What does the Bible have to say about how maturity and sex relate?
Did God Really Say?
I used to be very involved with “pedophile forums” on the internet, and on these forums, users would often claim Scripture is silent or permissive about pedophilia. This included overt non-believers, of which I was one at the time. We got a very strange sense of self-affirmation from alleging permissiveness about things like child marriage or even (and really, more so) sexual contact with kids generally.
But some who claimed to be Christians talked much the same, claiming God made them pedophiles and that sex can be an appropriate way to express their self-proclaimed affections. These ideas caused a struggle within me as I was later being brought back to faith, wrestling with my sexuality. There was face-value appeal to me in the “pro-contact” ideas and claims I saw on these forums. But I was confused because historically Christianity opposed child marriage and contact. But, I also never heard of Scriptural arguments against it. Nothing is sweeter to the ears of sinful man than that he may call his inclinations “good” and his disinclinations “bad” according to his own will. This was too important to ignore and I was deeply uncomfortable with uncertainty about what the Bible said about this.
As Christians, the standard for our behavior is our Scripture, the infallible word of God. It reveals many things, including God’s laws and purpose for creation. As the Apostle Paul writes:
“…So that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
-2 Timothy 3:17 (NKJV)
However, this doesn’t mean Scripture and what it teaches us is always obvious. We lack full understanding, and on our own, we are weak to our inclinations to sin. Our adversary, the devil, can take advantage of us in our sin, becoming a nagging voice that suggests subtle twists: surely if it is not addressed, it may be permissible in God’s sight. If it can be permissible, it must be fine when I do it, right? The adversary speaks such things to us and so does the world. We in our sin are very self-justifying, and online spaces can become an echo chamber of mutual self-justification.
Although it is incorrect, let us presume for a moment that there is nothing we can glean from the Scriptures directly. We are not left to our own devices, as even without knowledge of God’s Law as revealed in Scripture, we are still guilty of breaking the Law. The Apostle Paul explains this in Romans:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness… For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”
-Romans 1:18, 20
Even when Scripture does not speak directly about something, or we are unaware of what it says, that is no license to act however we will and does not cover our condemnation! Our very conscience will bear witness against us according to the law which God has written on our hearts. This law in our hearts is not based on our whims and preferences; it is a deep, moral restlessness inside us, part of how we were created by God, which disturbs us as we stew in our sin. We know the truth in our conscience whether we admit it or not. There is no room to have a do-what-I-want attitude if we are to truly love others as God loves us.
Married… With Children
However, Scripture does speak to whether it is ever right to act out sexually with or marry a child. We should first look at two passages that demonstrate the general Biblical boundaries for sex and marriage. The first is from Christ speaking to the Pharisees concerning divorce, and the second is the Apostle Paul speaking about marital duties and how these relate to Christ’s covenanting.
“And He answered and said to them, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.’”
“For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word… This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
-Ephesians 5:23-26, 32
Christ draws from how God chose to create the world in Genesis to show us that marriage is both sexed and indissoluble by man, and it’s fairly easy to see that the marital covenant is the only context for sexual relations. Paul describes how the marriage covenant reflects the union between Christ and the church. God thematically ties together marriage and his covenant with us. It’s important to God.
Maturity By Design
Maturity is required for marriage between husband and wife and is crucial in God’s description of His covenant with Israel. The Prophet Ezekiel paints a very vivid picture of this covenant through the marital relationship, which will help us tie all of this together.
“I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful. Your breasts were formed, your hair grew, but you were naked and bare.” says the Lord GOD. “When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine,” says the Lord GOD.”
We are at the heart of it thinking about how physical maturity and development play into the intent God has for sex and marriage. God is seen marrying Israel, being depicted as a female person who has grown, “matured, and became very beautiful”, her “breasts are formed”, and her “hair grew.” These things signal full maturity and the proper “time of love,” that is, marriage. This is a deep representation of the uniquely mutual and patient covenantal love God shows to Israel. And this reaches into the New Covenant relationship between Christ and the Church, which we as believers partake in as members of that Church. In this beautiful passage, we see that God has established that maturity is important to the expression of sexuality and the marital relationship that should go alongside it.
Now we have a heap of Scriptural information, giving us broad moral themes for sexuality and marriage. What we need to do with these themes is to permit Scripture to guide us. I’d like to address some of the general arguments I remember seeing on those forums I used to be on. Arguments that once troubled me until I sought grounding in God’s word.
1. Why can’t sex be playful sometimes, like a children’s game? Or maybe something instructive?
The most prominent way I see these arguments formulated is to downplay the importance of marriage to sex as well as sex itself. The idea is to “dumb it down” so that one can have “playful” or “instructive” encounters with kids. It’s framed either as something merely for pleasure or maybe the relationship is framed as a sexual mentorship of some kind. But as I’ve shown, Scripture precludes us from being casual about sex, and says nothing to justify sex ed via experience. Sex is designed to be both procreative and unitive, and the relational context that God gave for its expression is marriage. None of these things in whole or in part can be brought down to the level a child could participate in. To do otherwise would be to assert that we know better than the God who created sex and marriage, a God especially brought to wrath by a person causing a child to stumble.
2. Why can’t a pedophile marry a child and have that marriage grow into a healthy relationship?
Children are vulnerable and physically immature people, dependent on their caretakers to thrive. In a child marriage, the younger would have to completely rely on the older like they should be on their parents. Marital duties like those Paul describes can’t be done by children. This is certainly obvious for boys; could anyone take seriously the idea that a little boy can reasonably lead or protect a household? But even for girls, what would they be expected to do? This is especially clear with the marital act itself, as well as pregnancy, which at best would be extremely physically dangerous and at worst impossible. God has designed us as creatures who mature over time. This designed maturation period evidences why sex and marriage are precluded for children.
3. Maybe you are downplaying how smart kids are. Why can’t a child participate with an adult in a sexual/romantic relationship?
To reiterate, a child lacks the psychological maturity needed for a healthy marital/sexual relationship. They live with and learn from their parents to develop the long-term thinking skills that marriage as a lifelong institution demands. In that sense any genuine sexual consummation would be effectively rapacious, even if a hypothetical child were to agree to it. No amount of caution or sincerity on the part of the adult could change that. This is a mockery of the mutual and uplifting relationship Scripture presents to us as forming around marriage. The sinfulness of entering into such a relationship with a child is evident.
Singleness is Not Second-Class
But like with all sin, our situation is more complicated than simple obedience. Pedophilia can inspire a deep sense of hopelessness about the future, whether one is also attracted to adults or not. Everyone is afraid of the possibility that they may die alone and that there will be no “time of love” we can enjoy. That sense of loneliness can be terrible and profound, a deep sense of hopelessness that at times is soul-crushing. Some days I felt such a strong emptiness from these things that the hollowness swallowed all my energy. When I would try to go about my day, even the slightest movement ached as though my bones creaked with the smallest motion. If we hinge our sense of self on being in a dating relationship or getting married, something like pedophilia can cause us to spiral into utter devastation. What are we to do?
Marriage does not have a monopoly on love. The Apostle Paul himself was unmarried, and he gives no hint that he thought he was being cheated out of loving or being loved because of this. The Church is a body of many members and should be a place of love and community for the individual believer. But finding community in the Church can be difficult. Yet, we were designed for community and friendship, which we hope to find alongside fellow believers. If this were not the case, The Apostle Paul would not have written so many letters to guide and correct Christian communities. We rely on each other to pick each other up and to be accountable to God and others, hoping to grow together in Christ. We must try to find and become part of a Christian community.
The Bible is the source of our faith and gives us comfort. I know for my part I can rest easier when I understand what God has spoken. And, of course, it is rather nice to have something to say to those who claim Scripture is silent about pedophilia and child marriage. God has made known His good design for sex and marriage in sufficient detail and with clarity for those who in faith desire righteousness.
As Christ explained, marriage is the God-appointed institution for the expression of sexual affection and for forming families. According to the Apostle Paul, marriage also is a reflection of God’s covenanting. It demonstrates His commitment to His promises and His steadfast love, and from it, spouses understand their duties to one another. And the Prophet Ezekiel shows us the biological realities and covenantal framework which underpin God’s design for marriage. Now understanding how these connect, we can see why any sexual contact between an adult and a child is wrong, regardless of circumstance.
We as believers follow God’s law by God’s grace, loving Him and others as He loves us. Rather than bemoan any cross we carry, we should rejoice in the good gifts God has already given us as His children.
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.
Soli Deo Gloria