The Erosion of Marriage

By Wayne Jackson

According to a 2004 census, some 5,080,000 American couples are living together without the benefit of marriage. Several decades ago this practice was relatively rare and considered a sexual aberration; today it scarcely raises an eyebrow.

Even in religious circles the walls of sexual restraint have crumbled. For example, according to a recent article in the New York Times, a special committee report on “Human Sexuality” within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) called on the church to replace the historic Christian prohibition of sexual relations outside of marriage with a “new ethic” evaluating sexual activity, whether between married or unmarried people, or between heterosexuals or homosexuals, by broadly defined standards of responsibility, “mutuality,” and caring. Such has created a furor with many Presbyterians.

The allowance of so-called “gay marriages,” in both Massachusetts and California, demonstrates how far from legal rationalism our nation has departed.

Numerous professing “Christian” clergymen are suggesting that the sexual regulations set forth in the Bible merely were cultural and the restrictions imposed in biblical times may be ignored in our contemporary, “post-modern” world.

This position was argued recently at the self-designated “Christian Scholars Conference” on the campus of David Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. Jared Cramer, who is currently affiliated with the Anglican Church (Episcopal), contended that certain sexual stipulations of the New Testament are merely the result of temporal cultural conditions, and are not binding rules for modern society.

Cramer maintains that a great variety of sexual unions are permissible, provided they are: “loving,” “faithful,” and “monogamous” (Homosexuality: But Why?). Strangely, he inconsistently appeals to the same Bible he largely rejects for the authority supporting those qualities he contends are essential for validating sexual relationships!

New Testament Teaching

The teaching of the New Testament regarding sexual conduct, however, is not cultural; rather, it is based upon moral principles divinely imposed by the Creator, metaphorically depicted as the “Potter” who “has a right over the clay” (Romans 9:21). These restrictions are to prevail in all societies and for all time. If one contends that “fornication” is simply a culturally conditioned activity, he might as well argue that idolatry, thievery, covetousness, extortion, drunkeness, and murder similarly depend upon the fluctuations of culture (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:9-10).

In the New Testament, all sexual activity between people outside of a legitimate marriage relationship is designated as “fornication.” The Greek word porneia is a generic term, and it includes sexual intercourse between single people, or married people with other partners (Danker et al. 2000, 854). Porneia also embraces such actions as homosexuality, promiscuity, paedophilia, and prostitution; in a word, “any kind of illegitimate sexual intercourse” (Reisser 1971, 497).

The inspired Paul clearly taught that to avoid “fornications” each man could have his own wife, and each woman could have her own husband (1 Corinthians 7:2). If one cannot control his (or her) desire for sexual fulfillment, there is a solution, and it is marriage, not promiscuous indulgence (7:9).

In Corinth, sexual license was the order of the day, yet the apostle, bucking the “culture” of that environment, warned: “The body is not for fornication”(6:13). When an unmarried couple engages in fornication, the bed is “defiled” and God will judge this immoral activity (Hebrews 13:4; cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7). Jesus Christ uncompromisingly taught that fornication degrades and condemns a person (Matthew 15:19-20).

Living together, apart from a legitimate marital relationship, is not God’s will for man and woman, and many harmful consequences result from ignoring the divine pattern.

For example, according to an article published some years back in Psychology Today some studies have shown that eighty percent of the women who live with their spouses before marriage are more likely to be divorced or separated than those who do not. There also appears to be a higher percentage of violence—thirty percent among couples who live together without a marriage commitment (TIME 1988, 54).

God’s plan was designed for maximum human happiness, the welfare of society, and the facilitation of one’s journey to heaven! Violations of the sacred sexual code assault each of these goals.

Sources/Footnotes
  • Danker, F. W. et al. 2000. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.
  • New York Times. 2008, June 25.
  • Psychology Today. 1988, July-August.
  • Reisser, H. 1971. Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Vol. 1. Colin Brown, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
  • Time. 1988, September 5.
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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.