marriage is framed, as said, from the earliest chapters of scripture.

Jacob and Leah - Genesis 29:21-31

This does not even vaguely come close to affirming two individuals making marriage covenant without familial or communal permission. Jacob specifically seeks approval for his desired marriage and Laban takes specific responsibility for the ‘giving’ as we see in Gen 29:19.

“Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man…” Gen 29:19a

Jacob serves 7 years in accordance with the agreement, Laban brings ‘all the people of the place together” (Gen 29:22). Only after this was sexual union to establish marriage possible. Otherwise, it could have been considered rape at worse and fornication at best (I will address this matter specifically later) Laban deceives and yet it is clear they are following a specific communal custom in giving and the “bridal week” must continue, not just sex. “Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.” (Gen 29:27)

That Laban was deceptive does not mean that only sex is required for marriage at all. Isaac and Rebecca - Genesis 24:53-67. The only consistent example in scripture and the overtly expressed reality through custom is that blessed by the family and community and witnessed. Genesis 24 reinforces this and is an entire family affair in terms of blessing and organising the union. We see this again in the blessing in v 51.

In verse 67, again we don’t see just sex, we see process and blessing. He brought her in his mothers tent He married her He joined with her and loved her. The idea that no one witnesses marriage but God is an entirely foreign concept to scripture and those it was written about or directly to. Malachi does not teach this, Genesis 24 and 29 as well as Gen 2, as repeated by Jesus in the context of recognised process and clause at no point would consider sex alone as marriage.

Saying sex is required for marriage is vastly different than believing sex is marriage. Genesis 34

Clearly what happens in this context is distressing, it is rape but again it does not support anything but the agreement and blessing of family. In context, this included ceremonial giving. This is not an argument for the idea that consensual sex is marriage.

Exodus 22:16 - 17

This text is even more clear, sexual union, even consensual sex does not establish marriage. Even after the sexual encounter, the girl is not married. The father in this text must ‘give her’, “If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.” V 17.

There is consequence, the man must pay the bride price and yet there is still no marriage. There is no acceptance that consensual sex is marriage. Ruth 3:9 – 11

Ruth 3 and 4 only reinforces the same process, even with suspicious activity. In Ruth 3 Ruth, at Naomi’s encouragement, due to her desperate situation, Ruth presents herself to Boaz by sleeping at his feet. Some scholars would argue that Naomi atleast expects the possibility of sexual encounter (v 4). Let’s suppose it happened for a moment. Did that make them married? NO We know this because in chapter 4 this is made clear. Boaz, in the role as second in line in terms of kinsman redeemer asks from the first not only to buy the land that belonged to Ruth’s dead husband and sons but also notes that if the first takes the land, he also must take Ruth. Boaz and Ruth were NOT married, even if there was sexual encounter. With the evident encouragement of Naomi, the blessing of the Elders, he takes Ruth as his wife (v 13). Making love to her comes after and yes as biblically expected this act seals their covenant.

Trying to justify sex before or outside of marriage by appealing to the possibility of sexual activity by Ruth before marriage because scripture does not specifically condemn her is grasping at straws.

Hook up culture and marriage. One of the more left-field claims I have read is that “Marrying and giving in marriage” as spoken by Jesus in Matt 24:38 is, to use modern vernacular, ‘hook-up culture’.

That simply is not true. It is an unusual reading onto the text of western and immoral behaviour. Matt 24 refers to the days when Jesus will come again, life will be entirely normal. No one knows the day nor hour (Matt 24:36) people will be doing normal everyday things, “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (Matt 24:38), people will be working as normal (Matt 24:40 – 41)

That is the clear intent of Matt 24, it is not in any way a reference trying to justify fornication.


Often I hear people, despite the clear teaching of scripture say something to the effect of “But I prayed and I felt good” or “I feel like this pleases God / the Holy Spirit” Frankly, this is just manipulative language. It tries to set people up, using subjective feelings to stand against what God has apparently said. The holy scriptures are clear about this matter, God has already spoken. If you pray and come to a conclusion that contradicts scripture, the historically consistent teaching of the people of God and that feeds your flesh not your obedient submission to the spirit-inspired word of God, it is not God you are being led by, it is something else. CONCLUSION “Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” Hebrews 13:4

I said this earlier but I want to express my deep concern for those who justify sex outside of marriage, it is acting like those “…WHO DO NOT KNOW GOD” (1 Thes 4:5) Caps obviously my emphasis. If you sin without conviction and continue without repentance then I see no evidence you are a believer or possibly even worse, you are a believer walking in the flesh and rebellion (1 Cor 5) Please, turn to Jesus, repent and be saved. In light of the sovereign position of God, you can be transformed (Romans 11:33 – Romans 12:2)

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