(yeah I kind of gave up trying to come up with a picture for this subject, so...this will have to do)
I've grown up my whole life being told that sex outside of marriage was a sin. Period. Whether it be a sermon in church, a seminar at Church camp or a topic of a youth group that didnt seem to talk about much else...it was constantly drilled into my subconscious. Like most people with most doctrines, I didnt do a whole lot of questioning on the subject and just read the Bible with the filter that what I was told was true (like so many other things). Recently, however, I have been thinking about it considerably more and have come to the realization that the Bible is rather silent on the topic of premarital sex. Which, if you're anything like me, may come as a real shock.
Most will undoubtedly point to such popular verses as 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 which reads,
"Do you not know that unrighteous men will not inherit God's Kingdom? Cherish no delusion here. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor any who are guilty of unnatural crime, nor theives, nor avaricious people, nor any who are addicted to hard drinking, to abusive language or to greed of gain, will inherit God's Kingdom." (WNT)
But there seems to be some controversy regarding the word thats translated here as "fornicators", which is the Greek word pornos. That is because according to Strong's #G4205, it can also mean "prostitute" or "whoremonger" which obviously means a bit more than simply sex between two unmarried persons. So it could very well be that what we see here is merely the bias of the translator, who probably thought fornication was a sin.
Another one that is used is Matthew 5:27-28,
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (ESV)
People tend to use this to say that having lustful thoughts about a woman is as bad as actually having sex with them, and so they therefore conclude that all such thoughts and sexual actions outside of marriage are bad. But this conclusion seems to ignore that fact that Jesus is specifically talking about adultery, since that is the sin that He says such people commit. In other words, Jesus is only saying its a sin to sexually desire another persons spouse; it has nothing to do with an unmarried person wanting to have sex with another unmarried person.
Now, lets take a quick look at the Old Testament. If we go to Leviticus 18 where various laws on sex are given, we strangely do not find the act of sex between two unmarried persons among them. It speaks against incest, adultery, bestiality, and (perhaps) homosexuality, but nothing that seems to imply premarital sex itself is a sin. And we find a similar lack of condemnation on the matter in Exodus 22:16-17, which reads,
"If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife.
If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins." (ESV)
Notice how neither the man that seduces nor the virgin are commanded to be put to death, or to sacrifice any animals. This is because premarital sex, unlike the sexual no-no's in Leviticus 18, is not a sin. The man had to pay the bride-price for her, whether he went on to marry her or not, but that doesnt appear to be a penalty; it was simply a cultural practice. And presumably, if the woman was not a virgin, then the man wouldn't have to pay her father anything, because it specifically says the "bride-price for virgins".
Another thing that I've always found strange is how common things like polygamy and concubines(which were basically women just kept around for having sex with) were in the old testament. King Solomon, for example, was said to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines(1 Kings 11:3)!!! It is true that there doesn't seem to be anything condoning such practices (at least that ive run across), but there also doesn't seem to be any condemning of it on Gods part. And with all the hundreds of little laws given in the old testament, you would think God would remember to bring up such things if they were that big a deal to him. God apparently didnt like that Solomon had wives that turned away his heart from Him, but this appears to be because they were foreign women that enticed him to foreign gods, not because God thought he was sinning by indulging in polygamy and concubines(1 Kings 11:2).
Biblical matters aside, I think its also important to note that we now live in a very different time than that of the Bible. This does not mean truth does not permeate age, or that the Bible is "outdated" as some skeptics say, but it does mean that the way we live our lives in response to the world has changed. For one thing, people (in general) don't get married nearly as early as they did in those days, or even as people did 200-300 years ago. I haven't really researched the matter myself, but I'm willing to bet it was fairly uncommon in those days to be twenty-one and single, much like myself. So if one were to use the phrase "waiting til marriage" back then, you could probably translate that to "waiting til you're about 15 or 16". And thats probably because back then there wasn't really any such thing as pursuing a higher education in hopes of getting a career in which you could (hopefully) support a family with. There was also no such thing as birth-control, so it would make sense for verses, such as Exodus 22:16, to suggest marriage; because there was a much higher chance of the woman becoming pregnant and thus needing someone to help raise the child. There was (to my knowledge) no such thing as child support laws, in which the government could force the absent father to financially help the mother. It was all just a very different world.
So, what are we to make of all this? Do I suggest we should just go out and have sex with whoever we please, and disregard the God-given specialness of intimacy? No, not at all...because that would just be very irresponsible. So, I think the best way to approach this matter is to remember some of my favorite words of the Apostle Paul,
"Everything is allowable, but not everything is profitable. Everything is allowable, but everything does not build others up"(1 Corinthians 10:23 WNT).
Just because I could play guitar and XBOX 360 all day, doesnt mean that it would be a good idea (although if I won the lottery, I dont see why not). And likewise, just because you can have sex outside of marriage, doesnt mean that it's a good idea in all circumstances. There are STD's and unwanted pregnancies to avoid, as well as fragile emotions that you should be slow to give to another person. While sex outside of marriage may not be a sin, I still think it should still accompany an emotional commitment and an intent to marry at some point, God willingly.