Question:

Didn't people get married during or soon after puberty in Biblical times? It seems like it would be a lot easier to abstain from premarital sex if people were getting married as teenagers. In our society, people usually get married in their mid to late 20s, 10 or more years after sexual maturity. People are expected to finish college (and possibly graduate school) and have a career before they get married. Do you think that this change in society has made it more difficult for people to abstain? Would God prefer that people get married earlier? With divorce rates so high, especially among those who marry young, do you think teenagers should get married to avoid falling to the temptation of premarital sex?

Also, does the Bible say anything about how long two people should date? If two people start dating when they are teenagers and stay together for a long time without ever dating anyone else and still don't feel ready for marriage (even though they are well into their 20's) is that OK?

My boyfriend and I are both very independent people and also are sort of immature. We like living with (same-sex) roommates and having our own separate lives. We are very happy seeing each other a few times during the week and on weekends and we spend most of our time together playing sports, games, and stuff (we're immature like I said). I can't imagine having to share a room with someone, sleep with them every night, and tell them what I'm doing/buying/etc. all the time. My boyfriend and I are both on the same page here. We want to get married at my church, have two kids, live at the beach, etc., etc. -- just not anytime soon.

If we wanted to have sex, would it be OK if we got married legally and then continued with our separate lives? I just don't think we can wait any longer (especially him, poor guy is always trying to hide his erection). We're both college graduates and if I got pregnant (we would use reliable birth control, so this would be a small chance) we could suck it up and provide a loving home for the child.

Is a wedding outside of a church even recognized, or is it just a secular formality?


Answer:

So many questions in one note! I guess I'll just start at the top and work down.

We don't know the ages of most couples when they married in the Bible. Isaac was forty when he married (Genesis 25:20). Esau married at the age of forty (Genesis 26:34). His twin brother, Jacob, got married a number of years later (at least ten), the best estimate is at the age of sixty-four. Joseph was thirty when he married (Genesis 41:45-46). Moses was over forty when he married. David married Michal in his twenties, since he became king at the age of thirty (II Samuel 5:4) and had married her years earlier.

It appears that in Moses' day people weren't considered adults and responsible for their own decisions until they were over twenty (Deuteronomy 1:39; Numbers 14:29).

I don't know how much you can infer from these dates. Until you get to David, people lived much longer than we do and it is likely that they matured at a later age, as well as lived longer.

The trend toward earlier puberty has been talked about for quite a while. The problem in getting a precise answer is that adolescence takes place over a five to eight year period. So far the markers being used in older and modern documents are not consistent. Nor have the sample sizes in older documents been great. Just as an example, I stumbled across a reference to a king in England, at the age of 14, getting his 12 year-old bride pregnant. It is strongly possible the apparent downward trend is simply a matter of better documentation in modern times.

I do genealogy and I've noticed that, unlike typical statements about the past, most people had a tendency to marry around 21. The man might be a year or two older than the woman, but often they are the same age. There are always exceptions, but it appears that by roughly 21 most men had an occupation which allowed them to marry and start a family.

You are correct that in recent years it has become a fad to marry later. There are self-feeding trends behind this. It has become acceptable in society to have sex before marriage. Therefore, there isn't a biological push toward marriage for many people. They can get what they desire without commitment. The stigma of living together without marriage also has been diminished, so people can play at marriage without a commitment and even have children without a commitment between the parents. Added to this is the fact that people are living with their parents longer than in the past, and you find that people aren't in a rush to take on responsibilities.

The problem for Christians is that physical maturity still continues and the temptation to have sex even though two aren't married remains. Stretching out the time period of remaining abstinent just increases the number of opportunities to give in to sin.

The Bible doesn't give a hard fast rule about how long people should date. Instead it gives guidelines, such as "but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (I Corinthians 7:9). You don't stretch things out just because everyone else is doing so.

I don't know about your boyfriend, but you don't really sound like you are ready to marry. Marriage a commitment of two people's lives to the goal of becoming a single unit. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). You aren't interested in joining with this man, other than physically. It makes me wonder why you are dating if you have so little interest in each other.

Marriage is an intimate companionship. "And the LORD God said, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him"" (Genesis 2:18). The reason people get married is because the other is their partner in life. They want to be with the other person. You keep emphasizing you want your independence. To me that clearly states you aren't interested in this man.

To get married solely so you have an excuse to have sex is a poor foundation. You aren't viewing marriage as a lifetime commitment to another person. You only see it as a door to extra experiences and you seem to be willing to walk away from it when your mood so strikes you. "For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man" (Romans 7:3-4). Frankly, with that attitude you would make a poor wife for any man. You hit the nail on the head, you might have adult bodies, but you aren't adults in your thinking. Adults don't avoid responsibility, they embrace them because they welcome the challenges and the benefits which result.

Sex is inside marriage because it creates responsibilities. You are joining yourself to another person and that joining is likely going to lead to children and the responsibilities of raising them. The joys of sex make the obligations that comes along with it all that much more fun. If you aren't ready to be parents, you have no business having sex. Contraceptives reduce the odds of pregnancy, but none are perfect. Each act of sex carries the possibility of children being produced. It is sad that you don't see being a wife to a man as being fun. And I feel sorry for your boyfriend investing so much time in a woman who says she doesn't want to live with him for their rest of their life.

What makes a marriage is the vow that you make. "Yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant" (Malachi 2:14). Whether those vows are made in a church building before a preacher or in the county courthouse before a justice of the peace, the result is the same. God is still involved whether someone wants to acknowledge it or not. "So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate" (Matthew 19:6).

Hard as it might be, stop thinking about sex for the moment and decide if this is the man you want at your side for the rest of your life. He has to decide if you are the woman he wants at his side for the rest of his life. If that is true for both of you, then the obligations and responsibilities in joining your two lives together will be worth every moment. You might think you like independence better, but being on the other side I know that having a lifetime partner is a far better state. "Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

If you don't care about this man that much, then cut him loose. You aren't being fair to him by stringing him along with expectations you don't want to give.

Thank you so much for your quick response. It is hard to find someone to give advice about these matters. Even my friends at church tell me I'm crazy for not having sex yet. I'm sorry to be so verbose, I can try to be more concise, but it probably won't work.

I always though the long lifespans in the Old Testament were to due to time accounting discrepancies, is this not true?

I know that getting married just to have sex is wrong, but I think it is going to be really hard to wait. We might not be ready for marriage for another 5 years! I didn't mean to make it sound like I didn't ever want to be with him. I'm really looking forward to living with him, sharing our lives, having children, retiring together, etc, etc, but we're both still trying to learn to manage our own adult lives and aren't ready to run a household together. We have planned the wedding and everything, but have not set any date except that it will be before we turn 30 so we have to time to have children. No one in either of our (very large) extended families has ever been divorced and we will not be the first! We are beyond best friends and we love and trust one another as much (in some ways more) as we do our own families. I cannot imagine my life without him.

You gave the quote "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh", and this makes perfect sense for someone who is getting married at a younger age. I know lots of people who went straight from living at home to living with their husband. Everyone wants to leave their parents in their early adult years and marriage is an easy and economically sound way out a lot of the time (it's cheaper to for two people to share a bedroom, prepare meals together, etc.). But, what if you leave your parents at 17 and live independently for a decade before marriage? Doesn't that complicate things some? I don't think this was typical of young people in biblical times. Sure, some people live at home longer, but once I left for college there was no reason to live at home again. I had a great home life, but I don't think backtracking is good.It seems like you can maintain your independence when you want to, and still get all the benefits of having a companion (minus sex) when you are dating. Is it wrong to like being independent?

I don't think we are ready to get married because I can't be a good wife yet. I can't cook, clean, maintain a household, or be obedient (this probably isn't the right word...I just mean I'm not ready to let him control things). I think I live like the stereotypical bachelor, but I'm a girl. He's not ready to be a husband because he can't act responsibly when I'm around. He shirks all his responsibilities when we spend time together, so I have to let him have time to himself so he can get things done. He also isn't ready to be in control, I sometimes feel like I have to act like his mother. Also, I make more money than he does and I don't think he wants to get married until he feels like he can provide for me (and possibly a child).

We are making progress towards growing up though. I've been cooking dinner for him sometimes and trying to be more like a "normal girl." He has become much less reliant on me and has started to take more control in the past year or so. He should be able to find a better job soon and his field offers many more opportunities for advancement than mine.

We both look like teenagers and when we are together we act like teenagers. In our separate lives, we are disorganized, but we live like adults and have been since we moved out of the dorms 5 or 6 years ago. We don't want to have to grow up completely just yet, so I guess we'll have to wait on the sex. Even though we aren't married, I still feel like I'm depriving him or something It is hard for me to resist, but it is so much harder for him. I try not to make him get aroused, but I'm so comfortable around him that I do things that make him aroused without realizing. He has to at least kiss me to get me thinking about sex, but all I have to do is wear a bathing suit or a dress. Is there anything we can do to make it easier? He already masturbates all the time. I'm kind of afraid we might "burn with passion."

Again, I'm just going to go down through your note and respond.

If you are being pressured by "friends" at church to have sex before marriage, you are in the wrong church. When members of a church have no respect for God's Word, it is clear that the church is not teaching the truth as it ought to be taught. "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4). Your friends should be more concerned with you getting to heaven than whether you've experience momentary pleasure.

Early men had long lifespans because it was close to the perfection of creation. God changed something with the Flood. From that point on lifespans quickly decreased, but even by Abraham's time people still lived about 200 years. However, but the time we get to King David's time, lifespans were about like our own. "The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away" (Psalm 90:10). A claim of accounting differences doesn't make sense since Moses served as editor and writer of the first five books of the Bible and documents the decrease in lifespans.

Going back to marriage, I'm looking at matters from a different direction. Since people for thousands of years have matured and taken responsibility for their lives by the time they were in their twenties, why is it that young people in the last twenty years or so suddenly find it hard to grow up? The only reasonable answer is that they are choosing to avoid responsibilities. And it definitely sounds like this is true concerning you and your boyfriend.

You're feeling the biological pressure to begin taking on responsibility and you are scratching and clawing to stay in your childhood. You can't have it both ways. You talked earlier about pulling in your gut if a child came along. Well, you need to pull in your gut now, because you have someone you want to marry and you want to have sex, but those two things come with responsibilities.

Instead of learning to manage adulthood separate from another, why not learn together? If you learn all the ins and outs of adult responsibility without a husband, then you'll likely start thinking that their is no need for a man in your life. And he will likely think there is no need for a wife if he can handle everything without you. If you can't imagine life without him, then why are you both trying to build a life without the other?

If you want independence, there is nothing wrong with the single life. But what is wrong here is that you are trying to straddle the fence. You tell me that you want to be married, but you want to be independent. You are going to have to make up your mind which one you really want. It isn't fair to him or you to try to be in the middle.

You missed the point of why I quoted Genesis 2:24. There are two aspects of marriage. One is leaving your childhood family behind. You both have done so, though you are still clinging to childhood in other ways. But in order to create a successful marriage you then must join yourself to your spouse. I quote that verse in response to the question about getting married, but then continuing to live separately. You can't create a lasting marriage that way because you are avoiding the joining of your lives to each other.

Now your arguments as to why you are not ready are foolish. Why? Because you are already living on your own. You are keeping your own place and providing your own meals. You are proving that your claim isn't true every day of your independence. Now, you might not be as good of a cook or housekeeper or whatever as your experienced mother, but that doesn't mean you are incapable of learning. I remember women telling me that before they got married they burnt water while trying to make coffee -- literally! Yet years later they are wonderful cooks. The need to learn provided the challenge to improve and they stepped up and did so.

Being a wife isn't about obedience. You obey God. What wives are ask to do is submit to their husbands. "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:22). Submission is the willingness to follow another person's lead or to put their desires before your own. A husband leads, not by dictating what will be, but by deciding what needs to be done and then going first. So as a husband, he should not be looking for a woman to tell him what to do, like his mom did, nor should you be looking for a father figure. You both need a partner in life; someone you can work side-by-side with. You each will have different roles to fill and different obligations, but you will compliment each other. Your individual contributions will add up to something greater than two separate people.

Being an adult doesn't mean giving up fun. It is about taking on challenges and responsibilities in order to achieve something greater. I have some great friends who though in their fifties are still big kids in heart -- and show it. They are fun to be around, they bring joy into the lives of others, yet they are also responsible adults who have raised great children. It isn't a dichotomy. You can be both at once.

Finally, in a marriage sex should be seen as icing on the cake, not the cake itself. What he needs is a companion he can count on. Yes, men are easily aroused; it is a part of the way God designed men. Images and touch are male triggers, just as emotion laced words, expressions, security are triggers for women. You two are already burning with passion for each other. But because you won't give up yourselves to become something greater, I am afraid that Satan will eventually wear down your resistance. Paul's advice still stands: "But if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (I Corinthians 7:9). If marriage is what both of you want, then holding off isn't going to make things easier. And if in the delay to give in to sex, it will become just one more issue that the two of you will have to overcome to gain a great marriage.

I don't know if you are in the area or not, but if you have an opportunity to come by Omaha, I would be happy to talk to both of you about marriage at length.