Redeeming fornication

True love doesn’t just wait, it mates, says a Southern Baptist seminary professor.

By Bob Allen

Christians lost more than just a word when they began substituting modern euphemisms like “premarital sex” for the old-fashioned sin of “fornication,” a Southern Baptist theologian said in a recent essay.

Russell Moore, theology dean at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., argues in Touchstone magazine that the terms are not interchangeable.

Moore said the words “fornicate” and “fornication” -- used more than 40 times in the King James Version of the Bible to condemn the consensual sexual intercourse between two people not married to each other -- today sound as out-of-place to Christian ears as they do to the secular usage that ridicules Puritan norms now deemed obsolete.

Moore, however, who has a Ph.D. in systematic theology, said talking to teenagers and single adults about “abstinence” or “premarital sex” instead cedes ground to the sexual revolution.

“In the term ‘premarital sex,’ the emphasis is on timing,” Moore contended. “The act itself is the same; the ‘sex’ is unaltered linguistically. What changes ‘marital sex’ to ‘premarital sex’ is simply when one chooses to engage in it.”

Moore said the word “fornication,” isn’t about timing but rather represents a “parody” of the marital act. He cited the passage in Ephesians 5 where Paul describes the union of male and female in Genesis 2 as a “mystery” that "refers to Christ and the Church."

“The husband/wife union is a visible representation of the Christ/Church union,” Moore said, “a covenantal bond in which, as a head with a body, Jesus is inseparable from his bride, a bride he protects, provides for, leads, disciples, and sanctifies.”

“Fornication pictures a different reality than that of the mystery of Christ,” he continued. “It represents instead a Christ who uses the Church without joining her, covenantally, to himself.”

It is not just "naughtiness," Moore said. “To use another word Christians find awkward and antiquated, it's blasphemy.”

Moore said that is why the consequences for fornication in Scripture are so severe. “The man who leads a woman into sexual union without a covenantal bond is preaching to her, to the world and to himself a different gospel,” he said.

Moore said one problem with “premarital” language is it regards out-of-wedlock sex not as a sin to be repented of but as something that is automatically “fixed” by marriage.

“Fornication is, itself, an act of infidelity,” he said. “In the act of fornication, I am sinning against a future or a potential spouse, because I am indulging my desires apart from the self-giving of covenant union.”

Moore said he wouldn’t ban use of the terms “abstinence” and premarital sex” outright, but it is important for Christians “to recover a lexicon worthy of the gravity of human sexuality.”

"We don't simply wish to say, ‘Wait more patiently,'" he advised. “True love waits, yes, but, more importantly, true love mates.”