St. Paul’s Advice on Premarital Sex

1 Cor. 7:36-38

     So, does the apostle Paul say anything about premarital sex? I think he addresses a specific component of it in the seventh chapter to the Corinthians. However, one cannot make wide generalizations about what he writes. He spends almost two chapters giving advice about sexual activity, marriage, divorce, and appropriate conduct while betrothed. Here again I disagree with translations that follow the interpretations of King James’ translators. They make it difficult to understand and they leave too much to the imagination about what it means to be a virgin. I’ll give you a brief example.

     First you must remember the context. Paul was answering some questions specific to the congregation of Gentile Christians in Corinth. And in this example, he was giving advice about a man and “his virgin.” Some translations interpret virgin in these verses as virgin daughter. Applying daughter to the first mention of virgin would suggest a father is abusing his daughter. While that may have been a likely problem in the community in the same way it happens today, I think there’s a better interpretation. Several translations accurately deal with “virgin” as a fiancé, but engagement and betrothal are like equating apples to oranges.

     In an age where women and girls were greatly devalued by men, young girls were often betrothed to a male prior to puberty to protect them from indiscriminate males. Paul appears to be addressing an issue of whether a betrothed man could engage in sex during the time of betrothal, but prior to the determined time of marriage, ideally, after puberty. In my opinion, Paul appears to be trying to protect pre-pubescent girls from the inclinations of men before they were physically or emotionally ready for sexual relations. He has also clarified that this advice is from him alone and not directly from the Lord.

     Take a look at a popular translation and then compare it to mine.

(NKJV)

36 But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of youth, and thus it must be, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin; let them marry. 37 Nevertheless he who stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own will, and has so determined in his heart that he will keep his virgin does well. 38 So then he who gives her (his virgin)  in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better.

(My translation)

36 Furthermore, if any man follows the customa to behave inappropriately toward his betrothed, if he is past puberty and he is compelled to be fulfilled in this manner, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin—let them marry. 37 However, whoever has established firmly in his heart, not having necessity, but has control over his own will, and has decided in his own heart that he will preserve his betrothed, he will act honorably. 38 So then, the one who marries his betrothed [early] acts uprightly, but the one who does not marry his betrothed [early] will do better.

a nomizō: to follow a custom. The custom of the Corinthians (Gentiles) may have been that it was acceptable to harvest the pledged fruit before it is ready.

     The NKJV confuses the issue when suggesting a man’s “virgin” might refer to his daughter. The first mention of virgin puts the father in the position of abusing his own child, but then, if he marries her, he doesn’t sin (a violation of Mosaic law). The second suggests he can “keep” his virgin or daughter, which leaves too much to the reader to speculate on, especially when the third mention of virgin gives him power over whether his daughter or virgin is given in marriage. That may have been a cultural practice at the time, but it doesn’t make sense to suggest the father does “better” if he doesn’t give his daughter in marriage at all. Other translations suggest it’s better for a man not to marry at all because Paul has talked about being devoted completely to the Lord. But this diverts from dealing with a specific problem. 

   Most translations suggest the person being mentioned as being “past the flower of youth” applies to the “virgin” and assumes it to be the female. But in Greek, the noun suggesting one is past the flower of youth is masculine. It’s talking about boys having gone through puberty. It appears Paul is dealing with a young boy and girl who have been pledged to each other by their fathers, at least in this congregation.

     The bottom line is that if the teenage boy is unable to keep himself under control, it’s better to let them get married earlier than planned. Still, Paul appears to think it’s better for the male to wait until the female has reached puberty. Commitment in marriage is a good thing and waiting until after puberty is even better. Unfortunately, the needs of the girl are not given equal consideration. That was the culture.

     What do you think?

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