If I marry a woman who is not a virgin, will I be guilty of adultery?
I am a 26-year-old Christian who is in desperate need of some advice and biblical understanding.
I am currently dating a lady I have been seeing now for over a year. I really love her and would like to marry her. She is also a Christian and a very beautiful woman inside and out. She loves me and wishes to marry me as well. She has a young son from a previous non-marital relationship. I love her son and he loves me. I wish to raise him up with biblical principles and godly love and respect. He means so much to me and she does too.
I am a little unsettled though, as of late, because I have run into some teaching that has made me put on the breaks with regards to getting on one knee and asking this lady to be my wife.
- I have been taught that sex equals marriage by several websites on the Internet and some brief readings of biblical texts (namely the Pauline Corinthians letter regarding the prostitute verse about being one flesh with them. I have also no way to reconcile the story of Jacob and Leah's wedding. He goes and has sex with her, then is "her husband" the next morning all without knowing it was her! This seems to go against the teaching of Scripture that says marriage is a covenant (covenants imply terms and conditions). Jacob's "going into Leah" seems to suggest that the sex itself was the marital act and regardless of it being the wrong woman there was no backing out now!
- My girlfriend has had sex before. In fact, she was promiscuous in her younger years before she met Christ. Is she married to the first person she had sex with according to the Bible? Would she be married to her son's father?
- She moved in with her ex a few years ago "to escape her parents while she was in rebellion" and ended up getting pregnant by her ex. They were engaged to be married. She was given a ring but that was all. She says they didn't view each other as spouses, and no plans for weddings or anything were made. The relationship ended because the ex did not help her take care of the child. He would stay out late with friends drinking and whatnot. He is a non-Christian and she was too at the time, but now she is a Christian.
I am simply in confusion. I really wish to obey the Lord and I do not want to commit adultery by marrying her if she is indeed "married in God's eyes" as many people teach today. Your website has helped, but I figured I would ask you personally about the matter as it is a life application question.
I must stress this: She is a born-again believer as well as I, and we both love each other and wish to marry. Is there anything stopping us biblically? Should I feel at peace with my decision to marry her?
Thank you so much for your time.
"Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4). Since God only permits sexual intercourse in a marriage, it is not surprising to learn that shortly after marriage, most couples have sex. But is it the sexual intercourse that makes the marriage? We even have a special word for it: we say that after a couple has their first sexual intercourse, the marriage was consummated (made complete). But did the marriage start at the wedding or after the sex?
Marriage Is a Covenant
First, the Bible is clear that marriage is formed by the covenant between a man and a woman. "Yet you say, "For what reason?" Because the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant" (Malachi 2:14). A covenant is a solemn agreement between two parties. It is somewhat similar to our idea of a contract but carries a deeper meaning and weight than our modern-day contracts. (See the sermon outline "Covenants" for more details.) One aspect of the marriage covenant is that God serves as a witness to the covenant. Jesus alludes to this when he said, "Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate" (Matthew 19:6). Thus it is the vows made by a man and woman which join them together into a new unit. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Notice the steps:
- a man leaves his parents,
- a man joins (marries) his wife,
- the two individuals become one flesh.
The last step includes the concept of the act of sex, but it is so much more than just sex. The two bond so tightly that they behave as one person, a person different from either of them individually but which doesn't exist without them both. But notice that the passage says, "and the two shall become one flesh" and does not say they are one flesh. It is a process that begins after marriage and continues throughout the marriage.
People Who Had Sex Were Not Married by the Sex
Dinah and Shechem
In the story of Shechem and Dinah, we find that Shechem went about finding a wife the wrong way.
"Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her and lay with her, and violated her. His soul was strongly attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the young woman and spoke kindly to the young woman. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, "Get me this young woman as a wife." And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter. Now his sons were with his livestock in the field; so Jacob held his peace until they came. Then Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. And the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved and very angry, because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter, a thing which ought not to be done" (Genesis 34:1-7).
Shechem had sex with Dinah and by doing so violated her. In Hebrew, the word is 'anah which means to lower or to humble. In other words, his action reduced Dinah's position in society, yet it did not create a marriage. In fact, notice that Shechem didn't even feel love toward Dinah until after having intercourse with Dinah. He wanted his father to negotiate a marriage but did not realize why Dinah's father and brothers were so upset with what he had done. It was a thing that ought not to be done. Sex was to come after marriage, not before. But for our point, this situation demonstrates that sex did not create a marriage.
Isaac and Rebekah
"Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death" (Genesis 34:67).
We are not told the full marriage ceremony -- there is no reason to assume that all of it was recorded for us -- but it appears that a part of their marriage customs was the bringing of the bride into the chambers of a man's mother. (In fact, it is from this that we get the custom of a man carrying his bride across the threshold.) But notice the order: Rebekah became Isaac's wife and then he loved her. This particular Hebrew word has the similar broad meaning for love that our English word has. It is both a general love between two individuals, but when used between married couples it can include the idea of lovemaking, or sex.
Judah and Shua
"And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua, and he married her and went in to her" (Genesis 38:2).
There is a distinct timeline being given:
- Judah met Shua,
- Judah married Shua,
- Judah had sex with Shua.
The function of the word "and" is to show the sequence of action and not to indicate simultaneous action.
Joseph and Mary
"And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus" (Matthew 1:24-25).
Joseph had planned to end his engagement to Mary when he found out she was pregnant, but after being assured by an angel of God, he married her. But notice that Joseph and Mary did not have sex until after Jesus was born (about six months later). This demonstrates that marriage is an act separate from intercourse.
Marriage Wasn't Just for Virgins
Laws in Deuteronomy
Hebrew law did not require that a man and woman be virgins in order to get married. As an example, "If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her 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 has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days" (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Another verse tells us that the woman's father had the right to reject the marriage (Exodus 22:16-17), thus young people couldn't use sex as a means of forcing a marriage to take place, but a father could use the fact that his daughter was having sex to force the couple to get married. For our discussion, though, it is important to note that the two who were getting married were not virgins.
David's Marriages to Abigail and to Bathsheba
David married Abigail after her husband died (I Samuel 25:39-42). Neither one was a virgin, but they had a marriage. David also committed adultery with Bathsheba, and after arranging the murder of her husband, married her as well (II Samuel 11:27). What David did was wrong on multiple accounts, but it still shows us that virginity was not required for a marriage.
Hosea and Gomer
"When the LORD began to speak by Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea: "Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the LORD"" (Hosea 1:2).
Hosea was commanded by God to marry a prostitute. God wanted him to do this so that his own life would illustrate the problems God was having with the people of Israel. God knew that a woman who was a prostitute was unlikely to remain faithful to her marriage and thus made Hosea's marriage a type of God's dealing with the Israelites. Yet notice again, she wasn't a virgin, but Hosea still married her.
What about Jacob and Leah?
"So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in to her." And Laban gathered together all the men of the place and made a feast. Now it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. And Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. So it came to pass in the morning, that behold, it was Leah. And he said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why then have you deceived me?" (Genesis 29:20-25).
As we have seen in numerous examples, marriage (the joining of a man and woman), is a separate act from the act of sex. The argument made is that Jacob married Leah by having sex with her; yet, it is an argument made from what the text does not say. Read it again. The text is not specific as to when the marriage took place. What we are told is that Laban brought Leah to Jacob and then Jacob had sex with Leah, but it wasn't until the next morning that he realized that he had the wrong woman.
How can this be? One hint is that the main difference between Leah and Rachel was Leah's eyes. "Leah's eyes were delicate, but Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance" (Genesis 29:17). We also know that it was a custom back then for a woman to veil herself prior to marriage. "Then Rebekah lifted her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from her camel; for she had said to the servant, "Who is this man walking in the field to meet us?" The servant said, "It is my master." So she took a veil and covered herself" (Genesis 24:64-65). This, by the way, is where we get the custom of a bride wearing a veil and that the groom is not to see the bride until the marriage ceremony. It is not hard to imagine that if Laban locked up Rachel, then had Leah wear something loose with a veil that she kept on during the whole ceremony, that it is possible that Jacob would not realize it wasn't Rachel. He would not have suspected a switch and was likely too nervous or excited to notice small details being off. Leah's handmaid would then take her to the bedroom, get her prepared and conveniently take all the lights so that Jacob came to bed in the dark.
An assumption that it was the act of sex that created the marriage isn't provable by this story because we weren't told the exact point of time when Jacob was married, only the time when he figured out that he was dubbed.
An Unintended Consequence If Your First Act of Sex Created a Marriage
If sex created marriage, then the first person you married would be your spouse. Sex with anyone else thereafter would be adultery. Yet the Bible talks extensively about the sin of fornication (sex outside the bonds of marriage). Having sex without both parties being married is fornication. Therefore sex, once again, does not create a marriage. If sex creates a marriage, then there could not be a sin of fornication, there would only be acts of marriage. If one night stands created marriages, then the world would be filled with polygamists. Worse, rapists could force women to be their wives.
Paul's View of Marriage
We need to start with an important point: in the Bible "law" and "covenant" are equivalent terms.
- "They did not keep the covenant of God; they refused to walk in His law" (Psalms 78:10).
- "The earth is also defiled under its inhabitants, because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant" (Isaiah 24:5).
- "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (Jeremiah 31:33).
- "Set the trumpet to your mouth! He shall come like an eagle against the house of the LORD, because they have transgressed My covenant and rebelled against My law" (Hosea 8:1).
- "But you have departed from the way; you have caused many to stumble at the law. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi," says the LORD of hosts" (Malachi 2:8).
Understanding this, Paul's statement is clearer: "For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband" (Romans 7:2). The "law" mentioned here is not the Old Testament but the covenant she made with her husband. Paul's point is that you could not be under two sets of laws, or two covenants, at the same time. For a woman to marry again, she had to be freed from the law, or covenant, that bound her to her husband. Notice that the binding and releasing had nothing to do with the act of sex, but by the law (the covenant). That is why this situation becomes a parallel for the Jewish people. They were freed from their first covenant by the death of Christ, allowing them to be bound by the second covenant.
The same concept is repeated: "A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord" (I Corinthians 7:39). To say she is bound by law is exactly the same idea expressed in Malachi 2:14 when it says "Yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant."
Therefore, we see that Paul taught that marriage was based on a covenant.
Paul's Argument about Prostitution
"Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For "the two," He says, "shall become one flesh." But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him" (I Corinthians 6:15-17).
God raised Jesus Christ from the dead; thus, we have the expectation that God will also raise us up on the last day. But when we are raised, it won't be an earthly body filled with worldly desires. We will be raised to be like Christ (Philippians 3:21). Since Christ is pure and sinless, that demands of us to be the same (I Peter 1:13-16).
Paul then applies this line of reasoning to one specific sin: sex outside of marriage. Can sex be indiscriminately indulged without harm? Solomon argued against it. "Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; He who does so destroys his own soul. Wounds and dishonor he will get, And his reproach will not be wiped away" (Proverbs 6:32-33). Can I indulge in it at any time or with anyone? A woman's husband would disagree (Proverbs 6:34-35). But most importantly, can I take the body God has given me to use for a holy purpose and join it to someone living a life of sin? (I Thessalonians 4:3-5).
Paul proves that sex binds the participants. It is not a permanent or stable bond, but it is a bond nonetheless. Those who engage in sexual sins are physically coupled during the act. They become for the moment one body (the Greek word soma). This is different from sex in a marriage where the two become one flesh (the Greek word sarx). The difference is wording is important because it indicates a different conclusion. Illicit sex is just a joining of bodies, which is unstable. Marital sex is the joining of two human beings into one life. And our joining to the Lord is an even greater bond, being a spiritual fellowship. Marital sex is compatible with our spiritual bond because the Lord blesses it (Hebrews 13:4). Illicit sex is not compatible with our spiritual bond with Christ.
Why should we take what God has freed from sin (Romans 6:1-7) and then bind ourselves to sinners, even on a temporary basis? We are a part of Christ (Ephesians 5:30) and when we sin, we are attempting to force sin to join with Christ through us. It won't work because what is flawed is cast off. Our reaction to sins, such as fornication ought to be run away from it as far and as fast as we can.
Neither of you is in a marriage covenant with anyone else. Neither one of you are married. Therefore, biblically you can enter a covenant with each other.
The fact that she was not a Christian when she was rebelling against God doesn't enter into the argument. The Law of Christ applies to all people. That is why non-Christians are lost in sin. She was once a sinner and among her sins was fornication. Those sins were washed away when she joined herself to Christ in baptism (Acts 22:16).