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Is Premarital Sex a Sin?

Another day, another Facebook post. And another blog post. A friend referred to an article on The Christian Left’s website. The article asked if premarital sex was a sin.

The author goes into great detail, spanning some seven pages of text, to argue that premarital sex is not a sin. He says that the Greek word we use to translate fornication does not mean premarital sex. He says that the Biblical references that speak of fornication actually address rape, adultery, and prostitution. He concludes,

Since the most important law in Christianity is the Law of Love this must apply to sex too. Don’t use people. Don’t hurt people. Don’t hurt their feelings. Don’t lead them to think you feel one way when you really don’t just to get sex. Don’t view them as an object. Don’t push them to do something they may not be ready for. Sex must be mutual. …

The author’s conclusion insists that, as long as sex is expressed in a loving context, and as long as it’s consenting adults and nobody gets hurt, premarital sex is not a sin.  I beg to differ, however.

The author uses several “manners and customs” resources written from a rabbinic perspective, to make his point. However, he does not address the concept of how words and customs change over time (see Note 2 below). Also, he never cites lexical (Hebrew or Greek dictionaries) resources (see my notes below); and this is unfortunate. He is correct in pointing out cultural differences between Biblical times and modern times. However, he does not address the fact that modern (especially Western) conventions of courtship and post-teen marriage was unknown in the Old and New Testament times. Therefore there would be no need to address the modern concept of premarital sex in the Old Testament or New Testament. In other words, in Biblical Times, about the time they reached puberty, young men and women would enter betrothal, leading to marriage. Also, verses like Genesis 24:67 describe that marriage occurred with act of intercourse; in other words there was no courtship or prearrangement at all. The author speaks of how the Bible treats multiple wives and concubines, however he fails to differentiate between those things described (i.e., the things that happened) and those things prescribed (i.e., the way things are supposed to happen) in Scripture.

For example, in the story of Abraham, we are told that Abraham had intercourse with Hagar (described), though God did not prescribe that Abraham to do it. In the case of Solomon, we are told that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1Kings 11:3 described), yet God distinctly tells the Hebrews to not marry foreign wives (Exodus 34:16 prescribed). In fact, we are told that his downfall was that over time, Solomon’s wives distracted him into following their gods (1Kings 11:4 described).

Another important description/prescription can be seen in the Old Testament descriptions of polygamy, and the New Testament prescriptions that church elders and deacons must be a “one-woman man” (1Timothy 3:2, 12).

The author is correct in pointing out that the term fornication includes rape, adultery and prostitution and that most of the OT “fornication” passages refer to those definitions. However, the New Testament Greek word (from which we also get pornography) includes all sorts of sexual immorality, not excluding premarital sex. He also neglects to address another Greek word used in the New Testament to describe sexual sin: licentiousness. Between these two Greek words, pretty much all non-marital sexual activity is covered.

Finally, in a most offensive, presumptive comment, the author reveals his bias:

Many of the sexually repressive teachings that developed in the middle ages are still being followed today. These teachings are based on oppressive Christian traditions that have no biblical basis other than ignorance.

In contrast to the authors comments, the New Testament is very “un-oppressive” and has a great deal of descriptions and prescriptions painting women in a very positive light, as they are given new freedoms in the New Covenant (Galatians 3:28). Women are the first people to see the Empty Tomb (Luke 23:55). Women are very active in the early church. Acts 2:17-19 — quoting Joel 2 — even says that with the Holy Spirit’s anointing, women would prophesy). Also, Romans 16 mentions the deaconess, Phoebe (Romans 16:1) and the apostle, Junia (a legitimate translation of Greek in Romans 16:7). Any “oppressive” Christian traditions do not find their foundation in the inspired, progressive Biblical revelation.

 

Application

We often come to wrong conclusions because we ask the wrong questions. “Is premarital sex sinful?” is one of those wrong questions. If the Greek word for fornication means “sexual immorality”, we must ask, “Does premarital sex fall under the category of sexually immorality?” Corollary questions are, “What is sexually moral?” and “What is prescribed (not just described) in Scripture?”

The foundational question we should ask is, “Biblically speaking, what is the purpose of sex?” I think it’s safe to say that the first Biblical purpose of sex is procreation Genesis 1:22), though it is not limited to just procreation. Paul says that sexual oneness is a mysterious model of Jesus and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32) Thus, Paul’s prescription for Believers seeking to obediently follow Christ by the leading of the Holy Spirit is: Celibacy outside of marriage and fidelity in marriage. (Galatians 5:16–17)

Paul acknowledges that we have sexual desires, but says that there is a proper context for expressing those desires. “Because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:2 ESV) Note that Paul prescribes a one-man, one-woman marriage union.

In relation to the paragraph above, the right question is, “What is right about premarital sex?” Does premarital sex model the mysterious union between Jesus and the church? It does not. God’s prescription of the “Law of Love” does not negate the law of God’s righteousness. Biblically based sexual expression is within the confines of God’s righteousness. And God prescribes it as “very good”. (Genesis 1:31, 2:24) Paul goes on to say that married couples should regularly engage in this pleasurable activity. (1 Corinthians 7:5)

So to answer the question, “Is premarital sex sinful?” the Biblical answer is, “Yes. Sexual activity outside the confines of marriage is sin.”

 


Notes:

1. πορνεία [porneia /por·ni·ah/] n f. From 4203; TDNT 6:579; TDNTA 918; GK 4518; 26 occurrences; AV translates as “fornication” 26 times. 1 illicit sexual intercourse. 1A adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals etc. 1B sexual intercourse with close relatives; Lev. 18. 1C sexual intercourse with a divorced man or woman; Mk. 10:11,12. (Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon 2001 : n. pag. Print.)

 

2. Later Judaism shows how the use of porneía broadens out to include not only fornication or adultery but incest, sodomy, unlawful marriage, and sexual intercourse in general. (Kittel, Gerhard, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 1985 : 919. Print.)

 

3. πορνεύω [porneuo /porn·yoo·o/] v. From 4204; TDNT 6:579; TDNTA 918; GK 4519; Eight occurrences; AV translates as “commit fornication” seven times, and “commit” once. 1 to prostitute one’s body to the lust of another. 2 to give one’s self to unlawful sexual intercourse. 2A to commit fornication. (Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon 2001 : n. pag. Print.)

 

4. ἀσέλγεια (sensuality/licentiousness)

In some languages the equivalent of ‘licentious behavior’ would be ‘to live like a dog’ or ‘to act like a goat’ or ‘to be a rooster,’ in each instance pertaining to promiscuous sexual behavior. (Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains 1996 : 770.)

 

New Testament Prescriptions Regarding “Fornication”

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality (Galatians 5:19 ESV)

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV)

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:2 ESV)

 

I invite your comments below. (Note: Comments will be moderated to remove spam)

 

The Gettysburg Address: “Under God” or Not?

Today marks 150 years since Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. Throughout the day, I have seen several posts on Facebook debating the question, “Was ‘under God’ used by Lincoln?” It appears that there are several versions of the Address and not all of them agree on the “under God” part. In addition to the versions of the speech, there were news reports as well that included the Address. I responded to a friend with a link and he responded with another link.

As stated in the Wikipedia article linked above,

Every stenographic report [the reporters who telegraphed their notes], good, bad and indifferent, says ‘that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom.’ There was no common source from which all the reporters could have obtained those words but from Lincoln’s own lips at the time of delivery. It will not do to say that [Secretary of War] Stanton suggested those words after Lincoln’s return to Washington, for the words were telegraphed by at least three reporters on the afternoon of the delivery.

Obviously, the three agreeing eyewitness accounts, who telegraphed Lincoln’s spoken speech, validate the “later copies”, thus validating the “under God” reference as being “autograph” material.

Why have I gone into such detail? It comes down to how ideas are communicated through multiple copies. And this relates to the Bible’s manuscripts. Not all of the manuscripts agree on word, though there are no doctrinal discrepancies among the 26,000+ New Testament manuscripts and fragments.

We do not have the “original” manuscripts of the NT. However, as we compare the manuscripts we do have with the writings of the early Church Fathers, we can recreate the “original” manuscripts with a very high degree of accuracy.

There are individuals and organizations (such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation), who seek to rewrite American history with their agnostic/atheistic/secularist biases, claiming to be “unbiased”. There are also individuals and organizations who seek to rewrite Biblical history with their agnostic/atheistic/secularist biases, again claiming to be “unbiased”. We all have biases and we should acknowledge them to ourselves and to others.

 

Now, getting back to the Gettysburg Address…

As I learned in Speech class many years ago, there are three speeches:
1- The one that the speaker prepares.
2- The one that the audience hears.
3- The one that is reported.

In the case of the Gettysburg Address, “under God” qualifies as at least two of those. So yes, I believe we can confidently say that Lincoln included “under God” on that fateful day.

I invite your comments below. (Note: Comments will be moderated to remove spam)

 

NC Church Plans to Burn Bibles on Halloween

Say what???

 

 

(Note: This story is a little dated [2009]. I cannot find that AGBC will burn books this Halloween [2013], but my comments are still applicable.)

Yes, you read that correctly. Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, NC also plans to burn books written by Billy Graham, Rick Warren, and others.

Why would they do that?

Rather than repeat what I have said elsewhere, I’ll just say that once again, one uninformed group is making the rest of us look bad. And that’s too bad!

Many well-meaning people believe that the King James translation of the Bible is the only correct English translation. They even go so far as to say that all other translations are inspired by the devil. One of our former church members made the mistake of visiting to one of our city’s KJV-Only churches. After several weeks, the pastor tried to get her to trade her Bible (a modern translation) for one of his KJVs. She observed that this pastor had a collection of non-KJV Bibles with “Poison” emblazoned on the spine and the page edges. By the way, our former member told me that the pastor of this Independent Baptist church also believed that theirs was the only true church in our city.

I don’t know anything about Amazing Grace in Western NC, but from the news report above, it appears that these sincere people are sincerely wrong.

 

Pro-Life: A Biblical Perspective

I recently posted a link on Facebook to “‎10 Questions a Pro-Choice Candidate Is Never Asked by the Media”: http://ow.ly/eM9ND. A friend responded that most pro-lifers appeal to Scriptural rhetoric. Since he wasn’t well versed in Scripture, he asked if I could enlighten him on the biblical basis of life beginning as conception and not at first breath? That’s a GREAT question!

Note: I am choosing to talk about what I am FOR (i.e., life) as opposed to what I am AGAINST (i.e., abortion). If we do not begin from this perspective, we will not realize the moral ramifications of abortion.

The Pro-Life issue can easily be explained on a scientific basis, including a detectable heartbeat at 61/2-7 weeks. But what does the Bible say about when life begins?

Anyone familiar with the Ten Commandments has heard the Sixth Commandment: You shall not murder. Murder is defined as the taking of an innocent life, as opposed to capital punishment, which the Bible prescribes in specific cases. That’s all well and good if we’re talking about murdering another person. But what about an unborn baby? Is an unborn baby a “person”?

Psalm 139:13-16 is probably the most often quoted Bible passage regarding this issue, where we’re told that the psalmist recognized that God knew his unformed body and he was knit together in his mother’s womb. Actually, the word translated “unformed substance” is used only here in the Hebrew Bible, and means “embryo” (Hebrew golem).

In Jeremiah 1:5, Jeremiah says that God consecrated him for his ministry before he was born.

Jacob and Esau are said to have fought in Rebekah’s womb in Genesis 25:22. Genesis 25:26 adds that Jacob was grabbing Esau’s heel as they were delivered.

Luke 1:41 speaks of John the Baptist leaping in his mother’s womb when Jesus’ mother came to visit John’s mother Elizabeth. Dr. Luke (a physician) calls Elizabeth’s son a baby (Greek brephos).

Perhaps one of the most clear statements about personhood before birth is in Job 10:18-19 where Job says he wishes he had died before he was born. Further, he says he wishes that he had never come into being. Job certainly recognized life before birth! After all, how can one die if one is not alive?

Perhaps the most striking statement is when Jeremiah mentions being killed in the womb in Jeremiah 20:17. Again, how can one be killed in the womb if one isn’t living?

Perhaps these passages aren’t enough to convince someone about personhood before birth. A look at how the Bible addresses injury or death of an unborn baby would be helpful.

Exodus 21:21-25 does just that. If two men are fighting and it causes the premature birth of a healthy baby, the father determines the punishment the guilty party with a fine. However, if the mother or baby is injured, the punishment is to be met in like kind. Specifically, if the mother dies, or if the baby is stillborn, the one/ones who caused the death is to be put to death.

Clearly, the biblical writers, under God’s direction, spoke consistently from a pro-life worldview; they recognized and protected life through the continual development from conception and birth.

 

Implications

If an unborn baby is a “person”, then it logically follows that terminating the pregnancy of an unborn (or partial-born) baby is murder. Since the Bible makes no distinction between a baby inside the womb and one outside the womb, there are moral ramifications we must address regarding abortion. Perhaps this is why many people insist on using euphemisms for abortion, or why they try to deny that life begins at conception in order to make their position more palatable.

 

1. In the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate, Senator Joe Biden said that his personal, Roman Catholic pro-life beliefs do not dictate his public, political actions. He didn’t think it was right to force his personal beliefs on other people. Indeed, Senator Biden and many other Catholic member of Congress have voted consistently against the Catholic Church’s pro-life stance on abortion.

Because the issue of life is so important, we must strive to consistently defend and follow the Bible’s pro-life stance against abortion. Is it not hypocritical to attempt to separate our personal religious beliefs from our public positions? Truly, what someone proclaims in the public square betrays the true beliefs of the heart, regardless what they may say otherwise.

 

2. If life does begin at conception, and if taking the life of the unborn is murder, then we must take such truths into account, even in the “hard case” questions. In fact, we must begin with the question of when does life begin in order to properly answer those “hard case” questions.

 

3. The Bible commands Believers to love the Lord with all of our heart. Is it really possible to love God with all of our heart if our heart is in stark opposition to the pro-life heart of God?

 

4. Finally, does abortion disqualify someone from being a Christian? What about a person who has either had or paid for an abortion? What about the abortion provider? What about those who support abortion through the legislative process or through voting for politicians who do?

 

I thank God that my qualification for being a Christian is not limited by what I have done or by what I have not done! My qualification for being a Christian is because of what Jesus did! The same is true for anyone else who claims to be a Christian. That being said, however, what I do and what I do not do can reveal where my heart is, and how seriously I want to follow Him. May God give His children a heart to passionately follow His heart in these issues!

 

Christians, let’s stand for life!

 

I will publish all comments that deal with the issues I have discussed. I will not tolerate “flaming”, name-calling, foul language, etc.

 

On Modern Bible Translations

A friend recently asked me what I thought of the King James Version of the Bible. He remarked, “I’m enjoying the Independent Baptist church that I’m going to. They only preach and teach the King James. The pastor said in one of his sermons that the King James is a translation and other versions of scripture are translations of what the writers of the scripture thought. What is your opinion about this?”

My initial response was, “Do you really want to know my opinion? You will probably not like it.” He said, “I think that I probably will agree with your opinion since most evangelical churches use other translations of scripture. I use the NIV myself. But why would my pastor believe what he does about other translations?”

I’m glad you asked that question!

My response: Part One

(Before reading further, let me say that I believe the New Testament documents are the most reliable in all antiquity. In over 26,000 manuscripts and fragments, there is not one single point of disagreement in doctrinal or ethical matters. The few differences that do exist can be explained by obvious scribal mistakes, spelling, word order, etc. For more in-depth information on “textual criticism”, check out Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict)

Many sincere Christians believe that the KJV is the most reliable translation of the Bible. This is common among “Independent Baptist Churches” and other groups. The belief is based on the assumption that the collection of manuscripts used to translate the KJV (the “Majority Text”) are superior to other collections. It’s called the “Majority Text” because there are more of those manuscripts than of the other collections of manuscripts. But does the number of manuscripts prove they are better?

In a popular party game people line up and the first in line whispers a sentence or phrase to the next in line, who passes the message to the next. When the last person in line gets the message, he or she will speak out loud what they heard. More often than not, the message fails to be transmitted intact through the entire line and everyone gets a good laugh.

An original message of, “Adam and Eve got married” could end up, “Adam and Steve got married.” The words sound somewhat similar, but the message is very different.

The fifteen people who heard, “Adam and Steve got married” may sincerely believe they heard and passed the correct message. One might assume that since fifteen of the twenty participants heard this message, it must be completely reliable. But when you find that the only five people who heard “Adam and Eve got married” were at the beginning of the line, then you know that Adam married a woman, not another man. The earlier version is more reliable, though fewer people heard it.

Such is the case with the manuscripts used for translating the KJV. Although there are more of them, the older manuscripts are often more reliable than the later ones, simply because they were closer to the original source.

My response: Part Two

Now, for the second part of my friend’s question. His pastor is partially correct on the question of the KJV being a translation the text and other versions being what the translators thought.

When translating from any language to any other language, you can either translate word-for-word, or thought-for-thought — or somewhere between. Some Bible translations (KJV, NASB, ESV) attempt to translate in a word-for-word fashion, while others like the NIV and NLT tend to favor communicating in a thought-for-thought manner, also called “functional equivalence”. The more the translators lean toward functional equivalence, the more the translators’ opinions can creep into the end result.

Obviously, there are dangers by insisting on either method to be “correct” way to translate from one language to another. If someone insists that you should *always* translate word-for-word, you will be confused as to why a man in France would call his wife his, “little cabbage”; to English speakers, it doesn’t sound very much like a term of endearment.

I find it interesting that the KJV translators didn’t see their translation a finished work; they recognized that as language changes, new translations of the Bible would be necessary.

What is the best translation of the Bible?

So what about the King James? Do I recommend it? I’ll answer the question by asking another question. “When speaking with a good friend, do you talk like William Shakespeare?

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic. It was the language spoken by the people. The New Testament was written in Greek — but not just any Greek. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek — common Greek — the language spoken by the people.

God revealed Himself and His ways to people in the language they spoke and understood.

I don’t speak “King James” English. I don’t know anyone who does. I speak late-20th to early-21st Century (American) English. So why would I want to limit myself to a 400-year old translation when trying to grow in my relationship with God? And why would I want insist the same of others?

I once heard that the best translation is one that is understood by the one reading it … and that is applied to the reader’s life. I agree. If you and your spouse sounded like Romeo and Juliet on your last date night, the King James Version might be the best translation for you … so long as you apply what you read and study. Otherwise, there are a number of good, reliable translations available for you to choose.

Just make sure that you read it and apply what you hear!

Prov 22:17-18; Josh 1:8