I’ve seen some arguments online against abstinence saying that since Adam and Eve didn’t have a wedding they were fornicating. The bible defines marriage as between a man and a woman but it doesn’t give directives on weddings. Every culture around the world had unique wedding traditions, and God recognizes all of those marriages, even if they have different religions, as long they follow the model of Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 (which is reiterated by Jesus in Matt 19:1-6).
Isaac takes Rebecca into his mother’s tent to consummate a marriage even though scripture doesn’t mention a wedding Gen 24:62-67. Does that mean Isaac is a fornicator? No, Abraham’s servant paid the bride price for Rebecca and her family sent her off from Padan Aram to the Negev with Abraham’s servant where Isaac was. That alone established the marriage, the wedding was simply a festival celebrating the exchange.
Gen 26:3 (NLT) 3 Swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not allow my son to marry one of these local Canaanite women. 4 Go instead to my homeland, to my relatives, and find a wife there for my son Isaac.”
Gen 26:10 Then he loaded ten of Abraham’s camels with all kinds of expensive gifts from his master, and he traveled to distant Aram-naharaim. There he went to the town where Abraham’s brother Nahor had settled. 11 He made the camels kneel beside a well just outside the town. It was evening, and the women were coming out to draw water. 12 “O Lord, God of my master, Abraham,” he prayed. “Please give me success today, and show unfailing love to my master, Abraham. 13 See, I am standing here beside this spring, and the young women of the town are coming out to draw water. 14 This is my request. I will ask one of them, ‘Please give me a drink from your jug.’ If she says, ‘Yes, have a drink, and I will water your camels, too!’—let her be the one you have selected as Isaac’s wife. This is how I will know that you have shown unfailing love to my master.” 15 Before he had finished praying, he saw a young woman named Rebekah coming out with her water jug on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel, who was the son of Abraham’s brother Nahor and his wife, Milcah. 16 Rebekah was very beautiful and old enough to be married, but she was still a virgin. She went down to the spring, filled her jug, and came up again. 17 Running over to her, the servant said, “Please give me a little drink of water from your jug.”
Gen 26:59 (NLT) So they said good-bye to Rebekah and sent her away with Abraham’s servant and his men. The woman who had been Rebekah’s childhood nurse went along with her. 60 They gave her this blessing as she parted: “Our sister, may you become the mother of many millions! May your descendants be strong and conquer the cities of their enemies.” 61 Then Rebekah and her servant girls mounted the camels and followed the man. So Abraham’s servant took Rebekah and went on his way. 62 Meanwhile, Isaac, whose home was in the Negev, had returned from Beer-lahai-roi. 63 One evening as he was walking and meditating in the fields, he looked up and saw the camels coming. 64 When Rebekah looked up and saw Isaac, she quickly dismounted from her camel. 65 “Who is that man walking through the fields to meet us?” she asked the servant. And he replied, “It is my master.” So Rebekah covered her face with her veil. 66 Then the servant told Isaac everything he had done. 67 And Isaac brought Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent, and she became his wife. He loved her deeply, and she was a special comfort to him after the death of his mother.
Jacob worked for seven years to pay the bride price to Laban and he wanted his daughter Rachel but was tricked into marrying Leah. Laban had a wedding feast for Jacob and he immediately consummated with Leah thinking it was Rachel, only to find out it wasn’t Rachel. When he complained about being tricked, Laban asked him to work another seven years for her and said he would be given Rachel in advance after the “bridal week” (Gen 29:16-30).
In Genesis 34, the prince of Shechem raped Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and then went to ask Jacob to marry her. This marriage would be a treaty marriage and there was a promise of exchanging daughters as wives, as well as land and resources on both sides between Israelites and the people of Shechem (Hivites). Jacob and his sons were appalled at what Schechem had done but Levi and Simon had a scheme to get revenge. They convinced everyone to agree for Schechem to take Dinah and in exchange, they required all the men of Schechem to be circumcised and the prince agreed. The men circumcised themselves and 3 days later while they were still in pain, Simon and Levi went and killed them men and took the women and children as captive. Dinah was in Schechem’s house when they did this so she went home with him the moment the agreement was made, which means there wasn’t even an engagement period.
Gen 34:24 So all the men in the town council agreed with Hamor and Shechem, and every male in the town was circumcised. 25 But three days later, when their wounds were still sore, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, who were Dinah’s full brothers, took their swords and entered the town without opposition. Then they slaughtered every male there, 26 including Hamor and his son Shechem. They killed them with their swords, then took Dinah from Shechem’s house and returned to their camp.
Notice there isn’t much of an engagement period in these above examples. In the engagement period, the spouses-to-be were in separate locations and didn’t have sex until the wedding night. The concept of engagement is mainly about the man (or his father) preparing his home for a wife, while the woman prepares for marriage and relocating to her husband’s home. In cases where the home was already prepared like Isaac/Rebecca and Dinah/Schechem, there was no need for an engagement. In the case of Jacob, he was living in Laban’s house so when he married Laban’s daughters there was no relocation. The Torah says that engaged women who cheat on their fiance were adulterers even though they weren’t married yet because they were waiting for the wedding (Deut 22:22-27), so the engagement period is treated as an extension of marriage. However, if that culture had an instant marriage where the bride price is paid, there is a meal, and immediate consummation that night, then that is still valid because the engagement period is not absolutely necessary.
Marriage is not defined by a piece of paper from the state, marriage is defined by God, so in theory if the state collapse and we lived in a dystopian future where society is in chaos, then Christian men and women can both pray and promise to be with one another before God, and God will honor it. Wedding vows are just an oath of allegiance to another person in the context of romance, sex, intimacy, and family. Christians don’t need a church building or even a license to be married since there were no church buildings in the bible (the closest things were Jewish synagogues in the New Testament era). This doesn’t mean we should forsake the modern framework, as there is wisdom in it. Getting the legal piece of paper is good because it ensures assets are transferable and inherited, and insurance covers both people from the state’s perspective. Just keep in mind that modern cultural frameworks and definitions unique to Westerners cant be directly compared to what ancient people (Israelites and Gentiles) as well non-Western cultures around the world did and still do. The modern frameworks help us define our status and ensure legal recognition by society and our community. It holds us accountable before the community to be faithful to each other in our covenant. We can use the modern framework to apply the principles of the community holding the couple accountable and legally recognizing the rights of a widow and the inheritance rights of their children in the context of modern society. However, that doesn’t mean it has to look exactly the same since technology and education systems have made people’s decision to marry or not more flexible, and pursuing higher education has become a higher priority for men and women in many modern cultures.
This doesn’t mean a person can go fornicate and say it’s “marriage” and then “divorce” by fornicating with someone else and then rinse and repeat. Even in the old covenant if a man fornicated he was required to pay the bride price and marry the woman if the father permitted and wasn’t allowed to divorce her (Ex 22:16-17, Deut 22:28-29). If a woman fornicated there would be public shame and it would be difficult for her to find a husband since most men preferred virgins. If she lied about her virginity status when getting married she could be put to death for entering a marriage under false pretenses (Deut 22:13-21). Men had cultural preferences for virgins but it wasn’t sinful for a man to marry a non-virgin woman unless he was the high priest (Lev 21:13-15). Non-virgin women included promiscuous women, prostitutes, rape victims, divorcees, and widows. The widows, divorcees, and rape victims were not sinners on the subject of virginity. Some examples: David married Abigail, the widow of Nabal (1 Sam 25:39-40), and Boaz married the Moabite widow Ruth (the Book of Ruth). Men throughout the bible have even married prostitutes. Judah married Tamar who prostituted herself in Genesis 38 and Salmon married Rahab the Canaanite prostitute from Jericho (Joshua 6, Matt 1:5). Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth all ended up in the lineage of Jesus (Matthew ch. 1). Hosea also marries a prostitute, named Gomer, who cheats on him multiple times (Hosea 1-3). This was used as an analogy for Israel’s covenant breach with God through idolatry. God then told Hosea to forgive her and take her back, because God would likewise take Israel back when they repent (Hosea ch. 1-3).
Jesus talks about lusting in one’s heart as sinful which suggests sexual sin is not limited to just coitus.
Matt 5:27 “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’[Exod 20:14; Deut 5:18] 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
Paul reiterates God’s standard of sex ethics in 1 ch. Corinthians 5-7. The key point is anchored around Chapter 6.
1 Cor 6:9 Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. 11 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 12 You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. 13 You say, “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.” (This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them.) But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies. 14 And God will raise us from the dead by his power, just as he raised our Lord from the dead. 15 Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! 16 And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” 17 But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him. 18 Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. 19 Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.
When scripture is misapplied and things are taken out of context, it will create bad theology that says that sin is okay and that the rest of God’s word is canceled out by this supposed “contradiction”. Marriage is defined by God but wedding traditions and engagement time lengths are defined by people and the culture. Adam and Eve didn’t need an engagement period or a modern wedding, God was their witness, God put them together, and there were no other humans but them so by default they are married. Therefore, it wasn’t possible for them to fornicate. We can use wisdom and appreciate the slower-paced processes we have in modern cultures because having two parents arranged marriages between two people that haven’t even met each other is not what most people today (at least in the West) would want. Many modern people have grown accustomed to meeting their own mates and making a calculated decision on whether or not they should marry, and that time we spend courting/dating and engaged helps us get clarity and prepare for a new lifestyle as a couple. It’s a better more practical way to do things. It is similar to doing research in order to invest in a business because it requires diligence, discipline, and patience to research and explores another person’s, worldview, ideas, thoughts, and desires to check for compatibility. These are the advantages of a slower-paced process, over a quickly arranged marriage between strangers for business or political purposes, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted.