05 November 2010

Question of the Week:
Can Marital Sex be Sinful?
Part I

by Anne Lang Bundy

1. Is pornography adultery?
~ Anonymous
2. Am I obligated to sleep with a spouse who I do not think loves me anymore and is just using me for sex?
~ Anonymous

These were submitted as two separate questions. Both might receive a simple 'yes' based on Matthew 5:28 and 1 Corinthians 7:4-5. But addressing sin in context of marital sex deserves far more depth, and three posts are planned to offer some answers:

Part I: Sexual Immorality, Unique Sin
Part II: Sex Drive, Unique Motivation
Part III: Sexual Contrasts, Unique Solution

: : :


"What makes pornography so addictive
is that more than anything else in a lost man's life,
it makes him feel like a man
without ever requiring a thing of him."
~ John Eldredge, from Wild at Heart

(To provide full explanations, today's post includes full biblical texts rather than the usual links.)

Jesus unequivocally defined lust as the sin of adultery. Perhaps He anticipated an argument that lust is inescapable—a person can’t help where the eye looks and what is then compelled of the hand—because He went on to address such rationale. Here is the complete text:

"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell."
~ Matthew 5:27-30 (NKJV)

The context of sexual immorality continues into the verses which immediately follow:

"Furthermore it has been said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery."
~ Matthew 5:31-32 (NKJV)

Thoroughly despicable to the Jews, adultery carried the death penalty. Jesus pointed out that a divorced woman was compelled to seek another man for support, and He declared a man who commits divorce as guilty of complicity to resulting adultery—unless his wife gave him sufficient grounds for divorce. Jesus didn’t specify grounds for divorce as adultery (Greek moicheia). He instead spoke of sexual immorality (Greek porneia), a broader sin which includes adultery. Jesus affirms permanency of marriage—and how intolerable sexual immorality in marriage is.

Paul describes sexual immorality as a unique sin because of the way sex unites one person, body and soul, to another. He uses this principle to point out that God's Spirit unites Himself to our bodies, and our bodies are to honor that Spirit:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For "The two," He says, "shall become one flesh." But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.
~ 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 (NKJV)

We generally think of pornography as a visual temptation which indulges men to lust. But pornography can include images, audio, or text, whether explicit or evocative. It may tempt a man or a woman, married or single. It may tempt indulgence of physical lust or emotional lust. Pornography sabotages marriage, both present and future, and cannot be separated from the lust which violates the commandment, "You shall not commit adultery."

Such lust is only one aspect of sexual immorality, which violates a higher commandment. Because it degrades our bodies, which serve as dwelling place for the Holy Spirit, sexual immorality sabotages efforts to love the Lord our God with all our soul, heart, mind, body.

: : :

For more on defining sin, see "Is It Wrong?"

For more on divorce and the sanctity of marriage, see "What is Marriage?"

What questions do you have about Christianity or the Bible? You're invited to leave them in the comments below (anonymous questions welcome), or email buildingHisbody [plus] @ gmail.com.

© 2010 Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.


  1. Tough topic. Great verses. Way to tackle this one.
    ~ Wendy

  2. Thanks Anne,

    This is probably one of those topics where a lot of people are reading ... and not so many are commenting ... :-)

    There are obvious recreational and procreational components to sex, but more importantly sex, or the withholding of sex, is a medium of communication in relationships.

    Not too long ago a client asked me to define intimacy; on the fly I said that I think it is when we leave ourselves emotionally vulnerable to someone and continue to feel safe.

    Ultimately sexual issues are intimacy issues. And the reasons why a person has difficulty being intimate can sometimes be complex and multilayered.

    Unraveling intimacy issues requires discussion, prayer, forgiveness and a sense of humor, too.

  3. Wendy ~

    "Tackle" is an apt word for a very tough topic. There are so many verses. Thanks for wading through so much sacred Word.

  4. Russ ~

    This space always feels so small to even attempt adequate answers for such immense questions. Since this is Q&A on the Bible and Christianity, I'm attempting to give the most significant biblical responses for Christians—and all the while praying that I do these topics justice in a small space, knowing that volumes have been written about them for the same purpose.

    I'm grateful for you bringing out some of these components to sex here. I'd appreciate your prayers that the next two weeks' posts address issues in a manner which people find enlightening, edifying, and enhancing for the incredible gift of marital sex and intimacy.

  5. ...and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery."

    ~ Matthew 5:31-32 (NKJV)

    ...never saw this before. it surprised me when i read it.

  6. Bud ~

    I consider this one of the most difficult passages in Scripture, particularly because I have seen it used more often to condemn remarriage than to affirm marriage.

    The debate among Jews was to determine what provided them sufficient grounds for a man to divorce his wife—they were looking for an out. (A Jewish woman didn't have the opportunity to legally initiate divorce, so the argument only applied to men.) Jewish teachers varied on the answer; some said only adultery was grounds for divorce, others said divorce was allowed if he found fault in his wife (such as being a bad cook), others said a man might divorce his wife simply because he found her displeasing.

    God created the institution of marriage, and here is Jesus—God Himself in the flesh—declaring that sexual immorality alone rises high enough to justify divorce. Then Jesus puts an unexpected spin on divorce. A Jewish woman was financially dependent upon men. As a virgin she was cared for by her father, then as a married woman by her husband, and as a widow upon her son—or, the son of her husband, who used his father's inheritance to support his mother. But a divorced woman was forced to seek out support from another man while her husband still lived. Unless a wife's sexual immorality justified a man giving her divorce, Jesus declared the divorcing husband guilty for her being compelled to obtain another man while her first husband still lived, and also guilty of another man's adultery. In a culture which looked down on a divorced woman as damaged goods and inferior, Jesus puts the full blame for that squarely on the divorcing husband rather than the divorced wife.

    Jesus' words concerning divorce prompted his disciples to declare that it would be better to never get married if divorce isn't an option—proof of their hardened hearts, as Jesus declared.

    It seems like a no win situation for the woman who is divorced. Paul later declared that a person abandoned by an unbelieving spouse was no longer bound to that marriage, which would make remarriage acceptable. The person who comes to put faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will always come with a past which cannot be undone, including divorce and remarriage situations.

    I believe Jesus' point was to affirm the permanancy of marriage, whether in ancient Jewish culture or contemporary culture. My purpose in introducing that passage in this post was to point out sexual immorality as a unique sin. I will elaborate more in the next two weeks on how God created sex to be a glue which holds together two people for life. The post I did on divorce is linked above. I don't remember doing Q&A on remarriage yet, so feel free to pose a question if you want me to attempt to tackle that thorny issue. : )

  7. Thorny issues indeed! I enjoyed the post as much as I enjoyed the answers. Well done Anne. I know that remarriage is of great debate even amongst believers.

  8. T ~

    Sexual immorality and remarriage are thorny issues not only because of the difficult answers provided by the Bible, but because people carry such painful scars, or live in traumatic situations. While women may be more vulnerable to injury, the souls of men are also deeply hurt by sexual sin.

  9. Oh Anne, I'm looking forward to your series on these important, but touchy topics. As always, your treatment is clear, yet subtle. A very difficult line to tread, yet you do it with uncommon grace.

    We have debased and twisted what was meant for good. The wounds cut us individually and as a society, and they seep throughout our whole lives. I hope to spare my children a lifetime of pain by teaching them the importance of living a holy marital life.

    Thank you for taking on these subjects. You are in my prayers.

  10. Gwen ~

    Thank you for the prayers. Some posts are harder than others to write. This series comes from the depth of my heart.

    (And I'm praying for you. One day at a time, dear ...)