Previous chapter: Deception
Part 2: Practice
There’s probably no better example of where the leaders within Churchianity make incorrect assumptions about what the Bible teaches than the ideas they hold on the topic of morality. Because many are under the mistaken impression that the Mosaic law is applicable to the body of Christ, and also because they themselves have been taught that certain things are sins that Scripture never actually calls sinful, they’ve got all sorts of mixed up ideas of what is right and wrong today. This causes them to teach others to try to be more “moral” than God Himself, acting just like modern-day Pharisees, becoming morality police who teach that any number of actions, many of which are never even mentioned in the Bible, are forbidden (a good test to determine whether one falls into this category is to find out how one responds emotionally to what they read in this section; those who aren’t walking in the spirit will feel their pharisaical flesh crawling, and their self-righteous souls getting upset by some of the things mentioned in this chapter, and would be wise to consider reevaluating themselves, spiritually-speaking, and also question whether they’re more interested in holding fast to the traditions they’ve been taught by their denominations and religious leaders or in what Scripture actually teaches).
Before getting into some of the specific actions that the religious mistakenly think we need to avoid, it should first be noted that the Bible does tell us plenty of things that God actually would prefer people not do without us needing to add to it (even if the list differs depending on which dispensation one is living under; it’s perfectly fine for members of the body of Christ to eat a BLT). In fact, Scripture even gives us a good list of things God hates. But there’s nothing at all about most of the things the morality police dislike on that list, including some of the biggest hangups religious conservatives have (although there are a number of things on that list which many of them do seem to enjoy). What He does hate, however, is dishonestly (which is brought up twice in that list, after all), and I suspect that religious lies are the worst sort of dishonesty since they’re lies about God Himself. Basically, if a particular action isn’t on one of those lists, insisting that it’s sinful and making new rules that God Himself never made is really lying about what God wants, just like the religious leaders in Jesus’ time did. And remember, it was those very same people who opposed Jesus, and who conspired to have Him (and, later, His followers) killed. That’s right, it wasn’t the pagans, atheists, or liberal theologians who tried to eliminate Christ and His followers. Rather, it was the religious conservatives of His time who tried to squash Him and His teachings (and any others who taught them as well), just as they do today (as it was then, the greatest enemies of Christ and His true followers are still religious conservatives, even if these “ministers of righteousness” call themselves Christians now).
All of that aside, though, worrying about morality (at least the way conservative “Christians” understand morality) is a huge red herring. What followers of Churchianity don’t seem to realize is that all of the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” causes them to completely miss the point of Paul’s teachings to begin with (since, again, it’s Paul’s teachings that the body of Christ is supposed to concern itself with in the dispensation of Grace). Starting with a flawed presupposition about doctrines like sin and grace will cause one to think that they’re supposed to be concerned with religious rules when being a member of the body of Christ is actually about something else altogether. Basically, Paul’s Gospel isn’t a religious proposition (“do this or else!”); rather, it’s a proclamation (“it’s already been done by Christ, so why not believe this Good News and stop trying to please God yourself?”). In fact, the Christianity that the body of Christ is supposed to concern itself with is not a religion at all. Instead, as Robert Farrar Capon once wrote, “it is the announcement of the end of religion. Religion consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshipping, sacrificing) the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God. About those things, Christianity has only two comments to make. The first is that none of them ever had the least chance of doing the trick: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins (see the Epistle of Hebrews) and no effort of ours to keep the law of God can ever succeed (see the Epistle of Romans). The second is that everything religion tried (and failed) to do has been perfectly done, once and for all, by Jesus in his death and resurrection. For Christians, then, the entire religion shop has been closed, boarded up and forgotten. The church is not in the religion business. It never has been and it never will be, in spite of all the ecclesiastical turkeys through two thousand years who have acted as if religion was their stock in trade. The church, instead, is in the Gospel-proclaiming business. It is not here to bring the world the bad news that God will think kindly about us only after we have gone through certain creedal, liturgical, and ethical wickets; it is here to bring the world the Good News that ‘while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.’ It is here, in short, for no religious purpose at all, only to announce the Gospel of free grace.”
While most religions are a set of rules that people need to follow in order to A) live an enjoyable life, B) avoid suffering negative consequences (either imposed by followers of said religions in this life or by God or other beings in an afterlife, or by being reincarnated to live another mortal life again on Earth after death), and C) make God happy, Paul promised that A) believers of his teachings are less likely to have a fun life than those who don’t believe his message since they’d be persecuted by those who do prefer religion (including the Christian religion) to the truth, B) explained that we don’t have to do anything to avoid suffering a negative afterlife since we’ve already been justified regardless of what we do, and C) told us that God is already happy (again, “blessed” literally means “happy” in the original Greek). Instead of following a bunch of rules the way followers of other religions (including the Christian religion) do, members of the body of Christ don’t have to actively try to avoid sinning by their own strength at all (and, in fact, should actually not ever try to), since they are justified (and living) by faith (although it’s not their own faith but the faith of Jesus Christ that they’re justified by), and are walking according to spirit and not according to flesh. Those who are walking according to spirit are trusting that Christ will live the life He wants us to live through us and will end up doing the things God wants us to do and avoiding the things God wants us to avoid Himself through us. It’s only when we start walking according to flesh, meaning we start worrying about religion and trying to follow rules and prohibitions, that we begin doing the very things that God doesn’t want us to do because trying to follow the (Mosaic) law only leads to more sin.
Bottom line, never trust a teacher who tells you to avoid the appearance of evil, who says you should “touch not; taste not; handle not,” or that the “natural man” is evil. And if you hear someone espousing “traditional family values” or telling you to follow the Mosaic law in any way (at least if you’re in the body of Christ), don’t walk; run! It means that they are very likely a wolf in sheep’s clothing, trying to lure you into their religious trap. At the very least, they are extremely confused and likely have nothing useful to teach you (at least from a spiritual perspective). Remember that, while not all things are a good idea, all things are technically permitted, and also that to the pure all things are pure (but those unbelievers in Paul’s Gospel who are pretending to be believers [likely lying even to themselves about their faith, telling themselves that there’s really only one Gospel while also completely failing to understand what Paul’s Gospel actually means in the first place] have a defiled mind and conscience that causes them to consider pretty much nothing to be pure). Yes, if someone doesn’t have faith that something is allowed, then it would be a sin against their own conscience to do it (although not because the action itself is necessarily actually sinful in and of itself), but the corollary of this verse must be true too: if that which is not out of faith is sin, then that which is out of faith is not sin. It is true that Paul used food and holy days as specific examples, but the principle still applies to everything.
Remember also that we are to reckon ourselves dead to sin, which means that sin has no more power over us (and to reckon isn’t to try make something a fact, meaning to try to avoid sinning in this case, but rather it means to simply recognize that it’s already a fact and stop letting sin reign over you by trying to avoid it or by trying to “crucify your flesh,” which is something that’s already been done once and for all time for the body of Christ rather than something that has to be done again and again [when Paul said, “I die daily,” he didn’t mean he died to sin daily — which would be a ridiculous thing for him to be implying since he’s told us to recognize that we’re already dead to sin — the context of that passage was physical death and resurrection, and was simply speaking of how he risked physical death regularly thanks to the various persecutions and perils he faced in his ministry], just as Jesus’ command to “take up one’s cross daily” doesn’t refer to this either [aside from the fact that this was directed specifically to those under the Gospel of the Circumcision instead of to the body of Christ, even if it could be considered a trans-administrational truth, it wasn’t talking about avoiding sin but rather about being willing to face death like He was about to do]).
To be fair, the Bible does seem to teach that those Christians who happen to be saved under the Gospel of the Circumcision do have to be careful to avoid rejecting what they’ve believed and falling back into sin so as to not “lose their salvation,” so to speak, or they’ll miss out on the Millennial Kingdom, if not more. But as far as those of us in the body of Christ go, while we might not all get to reign, we are safe, as far as our salvation goes, regardless of what we do, because we’ve been justified from Sin rather than just forgiven of our sins (which isn’t to say that we aren’t necessarily also “forgiven,” but our “forgiveness” or “pardon,” just like our justification, isn’t conditional the way it is for those in the Israel of God, so it can never be lost). In fact, from an absolute perspective, it can be said that everyone — Christian or otherwise — has actually been justified from sin, since everyone is said to have died in Christ (at the very least from a proleptic perspective, if not in actuality at present, which it might be). And since Christ died for our (meaning everybody’s) sins, we know that sin has been taken care of for everybody already anyway, but since not everyone has been conciliated to God in their own minds yet, most won’t come a realization of this truth until the very end of the eons (and judgement for one’s works or actions can still occur, of course, with “payment” for each act or work performed, but this is referring to “payment” for evil rather than “payment” for sin — one should never make the mistake of thinking sin and evil are the same thing — since sin has already been “paid for” by Christ).
Now please don’t get me wrong. I don’t want you to think I’m telling you to commit sins here (at least not actual sins; I’m not talking about the innocent actions that many religious Christians confuse for sins), or that we shouldn’t walk worthy of the Lord. I’m the last person who would want to encourage anyone to actually sin (although, if you aren’t accused of encouraging people to sin, you probably aren’t teaching the same things Paul taught about sin and grace, since this false accusation was also levelled against him). The problem is that, while nearly everything religious Christians think is sinful actually isn’t anyway, almost all of the actions and attitudes that they live by are extremely wrong (and often quite evil, all the while calling their actions and teachings righteous and good). As anyone looking in from the outside could tell you, greed, fear, paranoia, hunger for power, peer pressure, envy, hypocrisy, arrogance, prejudice, intolerance, anti-intellectualism, malice, spite, and all manner of other actual sins are the hallmarks of most of Churchianity. That said, where sin increases, grace superexceeds, so even religious Christians can technically experience God’s grace (but as far as those who don’t embrace His grace go, I really wouldn’t want to be a conservative religious leader at the final judgement, and those who willingly follow these leaders are in for a world of sorrow at that time as well [yes, it’s likely that most Christians will actually end up at the Great White Throne Judgement due to their believing a false gospel]. If the citizens of the cities that rejected Jesus’ disciples are going to be judged more harshly than those of Sodom because they had the light revealed to them, how much more severely are those in Christendom who have the completed Scriptures going to be judged for ignoring, and even rejecting, the truth found therein, following the myths of their religious leaders instead because they prefer to have their self-righteous ears tickled?).
While worrying about sin is not something we in the body of Christ are meant to do, it can still helpful to know why some of the activities that religious Christians think are sinful really aren’t. For example, you’ve probably been taught that premarital sex is a sin. The primary reason that most religious Christians are so against premarital sex is one little word: fornication. Depending on your English translation, you’ll find fornication criticized as a very bad thing that one should flee, and if you look fornication up in an English dictionary you will indeed find that it means sexual intercourse between unmarried partners. The problem is, the word translated as “fornication” in some translations of the Bible is the Greek word porneia (πορνεία), which does not literally translate to “premarital sex” as many Christians believe it does. Of course, some modern versions of the Bible now use the term “sexual immorality” to render the word porneia, which is somewhat better than “fornication” as a translation, but it’s still quite problematic since it’s just a broad and general term that doesn’t tell us anything on its own about what sexual acts would actually be considered to be immoral. Some of the better translations of the word are “prostitution,” “harlotry,” or “whoredom,” but even there one has to be careful not to confuse this with consensual sex work as these English words would currently be used, since the Greek word actually had to do with sex that women who were basically slaves would be forced to do, not with the voluntary trading of sex for favours (which had a different Greek word that one would use when referring to that concept: hetaira [ἑταίρα]). Whatever translation of this word one uses, though, the most important thing to ask is what the word means, and the best Bible scholars (see Vine, Thayer, Knoch, etc.) agree that the English meaning of porneia is closer to “illicit sexual intercourse” (or “unlawful intercourse between the sexes”) than anything else.
If we take the term “illicit sexual intercourse” literally, it means sexual intercourse that breaks the law. Generally, here in the western world, premarital sex doesn’t break the law, and it certainly wasn’t against the law among the Gentiles Paul wrote to when he told believers to avoid porneia either. And if one digs into the Mosaic Law, they’ll see that it also wasn’t ever spelled out as being illegal there. While there were sometimes civil consequences for premarital sex among Israelites back in Bible times without first getting the permission of (and likely paying a brideprice to) a woman’s father (sadly, women were considered to be property in ancient cultures including that of Israel, and were often basically sold from one “owner,” her father, to a new “owner,” her husband, through marriage), and deceiving someone into thinking a woman was a virgin when she wasn’t could also result in harsh penalties, premarital sex on its own was never specifically forbidden or called sinful in the Hebrew Scriptures. Of course, premarital sex (or sex outside of marriage) technically could fall under the broad label of porneia in some parts of the world (and still can today), but it could (and can) only legitimately do so in regions where this actually was or is considered to be illegal (such as in parts of the Middle East today, for example). Outside of those more conservative regions of the planet, however, it wouldn’t be considered to be wrong by the law and hence wouldn’t be a sin to do so since it wouldn’t be a crime.
So what sexual acts would be considered illicit (or immoral) when the word porneia was used in Scripture? Well, it would, of course, cover the specific sexual prohibitions that actually were mentioned in the Mosaic Law (at least it would for those who were required to follow said law). But it primarily spoke of sexual idolatry, referring to sleeping with temple prostitutes (Paul would presumably have also been speaking against the rape of the women forced to participate in prostitution when he spoke against porneia, not just the idolatry aspect of it, but the connection to idolatry was a large, if not the largest, part of it) who did so as a part of worshiping other gods (in Bible times, Satan used sex to lure people into idolatry; today, now that temple prostitution is no longer a thing, he uses it instead as the new circumcision), although it could also be used in reference to sexual practices that actually were considered illicit by the culture in question, practices such as incest, for example. This particular instance of porneia actually demonstrates quite conclusively that premarital sex was not considered to be a sin. If it were, the Corinthian believers would never have even considered letting things go this far; they would have stopped long before accepting, and seemingly even taking pride in, this relationship happening among their church members if Paul or anyone else had previously taught them that sex outside of marriage fell under the category of porneia-based sins, and he also apparently forgot to tell them it was a sin in this epistle as well when he was telling them to avoid such porneia, so one who claims it is sinful is just eisegeting their own preconceived moralistic bias into their interpretation of the word porneia in this and other parts of Scripture.
Of course, some try to argue that Paul did tell them to avoid premarital sex a couple chapters later when he apparently tells them, “and because of the whoredom let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her proper husband,” supposedly telling them to get married rather than have premarital sex, but that’s not what he’s actually trying to get at there at all. It would take a much longer study to get all the way into the full meaning of this chapter, but along with actually taking the context of the passage into consideration, there are also idioms in the original Greek text that aren’t obvious if you’re not aware of them (for instance, the phrase “not to touch” was a figure of speech that literally meant “not to have sex with,” only perhaps somewhat cruder [it should probably actually be translated with a four-letter verb]), so a more informative paraphrase of the first couple verses of that passage, that is more in line with the actual meaning of these verses, would be, “Now, about what you wrote to me, you said: ‘It is ideal for a man to avoid having sex with a woman.’ Whether or not that’s true, in order to avoid the temptation that would almost certainly arise to have sex with temple prostitutes instead, let every man continue having sex with his own wife, and let every woman continue having sex with her own husband.” Basically, this passage is talking about Corinthian Christians who had come to the conclusion that it would be more righteous or holy to avoid sexual intercourse with their spouses altogether (perhaps because of outside Gnostic influences, although we don’t know the reason for certain), but Paul warned them that they should not stop sleeping with their already existing spouses or they could end up inadvertently committing idolatry as their biology would very likely lead the men to sleep with temple prostitutes instead (because they were the easiest people to find sex with aside from with one’s spouse, since people generally didn’t have romantic relationships back then as we do today; marriage was more of a business arrangement until very recently, so outside of marriage and adultery, the easiest and most common way for a man to have sex in that time and place was with a temple prostitute), and the women could even end up committing adultery. Yes, celibacy is honourable if one can handle it (the reason for this isn’t because sex is somehow dirty or less than righteous and something that should be avoided in general, however; it’s because it helps one hold lightly to the things of this Earth so one can focus solely on the things of God instead of the concerns of one’s spouse, since the easiest way for one to have sex while avoiding idolatry was through marriage when Paul wrote that), but as the writer of Hebrews put it (even if this is a Circumcision writing, this is one of those trans-administrational truths that applies to those under both Gospels), marriage (and sex in marriage) is just as honourable, and one shouldn’t defile their marriage bed by sleeping with temple prostitutes or by committing adultery (both of which would be temptations if a married couple stopped sleeping with each other). Contrary to what most have been taught, Paul wasn’t telling single people to find marriage partners rather than commit the supposed sin of having premarital sex in this passage (they generally didn’t have boyfriends and girlfriends like we do today anyway, so the idea of unmarried, romantic “couples” having sex probably wouldn’t have even crossed Paul’s mind); the context of this chapter and the previous chapter makes it pretty clear in the original Greek that he was talking to the already married in the first seven verses, telling them that the husbands risked going to temple prostitutes if married couples stopped sleeping with each other, which would be tantamount to idolatry because sex with temple prostitutes would necessarily involve worshipping other gods in the process. As for those who were once married and wished to remarry (the word “unmarried” in this passage almost certainly refers to widowers, based on the patterns through this chapter in the original Greek text, although it’s still perfectly valid advice for those who haven’t been married yet either), while he’d prefer for them to remain unmarried like him so they can focus on pleasing the Lord rather than a spouse, he does still say that getting married is better than burning with the desire to be married if they can’t control their desire for marriage (it’s unlikely that he was talking about burning with sexual desire here; based on the context of the topic of marriage in general throughout this part of the chapter, and the fact that he was saying it would be good for them to remain unmarried like him, it seems far more likely that he would have simply been referring to the desire to be married, particularly since sex outside of marriage hadn’t actually been condemned anywhere else in Scripture prior to his writing this, at least as long as it wasn’t illegal or idolatrous). And as far as those of us in this day and age go, at least here in the western world, there are other ways for unmarried people to have sex without resorting to visiting temple prostitutes, although if they are “burning” to get married, they certainly should.
In addition to these more literal interpretations of porneia, there was also a figurative meaning to the word (and its Hebrew equivalents in the Hebrew Scriptures), having nothing to do with physical sex at all, but simply being a metaphor referring to outright idolatry.
The one thing it never meant, however, is premarital sex, or at least by now it should be obvious that there’s zero reason to believe it did, despite the fact that your parents and pastor would probably prefer you believed it did. Of course, they likely only think they want you to. If they understood just how many STIs and unwanted pregnancies this teaching is responsible for, they might change their minds (unless they’re the vindictive sort who want those they consider to be sinners to be punished physically for defying their rules; there are religious Christians out there with this mentality). The idea that premarital sex is sinful causes many parents to actively make sure their kids don’t learn about protection and birth control, but since pretty much an equal number of Christians have premarital sex as non-Christians (the religious can’t fight nature and biology any more than the rest of the world can), only without any knowledge of how to minimize the potential risks, young people in conservative areas or with religious parents tend to end up with more diseases and unwanted pregnancies than those who don’t, and if you’re going to judge a doctrine or religious teacher by its or their fruit, it’s easy to see that the traditional “Christian” view on sexuality is rotten to the core.
Even with all that being said, many religious Christians will try to defend their indefensible claims about premarital sex based on Jesus’ comment about “lust” and “committing adultery in one’s heart,” attempting to convince us that this makes premarital sex sinful by default since you wouldn’t have sex without sexual desire (they like to use this argument to condemn masturbation and pornography too). However, because so few understand right division, not to mention what Scripture says in its original languages, they don’t realize that He was actually speaking about something else altogether in that passage from what most people assume. In fact, when you discover what “lust” really refers to in Scripture you’ll realize that it is actually often encouraged, and that it’s also time to reconsider your thoughts on porn as well (and, really, anyone who cares about women at all should actually be encouraging the spread and consumption of pornography because when porn usage increases, sexual assault decreases, unless they don’t care about reducing sexual assault, which would be quite sad).
To put it plainly, to “lust” in Scripture, in its original languages (chamad [חָמַד] in Hebrew, with epithymeō [ἐπιθυμέω] being the verb form of the word in Greek, and epithymia [ἐπιθυμία] being the noun), doesn’t simply mean to have sexual attraction to someone, but rather it just means to “covet” or “desire” something or someone, and sometimes lusting/desiring is a good thing (the Lord’s statutes and judgements are to be lusted for/desired more than gold, and even Jesus “lusted/desired” according to the Bible. In fact Paul himself encouraged epithymia at times as well). What Scripture does condemn when it comes to epithymeō is coveting something that already “belongs” (so to speak) to someone else, such as someone else’s property (or wife, since, again, women were considered to be property back then, unfortunately), which is what the 10th Commandment is all about. But to enjoy the way someone looks, or even to fantasize sexually about someone, isn’t what is being criticized when epithymeō actually is spoken against in Scripture; intent to take someone else’s “property” without permission also needs to be there for the coveting to be wrong (otherwise, accepting something you desire as a gift, or even finding your own spouse sexually appealing, would also technically be wrong). So for epithymia over a woman to be considered “committing adultery in one’s heart,” in addition to needing to have intent to actually possess her, she would have to also belong to someone else already, which is, thankfully, not possible in the western world today since women are no longer considered to be property. And, of course, that passage only applied to Israelites, and even then only to some of them (it was a part of the Sermon on the Mount, which was all about elaborating upon the Mosaic law, something that never applied to Gentiles, and doesn’t apply to Jews saved under Paul’s Gospel either, so even if Jesus did mean what most Christians assume He did here, it wouldn’t apply to most people anyway). But even if those saved under the Gospel of the Uncircumcision did somehow fall under this particular point in Jesus’ sermon (which they don’t), the word “adultery” in that passage really tells us everything we need to know about the context of the passage; a man (even a married man) couldn’t commit adultery with a woman who wasn’t married (or at least betrothed) back then, since adultery in Bible times wasn’t defined the same way we do so today (adultery was a property violation back then, not a purity violation, which is why Jesus didn’t condemn women for desiring men, since a woman couldn’t own a man through marriage — a wife was always the property of a husband and never the other way around at that time), and it’s extremely important to interpret a passage of Scripture using the definitions of the time rather than basing our interpretations on modern definitions of English words (using modern definitions rather than the definition of a word at the time it was written is how we end up with all sorts of confused and unscriptural doctrines). It’s also important to note that nowhere prior to this sermon had sexual attraction or fantasy, or sexual desire in general, ever been condemned anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures (or anywhere else in the Greek Scriptures either, for that matter). When one realizes all this, it becomes apparent that Jesus wasn’t creating a new law for Israel to follow, but was simply expanding on one His audience was already familiar with (the 10th Commandment), pointing out that for a Jewish male to covet his neighbour’s wife with the intention of having her would basically be the equivalent of breaking the 7th Commandment as well, but He wasn’t even hinting that finding other people sexually appealing, or admiring their bodies (or even fantasizing about them) was at all wrong. In fact, those who do try to force sexual desire out of their (and others’) lives are actually demonstrating a symptom of a far more pernicious form of lust than any mentioned already, one which affects (and infects) Churchianity to a fatal degree. This, of course, would be the religious lust of self-righteousness, so if a religious leader tries to convince others that simple sexual attraction and desire (or even premarital sex) is sinful, it would be wise to question any of their teachings since they’re demonstating how little they likely know about Scripture, and there’s a good chance they haven’t even been saved yet (relatively speaking, of course), since they likely don’t understand what it means to rightly divide the word of truth. Of course, another reason that religious conservatives are so opposed to “lust” (and anything even related to premarital sex) is simply basic erotophobia. Thanks to the horribly harmful purity culture that conservative Churchianity has inflicted upon the world, too many people grow up with the idea that sexuality (anything from simple sexual desire to any form of sexual activity itself) is inherently dirty and shameful. Most Christians will deny this and claim that sexual thoughts and acts are only “dirty” or sinful when they’re outside the context of a monogamous, heterosexual marriage, but they themselves don’t realize just how deeply the effects of purity culture have rooted into their subconscious, eventually blossoming into full-blown erotophobia, which in turn forces them to have to believe that mistranslated and misinterpreted Scripture is true because anything else could allow the sexuality they so fear to enter their lives.
There is a lot more that can be said about this complex topic (which has admittedly been simplified a great deal here), but the bottom line is that modern religious Christians are following in the footsteps of the fourth century Institutional Church (who gave us many false doctrines that Churchianity never recovered from; so many of the errors of the Christian religion find their roots in that time period) and are making the same mistake of reading their own biases into the original text just as those so-called “Early Church Fathers” did, although it’s even worse today since so much time has passed and most Christians are now unaware that, in the first century, sex among the people Paul taught almost never took place between people who were considered equals, and this included sex within marriage. As already mentioned, the idea of a boyfriend and girlfriend, as we understand them today, in love with each other and sleeping with each other probably wouldn’t have ever entered into Paul’s mind since that wasn’t how relationships between the sexes generally worked back then, but there’s literally no reason to think he’d have a problem with consensual sexual relations between a couple in love today as long as no worship of other gods was involved, and it wasn’t actually illegal where they lived.
Premarital sex isn’t the only thing religious leaders have insisted that people shouldn’t participate in, however. There are so many other traditional religious ideas that aren’t in the Bible but that you’ve no doubt been told you must abstain from as well. For example:
• Homosexuality is forbidden. Like the topic of porneia, this is a tricky topic, but whatever Scripture does say about homosexuality, at most one could argue that it might forbid anal sex between males outside the context of rape and/or idolatrous prostitution (which is always wrong, and quite possibly what it’s actually forbidding according to many scholars). Regardless of whether it does, however, it doesn’t say anything about love, romantic relationships, or other forms of sexuality between males, and it definitely never says anything about love, romantic relationships, or sexuality between females (the passage in Paul’s epistle to the Romans about idolatry that some mistakenly use to argue against homosexuality does not actually condemn women lying with women as many believe, and may in fact be talking about women lying with animals [an action that actually was forbidden in the Hebrew Scriptures] when the context of worshipping the creature in that passage is taken into consideration, although it could also be argued that it instead refers to women participating in a certain sort of shrine prostitution. Either way, the idea of women lying with women had never previously been forbidden in Scripture, so there’s no reason to assume it was all of a sudden being forbidden at that point — and, of course, there’s also the fact that the actions mentioned here were actually “punishments,” so to speak, themselves; Paul’s point in this passage wasn’t that he was telling people to avoid certain sexual sins, but rather that the sin of idolatry would lead people to certain negative consequences). As far as males go, there are some who make persuasive arguments that it’s only idolatrous prostitution and rape between males that’s forbidden (much like the “porneia” issue between men and women), but I haven’t studied this issue enough myself to be dogmatic about it either way. What I will say, however, is that Scripture is very clear that it’s the anti-gay conservatives who are actually guilty of “the sin of Sodom” (which had nothing to do with homosexuality at all) today, and I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of these religious conservatives at the final judgement. Even if only indirectly, homophobic (and transphobic) conservatives are responsible for many homeless youth, as well as for numerous suicides, not to mention all the assaults against and even murders of people who are different from them when it comes to their sexuality and gender identity, and pretty much each and every conservative (whether they’re religious or not) is going to have to answer for their culpability in these horrors when they’re standing at the Great White Throne Judgement. Because even if they’re only indirectly responsible, they all still have a responsibility for all of this suffering nonetheless.
• Abortion is condemned by the Bible as murder. Regardless of one’s feelings on abortion (and whether it happens to actually be wrong or not, which I’m not taking a side on either way in this section), it isn’t ever mentioned in the Bible; and since murder is a legal term, it can’t legitimately be defined as murder in places where it’s not illegal (abortion might involve killing, but killing can only be classified as murder if the killing is unlawful under one’s human government, or capital punishment and the killing of enemy combatants in war would also have to be called murder). Most Christians today also aren’t aware that abortion (at least if performed during much of the first two trimesters) was not actually considered to be wrong by most Christians throughout much of history (at least among Christians who hold to Sola scriptura). It’s only extremely recently that certain conservative Christians (mostly of the Roman Catholic variety) gained enough political power to sway nearly everyone to suddenly assume it was always thought to be a sin (not that we should base our theology on what religious Christians have historically considered to fall under the purview of “orthodoxy” or “orthopraxy,” of course, but it is still something interesting that anti-abortion Christians should be aware of), primarily because they wanted to punish women for enjoying sex and to ensure that they suffer long-lasting consequences for their actions (they’ll argue that it’s actually because they think abortion is immoral and that they believe in “the sanctity of life,” but the way they treat those who have been born reveals the real truth about them to the rest of us: that they don’t actually believe in “the sanctity of life,” in good morals, or in ethical practices at all).
• Monogamy is the only acceptable form of romantic relationship. Honestly, nearly every Christian is likely aware of the fact that polygamy and other forms of non-monogamy were considered to be an acceptable practice for people by God in the Bible, with the possible exception of local church overseers and deacons (depending on how one translates/interprets those particular passages; there’s good reason to believe they’re actually just saying that an elder or deacon should have at least one wife, meaning they should not be single), but you’d never know it to hear them talk about it. God even told David that if he wanted more wives, rather than taking someone else’s wife all he had to do was ask God for more. So basically, those conservatives who claim they’re fighting to promote “traditional marriage” really aren’t (if they were, they’d be promoting polygamy at the very least), and if monogamy was actually natural, cheating wouldn’t be so common in so many relationships (yes, even in Christian relationships).
• Swearing is shameful. The Bible actually has plenty of profanity in it in its original languages. In fact, the only thing that looking down on profanity does is demonstrate what an unspiritual (and likely hypocritical) snob one is.
• Drinking alcohol is not allowed. While it might not be pro-drunkenness, the Bible actually recommends the consumption of alcohol in some places.
• Dancing, movie theatres, certain music, card games, and various other “worldly” activities should be avoided. Some Institutional Churches are worse than others, and most aren’t this extreme, but these, along with the various other so-called “sins” that have already been covered in this chapter, are a great example of how many religious leaders like to add rules to the Bible that were never mentioned in there to begin with, or twist teachings that are in there to try to make them say things they never actually meant (sometimes because they misunderstand the meaning of the passage that supposedly tells us to “avoid all appearance of evil,” sometimes because they actually, albeit mistakenly, think these things really are sinful, and sometimes because they don’t know what “worldly” or “not being of the world” really means [hint: “the world” at the time the Scriptures were written was very religious and conservative, particularly “the world” that Jesus was speaking against; Jesus didn’t spend His time condemning those the religious thought were sinners, but rather those religious conservatives who were doing the condemning of everyone who wasn’t living up to their so-called standards of righteousness, which should make it pretty obvious what “the world” He was against referred to)].
All that being said, if you really want a general principle of morality to live by under the dispensation of Grace, I can give you the philosophy of morality I myself live by (just don’t take this as a rule; it’s simply my own principles that my conscience and common sense led me to). In no particular order, I ask myself a number of questions, such as, “is it loving to do so?” If it’s done (or avoided) out of actual love or compassion, odds are high that it’s fine to do. I’ll also consider whether it’s harming anybody unnecessarily against their will. This is because certain actions can harm people without being sinful, actions such as defending someone against an attacker, for example, or a doctor amputating a limb to protect against the spread of a disease, so sometimes “harmful” actions are necessary (and the “against their will” part is because something such as piercing someone’s ears when they want it done is technically causing them “harm,” or is at least damaging their body [even if only the tiniest bit], but it’s not to a fatal or even serious degree, and it’s their desire to have it done, so a professional piercer can rest assured that they aren’t sinning by causing this sort of harm or damage). But if an action would result in unnecessary harm to somebody against their will, it should likely be avoided. Another consideration is whether an action would get one in trouble with the police or break a secular law of the land. If it would, it’s probably best do something else instead. Of course, I also look to Scripture to see whether Paul has spoken against a specific action I might be wanting to do. While his teachings were exhortations rather than commandments, for the most part, it’s still a good idea to see what he had to say about things if you’re in the body of Christ (for those who are in the Israel of God instead, they should be looking to what the circumcision writings say they should do and not do) and don’t want to miss out on the allotment of the kingdom of God (which should not be confused with salvation; the allotment is a special inheritance, specifically reigning with Christ, but it isn’t salvation [at least for those in the body of Christ] since salvation isn’t based on our actions — even if we stop believing in Him for some reason, He’ll remain faithful to us from a salvation perspective since He can’t disown (or deny) Himself [and the body of Christ is now a part of Himself]). And last (but definitely not least), I think about whether it’s an idolatrous action that would result in the worship of another deity (or worship of anything other than God). If so, I definitely don’t do it. But if something is loving, isn’t harming others unnecessarily against their will, isn’t illegal, doesn’t go against (properly translated and interpreted) Scripture, and isn’t idolatrous, I have the faith that it’s generally perfectly fine to do so. If you don’t have the same sort of faith about a specific action, however, it would be a sin for you to do it, and you should avoid any action that would go against your own conscience until you have legitimately changed your mind about it being wrong (just don’t judge another person for their actions — presuming these aren’t actions that harm others unnecessarily against their will, aren’t illegal, and aren’t idolatrous — if it isn’t going against their conscience).
Next chapter: Politics