CNN has proved once again that it doesn’t understand the Bible regarding premarital sex and temptation. Unfortunately, it seems most evangelicals don’t either.
The article in question, which I first saw on the CNN Religion Blog, points to an article from Relevant Magazine about how 80% of self-professed evangelicals between the ages of 18 and 29 have engaged in sex outside of marriage, just shy of the 88% that represents the general population.
Looking at the opposite figures, that 20% of self-professed evangelicals have not engaged in sex outside of marriage, is much better than the 12% that represents the general population. Still, 80% is still a problem.
The biggest factor for CNN, swayed by a quote from Scott McKnight, is that in biblical times people married a lot younger. The quote from McKnight is,
Sociologically speaking, the one big difference – and it’s monstrous – between the biblical teaching and our culture is the arranged marriages of very young people. If you get married when you’re 13, you don’t have 15 years of temptation.
We are getting married later and later. It’s not uncommon to know people in their thirties and even forties who are getting married for the first time. But abstinence is not just about age. And the example of people getting married at 13 is not an accurate portrayal of a typical marriage during Bible times.
Many girls got married during their teenage years, but 13 would be at the far end of the spectrum. Perpetua, a Christian martyr from around A.D. 203, was around 22 years old and had one child, recently born. If we assume that people typically had children within a few years time of getting married, this would place Perpetua’s marriage sometime around 19 years of age. Men were typically older than the women they married.
Even if we pretend that there is a 15 year difference in temptation, does that really matter? Human beings are not just base animals, yielding to our natural sexual desires out of instinct. If we are truly Christ-followers, as we proclaim, we should be able to arrive at marriage (or remain single) celibate.
Why? Two reasons:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Cor. 10:13).
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).
We don’t have to give in to temptation for two simple reasons: 1) God will provide us a way out, and 2) Christ is our example. Jesus never took a wife and never sinned. He was tempted like us and submitted to the will of God, even to the point of death. There have been many people in the Bible and throughout history who lived celibate lives. John Stott, who recently passed away, lived all 90 years of his life a celibate man.
The problem is not that we’re waiting longer to get married. The problem is we are not taking the way out and we are not getting our power from Christ. The verse immediately following Hebrews 4:15 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
We need to draw near to God both individually and in our relationships. We have to admit our dependence on Him and submit our lives to His plan. Maybe that means some people will get married younger because there’s little point in prolonging a serious relationship. Maybe that means some people will break up with their significant other because there’s little point in developing a serious relationship that’s going nowhere.
Whatever action we take, it all has to come from a proper understanding of temptation that is centered on the Bible and the person and work of Jesus Christ. Starting with human nature and sexual desires will only lead to failure. And so far it looks like 80% of us are focusing on the wrong thing.
 Although Perpetua’s husband is never mentioned in the account we have of her martyrdom, it is likely she was married at the time, possibly to Saturus, another martyr in the account. Source: Osiek, Carolyn. "Perpetua's Husband." Journal of Early Christian Studies 10.2 Jan. (2002): 287-90. Project MUSE. Web. 28 Sept. 2011.