CHRISTIAN ETHICS: SEXUAL PURITY
(CELIBACY, FORNICATION, ADULTERY & COHABITATION)
THE GOOD NEWS
Worldwide, Africa now has
the highest Christian growth rate.
In 1900 Africa had 8 million
Christians. Today (2021), there
are 685 million Christians with
760 million expected by 2025. *
According to a 2018 study by
the Gordon–Conwell Theological Seminary, more Christians live
in Africa than any other continent. *
* https:// en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ Christianity_in_Africa
THE BAD NEWS
At the Lausanne 2010 Conference
an African mission leader spoke
on the disconnect he sees between
what African Christians are taught
and how they live their lives.
Peter Tarantal, the South Africa
regional director of Ethne to
Ethne, noted that although
Africa currently has the
highest Christian growth
rate in the world, it also
has the highest levels of
HIV, conflict, poverty,
and corruption. *
* http:// christianpost.com/ news/
Tarantal said, “The challenge before us is despite as a church having grown so much, we need to teach people what it means to live as people of God.” *
We also have to challenge and confront the sins that contribute to the spread of HIV, corruption and conflict.
E.g., The spread of HIV-AIDS is strongly (while not exclusively) correlated to forms of sexual activity that are forbidden by God as well as drug usage. The solution to the AIDS crisis is not more condoms. It is in teaching Christian morality.
SEXUAL PERVERSION LINKED TO PAGANISM
Paul writes of the pagans that since they had denied the creator God, they had been given over to sexual perversion:
Rom 1:24-27 (NIV) Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men,
Modern culture has tried to redefine sexuality as a personal
right to be exercised any way an individual wishes. Sexual
behaviour is considered a personal choice, akin to the
decision of whether to buy a house or rent a condo. At the
same time, popular opinion has all but removed the word sin
from our culture’s vocabulary. *
The only sexual expression considered “wrong” is what is deemed distasteful to the definer. However, social acceptability varies so greatly that even the vilest of acts would be considered justified by many. So, before we can determine why sexual sin is such a big deal, we have to define sexual sin. Fortunately, man has never been given the privilege of defining sin. The One who created sexuality also has the right to set the boundaries for it, and the Bible is clear about the guidelines. *
* https:// gotquestions.org/ sexual-sin.html
When God created Adam and Eve,
he joined them in marriage and pronounced it “very good”. But what God creates as good, Satan perverts.
At that time, God introduced sexuality and set the boundaries for its expression. God created a union between a husband and wife that He called “becoming one flesh”… He then defined any sexual activity outside of the husband-wife relationship as a violation of His gift. *
IN SHORT: The Bible teaches
that sex is only permissible in
marriage and that it is between
a natural man and woman.
Jesus made it clear that Adam
and Eve were a pattern of the marriage covenant.
Mark 10:6-7 (NIV) “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
THE NEW COVENANT
Despite the liberty granted to the Gentiles regarding issues like circumcision, sexual immorality was still prohibited in the New Covenant church:
Act 21:25 (NIV) “As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain … from sexual immorality.”
Sexual immorality is improper behaviour for Christians:
Heb 12:16 (NIV) See that no one is sexually immoral…
1 Cor 10:8 (NIV) We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did…
Eph 5:3 (NIV) But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity… because these are improper for God’s holy people.
Christians ought to behave decently in this regard:
Rom 13:13 (NIV) Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.
Pagans have always
heaped abuse on
Christians because of their standards in sexual morality:
1 Pet 4:3-5 (NIV) For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will
have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
Jesus says that sexual sin makes you unclean before God.
Luke 7:21-23 “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery… lewdness [being very sexual or lustful in an offensive way] … All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’”
Continuing to sin in this way is to give in to the flesh (sinful nature) as opposed to walking by the Spirit.
Gal 5:16-20 (NIV) So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want… The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery [excessive indulgence in sex]; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies [a sex party where guests freely engage in open sexual activity or group sex], and the like.
Institutional Christian monasticism seems to have begun in the deserts of 4th century Egypt. In 314 AD an Egyptian named Pachomius built the first monastic enclosure and formulated a rule for daily work and prayer.
By the time of his death in 346 AD, Pachomius had founded 11 monasteries with more than 7000 monks and nuns.
With monasticism came the idea among some that celibacy was preferable to marriage.
COUNCIL OF NICAEA
In the 4th century (325) the Council of Nicaea, called by Constantine, was the first Ecumenical (general) council of the early Christian Church, and resulted in the first uniform Christian doctrine, called the Nicene Creed.
During the council, a motion was raised for mandatory celibacy among the clergy. But Paphnutius of Thebes - himself a celibate monk - objected, saying that “marriage and married intercourse are of themselves honourable and undefiled”, and his words prevailed. *
* Philip Schaff https:// ccel.org/ ccel/ schaff/ npnf214/ npnf214.vii.viii.html
CELIBACY OF PRIESTS & BISHOPS
In 340 AD the Council of Gangra resolved, “If anyone shall condemn marriage… let him be anathema” (Canon 1) and “If any one of those who are living a virgin life for the Lord's sake shall treat arrogantly the married, let him be anathema.” (Canon 10)
But by the 5th century there was a preference towards celibacy of priests in the Western (Catholic) Church. In 1079 celibacy was first enforced for priests and bishops by Pope Gregory VII. Before this time, they were still permitted to marry.
Priests in the Eastern (Orthodox) Church may be ordained after marriage; they may not marry once ordained to the priesthood. In both the Catholic and Orthodox churches, bishops must be unmarried.
PROBLEMS OF FORCED CELIBACY
But celibacy is a gift and shouldn’t be enforced:
1 Cor 7:9 (NIV) But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
Regrettably many priest and popes who couldn’t “control themselves” took vows of celibacy, but then did “burn with passion” as Paul had cautioned. Dave Hunt writes:
Let there be no misunderstanding: We are not suggesting that Catholic popes, priests, and nuns are inherently more prone to promiscuity than the rest of mankind. Our hearts are all the same. Many of these tragic individuals no doubt began with high moral and spiritual aspirations and in that spirit set out upon what they sincerely intended to be a life of purity and devotion to Christ. *
* Dave Hunt: A Woman Rides the Beast
Former Jesuit Peter De Rosa quotes a Benedictine monk and cardinal, Peter Damian (c. 1007 –1072/3) as saying: “After six centuries of strenuous efforts to impose celibacy, the clergy were a menace to the wives and young women of the parishes to which they were sent.” *
* Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy
Quoting R.W. Thompson, Dave Hunt writes:
Celibacy was hardly known in England before it was at last enforced by Innocent IV in about 1250. Most priests there were married, a practice long accepted by the Church… Pope Honorius II (1124-1130) sent Cardinal John of Crema to England to see that his decree against marriage for clergy was carried out. The cardinal gathered the senior clerics and chided them vigorously for their evil ways, declaring that “it was a horrible crime to rise from the side of a harlot, and then to handle the consecrated body of Christ.” The clergy whom he had lectured, however, surprised him in his room later that night in bed with one of the local prostitutes. At least he wasn’t married. *
* Dave Hunt: A Woman Rides the Beast
Rome has long been the butt of mockery because of their false claim to priestly celibacy. “Rome has more prostitutes than any other city because she has the most celibates” is but one example.
Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84) used that fact to his advantage by “charging Rome’s numerous brothels with a Church tax. Then he gathered more wealth still by charging a tax on mistresses kept by priests.” *
* Dave Hunt: A Woman Rides the Beast
Have things improved since then?
The New York Times website quotes the Associated Press (Published: June 12, 2005) as saying, “Sexual abuse by priests has cost the Roman Catholic Church in the United States more than $1 billion, a figure almost certain to rise by millions of dollars because of hundreds of still unsettled claims… The money was used by dioceses to pay settlements with victims, legal fees, counselling and other expenses since 1950, The A.P. found. At least $378 million has been spent in just the past three years, when the crisis erupted in the Boston archdiocese and spread nationwide.”
CELIBACY – THE BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE
Mandatory celibacy is not taught in the Bible, nor was it practiced by the apostles.
The apostle Paul writes, “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife…” (1 Tim 3:2 - KJV)
Paul calls forbidding marriage one of the “doctrines of demons”:
1 Tim 4:1-5 (NASB) But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons… men who forbid marriage … For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.
Does the Bible teach, that ‘priests’ or overseers (bishops / elders) should be celibate?
Paul writes, “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?” (1 Cor 9:5)
The ‘other apostles’ are all cited as having a ‘believing wife’.
Peter (Cephas), who is falsely claimed as the Roman church’s first ‘pope’ was married. In the gospels we also read of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law (Matt 8:14).
James (Jesus’ brother) led the church in Jerusalem and he was married (along with Jesus’ other brothers).
So, as a rule the apostles were married. Jesus and Paul are the only 2 notable celibates in the NT.
Paul expressed a personal preference for celibacy but admitted there was no “command from the Lord” on the matter.
Widows were treated with special respect, but younger widows are encouraged by Paul to remarry and bear children.
1 Tim 5:14 (NIV) So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.
Both Jesus and Paul make it clear that remaining unmarried:
is a God-given gift to some only.
Matt 19:10-12 (NIV) The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given … others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.
1 Cor 7:7 (NIV) I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
should only be for the sake of devoting oneself to the
kingdom of God,
Matt 19:9-12 (NIV) I tell you that anyone who
divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness,
and marries another woman commits adultery.” The
disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied,
“… some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus’ comments about those renouncing marriage have nothing to do with sex being ‘evil’. In the context, he’s talking about divorce. The disciples are concerned about the stringent requirements for divorce and remark that this is good reason not to get married. Jesus corrects them by saying that the only legitimate Scriptural reason to remain single is “because of the kingdom of heaven”.
This is effectively the same reason Paul cites i.e., for singleness of purpose in a ministry, not because of the evils of sex or marriage.
1 Cor 7:28 (NIV) But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.
1 Cor 7:32-35 (NIV) An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided… I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
Paul indicates that God may call some men and women to remain unmarried, if they can do so without constantly wishing that they were married (burning with passion).
1 Cor 7:8-9 (NIV) Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
1 Cor 7:36 (NIV) If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honourably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married.
After several years as a nun in the Cistercian monastery of Marienthron in Nimbschen, Katharina von Bora became interested in the growing reform movement. Conspiring with 12 other nuns to flee, she secretly contacted Martin Luther, begging for assistance. Luther responded by sending Leonhard Köppe, a merchant who regularly delivered herring to the convent on 4 April 1523. The nuns escaped by hiding among the fish barrels in his wagon and they fled to Wittenberg.
Luther asked the relatives of the refugee nuns to admit them back into their houses, but they declined - possibly because this would make them accomplices to a crime under canon law. Within 2 years, Luther was able to arrange homes, marriages, or employment for all of the nuns except Katharina. A feisty and outspoken woman, she didn’t like the potential husband Luther tried to arrange for her - and made it clear that she would not marry him.
However, she let it be known she
would be amenable to marrying
Luther. Luther eventually came to
the conclusion that “his marriage
would please his father, rile the
pope, cause the angels to laugh,
and the devils to weep.“ So the
41-year-old former monk forsook
his vow of celibacy and married
the 26-year-old former nun.
His criticism of monasticism was
due to his belief that celibacy,
while a blessed state, was reserved
for those few who had received it
as a gift from God.
He later wrote that “There is no
more lovely, friendly, and charming relationship, communion, or
company than a good marriage”.
FORNICATION, ADULTERY & COHABITATION
What does the Bible say about sexual sin? One of the Ten Commandments given to Moses was “do not commit adultery”.
THE OLD COVENANT
Pat Robertson says of the commandment to not commit adultery, “The reason is simple: Marriage is the foundation of society, and with it comes the responsibility of child rearing. Casual sex outside marriage not only imperils marriage but also destroys the paternal or maternal feeling for the children of the marriage, and blurs the lines of inheritance and family, clan and tribal relationships.” *
Solomon cautions men that “the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol” (Prov 5:3-5, ESV)
* https:// www1.cbn.com/ questions/ difference-between-adultery-fornication
Jesus would reiterate the law when the rich young ruler asked him, ”… what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (Matt 19:16-19)
Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honour your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’
THE NEW COVENANT
In fact, Jesus raised the stakes.
Matt 5:27-28 (NIV) “You
have heard that it was
said, ‘Do not commit
adultery.’ But I tell
you that anyone who
looks at a woman
lustfully has already
with her in his heart.”
regarding adultery is more
stringent than the OT as he
addresses the thought life rather than actions only.
In legal use there is a difference between adultery and fornication. Adultery is only used when at least one of the parties involved (either male or female) is married, whereas fornication may be used to describe two people who are unmarried (to each other or anyone else) engaging in consensual sexual intercourse. [Merriam-Webster dictionary]
In the NT, “fornication” comes from the Greek word porneia, which includes adultery and incest. Porneia comes from another Greek word that also includes indulging in any kind of unlawful lust, which would include homosexuality. *
Adultery, on the other hand, always refers to the sexual sin of married people with someone other than their spouse, and the word is used in the OT both literally and figuratively. *
* https:// www.gotquestions.org/ fornication-adultery.html
ADULTERY & FORNICATION
ADULTERY & FORNICATION
The prohibition against adultery and fornication is reiterated in the New Covenant.
1 Cor 6:9-10 (NKJV) Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators [pornoi] … nor adulterers [moichoi] …
1 Cor 6:9-10 (NASB) Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral [pornoi] … nor adulterers [moichoi] …
In today's world, the term fornication is rarely used and immorality between unmarried people is commonly accepted as a lifestyle. But immorality, however commonplace, is a sin that will keep millions of people out of heaven, unless they repent. *
* https:// www1.cbn.com/ questions/ difference-between-adultery-fornication
Fornication would include
Cohabitation: an unmarried
couple living together while
having premarital sex.
In our modern permissive Western
society, some people choose to
simply cohabit as they maintain that
living together will give them an
insight into married life.
Yet many Americans still see societal benefits in marriage. In a recent survey, 53% say society is better off if couples who stay together long-term eventually get married.
SOURCE: Pew Research Center analysis of 2002 and 2013-2017, survey of US adults conducted 18 July 2019
Married adults have higher levels of relationship satisfaction and trust than those living with an unmarried partner. *
But for Christians, ethics and morality should not be decided by opinion polls and surveys.
The Bible restricts sexual activity for a man and a woman who are married.
Heb 13:4 (NIV) Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer [moichous] and all the sexually immoral [pornous].
THE CHRISTIAN ETHICAL POSITION
Sexual sin begins with temptation,
as all sin does. When we refuse to
acknowledge God’s boundaries, we
allow lust to dictate our choices. And
lust never leads in the right direction. *
James 1:14-15 (NASB) But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
* https:// gotquestions.org/ sexual-sin.html
REMEMBER JOSEPH’S EXAMPLE. DON’T NEGOTIATE; RUN!!!
Gen 39:11-12 (NIV) One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.
We too must run from this sin.
1 Cor 6:18a (NIV) Flee from sexual immorality.
2 Tim 2:22 (NIV) Flee the evil desires of youth…
We must honour God with our bodies – which is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
1 Cor 6:18b-20 (NIV) All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.
We need to live holy (set apart) lives.
1 Thess 4:3-7 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that
you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of
you should learn to control
his own body in a way that
is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and
that in this matter no one
should wrong his brother or
take advantage of him. The
Lord will punish men for all
such sins, as we have already
told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be
impure, but to live a holy life.
We are to dissociate ourselves from professing Christians who practice sexual immorality, but not from the unsaved!
1 Cor 5:9-11 (NIV) I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.
Electricity is a very useful and powerful thing if it is used properly.
But when it is misused or abused, electricity can be dangerous or even lethal.
The same could be said about sex. If misused or abused, it is also deadly.
There are consequences to sexual sin. E.g.
You might contract a STD (sexually transmitted disease) like syphilis, herpes or AIDS.
You may also infect your spouse or baby, even causing their untimely death.
You could end up with an unwanted pregnancy and then be tempted to further break God’s laws by having an abortion.
You might bring shame on your family or to God’s name.
You may lose your job due to impropriety or immorality.
You could lose your spouse and your children.
You might be going down a path that leads to addiction.
Prov 6:27-29 (NIV) Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished.
The sexually immoral “will not inherit the kingdom of God”.
Gal 5:19-21 (NIV) … sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery … orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Cor 6:9-11 (NIV) Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
God will judge the sexually immoral:
1 Thess 3:5-7 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.
Heb 13:4 (NIV) Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
Jude 7 (NIV) In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.
Rev 21:8 (NIV) “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.”
Yet an adulterer is not beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness – provided
there is genuine repentance.
The most notable case in the OT is the affair of David and Bathsheba. When David repented, God forgave him, although he had to live with the drastic consequences of his sin.
The accusers of the woman caught in the act of adultery wanted to stone her as required by the Law.
John 8:3-5 (NIV) The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
Jesus refrains from condemning the woman (“Then neither do I condemn you”),
But he adds, “Go now and leave your life of sin” (v 11).
We must repent of sexual sin:
2 Cor 12:21 (NIV) I am afraid that when I come again… I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.
While we always need to observe the Christian practices of love and compassion towards sinners, at the same time pastors (and all Christians) need to be courageous in making clear the Bible’s teaching on sexual behaviour and be consistent in living by it themselves.
Like Jesus did, reach out and extend forgiveness to the sinner - while preaching against sexual sin.
AUTHOR: Gavin Paynter
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