“If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife”
Many believe that in our present day and age, the enforcement of the Exodus 22:16 verse/law would be a great encouragement to fornication. Some also think applying Mosaic Law in the New Testament dispensation is like crucifying Christ again.
In others view too, if the focus of the new testament is only about fleeing fornication, then what happens in a situation when someone is unable to follow the rules all the way through and where do we find a remedy for that situation. Are they totally condemned because they couldn’t flee?
Again, others feel there should be a balance so we don’t try to live the Christian life only on the basis of the New Testament, after all the Bible in its entirety is our manual, not just the New Testament.
So what do I think? I think both verses (Exodus 22:16 and 1 Corinthians 6:18) being in the Bible makes the Bible a holistic book. Though there are some varied histories behind the Exodus verse and what was the norm in those days, I do not believe the verse is meant for pagans; neither do I believe it is there to encourage promiscuity or the lack of self control. And whether or not its application or relevance should be left to die with the practice of old and not brought into modern day Christianity, the reality is that I believe God in His infinite wisdom knows that even in today’s Christendom, some will get caught up in a situation where they are unable to exercise self-control and have “unmarried sex” and maybe have pregnancy on their hands before marriage. And what should then be the Bible’s requirement when that happens to a virgin or woman of marriageable age? Judge and condemn them because “fornicators” shall not inherit the kingdom of God, and on that basis prevent them from getting married because of the sin? Should they be made to look like the worse of sinners as some Churches do or be allowed to marry even when they are willing?
I do not see the application of Exodus 22:16 as condoning wrong or encouraging sin but just the recommendation of the Word of God. Repentance will not be required of Christians and mentioned in the Bible if God was oblivious of the fact that Christians do sin or will sin (not as a habit though). All sin is sin; fornication (whether a one-time act or serial act) is an equal sin as any other sin. Christians do mess up, don’t they?
Far from it, I’m not encouraging fornication; just sharing my thought on the Exodus 22:16 verse. Premarital sex is a sin and that’s undisputed! Premarital sex is sexual immorality and all sexually immoral (I believe those whose actions have become a conscious habit and not just someone who once fell into sexual sin and repented) will NOT inherit the kingdom of God!
But what’s the atonement for every form of sin as the Christian knows and lives by? Isn’t it simply a genuine repentance and change from one’s old ways (though some consequences of one’s sins cannot be undone)? And aren’t all Christians, including Pastors, only being perfected in that regard? Is it not true that we all are not perfect; at least, not yet?
So yes, I’m not encouraging premarital sex. I’m only saying that the practice where a Christian brother and a Christian sister are made to feel like the worse of sinners when either by “mistake” or some unrestrained passions they fornicate and even refused marriage by the Church even when they are willing to is too extreme and not a balanced Christian principle in my view. Of course I do not expect the Church to encourage sex before marriage or preach it, but neither do I expect the Church to assume that Christians are without sin. Christians were sinners before accepting Christ and Christians are not without sin after accepting Christ.
What do we sometimes see in Churches? Some churches decline such folk marriage even when the people involved have acknowledged their sin, repented and are willing to. Some churches say they have to punish or discipline the people involved in order to maybe purge out the sin or serve as deterrent to others. To do this therefore they instill certain rules. In some churches the Church Pastor brings them before the whole congregation and shames them, telling of their act. Then, the “fornicators” (not the appropriate tag because I don’t believe someone who fornicates and then repents still qualifies to be called a fornicator) when in Church cannot sit among the congregation but at the far back of the church in specially reserved seats for such folks. He/she is also not allowed to partake in communion; neither is he/she allowed to come near the “altar”, among other restrictions.
The Biblical basis for such actions is sometimes “absurd” to me; but surprisingly many Christians submit to these kinds of treatments by the Church, maybe out of respect for Church elders or “Church discipline”. Those who are unable to handle the ill treatment just leave the Church altogether. Church discipline especially regarding dating and relationships is a very sensitive and divisive issue to many Church folks anyways.
When two people are unable to exercise self-control which leads them to fornicate, I’m convinced the Biblical solution is to pray for them and encourage them to repent and mentor them. And should pregnancy be the outcome, they should be made to consider marrying especially if they are of marriageable age and offered as much help that the Church can in that regard.
Isn’t that what Exodus 22:16 recommends? Even if marriage is not the option they want to pursue, a lot can still be done for them other than shaming? Why a Church will rather chose to not encourage the praying for, mentoring and marriage option, but be interested in shaming and “disciplining” instead is what is sometimes not [biblically] clear.
Nonetheless, here’s how one Dr Lawson Stone interprets Exodus 22:16:
“Clearly this text has no idea of justifying or legitimizing any kind of sexual intercourse prior to marriage, but is a sanction enforcing marriage as the only setting for sexual union. The Church’s emphasis on sexual sin appears selective, harsh and hypocritical”
Well, the thing with opinions; they are so varied!
God help us!
(PS: Fornication is sin; as much as you can, flee it!)
© Mark Gadogbe (McApple)
Marriage & Personal Development Author