What intimacies are allowed or not allowed to engaged couples?


My girlfriend and I are very grateful to the Lord for the love and gift we are to each other. We love the Lord and want to honor Him and His law for us as an unmarried but betrothed couple. We are committed to saving sex for marriage.

I am searching deeper into His law regarding intimacy. I need further clarification and references to the original Greek and Hebrew meanings for "immorality" and "fornication" and context. Can you help guide us? In our case could kissing or hugging, holding hands even -- anything physical or verbal that causes arousal -- be considered wrong and sinful? This is why I ask about the above words, to help us know where the line is.

Where does the Word speak on this in regards to a betrothed couple? If any arousal between a betrothed couple is sinful how is it possible to not be aroused by one another during the course of moving toward marriage? If arousal is permitted then where is the line for verbal and physical intimacy? Is every form of physical intimacy, except sexual intercourse permitted?

Does intimacy (not sexual intercourse) fall into an area similar to an individual's personal convictions regarding certain foods? For example, there is no law but for a certain person, he may regard certain foods as spiritually off-limits. So for that person, if he gives in to eating that food, for him it is sin as he violated what he regarded to the Lord as off-limits?

Thank you for your time.


First, let's get the words involved defined. See Notes on Sex.

Fornication is a sin, but it is not the only sexually related sin. People have to also be concerned with not getting involved in lewdness, uncleanness, lust, and sexual touching (Romans 13:13-14; Ephesians 5:3-7; I Corinthians 7:1).

Arousal can be a warning sign of going too far and a person needs to be aware that when aroused he doesn't always make good decisions. But arousal alone is just the reaction of the body to the thoughts of a person and the environment around him. Just a look across a room can be arousing. "He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. Sustain me with cakes of raisins, Refresh me with apples, for I am lovesick" (Song of Solomon 2:4-5). Being aroused by itself is not wrong, but it is very easy to slip from there into inappropriate thoughts. The heroine in Song of Solomon began to imagine snuggling up close to Solomon and then stopped to warn that it was not appropriate to rush love. "His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me. I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the does of the field, do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases" (Song of Solomon 2:6-7). Realize that when you are aroused that danger is just around the corner and precautions must be taken.

The rules don't change just because a couple is engaged. Until a couple is married, sex and the things that lead up to sex are off-limits because sex is only permitted in marriage (Hebrews 13:4).


Thank you, Jeffrey.

From the study I've done, the English translations use either fornication or immorality for the Greek word porneia or Hebrew word zanah. The Greek and Hebrew words mean harlotry and or prostitution -- sex for money, loose sexual living, or idolatry. From what I've seen it does not refer to unmarried, committed relationships and couples but to wild loose paid sex.

I read this study, I found it also very interesting. I'm curious what your take is on it. It's not very long.


The website you referenced is one advocating Messianic Judaism. Basically, the concept is that Christianity is just a branch of Judaism and that the Old Testament is still in effect. Like many of this group, arguments are presented that sound scholarly until you compare them to actual scholarly sources.

In defining terms it used the English definition of the word "fornicate" and then used the KJV to find four places where the English word translated two Hebrew words. It then used incomplete definitions of the Hebrew words to insist that the Greek word porneia must mean the same thing. It again references an incomplete definition of porneia, which included the phrase "of every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse." They then define "unlawful" as being only against the first five books of the Old Testament and insist that fornication is not declared unlawful in the Torah. The conclusion is that singles' sex is not forbidden in the Scriptures, only prostitution that is connected to idolatry. By the way, their conclusions are broader than your own, since theirs allows for casual one-night stands so long as money doesn't change hands and idolatry is not involved.

The problem is that this is all gibberish. It takes a Greek word, notes its English translation, goes to a 1600s English translation to find four instances of the word in the Old Testament (by the way, they missed Ezekiel 16:15), looks up the definitions of two Hebrew words that this English word translates, and then claims that the Hebrew definitions are precisely the Greek word's definition! Most of the references are from a book advocating sex without restraint. Because of the bias of the book, it cannot be used as proof that its point of view is correct, only that such a point of view exists.

The shell game begins by not acknowledging that Greek is a living language. Words change meaning over time, just as words used today in English don't always have the same meaning as they did in the 1600s. In Classical Greek, which dates back over 300 years before the New Testament, porneia originally was the word for prostitution [Moulton-Milligan, p. 529]. However, over time it changed meaning. In later Classical Greek writings, it denoted unchastity and illicit sexual relations of any kind. In other words, the meaning of the word broadened beyond just prostitution. The Septuagint translation of the Old Testament was a Greek translation of the Hebrew, done about 200 years before the New Testament. The Greek word porneia was used to translate the Hebrew words

  • zanah in Jeremiah 2:20 and Micah 1:7
  • zenunim in Hosea 1:2 and Nahum 3:4
  • zenuth in Numbers 14:33; Jeremiah 3:2; and Hosea 4:11
  • taznuth in Ezekiel 16:15; 23:7-11

"Literally, porneia means 'prostitution, illicit intercourse, habitual sexual immorality.'" [The Complete Biblical Library]. Notice that while prostitution is one of its meanings, it isn't restricted to just prostitution.

When we get to the New Testament time and the use of Koine Greek, we find that people continued to use the broad definition of porneia.

To demonstrate the misuse of sources, the article stated:

"Porneia, according to the authoritative Bauer’s Lexicon, refers to “prostitution…of every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse,” BAG, p. 693b."

I happen to have Bauer's Lexicon. It says: "πορνεια (of various kinds of 'unsanctioned sexual intercourse': ...(1) unlawful sexual intercourse, prostitution, unchastity, fornication ... (2) participation in prohibited degrees of marriage, fornication ... (3) immorality of a transcendent nature, fornication ..." The parts I skipped were the lists of proofs and examples to show the word being used in each of the various definitions. The article, by selecting only a few words, made it appear that Bauer gave a definition favorable to the intentions of the article instead of what it actually does -- prove that the article is wrong.

So let's look at how porneia is used in the New Testament. In particular, is it being used exclusively for prostitution connected to idolatry as is being claimed?

  • "It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles--that a man has his father's wife!" (I Corinthians 5:1). Here porneia is referring to a man having sex with his step-mother. Idolatry is not even under consideration here, nor is there mention of payment for services. It is the fact that sex is taking place between people of close relationships who are not married to each other.
  • "Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. ... But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (I Corinthians 7:1-2, 8-9). A man is not to sexually touch a woman because it may lead to porneia. If the unmarried (singles) cannot exercise self-control, then they are to get married.
  • "Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, ..." (Galatians 5:19-20). Lists are interesting because each word adds information not necessarily included in the other words. Notice that idolatry is listed separately from fornication. There might be overlap in that some forms of fornication are involved in idolatry, but it also means that there are aspects of fornication that do not fall under the definition of fornication.

While the claim is being made that porneia doesn't include singles, what about the other words often associated with porneia, such as uncleanness and lewdness? "But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks" (Ephesians 5:3-4). Is uncleanness here only applied to married people? If so, there is no such indication in the context. If uncleanness is meant for all, then why insist that fornication is restricted in who it applies to? "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man" (Mark 7:21-23). Once again the context shows a generic context, these things apply to everyone. Lewdness is a problem for single people as well as the married.

Now consider "lewdness": the Greek word aselgeia, refers to shameless behavior, particularly in regards to sex. It is behavior that is involved in pure self-enjoyment or behavior characteristic of an animal. Is this only wrong if done with a prostitute in an idolatrous religion, or is it always wrong? I hope you'll see that it is always wrong. But then how does an unmarried couple engage in sex without lewd behavior that leads up to sex? The same would go for uncleanness and lust. In other words, you would be saying that the end result is all right for an unmarried "committed" couple, but all the things leading up to it are wrong.

The reason sex is forbidden to the unmarried is that there is no commitment. You have the intent to commit your life to someone else, but you have not yet made the commitment. There is no vow -- no marriage -- proving your commitment. That is why you find the state of marriage contrasted to unmarried sex. "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4). There are two classes, one honorable and the other dishonorable. Both classes engage in sex. Married sex is honorable. Unmarried sex (fornication and adultery) is condemned. Having sex while engaged falls in the category of unmarried, specifically it falls under "fornication."

But there is another false claim that unmarried sex is not forbidden in the Old Testament. from the website you referenced:

"“Unlawful“ in Biblical usage means forbidden by the Torah. But the Torah, with its 613 commandments, does not mention singles sex - “fornication.”"

First, notice the attempt at an artificial restriction. The author knows that if the entire Old Law is used, then a case can be made against fornication, so he narrows it down to only the first five books of the Old Testament as if they are from a different source than the rest of the Bible.

Singles' sex is mentioned in the Law of Moses as something that should not be done:

  • "If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins" (Exodus 22:16-17).
  • "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).
  • "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. ... 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 34:1-2, 7).

When people want to avoid the obvious, they can always find someone who will tell them what they want to hear. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (II Timothy 4:3-4).


Thank you, Jeffrey,

I have to admit my head is spinning here as this all seems quite technical and I am a technical person by trade.

I hold to saving sex for marriage. What I need time, prayer, study, and revelation of are how to know where the lines are in showing intimate love to each other. In some cultures to hold a women's hand is highly forbidden. Even to be seen in public with your wife holding hands is highly looked down upon. For us, we very much believe in reserving sex for marriage, but we want to show physical love to each other. So is holding hands going too far? Is bringing each other to orgasm too far? From one end to the other and everything in between.

We are in a holding pattern, and, as anyone would know, it is torturous to not show this mutual love to one another and it even is unnatural and cold. And I know human nature. We all say one thing in the public arena, but behind closed doors, we do the opposite.

The other thing I have noticed with myself and other people who have been single and then married is that our stance on singles intimacy and sex "coincidentally" changes when we get married. How fickle we are. We enjoyed the fruit of love as singles then marry; now we don't want other singles to enjoy until we end up single again after a divorce, then we are back to the same stance we had before.

How could it be realistically possible to go through the whole process of the initial meeting, to developing a deepening relationship, all the way to engagement, and leading up to marriage and not hug, kiss, deep passionate kissing, touching, and rubbing including all the areas we normally clothe. To not bring to intense arousal even to orgasm? Even if you limit yourself to hugging and kissing, arousal is what happens. It all just seems like if all this is forbidden, and then we are set up for failure. I know God well enough that He would not do that as it is not love.

Answers will come to me in time. I just know there are so many different views and understandings of this topic and references to the Bible. That is why I started looking at the original Hebrew and Greek, not English translation and modern-day meaning of a word from thousands of years ago.


I gave a detailed response because you said you were looking at Hebrew and Greek, yet cited a page that contained pseudo-scholar nonsense. If you are going to research the original languages, then you need to start with respected sources. It appears to me that you are merely wanting to justify your desire to do as much sexually as you can before marriage. Therefore, you latch on to anything that tells you what you want to hear. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (II Timothy 4:3-4).

You claim to know God, yet you based none of your assertions on what God said. "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (I John 2:3-6). God isn't setting you up for failure, He is telling you through His teachings how not to fail. It is you who is whining and complaining about God's reasonable teachings.

In regards to sexual behavior, it does not change on the marital status of who is teaching. God's Word remains the same. His teachings are consistent.

It appears to me that you know where the limits are. You just don't like it, so you are looking for a loophole to excuse yourself. I will attempt to spell it out clearly.

You understand you are not to have sex. But it appears that you want to take a narrow definition of what actually constitutes sex. I'm getting the impression that as long as you decide you aren't engaging in intercourse, then it isn't fornication. However, your definition is inaccurate. Porneia includes all sexual acts between partners who are not married to each other. It isn't just limited to vaginal intercourse. It also includes oral sex, anal sex, and mutual masturbation. Basically, any acts where the man typically reaches orgasm and ejaculates with another person is considered sex. Evidence is given under Porneia in my Notes on Sex. I cited well-respected language scholars and listed verses to back up this definition. Repeating what the Complete Biblical Library stated, porneia"denotes 'unchasity, illicit sexual relations' of any kind."

But what about the things that lead up to sex? God warns against lewdness. Lewdness refers to shameless behavior, particularly in regard to sex. It is behavior that is involved in pure self-enjoyment or behavior characteristic of an animal. So things like foreplay or behavior that arouses your sexual desire would be lewd. To spell this out, this means things like handling the sexual organs or sexually arousing areas of the body. It would include behaviors like dry humping. "Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts" (Romans 13:13).

Lust is thinking about doing something that is wrong and justifying that it would be all right at least in this case. In simple terms, it is what you are attempting to do. You are thinking constantly about sex and you are trying to justify getting as close to sex as you can without it becoming intercourse. The reason lewdness and lust are forbidden is that they lead up to sex. You don't start something that you can't morally finish. "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man" (Mark 7:21-23).

Solomon points out the problem when he asked, "Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?" (Proverbs 6:27). You can show a hot coal all the affection you want. You can cuddle it and dote on it and it will still burn you. Your kindness to it doesn't change its nature. How often do you hear someone say, "But I love her!" Solomon's point is that your feelings toward a girl won't change the fact that both of you have built-in desires and capabilities for sex. Trigger them and they follow the instincts built into you.

Solomon also asked, "Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared?" (Proverbs 6:28). Using the same example of a hot coal, if you walk on it, it will burn you. You can apologize and say you didn't mean to step on it, but you'll still be hurt because your intentions don't change what it is. Thus, the excuse, "But I didn't mean for it to go this far!" becomes an empty one because your intentions don't change your body's drive.

That is why Solomon concludes, "So is he who goes in to his neighbor's wife; whoever touches her shall not be innocent" (Proverbs 6:29). Though he is talking directly about adultery, the same point is true about fornication. When you start intentionally stirring up sexual feelings, you are never innocent when things go further than you wanted. This is also why Paul said, "Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman" (I Corinthians 7:1). By that, he means touching a woman in a sexual way.

While you claim that you "only" wish to go part way, the fact is that it won't happen. You'll continue to push the limits all the way to the point of actually having intercourse, which by that time you'll be telling yourself that it is all right as long as you don't get her pregnant. I've talked to guys who have done this far too many times.

If doing all of this is wrong, it should be understood that talking about doing this with your fiance is also wrong. "But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them" (Ephesians 5:3-7). Talking dirty with your girlfriend is vocalizing your lust, which is just as sinful as thinking of doing sexual things with your girlfriend.

What God tells Christians they must do is not impossible. Throughout world history, hundreds of thousands of couples are able to be engaged and then marry without getting involved in these sinful behaviors. "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (I Corinthians 10:13).

Yes, the desire for sex is present. But as the heroine in Song of Solomon points out, it cannot be indulged in because rushing love will cause you to lose love, like a deer being frighten off by approaching it too quickly. "I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the does of the field, do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases" (Song of Solomon 2:7).

If you think you cannot express love without physical acts then you have almost no understanding of what love is. See: "Love Is ..." and "Love Is Different."

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