What God Really Thinks About Sex Outside Marriage

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Deuteronomy 22 states that anyone who has sex outside of marriage should be stoned. Here's why God values fidelity. (Charisma archives)

I believe God is good, and the Bible is His revelation of Himself to us. Therefore, it too must be good. And if the Bible is good in general, it flows then that it is good for God's image bearers, male and female. I've felt compelled (there is no better word for it) to study the passages that seem hardest for women.

After studying Dinah, I went on to Deuteronomy 22, which seems to be the later laws addressing Dinah's situation so that the horrible fiasco that happened after her rape would not be repeated. The bottom line of the law is that the man who violates a woman has to restore her honor and dignity in her culture. He has to pay a dowry worthy of what he took indiscriminately.

He must marry her, and He cannot divorce her. Civilization at this point wasn't very civilized. For a culture apart from the law in which women had zero rights (see Dinah's story in Genesis 34), this was the first step toward giving her rights.

But I was struck by a bigger issue while studying this passage. Deuteronomy 22 has back to back laws on sex outside of marriage (punishable by stoning) and adultery (also punishable by stoning). The punishment is extremely harsh. I don't like the harshness of the penalty. It makes me extremely uncomfortable, especially if I'm asking the question if the Bible is good for women. But the punishment did cause me to sit back and reflect.

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When God gives laws to His children on the topic of sexuality, what ethic is He setting up? How should people set apart to reflect a Holy God treat sex?

We are His image bearers, and the laws He projected onto His children surely must reflect something about Himself. God sets up the sexual ethic He values, which is total fidelity between partners. It's not partial fidelity. It's not generally valuing monogamy.

God values complete faithfulness from beginning to end in marriage. Adultery between a married man and woman as well as fornication between two who were unmarried but betrothed to another person were punishable by death.

Unlike our modern culture in which the breaking of marriage vows has less stigma attached than ever before, betrothal between a man and woman in Israel reflected a deep commitment, not just between individuals, but between their families as well. In the harsh world they lived in, allies you could trust as family were crucial to flourishing life. Fidelity in those relationships were the fabric on which that society rose or fell.

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