Prepare to be as surprised as we were after we had researched this subject. For many of the conclusions (which are strictly Bible based) don't follow traditional Christian ideals, nor do they follow modern practices. However, recognize that our purpose here isn't to liberalize or water down proper moral conduct, nor are we setting new strict standards. We are just showing what the Bible actually says, what the words mean, and how they are applied in Bible examples.
Realize that many of the modern ideas that we have about proper Christian sexual conduct didn't come from the Bible, but from the opinions of single men and women who were in religious orders that did not allowed them to marry… but who were still driven by natural desires that were created by God, which they came to believe were sinful. So, it was such ones who created the rules that many wrongfully view as scriptural and are God's views of proper sexual conduct. As the result, these over-emphasize sexual matters in Christian doctrine, while allowing other equally-important concerns to fall into the background.
On the other hand, many modern Christian teachers have allowed God's views of proper sexual conduct to become somewhat of a joke, calling them 'old fashioned' and 'out of date.' Understand that both of these extremes fall short of what is required to live a righteous life as a disciple of Jesus.
The Greek word for marriage is gamos, and the Greek word for wedding is nymphon. In most cases among the ancient patriarchs and the Israelites, a wedding or marriage usually consisted of four steps:
1. Paying a dowery or bride price to bride's parents
2. Taking the bride
3. Consummating the marriage and providing proof of virginity
4. Celebrating the union with a wedding feast.
As you can see, the ancient Bible process of marriages and weddings are quite different from modern western customs and are more similar to those that are practiced in other lands today. For there was no 'wedding ceremony,' no preacher or priest, and no governmental certification or registration. Yet all these things are now viewed as requirements of a proper 'Christian wedding.'
Of course, God created the marriage arrangement when He brought the first woman to Adam. And in this way, he set the example for the meaning of marriage. Notice what Adam himself understood about this; for he said (as recorded at Genesis 2:23, 24): 'This is now bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh. She will be called woman, because she was taken from man. And because of this, a man will leave his father and mother and bond with his wife, and the two will become one flesh.'
So (as is born out in other scriptures), whenever two people join in a sexual union, whether married or unmarried, they become one in the eyes of God.
Thereafter, in the Bible examples, each of the marriage partners had roles that they were expected to play; the husband was the protector, provider, father, and head, and the wife was the mother and housekeeper. Also, to keep harmony in the relationship, Paul (the Apostle) urged (at Ephesians 5:33) husbands to love their wives as they do themselves, and wives to have a 'Godly fear' or 'deep respect' for their husbands.
Of course, ancient Israel was a male-dominated society, and the Bible's examples reflected the customs of the time. However, showing love and deep respect will always strengthen a relationship.
The Greek word that is often translated as fornication is porneia. However in this Bible, we have more accurately translated it as sexual immorality, because porneia actually refers to something that is sold, as in the lewd sexual performances of a prostitute, not just to copulation. Note that porneia implies sexual acts with any person with whom one is not married.
In the Bible, any woman who commits porneia with someone other than her mate was referred to as a whore (gr. porne). And in the Old Law, we find this injunction at Deuteronomy 23:17: 'There may be no whores among the daughters of Israel, nor may there be any [men] among the sons of Israel who are sexually immoral (gr. porneuon).'
Why is it important for Christians to stay free from porneia? Paul explained it well at 1 Corinthians 6:15, 16, where he wrote: 'Don't you know that your bodies are all a part of the Anointed One? So, should I take one of the Anointed One's body parts and give it to a whore? May that never happen! Don't you know that whoever joins himself to a whore becomes one with her body? For he says, The two will become one flesh.'
So according to Paul, our bodies are now a part of Jesus. And when we join to someone other that our husband or wife, we are defiling Jesus.
The Greek word that is often translated as adultery is moichao (pronounced moee-kow). It implies taking or giving away something that belongs to another, or an infidelity.
Adultery is viewed as something particularly disgusting by God. In fact, it was one of the few things that was listed as a capital offense in the Old Law, and it was repeatedly cited as a primary reason for God bringing destruction upon IsraEl and Judah. Note, for example, His words against them as found at Jeremiah 5:7-9:
'So with them, I've now become filled;
For, they have committed adultery,
And whores find rest in their homes!
'Like horses, they snort and are sex crazed…
Each one for the wife of his neighbor.
Thus, for such things, should I not pay a visit, asks Jehovah?
Yes, over such a [bad] nation,
Shouldn't My soul take its vengeance?'
The Greek word for divorce is apoluo, which means to unbind or set loose. And although we can think of no Bible examples of faithful men or women who divorced their wives or husbands, the Old Law did make such a provision. For at Deuteronomy 24:3, 4 we read: 'If you take a wife, and after living with her, you find that you no longer love her because of some disgusting thing that she may have done, you may write out a divorce certificate (gr. bibliou apostasiou) and put it into her hands, then send her away from your home.'
But later, Jesus later elaborated on God's view of the matter. Notice his reply to the question that the Pharisees asked, as found at Matthew 19:2-9: 'However, the Pharisees came to test him, asking, Is it legal for a man to release his wife on just any sort of grounds?' And [Jesus] replied: 'Didn't you read that the One who created them long ago made them male and female, and said, This is the reason why a man will leave his father and mother and stick to his wife, because the two will be one flesh? So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, no man should separate what God has put together under the same yoke!'
Then they asked: 'So then, why did Moses say that we could give her a divorce certificate and dismiss her?' And he answered: 'Moses, realizing how hardhearted you are, allowed that you would divorce your wives. But it hasn't always been that way! I tell you that whoever divorces his wife except on the grounds of sexual immorality and marries another, is an adulterer!'
Therefore, it is clear that divorce for reasons other than sexual infidelity puts the person who does the divorcing in a bad relationship with God, since this shows a lack of respect for what he or she has vowed and a selfish lack of true love. And note that the words 'sexual immorality,' as used in the scripture above, indicates a lewd sexual act with someone outside the marriage arrangement, not to something done between husband and wife.
However, the Scriptures do make provisions to annul a marriage whenever the husband had expected his wife to be a virgin, but she proved not to be. This was the reason why ancient marriages were consummated prior to attending the wedding feast.
We have noted that there is some question as to when a divorced person who marries another is actually guilty of adultery. For the implication of Jesus' words as they are rendered at Matthew 5:32 (which is the most quoted scripture on this subject) is that even an innocent woman (one who has not been unfaithful) that has been released, is an adulteress. For most Bibles render the words there as reading, 'But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife except on the grounds of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.'
But notice how these same words of Jesus are clarified in the parallel account at Mark 10:11, 12. In Greek, this verse reads: 'Hos an apolyse ten gynaika autou kai gamese allen moichatai ep auten. Kai ean aute apolysasa ton andra autes, gamese allon, moichatai' or, 'Whoever, anyhow, should/divorce the woman of/him and should/marry another, commits adultery against/her. And if she should/divorce the man of/herself and marry another; she/commits/adultery.' So we have rendered these verses as reading: 'Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.'
As you can see, the same words as quoted by Mark don't contradict what is written in Matthew, they just clarify what was meant. Notice that Jesus wasn't really condemning innocent divorced husbands or wives as being adulterers. Rather, he was condemning the one who chose the divorce as being the adulterer or adulteress. The point being: God does not recognize a divorce for reasons other than infidelity. And if someone (either husband or wife) choses to divorce for reasons other than that; they are viewed as being guilty of adultery. However, there appears to be no condemnation of the wronged and released mate, as is indicated in other translations of Jesus' words at Matthew 5. But once their mates takes another, the marriage bond is broken by the adultery, and it appears as though they are free to remarry without the stigma of being viewed as an adulterer or adulteress.
Notice how a misunderstanding of the purpose of God's Law concerning divorce is currently creating hardships for many Jewish women who have been released by their husbands but have not been given the necessary religious papers that would allow them to remarry, as reported in the BBC article of March 13th 2014, 'Plight of Jewish Chained Women Trapped in Broken Marriages.' From this you can see how important a 'Certificate of Release' was under the Old Law, and how a woman who was released by her husband was considered an adulteress if she remarried without such a certificate. So, this appears to be what Jesus was discussing.
Note also God's view of how such a divorce is a total dissolution of the union (Deuteronomy 24:4-6): 'And if she chooses to remarry after she leaves her first husband (due to the fact that her first husband didn't care for here and divorced her and sent her away), and this [second] husband should die, the former husband may not remarry her after she has had sex with the other man, because that is a disgusting thing before Jehovah your God. You must not dirty the land that Jehovah your God is giving you to inherit.'
Of course, although that is part of the Old Law, which Christians are not under; it does reflect God's thinking on the matter.
Here is one case where the early Mormons may have been right; for a deep study of the Bible shows that there are no laws forbidding polygamy, and that God in many cases actually directed and blest the taking of more than one wife and/or concubine, as in the case of Jacob. Outstanding polygamous men who were blest include Jacob, David, Solomon, and many others. In fact, God symbolically spoke of Himself as having more than one wife in Ezekiel 23.
In the case of levirate marriage (taking the wife of a dead brother); polygamy may have actually been required by God, since the laws on this do not mention that the man who takes his brother's wife must not already be married.
Yes, the standard set by God in the Paradise was one husband and one wife. And at Deuteronomy 17:17, Israelite kings were instructed not to accumulate many wives. However, the reason given for this was so that they would not lead the kings away from pure worship, as happened in the case of Solomon, not because polygamy was immoral.
Another scripture that is often quoted to show that polygamy was forbidden to Christians is 1 Timothy 3:2. For, many Bibles quote Paul as writing that 'overseers (or bishops) should be husbands of one wife.' However, the fact that this statement had to be made proves that some Christians did have multiple wives. For more information on the proper translation of this verse, see the linked Note, One-Woman Man.
It is interesting though, that by the First Century, polygamy was not common among the Jews. Rather, as Jesus pointed out; the custom was to divorce old wives and get new ones. But the reason for this change in custom appears to have been brought on by Roman occupation; for polygamy was frowned on (if not forbidden) by the Romans. And if so, here is an unusual case of ethnics setting new moral standards for God's people.
The Greek word that is often translated as concubine is pallake.
According to Wikipedia, 'A concubine is generally a woman in an ongoing, matrimonial-like relationship with a man, whom she cannot marry for a specific reason. The reason may be because she is of lower social rank than the man (including slave status) or because the man is already married. Generally, only men of high economic and social status have concubines. Many historical rulers maintained concubines as well as wives.
'Historically, concubinage was frequently voluntary (by the woman and/or her family's arrangement), as it provided a measure of economic security for the woman involved. Today, concubinage is reserved for the most apex alphas who can maintain a de facto harem with concurrent long term relationships.
'In opposition to those laws, traditional Western laws do not acknowledge the legal status of concubines, rather only admitting monogamous marriages. Any other relationship does not enjoy legal protection, making the woman essentially a mistress.'
In patriarchal times, concubines were usually slaves; and as the result, their offspring were referred to as 'home-born' or 'native-born servants' (see Ecclesiastes 2:7). AbraHam, for example, was known to have more than a hundred of such offspring (see Genesis 14:14). And although many have written to argue this conclusion; note God's instructions to AbraHam, when He was making the Agreement with him involving circumcision (Genesis 17:12): 'All of your male children must be circumcised by you when they are eight-days old, throughout all your generations. [This includes all the] servants who are born in your house and those who are bought with money (the sons of aliens who are not your seed).'
You can see here that those who are 'home-born' are differentiated from those who are not the seed of AbraHam.
Notice that Job said (as recorded at Job 31:1, 2):
'I've made a vow with my eyes
That I'll not pay attention to virgins…
For, what I have came from God up above;
The inheritance of what the Most High sees fit.'
However, notice Job's situation at the time, as found at Job 19:17, 18:
'I call out to even my wife,
And call sweetly to the sons of my concubines.
Yet, they listen not… they just stand there.'
So it appears as though there was no shortage of women for those who could afford them in patriarchal societies.
Incest may or may not be immoral, for in many cases that we read of in the Bible, marriage between brothers and sisters was either the only option (as in the case of Adam's children), or it was the safest option (as in Abraham's choice of his half-sister Sarah). However, it was clearly for the welfare of the resulting offspring that God eventually included an injunction against such close family marriages in the Old Law (when the prevalence of genetic defects could cause harm). So, taking a husband or wife from as close a relative as a brother or sister is not immoral, it simply isn't safe.
On the other hand; marrying, or having sex with, or just exposing the nakedness of fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, sister-in-laws, brother-in-laws, your own children, or their mates, or their children is immoral, because: according to Leviticus 18:6-22, you are shaming another relative who is closer by symbolically uncovering their nakedness (see the account for examples). And of course, where no marriage between a male and females is involved, all the rest is simply porneia (immorality)
Masturbation is simply viewed as a practice that God considers to be unclean (as is true of normal sex relations, by the way). However, it is not specifically forbidden anywhere in the Bible. The practice of masturbation is specifically addressed in the Old Law at Leviticus 15:16-18, which reads, 'Any man who ejaculates semen must wash his whole body and be unclean until evening. And every piece of clothing, or any skin on which there is semen must be washed with water and be unclean until evening. And when any woman goes to bed with a man and receives his semen, they must both bathe in water and be unclean until evening.'
So, notice that both of these practices rendered a person temporarily unclean for worship at God's Temples.
Of course, many Christians quote Jesus' words found at Matthew 5:28 to prove that masturbation is wrong. For there he said: 'But I tell you that he who stares at a woman and develops a desire [to have] her, has already committed adultery in his heart.'
So, was Jesus forbidding masturbation? Well, Jesus specifically mentioned adultery here, not porneia. Therefore, the implication is that married men were urged to be satisfied by their own wives, not to lust after other women. And obviously; lusting after another man's woman amounts to covetousness, which was forbidden by the Tenth Commandment.
Sodomy is linked to the Bible only by its ties to the name of the unrighteous people of the city of Sodom who were destroyed for seeking to have sex with other men (in this case, angels). That such an unnatural act by men against other men is frowned on by God, is indicated by the words of Jude, when he likened their actions to the angels who lowered themselves by having unnatural sexual relations with 'the daughters of mankind' (see Genesis 6:4 and Jude 1:6, 7).
Males who sodomize other males are specifically mentioned at 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10 as people who 'will not inherit God's Kingdom.' For there they are referred to as arsenokoitai, which literally translates as, 'male bed-ers.'
However, note that the most likely reason why God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah wasn't because of the attempted sodomy itself, but because of people's violent mistreatment of strangers. We have concluded this from what God Himself said about the reason why He destroyed those cities, as found at Ezekiel 16:49.
Then, does the sodomizing of a willing mate fall under the same condemnation? Although this is likely an 'unclean act,' there is no specific mention of it in the Bible. However, forcefully doing so would be condemned as disrespectful.
Oral sex has surely been practiced by women on men and men on women through the ages, and it is never forbidden in the Bible. In fact, the cryptic words of the Shulamite girl (as found at Song of Solomon 8:1) could possibly have reference to this.
Oral sex might be viewed as an 'unclean act;' but in the absence of Bible instructions, the practice between married couples should be considered a matter of personal conscience.
On the other hand; the practice of oral sex between unmarried persons of the same or the opposite gender surely qualifies as porneia, and is the same as any other immoral sex act.
God considers having sex with any lower animal something disgusting. For His Law at Exodus 22:19 says: 'Anyone who [has sex] with an animal must be put to death.' And at Leviticus 18:23, 24 it says: 'Nor may you lie down and have sex with any animal, for that would pollute you. Nor should any woman offer herself before any animal to breed with it, for that is disgusting!'
Although many people no longer view homosexuality as immoral, the practice is still considered 'disgusting' by God. Notice that He said in His Law (at Leviticus 18:22), 'You must not go to bed with a man as [you would] with a woman, because that's disgusting (gr. bdelugma).'
Then at Romans 1:26, 27, Paul once again described God's view, when he wrote: 'And this is why God abandoned them to their dishonorable passions; for their females changed the natural use of themselves into something that's unnatural, and the same is true of their males. They left the natural use of females and started burning in their lust toward each other – males with males – doing what is indecent and receiving the type of reward they deserve for such wrongdoing.'
Also, at 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul wrote: 'Don't you know that those who are unrighteous won't inherit the Kingdom of God? Don't make any mistake about this; Sexually immoral people, idol worshipers, adulterers, gays, men who have sex with men, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, insulters, and extortionists won't inherit God's Kingdom… and that's what some of you once were! However, you've been washed clean, you've been made holy, and you've been found righteous through the name of our Lord Jesus the Anointed and the Breath of our God.'
So Paul was saying that although many who became Christians back in the First Century had once practiced such things, they stopped doing them and made themselves clean, holy, and righteous.
However, an important point to notice here is that homosexuality was not listed as being any worse than being an adulterer, or greedy, or a drunk, or a thief, etc. Therefore, a person who is sexually or otherwise immoral should not feel that he or she is in any way better in God's eyes than one who has performed homosexual acts. So the point is: As with First-Century Christians, we must stop doing bad things and be 'washed clean' if we wish to be counted as righteous by God.
Recognize that the homosexual lifestyle is generally one that involves sex with multiple partners, and when this is true, the person is also guilty of porneia. So to become a Christian, such acts must be left behind… which may be as difficult to do as for those who are involved in other immoral lifestyles!
Also notice that although Paul called those who practiced the deeds he mentioned above the unrighteous. And he wrote (at Acts 24:15) that there will be a resurrection for both 'the righteous and the unrighteous.' So although Paul said that people who continue to do such things won't inherit God's Kingdom, he didn't imply that they are eternally damned, as many religions teach. For the promise at Revelation 21:7 is that all who are resurrected and thereafter 'conquer' their problems will 'inherit these things.'
All we know about this matter is that God viewed a man's having sex with his wife during her monthly period as a defilement of her, so it was forbidden under the Old Law. And at Ezekiel 18:5, 6, we find that a man who finds God's favor is described as being 'fair, righteous, and just; who doesn't feast in the mountains to idols; whose eyes are not [filled up with pride]; whose thoughts are of the house of IsraEl; who doesn't defile the wife of his neighbor, nor does he defile his own wife by going near her during her menstruation.' Yet during that time, the wife was actually to sleep in a place away from her husband so as not to entice him.