The changes in society's attitudes to love, sex and marriage in the last few decades requires one to look at the Christian idea of marriage, and to see if the Bible's teaching can still hold power. One fundamental question that must be revisited concerns what it actually is that constitutes a marriage. Should it be defined as a sexual union, or as a covenant? If it is a sexual union, does sex carry responsibilities, even if no covenant has been made? If it is a covenant, what period does it cover? Is it for life? Does it cover life leading up to it, as well as life after it is made?
The predominant view of our culture is that marriage is a covenant of sexual faithfulness, excluding other sexual relationships only while it is in force. There is therefore nothing inherently wrong with pre-marital sex, from a legal viewpoint, as it does not break the marriage covenant. As a Christian, one may rightly argue that pre-marital sex is unwise, in that it may reduce one's capacity for intimacy with one's future marriage partner. However if he or she accept this definition, he or she will have difficulty explaining why it is wrong in an absolute sense. Others will see he or she as out of step with the majority view in contemporary western culture that pre-marital sex is useful in testing a relationship prior to making a long-term commitment. Contemporary culture still tends to see marital infidelity as wrong, but sees pre-marital sex as something quite different.
Marriage in the Old Testament
As a Christian, one cannot accept this view of sex before marriage. It is clear from the scriptures that God's ideal for his people is that they marry as virgins. From the scriptures one must say that marriage is more than a covenant of sexual faithfulness for a period of time. He or she should say that marriage ideally means sexual faithfulness for all time, both before and after any public ceremony? This is what it meant before the fall, when...