Does the Bible permit adultery, when the non-involved mate consents; or premarital sex when the involved parties subsequently marry?


The short answer is, No. We read in 1 Corinthians 6:18 that we are
to “flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the
body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.”
Members of God’s Church are also told not to “make provisions for the
flesh, to fulfill its lusts (Romans 13:14).” Further, they are
commanded to “abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should
know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in
passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1
Thessalonians 4:3-5).

Regarding this last passage, the Ryrie
Study Bible comments that this “means either mastery over one’s own
body, keeping it pure (1 Cor. 9:24-27),” or that it “refers to an
honorable marriage (vessel = wife, as 1 Pet. 3:7).” A third possibility
is a warning for a man not to try to “obtain” for himself a
vessel–that is, a future wife–“in passion of lust.” The Nelson Study
Bible explains: “Paul strongly urged the Thessalonians not to
participate in any sexual activity outside of marriage… Sexual
involvement outside of marriage dishonors God, one’s marriage partner
or future spouse, and even one’s own body.”

The Old Testament
very clearly reveals God’s stance on adultery–a sexual sin which
involves at least one married partner. We read in Leviticus 21:10 that
“The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife… the adulterer
and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.” There is no room for
adultery by consent from the non-involved mate. This is the reason why
Abram’s and Sarai’s conduct–to bring forth offspring through
intercourse between Abram and Sarai’s maid Hagar–constituted adultery
in God’s eyes.

The commandment against adultery included not
only a married woman who has had sexual intercourse with her husband,
but also a virgin “betrothed” to her husband, prior to the consummation
of the marriage. Betrothal in Biblical times was a binding and
enforceable contract, containing promises to marry each other. The
Bible considered betrothed partners as husband and wife, and a
betrothal could only be dissolved by a decree of divorce.

We read
in Deuteronomy 22:23-24: “If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed
to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her, then
you shall bring both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone
them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out
in the city [thereby consenting to the adulterous conduct], and the man
because he humbled his neighbor’s wife [even though she was only
“betrothed,” and the marriage had not yet been consummated]; so you
shall put away the evil from among you.”

On the other hand, as
Deuteronomy 22:25-27 continues to point out, “… if a man finds a
betrothed young woman in the countryside, and the man forces her and
lies with her, then only the man who lay with her [i.e., the rapist] shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; there is in the
young woman no sin deserving of death [since the rapist forced himself
upon her; there was no consent to this act by the woman], for just as
when a man rises against his neighbor and kills him, even so is this
matter. For he found her in the countryside, and the betrothed young
woman cried out, but there was no one to save her.”

In case there
were no witnesses to the act of adultery, God had provided for a
procedure to determine the guilt or innocence of an accused wife, if
the husband so desired (compare Numbers 5:11-31).

In the New
Testament, Christ even warned His followers not to look at a married
woman with lust or evil thoughts–wanting to commit adultery with
her–because such uncontrolled desire already constitutes adultery in
the mind and heart (Matthew 5:27-28; compare Proverbs 6:23-35). Please
note that Christ did not say that one can look at another man’s wife
with evil thoughts, as long as the wife’s husband “consents” to this.
At the same time, Christ also taught that every sin can be forgiven,
upon genuine repentance. He refused to condemn the woman caught in the
very act of adultery, when He saw her humiliation and repentance
(compare John 8:1-12). God also requires mercy and compassion. Joseph,
being a righteous man, intended to leave Mary secretly when he thought
that she, who was betrothed to him, had committed adultery. He just
wanted to put her away secretly, “not wanting to make her a public
example” (Matthew 1:18-19).

In addition, we do find a remarkable difference in the Old Testament in case of fornication between two unmarried young people.

read in Exodus 22:16-17: “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.”

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 adds:

a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is NOT betrothed, and he
seizes her [this goes beyond mere enticement] 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 had humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her
all his days.”

The fine of the bride-price was steep, which was
“meant to discourage young men from reckless behavior… This law
warned young men that they would be made responsible for their actions”
(Nelson Study Bible, comments to Exodus 22:16-17 and Deuteronomy

Matthew Henry’s Commentary adds that this is “a law
that he who debauched a young woman should be obliged to marry her…
This law puts an honour upon marriage and shows likewise how improper a
thing it is that children should marry without their parents’ consent.”

in the case of a somewhat forceful conduct by the man [which should, of
course, never happen; see the terrible “Dinah incident” and its
consequences in Genesis 34], he had the responsibility, if so required
by the young woman’s father, to marry her, thereby restoring her honor
and providing for her until death–without any right to divorce her.
These principles still apply today in God’s Church. If two young
unmarried people in the Church commit fornication (even though they
should not do so and are sinning, if they do), they should be aware
that, excluding extraordinary circumstances, they have a
responsibility, before God, to complete their marriage responsibilities
which they, in effect, already began through their conduct. If one
party is not in the Church, then the situation is slightly different,
as 1 Corinthians 7:39 requires that a marriage in the Church should
only occur “in the Lord”; that is, between two believers.

wants us to have happy and productive marriages, and He is against any
conduct which could destroy or jeopardize the success of a present or
future marriage. If such conduct occurs, God is willing to forgive, but
He still requires appropriate behavior to guarantee the success and
endurance of the current or future marriage relationship.

For further information, please read our free booklet: “The Keys to Happy Marriages and Families.”

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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