Question:

I know you are super busy all the time, but if you get a chance sometime, could you help untangle my spiritual thoughts? I asking for help regarding two theologies out there concerning marriage:

  • One theology is that the first person you have sex with you are married to and any after that is adultery. It is a Christ following group that believes this.
  • Another Christ following group believes that if you mess up and have premarital sex that you are permanently defiled and your marriage will always be false. They go on to state that if you find out about that teaching and mess up, you are a fornicator forever quoting the verse: if you sin after knowledge there is no sacrifice left; thus, you must remain celibate.

I slept with my husband after reading that theology, so that was after knowledge since they consider my marriage to be fornication. Now I have to be celibate. I got depressed and told him we had to divorce no matter what so I don't go to hell. I'm a young person and didn't know about all these different positions, so I believed them. I was then counseled that they weren't true. However, now I'm still scared every day that if I died I would go to hell on the off chance they were right. I've even tried to tell myself OK today you aren't going to be scared or think about it. I'm supposed to test the spirits and they pass, so doesn't doubt mean that meeting my husband's needs is now sin? What is not of faith is sin. I've prayed about this and God isn't helping me know if I'm in the right or not. I'm having trouble unbelieving them. I think I'm the only human on earth struggling with this very specific fear. I just want to go to heaven and be sure I'm on my way.


Answer:

Just because a group claims something, it doesn't make it true. You have to use the Scriptures to determine if what you are being told is true. One thing we can say for certain at the very start is that both groups cannot be true since their teachings contradict each other. They may be both wrong, but they cannot be both true because truth is singular.

Are You Married to the First Person You Have Sex With?

The law of marriage begins in Genesis 2:24, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." Notice that three steps are listed:

  • A separation from a person's parents. The people getting married are forming a new family unit that is distinct from their parents. Parents can advise, but they are no longer over their children at some point prior to marriage.
  • Two people are joined. This is the actual marriage. It is done through entering into a formal covenant with the other person. "Yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant" (Malachi 2:14).
  • They become one flesh. This is an on going process of two individuals becoming a single unit -- a new family. It would include sex, but it would not be limited to sex.

Thus, notice that sex is supposed to come after the marriage.

Under the Old Law, given to the Israelites, there was a provision to discourage a man from having sex with a woman outside of marriage. "If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days" (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). The man is held primarily responsible. He had to pay the father a sum that would take most men about seven years to earn. He then had to marry her knowing that he could never get a divorce from her. What typically is an impulsive decision suddenly takes on some serious long term consequences. But the law wasn't quite as cut and dry as it might first appear. "If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins" (Exodus 22:16-17). The woman's father had the final decision. This would keep a man from raping a woman just to force a marriage. However the father decided, the fine remained, but it is assumed that the father would have the best interest of his daughter in mind when deciding whether the bum who had sex with his daughter should be allowed to marry her. For our purposes, notice that the marriage was not automatically declared at the point of sex.

Another example is the marriage of Joseph and Mary. "Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus" (Matthew 1:24-25). Notice the order: Joseph married Mary ("took to him his wife") but did not have sex with her until after Jesus was born six months later ("did not know her").

In the story of Shechem and Dinah we find that Shechem went about finding a wife the wrong way. "Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her and lay with her, and violated her. His soul was strongly attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the young woman and spoke kindly to the young woman. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, "Get me this young woman as a wife." And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter. Now his sons were with his livestock in the field; so Jacob held his peace until they came. Then Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. And the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved and very angry, because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter, a thing which ought not to be done" (Genesis 34:1-7). Shechem had sex with Dinah and by doing so violated her. In the Hebrew, the word is 'anah which means to lower or to humble. In other words, his action reduced Dinah's position in society, yet it did not create a marriage. In fact, notice that Shechem didn't even feel love toward Dinah until afterward. He wanted his father to negotiate a marriage but did not realize why Dinah's father and brothers were so upset with what he had done. It was a thing that ought not to be done. Sex was to come after a marriage, not before. But for our point, it demonstrates that sex did not create a marriage.

The marriage of Isaac and Rebekah is another example, "Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death" (Genesis 34:67). We are not told the full marriage ceremony -- there is no reason to assume that all of it was recorded for us -- but it appears that a part of their marriage customs was the bringing of the bride into the chambers of a man's mother. (In fact, it is from this that we get the custom of a man carrying his bride across the threshold.) But notice the order: Rebekah became Isaac's wife and then he loved her. This particular Hebrew word has the similar broad meaning for love that our English word has. It is both a general love between two individuals, but when used between married couples it can include the idea of lovemaking, or sex.

Judah gives us another example, "And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua, and he married her and went in to her" (Genesis 38:2). There is a distinct time line being given: 1) Judah met Shua, 2) Judah married Shua, 3) Judah had sex with Shua. The function of the word "and" is to show the sequence of action and not to indicate simultaneous action.

If sex created a marriage and all subsequent attempts at marriage are adultery, then you end up with God commanding Hosea to commit adultery. "When the LORD began to speak by Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea: "Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the LORD"" (Hosea 1:2). Gomer was not a virgin when Hosea married her. Yet, you are claiming that this makes it an adulterous relationship. But "Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone" (James 1:13). What God commanded Hosea to do was not wrong.

If you think about it for a moment, if the first act of sex make a person married, then there could not be a sin of fornication (sex between unmarried individuals), there could only be adultery (sex between people where at least one is married to someone else). "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4). Marriage and sex within marriage is honorable, but fornication is condemned; therefore, fornication does not create a marriage.

Does Committing Fornication Mean You Can't Get Married?

We go back to the story of Hosea. He married a prostitute (Hosea 1:2); thus, even though she had sex before Hosea had a legitimate marriage. When Gomer committed adultery (Hosea 2:5) and ran off, Hosea eventually brought her home and continued their marriage (Hosea 3:1-3). The acts of sex on Gomer's part did not make her marriage false.

In the case of the fornicators: "If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days" (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). The requirement was that they had to marry and it was a permanent marriage. It was not a false marriage.

The quotation from Hebrews 10:26 is misapplied. "For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins" (Hebrews 10:26). The Greek verb in this statement indicates something that continues to happen. That is why the New American Standard Bible adds "go on" to show a continuing action. However, this stays nothing about a person who stops sinning; in fact, the purpose of the passage is to encourage people to stop their continuing sins. There is nothing in this passage indicating any sin remains permanent if the sin is stopped.

Neither Belief Is True

Notice that we did not take anyone's word for it. We took the Scriptures, compared them to the teaching, and found them not to match. "These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). As Isaiah said, "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20).

Testing the spirits means comparing what a person says against what God has said. "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (I John 4:1). The example John goes on to give is that of someone claiming that Jesus did not physically come into the world -- a claim that is disprovable from the Scriptures. You must keep in mind that just because someone is right about one matter in the Scriptures, that does not make them right about all matters in the Scriptures. Therefore, do your homework.