Is sex before marriage condemned in Tradition?


Hi everyone. Is sex before marriage or fornication condemned in Sacred Tradition of the early Church fathers? Any input on this would be greatly appreciated. If it is condemned by the early Church fathers then please quote the early Church father that condemned it or provide a reference where I can find the quote online.


I know of no specific reference by the early church father; however, I’m far from an expert and there are no doubt more learned brethren here than I who can answer that. I will say that the evidence is certainly well spelled out in sacred scripture, both Old and New Testament. I would be surprised if one of the early fathers came out and said the authors of scripture got it wrong.

It is quite common for one engage in a fervent effort to justify this activity when one has entered into a physical relationship. I know from experience on this as I tried to find it myself when I was away from the faith in my early twenties and had taken up with a young woman. No matter how wonderful it feels…in the end it’s living a lie that does not sustain itself. There is a more excellent way and The Church recognizes and encourages this.


Why are you asking specifically about the early Church Fathers. It was condemned long before the early Church Fathers! Remember the 6th Commandment: You shall not commit adultery. Jesus told us to keep the commandments.


That is talking about adultery, not premarital sex. I am asking about the early Church fathers because I want an early Christian view, not a Jewish view or whatever.


Jesus specifically condumns fornication in matthew’s gospel in chapter 15. Paul condemns it in his epistles and other letters. Finally early church fathers wrote against it in the Didache (Teachings of the Twelve Apostles)
See Chapter Two.


Holly, you misunderstand the Sixth Commandment if you believe it is only about a married person have sex with someone other than their spouse. You also misunderstand the Commandments if you believe they are a “Jewish view or whatever”. The Commandments are the eternal moral law. God’s moral law does not change. Jesus himself confirmed he did not come to abolish the Law but fulfill it. Jesus confirmed the moral law-- in fact in his teachings he expanded the moral law. “You have heard the teaching, thou shall not commit adultery. I say to you, a man who looks lustfully on a woman has already committed adultery in his heart.” The commandment is about ALL sins against chastity.

The Sixth Commandment encompasses ALL disordered sexual acts and offenses against chastity and marriage. “Thou shall not commit adultery” is shorthand. The commandment encompasses fornication, adultery, masterbation, pornography, prostitution, incest, bigamy, polygamy, bestiality, contraception, and all such offenses against chastity in and outside marriage.

As others have pointed out, Jesus and St Paul both explicitly condemn fornication in Scripture, the Fathers condemn it, the Church continues to teach that truth today.

I too would like to understand why you’ve asked the question in the way you have. Is someone trying to justify fornication to you as not against Church teaching?


The Didache from the first century condemn’s fornication.
,sodomy,and abortion


The early Christian view would have been very similar to the Jewish view. Christianity was a fulfillment of Judaism not a revolutionary break from it. Islam would be more of revolutionary break from Judaism; however, even they are pretty vocal about their objection to fornication. Hindus aren’t much for it either. I’m not sure where the Buddhists come down on this subject. My generation, the Baby Boomers, spread a ton of lies about sex outside of marriage being the right thing to do. Please forgive us…we really didn’t know what we were doing.


Here is a handy tool for searching the Bible (assuming the Bible is early enough Christianity for your purposes?).

Search many different ways, in the KJV you will want to search for fornication or fornicator. Immoral and Immorality, impure and impurity will be used in other versions.

This on line searchable tool focuses on the “Protestant” canon, but, the New Testament is all included.


How about Tertullian?

Having defined the distinction (between the kinds) of repentance, we are by this time, then, able to return to the assessment of the sins—whether they be such as can obtain pardon at the hand of men. In the first place, (as for the fact) that we call adultery likewise fornication, usage requires (us so to do). “Faith,” withal, has a familiar acquaintance with sundry appellations. So, in every one of our little works, we carefully guard usage. Besides, if I shall say"adulterium," and if “stuprum,” the indictment of contamination of the flesh will be one and the same. For it makes no difference whether a man assault another’s bride or widow, provided it be not his own “female;” just as there is no difference made by places—whether it be in chambers or in towers that modesty is massacred. Every homicide, even outside a wood, is banditry. So, too, whoever enjoys any other than nuptial intercourse, in whatever place, and in the person of whatever woman, makes himself guilty of adultery and fornication. Accordingly, among us, secret connections as well—connections, that is, not first professed in presence of the Church—run risk of being judged akin to adultery and fornication; nor must we let them, if thereafter woven together by the covering of marriage, elude the charge. But all the other frenzies of passions—impious both toward the bodies and toward the sexes—beyond the laws of nature, we banish not only from the threshold, but from all shelter of the Church, because they are not sins, but monstrosities.

On Modesty

Also see Tertullian’s “On Exhortation to Chastity” and “On Monogamy


St. Paul in Gal 5:21-22:

*Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. *

St. Paul is not Tradition however. But Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magesterium are all co-equal sources of teaching authority.

St. Jerome reflects on fornication and scripture here (a two for one scripture and Church Father!).


In certain times and places “Common Law” marriage was practiced, which technically would probably be listed as fornication today. This however was not the “Musical Beds” that seems to have become common today, but legal recognition that a bond of matrimony would exist between a man and a woman who co-habited for a particular period of time. So I suppose have sex once or twice and walk away, it would be fornication, stick around and a bond was formed. If this were those olden times many couples who co-habit for any length of time would find out that lo and behold they were legally married with all the rights, privileges, and obligations pertaining thereto.

Short answer. As given above one night stands and even couple of night stands have always been against God’s plans for human kind.
Maybe its “natural” for the lower animals, but God calls us to a higher behavior that demonstrates true love and not animalistic behavior patterns.Are you wanting to be human or animal?


So far, I see a great many references to scripture or works of early church fathers that mention adultery or fornication, but neither term is defined with absolute clarity to include sexual relations before marriage between a loving couple. I see a great many assumptions made that fornication and adultery or impurity MUST include ANY sexual relations between a couple outside marriage but I see no hard or concrete evidence for this. I think the OP’s question is very valid and one that I struggle with myself.

Is pre-marital sex condemned by the early Church or in the Bible? So far, I would have to say that it is only implied, and that implication would only exist if you define adultery, fornication or impurity in the most conservative and restrictive context possible.


As a friend of mine always used to say, “You can justify anything if you want to badly enough.”


But what does a ‘loving’ couple mean anyway? Plenty of people get engaged on the third date and break up on the sixth! As if any couple who had regular sex short of it being for money couldn’t say they were as ‘loving’ as that!

Now note that Jesus quoted and reaffirmed the scripture passage about a man leaving his parents and cleaving to his WIFE and the two becoming one flesh. As in married wife, not betrothed fiance. And the language is clear on the difference - we know Mary fell pregnant when she was merely betrothed to Joseph, not married to him, for example. So if Jesus wanted to include betrothed people he would have done so.

So clearly it is indeed forbidden in scripture.


From Webster’s Dictionary:

Main Entry: for·ni·ca·tion
Pronunciation: "for-n&-'kA-sh&n
Function: noun
: consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other

There are passages condemning fornication.


Again, it’s anything but clear because Scripture does not specifically differentiate or define pre-marital sex in any context. The Bible is not a guide for all sexual living any more than it is a guide for scientific understanding.

Many of you are using modern day definitions of “fornication” and not realizing that you are almost 2 centuries removed from the meaning of “fornication” as it were in that time period. Considering that the earliest translation of these passages is in Greek, the Greek words used are:

Greek4202. porneia, por-ni’-ah; from Grk4203; harlotry (includ. adultery and incest); fig. idolatry:-fornication.

Greek4203. porneuo, porn-yoo’-o; from Grk4204; to act the harlot, i.e. (lit.) indulge unlawful lust (of either sex), or (fig.) practise idolatry:-commit (fornication).

Greek4204. porne, por’-nay; fem. of Grk4205; a strumpet; fig. an idolater:-harlot, whore.

Greek4205. pornos, por’-nos; from pernemi (to sell; akin to the base of Grk4097); a (male) prostitute (as venal), i.e. (by anal.) a debauchee (libertine):-fornicator, whoremonger.

As you might have noticed, neither of these (Strong’s) definitions include pre-marital sex between two unmarried people.


This definition uses the modern English word “fornicator” to define the Greek word.


That means that the Greek word for the english “fornicator, whoremonger” is pornos and then proceeds to elaborate on the meaning of the Greek. This in no way implies that the Greek equates to the English as we can see from the differentiated meaning.


This page lists the definition for Pornos from Strong’s as follows:

  1. a man who prostitutes his body to another’s lust for hire
  2. a male prostitute
  3. a man who indulges in unlawful sexual intercourse, a fornicator

Then lists the word usage as:

fornicator 5, whoremonger 5

In the third part, “a fornicator” is listed as part of the definition of the word “pornos.”

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