God’s Policy on Virginity–You Break it, You Buy It! (And what to do about grace?)
Quite literally. This was God’s idea of justice when it came to sexuality between men and women:
–You break a woman’s hymen, you pay her dowry and marry her. (Exodus 22:16; Deut. 22:29)
–You sleep with another man’s fiance or wife, you die. (Deuteronomy 22:22)
Applied to women:
–You give your virginity to a man, meet your husband. (Exodus 22:16)
–You (affianced or married) sleep with a man not your husband, you die. (Deuteronomy 22:22)
While the specific punishments meted out under the Old Covenant with Israel are no longer in effect, we still get a picture of what God considered a just outcome to be. We see the seriousness of such sin in God’s eyes, but also see an interesting response to the choice to engage in premarital sex. There is no particular punishment given, but rather a command to marry. In thinking about why God might have required this, I think one possibility is that while such a choice on the man and the woman’s part was wrong, the greater, longterm good would be served by their marrying.
Many Christians might feel uncomfortable with this. That is because most patriarchies veer away from God’s standard of righteousness when it comes to measuring the sins of women against the sins of men. This does not undermine God-ordained male headship, but is nevertheless an expression of human fallenness. Humankind will be unjust if not held to God’s standard of righteousness. Because God is not a respecter of persons, we see throughout Scripture that judgment for sin is invariably the same regardless of whether the offender is male or female. Men have no special privilege with God that leads God to view their disregard of His commands any less seriously than He would view the sins of women. Nor can one argue that He punishes women more severely in order to control their behavior.
Some preachers have speculated that one of the reasons Jesus refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery could have been because the law explicitly said that both the man and woman caught in adultery were to be stoned. When the religious leaders brought only the woman, their hypocrisy was evident. They caught her, they said, “in the act,” which means that they also caught the man. And yet, apparently, they had let the man go. The Pharisees had an idea of justice and an idea of how to impose order on their society. But their idea failed to meet God’s standard. In attempting to use their man-made standard as a litmus test for righteousness, they were shown to be unrighteous.
Now, we may accept that both men and women are held equally accountable before God in judgment, but what are we to make of grace? Christ told the woman caught in sin to “Go and sin no more.” Had God judged her according to her sin, she would have died on the spot. But He gave her the opportunity to live in order that she would live no more for sin, but for Him. Not only is God’s grace never cheap, but it comes to us for a purpose. That purpose is that we should use our lives to glorify Him, grow in virtue, bear the fruits of the Spirit, and build up the Kingdom of God.
In Jesus’ restoration of Peter after Peter’s denial of Christ, Jesus first asked Peter to confirm his love for Him, and then gave Peter his task: “’Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” … “Feed my lambs.” 16 …“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” … “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” … “Feed my sheep.” Jesus could have rejected Peter because of Peter’s sin against Him, but instead offered him grace and forgiveness in order that Peter would do a much greater work in the Body of Christ. We show our gratitude for that grace by not allowing it to be given in vain.
A woman who exemplifies the fruitfulness of God’s grace in this way is Heather Lindsey. She is the founder and leader of Pinky Promise, a Christian movement dedicated to encouraging women to remain chaste and helping them to grow in their capacity to be good wives. Heather’s own story is one of living an ungodly life, being brought to repentance, ultimately marrying her husband, and alongside him, delving headlong into a ministry that has exploded in its numbers and impact. Currently, women in cities across the United States and abroad are gathering to support and encourage one another to live godly lives in Christ. In God’s foreknowledge and wisdom, He extended grace and mercy to Heather in order that she would draw many to Him.
And that gospel of grace–forgiveness given with the exhortation and strength to obey Christ–is the message that we bring to the world and live out in the Church. If we turn our focus from bringing people to Christ to simply imposing a certain type of order on our communities, then there’s a good chance that we will miss God’s righteousness and miss the fruit that He would produce in those who receive His Spirit and walk in His Spirit.